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WV House judiciary looks at increasing magistrates

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The House of Delegates' Judiciary subcommittee reviewed draft legislation that would increase the number of magistrates in three counties and revisited the subject of equalizing magistrate pay.

The legislation aims to create a new magistrate position in Jefferson, Putnam and Monongalia counties. Tina Sevy, director of Legislative analysis, said Jefferson and Putnam are the first and foremost on the list but there also is great need in Monongalia County.

However, the committee did not act on the bill because of a lack of quorum.

"The truth is where we have a bigger population, you have more filings but Monongalia is up there. I do know there are problems in college towns," Sevy told committee members during the Nov. 26 meeting.

Sevy explained there has been a population shift to counties such as Jefferson and Putnam. Committee members asked Sevy if the Legislature should instead realign the state's magisterial districts by shifting magistrates to counties with increasing populations.

Sevy said if the Legislature chose to realign the state's magisterial districts it must keep in mind that the law mandates there to be at least two magistrates in each county.

Population isn't the only factor in determining the number of magistrates in each county. Sevy explained caseload also plays a major role.

"You may have less of a population, but there still might be that need for the third person," she said.

The state Supreme Court will conduct a case study for the state's circuit courts within the next year, Sevy said, and although studies are not conducted for magistrate courts, the Legislature can request the Supreme Court conduct one.

Delegate Clif Moore, D-McDowell, also asked about the status of equalizing pay for smaller counties. Currently magistrates and staff in his county — along with magistrates in Lewis, Wetzel and Wyoming counties — are looking at a $7,500 pay cut.

Sevy explained counties with more than 8,500 people are in the higher tier but since these counties experienced a population decrease, they will fall back to Tier 1.

 "Magistrate court is the only one paid based on population and not by judicial caseload," Sevy said.

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