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Magistrates won't have to be on call 24 hours

December 28, 2000

Magistrates won't have to be on call 24 hours



By DAVE McMILLION / Staff Writer, Charles Town


MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - West Virginia magistrates are breathing a sigh of relief now that a proposal to make them available around the clock has been struck down.

Eastern Panhandle magistrates said they can hardly keep up with their regular workload without being called out at all hours of the night.

Had the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals required magistrates to be on call 24 hours, magistrates in Berkeley and Jefferson counties say they don't know how they would have met the rule.

"Right now, all of us have a full caseload, so I don't know how that would work," said outgoing Berkeley County Magistrate Ruth Donaldson.

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The caseload for Berkeley County's four magistrates has tripled since 1977.

There was an unsuccessful attempt in last year's session of the West Virginia Legislature to create a fifth magistrate position in Berkeley County. Donaldson and Magistrate Gene Darlington said the bill's failure is one of the main reasons they have decided to leave the $37,000 a year job this month.

In Jefferson County, most people who are arrested after hours are arraigned using a new video conferencing system. Through the video link, a magistrate sitting in Charles Town, W.Va., can arraign a suspect in the Eastern Regional Jail near Martinsburg, W.Va.

People arrested after hours are usually arraigned at either 8:30 p.m. or 8:30 a.m., said Jefferson County Magistrate Mary Paul Rissler.

In some cases, a person arrested during the night may have to wait up to eight hours to be arraigned, Rissler said.

The recent ruling by the state Supreme Court followed an incident in 1995 in which Wetzel County lawyer H. John Rogers was arrested for obstructing an officer in Marshall County.

The officer had stopped Rogers on suspicion of driving under the influence.

Rogers was held at the Northern Regional Jail in Moundsville for more than six hours before appearing before a magistrate.

He argued the delay was unconstitutional and that magistrates should be available around the clock.

Rogers later was acquitted of the charges.

The state Supreme Court requires one magistrate in each county to be on call on a rotating basis for arraignments and other duties. Magistrates are considered in compliance with the rule if they contact jails and juvenile detention centers once during week nights and twice on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays, once in the morning and once in the evening.

The Supreme Court said the on-call system is a reasonable balance between the demands on the magistrate court system and the available personnel.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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