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Family law master tells commission of safety concerns

January 25, 2001

Family law master tells commission of safety concerns



By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer, Martinsburg


MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Another issue related to Berkeley County government buildings surfaced Thursday as Family Law Master April Dowler told the Berkeley County Commission she and staff members have safety concerns at their present office space.

"My biggest concern about where we are now is security," Dowler told the three county commissioners at their regular meeting. "It is a very dangerous situation."

"The nature of your work is often volatile," said County Commissioner John Wright.

The law masters operate out of the building at Queen and Spring streets. They make decisions on family matters such as divorce, child custody, child support payments and others related to domestic issues.

They often have people who are emotionally upset waiting in the hallways for their cases. Staff and other members of the public must walk through the crowd to conduct business.

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People hear news in her courtroom that sometimes upsets them, and there have been shouting matches involving angry people on the emotional edge during the hearings, Dowler said.

"They hear, 'You can't have your kids, you can't have your house, you can't have your car and also, give me your paycheck,'" said Dowler, who is married to Herald-Mail Publisher John League. "It can be an extremely dangerous atmosphere."

She requested that the commissioners move the office to another location in the building. It would mean less space, but would be more secure, she said.

The commissioners said they were concerned about the situation, but put off making a decision on a move into abandoned space in the building until they have a cost estimate.

They also moved forward with plans to have a committee look at all county space needs, with the focus being on a new judicial center and administrative building, perhaps on King Street across from the courthouse complex.

The committee would have more than two dozen members. Wright suggested that was a large number for one committee and proposed that after an initial meeting, the group be broken into smaller groups to study different areas.

He also wants the county to look at moving into space in the Boarman Arts Center across from the courthouse after the arts center moves into the old Federal Building and Post Office on King Street.

That is likely to occur sometime next year.

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