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Berkeley County to get fifth magistrate

April 11, 2001

Berkeley County to get fifth magistrate



By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer, Martinsburg


Berkeley County will get a fifth magistrate effective July 1 under a bill the state Senate passed 34-0 and sent to West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise.

Magistrate Court has been called "the front door of the judicial system" because everyone except those who are indicted by a grand jury starts the judicial process there.

State Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, said he has been working with lawmakers for two years to get the bill passed. It appeared to get bogged down recently as other legislators sought to add magistrates to their areas, turning the bill into what is known in the Legislature as a "Christmas tree" - a bill loaded down with amendments.

"It got a little bit out of hand," Unger said.

He said the Berkeley County delegation was able to work out a bill that gave just two counties, Berkeley and Nicholas, new magistrates.

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With a 28.1 percent increase in population in the past 10 years, the largest in the state, and with an increased court caseload, local lawmakers were able to make the argument that Berkeley County needed another magistrate, Unger said.

"I'm just thrilled and grateful to the legislators," said Berkeley County Magistrate Joan Bragg. "Maybe we can keep our head above water. It should provide more access to the public. Right now, we just have to rush everything through."

This year's Chief Circuit Court Judge, Christopher Wilkes, will appoint someone to hold the job until the November 2002 election.

Wise must still approve the bill, but Unger said he sees no problem with that.

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