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Magistrates share wish list for Berkeley judicial center

January 30, 2004|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Although the Berkeley County judicial center is not expected to open until 2006, on Thursday two magistrates discussed with the Berkeley County Commission some features they would like the building to have.

Magistrates Kristy Greer and Sandy Miller agreed that parking is a big concern.

County Commissioner Howard Strauss assured the magistrates that judges will be able to park in an enclosed, secure area. Currently, they must park along a city street.

Greer asked how acoustics will work. At the existing magistrate court building - an old school - air conditioners must be turned off in the summer or witnesses and attorneys cannot be heard.

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Strauss said that the building will have no "frills," top-of-the-line technology will be installed.

An old warehouse that most recently was home to an outlet center is being renovated for the judicial complex.

Bids for the general contracting work are now being sought and will be opened in March. Construction is expected to take two years, Strauss said.

Because people occasionally come to court drunk, Greer suggested that a passive alcohol sensor be installed at the judicial center. If someone arrived drunk, he or she could be given a citation for public intoxication and sent home without a judge getting involved.

Installing Caller ID also would be beneficial, she said. Obscene or crank calls that come in now cannot be traced.

Between now and 2006, Strauss said he hopes all five magistrates will be patient with the county regarding problems at the current courthouse.

"We'll continue to Band-Aid your building," Strauss said.

Overall, Greer said plans for the judicial center are exciting.

"We're thrilled with it, truly," she said.

While the magistrates were at the commission meeting Thursday afternoon, commissioners also discussed alternative sentencing, which reduces the county's jail costs while allowing certain offenders to stay out of jail.

Those who qualify can serve their sentence confined to their home, leaving only for permitted activities, and/or perform community service.

Although the number of people on the program was previously limited, magistrates assured commissioners they are now ordering more people to serve alternative sentences when appropriate.

The county saves $45 a day in jail costs for each person on an alternative sentence, Strauss said.

Greer said she has placed at least 30 people in the program, and Miller said she has not turned away anyone who is deemed by police to be suitable.

Every bit helps, Strauss said, especially since the county's last monthly jail bill was more than $200,000. More than $2 million of the county's $14 million budget this year will be set aside for jail costs, he said.

County Administrator Deborah Hammond said significant savings could be possible if the county started a work-release program. Commissioners said they wanted to further explore that possibility.

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