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W.Va. magistrate wants bailiffs for protection

December 03, 2004|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - Kristy Dyroff had her finger on her panic button when a man whose 6-year-old daughter was being removed from his custody began pounding on the front door of Berkeley County Magistrate Court one night.

Although Dyroff's husband, a corporal with the West Virginia State Police, was with her and able to calm the man down, not all magistrates are so fortunate, Dyroff said.

"I have that unique situation ... in which I have someone who is able to handle that. I don't know how I would have handled it otherwise," Dyroff said.

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Dyroff wrote a letter asking that the Berkeley County Commission pay for bailiffs to be in the building on the nights and weekends when magistrates are on call.

After Sheriff Randy Smith presented them with a copy of the letter last week, the commissioners expressed concern over the cost.

No vote or action was taken on the matter because it was not listed as a topic on the agenda.

"We asked for more information. Once we have that, the commission can discuss it further," County Commissioner Howard Strauss said Tuesday.

The information that was requested included a cost estimate.

Dyroff said cost should not be a factor, considering there's the possibility of a serious incident happening involving a magistrate. Plus, she said, at least two bailiffs have said they would be willing to work on nights and weekends.

"That's not at all an impediment," she said.

Dyroff has received support from Magistrates Joan Bragg and Sandy Miller.

"The simple fact of it is, four of the five magistrates are going to be women," Dyroff said.

Voters decided not to return Magistrate Scott E. Paugh to office, instead electing JoAnn Overington. Once Overington takes office in January, Magistrate Harry Snow will be the only male magistrate.

Miller was the on-call magistrate Tuesday night. As rain pattered on the roof of the building, which is full of people and activity during the day, it was dark and quiet inside.

"There's no security in here other than the front door," Miller said. "Once (people) get in here, there's nothing we can do."

Miller usually asks one of her sons, including one who is a police officer, to accompany her to the building when she is on call. Magistrates tend to work an hour or two on their on-call weeknights and four to six hours on weekends, she said.

An overnight break-in at the building in late October has caused Miller to become especially cautious about letting people inside. Nobody was in the building when someone broke in, smashed windows, broke desks and stole a bank bag containing more than $2,000, records show.

Miller said nothing serious has happened to her recently, but she recalled an incident years ago during which both of the people involved in a domestic violence complaint were inadvertently allowed into the building. The man blocked Miller's office door, but Miller was able to talk her way out safely, she said.

Several years ago, a then-magistrate thought he heard something upstairs. When a Martinsburg Police Department officer arrived with his K-9 partner, the dog sniffed out a man hiding in the ceiling, Miller said.

The building can be an eerie place at night, Miller said.

Pipes in the basement of the former school building clang loudly, making it sound as if someone is there.

Because the closed-circuit television system rotates images without the magistrates being able to choose what images are displayed, if a magistrate hears something, it could be several seconds before the area in question is shown on the monitor, Miller said.

"I don't believe this building is safe anymore," Miller said.

Both Dyroff and Miller said they will feel safer once a new judicial center opens nearby.

Construction needed to turn a warehouse-turned-shopping center into a judicial center has begun. The building is expected to open in the summer of 2006.

Once the building opens, Circuit Court, Magistrate Court, Family Court, the prosecuting attorney's offices, court clerk's offices and the probation department will be under one roof. They now are scattered among five buildings.

Magistrates have been promised a secure parking area and safer offices in the new building. People will not be able to walk through the building's main doors and directly into a magistrate's office like they now can.

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