On-call magistrates renew call for night and weekend bailiffs

December 28, 2004|by CANDICE BOSELY

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - More smashed glass and stolen cash last week have magistrates in Berkeley County, W.Va., renewing a request that bailiffs be posted in the building when they come in for night and weekend on-call duties.

A break-in at Berkeley County Magistrate Court last week netted the burglar $300, but one magistrate said the incidents have taken an emotional toll.

"We've been asking and asking and I'm wondering at what point it's going to become a priority," Magistrate Kristy Dyroff said Monday of security concerns.


Dyroff said she was willing to put up with dirty carpeting, inadequate bathrooms, cockroaches and a phone system that sometimes doesn't work. The building is an old school that was built around the turn of the century.

It's another matter to deal with security concerns, she said.

"These aren't aesthetics and these aren't extras. It has to be dealt with," she said. "I feel that our safety is truly in jeopardy."

Last week, the Berkeley County Commission agreed to pay a local security company $13.50 an hour to patrol the county's buildings at night.

Having a car drive through the parking lot is not adequate, Dyroff said. She and other magistrates have asked that bailiffs be in the building when they come in after hours for on-call shifts, but the commissioners have questioned the expense.

Because they would otherwise be alone, magistrates often bring a friend or family member with them. Dyroff usually asks her husband, a State Police trooper, to accompany her.

Last Thursday night, however, she arrived alone and left at around 9:45 p.m.

Although the building was closed the following day, Christmas Eve, Dyroff and her assistant both went in to catch up on some work. Her assistant arrived first, walked into the building and noticed that a pane of glass in her office door was broken.

She immediately left. Officers with the Martinsburg Police Department and West Virginia State Police responded, parking a crime-scene vehicle outside the building, Dyroff said.

A lieutenant with the Martinsburg Police Department said Monday that an investigation into the break-in is ongoing, but he did not have any additional information.

Dyroff said that police took fingerprints and collected evidence. No arrests had been made.

Dyroff said she wonders whether the burglar, whom she said must be brazen to break into a courthouse, was watching her Thursday night and waiting for her to leave.

The thought is unnerving, she said.

Four offices on the building's main floor were entered. Petty cash totaling $75 from each office was taken, Dyroff said.

Nothing else was taken, she said, and the burglar did not break in offices on the building's top floor or in the basement.

Access was gained through a side door, she said.

In October, somebody broke into two offices in the building's basement, but ignored all of the other offices in the building.

Members of the County Commission have asked that magistrates and other court employees be patient with existing problems, since a renovated comprehensive judicial center is expected to open in 2006.

A $629,000 security system will be installed in that building - a former warehouse that most recently was part of a defunct outlet shopping mall.

Berkeley County Commissioner Howard Strauss, who is overseeing the judicial center project, could not be reached Monday.

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