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Lawmakers in W.Va. forward bill for fifth judge

January 17, 2006|by ROBERT SNYDER

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The Eastern Panhandle could get a fifth Circuit Court judge, following legislation proposed to the state Legislature by a bevy of area lawmakers last week.

Sen. John Yoder, R-Jefferson, who introduced the bill to the Senate's Judiciary Committee on the first day of the 2006 legislative session, called the addition of a fifth judge for the 23rd Judicial Circuit necessary to ease the court's increasing caseload.

"It's overdue and even with the addition of a new judge, our judges will still have a heavier caseload than most counties," said Yoder, who introduced a similar bill toward the end of the legislative session last year.

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Yoder said he believes the bill will get the attention it deserves this year, and that the bill will pass.

The 23rd Circuit, which currently has four judges, is comprised of Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan counties.

Bill co-sponsor Sen. Clark Barnes, R-Randolph, said the burden brought by growth to the court is not unlike the burden that overloads the area's water and sewer systems and roads.

"The amount of caseload filings in the court system requires scheduling 10 to 12 trials a week per judge, which often result in reluctant continuances," Barnes said in a news release.

Del. Bob Tabb, D-Jefferson, called the addition of a fifth judge an issue of fairness.

"If they look at the numbers, it should pass without a single objection," said Tabb, who, along with fellow Jefferson County Democrats John Doyle and Locke Wysong, intends to sponsor a companion bill in the House.

Tabb said population projections for the Eastern Panhandle by the U.S. Census Bureau indicate the region could grow to 176,778 residents by 2008, when an election for a fifth judge could be placed on the ballot.

Tabb said while Berkeley County grew by 4.6 percent in 2003-04, and Jefferson grew by 2.7 percent, the 8th Judicial Circuit, which includes McDowell County in southern West Virginia, suffered a 2.4 percent population loss to 25,000 residents, but has only two less judges than the 23rd Circuit.

"The citizens of the 23rd Circuit in the Eastern Panhandle deserve the same opportunity for timely access to the judicial system as the citizens in the rest of West Virginia. I believe this is another integral part of West Virginia being open for business," Tabb said.

Yoder said the state Supreme Court will consider reconfiguring the court districts in 2008, but hoped to see a judge appointed to fill a two-year term after the bill is passed in July. He said 2008 was too far off and the need too great to consider waiting for an election.

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