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Eastern Panhandle could get two new judges

March 27, 2006|by DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.VA.

Local officials could be looking for space for two additional circuit court judges in the Eastern Panhandle, officials said last week.

State lawmakers recently approved adding a fifth circuit judge for the three Eastern Panhandle counties to help handle an increasing caseload, local legislators said.

Judges also can be added when judicial circuits are examined in a redistricting process every 10 years, said Sen. John Yoder, R-Jefferson.

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The redistricting process is conducted, in part, to determine if judges need to be added in growing areas, said Del. Bob Tabb, D-Jefferson.

Redistricting is set for next year, and it is possible that the 23rd Judicial Circuit that serves Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan counties could receive a sixth judge, Yoder and Tabb said.

Circuit Judge Christopher Wilkes, a 23rd Judicial Circuit judge in Berkeley County, said it is unclear where the fifth judge will be sitting.

The four current judges will have to meet and look at the case filings to determine how they can be split evenly, Wilkes said. Other issues, like travel time for the judges and facilities, will be taken into consideration, Wilkes said.

"We still need to crunch the numbers," Wilkes said.

The new judge will earn $116,000 a year and will be appointed by Gov. Joe Manchin, officials said. The person chosen will serve until 2008, at which time he or she will have to run for re-election to hold the job, officials said.

Space for courts has been thin at times in the rapidly growing area.

The three magistrates who work in Jefferson County recently complained to the Jefferson County Commission about a lack of courtroom space. The magistrates wanted to know how local government plans to provide space for the fifth judge and possibly a fourth magistrate.

The court annex along George Street where the magistrates work has two courtrooms, but one of those is sometimes taken by one of the circuit judges when he comes to Jefferson County to hold court, said Magistrate Gail Boober.

The commission decided to form a committee to look at space needs for courts.

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