Law library users now find themselves barred

April 27, 2008|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - Eastern West Virginians in need of valuable legal resources and research assistance literally have been locked out of a publicly funded regional law library for more than a year, according to the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals' top librarian.

"Since we are without a librarian at the moment, I am reluctant to leave the library open," Kaye L. Maerz said Thursday at the library in the Berkeley County Judicial Center in Martinsburg.

Maerz could not explain why the high court last year stopped her effort to fill the full-time position, which has been vacant since January 2007, when former librarian Deborah Hillyard resigned to work for federal Magistrate Judge David J. Joel.

Yet she doesn't believe that filling the vacancy would strain the state court system's budget.

Maerz said the 23rd (Judicial) Circuit Law library, on the Judicial Center's second floor, is the most beautiful of the state's six regional libraries. The court system's other regional law libraries in Cabell, Harrison, Ohio, Raleigh and Wood counties remain staffed and typically are open during regular business hours, Maerz said.


As it stands now, the nearest regional law library is in Clarksburg, W.Va., and Judicial Center court security officers have been forwarding concerns about the lack of accessibility to Maerz, she said.

The extended vacancy has alarmed Maerz and 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge David H. Sanders, who said last week that they were concerned that county leaders might decide to use the space for something else.

"There have been lawyers that have been frustrated by it not being available," Sanders said.

Sanders said there are a number of attorneys who cannot readily afford the cost of purchasing volumes of reference books that are available at the library. The volumes include South Eastern Reporter, which contain West Virginia case law. Each volume costs $170, and there are several full bookshelves of the reference series, which include editorial explanation to help a layperson understand legal terminology, Maerz said.

Built to accommodate growth, the library also features work and conference rooms and two computer terminals for Internet access to online legal services. Before being moved to the Berkeley County Judicial Center, the circuit's regional library previously was on the top floor of the Berkeley County Magistrate Court building at West John Street, but it wasn't nearly as accessible, Maerz said.

Since being told to halt the hiring process to fill the vacancy, Maerz said she has been traveling from her office in Charleston every three or four months in an effort to keep materials up-to-date. Yet few attorneys have been able to gain access to use them, and the public has been all but shut out, Maerz said.

"I wish we would be treated with the same sort of dignity that is being given to other areas of the state," Sanders said of the vacancy situation.

In addition to Eastern West Virginia's population growth, Maerz believes the librarian position could provide a vehicle for offering needed outreach programs to the community, including identity theft and credit repair, which recently have been launched elsewhere.

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