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Berkeley Co. Council backs 'listening post' for Judicial Center

July 14, 2011|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthew.umstead@herald-mail.com
  • The Berkeley County Judicial Center is pictured in this Herald-Mail file photo. The Berkeley County Council Thursday endorsed a proposal to allow pastors, priests and other qualified lay persons to set up a "listening post" in the county Judicial Center.
Herald-Mail file photo

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — The Berkeley County Council  Thursday endorsed a proposal to allow pastors, priests and other qualified lay persons to set up a "listening post" in the county Judicial Center.

County council legal counsel Norwood Bentley III cautioned that all faiths must be allowed to be part of the initiative and advised against the distribution of literature promoting a particular church or belief.

"We just have to be ... helping people, not proselytizing or trying to convert people ...," Bentley said after hearing a presentation by George Michael, executive pastor of Independent Bible Church.

Michael assured council members that the literature would have broad-based themes and not be from a particular church.

"We wouldn't want to be pushing any one individual church on anybody," Michael said. "It would just be an opportunity to say if you desire help, we're here to help and to start off just being a listener and a compassionate friend."

With the endorsement, Michael said he still needs to meet with some of the pastors, but was optimistic the service could be started in September.

Michael said he is optimistic he can get at least 20 lay persons, ministers or pastors to provide 40 hours of coverage.

The proposal was previously endorsed by Berkeley County Sheriff Kenneth M. Lemaster, who is charged with providing security at the judicial center. The council is responsible for maintenance of the county buildings and providing space for the government.

People involved in emotion-filled proceedings such as a murder trial or divorce hearings that are held in the judicial center could benefit from the service, Lemaster said.

"To have some one available to do some type of conflict resolution in the judicial center might be beneficial to those who are there (and) beneficial to the staff ... to have some resource that they can direct someone to and to basically help the public."

Lemaster said the "chaplains" participating in the initiative could be of service to deputies who deal with tragic situations, such as notifying families that a loved one has died.

Lemaster acknowledged the victims advocate works with family of crime victims in Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely's office, but said the scope of that service is limited.

"It's a step in the right direction to help the public ..." Lemaster said.

Two small, little-used rooms on the second floor of the building could be available for the chaplains to meet in private with individuals, Lemaster said.

The rooms are close to family court and where court security officers are stationed at the building's entrance, Lemaster said.

Whether the chaplains could enter the courtrooms would be at the particular judge's discretion, but Lemaster said he was amenable to them having access to the hallways and corridors.

Council member Doug Copenhaver said he was "very supportive" of the initiative, reiterating statements he made at a roundtable on drug use that acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin hosted recently at the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office.

"One of the things I said was ... we got to get church into some of these people's lives and try to turn them around," said Copenhaver, who added that the chaplains at the judicial center could be talking with people who are at a low point in their life.

While supportive of the effort, council President William L. "Bill" Stubblefield reiterated concerns about laws concerns the separation of church and state.

"We would hate to have a good program closed down because we violated some federal statute," Stubblefield said. 

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