Retiring magistrates earn senior status

December 17, 2012|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD |
  • Berkeley County magistrates Joan Bragg, seated, and Sandra Miller recently were sworn in as senior status magistrates. Combined, they have more than 40 years on the bench.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Retiring Berkeley County Magistrates Joan V. Bragg and Sandra L. Miller will tell you the job is far from glamorous, but after serving together on the bench for 20 years, neither can’t entirely give it up. At least not yet.

Bragg, 65, and Miller, 67, were sworn in Friday by 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge Christopher C. Wilkes as senior status magistrates. Both agreed to return for temporary assignments after they leave the elected judicial office at year’s end after serving a total of more than 40 years on the bench.

“We’re coming back,” Miller said, smiling.

Bragg said she was the city recorder for the City of Martinsburg when she was appointed to serve as magistrate by then 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge Patrick Henry III in 1988.

Miller successfully ran for the office in 1992 when a fourth magistrate was added to Berkeley County Magistrate Court. There are five magistrates now.

“Sandy’s like my sister,” Bragg said, smiling with Miller in a joint interview Friday.

“We are family,” Miller added.

Before Miller became a magistrate, she worked with Bragg as her assistant. She also worked in the public defender’s office. Bragg was appointed by Henry to replace Magistrate Dennis Barron, who initially hired Miller to work for him. Barron resigned to run for sheriff, Bragg said.

Miller and Bragg are Democrats.

“She was the one that kept me afloat when I took this job in 1988,” Bragg said. “Your assistant makes or breaks you, and Sandy kept me going.”

Since then, they have seen a lot changes, one of the biggest being the court’s move from the John Street School building in Martinsburg to Berkeley County’s new judicial center about six years ago.

“You didn’t have the feeling of security ... that you do here,” Bragg added. “That old building made you wonder.”

“We managed, but when you would go in at night, the pipes (in the school building) would clutter and you didn’t know if someone was in the building,” Miller recalled.

When Bragg first started, they had to prepare many of their own forms for sentencing and other court proceedings on a typewriter.

Bragg recalled being “worn out” after working on call for 24 hours on weekends to arraign people who had been arrested.

Magistrates now have set times to arraign people after hours and on weekends, but Miller said their families still have had to plan around their court duties, if they can. 

“This is something that changes your life,” Bragg said.

Given the sacrifices the job requires, Bragg said individuals who hold the position have to become dedicated to it.

“You have to like this job to survive,” Miller said. “I love my job as a magistrate. There’s a lot of stress to it, but I still like it.”

Bragg and Miller said they are going to miss the people they have worked with, but one thing they do not miss is running for election.

“This job is stressful enough, let alone in an election year, you’re really stressed,” Miller said. “This year, I could do my job with no (outside) stress.”

Bragg ran successfully six times for election and Miller ran five times.

“It’s hard because you can’t say anything about the job,” Miller said.

Regardless, both said they’ve really enjoyed serving the public. For their many years of service, Bragg and Miller were recognized earlier this month at a reception where Wilkes presented them with commendations from Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin. They also received a music box with their names and years of service engraved on it and a plaque.

“I just want to thank everyone in the county for putting me in this job all those years and their confidence in me,” Bragg said Friday.

“It’s been a pleasure serving the citizens of Berkeley County,” Miller said.

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