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Kanawha magistrate considers plan to cut court hours

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Kanawha County Chief Magistrate Jack Pauley is exploring the possibility of cutting office hours at magistrate court, a move that is strongly opposed by at least one circuit court judge.

Pauley is surveying the other nine magistrates on a possible change in their schedules.

Right now, at least one magistrate is in the office from 8 a.m. until midnight. The late magistrate also is on call until 8 a.m., Pauley said.

Pauley is exploring whether to move the end of the shift to 10 p.m. He thinks that could help the office operate more efficiently and save money.

"Right now I don't see a downside to cutting those two hours," Pauley said. 

Kanawha County Circuit Court Judge Duke Bloom sees things differently. He said he's adamantly opposed to a schedule change.

He doesn't see any savings in the idea and said some people facing charges who could post bond instead would end up spending the night in jail.

"If the magistrates ended up closing earlier, the county would incur substantial increased fees for keeping people in jail," Bloom said.

He said magistrates are in high demand during nighttime hours.

Pauley pointed out that the schedule change was not set in stone and the magistrates are studying the demand for service between 10 p.m. and midnight. They're also looking at the number of calls received during those hours.

"We're going to be looking at everything," he said.

Pauley has been the chief magistrate for about a month. Bloom said he wasn't pleased that one of Pauley's first actions as chief magistrate was to initiate a study into whether the office should be open until midnight.

"I think it's interesting that the first thing he does as chief magistrate is to try to find a way to work less," Bloom said. 

The magistrates do not have the final say in the matter. Any proposal must be presented to the chief circuit court judge, who oversees the administration of magistrate court. 

Judge Jennifer Bailey currently serves as chief judge. She was unavailable for comment Monday.

Another issue being looked at by the magistrates is the possible return of their case files.

About a year ago, Bloom, who then was serving as chief judge, issued an order requiring all magistrate case files to be kept in the magistrate clerk's office.

This was to ensure the files were available to all other magistrates and the public if needed, Bloom said.

Bloom pointed out that all of the circuit court judges agreed that the files should be kept in the magistrate clerk's office. The state Supreme Court was also consulted before the order was given, Bloom said.

"I am most adamantly opposed to this," he said.

Pauley believes moving the files back into individual magistrate offices would help them work more efficiently.

For example, magistrates must wait on motions to be sent from the clerk's office under the current system. Those motions would be handed directly to the magistrate if the files were placed back in their hands.

"And then we could act on them right then," Pauley said.

However, Bloom said there have been times when the files in the magistrates' offices were not available to members of the public or other officials when needed.

There was actually a case where a magistrate was placed on leave and officials could obtain the files only by breaking a lock on a filing cabinet in the official's office.

Bloom refused to specifically identify the magistrate. However, the high court suspended former magistrate Carol Fouty without pay in April 2012 for unethical behavior.

She resigned in August amid the accusations.

Pauley was unsure exactly when the proposals would be placed before Bailey. The magistrates will meet to discuss the issues within the next two weeks, he said.         

Contact writer Paul Fallon at paul.fallon@dailymail.com or 304-348-4817. Follow him at www.twitter.com/PaulBFallon. ;

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