Putnam County official takes oath to serve
Although appearing in family court isn't a pleasant experience, Putnam Family Judge Deloris Nibert says she hopes in her courtroom, it's a fair experience.
Nibert is no stranger to the family court bench.
In fact, her resume includes positions as a family law master when Putnam and Mason were in the same circuit, family court judge in Mason and Jackson counties and her time as a temporary family court judge.
And she's had an interesting journey to end up in her current position.
Nibert was appointed to the Putnam County family court bench after her predecessor William "Chip" Watkins was suspended without pay until the end of his term in 2016.
Watkins was suspended after the Judicial Hearing Board said he failed to enter domestic violence protective orders in a timely way, sometimes as long as nine months. He also screamed and threatened parties appearing before him in court.
Chief Justice Brent Benjamin appointed Deloris Nibert to temporarily fill the position and she has been filling in since the beginning of last year.
Even though Watkins was suspended, he still technically was serving as judge. Therefore there was no opening for Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to fill.
However, that changed in November when Watkins announced his retirement.
Nibert was the only applicant for that appointment and she went through an extensive interview and application process.
"In this case, that application was 25 pages. It was enormous. Then, I was interviewed by 11 people. Even though I was the only applicant, I still had to interview," she said, noting she wasn't stressed about the interview process.
"It was a good screening tool," she said. "I liked it because it gave me a good idea of where I've been, reflecting back on my life and my work. I thought it was a good process. I wished everyone had to go through that."
Nibert explained since Watkins resigned in November, that means there will be an election this year to fill the position until the end of his term in 2016. She said she has signed up to run for that election so she can keep her job.
"If I win the election, I will have been here this time as assigned by Supreme Court to be temporary judge then appointed by the governor to be judge then elected by electorate by electorate to be judge. I will have been here in every way possible," Nibert said.
Now, Nibert is getting ready for her investiture ceremony, taking place at 2 p.m. today, which she says is a huge honor.
Being a family court judge isn't an easy job. Nibert said it can be hard especially when children are involved.
"You're sickened at times by the things you hear that happens to children," she said. "Those things really get you when someone has been harming a child. But ... I'm in a position to help not only the child but whoever's doing the harm. They may not know why they're doing that and that they can operate in another way. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't work -- some people never change. The first priority is protecting kids."
But of course, not every case involves children but it can still be difficult for the people involved.
"If you do your job right, everyone loses in family court. No one wins here because everyone loses some of their stuff or time with their children," she said. "A lot of cases aren't agreed but you still have to lose something. It's not a happy experience."
Nibert noted that people may never go through the criminal part of the court system but family court is more likely the point of access for people.
"There are close to 60,000 people in this county with one family court judge," she said. "That doesn't mean they're all getting divorced but I guarantee that everyone in this county either has a family member, a close friend or has been here themselves. If anyone touches the court system, it will likely be here."
That also means a heavy docket. Nibert said Putnam County needs another family court judge and the state Supreme Court is conducting a study to see.
"We've done a tremendous time in the backlog of cases," she said. "People have been waiting six to eight months for cases is what attorneys were telling me the other day. Now, they're getting in within two months."
And Nibert hopes everyone who comes before her will say one thing after it's over.
"I think most people leave here at least thinking, 'at least she was fair.' That's the best thing you can hope for as a family court judge is that people think you're fair," she said. "It may not be everything you wanted but at least it was fair. I call it just."