Candidates mixed on court changes
Kanawha magistrate candidates have mixed feelings about coming changes to the way judges will set their dockets, candidates told the Daily Mail editorial board Tuesday.
Some believe the changes, which will have magistrate clerks setting dockets, will improve the court's efficiency. Others say the changes are unnecessary and are only a way of making all the magistrates pay for the sins of a few.
Daily Mail editorial board members met with nine of the 22 people running for magistrate on Tuesday. The editorial board will meet with another group of candidates today.
Republican Carol Fouty, who is currently under investigation by the state Supreme Court for alleged ethics violations, was invited to attend Tuesday's meeting but did not show up.
Magistrate candidates Tressie Proffitt Cabell and Robert Keller also did not attend.
Starting June 1, magistrate clerks will set dockets to make sure cases are spread throughout the day, chief magistrate Traci Carper-Strickland said.
She said the changes came after Kanawha Circuit Chief Judge Duke Bloom noticed lots of people hanging around the Kanawha Judicial Annex's main lobby during certain times of the day.
By spreading cases throughout the day, fewer people will be at the judicial annex at a given time. That will reduce lobby congestion and ensure magistrates work an eight-hour day.
Incumbent Ward Harshbarger, a Democrat, said some magistrates previously would schedule lots of hearings early in the day, leaving no cases on their docket for the afternoon.
"If you don't have dockets set in the afternoon, you're not there," he said.
But Harshbarger, who has been a magistrate for 32 years, called revamping the entire system because circuit judges were irritated with a few magistrates' work habits "chaos."
"The judges should have discussed that with the individual magistrates that they thought were not complying," he said.
He said he's not sure the changes will make the courts more efficient.
"As in all things, in 32 years I have seen it evolve from one spectrum to another. So we shall see," he said.
Magistrate Tim Halloran said he's upset Bloom painted with such a wide brush when making the changes.
"There are 10 separate elected officials in that building and we're controlled by one guy," he said.
Strickland said magistrates still would have some leeway in their schedules. They can decide if they want to work from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., 8:30 to 4:30 or 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Marva Crouch, a Democrat who served as a magistrate from 2004 to 2008, said the congestion at the courthouse may just be the nature of the beast.
"It happens because of the number of cases in Kanawha County," she said.
Crouch also defended magistrates' work habits. She said they regularly rotate schedules, sometimes working an eight-hour daytime shift, sometimes working until midnight, sometimes being on call until the wee hours of the morning.
"Just because the circuit court judges don't see them there doesn't mean they're not working. Magistrates get in their 40-plus hours," Crouch said.
Crouch has served as senior status magistrate since 2009 and has visited multiple counties' courthouses while in that job.
She said other counties, including Fayette and Raleigh, have extended magistrates' hours into the evening to tackle courtroom backlogs, sometimes hearing summonses until 6 p.m.
"It alleviates a lot of busy work in the daytime," she said.
Crouch did not say Kanawha County should adopt a similar system, however.
Incumbent Kim Aaron, a Democrat in her ninth year as magistrate, had only nice things to say about the changes.
"It kind of takes us out of the mix. It will be flowing so much easier," she said.
Magistrate candidate Blaire Carney-Smith, also a Democrat, said she has no problem with the long hours.
"That's part of the job. I'm ready to do it. Let's go," Smith said.
Arnett "Sonny" Corley, a Democrat and former State Fire Marshall employee, said he also would not have a problem working a demanding schedule.
"We're on call 24/7," he said of his time firefighting. "I wouldn't know how to do anything but 24/7."
Dianna Graves, a Republican candidate, said she likes the changes Bloom has implemented.
She said it's important to elect magistrates with a demonstrated work ethic. She said she regularly works 60- to 70-hour weeks in her current job as a producer of commercials and short documentaries.
Candidate C.E. "Bud" Anderson, a Democrat, wondered if there might be a way to address lobby congestion other than changing the dockets. He suggested limiting the number of people who can come to court with defendants or victims or rearranging the seating.
Strickland said neither of those options would work. She said the Kanawha County Sheriff's Department arranges seating in the courthouse to work with its security plan. Strickland also said judges should not limit the number of people in the lobby because it is a public building, and people called before the court often need moral support.
A story about the interview with the other magistrate candidates will appear in Thursday's Daily Mail.