Magistrate reallocation bill to be taken up by full House

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A bill that would reallocate magistrates in West Virginia passed the House Judiciary Committee Monday after a subcommittee made changes to the original bill.

The measure, HB 2910, which was sent to a subcommittee two weeks ago, would reallocate magistrates based on a county’s population. Counties would receive a magistrate for each 15,500 residents. Counties would be guaranteed at least two magistrates.

The new version of the bill says the state Supreme Court could decide to retain magistrates in counties that would lose one of the population standard if the Court decides the county’s caseload supports the magistrates it currently has. As many as 12 counties could lose magistrates under the population provisions.

Shawn Fluharty

The bill, which passed the committee on a 19-4 vote Monday, also eliminates the current 158 magistrate limit in state code.

Delegate Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio, tried twice to amend the bill Monday, both measures were defeated. Fluharty said the bill has a lot of problems.

“The conversation here is very illustrative that we have no idea what we’re doing,” Fluharty said. “This arbitrary number thrown out there of 15,500 is not a true population number. It’s just something dropped from the sky and delivered to the committee.”

Sponsors of the bill said the population number is based on the 2020 U.S. Census.

House Judiciary Chairman Moore Capito stepped down from the podium at one point in the meeting to speak against one of Fluharty’s proposed amendments.

The last reallocation of the magistrates came 20 years ago after the legislature had the state Supreme Court do a caseload study. The High Court used the National Center for State Courts to do that study in 2001. The same organization did another caseload study for the state in 2015 but the legislature didn’t do anything with the information.

Mark Zatezalo

Delegate Mark Zatezalo praised the subcommittee for reworking the original bill to try and address the current imbalance among counties.

“This is a tough decision. This is not easy and I think they’ve done their level best to try to see their way to make some decisions,” Zatezalo said.

The bill now heads to the full House for consideration.

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