CHARLESTON -- All magistrate courts in West Virginia now accept VISA, MasterCard, and Discover credit cards and debit cards for payment of fines, court costs and civil case filing fees.

The Legislature in 1988 authorized magistrate courts to accept credit cards, but the law did not make any provision for how to pay the service fees credit card companies charge on each transaction. Magistrate courts did not have the money in their budgets, and the fees could not be deducted from fines or courts costs.

In 2002, the Supreme Court agreed to pay the fees, about 2 percent of each transaction.

"It is a convenience to the public and the court felt it was worth the minimal cost," said Supreme Court Chief Justice Robin Davis.

The credit card acceptance program was piloted in Monongalia County beginning in August 2003 and in Kanawha County the following month. Between September 2003 and November 2004, the Supreme Court's staff trained clerks in 51 other counties.

"This helpful and efficient program could never have come to fruition without the excellent collaborative efforts of our tremendous staff and the credit card companies," said Pancho Morris, director of the Supreme Court's Magistrate Court Services Division.

Implementation of the program was delayed in Hampshire County and Calhoun County due to staff changes there. Hampshire County Magistrate Court began accepting credit card payments in April 2005 and Calhoun County began accepting them early this month.

The number of credit card transactions varies by county. In Monongalia County , about 10 percent of the total amount of money collected per month is in credit card payments, said Magistrate Clerk Caroline Stoker, who also is a Supreme Court computer field coordinator.

Magistrate courts processed 7,139 credit card transactions for a total of $1.27 million in collections in calendar year 2005. The Supreme Court paid $23,441 in processing fees.

The program cuts down on magistrate court paperwork to process monthly payments. Many people cannot afford to pay fines and costs in a lump sum; as of July 1, court costs for citations and misdemeanor convictions will be $160.51. Fines are in addition to that.

"We anticipate the program also will increase collections by making the payment process less burdensome for the public," said Supreme Court Administrator Steve Canterbury.

Credit cards are not accepted for bonds or any payments in circuit court.

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