Magistrate Education Committee discusses court costs

By The West Virginia Record | Nov 1, 2007

CHARLESTON -– The West Virginia Magistrate Education Committee held an extraordinary meeting in Charleston on Oct. 25 to reorganize.

This meeting was the result of the recent controversy over the application of court costs in criminal cases.

A 1976 state law requires magistrates to impose court costs for each criminal conviction, no matter whether the person pleads guilty or is found guilty in a trial.

In 1998, the Supreme Court Administrative Office issued a memorandum that said court costs should be imposed once per "charging document," or citation. So if, for example, a person was convicted of speeding and any other violation, magistrates imposed fines for each charge and imposed court costs only once.

That erroneous memorandum was superceded by a 1999 Supreme Court opinion, State ex rel. Canterbury v. Carl "Worthy" Paul. The Supreme Court said in that opinion that the 1976 law was clear: court costs should be imposed for every conviction, no matter whether the accompanying crime was lumped with others on a certain charging instrument.

"The problem was that the Administrative Office failed to educate the magistrates about the 1999 decision," said Steve Canterbury, Supreme Court Administrative Director. "Consequently, most magistrates logically assumed the 1998 memorandum was still their guide for court cost assessment."

Canterbury in 1999 was the Executive Director of the Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority when he brought the mandamus action that clarified the 1976 law. Canterbury said recent memoranda from the Supreme Court Administrative Office, as well as the annual conference of magistrates last summer, have clarified to the magistrates their responsibility as prescribed by the Legislature.

The purpose of today's meeting is for the Magistrate Education Committee and the Supreme Court Administrative Office to begin working toward doing a better job sharing the responsibility of educating magistrates.

"We need to build a better bridge between the magistrates and the Supreme Court Administrative Office," said Magistrate Association President Tammy Marple of Harrison County.

Court costs on criminal convictions in West Virginia currently are $160.50. In each of the handful of counties that has a Teen Court, there is an additional $5 court cost. There are also other, optional court costs that can be levied for certain criminal violations. For example, in littering cases, there is a Litter Control Fund cost.

Court cost collections, by law, are divided into several important accounts.

"The fees comprise the revenue source for several vital state accounts. For example, the Crime Victim's Compensation Fund, the Regional Jail Authority Bond Fund, and funds for the counties to assist with their own jail fees," Canterbury said.

"We want to do this exactly as prescribed by the Legislature," said Magistrate Gail Boober of Jefferson County. "This issue has now been laid to rest and magistrates across the state are collecting court costs as the Legislature directed."

The $160.50 basic court cost is divided as follows: $10 to the Magistrate Court Fund, $5 to the Court Security Fund; $40 to the Regional Jail Authority; $10 to the Crime Victim Compensation Fund; $2 to the Law Enforcement Compensation Fund (a training fund), $48.50 to the Regional Jail Per Diem Fee (paid to the sheriff in each county), $10 to the Community Correction Fund, $5 to the Courthouse Improvement Fund, and $30 to the Regional Jail Operation Fund.

The Magistrate Education Committee meeting will continue Friday in Charleston.

The members of the Magistrate Education Committee are

* Magistrate William "Bill" Anderson of Marshall County;

* Magistrate Riley Barb of Tucker County;

* Magistrate Gail Boober of Jefferson County;

* Magistrate Kylene Brown of Putnam County;

* Magistrate Tammy Marple of Harrison County;

* Senior Status Magistrate Janie Moore of Kanawha County;

* Magistrate John Morton of Nicholas County;

* Magistrate Hershel Mullins of Monongalia County;

* Magistrate Rick Postalwait of Calhoun County;

* Magistrate Cheryl Ross of Mason County;

* Magistrate Dee Sidebottom of Mingo County.

* Magistrate Michael Woelfel of Cabell County;

* Magistrate Danita Young of Fayette County.

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