CHARLESTON -– Magistrates from around West Virginia gathered at the Capitol on Jan. 17 to lobby for changes in state law that would equalize their pay and give them the same right to carry a concealed weapon as circuit judges and prosecutors.
One measure would equalize pay between all 158 magistrates. Currently, 42 magistrates who work in West Virginia's most rural counties are paid $43,620 while all others are paid $50,000 a year.
"Those who work in rural counties often work longer hours than those in more populous counties and are on call around the clock because there are fewer magistrates to share the workload," said Magistrate Association President Tammy Marple of Harrison County.
Braxton County, for example, has two magistrates.
"People may think it's a small county and a small population, but we have the interstate and U.S. 19," which leads to more crime, said Braxton County Magistrate Mary Beth Smith.
Unlike circuit judges and prosecutors, magistrates currently are prohibited by law from carrying a weapon past courthouse security checkpoints, even if they obtain a concealed weapons permit at their own expense.
"We are often concerned about our personal safety because of the nature of our job and some previous threats to members of the judiciary," said Magistrate Julie Yeager of Kanawha County.
The measure for which they seek legislative approval would require them to qualify for a concealed weapons permit and complete a weapons training course.
Neither measure has yet been introduced as a bill.
Members of the West Virginia Magistrate Association met with Gov. Joe Manchin and legislators during Magistrates' Day at the Legislature. Manchin met privately with Magistrates Marple and Yeager, Magistrate Carol Wolfe of Gilmer County, Magistrate Janice Snider of Preston County, Magistrate Cathy Reed-Vanata of Marion County, Magistrate Jennifer Wilson of Monongalia County and Magistrate Tom Reynolds of Jackson County.
He then talked briefly with a larger group that included Magistrates Kim Aaron and Traci Carper-Strickland of Kanawha County, Thomas Shepherd of Wetzel County, Dave Roberts of Wirt County and Keith Marple of Harrison County.
The magistrates also attended the House of Delegates and Senate floor sessions and met with the leaders of the House and Senate Finance and Judiciary Committees.