WAYNE -- Gov. Joe Manchin on Wednesday signed a copy of an "extremely important" bill to add judges to three circuit courts across the state.

Signing the bill in Wayne Circuit Judge Darrell Pratt's courtroom, Manchin said he is glad to have played a part in getting Senate Bill 291 made into law.

"They deserve it," Manchin said of Pratt and other circuit judges who have been overworked, according to a recent study commissioned by the state Supreme Court. "This is an extremely important matter, and it isn't one that was taken lightly."

Pratt said he is happy to soon have another judge helping out.

"We have a good staff that helps a lot," he said. "But I'm very pleased to see this signed into law."

Pratt said Wayne County has needed a second judge for years. In 1998, he said, the county was close to getting one. But Putnam, Berkeley and Harrison counties were growing at phenomenal rates. So he told lawmakers to take care of those needs first.

"I can hang on, but don't forget about me," he recalled telling them.

Steve Canterbury, administrative director of the Courts of West Virginia, said the cost to add a circuit judge and staff is about $340,000 each.

Besides Wayne County, Mercer County and a circuit that includes Pendleton, Hardy and Hampshire counties in the Eastern Panhandle also will get new judges.

Manchin said he hopes to have appointments in all three circuits so that the new judges can begin work on Jan. 1, 2009.

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