The term "judge" is defined as a public officer authorized to hear and decide cases in a court of law: a magistrate charged with the administration of justice.
On April 2nd, I took a bold step in my courtroom. I wore a robe.
This was a personal decision that has been many years in coming. However, my actions were not meant to be defiant.
I have experienced several formative moments in my six years as a Kanawha County Magistrate Court Judge, but none that left such an impact as March 23.
While working Night Court, young students from the "Youth in Government" group came to the courthouse to witness court proceedings. I took the students back to my office to introduce myself.
Immediately, one young man asked, "Are you the judge?" I said that I was. He replied, "You don't look like a judge. Judge's wear robes!" I was speechless. During the course of the evening, three other individuals came to night court asking, "Which one of you is the judge?"
I decided henceforth that I want to give the appearance of a judge. Wearing a robe signifies the respect, dignity and honor due a judicial officer. This power of visual symbols should not be underestimated. The robe is a symbol that represents neutrality and impartiality. It is something that I feel will bring a spirit of professionalism to my courtroom.
Judges wear robes while they are sitting on the bench and presiding over a courtroom. The robe reminds participants and spectators the magistrate court judge is not supposed to be like everyone else attending.
In early 2006, I inquired of then Kanawha Chief Circuit Judge Duke Bloom as to why magistrates did not wear robes? He stated that we could wear robes and that there was nothing baring us from doing so. My mother, Mary Jane Jarrell, a four-term magistrate in Jackson County, told me that during her 16 years on the bench she wanted to wear a robe. However, she was strongly advised not to!
After only 45 minutes on the bench, I received a telephone call from Supreme Court Administrator Steve Canterbury. Mr. Canterbury advised me that I was to "disrobe" immediately and that the matter of magistrate's wearing robes has been addressed. The Supreme Court Judges say that Magistrates "are not to wear robes."
Later, my father telephoned to ask how my day had gone. He was worried and advised me not to "take on" the Supreme Court. He stated that, "You can not win; they will make your career difficult for you!" I assured my father that that was not what I wanted to accomplish. What I have attempted to accomplish is to create an open dialogue regarding the wearing of robes by all judges.
In the meantime, my robe is nothing but a $230 "trophy" hanging on the back of my door.
Kanawha County Magistrate