Kanawha County Magistrate Kim Aaron poses in her judge's robe in her office on April 7. On April 2, she wore the robe on the bench, but she soon was ordered to remove it. (Photo by Chris Dickerson)
CHARLESTON – Kanawha Magistrate Kim Aaron says she wasn't being cheeky when she wore a judge's robe on the bench.
And she says she's not being defiant in speaking out against an order from state Supreme Court Administrator Steve Canterbury to take off the robe.
Aaron says she just wants to start a discussion about an issue she says magistrates have been touting for decades.
It's all about the maintaining a level of continuous legal symbolism and respect, Aaron says.
"The majority of the people that come through the court system see a magistrate first," Aaron said. "We see the bulk of people and this is where it needs to start."
Aaron bought a judge's robe for $230 after a youth group visited her court in March and commented that she didn't look like a judge. She says three other people -– probably defendants -– came through her court that night and asked which one the judge was.
So, on April 2, Aaron said she decided to wear a robe to court.
The act brought a telephone call from Canterbury, who said Justices have spoken about how court officers will dress.
"The court has talked about that issue fairly recently," Canterbury said. "At this point, the old standard stands, that is, they're to wear business attire."
Aaron took off the robe and hung it on the door to her office.
Canterbury said justices reached the current dress code during an administrative conference in 2002. All magistrates apparently were given the memo.
According to Canterbury, circuit judges are to wear judicial attire and magistrates are to wear business attire while on duty during regular hours. The dress code is more relaxed for magistrates working on call, Canterbury said.
But Aaron said every year the state magistrates association brings up the issue about wearing robes. She said it's been an issue for more than 20 years.
"We've repeatedly asked and that's a long time to not get a definitive answer," Aaron said. "If they're not going to recognize us for what we are, tell us and lay it to rest."
Aaron said a magistrate's robe doesn't even have to be black.
"They could make our robes gray," she said. "Maybe blue. I'm just trying to open the door to a dialogue."
Aaron's contention is that the robe represents neutrality and impartiality. She believes it will bring a level of professionalism to her courtroom. The robe will set the magistrate apart from the other attendees in the courtroom, Aaron believes.