CHARLESTON – Monongalia County soon will have a third circuit judge.
Senate Bill 338 goes into effect July 1. It was formally signed last month by Gov. Joe Manchin after it made its way through the legislative process. Manchin will be in Morgantown on June 18 for a ceremonial signing of the bill.
Unlike other recent additions of judgeships that resulted from caseload studies, the new Monongalia post came to be through the hard work of, among others, Monongalia Chief Circuit Judge Russell Clawges Jr. and state Senator Mike Oliverio.
Oliverio, D-Monongalia, said a push was made during the previous session to add a judge when three other circuits received new judges. But those efforts failed.
"We came back again this year, and said case numbers are a few years old -- let's look at the reality," he said. "Monongalia County has grown by about 9,000 people since last census. West Virginia University's enrollment has grown. Commerce has grown. Family court has received an additional judge.
"Judge Clawges created a snapshot of where we would be. He found that he and Judge Susan Tucker were doing work of 3.3 judges. We just never felt like the population was given any weight under the old methodology."
Oliverio also noted that some smaller counties already had three circuit judges. He quickly named Harrison (68,000), Raleigh (72,000) and Wood (90,000) as counties with populations equal to or smaller than Monongalia (90,000) with three judges.
"We were able to move this through," he said of the bill. "There were efforts to add a few counties, but we were able to get it passed without that."
Clawges said there was "a real need" for another judge.
"The caseload numbers supported three judges," he said. "The county is growing a lot, and we're feeling it. It needed to be done. I think the timing is right."
Clawges commended the entire Monongalia County legislative delegation, but said Oliverio and state Sen. Roman Prezioso deserve much credit.
Steve Canterbury, state Supreme Court administrative director, said trends for the last several years have shown Monongalia County growing every year.
"Every forecast is showing more growth and more business and more people," he said. "You have people coming from out of state and out of county to work there, and that can add to the numbers. And WVU adds to the numbers. Plus, it's a major crossroads of two interstates.
"We were pleased the Legislature and governor agreed with the demonstrable need and created the additional judgeship."
Canterbury said this newest judgeship makes 70 circuit judges across the state. He said the startup cost to create such a position is about $400,000. That includes salary and benefits for the judge, a secretary, a court reporter and a law clerk as well as equipment costs.
"One of the things I said when I first took the job in 2005 was that we had to be aggressive to make sure we had sufficient judicial offices across the state," Canterbury said. "We have to have sufficient staff for all of the work the courts do.
"Justice won't wait when there are people in need. I'm aware that there are people who will always question the cost of everything in government. And I'm one of those people. But there has to be a quality of service."
Manchin will appoint a seven-member committee to find someone for the new position. That committee hasn't been formed yet.