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Magistrate has idea for more court access

March 19, 2019

HUNTINGTON - As a Cabell County magistrate prepares to leave the Cabell County Courthouse at the end of the month after a 50-year career, he is leaving with one final idea in the hopes of making magistrate court more accessible to eastern Cabell

County residents.

Cabell County Magistrate Johnny McCallister says there needs to be a magistrate court annex, he suggested located at the Cabell County Sheriff’s Ona location, where non-Huntington residents can go to file cases and criminals can be arraigned.

“My goodness, half the people live outside the city of Huntington in Cabell County,” he said. “And it’s growing leaps and bounds.”

McCallister says the sheriff’s Ona office is already a functional location, where people can go to vote early, pay taxes and other things, and already has its own security system. An actual magistrate would not have to be at the annex, he said, and it would not reduce the number of those working at the courthouse.

Placing an additional secretary at the office who could take all the paperwork and assist in filing the petitions for whatever a citizen needs, with the magistrate reading the paperwork and issuing whatever is needed, just as they do at the courthouse, would be an easy change, he said.

As an example, he used a Culloden woman with low resources trying to get a domestic violence petition to get out of a bad relationship. It would be much easier for her to travel to Ona to obtain the petition, rather than Huntington.

Another possiblty could be video arraignments, he said.

Magistrates already do arraignments of late-night arrestees taken to Western Regional over a video conference call. Having arraignments at the annex for daytime offenders arrested in the eastern side of the county would cut in half time and gas expenditures because law enforcement officers would not have to travel all the way to Huntington to arraign offenders, he said.

“If you have an annex in Ona, it’s a 15-mile round trip from the annex in Ona to the jail and back,” he said. “It’s a 37-mile round trip to from the annex in Ona to Huntington and back. Think of the money (they) could save on gas alone.”

A judge has the ability to place magistrates anywhere they believe is appropriate, McCallister said. A kink in the idea would be the law would have to be changed to allow a clerk to be alone at the annex without a magistrate. At any given time, Cabell County is required to keep two people on any magistrate shift.

The sheriff’s department could also gain money in the deal by charging the Supreme Court rent, he said.

“It’s not going to cost the county one cent unless they’ve felt the need of having a guard up there,” he said.

The move would also clear up some traffic in the basement of the courthouse. He said activity at the magistrate court had outgrown the space, he said.

Follow reporter Courtney Hessler at Facebook.com/CHesslerHD and via Twitter @HesslerHD.

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