CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A legislatively mandated study of caseloads for county magistrates is underway, but Supreme Court Administrator Steve Canterbury warned Monday that its findings could be politically charged.
Historically, Canterbury noted, magistrates have been placed in counties not necessarily because of caseload demands but "essentially by the strongest people in the Legislature."
As required by legislation passed this year equalizing pay for magistrates in smaller counties at $57,500, the National Center for State Courts is measuring caseloads for the state's 158 magistrates.
"[The center is] not politically plugged in. They're just as factual as they can be," Canterbury told a legislative interim committee. "They could determine that a county basis is a bad basis for having magistrates."
Currently, each county has at least two magistrates. Kanawha County has the most, at 10. Proponents of the legislation giving 48 magistrates pay raises of $6,375 argued that small-county magistrates may have higher caseloads than counterparts in larger counties and are always either on duty or on call.
Besides analyzing historical data -- in 2011, magistrates handled more than 325,000 cases, ranging from traffic violations to felony charges; 2012 data is to be available shortly -- the study also will require magistrates to keep a log of all cases and work-related activity for two weeks this fall.
Canterbury said the NCSC could conclude that assigning magistrates by county isn't the most efficient system, particularly since the state's jail system is regionalized, with 10 jails statewide.
Sen. Brooks McCabe, D-Kanawha, said the Legislature is obligated to develop the most-efficient and cost-effective court system possible.