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Magistrate race in the spotlight

Election 2008
Oct. 29, 2008 @ 12:15 AM

HUNTINGTON -- The usually low-profile election contest for magistrate has gained more attention this year in Cabell County, where two of the 10 candidates have the potential of being removed from office if they are elected on Nov. 4.

Democrat Amy Walker Daugherty faces felony bribery and crack cocaine charges, while Democrat Patty Verbage-Spence left office in March amid health and competency concerns.

They are two of 10 candidates seeking the seven magistrate positions at stake in next week's election. The rest of the field features four Democratic incumbents, Betty J. Wolford, Darrell Black, Johnny McCallister and Mike Woelfel, one Democratic challenger, Don Maynard, and three Republicans, Carlen "Len" Merritt, Rondall "Ron" Baumgardner and Teresa L. Beter.

Voters can cast their ballots for up to seven candidates. Here's a look at the field:

Republicans

Ron Baumgardner: Lifetime resident of Cabell County. His job history includes 30 years in outside sales. He believes state Supreme Court training is sufficient and that being a magistrate requires common sense and life experience.

Baumgardner said frequent court delays can be reduced with better cooperation. He called plea bargaining a necessary part of the system, but said the magistrate should review each agreement for its appropriateness.

Teresa Beter: Huntington native and Marshall University graduate. She believes current qualification standards are appropriate for the office.

Beter said frequent delays can be avoided by restructuring the hours for court. She said that schedules should be followed and all sides should be prepared.

Len Merritt: Born and raised in Cabell County. He has been a superintendent, supervisor and self employed.

He believes the state Supreme Court's training program is sufficient. He believes a magistrate needs common sense and strong beliefs as to right and wrong. Merritt said he will remedy delays in magistrate court with better scheduling and stern authority to force all parties to be prepared.

Democrats

Darrell Black: Born and raised in Huntington, has served as magistrate for eight years. He was a Huntington police officer for 28 years. He said police and others working within bodies of law gain enough experience to be magistrate.

Black said delays occur too often. He blamed unavailable parties and said the magistrate should keep constant communication with the prosecutor and defense attorney. He doesn't believe too many plea agreements are approved.

Don Maynard: Lifetime resident of Cabell County who recently retired from the Huntington Police Department after 26 years. He believes requirements for the job should be set at a higher level.

Maynard said some delays are unavoidable, but he said magistrates who have control of their courtrooms can avoid unnecessary delays. The candidate believes plea agreements are necessary, but he said the magistrates should make sure the punishment fits the crime.

Johnny McCallister: Served 11 years as magistrate. He most recently was appointed to fill the unexpired term of retired Magistrate Brenda Chapman. He was a military police officer with the U.S. Army. He also graduated from the State Police Academy and the FBI National Academy. He also has served as an investigator with the Sheriff's Office and the Prosecutor's Office.

McCallister said a lack of space and inefficient schedules make it difficult for magistrates to move cases through the system.

Mike Woelfel: Served five years as magistrate. He has received three statewide committee appointments by the state Supreme Court. He believes a magistrate should be required to have a college degree to "build the proper foundation for the research and learning skills necessary for any magistrate." He said he has addressed issues of preparation and efficiency with attorneys and circuit judges.

Betty Wolford: Served as magistrate for 22 years. She believes the state Supreme Court's training program for magistrate is sufficient.

Wolford said postponements are out of the court's control. She also said adding another court would increase efficiency.

Amy Daugherty: The daughter of former Cabell Circuit Judge D.B. Daugherty, finished first in the Democratic primary. Court documents charge her with attempting to bribe a Huntington police officer and admitting to trafficking crack cocaine in October. It resulted in seven felony charges. Her second court appearance is set for Nov. 10, six days after the election.

State court officials have said Daugherty faces immediate suspension, if elected. She also could face an ethics investigation even if she is acquitted in criminal court. Daugherty has not returned multiple requests for an interview since her arrest.

In seeking the office, Daugherty previously said negotiation time and plea agreements are fundamental parts of the court system. She said it prevents a backlog of cases. She has no legal education, but said common sense is the most valuable asset.

Patty Verbage-Spence: Former magistrate Verbage-Spence resigned from office earlier this year amid efforts from the circuit court to remove her from office. Her lawyer said a heart condition led to the mishaps in her work, including forgetting to sign documents and forgetting to have the defendant sign bond orders. Verbage-Spence also sent two letters to the Secretary of State's office in August asking to be removed from the general election ballot, but five days later rescinded her request.

Verbage-Spence said her health has improved and a seventh-place finish in the Democratic primary rejuvenated her campaign.

Verbage-Spence has served seven-and-a-half years as magistrate. She believes magistrate court is the "people's court" where training provided by the state Supreme Court is adequate for service.

Verbage-Spence agreed that delays often occur in court, but she blamed attorneys who are not prepared and courtrooms that are too small.

The magistrate's job

Candidates: Democratic incumbents Betty J. Wolford, Darrell Black, Johnny McCallister and Mike Woelfel. Democratic challengers Amy Walker Daugherty, Patty Verbage-Spence and Don Maynard. Republican challengers Carlen "Len" Merritt, Rondall "Ron" Baumgardner and Teresa L. Beter.

Salary: $50,000 a year.

Term: Four years (no term limits).

Area: Serves all of Cabell County, but must reside in the magisterial district in which they are elected.

Job duties: Preside over the initial phase of most criminal matters. They routinely arraign suspects, set bonds, take misdemeanor guilty pleas and hold evidentiary hearings. The caseload features everything from speeding tickets to murder.

May primary: Daugherty collected 7,116 votes in the Democratic primary. Her competitors finished as follows: Woelfel (6,299), Black (5,911), Wolford (5,657), McCallister (5,202), Maynard (4,871), Spence (4,641), Dan Goheen (4,401), Brandee McCoy (3,760), John Ray Rice (3,754), Laura Beckett-White (3,565), Danne J. Vance (3,263), Homer Heck (3,223), Gregory C. Miller (2,965), Opal Sanders (2,614), Alvie Qualls (2,339), Lisa Pulley (2,213), Ralph J. Hensley (1,872) and Timothy "Tim" Fox (1,793).

Baumgardner collected 3,037 votes in the Republican primary, Beter (2,918) and Merritt (2,891).

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