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Rework Statute On Magistrates

Harry Radcliffe lost his position as an Ohio County magistrate — and was sent to prison for four months — because he committed a crime. His successor, Janine Varner appears to have lost the job because of a misunderstanding.

Earlier this year, Radcliffe pleaded guilty in federal court to what was termed a “tax conspiracy.”

In August, Varner was sworn in as the new magistrate to replace Radcliffe. She resigned Wednesday, after the state Supreme Court suspended her without pay.

Varner worked for 15 years in the court system, including a stint as deputy circuit court clerk in Ohio County. Obviously, she appeared well-qualilfied to Circuit Judge Ronald Wilson, who appointed her to the magistrate’s post.

But the state’s highest court determined she was not qualified because she did not meet educational qualifications. State code requires that magistrates “have a high school education or its equivalent …”

In her native New Jersey, Varner had completed a vocational program in school. It appears she believed that fulfilled the education requirement in West Virginia.

Varner’s attorney has said she plans to seek reappointment or election as a magistrate after completing the GED process, normally viewed as the equivalent of a high school diploma.

Given the recent history of the state Supreme Court, it is understandable that justices would insist on strict compliance with the law as they understand it. But go back and read the law’s wording. It also is understandable that there could be some confusion over what it requires. State legislators should rework the statute to ensure its meaning is crystal clear.

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