West Virginia’s Magistrate Courts are the lowest trial courts in the state and those of limited jurisdiction. There are 158 magistrates in the state with at least two per county and up to ten in the largest county of Kanawha. These courts see more traffic than any others in West Virginia. They are at the bottom of the pyramid and often referred to as the “people’s courts.” Appeals from these courts go to Circuit court, but they remain under the supervision of the Supreme Court of Appeals.
The types of cases heard in Magistrate Courts are civil matters, protective orders including stalking and domestic abuse. Magistrate Courts are also small claims courts and can handle cases of up to $5,000, civil disputes of up to $10,000. They also take on misdemeanor cases, conduct preliminary hearings for felonies, and handle both juvenile delinquency issues and traffic violations. Magistrates can issue arrest and search warrants, record affidavits, set bail, make decisions regarding plea agreements and collect cash bonds, fines, and other court fees. In some counties, they also handle mental health cases and involuntary commitments. Magistrates are elected into office in non-partisan elections to four-year terms. Even though the West Virginia Constitution does not allow Magistrates to be lawyers, some are anyway. In the event of a vacancy, Circuit Courts appoint a magistrate to fill in until the next election.
The West Virginia Judiciary website has dozens of resources for self-represented litigants which many of the patrons of Magistrate courts will be. They have all the forms needed to file a case, an e-filing option for filing cases and paying traffic tickets online, and guides and other publications designed to help people navigate the court system.
For the last year tallied, Magistrate Courts saw 154,211 cases involving criminal offenses, 51,074 civil cases, 3,700 special proceeding cases, and 1,869 cases for juvenile issues.