More Justice in Magistrate Court…

Although I stated in a previous post/rant about magistrate court in West Virginia that I do everything in my power to prevent having a bench trial in magistrate court (rather than a jury trial), I was forced yesterday to try a case in magistrate court.

The reason I was forced was this: my client initially requested a jury trial, but the court was dragging it’s feet in scheduling one and she wanted to get the matter over with. Against my advice she requested a bench trial instead. The good news was that most of the State’s witnesses did not show up, so I got two of the three charges dismissed. The bad news was that the officer could still testify to one charge. So we went for it.

We didn’t even get through the first witness’ testimony. The prosecutor objected to one of my questions on cross examination. As he was arguing his objection, the magistrate made the final ruling in the case. I was shocked. I hadn’t even had the opportunity to finish my cross examination, or the opportunity to call any witnesses, or the opportunity to have a closing statement, or the opportunity to discuss the case law. I think the prosecutor was dumbfounded as well.

Moral of the story? Request a jury trial. Unless of course, you want to be convicted.

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.

Contractor Prosecuted in Raleigh County – and thats a good thing…

From the Register-Herald today:

Matthew Peelish, a Raleigh County contractor, pled guilty to 3 counts of felony obtaining goods by false pretenses for taking money from people and not completing the work, and for obtaining materials from local merchants on an account and refusing to subsequently pay. The Court held him to task and sentenced him from 2 to 20 years.

This is extremely common here in Monroe and Greenbrier county, yet no one is ever prosecuted for it. Everyday people are prosecuted for some ridiculous things, and in these situations, you have real victims that lost real money. Yet 9 times out of 10, they have to resort to a civil action, which leaves them trying to collect a judgment years into the future, or worse, from a trustee in bankruptcy. The problem often cited by prosecutors is that it is difficult to show the requisite intent (intent not to pay at the time the goods are taken or money accepted) to prove the charges. But then again, since when do judges or juries hold prosecutors to their burden of proof anyways?

It really hurts a local business when a deadbeat contractor runs up an account of 5, 6 or 7 thousand dollars and then skips out on the bill. It should be prosecuted. Bravo to the Raleigh County Prosecuting Attorney.

You can read the full article here.

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.