Editor's note: This is part of seven articles on The Inter-Mountain's candidate forum this week. Three were published in Friday's edition, and four are being published today. All are available at www.theintermountain.com.
The four candidates vying for three Randolph County Magistrate Court seats all said they would be fair and impartial when making decisions during The Inter-Mountain's candidate forum Thursday.
Moderator Dr. David Turner gave each candidate time to give an introduction before posing two questions to each candidate. Incumbent Benjamin E. Shepler, a Republican; and incumbents George Mike Riggleman, Robert R. "Rob" Elbon Jr., both Democrats, are seeking re-election, while Democrat Chris Heflin also is vying for a seat.
The Inter-Mountain photo by Alec Rader
George Mike Riggleman speaks during Thursday’s candidate forum at Elkins High School, which was sponsored by The Inter-Mountain. Riggleman, a Democrat, is an incumbent Randolph County magistrate. Three other magistrate candidates also took part in the forum, including incumbent Democrat Robert R. “Rob” Elbon Jr., incumbent Republican Benjamin E. Shepler; and Democrat Chris Heflin.
The first question posed by Turner was, "What do you think is the most important role of a magistrate?"
Shepler, who served two years as a municipal judge before being elected magistrate, said magistrates have to wear several different hats. He said magistrate duties include issuing warrants, search warrants and protective orders.
"We get called out 24/7 and we are on call," he said. "Some of our decision making happens in the middle of the night."
In case you missed it
The candidate forum will air at 7 p.m. Tuesday on WETV Channel 3, courtesy of Jerry Gibson.
Shepler said it is vital for magistrates to remain fair and impartial in civil and criminal hearings.
"We are dealing with several different law enforcement agencies and I think the most important thing a magistrate has to do is use common sense, always treat everyone fairly whether that be someone you know or someone you have never seen before," he said
Heflin, a Bates Carpet employee, agreed with Shepler on all of his points. He said the most important thing for magistrates is to be honest and fair.
"You have to be fair and impartial," he said. "You have to hand out sentences when they need to be. If you absolutely have to pick one, you have to be honest and fair."
Riggleman, who has served as magistrate for the last 11 and a half years, said the most important thing is for magistrates to "care."
"You have to take your job seriously," he said. "We as magistrates deal with 90 percent of all criminal cases. It all starts with us. You have to be impartial, you have to be fair and treat everybody the same."
Riggleman said the system in Randolph County works and everyone takes the job seriously.
"The public expects to have access to magistrates," he said. "We are the people's court. You have to be able to talk to people. They look to us to solve their problems."
Riggleman said magistrates cannot give legal advice, but they can steer people in the right direction.
"We have to make good, fair and impartial decisions," he said.
Elbon said one of the biggest issues the magistrates deal with is treating people with respect.
"We do get called out a lot at night," he said. "It has been wild the last three months in Randolph County. It's nothing to be called out at 3 o'clock in the morning."
He said being fair and consistent with people is a big priority for him.
"I want the right information before I make a decision," he said. "You have to give people opportunities. I have made it a practice that if someone has an opportunity to help themselves and straighten their lives out, I am going to give them that opportunity."
Turner then posed the second question, "As a magistrate, what can you do to help law enforcement officials better perform their jobs?"
Shepler said on a daily basis magistrates give advice andwork about 70 hours a week when they are on call.
"To help law enforcement agents to better do their job, we give them lots of advice," he said. "Sometimes we tell them what they can charge people with."
Shepler said the magistrates also talk to officers about dangerous individuals.
"When we set bond, we want you all, the people of Randolph County, to be protected from dangerous individuals," he said.
Heflin said one of the biggest things a magistrate can do is talk with the officers and help them with advice or warrants.
"A warrant can be issued on a 100 percent hearsay," he said. "That is a big factor that will help law enforcement."
Riggleman said the biggest thing is to be accessible.
"I have had had many calls to bounce something off of me," he said. "We have to be accessible all the time. I know people only like to work five days a week for eight hours. To be a good magistrate, you have to be available all the time, whether you are on call or not."
Riggleman said close-knit communication is needed with the officers to share information when setting bonds.
"We are there to protect you and the defendant to make sure you are safe," he said. "To do that I am going to do everything in my power to make sure that individuals show up for their hearing."
Elbon said he has worked with the sheriff's department for almost 21 years and a lot of officers will ask him for advice.
"I know how hard it can be to collect the evidence they need," he said. "My main priority for these guys, since I don't carry a gun anymore, is officer safety."
Elbon said he is available to officers any time. He said he also will work with people who ask for protective orders to see if there are firearms in the house to help protect the officers.