BELINGTON - After the resignation of Belington Municipal Judge Jeffery Hollen due to illness, Belington City Council appointed Jean Clark of Belington to fulfill the vacancy Thursday.
According to Clark, Hollen served as Belington's judge for 18 years before he resigned due to illness.
Clark said she has been talking to experienced judges and studying past cases from the Belington court system to help prepare herself to take over the position. Immediately after she was appointed, Clark proposed a change for City Council to consider.
"These are some things I just want to get you all to think about," Clark told council members.
She said based on her research and knowledge of West Virginia state law, Belington's minimum fines for various citations, court fees and tickets are far lower than the state's suggested rates.
"The discrepancy there is we are charging way too low according to what the state allows," Clark said, adding that the fines suggested by the state Legislature range from no lower than $100 to no higher than $500.
Clark said the only exception she found is the fine for the inappropriate or nonexistent restraint of a child, which must range from $10-$20. Otherwise, she said the general state recommendation applies to all other charges, including traffic violations.
She asked Council to consider increasing fines for some of the more frequent charges. Then, after new rates are established, she said council could consider the other and more infrequent charges.
"There's going to be a thousand of them," Clark estimated. "We're not going to try to do them all next month. That's not going to happen. I'd like to do the ones that I'm seeing more consistently. At least get those under control. Then we can start working on others as they come through the court."
Clark said that Belington's court cost charged to each defendant is $20, but the surrounding area's average court cost is between $100 to $132. She said the city's fine for not having an operator's license is $25, but that the state recommends a penalty of no less than $200.
"To me that's a pretty serious thing for somebody to be out there driving without authorization," Clark said. "That's pretty serious. The state recommends no less than $200. These are things I think we really need to look at real closely."
She also said that the speeding fine in Belington is $35, plus $1 per mile an hour over the speed limit.
"So we are really, really low on court costs," Clark said. "I'd rather do that (increase the court, fines and citation costs) than to ask the mayor and the Council to increase our municipal fee."
Clark said the revenue from the court costs and fees could benefit the police department, the court system and the city.
"I'm actually glad to see Jean stepping forward, looking into things (about) how to make some money," Councilman Richard Cox said. "She's going, I think, above and beyond."
Contact Melissa Toothman by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.