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Morgan Co. prosecutor appointed to judgeship

By Staff | Sep 1, 2017

CHARLES TOWN – Morgan County’s chief prosecutor, Debra MH McLaughlin, has been selected by Gov. Jim Justice (R) to temporarily fill an open circuit court judge’s seat for Jefferson County.

McLaughlin, a registered Republican who has been Morgan County’s chief prosecutor for 15 years, was appointed to serve nine months in the vacant judgeship on the 23rd Judicial Circuit.

McLaughlin initially practiced law in Philadelphia and York, Pennsylvania, before becoming an assistant prosecuting attorney for Morgan County in 1999. She received her law degree from Kansas University in 1993.

She did not return messages for comment.

The 23rd Judicial Circuit operates with six judges overseeing civil and criminal cases in Berkeley, Morgan and Jefferson counties. However, the open judge’s seat is the only one in the circuit that exclusively oversees cases in Jefferson County full time. A second judge in the circuit handles cases in the county part time.

About 1,100 criminal and civil circuit court cases were processed last year in Jefferson County, said Jefferson County Circuit Clerk Laura Storm.

In May voters in Jefferson, Berkeley and Morgan counties will decide during a nonpartisan judicial election who among any candidates will serve six years remaining in the open judgeship’s eight-year term, according to officials with the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office. Any West Virginia attorney can run as a candidate for a state circuit judgeship, but state magistrate candidates don’t have to have law degrees, officials said.

Judicial elections officially became nonpartisan by state legislation signed into law in 2015.

Morgan County is the home district of state House Majority Leader Daryl Cowles (R-58th District) and state Sen. Charles Trump (R-15th District), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Neither could be reached for comment Monday.

The process to fill the Jefferson County judge’s seat began after the death of Circuit Judge John Yoder, who died in June after heart surgery.

Last week a Judicial Vacancy Advisory Commission forwarded five names to the governor, including McLaughlin’s, who were among 11 attorneys in the Eastern Panhandle who applied for the temporary judgeship appointment.

West Virginia circuit judges receive a $126,000 annual salary, pay set by the state legislature.