Publishing the magistrate report is a contentious event, week to week. People get
upset about getting their name, or family members name, in the report which is
issued by the Magistrate Court.
The Magistrate Court is required, under public information law, to release the
information, in fact nearly all information. It is published in nearly every community in
David Hedges, Editor of the Roane County Reporter/Times Record, said in a recent
column, the publishing of minors names is "perhaps the most misunderstood aspect
of the news business."
He said "There are some laws which limit what information courts or police can
release about juveniles, but none that tell newspapers what they can or cannot
Alice Neff Lucan, a Washington lawyer who is consulted by members of the West
Virginia Press Association says "If you have accurate, newsworthy information
lawfully obtained, you can publish it, even the name of a minor child."
Editor Hedges said, regarding the publishing of names, the "old guys in powdered
wigs took care of that a couple hundred years ago when they wrote the Constitution
of the United States."
Most of the complaints to The Herald relate to the printing of a minors name as linked
to what the court considers as citations and non-felony offenses, which could be
speeding, underage drinking, traffic violations, etc.
Callers who are upset say it is against the law to print minors names, which it is
Courts are charged with whether to release the names of minors. In most cases the
minors have been treated as adults, unless the case has been shifted to juvenile
court. The court is sensitive to cases where juveniles are victims, as everyone should
The local Magistrate Court has followed the law and been helpful regarding public
There remains issues regarding "policy" about printing names. The Herald has
maintained a policy of not printing bad checks, except when there are several bad
checks, based upon consideration that people get in financial distress sometimes or
just make a mistake.
We have tried not to print possession of tobacco charges initiated in the school
system, essentially because of possible constitutional concerns. The school's have
filed charges as the first-party, precluding an investigation by law enforcement.
We have accepted the policy of the Magistrate Court not to print the names of people
until warrants are served, a request made by the West Virginia State Police, although
weeks or months go by before some warrants are served, and sometimes the cases
Sometimes we get complaints about names we have not printed. If names are not
printed, it is because they are not on the report.
When minors are listed in the report, such as possession of a drug or underage
drinking, we do not know their age, as they are not included. The "minor" could be a
few days under age 21 (for drinking) or 15 years old.
Henry Woodyard, the old-time editor and publisher of the Times-Record in Spencer,
use to respond by saying, "If ya don't want your name in the newspaper, don't make
A Calhoun man called one night saying "I'm sick and tired of reading my name in your
- - - - - paper for drunk driving." I asked how many times he had been arrested. He said
"Three!" I asked, "Were you drunk?" He said "Just a little." I said "It is highly unlikely
your name will be in The Hur Herald if you don't get drunk again and drive your
Mothers, thank God for them, have called The Herald (after reading their child's name)
saying "You have ruined their life!" I usually respond by telling them I was cited in
Parkersburg 45 years ago by the cops at age 16 and my name was in The
Parkersburg News, and it probably helped me.
If the court system account is to be accurate and fair, we print it. If we edit, edit, edit,
that seems unfair. We just can't have it both ways. It is unpleasant to upset so many
people, who say they will dislike us for the rest of our days.