By Ron Gregory
LOGAN – The special magistrate appointed in the case against Logan High School boys basketball coach Mark Hatcher is denying any attempt to prevent public access to hearings involving the coach.
Magistate James Boles of Wyoming County, appointed to hear the Hatcher case when all Logan County magistrates recused themselves, said in a telephone interview Monday that his court is “always open to the public, unless there is a juvenile or family matter that is, by law, closed.”
When Hatcher’s case was scheduled on the Logan Magistrate Court docket last Friday, a reporter attempted to cover the proceedings. A magistrate court deputy clerk would not allow the reporter to enter the courtroom for 11 minutes. After arriving in Magistrate Dwight Williamson’s courtroom, the reporter was eventually told by a court bailiff that “the hearing you are here for is already over.
That came after the deputy clerk, in the presence of Circuit Judge Eric O’Briant, Hatcher’s stepfather, had told the reporter that the Hatcher case had “not started yet.”
Hatcher is charged with assaulting a Chapmanville town police officer during an on-court altercation last December at Chapmanville Regional High School. Hatcher has not commented on the charges. His team was playing Corridor G rival Scott when the brawl broke out. He is represented by Logan attorney Robert Iderton.
Boles said the appearance of attempting to hide Friday’s “hearing” was simply a misunderstanding. He said the event was actually a pretrial meeting. While the state Supreme Court said Friday that even pretrial hearings are open to the public, Boles said, “The normal practice in Southern West Virginia is that even the judge does not sit in on those meetings. It is a chance for the two sides and their attorneys to meet, discuss any common ground they might have, and report back to the magistrate.”
Boles said that is “exactly what happened Friday” in the Hatcher case. “The two sides met briefly; I assume they talked, and they came back and told me there was no compromise to be worked out. I told them to contact me and we would schedule the case to move forward.”
The special magistreate said he has no reason to give the case “special treatment.” Although he said he had been told of Hatcher’s relationship to the judge, “I don’t know, or care to know, anything about Logan County politics. That would not be a part of any decision I make in this case.”
A Supreme Court spokeswoman who is looking into the handling of Friday’s proceedings, said Boles told her he did not access or use Logan County Magistrate Court computers or other equipment.
“He did not tell anyone in the Logan County Magistrate Clerk’s office what transpired during the hearing. He did not put anything in the file there. He did not put any information in the computer there. He used his own file and took it with him,” she said.
Meanwhile, special prosecutor Teresa Maynard of Mingo County, appointed to handle the case because Logan Prosecutor John Bennett also recused himself, remained unavailable for comment Monday. On Friday, Maynard, whom the reporter has called repeatedly for comment regarding various matters, including the Hatcher case on Friday, told the Supreme Court she would “have told you (the reporter) what she told me,” except she had not received a call from the reporter.
Maynard told the Supreme Court that “there had been some discovery motions filed. (I) said (I) did not object to providing the information. The magistrate said any discovery and any other motions should be filed next week (now this week). He did not rule on anything. The magistrate advised both sides about his courtroom procedures, since (we) are all from different counties and have not worked together before.”
Maynard also told the Supreme Court spokeswoman, “He (Boles) stepped out of the room for a few minutes and gave the two parties a chance to talk. (We) were not able to come to any agreement on a plea or other settlement of the charges, so they requested the magistrate schedule another pretrial conference. He agreed to do that, but has not given (us) a date. If the case is not settled with an agreement of some kind at that point, there will be a bench trial scheduled.”
Boles assured the reporter Friday afternoon, “Everything else done in this case will be open to the public and press. You can count on that.”