So, here I sit on New Year’s Eve, just hours before 2020 will finally come to a dead end, and I can only reflect on the worst year of my lifetime — a lifetime that spans over six and one-half decades. I am convinced that 2020 is in fact the year of the Devil. And no matter what transpires in 2021, 2020 cannot take credit for it. Indeed, 2020 will become nothing more than bad history.
I’ve been homebound now with COVID for 14 days, and so has nearly everyone in Logan Magistrate Court, where I’ve strived to serve the public as the best judicial officer possible now for over 20 years. The recent COVID outbreak in the “dungeon” of the courthouse comes as no surprise to me. When you work in an environment where there is not a single window and where no sunshine has ever graced the inside cinderblock walls of an underground structure for over 60 years, one simply cannot expect air quality to be anything more than bad.
When you add to the fact that neither heat nor air conditioning can be controlled by any of the 13 rooms in Magistrate Court, there are times when the stench of some defendants seated in a public waiting room is almost unbearable, sometimes lingering for days. But, wait, there’s more. I am only one of two employees still in Magistrate Court who can recall a lawsuit filed over asbestos in the courthouse.
What followed was a financial settlement and total remodeling of certain places in the courthouse. A professional asbestos study was completed in Logan Magistrate Court and the results showed the percentage of asbestos contained in every room. We were left alone to sort out whether or not the results for each office was good or bad. Some offices were much worse than others. The results were never explained to us and nobody asked any questions. We simply went back to work, being the expendable ones.
At least two employees of Logan Magistrate Court died after being diagnosed with cancer. They both worked at one time or another in the room that showed the highest percentage of asbestos. That room is today known as the Leonard Codispoti courtroom, only recently being remodeled and designated as such.
Magistrates are a different breed of judicial officer, handling just about every problem imaginable. People show up at our doors at all hours, the telephone rings regularly, and text messages and Facebook messages are fired at us seeking legal answers and advice, all of which we’re not supposed to give answers to. Circuit judges do not have to deal with the riffraff that we are subjected to, and that’s good. I have often referred to circuit court as “heaven” and magistrate court as “hell” — simply because of the way the two courts have to operate. To this I must add that nearly every attorney from another county that practices in Logan Magistrate Court has let us know they do enjoy our handling of court.
As I write this, someone knocks on my backdoor to speak with me. My wife explains the COVID situation and the guy asks if he can telephone me. An hour later, the phone rings and the man is quick to say, “I need your help.”
As is too often the case, his daughter was arrested in possession of fentanyl and is incarcerated. “She’s agreed to rehab and I talked to prosecutor Dave Wandling,” he says. “Dave said he would help me; can you call him?”
The father of this young girl has forgotten of at least two other times when we worked to get his daughter out of jail for rehab purposes. I couldn’t tell you if she ever received any type of rehabilitation, but I doubt it. You see, everybody in jail wants rehab, when in reality they want out to get their next fix.
I advised the fellow to call magistrate court one day the following week to see what attorney gets appointed and to convey to that attorney her desire for rehab. I hope it works. However, I predict she will be found dead by summertime. I have seen this scenario at least a dozen times. As callous as I may sound, understand that I have begged for a local long-term rehab facility for years; all to no avail. Maybe the thought is that all drug addicts will eventually die.
There have been some significant changes to our magistrate court since I started in 2000. I remember when there was absolutely no court security and people who had no reason to be there wandered down the hallways. The cigarette smoke was thick and people were wandering everywhere. I suppose it had always been that way.
Anyway, Chief Circuit Judge Eric O’Briant caused a “no smoking” ordinance to go in effect in Magistrate Court and then stopped the flow of just “anybody wandering” in off the streets by having a locked door located at the hallway entrance, and an employee was placed there to record the time and the name of the person who entered. It took a while, but people eventually realized Magistrate Court was nowhere to loaf, and the air quality, needless to say, improved dramatically.
The reason I write today — I must confess — is because when writing my last column on Christmas Eve, in which I relayed that all three magistrates, two assistants and two clerks had COVID, I no sooner finished writing when our magistrate court family messaged that longtime assistant Shawn Evans (assistant to Leonard Codispoti and now his replacement, David Adkins) had been transported by ambulance to Logan Regional, then to Pikeville, Kentucky, and was being transferred to UK in Lexington, Kentucky, in the middle of a snow storm. The situation was dire.
Remember. It was Christmas Eve. The snow was pouring and the roads were snow-covered. I was heart-broken as I thought of Shawn’s love for her family, especially her only son, who is in the military, and her two grandchildren. Shawn has a big, soft heart for everyone. It has been a long, long time since I have prayed as hard as a I prayed that night, myself at the time starting to feel the effects of COVID.
Perhaps it’s the radiation treatments I received for my vocal cord cancer a few years back that has weakened my immune system. Maybe it’s my age. Maybe it’s a combination thereof. Regardless, I have suffered more than most, but I cannot truly complain. Unlike so many other less fortunate, I will likely survive, as will all of our Magistrate Court family — yes, including Shawn.
Just moments ago, we received word that Shawn has been moved to a private room and is only on oxygen now, after nearly a week of being on a vent. Everyone is so pleased to hear this news and can’t wait for us all to get back together. What COVID stories we may share.
Magistrate Court has always been referred to as the “front lines” of the judicial system. While that may be intended to make us feel important, I think we all know what happens to the front lines in any military engagement. I am here to report that we have met the enemy head on. And, while we have sustained injuries, there are no casualties to report. We will win this terrible virus war. And we will live to tell about it.
Meanwhile, if you feel ill or have a temperature, don’t go to work. You may end up killing someone.
Dwight Williamson serves as magistrate in Logan County. He writes a weekly column for HD Media.