CHARLES TOWN – Gail Boober, after presiding for 35 years over court cases ranging from minor civil claims to first-degree murders, is retiring this spring as a Jefferson County magistrate.
Boober, 67, said she won’t be running for re-election this May, which will be the first time voters won’t see her name on the ballot for magistrate since 1985. And she’s never lost an election. She’ll step down right after voters select her successor in the primary election in May.
“I always said I’d know when it was time and that it’s time,” she said of her retirement from the justice system.
“I’ve made a difference in peoples’ lives and for the community,” she added, “and I think I could continue to make a difference. I’m just tired.”
It’s not the rising caseload that Boober has handled over the years that has her professionally tuckered out. It’s the regular shifts of an on-call magistrate to respond to late-night cases to issue everything from emergency protective orders to mental health commitments to investigative search warrants, she said.
Even without such emergency cases, as sure as the sun sets, drunk driving arrests are bound to draw magistrates into court over the weekends.
Every three weeks those on-call shifts come on top of a regular week’s busy schedule in court.
“If I could just do court, I’d stay forever, but it’s the on-call that’s getting to me now,” Boober said.
Born and raised in Charles Town, Boober said she has missed countless holidays and family get-togethers for the job. “Unlike any other elected official, we have to be here and the buck stops with us,” she said. “Somebody always has to be on call and available.”
“And the sad part of it is, I’ve loved every minute of it,” she added.
Her family understands. Her husband Ed is a retired Washington, D.C., career cop who later served stints as Ranson’s police chief and Jefferson County’s elected sheriff. Her son David is a retired state police officer who now assists in sheriff’s department investigations.
Known and respected throughout West Virginia’s judicial circles, Boober said she enjoys the public service, her essential role as an impartial front-line official in the judicial system, and the variety of cases she’s involved with.
“When you think you’ve seen it all, something else comes in and tops it,” she said.
As a magistrate, Boober conducts arraignments and oversees preliminary hearings for criminal cases, including major felonies bound over to grand juries. Civil lawsuits for debts or compensation $10,000 or below come before her and two other Jefferson County magistrates to resolve.
Arraignments, where people are informed of their rights while facing criminal charges and where bail bonds are set to ensure defendants return to court to face trial, happen every morning and evening, following procedures directed by the West Virginia Supreme Court, Boober explained.
“I want to make sure Jefferson County stays aboveboard,” she said. “I want to make sure that rules are followed and that the job is done correctly.”
Someone facing domestic battery charges, for example, can’t own or possess a firearm while his or her case is pending in the courts, Boober said. And the person can’t ever own or possess a firearm in West Virginia if they’re convicted of domestic battery. To be fair and just, those laws need to be clearly communicated to anyone person charged with that particular crime, she said.
“I don’t want there to be any misunderstanding from anybody that’s ever before me,” she said. “I want to make sure they understand everything.”
Properly doing the job of magistrate requires detailed knowledge about criminal and civil law and court rulings, Boober said. Magistrates must keep up with the continual changes in the law and court rulings.
“Just when you learn it, it changes,” she said. “The laws are changing every legislative session.”
After earning a general studies degree from what was Shepherd College, Boober served as a magistrate assistant for seven years where she learned the court system and its intricacies. Then she ran for magistrate. Since then, her career has been a challenge of continually learning the law and court rulings to ensure those caught up in the court system know their rights and are treated fairly.
Her role is to impartially weigh evidence presented to protect both the public and a defendant’s rights, Boober said.
That may sound straightforward, but it’s more complex when a magistrate must understand the facts that aren’t always presented in a case file or charging document, she said.
“You’ve got to look at the person that’s in front of you and try to figure out if it’s a drug problem, if it’s an alcohol problem, if there are mental health issues — and how to best address those issues so that the person doesn’t commit any other criminal offenses and hopefully they can get the help that they need,” she explained.
Boober remembers the 1980s when Jamaican and Haitian immigrants brought the violent cocaine trade to Charles Town, when one particular drug dealer wasn’t shy about casting threats to her directly.
Those dealers were mostly imprisoned or killed by a rival.
Today, the scourge has been the opioid crisis of prescription pills and its byproduct of heroin, Boober said. There has been less violence, but more deaths have been quietly tallied. “I bet there’s not anybody that has not been affected in one way or another by the crisis,” she said.
Drugs and alcohol have fueled much of the crime Boober has seen over and over again, which has also contributed to the widespread fracturing of families. She’s recently been witnessing the fourth generation from the same families brought before her over the years in handcuffs and their heads bowed.
“Now I’m having the grandchildren,” she said. “Obviously, alcohol and drugs are pretty significant family dynamics. You know, you have to break the cycle.”
People often have unrealistic expectations for what the judicial system can do, Boober said. Sending people to jail doesn’t always repair the damage they’ve done, she said.
“I’ve learned to leave the office at the office,” she said. “The cases that I take home are when something’s happened to a child or an elderly person, and those are the ones that I have a harder time separating myself from at the conclusion of the case.”