LOGAN — With almost four decades on the job, retiring Logan County Magistrate Leonard Codispoti has seen a lot in the basement of the Logan County Courthouse.
First sworn in on Jan. 1, 1981, and subsequently re-elected 10 times by voters in Logan County, Codispoti will have just under 40 years by the time he officially retires Friday, Oct. 30, capping off a career as one of the longest-serving magistrates in West Virginia. His first election came just four years after the transition from the former justice of the peace system to the current magistrate system.
One of 11 children by Bernard and Natalina Codispoti of Holden, Codispoti’s political career began in the 1970s when he, while in his early 20s, mounted two unsuccessful bids for Logan County Board of Education. At the time, he worked as a coal miner at Cow Creek. He was approached by John Mendez, a prominent political figure in Logan County for decades and father of current sitting magistrate Joe Mendez.
“A bunch of guys wanted to get rid of Andy Sos. He was a magistrate, and Big John Mendez ... got me to stop by his house and he called some people — and Bill Abraham and Jack Ferrell — they agreed to back me for magistrate, and I ran and I won,” Codispoti said.
Over the course of his career, Codispoti has established himself as a tough, but reasonable magistrate with a desire to use his job to help the people who stand before him.
“Well, sometimes you’ve got to slam them in jail,” Codispoti said, “or talk to them and try to counsel them the right way.”
With what he says is likely hundreds of thousands of cases he has seen pass before him over the years, Codispoti has gone through a lot of changes in how the magistrate court system operates. When he first began, he said court costs were $18 (now they’re $175), and bond forms have doubled in size. He said recent legislation regarding bonds is the biggest challenge facing the magistrate system today.
“I’m going to be honest with you, a person — before he can serve in the House of Delegates or State Senate — they ought to be required to go to magistrate court for a week and see what the magistrates do, and they wouldn’t pass all that bulls*** over there,” Codispoti said. “They try to tell you how to set bonds — if you put a person in jail and he can’t make bond within 72 hours, they want you to set up a hearing wanting to know why he’s still in jail … that’s bulls***, and then the Legislature, they’re setting policy. They’re not letting us do our job. They’re taking the authority away from the magistrates. We’re going to be policy enforcers.”
Codispoti also expressed frustration with the West Virginia Regional Jail Authority, saying he and other magistrates warned against that system when it was established in the 1990s.
“(The magistrates) told them that the county commissioners could not sustain the cost of the regional jail authorities,” Codispoti said. “There’s three of us living that told them that, but we told them idiots that they could not sustain the cost of these regional jails, but they still done it. But now like I said, they’re trying to set policy. The magistrates is going to be working for the Regional Jail Authority keeping the jail bill down, and the good people’s suffering over it.
“The state charges them,” he added. “The state ought to have to pay for it, not the county commissioners.”
The biggest issue Codispoti says he sees in Logan County is repeat drug offenders, lamenting the lack of rehabilitation facilities.
“We don’t have no rehab facilities in Logan County,” Codispoti said. “We need some places to put these people to try to get them off of drugs. Mingo County’s got two detox facilities.”
With a long career, Codispoti has earned the respect and friendship of other magistrates and authorities throughout the Mountain State.
“They still call me,” Codispoti said. “I’ve had magistrates come from Morgantown and Clarksburg come and stay at my house. ... Mingo County, they come and visit me. I’ve had magistrates from Huntington to come and stay at my house. I’ve established a good relationship throughout the state.”
Janie Moore, the former director of the Magistrate Court Division of the West Virginia Supreme Court, worked Codispoti for 30 years.
“Leonard was amazing in his own way,” Moore said. “He had a way of dealing with the public and handling attorneys to get the job done in a fair way. He will be missed by all. He was a person who cared and loved serving the people of Logan County.”
Steve Canterbury is the former administrator for the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.
“It’s hard to imagine the Logan County Magistrate Court without Leonard Codispoti,” Canterbury said. “He has been the powerful cornerstone there for decades. During my almost dozen years working for the Court, I knew I could always turn to Magistrate Codispoti and learn from his enormous depth of knowledge and his vast experience about any matter affecting magistrates. There simply is no other magistrate in the state who knows more about all of the details and complexities regarding West Virginia’s ‘people’s courts’ than Leonard.”
Codispoti will also be missed by his fellow Logan County magistrates, Dwight Williamson and Joe Mendez.
“I would say that there has never been anybody, any magistrate in the whole state of West Virginia, who can hold a candle to Leonard Codispoti, and who could avoid getting in any trouble as well as Leonard Codispoti has done,” Williamson said. “He’s probably, along with Glen Adkins, those two together could elect anybody in Logan County, and that’s just the truth. He’s always been fair with me, and that’s all I could ask out of anybody.”
Mendez said he considers Codispoti as family.
“From my own father’s words, he’s always said that Leonard should have been my father, not him, because pretty much, I act just like him, I eat just like him, but unfortunately, I’m about a foot taller than he is, so there really is no comparison, but I love Leonard like family,” Mendez said. “Without him and Magistrate Williamson, I would not know half the things I know to do my job. Logan County has been truly blessed to have these two men serve them, and I’m honored to serve with them and to hopefully continue their legacy later on down the road.”
Codispoti will be succeeded by retired City of Logan police officer David Adkins, who won the nonpartisan race for magistrate in the June primary election. Adkins also expressed a long working relationship with Codispoti during his time as a police officer.
“I definitely have some big shoes to fill,” Adkins said. “I remember as a young boy, me and my dad going to Leonard’s house and my dad was getting Leonard’s signs to put out to help him campaign, and to think that someday I would actually be replacing him, you know, that in itself is an honor for me. Leonard has always been like family to me also. I promise you during my training and during my career as a police officer, there has never been a dull moment in Leonard’s court. He is the life of the party. With all that said, I just want to thank Leonard for giving me the opportunity to replace him and hopefully, I can do just as good a job as he has done, but I know I’ve got a lot of work to do.”
When asked why he decided to retire, Codispoti cited being constantly on call.
“It’s just tough,” Codispoti said. “You get called out for some of the stupidest stuff. You know what I mean? Stuff that can wait till the next day, they still call you out.”
Codispoti highlighted getting re-elected 10 times and meeting his wife, Logan County Family Court Judge Kelly Gilmore-Codispoti, as some high points of his career. The two reside at Slabtown in Logan and have two children, Martin and Matthew.
Ultimately, the biggest highlight was helping people, something he says sometimes still garners him appreciation for even years later.
“I’ve gotten letters as far away as Texas, North Carolina, South Carolina, up in Ohio — kids that I’ve had in court after they got their head screwed on right after I cussed them out or whatever, chewed them out, they called and thanked me for what I did for them, thanked me for chewing them out and getting them on the right path in life,” Codispoti said. “They sometimes bring their kids to me for me to try to scare them straight today, I still get them.”
Upon his retirement from Logan County Magistrate Court, Codispoti hopes to continue to work for the Supreme Court as a senior status magistrate that travels throughout several counties. The biggest challenge for him now is just figuring out what to do with his new free time.
“I’m going to have a lot of time on my hands, but I don’t know what I’m going to do yet,” Codispoti said. “I’m going to miss it. Man, you do something 40 years, you know you’re going to miss it.”
Codispoti expressed his thanks for a myriad of friends — both living and deceased — who helped him succeed over the years, including Don Wandling, Joe C. Ferrell, Jack Ferrell, Bill Abraham, Katherine “Kat” Barbour, Loretta Hooker, the Lucas family from Holden, Angie and Helen Triolo, Larry Coffindaffer and Tom Godby.