Article by: Jim Bissett, The Dominion Post
May there be no double-bogeys in Heaven.
Or whiffs or slices, either.
So goes John Verbosky’s prayer for Hershel Mullins, the Monongalia County chief magistrate (and his longtime golfing buddy) whose funeral is today.
Mullins, 70, died last weekend at J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital, after a lengthy illness not related to COVID-19.
His service is 11 a.m. today at McCulla Funeral Home, in Westover.
“I hope he’s having a great reunion with his family and friends,” Verbosky said.
“I hope he’s playing a few rounds and there’s a good fishing hole.”
Approaching the bench
Golf and fishing were just two entries on the list of items the magistrate held dear, his friend said.
There was family, of course, especially his grandson, Liam Hershel Mullins.
And all those friends, as Verbosky said, including the ones he volunteered with and worked with in the civic doings of Mon County.
You can even count the people who kept contact with him after they were sentenced in his courtroom, said James Nabors, his friend and fellow magistrate.
There was a reason for that, Nabors said.
“Hershel treated everyone with respect.”
Especially, as Nabors said, the people meeting him under circumstances that weren’t exactly cordial.
Nabors said Mullins, whom he also considered his mentor, told him there’s always a chance for redemption in people.
And never mind those often split-second, bad decisions that put them in handcuffs and holding-cell coveralls in the first place.
Tom Bloom, the former Morgantown city council member and current Monongalia County commissioner saw that early on with Mullins.
Mullins was a magistrate for 32 years, but he and Bloom pre-dated that history.
They went back to the late 1970s, when Bloom was beginning his earlier career as a guidance counselor at University High School and Mullins was a volunteer considering public life.
Both held similar ideas about society and the potential of young people — including young people who always seemed to lose their way.
Especially young people who always seemed to lose their way.
Their friendship and professional collaboration eventually led to the formation of the Morgantown Area Youth Service Project.
The effort was designed to help juveniles overcome drug and alcohol abuse while also learning to cope with those stressors in life that lead to such spirals.
Mullins, Bloom said, was both a cheerleader and father figure of the project.
“Hershel was the kids’ savior,” he said.
“He loved ’em, so long as they didn’t keep showing up in front of him.” Bloom said.
“You crossed him if you kept getting into trouble,” the former guidance counselor said.
“Then it got to be very different on the judicial side of things.”
Friendship, and other rules of law
That’s how Monongalia County Sheriff Perry Palmer wants to remember Mullins — as a magistrate more than adept and fair at the judicial side of things.
“Hershel was here when I got here in 1991,” the sheriff said.
“He was a good magistrate. He was knowledgeable and fair. We got to be good friends. I can tell you, he’s going to be missed.”
Friendship defined Kandy McCauley’s interaction with the chief magistrate.
McCauley, Mon’s magistrate court clerk, was his assistant for 16 years.
Keeping files turned into keeping track of kids, new puppies and “Wait’ll you hear this,” stories.
Their families ended up going on vacations together.
“He had this larger-than-life personality,” she said.
“He was accessible. He never met a stranger. I just consider myself lucky to have known him and worked with him.”
Nabors had the same interactions.
Sure, he said, there were lots of discussions about the rule of law and paragraphs and sub-paragraphs concerning county code.
More often though, the talk of the two magistrates, family men crazy about their grandsons, would shift to what was going on at the kitchen table and in the living room at home.
Mullins wanted to finish out his term on the court this year.
He liked that narrative and continuity, Nabors said, since he knew he wouldn’t be seeking re-election after three decades.
While being on the bench defined him in many ways, it was friendship that was driving him to get back there.
His health, he feared, was slamming the case load for his fellow magistrates.
Taking the call (answering it, too)
Nabors got so he could count on Mullins’ phone number popping up on his caller I.D., usually in late afternoons and evenings when his friend knew the docket was done.
The conversation was always the same.
“Man, I gotta get back to work. I hate that I’m doing this to you guys.”
“Hershel, we’ve got it covered, buddy. You just focus on getting well.”
Of course, he was going to call, Nabors said.
“That was Hershel. Always putting others first.”