Bertie’s first black magistrate honored

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 19, 2005

WINDSOR – It’s been a rewarding and sometimes exciting 20 years.

That according to Bertie County Magistrate Arthur Watford after Judge Alfred W. Kwasikpui honored him Thursday morning for 20 years of service to the court.

&uot;I find myself in deep gratitude,&uot; Watford said. &uot;I was the first black magistrate in Bertie County and the second in the district (Judicial District 6-B). It has been a very humbling experience.&uot;

Watford is a Bertie County native that was gone long enough to earn a college degree, but returned shortly after to care for his ailing father.

He said that despite his role in doling out justice to those who have committed crimes, he still believe Bertie County was filled with good people.

&uot;We really have fine people in Bertie County,&uot; he stressed. &uot;For the most part, if they commit a crime, they will admit their mistake.

&uot;Sure, we have a few, but the rest of the people are good, honest folks who do their best to live within the law,&uot; he added.

In addition to setting bond in criminal cases, magistrates hear civil cases and perform other duties, according to Watford.

Magistrates were formerly known as Justices of the Peace and one of the tasks that fall to Watford is to perform marriage ceremonies. He said while he couldn’t begin to put his finger on a number, some of those have stood out in is mind.

&uot;The shortest marriage lasted 28 days,&uot; he laughed. &uot;That was tough. Honestly, though I married her again. This time she’s still married.&uot;

Watford said that he felt it was his role to try to be fair and do the best he could to make the right decision.

&uot;We are the first people many see as far as justice,&uot; he said. &uot;I think you must administer justice and treat people so they feel you’ve been fair.

&uot;You see people at their worst,&uot; he continued. &uot;When you have those people come back and tell you they appreciate the way you handle yourself and admit they were wrong, it makes you feel like you made a difference.&uot;

The difficult part of being a magistrate is the time involved in making decisions.

&uot;You look at a person and have about three minutes to make a decision that will make an impact on their life,&uot; he said. &uot;I don’t take that lightly.&uot;

While emphasizing he has thoroughly enjoyed serving the people of Bertie County for 20 years, Watford did say it almost didn’t happen.

During his first few weeks on the job, he spent one night that he admitted made him call his wife and say he wasn’t sure the job was for him.

&uot;I got a call that there was a baby walking down the street,&uot; he said. &uot;When I came in, I found out there was indeed a child walking down the street and it was because the mother had rammed her car into another car.&uot;

Watford said the baby, who was sorely in need of a diaper change, and the woman were brought to his office. While there, the Bertie County Deputy on duty had to respond to an accident in which a peanut trailer came off a truck and crashed into a house.

&uot;I was sitting here with a woman and the baby that needed to be changed and another woman came in the door and literally fell at my feet,&uot; he said.

After being helped to her feet, the woman told Watford her boyfriend had beaten her up.

&uot;Here I was with the woman and her child and then this woman in this condition,&uot; Watford said. &uot;I called my wife and told here I wasn’t sure if I was cut out for this or not.&uot;

He continued, &uot;After that things settled down and I have truly enjoyed working with the people of this county.&uot;

That appreciation extends both ways as Judge Kwasikpui was also appreciative of the work Watford has rendered.

&uot;On behalf of the Administrative Offices of the Courts and the North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice I. Beverly Lake, I would like to commend Mr. Watford on his service to Bertie County,&uot; the judge said.

The presentation of a gold clock was made before Thursday’s session of Criminal District Court in Bertie County.