WVVA Hometown Hero: Mercer County Magistrate making a difference

Published: Apr. 26, 2023 at 4:35 PM EDT
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PRINCETON, W.Va. (WVVA) - For the last 13 years, Susan Atkins Honaker has been serving in Mercer County’s magistrate court. The widow of a second-generation lawman, Honaker shares how she made the decision to seek public office to serve on the bench.

“...So, years ago when I knew they had an open seat, I talked to my husband about his dad. Because his dad retired from the Bluefield Police Department, and I had asked him, why don’t you talk to him and see if he would want to run for Magistrate. He knows everything about the law. And he was like, I don’t know. Then I said, why don’t you do it? You know, ‘cause my husband had been in law-enforcement for years. He was a wonderful person and I’m like why don’t you run for it? And he was like no and I was like I’m going to. And at first, he thought oh Mercy, because he knows I am a go-getter, I’ll do it all you know. Even to this day, I’m a go-getter, and he kind of snuck and run it by his dad, I guess to see if it was going to get his approval. And I ran. The first time of course, I didn’t get it. But then after that, I’ve been blessed and have been magistrate ever since,” said Honaker. Before being elected to her post, Honaker worked as a child advocate for a time, a job that brought her into magistrate court on more than one occasion, “On this side of the bench, you can help them and do things and you don’t have to worry about the legal aspects of it. You know on that side of the bench you’ve got to do according to the law. So you have to really watch your peas and cues. you have to watch what you do, watch what you say because you know, we are impartial. We have to do what’s in the best interest of the child and leave our emotions and our feelings out of it and it’s hard sometimes. Because I’m a Nana and I love kids.” Honaker said with a smile.

Even with an education in criminal justice, the job of magistrate is far from a typical 9-to-5, Monday through Friday gig. While it’s her job to pass judgments, after sharing her Hometown Hero nomination letter, Honaker says she doesn’t feel like the right choice, “I just don’t feel worthy of such an honor. You know, I do love people. I love to do the best I can do for everybody, even with my job, but I said, from day one, I have an open-door policy and I do.” she said, adding, “...I receive calls all day long and all evening long, even on the weekends, 7 days a week. I always answer their calls. I always answer their questions as best I can,” said Honaker. She says she loves doing her job, especially when she gets the chance to lead young people away from self-destructive paths in life. Honaker says she wears different hats for different cases, but when she’s dealing with kids whose bad choices lead to the wrong side of the law...” I’ll put on the hat of a counselor after I do my ruling of whether or not I feel a protective order is needed or whatever, then I try to talk to the kids. A lot of times it helps when someone is not the parent and you’re bringing this to the children of watt is going to happen if they continue down this path. And that’s what I try to instill in these kids, to know that you are more than that. And I always leave them with a positive note, even if they, even if I don’t know them, which I don’t. I always leave the positiveness, telling them how beautiful they are, telling them how I can look at them and see how smart they are, how they could be a positive role model in their school. How they can be a positive person in the community, and they just do their little smiles and they, you know some of them, they really love that. They need that.” said Honaker.

It’s not just young people who seem to appreciate the tough love doled out from Magistrate Honaker, “I was in the mall, not that too awful long ago, and this has happened to me several times at the Mercer mall. A gentleman walked up to me one day and he was like, you’re Magistrate Honaker, aren’t you? And I was like, yes? You know you always have that hesitation because you’re thinking what’s going to happen next? He said I just want to thank you, and he shook my hand. He said you put me in jail for a year and he said that’s the best thing that could’ve ever happened,” she said with tears welling in her eyes as she continued, " ...but he said that it’s really turned my life around. I have my family back. I have my kids back. It’s such a rewarding feeling and that’s what I look at every day, every case. Everything that I do is an individual. You know they say sometimes that law enforcement and different ones, they deal with this day in and day out so it’s just like a normal for them. I don’t look at anything like that. I’ll look at each case as a separate individual case,” said Honaker.

It’s this kind of commitment to making a difference in her community, one case at a time, that makes Susan Atkins Honaker worthy to join the list of WVVA Hometown Heroes.