01/21/05 — Magistrates: Hiring and firing process is awkward and inefficient

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Magistrates: Hiring and firing process is awkward and inefficient

A part of the mess in the Wayne County magistrates’ office can be blamed on the convoluted system by which magistrates are hired and supervised.

Of course, any system could be made to work smoothly if that were the goal of all of the individuals involved. But there has been no such shared goal in Wayne for some time.

Magistrates are appointed by the chief resident Superior Court judge — in this case, Jerry Braswell. He has been inclined to dump qualified magistrates, some of whom he replaced with unqualified ones.

The law that gives the Superior Court judge the authority to appoint the magistrates also gives supervision over them to the chief District Court judge. That’s Joe Setzer in Wayne County.

Having them appointed by one person and supervised by another is awkward and inefficient.

It gets worse. Before the magistrates are appointed, they are nominated by yet another person, the clerk of court. In Wayne, that’s Marshall Minchew. The law does not require the appointing judge to follow the clerk’s recommendations, and Braswell — no friend of Minchew — doesn’t.

So why does the clerk have to nominate them in the first place?

And if the District Court judge supervises him, why is the authority to hire and fire them not his? He is closer to them and has a better perspective on their performance.

Some Superior Court judges, of course, would consult with the District Court judge before firing magistrates or making appointments. Braswell acts on his own, and sometimes in a manner that raises questions about his motives. This year, for example, he notified two magistrates on Christmas Eve that they were losing their jobs.

About 35 residents met Tuesday night to talk about the situation and discuss what might be done. Very little, evidently. The Judicial Standards Commission and the Administrative Office of the Courts have refused to get involved because Braswell is exercising power that is given to him by law.

After Tuesday night’s meeting, Braswell said that during the last four years he has only been trying to clear up the “turmoil” that existed in the magistrates’ office when he took office. Instead, what we have now is turmoil throughout the county over an office that, four years ago, most people rarely even thought about.

Personalities aside, the Legislature should streamline and simplify the process of hiring, supervising and firing the magistrates, and it should get politics out of it.

Published in Editorials on January 21, 2005 9:39 AM