08/19/04 — Ex-magistrate was overpaid, office says

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Ex-magistrate was overpaid, office says

By Jack Stephens
Published in News on August 19, 2004 2:06 PM

Former Magistrate Gilbert Owens was paid a month's salary after he had resigned, a state court official acknowledged Wednesday.

The official, Dick Ellis, a spokesman for the state Administrative Office of the Courts, said the AOC personnel office had not been notified of Owens' resignation.

"We found out about the resignation through an article in the newspaper," Ellis said in a telephone interview. "We discovered that he was overpaid for one month, and we are recouping that money now."

Ellis said the AOC would send Owens a letter today and notify the former magistrate that he would have to pay the money back.

Owens submitted a letter of resignation in June. His last day was June 30.

Magistrates in Wayne County are nominated by Clerk of Court Marshall Minchew, supervised by Chief District Court Judge Joe Setzer and appointed by Superior Court Judge Jerry Braswell.

Minchew said he has submitted nine names to Braswell to replace Owens and the judge asked for a 10th. Minchew has declined to submit any more names. The clerk said the law gives the judge 15 days to fill the vacancy.

The 49-year-old Owens, who lives in Mount Olive, had served 18 months of a 24-month term when he resigned. At the time he said he wanted to devote more time to the ministry.

About five weeks later, on Aug. 6, Owens was stopped by Mount Olive police for suspicion of speeding on South Center Street near Williamson Street. Mount Olive Police Chief Emmett Ballree said Owens did not have a license, and the officer found a small amount of cocaine.

Owens was charged with felony possession of cocaine and not having a driver's license. He was released from custody on a $2,500 unsecured bond. Owens' next court appearances were scheduled for Aug. 20 in Goldsboro on the cocaine charge and Aug. 23 in Mount Olive on the license charge.

Owens' appointment as a magistrate in December 2002 was one of several controversial new hires made by Judge Braswell for the job. He had been convicted of several misdemeanor offenses, including four worthless checks, two speeding violations, four seat-belt violations and no operator's license. The latter charge was reduced from driving while his license was revoked.

He also was convicted in Sampson County District Court of misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia, but the charge was dismissed in Superior Court.

Magistrates are the lowest-ranking officials in the judicial system. They establish the terms of release for newly arrested defendants -- usually secured or unsecured bonds or written promises -- hold Small Claims Court and conduct weddings.