09/12/04 — New magistrate under review

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New magistrate under review

By Sam Atkins
Published in News on September 12, 2004 2:06 AM

The N.C. attorney general and courts' administrative offices are reviewing the latest magistrate appointment by Judge Jerry Braswell.

Dick Ellis, public information officer with the Administrative Office of the Courts, said they expect a decision to be made by the end of this month whether proper procedures were followed in making the appointment.

Ellis said the offices are also looking into whether the qualifications of the new magistrate, Patricia Williams, meet the minimum state requirements.

Any decision made by the Attorney General's Office will be passed on to Judge Braswell, he said. If it is determined that the proper procedures were not followed, Braswell would then need to correct the procedure to select the next magistrate.

Braswell, the county's resident Superior Court judge, hired Ms. Williams in August to replace Gilbert Owens, who resigned June 30. Owens was later arrested by Mount Olive police and charged with felony possession of cocaine.

Ms. Williams was sworn in on Tuesday, according to Chief District Court Judge Joseph Setzer. He said they are having her observe right now and not sign any paperwork just in case the attorney general decides that the proper procedures were not followed.

Clerk of Court Marshall Minchew has said in the past that on July 27 he nominated nine people for the job from about 30 who had applied. By law, Braswell had 15 days to appoint one from those nominated.

Ms. Williams was not one of those nine nominated. Braswell had interviewed her and several others before making the selection. Minchew said her application was mistakenly put in the stack that had been sent to Braswell.

Magistrates are appointed for two-year terms. Minchew receives the applications and nominates them, Setzer supervises them and Braswell approves the hires.

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.