12/27/04 — Magistrates get Christmas Eve pink slips

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Magistrates get Christmas Eve pink slips

By Jack Stephens
Published in News on December 27, 2004 1:58 PM

The chief Wayne County magistrate and a two-term magistrate were notified Christmas Eve that they were being fired.

Remona McIver, the chief magistrate for two years and a magistrate for almost 17 years, told the News-Argus on Sunday that she had not been reappointed by Superior Court Judge Jerry Braswell for a new term.

Sandra Castle, a magistrate for four years, confirmed Sunday that she was not reappointed.

Both got the news in letters from Braswell on Friday. Both said the judge did not explain his decision.

The two magistrates said their husbands are disabled and that they depend on their state jobs for health insurance. Mrs. McIver said she had consulted a lawyer, and Mrs. Castle said she was considering that option.

"It's been a terrible Christmas," Mrs. Castle said.

Mrs. McIver said her lawyer had advised her to limit what she said to the news media. She said she would give a written statement later. But she said Braswell had "harassed and threatened me for the last year and a half."

Mrs. McIver said the dismissal created a financial hardship for her family which includes a son in college. She also has a grown daughter. Her husband, a former supervisor at a Wayne County business, became disabled in a 2002 vehicle crash. He also has other medical problems.

Mrs. Castle said her husband has cancer and needs regular tests that cost $10,000 each. She said he was sick last weekend and was hospitalized. He is scheduled for an operation in January.

She said she was looking for another job on the Internet.

"It's been a very stressful time," Mrs. Castle said.

Being a magistrate is "a tough job," she said. "I did it to the best of my ability, and I guess I didn't do it well enough."

For the last three weeks, Mrs. McIver was substituting in Greene County, which is in the 8th Judicial District with Wayne and Lenoir counties.

"The sheriff and clerk of court said they wished I could stay," she said.

Both magistrates said they will complete their two-year terms that end Friday.

Magistrates are nominated by the clerk of court, Marshall Minchew, supervised by the chief District Court judge, Joseph Setzer, and appointed by Braswell.

Calls to Minchew's cell phone and to Braswell's home and office were not returned Sunday night.

However, Minchew had told the News-Argus that he was not renominating three magistrates -- R. Allen Jones, Patricia Williams and Terry Hatch. Mrs. Castle said Hatch had told her that he was being held over by Braswell.

Another of the county's 10 magistrates, Glenn Sloan, had said he will retire this week. Another long-time magistrate, J. Nelson Kornegay, retired earlier during the term.

The new magistrates will be sworn in Saturday in the Courthouse, according to a memo from Braswell.

Two years ago, Braswell did not reappoint the incumbent chief magistrate, Robert Holmes, a 22-year veteran; J. Robert Forsythe, who had served five years, and Valerie Twitty, who was finishing her first term.

Braswell replaced them with Hatch, Gilbert Owens and Nan Crissman.

Before he was appointed, Owens had been convicted of minor criminal and traffic misdemeanors. He resigned in June, 18 months into his term, and later was charged by Mount Olive with a felony drug offense. Mrs. Crissman resigned a few days after her appointment after her application showed that she had neither the experience nor the required education for the job. She was replaced by Sarah M. Jordan.

Other problems already had surfaced in December, 2002, in the magistrate's office before the previous reappointments.

Forsythe had complained that Jones had abused his authority. Forsythe alleged that Jones had held office on boards for which he heard small-claims cases in a conflict of interest, left work early, took vacation days when he had none and campaigned for a candidate -- all in violation of the Code of Judicial Ethics. But Braswell dismissed the allegations as "suspect."

Mrs. McIver and Mrs. Castle had corroborated Forsythe's allegations. The two women and Holmes joined Forsythe in testifying against Jones in a hearing in March, 2003. Braswell said the complaints did not rise to the level needed to remove a magistrate, and Jones kept his job.

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.