02/09/05 — Bill would give district judge power to appoint county magistrates

View Archive

Bill would give district judge power to appoint county magistrates

By Barbara Arntsen
Published in News on February 9, 2005 2:23 PM

State Sen. John Kerr has introduced legislation that would eliminate the role of Superior Court judges in the appointment of magistrates.

Wayne County Superior Court Judge Jerry Braswell has been criticized recently by some people in and out of the court system for his decisions in appointing magistrates in Wayne County.

Kerr said that he has heard complaints about the magistrate appointment process from people across the state, not just in Wayne County.

"There are a lot of people concerned about what's going on, all over the state," Kerr said.

Magistrates are initially appointed for a two-year term, with subsequent terms being four years in length.

According to state law adopted in 1965, the county Clerk of Superior Court in each county receives applications for the magistrate positions and selects at least two nominees for each job. The residing Superior Court judge makes the appointments.

Kerr's proposal would cut out the Superior Court judge's involvement in the process, giving the duty to the Chief District Court judge to appoint magistrates. Currently, the Chief District Court judge supervises the magistrates.

The magistrates are now supervised by someone without any authority over their position, Kerr said.

"It would make more sense for the District Court judge to appoint them, and supervise them," he said. "They see them on a daily basis."

Wayne County's Chief District judge is Joe Setzer.

Kerr said that the bill would give the Chief Justice of the state Supreme Court the authority to remove the District Court judge from managing the magistrates, if problems arose.

"It would give a better check and balance to this system," Kerr said.

The proposed legislation would require a change in the state Constitution, as well as to the General Statues.

"We will be fine tuning this, as well as circulating it to get input from attorneys," Kerr said.

Before proposing the change, Kerr said he received input from members of the Judiciary Committee, magistrates across the state, and officials with the Administrative Office of the Courts.

"The Judiciary Council and other groups will be looking at it," Kerr said. "I just wanted to get it filed to get the process started."

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.