03/07/07 — Magistrate judge questions changes

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Magistrate judge questions changes

By Lee Williams
Published in News on March 7, 2007 1:59 PM

Staff changes at the Wayne County Magistrate's Office have ruffled the feathers of at least one magistrate judge who called his termination unfair and unjustified.

Former Magistrate Judge Terry Hatch is the first to be dismissed from his post after new Clerk of Court Pam Minshew submitted her list of names to Superior Court Judge Jerry Braswell more than two months ago.

While information maintained by the Administrative Office of the Courts Personnel Office doesn't support his termination claim, Hatch said he was relieved from his post about two weeks ago.

His last official work day was Feb. 26, he said.

Hatch said he received a termination letter from Judge Braswell about two weeks prior. He said he was surprised by the move. He approached Mrs. Minshew, but the reason for his termination remains a mystery.

"I went and asked her and she said she didn't have to tell me that," Hatch said.

The clerk nominates the magistrate judges for appointment. The senior resident judge hires and fires. The senior district court judge supervises the judges.

"I don't lay any blame with Judge Braswell," Hatch said. "He can't reappointment me if she didn't recommend me."

When questioned about Hatch's dismissal, Ms. Minshew referred comment to Braswell. Braswell did not return repeated calls for comment.

Hatch said he is just one of four judges including Patricia Williams, R. Allen Jones and James Myles who will not be reappointed.

Mrs. Minshew said last week that Cynthia Howard, Bill Buchanan, Bonnie Hill, Melinda Jordan and Larry Riggle were the only five magistrates reappointed by Braswell.

Myles, Ms. Williams and Jones' pictures still lined the walls inside the magistrate's office Tuesday. However, Hatch's picture has been removed and replaced by a new judge, Gary Laws.

The three remaining judges were placed in holdover status.

"Holdovers stay in place until they are replaced," said Dick Ellis, spokesman of the Administrative Office of the Courts. "If nothing happens, they stay in place."

Another judge has been appointed but the name of the judge was unavailable.

Gaspar Gonzalez, who chairs the Wayne County Democratic Party, was submitted for a judge appointment and accepted the appointment, Ms. Minshew said. But it was unclear if he would actually be hired.

All employees at the magistrate's office are appointed and serve at the will of Judge Braswell. They can be dismissed at any time.

Knowing this fact doesn't soften the blow of his dismissal, Hatch said. Hatch had worked for the magistrate office since Feb. 8, 2002. At the time of his termination, he made $36,126.

But in just two weeks, he went from drawing a paycheck to worrying about his future. Because he served in an appointed position, he does not qualify for an unemployment check despite his five-year tenure.

Ellis supported Hatch's submission.

"We're state employees, but we don't have the protections other state employees have because we were appointed by an elected official," he said.

Hatch said the dismissals could mean the state will have to spend more time and money training someone to do something he was already trained to do.

Magistrate judges set bond for those who are arrested and charged, issue arrest and search warrants, conduct weddings and hold Small Claims Court.

No one complained about Hatch's work, he said. He never missed a day and he stayed neutral throughout the political campaign, but that still wasn't enough to keep his job.

"I don't know Pam from town house cat," Hatch said. "What does she have against me? I'm at a complete loss."

Hatch said the office will suffer. He said he and Jones were the only two magistrate judges who spoke Spanish and served a growing need for Wayne County's criminal justice system.

"I don't know what they are going to do about communicating with Spanish-speaking citizens," he said.