The County Commission is expected to take action on Aug. 30 to change the judicial commissioner (magistrate) setup – moving to four fulltime commissioners with a higher pay level.
A report on the new setup handed out to commission members on Wednesday said, “Supervision of the judicial commissioners will be the responsibility of the General Sessions Court.” However, Commissioner Greg Beck said, “We could not get the Sessions judges to completely buy into that.”
Commissioner John Brooks, who is an attorney, said, “Legally, the Sessions judges can tell the judicial commissioners what to do.” He said Sessions judges often modify bonds set by the judicial commissioners.
The contract for the current judicial commissioners runs out at the end of October. They work nights and weekends setting bonds at the County Jail.
Commissioner Fred Skillern said the program is “one of the biggest headaches we have ever had. Technically, no one has been supervising them.”
Commissioner Richard Casavant said, “We have no responsibility over them after they are appointed."
County Mayor Claude Ramsey said the commission needs to nail down what role the Sessions judges will have with the judicial commissioners. You need to know if they are participating at what level or if they’re not.”
Commissioner Brooks said the judicial commissioners are most needed from 4 p.m. to 8 a.m. on weekdays and then on weekends. He said the period from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. is the slowest time for bonds, and he said, “The Sessions judges are here – or they should be here – until 4 p.m.”
Bob Meeks is the current chief judicial commissioner, and James Anderson also serves.
The new pay is set to be $63,000 for the chief and $58,000 for the others.
The chief is to be in charge of scheduling.
Commissioner Beck said one plan is to move the operation from a small space at the jail to Courtroom 5 of General Sessions Court. But he said there is some feeling that the judicial commissioners need to have direct contact with inmates.
The county’s legal committee, which is headed by Commissioner Brooks, will begin interviewing applicants for the posts as soon as the new setup is approved.
Commissioner Beck said an additional duty for the judicial commissioners would be to issue orders of protection that are now handled by Circuit and Chancery judges.