Hamilton County Commission -- Oct. 15, 2008
As the Hamilton County Commission reopens the door to applications for the county’s four judicial commissioner positions, a panel Wednesday made some adjustments to their contracts and asked for other changes.
Commissioners Fred Skillern and Curtis Adams said they want more oversight of the program and its manager, the chief judicial commissioner.
“It’s just not run like a business,” Mr. Skillern said.
Citing information from reports provided by Chief Judicial Commissioner Yolanda Mitchell, Mr. Skillern said there are several hours during the night when the judicial commissioners, often called magistrates, were on hand but setting no bonds. He said the county is paying $60 an hour for each hour a magistrate is present.
The chief magistrate should provide the magistrates’ schedule to the sheriff’s department, Mr. Skillern said, so that jail officers can bring inmates to them when they’re available. He said the sheriff’s office should notify the commission if a magistrate is not present.
Mr. Skillern also suggested that the magistrates work around the jail’s scheduled daily lockdowns.
WHAT THEY DO
Judicial commissioners, often called magistrates, perform limited judicial duties, such as setting bonds and signing warrants, on holidays, nights and weekends, when Hamilton County’s General Sessions Court judges are not on the bench.
The chief magistrate should be able to set the schedule so that magistrates are available at peak times, Mr. Adams said.
Commissioners had discussed setting a minimum of at least 32 hours for magistrates to work, but they decided to leave that up to the chief. Some commissioners were surprised during interviews of magistrate applicants two weeks ago to learn that magistrates were working 25-hour weeks.
They also were upset that substitute magistrates were coming in so often to fill in for magistrates who were sick or on vacation.
Mr. Skillern said the magistrates should be their own sick relief; if one calls in sick, one of the other three full-time magistrates should come in.
The commission’s Security and Corrections committee agreed that they stipulate magistrates work “up to 40 hours” and be exempt from the county’s employee handbook. That exemption would mean the magistrates would get benefits but wouldn’t be able to appeal firings or receive overtime pay.
The county’s chief magistrate makes $63,000 per year. The others make $58,000 annually.
Next week, the commission will accept new applications for the four magistrate slots. The deadline for applications is Oct. 24 at 4 p.m.
The commission plans to interview the applicants Oct. 28.
The current magistrates’ contracts expire Oct. 31, though the commission likely will not be able to make new appointments until Nov. 5.