County commissioners discuss magistrates.
Local judicial magistrates soon may work more hours, but not the same hours.
While Hamilton County commissioners want the county’s four magistrates to work 40-hour weeks, they also are examining whether magistrates are working when maybe they shouldn’t be.
“If you don’t have any customers coming in at midnight, you don’t keep the store open,” Commissioner Fred Skillern said.
Commissioners recently received reports that show how many bonds the magistrates, officially known as judicial commissioners, set each hour they worked from early March to the end of July. Those reports show lulls about 10 p.m., when the county jail locks down for a shift change, and during the day on Saturdays and Sundays.
Four magistrates work from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. on weekdays and 24 hours on weekends and holidays. One of the magistrates also works an additional four hours on Friday afternoons.
The magistrates’ contracts expire Friday. County commissioners plan to interview applicants for the magistrate positions Tuesday. They reopened the application process after discovering that the current magistrates generally work less than 30 hours a week.
The commission has added a provision to the magistrates’s contract stipulating that each of the four magistrates work up to 40 hours a week. The chief magistrate makes $63,000 per year, and the other full-time magistrates make $58,000 annually.
* 6 p.m.: 364 total bonds set
* 7 p.m.: 612 total bonds set
* 8 p.m.: 454 total bonds set
* 10 p.m.: 185 total bonds set
* 11 p.m.: 232 total bonds set
BONDS PER DAY*
* Sunday 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.: 12
* Sunday/Monday 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.: 15
* Monday/Tuesday 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.: 28
* Tuesday/Wednesday 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.: 29
* Wednesday/Thursday 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.: 31
* Thursday/Friday 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.: 36
* Friday 12 p.m. to 6 p.m.: 10
* Friday/Saturday: 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.: 27
* Saturday 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.: 12
* Saturday/Sunday 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.: 25
*Averages based on records from magistrates
WHAT THEY DO
Judicial commissioners serve limited judicial duties, such as setting bonds and signing warrants. They work on nights, weekends and holidays, when General Sessions Court judges are not on the bench.
Mr. Skillern and other commissioners have discussed having magistrates on-hand at the jail only during busy hours. He’s also suggested having magistrates work three six-hour shifts rather than the current single 12-hour shifts.
The new work schedule proposed by Mr. Skillern would take magistrates off-duty during jail lockdowns at 6 a.m., 2 p.m. and 10 p.m.
But Chief Judicial Commissioner Yolanda Mitchell said a small number of bonds in any given hour doesn’t mean a magistrate’s not busy.
“Setting bonds is not the only thing we do,” she said.
Ms. Mitchell said magistrates often need to be available to sign warrants and take care of paperwork for officers from the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office and those from jurisdictions outside Chattanooga.
Also, she said, different bonds require different amounts of time.
“There’s not a full understanding of the process involved in setting someone’s bond,” she said.
Ms. Mitchell said the magistrates make inmates aware of their rights, read the charges against the accused and check criminal records.
Lockdown times wouldn’t be the best times to take a magistrate off-duty, she said, recommending weekend daytime hours with possibly putting a magistrate on-call during those hours.
“Saturday and Sunday (during the) day are just slow as molasses,” Ms. Mitchell said.
Sheriff’s Capt. John Swope, who oversees the jail, said the problem with any scheduling change is that it’s hard to predict when people are going to be coming into the jail.
“The best system we ever had was an on-call system,” he said.
Capt. Swope suggested 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4 to 6 p.m. on weekdays as times for an available magistrate.