CHATSWORTH, Ga. - At the end of her career with the state, L. Gale Buckner was sworn in Thursday in her home town as the next chief magistrate.
"It's something I never would have imagined," Buckner said to a crowd of friends and colleagues at the Murray County Courthouse. "But I'm looking forward to good things ahead."
Buckner, who was raised in Chatsworth, left her job at the Department of Juvenile Justice a year early to head the Conasauga Judicial Circuit Magistrate Court, a position opened when former Judge Bryant Cochran resigned after he came under state and federal investigation.
Allegations that Cochran used his position to solicit sex from a woman, pre-signed arrest warrants and harassed members of his female staff have cast a shadow on the Magistrate Court, officials agree. Buckner said she knows she has an important job to do to restore faith in the judicial process, and she has a plan to do so.
"The first thing I'm going to do is so basic. It's to literally clean house," she said.
Buckner said she plans to revamp how records are documented and kept at the courthouse, document personnel work hours and create better job descriptions for employees.
Cochran, who has denied the soliciting charges but admitted to pre-signing warrants, still is under investigation, along with two former county sheriff's deputies. The deputies were fired after they lied to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation about a drug charge involving Cochran's accuser, a charge that was later dropped, records show.
Interim Chief Magistrate Dwayne Hooper said Buckner was a good choice because she is capable of improving the professional standards in the office.
Several of the Conasauga Superior Court judges who unanimously agreed to appoint Buckner said she was chosen because of her extensive career with the state, her leadership skills and her ties to the community.
"She is a wonderfully qualified public servant with a long distinguished career," said Judge David Blevins. "She will make a very positive contribution to the judicial system."
Buckner began her law enforcement career in 1978 at the Chatsworth Police Department before being hired as a special agent with the GBI. Before Gov. Nathan Deal asked her to head the Department of Juvenile Justice in 2011, she spent seven years working on the State Board of Pardons and Paroles.
Buckner, who has worked 31 years for the state, said she had sufficient benefits to retire but she felt after extensive prayer that taking the magistrate position was the right thing to do.