Pool of candidates shrinks for judicial magistrate positions

Pool of candidates shrinks for judicial magistrate positions

October 8th, 2013 by Louie Brogdon in Local - Breaking News

District 6 Commissioner Joe Graham

District 6 Commissioner Joe Graham

Photo by John Rawlston /Times Free Press.

It will be easier for Hamilton County commissioners to appoint two judicial magistrate positions than originally expected. Interest in the posts dropped sharply over the weekend.

On Friday, commissioners were set to interview 21 applicants. By the start of interviews Monday, that number was down to 18. After three no-shows and one more withdrawal during the interviews, the field was down to 14 -- and few of them were unfamiliar to commissioners, Commissioner Marty Haynes said.

"I don't know if it's the economy or what, but [applications] have gone up each time," Haynes said. "This is the largest pool of applicants we've had since I've been on the commission."

Haynes is chairman of the commission's Legal and Security Committee.

The one-year job is full time and pays $61,143. Magistrates sign warrants for police searches and felony arrests. They also set bonds for criminal defendants and aid the county's other courts day to day. The job requires keeping odd hours, since the jail is always running.

"The job is good. The hours stink," Commissioner Joe Graham told a few applicants Monday.

Applicant experience ranged from one applicant who would learn this week if she passed the bar to another who had practiced law in Chattanooga since the 1970s.

Current Judicial Commissioners Jeffery Davis and Larry Ables reapplied for their jobs. Commissioners also heard from former Magistrate Robert Davis, past judicial candidate Ron Powers and Jennifer Wade and Justin Woodward -- both of whom applied for magistrate positions last spring.

All told, commissioners only saw eight new faces.

The chief question commissioners had for candidates was what criteria each would use when setting bonds for jailed residents. Most all candidates said they would rely on current laws, past guidelines, severity of crimes and the likelihood that arrestees would come back to court.

Bond guidelines are largely set by higher courts and state law, but Haynes said judicial commissioners should err on the high side for bond amounts.

Haynes said Sessions Court judges would rather see higher bonds than lower ones, because higher bonds can be adjusted down, but lower ones cannot be easily raised.

New judicial commissioners are scheduled to be selected at the Oct. 16 commissioner meeting. Those selected will serve until Oct. 31, 2014.