Gordon County judge off the bench because he renewed his driver's license?

Gordon County judge off the bench because he renewed his driver's license?

Where exactly does Gordon County's magistrate live?

August 20th, 2018 by Tyler Jett in Local Regional News

UPDATE: James P. Rasbury purchased a home in the Woodland Hills subdivision of Calhoun on June 14, according to a warranty deed in the county clerk of courts office, provided to the Times Free Press this afternoon. Rasbury renewed his license five days later and listed his Ringgold home as his address, triggering the court review.

Though Rasbury purchased the property two months ago, it has not yet appeared in his name on the Gordon County Property Appraiser's website. The property is under the previous owner's name, valued at $156,000.

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Gordon County, Georgia's chief magistrate is off the bench because some evidence suggests he doesn't actually live in the county.

While renewing his driver's license this summer, James Patrick Rasbury listed a Catoosa County address. The problem? Magistrates in Georgia have to live in the county where they work.

Rasbury and his attorney did not return calls seeking comment Monday. But Jim Ledbetter, who serves as both the county's attorney and administrator, said he is confident Rasbury actually still lives in Gordon County — despite what he wrote on his driver's license application. Ledbetter said Rasbury has explained the issue as a small misunderstanding, the result of owning multiple properties in North Georgia.

For now, Rasbury is not signing warrants as he normally would, leaving that task to assistant magistrates.

"I would say it will be over in 30 days," Ledbetter told the Times Free Press about the dispute.

But this is actually the second time someone has accused Rasbury of living in Catoosa County. In May 2016, he and his wife bought a home on Angel Oak Way in Ringgold for $332,000. Two months later, he defeated incumbent Ricky Silvers in a runoff to become Gordon County's chief magistrate.

In August 2016, the Gordon County Board of Elections reviewed a verbal complaint from Silvers' wife, alleging that Rasbury could not legally serve as a magistrate. She said that neighbors to his Ringgold home reported that Rasbury lived there full time.

During that meeting, Ledbetter told the board that Rasbury had recently gotten married and bought the Ringgold home as a temporary residence. He would stay there until his then-17-year-old daughter graduated from her local high school. Ledbetter said Rasbury's permanent address was a town home he rented on Mt. Vernon Drive in Calhoun, listed at a value of $84,000 — about one-fourth that of his Ringgold home.

To bolster the point, Ledbetter explained that Rasbury worked in Calhoun, attended church in Calhoun and belonged to a gym in Calhoun. He added that Rasbury raised his children in Gordon County and that his mother lived in Gordon County.

"He bought a home in Catoosa County," Ledbetter told the Times Free Press on Monday. "But under the statute, the overwhelming factors showed he was still a resident of Gordon County."

The board of elections then voted unanimously to drop the complaint, saying "we see no probably cause for a hearing or a challenge to the qualifications of Pat Rasbury."

Two years later, on June 19, Rasbury renewed his license and listed his home address on Angel Oak Way. A Georgia Department of Driver Services employee then sent that information to the Catoosa County Board of Elections, informing them that his voter registration should be transferred to them from Gordon County.

Because this information came within 30 days of primary runoffs across Georgia, state law required the Catoosa County office to hold off on taking any action until after the election. On Wednesday, a Catoosa County employee told the Gordon County Board of Elections that Rasbury's voter registration had changed.

Gordon County Board of Elections Director Shea Hicks then called Ledbetter, who on Friday filed a petition for a court hearing. Jack Partain, a senior judge from Whitfield County, will hear the case. Steven Rodham, a LaFayette attorney, will investigate the case as special counsel. No court date has been set for this hearing yet.

Ledbetter said Rasbury still primarily lives in Gordon County, but he listed the Ringgold home on his driver's license because he is in the process of moving into a new home in the Calhoun area. But before he moves in, Ledbetter said, workers were renovating the home.

However, an online search on the Gordon County Property Appraiser's website shows only one parcel under the name "James P. Rasbury," a swath of land on Fields Ferry Drive that he purchased in 2005. Searches under his wife's name did not reveal any land.

Scott Haynes, who ran as a write-in candidate in November 2016, said Gordon County officials should have removed Rasbury from the ballot during that election. He believed they could have done more than listen to Rasbury's version of events.

"They should have went and investigated and got the facts," Haynes said. "They might have gotten something more hardcore. But he's popular. He's part of the rich clique. Like a lot of things in Calhoun, it's swept under the rug."

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or tjett@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.


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