Hamilton County commissioners are expected today to appoint the four judges who oversee bond hearings in Hamilton County, and one commissioner again will be voting on whether his nephew will keep his job.
Commissioner Larry Henry first disclosed he was an uncle by marriage to Larry Ables, currently the chief judicial magistrate, when Ables got the job in 2007, a fact also reported by local media at the time.
County Attorney Rheubin Taylor said Henry can vote for Ables again and said it does not conflict with the county ethics code.
Applicants for Hamilton County Magistrate
* Wilson S. Bryan
* Yolanda Mitchell*
* Corrin Fulton
* Jill Thrash
* Pete Johnson
* Michael O'Hagan
* Keith Black
* Stephen Goldstein
* Randall Russell
* Robert Davis*
* Larry Ables*
Source: Hamilton County government
"It was known before, so he can vote," Taylor said. "It doesn't prohibit him from voting."
As chief magistrate, Ables makes more than the other magistrates, earning $64,363 annually. The regular magistrate salary is $59,363.
Henry is chairman of the commission's Security and Corrections Committee, which oversees the magistrate hiring process. Henry said Ables' relationship to him is not a factor.
"I'd be the first to scrutinize him if he was out of line," Henry said. "These magistrates are under the microscope. If the program hasn't been run right, it wouldn't have mattered his association with me. We'd have had a big-time problem."
Ables said he first heard about the job while working at the Hamilton County district attorney's office. He can't help that his uncle serves on the commission, he said.
"Commissioner Henry is one of nine people who votes for me, but I would like his vote and I'd like the rest of their votes, as well," Ables said.
Commission Chairman Fred Skillern said he does not have any problem voting to approve Ables, but said there are other things about the magistrate program he doesn't like.
"I just happen to believe it shouldn't be a lifetime job," Skillern said.
If better applicants are interested in the job, he said, the commission should be open to replacing the current magistrates rather than letting them stay on for years and years.
Skillern said he wants applicants who follow the law and won't go on a personal "crusade," such as setting higher bond amounts for one crime as opposed to another because of a personal preference. As part of an effort to tweak the program, when the commissioners vote on the four magistrates today, they will likely stagger terms so commissioners will approve magistrates more frequently, Henry said. Under the new setup, in six months, two of the commissioners hired on Thursday will be up for reappointment for a year, he said.
"I think that's a good way to approach it," Henry said.
On Oct. 6, commissioners interviewed 11 applicants for the four seats, including three magistrates currently on the job. The judges' shifts cover 24 hours a day, seven days a week, according to Henry.
The job is unique because commissioners interview and hire the magistrates, while most other county jobs are under the authority of the county mayor or another constitutional office.
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