Crawford County Magistrate Court reopens after judge appointed

jwilliams@macon.comJune 19, 2013 

Georgia’s governor has appointed a chief magistrate judge for Crawford County, a move that essentially puts the county’s Magistrate Court back in business.

Gov. Nathan Deal appointed Richard Spencer to the job Friday, the latest move for a court that ground to a halt this month when Deputy Magistrate Robin Dunaway resigned. Dunaway, who was paid a part-time salary but had been running the court full time, was given the job in March after former Chief Magistrate Andrea Peterman was voluntarily suspended with pay after her arrest on charges of fiduciary theft and violation of oath by a public officer.

Spencer, previously a judge in upstate New York, was recommended to Deal by the district’s Superior Court judges and sworn in Friday afternoon, immediately filling the vacant job.

“We’re glad to have him on board,” County Manager Pat Kelly said Wednesday. “He seems like an asset to the county.”

Spencer will serve as long as Peterman is suspended and while the county is waiting on a decision about her case from the district attorney, County Attorney David Mincey said. Mincey said Peterman could either be reinstated or removed. If she is removed, the Superior Court judges in the district would appoint a replacement, Mincey said.

One of the big concerns after Dunaway’s resignation was adding stress to local law enforcement officers who would have been forced to seek out Superior Court judges who typically work in either Bibb or Peach counties for warrants and bonds. The judges also would have to preside over first appearance hearings usually handled by Magistrate Court.

But Sheriff Lewis Walker said although it was one of his fears, his office didn’t have to travel out of county during the magistrate vacancy. He said there were no warrants that needed to be signed until Friday, when his office had a warrant ready for Spencer’s signature before he was sworn in.

Spencer said he started working immediately after being sworn in Friday by signing the warrant, presiding over an arraignment, and handling nine to 10 backlogged small claims from the previous week.

Walker said Wednesday everything is back to normal this week.

“To have a person back in that office is very vital to the sheriff’s (office), the Roberta Police Department and other agencies,” Walker said.

Spencer said he and his wife moved to the area from upstate New York two years ago and have been treated well by the community. He said he applied for the position after Peterman’s suspension because he saw the county’s need.

“I thought I could do some good,” Spencer said about applying for the position.

There is currently no deputy magistrate judge, but Spencer said he soon will begin the process of filling that position.

To contact writer Jaime Williams, call 744-4331.

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