Monroe County commissioners have filed a response to two county magistrates’ lawsuit that maintains the county must continue to fund two judges’ salaries.
The 11-page document, filed in Monroe County Superior Court, includes numerous defenses to the judges’ claims. Among them is a stance by the commissioners that the assistant magistrates in question have not been legally appointed and that “all warrants, orders and other official acts that they have taken are void and have no meaning in law whatsoever.”
County Commission Chairman James Vaughn said the commissioners believe the appointing of assistant magistrates is a two-step process that includes commissioners setting the number of assistants during the budgeting process and the court filling the positions.
“We feel like we were left out of that process,” he said. “We need to be in the financial loop.”
County Attorney Mike Dillon wrote in the response that the commissioners weren’t consulted about the need or expense of additional magistrates.
There is no provision in the law for the judges to be paid a salary, only on an hourly basis. The commissioners contend that Jeffery Davis, the county’s chief magistrate judge, hasn’t certified the hours worked by the assistant magistrates, and that paying two part-time judges $600 and $650 a month for less than an hour of work “is unconscionable,” according to the response.
Dillon did not return messages left at his office Tuesday.
Davis and Judge Roy Lamar Dunn filed a complaint May 17 that said the county commissioners contacted Davis in March, told him they were going to stop paying one of two magistrate judges, and that he “could choose which one” would not be paid. Dunn was one of the two judges, according to the lawsuit.
When Davis objected, the commissioners told Davis that they would reduce his salary by the amount it paid the two judges that the board initially proposed for reduced pay, according to the suit.
Georgia law prohibits a judge’s salary from being reduced during his or her term of office.
The commissioners also don’t have the authority to fire a judge or reduce the number of judges serving in the county, Milledgeville attorney Shane Geeter has said.
Geeter represents Davis and Dunn. Davis referred comment to Geeter on Tuesday, but Geeter did not return phone messages left at his office.
In 2008, Superior Court judges in the Towliga Judicial Circuit unanimously decided to allot Monroe County three magistrate judges for the time period Jan. 1, 2009, to Dec. 31, 2012, according to the lawsuit.
Dunn, William M. Clifton III and Diane Williams were appointed as magistrates Dec. 22, 2008. The governor commissioned Davis as chief magistrate for a term beginning Jan. 1, 2009, and ending Dec. 31, 2012, the suit stated.
Beginning Jan. 1, 2009, Dunn was paid $600 per month. Clifton, the other judge whom commissioners proposed for a pay reduction, was paid $650 per month, according to court records.
Besides asking a judge to order the commissioners to fund the magistrates’ salaries at a rate no lower than their 2009 salaries, the judges also seek recovery of compensation earned by the magistrates and reimbursement of costs to hire their attorney.
To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.