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Magistrate Court judge seeks raises

CONYERS - Rockdale County Magistrate Court Judge Rudy Horne sought funding for pay raises for three positions and an upgrade for another from part time to full time last week from the county Board of Commissioners.

The commissioners discussed a new clerk position for Horne's office during their work session Monday. The position was approved in the 2009 county budget as a part-time position, but Horne asked that the position be made full time to handle the work load in Magistrate Court.

Horne explained that his court has been required to electronically scan all documents dating back to 1985. A full-time recorders clerk could get that work done while also helping with ongoing court cases.

Horne said Thursday he had approval for $10,300 for the position, and he was seeking an additional $10,300 plus benefits to make it full time.

"We put in our budget we wanted one and a half, and they approved a half a person, which we wanted for our records clerk, so we've gone back and asked for a whole person," Horne said.

He also asked the commissioners to increase the pay of his two assistant, part-time Magistrate Court judges from the annual state minimum of $7,100 each to $9,000 each. Horne said both men have served his court for 10 years or more and have not had a cost of living adjustment in pay during that time.

Horne said he brought the pay request for the assistant judges to former Chairman Roy Middlebrooks with documentation justifying the increase, but he never heard back from him.

He said his assistant judges had not sought a pay increase, but might have a strong case if they filed court papers - called a writ of mandamus - seeking the county to increase their pay.

"The judges, I suppose, could file a mandamus to make them do it," he said. "They haven't because we all try to be team players, but I guess they could."

Horne's third request was to allow him to make his chief clerk, Joy Wright, an assistant Magistrate Court judge, so she could sign arrest and search warrant requests that law enforcement officers bring to his court when he is unavailable.

The commissioners listened to Horne's requests and noted they have asked county officials to find ways to cut costs to deal with a budget shortfall. Commissioner Oz Nesbitt said during the work session he has heard from other department heads who also said they did not receive responses to budget requests.

Rockdale County Commission Chairman Richard Oden also wondered why the budget requests were not addressed when times were good, and now they are having to address them in a tough budget year. With that, Oden told Horne, "We will do what we can."

Horne said his requests are justified by the document scanning required by the state and an increase in his court's caseload. Magistrate Court approves warrant applications, holds probable cause hearings and also hears cases concerning county code violations, non-felony bad checks, abandoned cars and garnishment of wages.

"Everything starts with us," he said.

Asked what he thought of his chances of getting his requests approved, Horne said he's a realist, but also an optimist.

"We have hope," Horne laughed, noting Oden had asked him to cut the Magistrate's Court budget by 3 percent. "All we can do is try. Chairman Oden said, you know, why didn't we come when money was available, and we did. From what he's saying, apparently, some of the other departments have been unsuccessful in getting funds they need, too. I know money is tight. All we can do is try."

Jay Jones can be reached at jay.jones@rockdalecitizen.com.