CONYERS -- Although Clarence "Rudy" Horne Jr. has served as the chief judge for Rockdale County Magistrate Court for more than two decades, he has rarely faced opposition in his quest for re-election.
The scenario has changed this year as Horne, a Republican, is being challenged by Democrat Phinia Aten in November's general election. Suffice it to say, it's been a while since Horne has had to stump for office.
"It's been 16 years since I've had to get out and campaign," said Horne, who served as an associate magistrate under Hyrum Pierce before first winning election in 1992. "I had to get on Facebook and I had to get a website. I had to learn a lot real quickly."
Horne said that out on the campaign trail, he's heard no complaints about his work or his office.
"People are primarily interested in seeing me stay in," he said. "After 25 years as a magistrate judge, I enjoy the job and I do a great job. Everyone who comes to Magistrate Court is really happy with me. The only complaints I've heard are from this lady who's running against me. I think a lot of complaints she's talking about she just makes up."
The veteran jurist responded to several comments made by Aten, primarily about the court's budget and his service on the bench.
"My opponent has said that our budget is more than it should be," he said. "I thought our budget was at the 2007 level, but I went back and looked, and it's actually $28,000 less than the 2007 level. We're way down. And she talked about my not being on the bench -- I'm on the bench all the time. I don't think either one of my associate magistrates has sat for me this year."
Magistrate Court is a court of inquiry with the primary responsibility to determine the sufficiency of evidence in criminal cases, along with applications and issuance of arrest and search warrants in the county and city of Conyers. It is also the court of first appearance and committal hearings in criminal cases. The court hears civil claims and provides eviction notices, distress warrants, ordinance violations, issuance of bad-check citations and holds misdemeanor bad-check warrant hearings.
Earlier this year, Horne said that in 2011, his office processed 4,036 misdemeanor and felony warrants. Horne said his court heard 6,668 civil cases, with the majority of those being dispossessions over nonpayment of rent. Of the 2,466 small-claim cases last year in Magistrate Court, 704 involved abandoned motor vehicles.
"The volume (of cases) is up over 25 years ago, but is actually down from a year ago," he said. "We thought when the filing fees for State Court and Superior Court went way up that a lot of people would start filing in our court, but that just didn't seem to be the case. We're actually a little bit lower. The only thing that's gone up a lot is dispossessions, which is because the foreclosures are so great. Then they have to come to us to get them to move out of the house. But other than foreclosures, even our criminal statistics are down a little bit. Crime's not getting worse -- it's staying around the same. Civil has gone down just a little bit overall."
A 1965 graduate of Emory University and a 1978 graduate of Woodrow Wilson School of Law, Horne said serving as chief magistrate not only requires knowledge of the legal process, but also a great deal of patience, since many litigants in Magistrate Court are not represented by attorneys.
"We have a terrible time getting people to get prepared for court," he said. "We have a website posted when they walk in the door that tells there where they can go to watch a video that explains everything about how to present their case, and they don't do it. Every once in a while you get somebody who comes in prepared, but I pretty much have to drag the information out of them. It takes a great deal of patience and listening skills to get the information you need to have to make a decision.
"You develop the skills you need to handle the cases and there's really no substitute for experience. (Aten) talks about her practice and what a well-thought-of attorney she is, but she's not well thought of in Rockdale County because nobody knows her. I have no idea whether she can do the job or not. I've heard her at about five forums and she does not have listening skills and she does not have any patience. I seriously question if she'd be able to do it. You have to have infinite patience when you deal with pro se litigants."
Horne added that if re-elected, this will probably be his final term on the bench.
"Probably only four more years will be enough," he said. "Several of my clerks need four more years until they can retire and I'll go four more years because I don't want to leave them high and dry. Everybody will be where they need to be in four more years. I've got 12 people depending on me for jobs. I'm sure (Aten) would not keep any of my people. I feel a big responsibility to them. They've worked hard for me for a long time, so I'm going to do all I can to help them keep their jobs for another four years. But by then, I might be ready to go."
For more information, visit www.judgerudyhorne.com.