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July 15, 2007

MAGISTRATE SALARY CUT BY COMMISSIONERS

Once again the Commissioners have requested Magistrate Judge Ken Jackson to verify and certify his hours. This is the third time this Board of Commissioners has done so; however, if the Judge does not comply this time, he will be paid for a 20 hour work week starting September 1, 2007, based on action of the BOC on July 10.

There has been much evidence in the past that the Judge does not work 40 hours a week. TWG seriously doubts that he can document 20 hours a week legitimately. Some have mentioned a time clock to confirm the full-time hours of the Chief Magistrate. However, the clock can be punched by anyone in his behalf. In the past, the Clerk’s office has defended Judge Jackson when he is not available at the courthouse during his absences while coaching and practicing law.

COACHING
Judge Jackson spends the majority of his office hours time out of the courthouse doing private practice legal work or coaching various ball teams. During the 2006 –2007 School Year, Coach Jackson was observed attending practices and games for the following teams and was listed as “Coach” on programs and in the year book:
Jr. Varsity Softball, Varsity Softball, Jr. Varsity Boys Basketball, Varsity Boys Basketball, and Jr. Varsity Baseball, and Varsity Baseball. These games were held from Thomasville to Watkinsville and Savannah to LaGrange. The travel time alone would have kept the Judge out of the courthouse many days. On most days, the Judge was observed usually arriving at the school by 2PM daily for practices. He was out of town for several days at a time for tournaments and playoff games.

See: Pictures here of Coach Jackson
See: http://www.taxdogs.com/judgejackson.htm

PRIVATE LAW PRACTICE
The Magistrate has claimed he has the right to perform private law practice duties while serving as a full time Judge. He has been appointed as a Juvenile Defender. Those duties require him to have the following schedule: Monday mornings in Putnam County; alternate Tuesdays in Morgan or Jones County; alternate Wednesdays in Greene or Jasper County; and Thursdays in Baldwin County. (Yes, he does receive a separate check from Jasper for his Juvenile defense work. True double-dipping!) He holds magistrate court in Jasper County on Fridays, but not every Friday. TWG is still trying to pin down just how many cases Judge Jackson hears, but rarely does his court last past lunchtime on Fridays. Judge Jackson brings in various amounts of money from his private law practice in addition to his county pay for Magistrate ($72,500+). Based on previous years’ pay records from his juvenile defender jobs he has had additional income of approximately $50,000 per year.

Former Governor and lawyer Roy Barnes was one of the original writers of the Magistrate Law. When questioned he said it was never the intent of the law that full-time Magistrates should be able to practice law at the same time. He emphasized that full-time meant full-time.

See: http://www.taxdogs.com/magjudge.htm

$20,000 SUPPLEMENT over and above Salary and Juvenile Work
After the I-Team Investigation on Channel 5 last fall, the Commissioners voted unanimously in April 2007 to eliminate the $20,000 Magistrate Supplement, effective at the end of the current term—December 31, 2008. Whoever is elected as Magistrate in 2008 to start the term as of January 1, 2009, will not be entitled to the supplement. This supplement was given after Ken Jackson said he would be able to “spend greater time in the office.” That never happened, but the Supplement was never removed.

See: http://www.taxdogs.com/jackson120206.htm
See: Supplement request by Ken Jackson 8.12.02

JQC COMPLAINTS
The Commissioners filed a complaint with the JQC (Judicial Qualifications Commission) concerning the Magistrate Judge in January 2007. The JQC declined to have any hearings about the Complaint. Several private citizens also sent complaints about the Judge, some which had to do about his conduct in his court. The JQC stated in its letter back to the Commissioners that the complaint “failed to reveal any conduct on the part of the Judge evidencing any violation of the Code.”

This refusal to review or to hold hearings is strange indeed as the JQC had previously ruled in 2004 and publicly reprimanded the Magistrate Judge of Screven County (Jenkins) that his attending law school in Atlanta required him to be “regularly absent from his office.” They quoted Canon 3A—“the judicial duties of judges take precedence over all their other activities.” The also quoted Canon 5A—“Judges may not engage in such avocational activities as detract from the dignity of their office or interfere with the performance of their judicial duties.”

JQC decided in this case that “being repeatedly absent from the Magistrate Court office…you have failed to promptly and fairly attend to the business of the Court.” Thereafter, Jenkins was denied application to take the Bar Exam and the Georgia Supreme Court approved the reprimand.

YET, in Jasper County’s request, the JQC couldn’t find enough evidence (even with receiving the entire tape of the I-Team Investigation) to hold hearings, much less reprimand the Magistrate.

MAGISTRATE SALARY
The Magistrate’s Salary for 2007 is $72,524. This includes his $20,000 supplement and a 5% “term” supplement for a “full four year term” he did not serve. The Clerk of Court “figures” the salary, including the term supplements for the magistrate. The State Legislature gave all constitutional officers large raises in 2006 to take effect in 2007. The Magistrate’s increase was over $12,000.

See: Magistrate 2007 Salary
See: 5% Term Supplement letter

MAGISTRATE QUALIFICATIONS
Anyone who is 25 years or older, has a high school diploma, and has lived in the County for at least one year is qualified to be a Magistrate according to the Georgia Code:

§ 15-10-22. Qualifications of magistrates; restrictions on practice of law
(a) Each magistrate shall have been a resident of the county for one year next preceding the beginning of his term of office and shall as of such date be at least 25 years of age and shall possess a high school diploma or its equivalent.

TIME FOR CHANGE
With a base salary of $46,408.38, health care benefits, retirement benefits, and a “staff” to help, TWG believes there are a number of people in Jasper County with good common sense that could run for and perform the duties of the office of Magistrate Judge. Many counties in Georgia have non-lawyer Magistrates that do a fine job and are available on a daily basis.

TWG
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