Pike County Times
The Pike County Times, PO Box 843, Zebulon, Georgia 30295. Click here to donate through PayPal. Becky Watts: Phone # 770-468-7583 editor@pikecountytimes.com
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This online news website is owned and operated by Becky Watts. The Editor can be reached at 770-468-7583 or at editor(at)PikeCountyTimes(dot)com. Pike County Times is a website for citizens to keep up with local events and stay informed about Pike County government. It began on November 13, 2006 as a watchdog on county government and has turned into an online newspaper.

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County Loses the Callaway-Ingram Lawsuit Before the Georgia Supreme Court
By Editor Becky Watts

ZEBULON - In a unanimous decision by the Georgia Supreme Court issued this week, the Pike County Board of Commissioners lost their appeal against the mandamus that had been decided for Pike County Magistrate Marcia Callaway-Ingram by Superior Court in September of 2012. In the September lawsuit, a judge ruled that the Pike County Commission had interfered with the operations of Magistrate Court and illegally lowered the salary of the Chief Magistrate Judge during a term of office. When commissioners lost their case in Superior Court, they appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court.

In the final opinion, the Georgia Supreme Court found that Judge Callaway-Ingram had been performing the the duties of Chief Magistrate between the time that Judge Priscilla Killingsworth left office in the middle of her term of office and prior to the county reducing her salary as incoming appointed judge. The court found that she is entitled to back pay for this two years of office served.

The court also found evidence that the county interfered with operations of that office when a couple of applications for a position in Magistrate Court were held at the Commission office. These applications were ultimately turned over after one of the applicants called Magistrate and calls were made between the two offices--see prior articles with links below for more information. The court also ruled that the county failed to budget adequate funds for Magistrate Court during the budget crisis in Pike County that was handled by the County Commission under the direction of then County Manager Bill Sawyer by saying that the budget crisis affected Magistrate Court more than other county departments. The Court ruled that the county not be allowed to continue with salary and postion reductions included in this lawsuit and that the Pike County Commission should not interfere with Judge Callaway-Ingram's ability to hire personnel for her office.

According to The Daily Report, Judge Callaway-Ingram's attorney said that his client has won about $55,000 in back pay and approximately $100,000 in legal fees. Thanks to Fun 101.1 FM for this information. To read the ruling of the Georgia Supreme Court in its entirety, click here.

History from the January 10, 2013 Article

Pike County v. Marcia Callaway-Ingram is being heard before the Georgia Supreme Court since Pike County appealed the case after losing the case in September. Click here to review this case. Click here to track the case through the Georgia Supreme Court where oral arguments were heard on this case on January 7, 2013.

Pike County officials are appealing a lower court’s decision barring them from interfering with the operations of the magistrate court and finding that they illegally reduced the salary of the chief magistrate judge.

FACTS: In November 2008, Priscilla Killingsworth was re-elected for another 4-year term as chief magistrate of Pike County. At the beginning of her term, the county set her annual salary at $63,139. In 2010, however, Killingsworth resigned after the Georgia Bureau of Investigation began investigating her for allegations of wrongdoing. By law, the superior court judges were tasked with appointing her replacement, and they announced they intended to appoint someone who had a law degree, in contrast with Killingsworth who only had a high school education. Marcia Callaway-Ingram, an attorney with a private law practice in Zebulon, applied for the position, and in May 2010 the judges appointed her to serve the remainder of the 2009-2012 term. Ingram was sworn in June 1, 2010. At the time, the county budget still listed the salary at $63,139. The parties dispute what happened next. According to the county, prior to her appointment, Ingram met with the chairman of the Pike County Board of Commissioners where she negotiated an initial salary of $49,182 “during the first year [of her service] in exchange for [her] having the freedom to take time as needed to finish [her] private cases….” According to Ingram, she discussed with the chairman her need for some time to wind down her private practice and she agreed to a “temporary reduction in salary” but only until she closed her practice and began working full-time as a judge. On June 29, 2010, the Board of Commissioners adopted a Fiscal Year 2010-2011 budget that listed the chief magistrate’s permanent salary as $49,182. A year later, the county again approved the reduced amount in the 2011-2012 budget, citing the budget crisis. In August 2011, Ingram sued the county and filed a petition for a “writ of mandamus” to force county officials to pay her the salary that by law should not have been altered. She also contended that the county had illegally reduced from full-time to part-time the associate magistrate’s position and she sought an injunction, requesting that the county be prohibited from withholding personnel applications, from arbitrarily underfunding the magistrate court below the funding levels required for the court to operate efficiently, and from reducing the salaries of the chief and magistrate judges. In August 2012, the trial court ruled in her favor on all claims. The county now appeals to the state Supreme Court.

ARGUMENTS: The county’s attorney argues the trial court erred by ruling that a county lacks the authority to lower a salary for a judicial office while that office is vacant. When a county establishes a salary for a particular judge, “that salary is only guaranteed for that particular judge for the duration of the term at issue,” the attorney argues in briefs. A replacement judge “does not inherit as a matter of law the salary set for the elected chief magistrate at the commencement of the statutory term.” The trial court erred in ruling that “once a salary has been set for the Office of Chief Magistrate at the commencement of the statutory four year term, that salary is locked-in for the duration of the term regardless of whether the elected Chief Magistrate resigns during that statutory term.” The trial court’s ruling is contrary to the state Constitution which states that an “incumbent’s salary, allowance, or supplement shall not be decreased during the incumbent’s term of office.” There is no “incumbent” while an office is vacant, the attorney contends. The trial court also misapplied statutory law which states that no “magistrate’s compensation…shall be decreased during any term of office.” “The trial court’s reliance on that language is in error because it is based on the false premise that there is no distinction between the statutorily prescribed term for the Office of Chief Magistrate and the term of office of a particular individual occupying that office.” The state Supreme Court “has always recognized that the phrase ‘term of office’ relates to the person occupying the office, not the office itself.” The trial court also erred in finding that the county lowered Ingram’s salary after she assumed her judicial duties. “It is undisputed that Appellee’s $49,182 salary has not been reduced since she has been an ‘incumbent,’” the attorney argues. It was “reduced prior to her assuming her duties – with her consent and her input – and it has remained unchanged since that date.” The trial was wrong to rely on the alleged “agreement” between Ingram and the board chair. There was no agreement to raise her salary above the amount she was paid initially, and the chairman of the board was not empowered to unilaterally negotiate any agreement that would bind the county. The trial court also was wrong in ruling that the county illegally reduced the associate magistrate’s position from full-time to part-time. The trial court was wrong to issue a permanent injunction preventing the county from interfering with Ingram’s “ability to interview and hire personnel for the magistrate court,” because the evidence did not support that it had withheld job applications or under-staffed or under-funded the court. Among other errors, the trial court was also wrong to award attorney’s fees to Ingram, the county argues.

Ingram’s attorneys argue the “trial court property held that the county wrongfully reduced the salary for chief magistrate during a ‘term of office.’” Georgia case law and statutory law are clear. Under the state Supreme Court’s 2004 ruling in Poppell v. Gault, “a county governing authority [may not] reduce the compensation of one appointed to fill the unexpired term of chief magistrate after the appointment.” And as its 1998 decision in Lee v. Peach County Board of Commissioners found, “the evidence established that Ingram was entitled to a writ of mandamus to recover the salary owed to her. The facts refute that the county reduced the chief magistrate’s salary only when the office was vacant. Ingram was appointed May 25, 2010 and sworn in on June 1. The County Commission did not reduce the salary until 28 days later, on June 29. “It would be very disconcerting if the successful appointee to an elected position could then suffer a unilateral 22 percent pay cut for the duration of the unexpired term,” the attorneys argue. “It would give the county manager and commissioners – who were not responsible for selecting the appointee – an effective veto power over the appointment, and would subordinate the superior court judges to the political will of the commissioners….” The trial court also properly ruled that the Georgia Constitution prohibits the county from reducing a magistrate judge to part-time in the middle of a term. And the trial court properly granted Ingram injunctive relief barring county interference with the efficient operation of the magistrate court. “The most important evidence shows that the county persistently underfunded the magistrate court,” Ingram’s attorneys argue. Even the former county manager testified that the county’s refusal to adequately fund the court hurt its operations. Finally, the trial court properly awarded Ingram attorney’s fees.

Attorney for Appellants (County): Donald Cronin, Jr.
Attorneys for Appellee (Ingram): A. Lee Parks, Jr., Jennifer Coalson