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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Chief Magistrate Wins Case Against the County
By Editor Becky Watts

Marcia Callaway-Ingram v. Pike County, Georgia was filed in the Superior Court of Pike County on August 1, 2011. Judge Stephen E. Boswell presided over this writ of mandamus that Chief Magistrate Marcia Callaway-Ingram filed against the county and ended this part of the litigation by issuing an order signed August 13, 2012. Judge Boswell ruled in favor of Chief Magistrate Callaway-Ingram and against the county and signed an order on the case that was prepared by Marcia Callaway-Ingram's attorney. The Order which had not been filed in Pike County Superior Court today was signed by Judge Boswell on August 13, 2012 and will be filed with the court to become part of the final record on this case. The Pike County Board of Commissioners voted 5-0 to appeal this decision in the Special Called Meeting that took place at 4 p.m. today.

Here's a brief synopsis of this case from start to finish. Judge Priscilla Killingsworth began the 2009-2012 term of office but resigned in April 2010. Marcia Callaway-Ingram was appointed as Chief Magistrate on May 25, 2010 by a majority vote of the superior court judges for the remainder of this term of office. Her first day of office was June 1, 2010. There were affidavits and depositions given to the court on this case. There was a two hour hearing in June of 2012 on this case as well. Click here to read about this hearing. A. Lee Parks from Atlanta argued the case on the behalf of Chief Magistrate Marcia Callaway-Ingram. Donald A. Cronin from McDonough and Rob Morton of Morton and Morton and Associates out of Zebulon argued the case on the behalf of Pike County. Mr. Cronin was appointed to speak on behalf of the county earlier this year because Attorney Rob Morton had been appointed as Interim County Manager for Pike County.

There are several issues of contention in this case. The first is how much Chief Magistrate Callaway-Ingram would be making as she finished out this term of office. The former Chief Magistrate was paid $63,139 at the beginning of her term which includes a base pay of $49,182 and step raises where the state mandated a 5% increase over her basic pay for every four year term of office. According to the Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment that was filed on July 9, 2012, the county lowered the salary while the position was vacant prior to her appointment on May 25, 2010. Pike County’s attorney, Donald Cronin, argued in the June 19th hearing that a salary can be reduced during a vacancy in office but not after a replacement takes the office. Chief Magistrate Killingsworth was receiving a state-mandated longevity bonus of 5% for every four years of service on top of the minimum salary for Chief Magistrate in Pike County. He also pointed out that, according to the Chief Magistrate Callaway-Ingram’s deposition, she agreed to an original salary of $49,182 in negotiations with the county before she took this position and that her salary has not changed since she became Chief Magistrate. He cited Georgia law as the minimum annual salary for this position and said that one can’t assume more than the minimum of the law. According to the deposition of Marcia Callaway-Ingram, she met with Board of Commissioners County Chairman Doug Mangham and made a verbal agreement to a "temporary reduction in salary" to $49,182. Judge Callaway-Ingram contends that this and was only during a transition period while she was winding down her private law practice and would return to $63,139 when she was able to devote herself full-time to magistrate the duties. The county left her salary at $49,182 for the next two budget years over her objection. According to the county's brief for motion of summary judgment, Lee v. Peach County Board of Commissioners, the Supreme Court looked at when the salary judgment took place and thus, this confirms that a replacement judge does not inherit her predecessor's salary. It also argued that the salary reduction took place "prior to her assuming her duties as Chief Magistrate--with her consent and input--and has remained unchanged since that date."

The second point of contention was the reduction of the Associate Magistrate position from full-time to part-time after Chief Magistrate Callaway-Ingram came into office. She contends that there were two full-time magistrate judges when she began and then the Associate Magistrate position was reduced to part-time without her consent in the FY 2011-2012 budget that was adopted on June 20, 2010. She also contends that the full-time civil clerk was reduced to part-time without her consent. She argues that this was done without an operational study being done to ensure that Magistrate Court was doing its job effectively for citizens. Mr. Parks also stated that Chairman Doug Mangham said in his deposition that the past county manager, Bill Sawyer, told him that an operational study had been done and that the county could do without these full-time positions while the Chief Magistrate has repeatedly advised verbally and in writing for two budget cycles that the amount in her budget was not sufficient. Mr. Sawyer said in his deposition that an operational analysis of Magistrate Court was never done. Click here to read where it was noted that Judge Callaway-Ingram asked the commissioners for more funding in her budget in the May 29, 2012 commission meeting.

From the 11.18.11 article entitled “Rakestraw Reinstated Associate Magistrate”: Click here to read this article. Pike County filed this case against Lorette Rakestraw in 2010 before Judge Callaway-Ingram was appointed to the office of Chief Magistrate asking the court to clarify the rights and authority of an Associate Magistrate appointed by a Chief Magistrate that resigns and asked for an injunction against Associate Magistrate Rakestraw from exercising any authority until the court made a judgment. The Court ruled on November 17, 2011 that the resignation of Former Chief Magistrate Priscilla Killingsworth did not cause the term of office for her Associate Magistrate to end and stated that it does not allow the current Chief Magistrate to appoint an Associate Magistrate of her choosing in the place of the current Associate Magistrate Judge. The Court also declared that the Chief Magistrate Court Judge who is elected next year will be able to make a choice as to who will serve as Associate Magistrate when the next term of office begins on January 1, 2013. Judge Boswell also ruled that Associate Magistrate Rakestraw shall return to her position on a 20 hour a week basis with full-time benefits until her current appointment expires on December 31, 2012 and awarded her $40,000 in attorney's fees.

The third and fourth items of contention are tied to the second and assert that the county interfered with the chief magistrate's ability to operate Magistrate Court and that the budget crisis affected Magistrate Court far worse than other departments. Mr. Parks argued for Chief Magistrate Callaway-Ingram that she is responsible for administering the Pike County Magistrate Court and for determining the operational necessities of the Magistrate Court and that the county refused to provide needed help when she asked for it. Mrs. Callaway-Ingram contended that two applications were withheld from her office when she was seeking to fill a position there. County Clerk Teresa Watson submitted an affidavit to the court denying that any job applications were withheld purposely. Mr. Cronin and Mr. Morton also pointed out that the chief magistrate advised the court that she did interview these two applicants though she did not pick them for this position so she did know about them before making her hiring decision. Mrs. Callaway-Ingram contends that her office was the only one to receive less money for its 12 month budget for FY 2010-2011 than it did under the 8 month budget for FY 2009-2010. Exhibit 13 by Mr. Parks showed a difference between the budget allocations for the various courts/departments in Pike County between the 8 month and 12 month budget cycles with Superior Court receiving over 100% for the 12 month budget, the District Attorney’s Office receiving 140%, Probate Court receiving 133% and the Sheriff’s Office receiving 158% compared to the previous year. He accused the county of balancing the budget on the back of Magistrate while no other court in the county was cut as much as Magistrate Court and that her budget was $9,000 less on the 12 month budget than it was for the 8 month budget cycle the year before. The county argued that Mrs. Callaway-Ingram said in her deposition that she was satisfied with the current level of staffing in Magistrate Court, that she wasn't aware of any citizen complaints during her time in office, and that she believes that justice has been "effectively administered" during her tenure. This deposition was taken in February of 2012 when the associate magistrate was working part-time. The current order states that $20,000 of the Rakestraw settlement came out of Magistrate Court's operating budget and says that Chief Magistrate Callaway-Ingram in entitled to an order requiring the county to fund the associate magistrate position on a full-time basis through the end of this term of office on December 31, 2012 and that if Judge Rakestraw does not desire to work on a full-time basis, then one full-time associate magistrate or a second part-time associate magistrate can be appointed.

Final findings in this writ of mandamus include the following: 1) back pay with for the Chief Magistrate position as it was funded at the beginning of Judge Killingsworth's term of office, 2) the return of pay for the full-time Associate Magistrate position as funded at the beginning of Judge Killingsworth's term of office and if Judge Rakestraw does not want to work on a full-time basis through December of 2012, then the appointment of one full-time Associate Magistrate or a second part-time Associate Magistrate, 3) a permanent injunction against the county to keep it from interfering with the operation of Magistrate Court in the future, and 4) the full amount of her attorney's fees that have been paid as Judge Callaway-Ingram pursued this claim against the county. The Pike County Board of Commissioners voted to appeal this ruling in the August 20, 2012 Special Called Meeting.

[Notes from the Editor: Parts of this article are pulled from the June 19th meeting in which these points were argued before the judge. There is a link in the second paragraph that goes to this article. The June 19th article also has links to a variety of articles that have direct bearing on this case. Pike County Times obtained court $32.50 worth of court documents today in order to ensure that both sides of the case are presented as well as presenting the public with the background on this case. I have over 1/2 inch of documents on the Rakestraw and Callaway-Ingram cases sitting beside me as I write and I'm still not sure that I am seeing the entire picture of what happened.

I am going to close this article with my thoughts on these cases for readers to sit and think about as I was forced to do when the thoughts were presented to me. Reducing the chief magistrate salary from $63,139 to $49,182 saved the county $13,957 per year. Reducing the associate magistrate salary from $56,826 to $23,108 saved the county $33,718 per year. I don't have figures on the reduction of the Civil Clerk from full-time to part-time, but I will assume it saved several thousand dollars per year. $27,914 plus $67,436 equals $95,350. That's not an amount to sneeze at, but looking at the shoe from the other foot, the county was ordered to pay $40,000 in attorney's fees in the Rakestraw case (which the county filed against her and not the other way around) and current attorney's fees on the Callaway-Ingram case are in excess of $60,000 with the possibility that the court may not rule in our favor when it goes to the next level. I don't know what it will cost to prepare briefs for the next highest court, but I can't imagine that it will be cheap.

The question that was asked to me by two different people from different backgrounds and experiences is whether these wounds are self-inflicted by the county. There is no question in my mind that this should have been handled differently. Letting the Superior Court Judges know that the job would be available for the base amount minus step raises would have been wise. A verbal agreement between the County Commission Chairman and an elected official was very unwise. Everyone involved should have known better. There are other problems in this case that I could point at too though I would be remiss if I did not point out that some people are offended by the simple fact that an elected official has sued the county. I am not going to make a judgment on this case because there are some things in life where I will stand upon my principals even if it costs me dearly because that is what defines me, and I am sure that even reading 100 plus pages of documents has not enlightened me to everything that surrounds these cases. Instead, I am going to end this article with a few things for readers--and hopefully county officials--to think about.

Has it been worth it to walk the path that we have walked up to this point? Would we do this again? Is this behavior (from the commission and an elected department head) something that we, the citizens, are going to see again in the future? I expect to learn from the experiences that I go through in my life and want to know that my elected officials are doing the same including taking responsibility for their actions--especially when it concerns my tax dollars. So I ask this question as I close out my thoughts: What have we learned from this lawsuit? Is it possible to work together instead of going to this extreme? The good and bad can be learning points in life. Let's go on from here with a sense of knowing where we have been and make the upcoming years for Pike County as good as we can possibly make them.]