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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Rakestraw Reinstated as Associate Magistrate

ZEBULON - In a three minute hearing before Judge Stephen E. Boswell yesterday afternoon, the matter of Pike County versus Loretta Rakestraw was finally decided. Judge Boswell asked the audience in the courtroom if anyone had any objections to the Final Judgment before he made his final decision. When no one spoke, the attorneys for Pike County were allowed to file the Final Settlement which allowed Loretta Rakestraw to return to her position as Assistant Magistrate Court Judge.

According to the Consent Order and Final Judgment, Assistant Magistrate Rakestraw will return to her position on a 20 hour per week basis with full-time benefits until her current appointment expires on December 31, 2012. Rakestraw was also awarded $40,000 in attorney's fees. Rakestraw was appointed as Assistant Magistrate by former Magistrate Priscilla Killingsworth when she was elected on January 1, 2009. Former Magistrate Killingsworth resigned from office on April 8, 2010. Pike County filed a declaratory judgment action on April 14, 2010 to ask the court whether Killingsworth's resignation terminated Rakestraw's appointment as Assistant Magistrate. The Consent Order and Final Judgment states that Rakestraw was removed from her Associate Magistrate position in August of 2010. On December 10, 2010, Rakestraw filed a counterclaim asking to be reinstated to her position in the Pike County Magistrate Court.

Current Chief Magistrate Marcia Callaway-Ingram objected to this settlement in advance of yesterday's hearing through a letter dated December 16, 2011 and delivered to Pike County by email from her attorney. Her objections are outlined in the Consent Order and Final Judgment. She and her attorneys objected to the resolution of this case through a Consent Order and asked for a release agreement instead though the Court found that Rakestraw's reinstatement could not be resolved as she asked.

Magistrate Callaway Ingram objected to the reduction of Associate Magistrate Rakestraw's full-time position to a part-time position though this order. The Court found that Associate Magistrate Rakestraw consented to working part-time according to the Consent Order and that nothing in the law prevented the Associate Magistrate from becoming a part-time Associate Magistrate during her term of office. It was noted that the power to discipline and remove an Associate Magistrate is reserved for the Judicial Qualifications Commission and noted specifically that the Chief Magistrate cannot discipline the Associate Magistrate for desiring to work less than forty hours per week according to OCGA 15-10-23(a)(5). "... (T)he practical effect of this settlement is to increase the manpower in the Pike County Magistrate Court by transforming Rakestraw's position from a zero hour a week position to a twenty hour a week position."

There was also an objection to reinstatement based upon abandonment of job from August 2010. Magistrate Callaway-Ingram contends that Associate Magistrate Rakestraw abandoned her position when she took a vacation without prior notice or approval from August 13, 2010 through the first week of September 2010. According to the letter by Callaway-Ingram's attorney, a certified letter was sent to Rakestraw in December of 2010 to facilitate her return to work as well as calls made to her attorney in January of 2011 to discuss the date of her return to work. The letter advises that Magistrate Callaway-Ingram has built a team in the office that she trusts and has been able to operate "as effectively as possible" with this team and that the return of Associate Magistrate Rakestraw would hamper the effectiveness of the office. "We believe it represents an attempt by the county to interfere with Ms. Callaway-Ingram's judicial discretion". The objection reserved the right to pursue the allegation of abandonment of office "through whatever procedures are available". The Consent Order filed in Court yesterday found that the only way that this complaint can be pursued is through the Judicial Qualifications Commission. It also stated that the Court is not unsympathetic to the Chief Magistrate's concerns for efficiency and the ability to exercise discretion, but said that these concerns had to yield to OCGA 15-10-20(e) which states that she has no discretion in the choice of the Associate Magistrate who was appointed by Former Magistrate Killingsworth.

The final objection was in reference to the award of attorney's fees in this case. Magistrate Callaway-Ingram objected to compensation of attorney's fees "to an associate magistrate who abandoned her office and has been doing nothing for approximately a year, as opposed to paying that money to Ms. Callaway-Ingram, who has been working tirelessly--and in the face of numerous political obstacles--to effectively operate the magistrate court." Her attorney stated that Chief Magistrate Callaway-Ingram should be paid the same salary as Former Chief Magistrate Killingsworth based on OCGA 15-10-23(d). The Consent Order stated that there is no law that allows an individual to veto a monetary county expenditure because an individual has a pending claim against the county and further stated that the Court "has no reason to believe that any judgment entered against the county in favor of Callaway-Ingram would be any less enforceable due to the compensated payment to Rakestraw."

Pike County asked the court to rule whether the Associate Magistrate's ability to serve was dependent upon the continued service of the Chief Magistrate who appointed her. The Court ruled 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.

Current Magistrate Marcia Callaway-Ingram was appointed to office around May 25, 2010 filed a Writ of Mandamus against Pike County on August 1, 2011 asking the Court to require the Board of Commissioners pay her the salary that was set at the outset of the 2009-2012 term as required in OCGA 15-10-23(d), require the county to hire a full-time Associate Magistrate Judge as there was prior to the her appointment in office, give a permanent injunction for the County, the BOC, and County Manager Bill Sawyer from "interfering with the effective operation of the Magistrate Court" including the prevention of job applications from reaching her office for a vacant position, and also seeks back pay with interest and attorney's fees. Read more about this Mandamus by clicking here.