Wayne County Judge Under Fire For Magistrate Choices
Posted February 25, 2003
WAYNE COUNTY, N.C. — Since 1968, judges appoint magistrates in North Carolina. Some people say the system is full of corruption, political patronage and nepotism.
A judge in Wayne County has appointed magistrates whose qualifications are suspect. The judge said he is coming under fire for trying to break up the good old boy network.
make up the first tier of the court system in North Carolina. Everything from rental disputes to murder charges pass through their offices.
A person arrested in any county in North Carolina is likely to appear before a magistrate. A magistrate decides whether or not a case continues through the system and whether or not a person gets out of jail.
Under state law, the county
clerk of court
submits magistrate nominees to the Senior Resident Superior Court Judge, who then makes appointments.
In December, Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Jerry Braswell was not interested in the Wayne County clerk's nominees and, instead, asked for all the applications.
"Yes, that might shake up the old boy network so to speak," Braswell said.
Braswell did not trust clerk Marshall Minchew to make impartial nominations because he said he was having personal issues with a magistrate.
"I felt like he lacked the objectivity," Braswell said.
"Judge Braswell sent me a letter stating it didn't matter who I submitted, that he was going to pick who he wanted to," Minchew said.
Minchew said he clearly labeled the list of unqualified candidates in two places for Braswell to see. One of those candidates was Nan Crisman, who had no associate's or college degree, as required by state law.
Minchew said he also sent the judge a letter about Crisman.
"That was three times that he should have known," Minchew said.
"From the face of the application, it certainly appeared to me that she had the requisite educational requirement," Braswell said.
Braswell chose Crisman to replace Bob Forsythe, who had been a magistrate for five years.
"I think I've done an outstanding job, I've got great credentials," Forsythe said. "I was not real pleased about it to be honest. My phone rang off the hook with people asking what happened and why. I couldn't answer. They said 'What did you do?' I said 'I don't know.' I still to this day don't know."
After Crisman was sworn in, the clerk complained to the state and she resigned.
"I've simply talked to my human resource people and said we're not paying for this person to be a magistrate when statutorily they can't be," said John Kennedy, of the Administrative Office of the Courts.
Braswell's choice to replace one other veteran was Gilbert Owens.
Owens has a criminal record, which includes four convictions for check fraud. By law, that does not prevent him from serving as a magistrate.
"I decided that Mr. Owens had the qualifications to develop into a good magistrate," Braswell said.
Braswell said he has tried to create diversity by appointing women and blacks.
"Any casual observer would determine there's more to this than meets the eye. Yes, I think it's true, I have done things differently. I have tried to open up the process, I have tried to make it fair," he said.
Currently 716 magistrates work in North Carolina. The Administrative Office of the Courts admits the process of choosing magistrates is cumbersome and could be streamlined.