published Tuesday, October 18th, 2011

Hamilton County Commission interviews magistrate candidates

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    Larry Ables, Hamilton County's chief magistrate.
    Photo by Dan Henry /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Fifteen applicants are vying for four Hamilton County magistrate positions, including three current magistrates who've asked to keep their posts.

Magistrates, formally known as judicial commissioners, set bonds and sign warrants to assist the county's General Sessions judges and avoid jail overcrowding.

Hamilton County commissioners interviewed most applicants for the jobs Monday.

Larry Ables, who's in his third term as chief magistrate, fielded questions Monday about his management of the program, including one from County Commissioner Joe Graham about how Ables monitors whether a magistrate actually is in the jail during the assigned schedules.

Graham said he wants to avoid a situation where "there's people piled up in the jail, and we check and we see a magistrate [supposed to be] on duty, but there's not a magistrate in the jail."

Ables said commissioners could call him in such situations. Not seeing a magistrate in the jail's duty booth doesn't mean there's not one on duty, he said, because sometimes they're doing work in another room.

"I do not accept the hypothesis that there's a logjam created by the magistrates," Ables said Monday, offering to show commissioners records of the time it takes him and his colleagues to set bonds.

Ables, Graham and Commissioner Greg Beck engaged in a heated exchange two months ago during a commission meeting over a letter Ables wrote to Sheriff Jim Hammond detailing concerns about jail staffing.

At the meeting, Ables publicly voiced the contents of the letter. Beck and Graham dressed Ables down for not lodging his concerns through the commission's committee process.

Current magistrates Randall Russell and Yolanda Mitchell also interviewed Monday. Mitchell previously served as chief magistrate.

Magistrates must be licensed Tennessee attorneys, serve one-year terms and make a salary of $59,363 a year. The chief magistrate makes an additional $5,000 a year. They're required to work at least 40 hours a week, including nights, weekends and holidays.

County commissioners plan to vote on them at Wednesday's full commission meeting.

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about Ansley Haman...

Ansley Haman covers Hamilton County government. A native of Spring City, Tenn., she grew up reading the Chattanooga Times and Chattanooga Free Press, which sparked her passion for journalism. Ansley's happy to be home after a decade of adventures in more than 20 countries and 40 states. She gathered stories while living, working and studying in Swansea, Wales, Cape Town, South Africa, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Ga., and Knoxville, Tenn. Along the way, she interned for ...

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