Local News

February 15, 2014

Gazaway is new magistrate; Baxter retires after 45 years

Settling into her first weeks in office, newly appointed Whitfield County Magistrate Judge Gayle Gazaway said the job is a step up that conforms with her lifelong love of learning and desire to help the community where she lives.

A Whitfield County native, Gazaway has worked in the magistrate office for more than 25 years, working her way up from an entry level clerk to the top clerk in the office. So when Magistrate Judge Sidney Baxter announced his retirement from office in December, Chief Magistrate Haynes Townsend was quick to appoint Gazaway to the job.

She began working Jan. 1 with approval from the four Superior Court judges for the Conasauga Judicial Circuit that covers Whitfield and Murray counties. Baxter’s unexpired term concludes at the end of 2015, and Gazaway said she’s already planning to run for election.

“Gayle is very well-versed in the law and has dealt with it on a daily basis in that period of time, and quite frankly, she’s one of the most intelligent women I know,” Townsend said. “She’ll fit into the court on the judge’s side just as well as she fit in as the chief clerk for many years.”

Magistrate Court handles civil claims up to $15,000 and issues criminal warrants. The court also handles evictions and foreclosures and is often the first court before which suspects will appear after they are arrested. Charges related to breaking county ordinances are handled in the court, and a handful of criminal charges — including shoplifting, criminal trespass, purchase or possession of alcohol by a minor, deposit account fraud and possession of less than an ounce of marijuana — originate there.

Gazaway, who has an associate degree in general studies technology from Dalton State College, said she must complete 80 hours of training as a new judge.

She began work in 1987 as a deputy clerk, then was promoted to clerk of court in 1995. Gazaway said she’s always enjoyed learning. In her other positions, she said, she was known for questioning why procedures and policies were the way they were rather than stopping at learning the task itself.

Asked what the hardest part of the judge’s job is, Gazaway said it’s the decision to put someone out of their home through an eviction. While state law governs the circumstances under which an unpaid landlord can press a tenant to leave, Gazaway said it’s still the court’s job to issue the order.

“That’s the hardest for me,” she said.

Baxter agreed that was the hardest part of the job for him, too. As one of the longest-sitting magistrate judges in Georgia, Baxter served in the position for 45 years. When he first began, the office was justice of the peace rather than magistrate court. The name, and some of the functions, changed in the early 1980s. Baxter was among just a handful of judges who were around before and after the shift.

One of the biggest changes he’s seen over the years is in the way judges are paid. As a justice of the peace in some parts of the state, judges were making far upwards of $200,000 a year, Baxter recalled, as they were all paid by the task — so much for a warrant, so much for a dispossessory, and so on. As state law changed justice of the peace offices around the state over into magistrate courts paid out of a general fund, all that began to change. Prior to sometime in the 1980s, the office also didn’t handle criminal charges, he added. Gradually, that began to change.

Gazaway said she learned a lot from Baxter by working with him over the years. His compassion toward others made an impression on her, she said. One time, a young woman who was just starting her career was charged with writing bad checks. Through some investigation, it became obvious there was only a lapse in her account as she changed banks and that she quickly corrected the matter. Baxter said the woman came to him for help because she was up for a promotion and was struggling to keep her career momentum going after the employer ran a criminal background check. Baxter said he spoke with those who were reviewing the record and helped clear her name.

Another time, Gazaway said, there was a couple with two young children who were coming through Dalton on their way to another state. The children’s father faced some kind of charge and had to spend a night in jail, leaving the mother and children with no place to go. When Baxter found out they were in the jail lobby where they had planned to stay for the night, he gave Gazaway some money and had her buy food and some necessities for them to tide them over. The office also took up a collection to help them get to their destination, she said.

Gazaway said she approaches the judge’s job with the same work ethic as her other endeavors — by trying to do the best job possible, treat people fairly and with respect, and live in a way that she knows at the end of the day she did all she could.

Baxter lives in Rocky Face and attends Rocky Face Baptist Church. He and wife Eloise have three children, five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Gazaway has two daughters, one son and three grandchildren. She has lived in Rocky Face since 1988.

1
Text Only
Local News
  • Bugs and Kisses 1 mlh.jpg Local stores expect tax holiday to create lots of sales

    Local retailers say Georgia’s sales tax holiday weekends mean big business for them, and they are gearing up to capitalize on this year’s tax-free shopping on Friday and Saturday.

    July 30, 2014 1 Photo

  • Esme file mw 2.jpg Still fighting

    Ten-year-old Esme Miller was celebrated earlier this year for the way she’s handled a bout with osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer.

    July 30, 2014 1 Photo

  • Historical photos of Murray County needed

    Maybe you have a photograph of a well-known preacher from the 1940s. Or maybe you have a photograph taken of a church choir from the 1920s.

    July 30, 2014

  • State DOT wants your input on transportation needs

    As state and national leaders consider alternatives for funding future transportation needs, the Georgia Department of Transportation wants to know what Georgians would like in their 21st century transportation system and how they recommend paying for it.

    July 30, 2014

  • Jail for Justice Tour event here tonight

    The Moral Monday Georgia Coalition, the NAACP-led multi-racial, multi-issue advocacy group, will host an event in partnership with the Georgia Dreamers Alliance, Coalition of Latino Leaders (CLILA), Whitfield NAACP and the Whitfield County Democratic Party at Dalton’s Mack Gaston Community Center tonight from 5 to 9.

    July 30, 2014

  • Two charged with tampering with evidence in drug investigation

    Two people have been arrested and charged with tampering with evidence in connection with the synthetic marijuana bust in February involving a Dalton business owner.

    July 30, 2014

  • Beaulieu to close operations for one week for inventory

    Floorcovering giant Beaulieu of America will conduct a physical inventory of its buildings and facilities next week, with only salaried employees reporting for work.

    July 30, 2014

  • Green spot closing 1 mlh.jpg A part of the family

    Larry Green can’t remember the exact date. But he says it was about 54 years ago when his father Marvin took him to see the new store he and his brother Herman had commissioned Red Jennings to build at 309 W. Emery St. in Dalton.

    July 29, 2014 3 Photos

  • New high school?

    The only means for “staying small” and preserving “The Dalton Way” in Dalton Public Schools may be through expansion, Superintendent Jim Hawkins said Tuesday.

    July 29, 2014

  • Bond denied for man arrested in synthetic marijuana bust

    A Dalton business owner charged in a synthetic marijuana bust was denied bond Tuesday.

    July 29, 2014