May 11, 2014

Candidate profile — Murray County Chief Magistrate

Buckner wants to digitize records, set up video conferences

Rachel Brown
rachelbrown@daltoncitizen.com

— Murray County Chief Magistrate L. Gale Buckner wants to set up the ability for judges to hold court from home via video conference, allow some court fees to be paid online and make digital copies of the office’s records dating back to the 1970s.

Buckner, who was appointed to the position in November 2012 to fill the unexpired term of Bryant Cochran, is running for re-election in the nonpartisan May 20 election. She faces Dwayne Hooper, a former part-time magistrate with 22 years of experience.

Buckner said that if re-elected she also wants to work with local merchants to develop some business practices that could help cut down on the number of complaints about bad checks, and she also wants to work with local landlords on ways to write leases that clearly communicate any stringent terms. She said the video conference system would allow judges to more quickly hold hearings during odd times — like the middle of the night — when time is of the essence.

Magistrate courts handle most cases involving evictions, issue or deny search warrants for law enforcement officers, handle low-dollar civil matters, hear cases in which someone is charged with violating a county ordinance, and hear cases involving some misdemeanor crimes. Magistrate courts also handle first appearances — court hearings in which defendants are formally told the charges against them and either allowed to enter a plea or are referred to Superior Court on more serious charges.

The four Superior Court judges in the Conasauga Judicial Circuit that covers Whitfield and Murray counties appointed Buckner to the position from among 39 candidates — including Hooper — after Cochran resigned in the middle of an ethics and criminal investigation.

That investigation turned into a civil rights inquiry that resulted in two law enforcement officers from the Murray County Sheriff’s Office going to federal prison for covering up evidence related to a woman being arrested on false charges after claiming Cochran made unwanted sexual advances toward her. Cochran has denied wrongdoing.

Buckner said she worked hard to earn the public’s trust in the court since then. She said her accomplishments include finding and disseminating close to $300,000 that had been sitting in a bank account for several years rather than being distributed to various beneficiaries. She also oversaw the court’s move from what she described as “very condensed quarters” at the Murray County Annex to newly renovated facilities in the Murray County jail.

Buckner said she ordered that court cases always be held in open court and audio recorded rather than in chambers where they were not open to members of the public. She also began a process requiring court security officers to check everyone entering the courtroom whereas under previous administrations who  underwent security checks was “a decision that the marshal was making on his own,” she said.

Buckner said her office has also worked to catch up on numerous backlogged documents and makes daily bank deposits and balances its accounts daily. She said the office is about 3 percent under its $239,000 budget for the year.

The chief magistrate’s salary is about $62,000.

Buckner grew up in Murray County and has worked as a Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent, head of the state Department of Juvenile Justice and as a member and chief of the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles. She has also been executive director of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council.

She holds a master in public administration from Brenau University, a bachelor of science in urban life from Georgia State and is a graduate of the FBI National Academy.

She is a member of Holly Creek Baptist Church where she has led several trips to the Holy Land. She and her mother, Ruth Hayes, live in Chatsworth with their five dogs, several cats and one bird.

In her spare time, she enjoys reading, walking and traveling.

She can be reached at Magistrate Court at (706) 695-3021 or by email at gbucknermc@windstream.net. Her home number is (706) 695-5242.

Buckner is 56 years old. She said she decided not to accept campaign contributions.

“I am so indebted to all the support that I have received throughout the years from Murray County that I made a conscious decision to completely self-fund my campaign,” she said. “I have taken no campaign contributions.”