Dwayne Hooper says his 22 years of experience as a part-time judge in Murray County Magistrate Court make him the most qualified person for the chief’s job.
Hooper is running against incumbent L. Gale Buckner in the nonpartisan May 20 election. The chief magistrate’s annual salary is about $62,000, and that person oversees a roughly $239,000 budget.
Magistrate judges 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 judges also handle first appearances — 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.
Hooper said he was appointed a part-time magistrate judge in the 1990s after the sitting judge left office for another position in another county. With a sister at the Chatsworth Police Department and a brother in the Murray County Sheriff’s Office, Hooper said he had a natural interest in the justice system. After his appointment, he continued to run for re-election. Voters sent him back into office five times.
“I didn’t have anything much to do with running the office, but over the years you continue to grow with your knowledge of the law, and it’s a job that you never quit learning in,” he said. “I have accumulated 480 hours of Judicial Qualifications Commission training ... My 22 years of experience is going to be what makes me so qualified.”
Hooper said he wants to help make Murray County a better place. In 2012, he ran against incumbent chief magistrate Bryant Cochran and lost. The four Superior Court judges in the Conasauga Judicial Circuit that covers Whitfield and Murray counties appointed L. Gale Buckner to the position from among 39 candidates — including Hooper — after Cochran resigned in the middle of an ethics and criminal investigation shortly after his re-election.
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.
Hooper declined to go into detail, but he said he believes the court wasn’t treating people fairly under Cochran and that he can right that by becoming chief. Hooper said he would have made some of the same financial and organizational decisions Buckner made but believes he can create a more welcoming atmosphere for people who come into the court.
Hooper said he wants to “have a court that the people will respect, but at the same time treats people with respect.” Not everyone who comes through magistrate court is a criminal, he added.
“Grandpa could be charged with burning leaves without a burn permit,” he said, or someone could face a charge related to letting their dog run at large. “It is a county ordinance, and if we’ve got a county ordinance, then we’ve got a law and can’t ignore it. It’s got to be prosecuted in the right way, but you’ve got to use some common sense.”
Hooper has been married for 23 years to Tracy Hooper, who is a nurse practitioner at Gordon Health Depot. They have three sons and one daughter — Hayden, 21, a graduate engineering student at Southern Polytechnic University; Mason, 19, a student at Georgia Northwestern Technical College; Alyssa, 14, a student at Bagley Middle School; and Damian, 9, a student at Woodlawn Elementary.
Hooper is a member of the parent board of the Boys and Girls Club in Chatsworth. He and his family are members of Welcome Hill Baptist Church. In his spare time, he enjoys camping, fishing and hunting.
The 54-year-old is a lifelong resident of Murray County and lives in the Central community. He graduated from Murray County High School in 1978. He currently owns several rental properties, which he said he has worked to renovate. In previous years, he has managed Hooper Construction which built and remodeled homes.
To reach Hooper, call him at home at (706) 695-6459 or on his cellphone at (706) 581-8680.