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Opinion

It’s time for Edgefield County to leap, not crawl, into the new decade: Part 2


A Column by the Editor
web posted January 25, 2010
COLUMN – As I pointed out in the first part of this series, Edgefield County has opportunities to make great strides for its citizens as we draw near to the next decade. Although a widely unpopular move by the county council to purchase the Calliham building has tentatively been set to move forward, seizing an opportunity should not be missed. When given lemons, make lemonade. For this column I will focus on the Magistrates Office and Court.

The Magistrate’s Office is just that, an office. It is supposed to include a courtroom but it does not. Over ninety per cent of all cases heard by the Magistrate Court are held behind a locked door, out of the public’s view. Now, before you jump to conclusions, it is because the county does not have a Magistrate’s courtroom, so they do the best they can with what they have. 

In 2000, the Edgefield County Council voted to lease the old Edgefield Post Office at the corner of Railroad and Jeter Streets and remodel it as the new council chambers. It was sold to the public as having a secondary use by the Magistrates as a courtroom. Though the promised costs by county leaders doubled before the job was completed, it has seen sporadic use at best by the Magistrates, and then only for jury trials.

Now that the county is going to remodel a rundown building with major drainage issues, we might as well make the best of it and bring Magistrate Court hearings in the county into the 21st century by providing them with office space and a courtroom in the building.

In every other Magistrate Court, those with charges or cases fill the courtroom, the Magistrate walks in and begins to call the names of those who are to have their cases heard. They come forward, sit at the defendants table, plead their case, offer witnesses if they have them, and the other party, be it a police officer or another citizen, does the same. A ruling is made with everyone, including other defendants, watching.

That is the way General Sessions Court operates, why not the Magistrate’s Court?

In Edgefield County Magistrate Court defendants gather in a waiting room and anticipate their name to be called then are led behind a door with an electronic lock, to sit in a tiny office, to have their day in court - without the public watching.

In all fairness, if you want to observe a case as a member of the public you can, but most people do not know that you can go behind the closed doors with those called, as an observer.

It is time for the Edgefield County Magistrate Court to be run the same way all courtrooms across America are run, 100% in the open. When the remodeling plans are drawn, they should include office space and a courtroom for the Magistrate Court.

No criminal or civil court in Edgefield County should ever be held in a back office behind a locked door that is placed for the specific reason to keep the public from entering.

The integrity of the judicial process of the Magistrate Court hinges on whether our county leaders will once again miss another opportunity to better our county, or just seek to waste time, effort, and money that have no lasting effect on things that matter in our county.





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