A move by Laurens County to consolidate its magistrates’ office will temporarily leave the Town of Gray Court without a municipal judge.
As of March 1, all four Laurens County magistrates will be working out of the Laurens County Judicial Complex at Hillcrest in an effort to better work through the office’s heavy caseload.
Glynda Tucker, who manned the Gray Court office along with clerk Diane Moore, was the only county magistrate working outside of the Hillcrest complex. She has also served as the town’s municipal judge.
Gray Court Town Administrator Garry Smith announced to members of the town council at their Monday meeting that both Tucker and Moore will be retiring at the end of February after more than 30 years of service.
“We have to come up with a transition plan,” Smith said.
Smith mentioned several potential local magistrates who may be interested in taking over the Gray Court municipal judgeship, which oversees relatively few cases. Municipal court in Gray Court would only be held a couple of days each month.
Laurens County Administrator Jon Caime told council members that Chief Magistrate Leesa Inabinet that she and her staff will help the town for “a couple of months” as needed while it finds Tucker’s successor.
“We’re happy to help with the transition,” Caime said. “We know you’ll need some time to work things out.”
Two business owners from the Gray Court and Fountain Inn areas voiced objections to the consolidation of the magistrate’s office at Hillcrest during last week’s Laurens County Council meeting, saying it was very convenient for themselves and residents of the northern part of the county.
Gray Court Mayor John Carter also lamented the loss of the local office.
“It was definitely a convenience for people to have someone here,” Carter said. “But in this business, there are all kinds of obstacles you have to go through.”
Inabinet said having the fourth magistrate at Hillcrest will help with the high volume of cases handled by the office and drew support from the local legislative delegation.
“We agree that this consolidation would allow for a more efficient court system for the citizens of Laurens County,” Rep. Mike Pitts write in a letter to Inabinet. “Senator (Danny) Verdin and the rest of the delegation support this move as we see it is beneficial to the taxpayers, constituents and the county itself.”
The consolidation of the magistrates’ office is part of an overall plan approved by the Laurens County Council to spend $60,000 to relocate and renovate the office space. The magistrates will swap locations at Hillcrest with the S.C. Department of Juvenile Justice to give the magistrates needed extra space as well as an additional courtroom. The renovation will also include a waiting area and counter with service windows that will keep cues from forming in the hallways.