Last Friday, the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce–through its Focus Friday* event–discussed the need for a magistrate in the Lake Norman region, primarily in Huntersville, Cornelius, and Davidson. A magistrate performs numerous duties in both civil and criminal proceedings, ranging from performing a marriage to approving an arrest warrant. The nearest magistrates are at the Mecklenburg County Courthouse in Charlotte.
“It takes 30 minutes or more each way for a police officer to drive into Charlotte to obtain a warrant or a restraining order at the Mecklenburg County Courthouse. It typically takes another 2 to 4 hours to see a magistrate and obtain the appropriate documentation.”
—Huntersville Police Chief Cleveland L. Spruill, Sr.
It’s more than a simple matter of inconvenience. There is the potential of escalating violence in a domestic dispute while the parties wait for a restraining order. There have been DWI cases that were dismissed due to time constraints. (A person arrested for DWI has the right to obtain another blood test from an independent facility; it’s not unusual for the process to take 6 hours before the person is released. At that point, the independent lab results can be different from the initial results, which can be a cause for dismissal.)
“We have been working on this request for two decades now, actively for the past decade. One of our biggest obstacles was a location to house the office of the magistrate. It typically takes 3 to 5 magistrates to provide the service 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, during holidays and vacations. When Huntersville built their new police station, the town offered space in it for a magistrate’s office, so that hurdle has been overcome.”
—Jim Puckett, Outgoing County Commissioner
Bob McIntosh, owner of the McIntosh Law Firm in Davidson, strongly supports the project. He described the additional time and expense for clients in the Lake Norman region due to the fact that many of their legal services involve trips to the Charlotte courthouse.
In addition to business issues, there are also health concerns. Beth Butler, from Disability NC, brought up the seriousness of the opioid epidemic and other mental health issues that require quicker access to paperwork to involuntarily commit a person to a medical facility.
Here are some other functions that magistrates perform:
- Criminal: conduct initial appearances, set conditions of release, issue arrest and search warrants, and other responsibilities.
- Civil: Hear small claims cases, enter orders of summary ejectment (evictions), determine involuntary commitments, perform marriages, and other responsibilities.
To learn more, check out the magistrate fact sheet from the North Carolina Judicial Branch website.
The next steps to moving forward are to bring both the City of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County onboard to support this issue.
*Focus Friday is a public policy program of the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce that examines community and legislative issues from multiple perspectives. While intended for Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce members and community leaders, guests are welcome by RSVP to the Chamber at 704-892-1922.
The program is presented by Novant Health – Huntersville Medical Center and sponsored by Business Today and WSIC 100.7 FM. The program is emceed by Public Policy Chairman Jason Colvin.
There will not be a meeting in December due to the holidays. Meetings will resume in January with a Legislative Forecast from our area representatives.