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Public meeting set to fight cut of Aiken County magistrate courts

News 12 at 11 o'clock / Friday, August 12, 2011

AIKEN COUNTY, S.C. -- South Carolina Senate Bill 764 passed and was signed into law by Governor Nikki Haley. It's the bill that consolidates and redesignates the number and location of magistrate courts in Aiken County.

"I'm confident that five judges can do the work that eight judges are doing now," said State Senator Shane Massey (R-Aiken) of the new law.

He supported the bill that would cut three magistrates from Aiken County. Massey says the financial benefit justifies the cuts.

"What we've come up with is a plan to reduce from 9 to 6 [magistrates], and in the process, hopefully save the county up around $400,000," said Senator Massey.

Magistrate judges in Graniteville, Jackson/Beech Island, and Monetta have all been told they won't be coming back. The Graniteville branch will merge with Langely's, Jackson/Beech Island with New Ellenton, and Monetta with Wagener.

Senator Massey says he's heard from people who aren't too happy.

"We knew there was going to be some push-back. It's change. People don't like change no matter how much it makes sense," Massey said.

News 12 spoke with officials in Monetta. They've set up a public meeting with the goal of winning their judge back. They invited Senator Massey and others to address people who are hungry for answers. Massey says he'll just give them the numbers.

"It costs more money to run that office than that office brings in through fines, fees, and so fourth," he said.

He says it's hard to make money from fines and fees when there simply aren't enough cases brought to court there in Monetta and the other branches.

"Workload there is approximately 16% of the workload done in Aiken," Massey says.

Officials in Monetta say it's another blow to their town, which they believe is already overlooked in Aiken County. They also say people in Monetta will have to travel an almost 60-mile-round trip to Wagener for court dates.

However, Senator Massey says money going to these courts could actually be going to other things like buying new police cars. He hopes the meeting Monday night in Monetta will be productive.

He says he's confident the six judges can handle the workload the nine were handling. He says if they aren't able to, they could certainly appoint another magistrate judge down the road.

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