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Third term unlikely for judge
Qualifications change, may end Cole's reign on magistrate bench
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Forsyth County News
With qualifying set to begin Monday for the Forsyth County chief magistrate's post, incumbent Barbara Cole's tenure in that office appears headed for an end.
A change in the qualifications to serve as chief magistrate takes affect with this year's election, and Chief Registrar Gary J. Smith says Cole is not qualified to run again.
The position of chief magistrate is a nonpartisan elected position that will be decided on November's General Election ballot.
The state legislature in 2003 passed a bill that required the chief magistrate for Forsyth County to have been a qualified member of the state bar for at least three years by the date of election.
Though chief magistrate for nearly eight years, Cole has been a member of the bar only since last October.
Cole said she has not decided if she will attempt to qualify for a third term despite the change in the qualifications for the post she holds. Voting Registrar Smith says she can't again seek the office.
The 2003 legislation increased considerably the amount of education and professional experience needed to serve as the head of the county's magistrate court.
The law was sponsored by then-state Rep. Jack Murphy of Cumming.
"The reason I sponsored the bill is because at that time, we were becoming a huge county ... and it didn't even require a high school education," said Murphy, who has since become a state senator.
"We decided when we passed the bill that we would grandfather her in and gave her plenty of time to get qualified."
Cole called the law a personal attack.
"It was done personally against me, that is very obvious," she said. "It's a shame they would all go to such lengths to do this to me."
Murphy denied Cole's claim, saying the change in qualifications was in no way directed toward her. In fact, he said, additional language was added to the bill specifically to ensure Cole could still qualify.
Though the governor signed the bill June 3, 2003, it had no effect until 2008, allowing Cole a chance to successfully seek her second term in 2004.
The time lapse also gave Cole more than five years to meet the mandate of three years experience as a member of the state bar.
"We could have made it for the next year, but we didn't. We gave her time to go ahead and pass the bar [exam]," said Murphy, who added that Cole went to the attorney general's office questioning the change.
"The legislature is the only one that can be amending bills, not the attorney general," Murphy said.
County Attorney Ken Jarrard said the local Board of Registrars, which he represents, joined Cole's attorney, John Jones of Atlanta, in seeking the state attorney general's opinion on the matter.
Jarrard said the opinion came back that Cole "would not be able to qualify."
Jarrard added that Jones has since asked the attorney general to take another look at the situation. That request for further consideration, however, does not involve the Board of Registrars.
The legislation originally required that the chief magistrate have practiced law for seven years, but Murphy added a that a candidate could also qualify if they have "served as a magistrate for seven years."
"We added that language to make sure that she could qualify," he said. "All she had to do was pass the bar ... but she waited all that time. She knew what the law was."
Cole said passing the bar was "something I did personally for me."
"I was taking my time to go in there and take it," she said.
Even though they may have a law degree, lawyers in Georgia must pass the bar exam in order to practice law as an attorney.
Walker Bramblett, currently a judge in the magistrate court, has announced his intention to qualify for the position of chief magistrate.
A former staff attorney for the Forsyth County government, Bramblett practiced law in the county for more than 20 years prior to becoming a magistrate in 2004.
The Forsyth Magistrate Court has jurisdiction in civil cases that involve less than $15,000; issues arrest and search warrants; holds preliminary hearings in criminal cases; has jurisdiction over ordinance violations; and in certain situations has authority to set bonds.