Only a month has passed since the opening of a magistrate’s office in Mooresville, but it already is seeing its share of activity.
The office, tucked in the Government Center South building in downtown, was a long time coming for the most populous area in Iredell County. For years, the only other magistrate’s office in the county was several miles away, in Statesville.
“It’s much more convenient,” said Matt McCall, the county’s Register of Deeds, who was instrumental in opening the satellite office. Having it here, he added, “makes sense.”
In North Carolina, magistrate judges handle a range of legal affairs, from issuing restraining orders and search warrants to hearing cases for low-level offenses and adjudicating small claims and evictions. They are nominated for two-year terms by the clerk of Superior Court, appointed by the senior resident Superior Court judge and supervised by the chief District Court judge.
Magistrates also perform civil marriages, at least a dozen of which have taken place at the Mooresville office, McCall said. He noted that since the register of deeds opened an office in the East Center Avenue government center less than three years ago, it has issued marriage licenses to people from as far as northern Mecklenburg County.
The dimensions of the magistrate’s office are modest, comprising only a hallway and a single room that the county remodeled.
And while its arrival has perhaps gone somewhat unnoticed – “It’s not very exciting, McCall said, adding, “It’s just good government” – it has nonetheless proved useful.
Benefiting residents and law enforcement officials alike in the southern part of the county, it has reduced time spent on processing arrests.
In addition, it will speed up response times to any mental health crises, given that magistrates issue orders for involuntary commitments to psychiatric hospitals.
In such situations, “what a difference an extra 30 to 45 minutes can make,” McCall said of the drive to Statesville. He noted that while the Mooresville magistrate’s office is currently open only two days a week, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, officials hope that it will expand to normal business hours come August.
Mooresville once had a magistrate’s office, also in downtown, but it closed in the early 2000s, said Jim Mixson, the county Clerk of Superior Court. He recalled working there when he was starting out as a parole officer in the mid-1990s.
And while another one opened years later, it closed ing months later, in 2011, as a result of sweeping cuts to the state court system, he said.
Bringing the office back to town had remained a focal point for McCall, the register of deeds, for about four years. Initially, top judicial officials expressed little to no interest, but that changed with the appointments of new ones.
Mixson and the senior resident Superior Court judge, Joe Crosswhite, threw their support behind opening the office, after receiving letters from Mooresville commissioners. For his part, Mixson said that since he took his post in 2012, he had called for its opening, saying it would bring “huge savings to law enforcement.”
Once a hospital, the government center here came into the county’s hands years ago. In addition to the magistrate’s and register of deeds offices, it includes a courtroom for traffic citations and a branch of the Sheriff’s Office.
But despite the arrival of the magistrate’s office, the county court system is facing limited resources, Mixson said.
“We are kind of short-handed,” he said, referring to the eight magistrates in the county. He noted that while the number of magistrates in each county are based on their population, Iredell needs a couple more. “We’re all doing more with less.”
Jake Flannick is a freelance writer. Have a story for Jake? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org