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Letter: Conversation with the Candidates
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Dear Editor: In your recent video series "Conversation with the Candidates," Chief Magistrate Judge candidate Phinia Aten repeated a rumor to make one of her points to Rockdale News Editor Michelle Kim. Ms. Kim asked Aten about one of her points on her website: Phinia Aten: atenforjudge.com, "When all persons are ensured fair and equal treatment in all matters brought to our Magistrate Court."

In Ms. Aten's response, she referenced that this is what she was hearing from citizens who have used the Magistrate Court in past years. She continued that different people were being treated differently when they have the same types of cases. Ms. Aten then referenced resident Josie Dean. At the April 24 meeting of the Rockdale County Board of Commissioners, Ms. Dean made a public comment to the effect that when she was summoned to Magistrate Court on a dispossessory, she was "treated like the N word" by Chief Magistrate Judge Rudy Horne. The video of Ms. Dean's comments to the BOC can be found at the following address: http://youtu.be/RusWeOOkLuU

After hearing this, I queried Magistrate Court files for the records where Ms. Dean had appeared before this court. What I found was that Ms. Dean had appeared before this court twice, both related to the same case. In September of 2007, Ms. Dean was summoned to Magistrate Court on a dispossessory, i.e., she had a dispute with her landlord over her non-payment of rent. According to Magistrate Court records, Ms. Dean appeared with her attorney before Judge Rudy Horne on Oct. 2, 2007, for these charges. The plaintiff in the case did not appear on this day; therefore, the ruling of the Court was to dismiss the charges. Judge Horne was the presiding judge at this hearing. Documentation related to this case can be found at the following address: http://ssmile.rockdalenet.com/bocwatch/Dean-09102007.pdf

The plaintiff in this case re-filed the complaint against Ms. Dean on Oct. 4, 2007. This case again came before the Magistrate Court on Oct. 15, 2007. The judgment on this day went against Ms. Dean in the amount of $1,069.62. The ruling judge on the bench that fall day was Senior Judge Joy Wright - not Judge Rudy Horne. Documentation related to this judgment can be found at the following address: http://ssmile.rockdalenet.com/bocwatch/Dean-10042007.pdf

Ms. Aten is running for an office where she will be called upon to make decisions based on the facts of a case. Ms. Dean's comments to the BOC were false, and Ms. Aten simply repeated the rumor to slander a 20-year member of our judicial circuit who has dedicated a large portion of his life to the residents of this community.

Ms. Aten also attacks the budget for Magistrate Court touting that the number of associate judges under Judge Horne is what has increased the budget in recent years. For the record, since 2004, there have been only two associate magistrate judges to assist Judge Horne, primarily for nights and weekends; and the Magistrate budget is operating today at 2007 budget levels. Given that the Rockdale County Finance Director just recently gave a directive to department heads that the 2013 budget will be based on 2011 levels, Judge Horne has operated his office responsibly while meeting every need of the Magistrate Court for the people of Rockdale County.

Furthermore, Ms. Aten credits herself as being a sought-after attorney in Rockdale County and across the state. Ms. Aten has only litigated in Juvenile Court in Rockdale County; she has appeared before Superior Court Judge David Irwin for her own divorce case and Probate Judge Lillis Brown on guardianship issues with her younger siblings. Ms. Aten, however, has never seen the inside of the Magistrate courtroom.

I request that The Rockdale News remove the portions of the interview with Ms. Aten that slander a well-respected member of Rockdale's judicial system.

Sam Smiley
Rockdale County

Editor's note: At 2:52 in the video (rockdalenews.com/section/89/article/13045/), Phinia Aten's response is: "There is a concern that different citizens are being treated differently when they have the same type of cases. It's for them to get out in the community and spread the word about their experiences with the court. I know at least one resident, Ms. Josie Dean, has used the airwaves on Channel 23 to voice her concern with how she was treated in Magistrate Court a couple years ago. So, I'm running a positive campaign but I do intend to address the real concerns of the users of the courts and promote more public trust in our local court system." When asked for a response, Dean said, "I know the difference between a woman and a man. I know I was talking to a man. When Judge Horne did that to me, that's why I'm fighting."