Unofficial Opinion 97-26
Council of Magistrate Court Judges
A first-term chief magistrate, who previously completed a four-year term as a magistrate after December 31, 1995, is entitled to a five- percent longevity increase under the provisions of O.C.G.A. § 15-10- 23(j).
You have requested my opinion as to the meaning and proper application of O.C.G.A. § 15-10-23(j). Specifically, you have asked whether a first-term chief magistrate who previously served as a magistrate is eligible for a five-percent “longevity” raise provided for in that statute. It is my understanding that in the factual situation you are facing, a person completed a four-year term as a magistrate on December 31, 1996, and then began a new term as chief magistrate on January 1, 1997. It is my opinion that a first- term chief magistrate, who previously completed a four-year term as a magistrate after December 31, 1995, is entitled to a five-percent longevity increase under the provisions of O.C.G.A. § 15-10-23(j), where the chief magistrate has been receiving the salary provided for in O.C.G.A. § 15-10-23(a) and (c) as increased by O.C.G.A. § 15-10-23(k).
The General Assembly amended O.C.G.A. § 15-10-23 in 1995 so as to, among other things, “change the method for computing minimum compensation for magistrates, chief magistrates, and senior magistrates; to provide for increases in such minimum compensation; [and] to provide for longevity increases.” 1995 Ga. Laws 562, 562. Subsections (a) and (c) of Section 15-10-23 create salary guidelines for magistrates and chief magistrates across the state. Subsection (k) of that statute calls for those salary guidelines to be increased in connection with any cost-of-living increases or performance based increases received by employees in the classified service of the state merit system. Subsection (j) provides in its entirety:
The amounts provided in subsections (a) and (c) of this Code section, as increased by subsection (k) of this Code section, shall be increased by multiplying said amounts by the percentage which equals 5 percent times the number of completed four-year terms of office served by any chief magistrate or magistrate where such terms have been completed after December 31, 1995, effective the first day of January following the completion of each such period of service.
O.C.G.A. § 15-10-23(j). In essence, you have asked whether, under this statutory provision, a new chief magistrate gets credit for his previous term as magistrate for purposes of a longevity increase.
In order to interpret Section 15-10-23(j) properly, we must look diligently to the intent of the General Assembly, “keeping in view at all times the old law, the evil, and the remedy.” O.C.G.A. § 1-3-1(a). In addition, we must apply to all words their ordinary signification, except when dealing with “words of art or words connected with a particular trade or subject matter.” O.C.G.A. § 1-3-1(b).
Prior to 1995, Section 15-10-23 did not provide for longevity increases for magistrates or chief magistrates. In 1995, the General Assembly added the above-cited provisions. One can reasonably infer that the legislature viewed the lack of longevity increases in the old law as a problem which it sought to remedy by providing such raises. It is also reasonable to infer that, by doing so, the General Assembly sought to reward magistrates and chief magistrates for long service to their counties and the state. It would, therefore, be contrary to the intent of the legislature to construe Section 15-10-23(j) so as to deprive a magistrate of a longevity increase based on his or her advancing to the position of chief magistrate. To do so would actually create a disincentive for long service and achievement by magistrates, which would certainly be contrary to the General Assembly’s intentions.
It is, therefore, my opinion that a first-term chief magistrate, who previously completed a four-year term as a magistrate after December 31, 1995, is entitled to a five-percent longevity increase under the provisions of O.C.G.A. § 15-10-23(j), where the chief magistrate has been receiving the salary provided for in O.C.G.A. § 15-10-23(a) and (c) as increased by O.C.G.A. § 15-10-23(k).
CHRISTOPHER A. MCGRAW
Assistant Attorney General