Court of Appeals affirms Council decision

By Andrew Wigger - awigger@newberryobserver.com

NEWBERRY COUNTY — The State of South Carolina in the Court of Appeals has affirmed a decision made by Newberry County Council after Arthur Jayroe appealed the decision made by Council finding he was not entitled to additional compensation for his former service as a part-time magistrate judge in Newberry County.

The appeal was filed with the court on April 11, and the unpublished opinion was filed on August 1.

According to the unpublished opinion on the appeal, Jayroe argued the Council was mistaken because the County reduced his compensation during his tenure, improperly withheld his wages and failed to compensate him for the time he spent on-call, in violation of the Magistrate’s Pay Act and Payment of Wages Act.

When it comes to reduction in salary, the unpublished opinion states Jayroe argued the County improperly reduced his salary during his tenure in violation of the South Carolina Code by eliminating the $4,500 on-call stipend he was receiving. He contends he was receiving more than the minimum salary because the stipend was not required by the statute and the County treated it as a part of his salary by deducting for taxes and social security. Jayroe argued the County reduced his salary when it eliminated the stipend. The court disagreed.

The Court found the County did not improperly reduce Jayroe’s salary during his tenure because the on-call stipend was not part of his salary. The opinion further states the stipend was not specifically meant for Jayroe. Instead, in the 1995 County Council meeting minutes, the stipend was to be split among the chief magistrate and associate chief magistrate. Although there was no associate chief magistrate during the time Jayroe served as chief magistrate, the stipend could be split among the other magistrates.

The Court also did not agree with Jayroe’s argument that the stipend was included in his salary by virtue of it being paid in one paycheck with his magistrate supplement and salary. They said the on-call stipend was to compensate Jayroe for performing additional duties and could have been split among multiple magistrates who were performing on-call duties. Further, the County replaced the stipend with a new compensation scheme to pay magistrates for hours spent responding to calls. The Court therefore found the county did not improperly reduce Jayroe’s salary during his tenure.

In the matter of on-call compensation, the opinion shows Jayroe argued South Carolina law requires the County to pay him, and other magistrates, for any time they spent on call, regardless of whether they responded to calls during that time. Jayroe stated the County improperly refused to compensate him for the time he spent on call during weeknights after it eliminated the stipend. The court disagreed.

The court agreed with the County’s argument that part-time magistrates are only entitled to be compensated for time they spend responding to calls rather than time they are available to respond to calls. They found this distinction best effectuates the intent of the legislature in the Magistrate’s Pay Act to fairly compensate part-time magistrates for all of the time they spend in performances of their official duties.

The opinion states that Jayroe was free to use his time effectively for his own purposes while on-call as long as he could respond to any calls within one hour and was able to function. It further says that the County only required Jayroe to work six office hours per week. However, Jayroe regularly assigned himself all weeknight on-call hours despite the express language stating part-time magistrates cannot regularly work more than 40 hours per week. They held that Jayroe was only entitled to compensation for the hours he worked responding to calls.

The Court also disagreed with Jayroe’s argument that the County failed to compensate him for his on-call hours after it eliminated the stipend. The opinion says that after eliminating the stipend, the County initiated a new on-call reporting system, requiring each magistrate to write down the number of hours they spent responding to calls each week, Sunday through Saturday, and submit the form to the Human Resources Department. They say Jayroe never reported working any on-call hours through the new system, thus there were no on-call hours reported after the elimination of the stipend for which the County could pay Jayroe.

When it comes to compensation as a full-time magistrate, Jayroe said he should be compensated as a full-time magistrate who works 40 or more hours per week because he worked 77 on-call hours per week and six office hours per week, according to the opinion. The court disagreed.

The opinion says that the County only required Jayroe to work six hours each week, and Jayroe only spent six hours per week in the office performing official duties as a judicial officer and, therefore, was properly classified as a part-time magistrate. Although Jayroe was also on call during the weeknights and some weekends, only the hours Jayroe spent responding to calls count in determining whether he should be classified as a full-time magistrate because only the actual hours worked while on call would be spent in performance of his official duties. However, Jayroe did not present any evidence showing exactly how many hours he worked while he was on-call.

The opinion states that he admitted he did not get called very often during the week, and he never took any records of when he got called or how long it took him to respond to a call. It further states that Jayroe never recorded any hours he worked while on call, even after the County implemented the new on-call reporting system. The record contains forms Jayroe submitted to court administration in which he never reported working close to 40 hours per week. Thus, the court finds the County properly classified and compensated Jayroe as a part-time magistrate.

In the matter of treble damages and attorney fees, the opinion states Jayroe argued Council was mistaken by finding the County paid Jayroe all wages that were due to him. He further argued the County refused to pay him the wages he was entitled to for being on-call during the weeknights after the County eliminated the stipend in violation of the Payment of Wages Act. Jayroe contended he was entitled to recover trebled damages and attorney’s fees and cost. The court disagreed.

They found that the County properly compensated Jayroe, and the County decided to eliminate the on-call stipend in 2014 because it believed it was not in compliance with the Magistrate’s Pay Act and offered each magistrate a back pay amount to cover potentially unpaid on-call hours over the previous three years. Because there were no on-call records kept, the County calculated the amount for each magistrate taking into consideration the amount of time the magistrate served and the rotating on-call schedule then reduced the amount by any payment the magistrate previously received for on-call compensation.

The opinion says Jayroe did not present any evidence showing how many hours he spent responding to calls during his tenure. Thus, the court found the County properly compensated Jayroe for the hours he spent on-call prior to September 2014 through the stipend and back pay amount. Although Jayroe continued to provide on-call hours after the stipend was eliminated, he never reported working any hours through the newly implemented reporting system. Therefore, the opinion says the County could not compensate Jayroe for any on-call hours after September 2014 because he did not report spending any time responding to calls.

According to the opinion, the Court does not believe the Council was mistaken in ruling Jayroe was not entitled to additional compensation, they find Jayroe is not entitled to trebled damages or attorney fees.

Jayroe was represented by Desa Ballard and Harvey M. Watson III, both of Ballard and Watson, Attorneys at Law. Newberry County was represented by Steve A. Matthews, Christine Gantt Sorenson, Sarah P. Spruill and Pierce Talmadge MacLennan, all of Haynsworth Sinkler Boyd, PA.

Court affirms decision in magistrate compensation

By Andrew Wigger

awigger@newberryobserver.com

Reach Andrew Wigger at 803-276-0625 ext. 1867 or on Twitter @TheNBOnews.

Reach Andrew Wigger at 803-276-0625 ext. 1867 or on Twitter @TheNBOnews.