Candidates for Gwinnett County Clerk of Court, Superior, State and Probate Court were given an opportunity to plead their case before about 120 people during the Gwinnett Bar Association's judicial candidates forum at the 1818 Club in Duluth Friday (May 18).
Bar Association President Matt Reeves was excited by the large turnout.
"This is a record-breaking attendance," he said after the event. "We wanted to give the microphone to the candidates and let them explain why they are the best candidate."
In the Clerk of Court's race, challenger Brian Whiteside, an attorney and former law enforcement officer, said the availability of a qualified jury pool is a key issue.
"Two weeks ago, in the case of the state vs. Fuller, in front of [Superior Court] Judge [Debra]Turner, there wasn't an ability to pick a jury," he said. Whiteside blamed a lack of organization and cooperation between the clerk's office and the judicial branch.
His opponent, Clerk of Court Richard T. Alexander said the implementation of the new 1 Day 1 Trial program would resolve the issue and save the county about $100,000 a year. Alexander served as chief deputy to former Clerk of Court Tom Lawler, who passed away late last year.
Buford attorney Chris Ballar and Marlene Duwell, chief clerk of Gwinnett Probate Court since 1996, are the candidates in the race for Probate Court Judge.
Ballar, a Mercer University graduate, said nearly all of his 11 years as a lawyer have been dedicated to probate issues such as guardianship, wills and estates. "That's what I'll bring to this position," he said.
In addition to her experience as chief clerk, Duwell said, "I was a hearing officer for the court for about 12 of those years. It gives me incredibly strong experience and a readiness to serve the court from day one."
The race for State Court has a crowded five-candidate field that includes Emily Brantley, Pam Britt, Norman Cuadra, Greg Lundy, and Richard Winegarden.
Brantley earned her law degree at Georgia State Uiversity and went to work at an Atlanta law firm before opening a private practice in Gwinnett County, handling mostly civil cases both from the plaintiff and defendant's side.
Britt is also a graduate of the GSU law school and past president of the Gwinnett Criminal Defense Bar. An attorney with 15 years experience, she said, "I believe my reputation as an attorney in this community is a good one." She pledged to treat everyone who comes to the bench with "dignity and respect because that is what we all deserve."
Cuadra, a courtroom attorney for 16 years and former municipal court judge, said, "To run an effective state court, you need patience, you need tolerance and you need respect for others." He also said his grandfather, who lived in Nicragua, lost everything when the Communists took over. "It taught me the importance of freedom, the importance of our system of government and the importance of our court system and inspired me to want to become a state court judge," he said.
Lundy has 19 years experience as an attorney. He currently is a senior staff attorney for Gwinnett County and previously served as chief Municipal Court judge for the City of Suwanee.
Rounding out the field of speakers in the State Court race was former State and Superior Court Judge Richard T. Winegarden. He was first elected to State Court in 1982 and again in 1986 before being appointed by the governor to serve on the Superior Court bench in 1987. Following that he was re-elected to serve five more terms.
Gwinnett Superior Court judge candidates are Tracey Mason Blasi, Chris McClurg, Kathy Schrader, Giles Sexton, and Robert Walker.
Blasi, a former municipal court judge, special master and guardian ad litem, couldn't attend, but a spokesman said Blasi would draw on her skills as a mediator to "listen thoroughly, evaluate the evidence and make the tough decisions."
Emory Law School graduate McClurg said in his practice as an attorney, he sees the impact court cases have on people's day-to-day lives. As a judge he would be "as patient as possible, as civil as possible and give everybody a chance to be heard," he said.
Schrader, a past president of the Gwinnett Bar Association, brings 25 years of legal exerience to the race. She was appointed by the governor to serve on the state's Office for Children and Families and, at the federal level, serves on the Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice. Schrader serves as a Municipal Court judge for the cities of Duluth and Sugar Hill.
Sexton said he has handled more than 500 felony cases in Gwinnett County. He noted that the next Superior Court judge would inherit a death penalty case and added, "Based on my experience in handling felony cases, I feel like I'm the most qualified candidate in this race."
Gwinnett Magistrate Court Judge Walker, the last candidate to speak, pointed out that he is the only full time sitting judge in the race. "I've had the honor and privilege of working side-by-side with our Superior Court judges and learning my craft. "I'll be fair and just to all who come before the court."
Qualifying for the 2012 General Election is scheduled May 23-25. The Primary will be held July 31. The General Election occurs Nov. 6.