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VOL. 124 | NO. 247 | Thursday, December 17, 2009

Once-Embattled Wilbun to Run for Juvenile Court Clerk

By Bill Dries

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“I think times have changed. The court has changed. I’ve changed. ... Now is not the time to rehash the past.”

– Shep Wilbun

The invitations urged political supporters to “Return Shep Wilbun” to the Memphis-Shelby County Juvenile Court Clerk’s office.

At a club on South Main Street this month as FedExForum began to fill up a few blocks away, Wilbun hosted an evening fundraiser at $100 a head. It drew State Reps. Ulysses Jones, Larry Miller and Joe Towns as well as Shelby County Commissioner Steve Mulroy.

“We have a major issue in terms of our young people being in trouble,” Wilbun told The Daily News as a band set up near the window. “I think Juvenile Court has done a lot to try to be a vehicle in terms of helping improve families – heal families. But I think we can do a lot more. I think the clerk’s office can be a vital part of that.”

Wilbun refers to the clerk’s office as “a point of entry” for juveniles as well as their parents, who are usually there under less than ideal circumstances, and in many cases, are in the juvenile justice system for the first time.

“The clerk’s office can provide them with effective, user-friendly, efficient service,” Wilbun said. “Far too often we see situations where people feel as though – given the bad situation they are in … they leave feeling as though they haven’t been treated with courtesy, respect and dignity. That’s just not necessary. We can do better.”

Up from the ashes

The slogan for Wilbun’s bid to return to elected office in the 2010 elections is also about a political comeback after his one term in the office ended with more than an election defeat.

Wilbun lost the clerk’s office in the 2002 elections to Republican challenger Steve Stamson. Stamson beat Wilbun again in 2006. Stamson is not seeking re-election in 2010.

After losing the first time, Wilbun was indicted on a charge of official misconduct along with two others. The state charges involved an employee’s payments to a woman who claimed she was sexually assaulted by the employee. It followed a federal grand jury investigation of the clerk’s office.

Shep Wilbun

So began a journey through the legal system for Wilbun – a former City Council member, county commissioner and Memphis mayoral candidate – that was the political equivalent of a near-death experience.

District Attorney General Bill Gibbons appointed a special prosecutor to take the case to the grand jury. But after the indictments, the charges against all three defendants, including Wilbun, were dismissed by Gibbons’ office.

The investigation was the catalyst for larger corruption investigations that followed soon after, including the Tennessee Waltz FBI sting. But Wilbun was neither charged nor a target in those cases. It’s a point he has continued to make.

“I think times have changed. The court has changed. I’ve changed. And more importantly, the need is greater (for leadership),” Wilbun said. “The record speaks for itself in the senses that all of the issues that were raised – the charges were dropped. Now is not the time to rehash the past.”

Past, present, future

Wilbun is running in the May 4 Democratic primary. The Shelby County Election Commission began issuing qualifying petitions to candidates on Nov. 25. Feb. 18 is the filing deadline.

The only candidate to file so far is Wayne Mashburn, a candidate in the Republican primary for Shelby County clerk.

By Wednesday morning, 30 prospective candidates had picked up petitions to run in primaries for the 22 offices on the ballot.

Among the seven expressing interest in the 13 County Commission seats are incumbent Republican Mike Ritz, outgoing Probate Court Clerk Chris Thomas and Justin Ford, the son of interim Shelby County Mayor Joe Ford.

The younger Ford is also vying for the appointment to the seat vacated by his father. The County Commission is to vote Monday on filling the vacancy.

Democratic County Commissioner Deidre Malone is the only mayoral hopeful with a petition out.

Incumbent Circuit Court Clerk Jimmy Moore has already picked up his petition to run in the GOP primary. Incumbent Sheriff Mark Luttrell is seeking re-election as well.

Shelby County Trustee Regina Morrison Newman has picked up her petition to run in the Democratic primary for election to a full term. She was appointed trustee following the death earlier this year of Paul Mattila.

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