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VOL. 128 | NO. 239 | Monday, December 9, 2013

Judicial Races Show Signs of Life

By Bill Dries

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Criminal Court Judge Bobby Carter opened his re-election bid with the sound of bagpipes in the clubhouse of the Overton Park Golf Course.

“No campaign kickoff would be complete without bagpipes,” Carter told a group of several dozen supporters at the Wednesday, Dec. 4, event, including numerous judges – civil and criminal – expected to seek re-election along with him on the August 2014 county ballot.

“A gentleman is a man who knows how to play bagpipes but won’t,” Carter added in a quote attributed to Mark Twain.

A candidate running for judge in Shelby County is one who cannot say much about the office to a roomful of supporters beyond pledging to be fair and impartial if elected. To talk about how he or she might rule on a specific case or type of case violates the judicial code of ethics.

But they can talk about how they have handled their caseloads and tout the efficiency of their courtrooms.

“When I took office in 2010, I had the highest case backlog in Shelby County Criminal Court,” Carter said. “As of today, we no longer have the highest backlog. We have the lowest.”

But in a roomful of judges, even those kind of statements are qualified. Carter was quick to note that the next lowest backlog was Criminal Court Judge Carolyn Wade Blackett who has just four more cases pending than Carter.

The judicial races are for eight-year terms and few judicial incumbents have ever professed an attraction to campaigning. Once every eight years, they and the legal community show up in greater numbers not only for the fundraisers for the judicial candidates but also the events of other non-judicial candidates on the ballot.

An event for a non-judicial candidate promises a broader cross section of potential voters for the judges and those who hope to be judges.

The judicial contenders can begin pulling qualifying petitions Jan. 3 for the Aug. 7 general election ballot.

Candidates in the partisan county elections that go to primaries first on May 6 are already pulling petitions. They have a Feb. 20 deadline to file.

As of late last week, only two had filed with the Shelby County Election Commission, incumbent Juvenile Court Clerk Joy Touliatos and incumbent Shelby County Clerk Wayne Mashburn, both Republicans.

Republican incumbent Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich pulled her petition late last week but opened her campaign in November. Republican incumbent Probate Court Clerk Paul Boyd pulled his petition on the first day in November to check out a petition.

Steve Basar became the first incumbent Shelby County Commissioner to pull a qualifying petition last week. Basar is running in the GOP primary for District 13 in the new set of single-member districts the commission converts to with the 2014 elections.

Alfred L. Campbell is the first prospective contender to have multiple qualifying petitions out.

Campbell checked out six petitions Thursday for Shelby County clerk, Probate Court clerk, Circuit Court clerk, Criminal Court clerk, trustee and County Commission District 8, all in the Democratic primary.

Other names turning up among the prospective candidates who have gone as far as getting the paperwork to run include Shelby County Schools board member David Reaves, considering a run in the Republican primary for County Commission District 3.

That is the seat incumbent Republican County Commissioner Chris Thomas may seek election to depending on what happens with the open job of city manager in Lakeland.

Lakeland Mayor Wyatt Bunker, who is leaving the County Commission effective Jan. 3, encouraged Thomas to apply for the city manager position. The Lakeland board of commissioners will review the applications later this month.

If he doesn’t get the job or opts out of the search, Thomas has indicated he will seek re-election. If he does get the Lakeland job, Thomas would not have to give up his seat on the County Commission. Thomas said last week he would serve out the remaining months left in his current term on the commission and would ask Lakeland officials how they felt about him seeking re-election. If they didn’t want him to, Thomas said he would not.

Because the Lakeland mayor’s position is elected and not appointed, Bunker had 90 days to resign from his election as mayor earlier this year under terms of the Shelby County Charter.

The County Commission is expected to appoint someone to fill the remainder of Bunker’s term without a special election.

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