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Robust forum for judicial, clerk candidates
Part II
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Nearly every invited candidate in nine races for local elected offices turned out for the Oct. 4 Rockdale-Newton League of Women Voters forum, co-sponsored by the Conyers-Rockdale Chamber of Commerce.

With so many candidates, each set had only two or three questions asked of them before the forum moved onto the next set. Races covered included Probate Court, Clerk of Courts, Sheriff, Tax Commissioner, Coroner, Magistrate Court, Chairman, Post 1 Commissioner, Congressional Fourth District.

The forum was held at 903 Main Street, the county’s auditorium, but was not filmed on Channel 23.


Probate Court

Probate court Judge Lillis Brown, the Republican candidate, and challenger Charles Mays, the Democratic candidate, opened the evening with a focus on communication with the public.

In response to the first question about how the candidate would educate the public about probate court, Mays said he would work with the Clerk of Courts’ Family Law Center. "Probate court is a court that should be visible in the community. It’s necessary for us to go out into the community and have forums," said Mays. "No one knows what Judge Brown does… I plan to bring visibility to the office of Probate." He emphasized the importance of having a Probate court website with all the forms available for the public to download.

Brown said "As far as being visible to the public, I do at least 50, if not 60 presentations a year. I go into the churches. I go into the senior centers. I just did the Parent Academy this past weekend. I will never turn down an invitation to come talk to a group." She added that the Rockdale Probate Court website has a connection to the state probate court site with forms that all probate courts in Georgia use.

When asked about qualifications, Brown said prior to her 20 years of experience as Probate Court judge, she had handled most of the issues that go through Probate Court as a senior paralegal with an attorney. She had also served as a Magistrate Court judge before being elected to Probate court. "When I walked in the first day, I knew what Probate Court was all about."

In his response to the question about qualifications, Mays said, "There are better ways to improve the office. We need a website where we can pull down forms on the website so we don't have to go into the office. Other counties already have this. We don't have to recreate the wheel." Mays is a construction contractor and has a law degree from St. Louis University.


Clerk of Courts

Clerk of Courts candidates Republican Holly Bowie and Democrat and incumbent Ruth Wilson came out of the gate with robust arguments.

Bowie emphasized her experience in the public sector and county government. "I believe there’s a clear choice between the two of us," she said.

Wilson emphasized her management experience and modernization efforts.

"We went from a paper and pencil operation to spreadsheets," said Wilson. "I’m proud of our financial transparency. We’ve improved operational efficiency and maintained friendly customer service."

To the question of qualifications, Wilson said she has an MBA in finance and experience managing large organizations and large budgets.

Bowie replied, "My opponent does have a nice degree but the thing is while she was working for profit while she was working for profit, I was working for the people for the past 20 years." She said she was able to increase code enforcement in her first year over that division and increased adoption rates when she headed animal control. She pointed out she was in the interim chief of staff position during the floods of 2009 and her work drafting countless bills and documents for the Board of Commissioners.

In response to the question of changes that the candidates would make, Bowie said "The first thing I would do is develop the mechanism so that 100 percent of the passport money would be turned back to the county." She said she would also make the office more accessible than it is currently. "The office cannot operate on its own. It is part of a system."

Wilson said she would continue the changes she has been making and said use of technology allowed the office to maintain its headcount and the budget to be less in 2013 than in 2011.

In closing, Wilson said the law gave the office the responsibility of the care and custody of the legal documents for the Superior and State courts of Rockdale. However, "Preparing for the future requires a different skill set. It requires leadership, the ability to get things done with other people. It requires vision, to anticipate what's coming down he road. It requires communication skills, the ability to express complex ideas."

Bowie described the past year as a "year-long interview."

"I’ve been part of this legal community for the past 20 years… I can tell you that after leaving the county attorney’s office, I was sought after to create the department.

"I believe everything in my life has prepared me for this. I’m about serving the people. This position is not an island unto itself. That’s what’s happened."


Magistrate Court

Chief Magistrate Judge candidates Democratic challenger Phinia Aten and Republican incumbent Judge Rudy Horne opened by sharing personal details, such as Aten celebrating her 40th birthday the day before and Horne celebrating the birth of his first grandchild.

In response to the first question on whether Magistrate Court is adequately funded, Horne said "I fight for our budget and every year they tell us we don’t have enough money… We could certainly spend more money. We make do with what they give us."

Aten said the Magistrate court budget has been increasing. "One of the things I’m running on is a platform of efficiency. We can bring those costs down."

A question from the audience asked about the importance of first appearance hearings.

Horne, who described Magistrate Court as the "emergency room of the legal system," said simply, "You’re entitled to first appearance within 72 hours. I tell you what your rights are, what you're charged with, and I set your bond."

Aten said, "A lot of times arrests happen so fast, they don't know what they're charged with. Because Magistrate court is just the first stop, it is very important they're advised not only of their rights but have some idea what they can expect going forward… Education is a big part of what I do with the client." She said she would create instructional videos and materials on Magistrate Court that would not increase the budget if she were elected.

Another audience question asked about the role of part time judges.

Aten said, "They are to help me, not to do my job. I’ve gotten complaints that's why the budget has been increasing, because of Judge Horne’s inability to be on the bench as much as he would like to be." She emphasized her age again. "I’m a young attorney, in terms of my vigor, my energy, my passion for law," she said. "I will be on the bench much more than the current administration."

Horne said "I have two associate magistrate judges. They make the minimum they're allowed to make. They’re on call on judges at nights and weekends. If I’m away on vacation, training or I’m sick, which is not very often, they come in and fill in for me."

In closing, Horne said simply, "I’m Rudy Horne. I am your Chief Magistrate Judge. I’ve been your Chief Magistrate Judge for the past 20 years. I’ve been a Magistrate Judge for 25 years. I have well over 1000 hours of training. I have a highly trained staff… Our court runs very smoothly. There is absolutely no reason to make a change."

Aten said, "Rockdale deserves better and can have better now. This is about today and tomorrow."

"We are too small not to be greater than we are. We can make the Magistrate court top in the state.

"Judge Horne has served the community well," she continued. "I do hear a lot of complaints. But none of us are perfect." She said the training Horne cited is provided to new judges anyway.


Summaries of the Sheriff, Tax Commissioner and Coroner candidate forums will be in next week's edition. Summaries of the Chairman, Post 1 Commissioner, and Fourth Congressional District candidate forums were in the Oct. 6 edition. Video of all the candidates and the entire forum is available at