June 5, 2014

Judge candidates continue qualifications debate

CHATSWORTH — Experience and qualifications.

Both Superior Court Judge David Blevins and Dalton Municipal Court Judge Jim Wilbanks agree voters should consider those factors.

But there was some jockeying between the two Thursday as to which has more experience and better qualifications.

“I knew in the fourth grade I wanted to be an attorney and a judge, so this is something I’ve been preparing for all these years,” Wilbanks said Thursday at the Charles “Judy” Poag Murray County Senior Center at a forum hosted by the Murray County Tea Party Patriots.

Wilbanks, who received 46.44 percent of the vote in a three-way nonpartisan race for a seat  on the Conasauga Superior Court on May 20, and Blevins, who currently holds that seat and got 35.38 percent of the vote, squared off at the forum. They face each other again in a July 22 runoff. The Conasauga circuit covers both Whitfield and Murray counties.

Wilbanks noted that in addition to practicing law for 30 years he has served as an associate judge for the Conasauga Juvenile Court and as a judge pro tem (temporary judge) for several courts, including the Conasauga Superior Court.

Wilbanks said he’s tried to handle just about every type of case a Superior Court judge might face.

But Blevins, who has served on the bench for more than two years, questioned whether Wilbanks has really handled the wide variety of cases that come before the Superior Court.

“We’ve gone through the courthouse records. We spent days and days and hours and hours pulling the records,” Blevins said.

He said he found that since 1999 Wilbanks has filed 60 different cases in Whitfield County. He said 52 of those cases were domestic cases. The rest involved things such as name changes or estate disputes.

Wilbanks noted that such a records search would not include any cases that were amicably settled and never resulted in a lawsuit, nor would it include any of the worker’s compensation cases he has handled.

At another point in the forum, Blevins asked Wilbanks whether he has handled medical malpractice cases, product liability cases or complex civil cases. Wilbanks said he has handled several complex civil cases but has not handled malpractice or product liability cases.

Blevins said he’d handled all of those types of cases before becoming a judge.

Asked by an audience member about a claim that he’d filed an emergency appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, Blevins said all of the documentation on that case can be found on his website, davidblevinsforjudge.com, by clicking “Setting the Record Straight.” The website for Wilbanks is www.jimwilbanksforsuperiorcourt.com.

Both men invited audience members to come to watch them in court to see how they handle themselves. Blevins also encouraged audience members to talk to people who work in the Superior Court in Murray County about his performance.

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