Local News

May 16, 2014

Superior Court judge candidate agrees to pay fees for late filing of report

— Superior Court judge candidate Jim Wilbanks says he will pay a late fee after filing his 2014 personal financial disclosure report with the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission.

Wilbanks, the Dalton Municipal Court judge, said he has also agreed to pay the late fee claimed on a campaign contribution disclosure report for March 31.

“The 2012 reports which the commission claims were late are being disputed because I had no obligation to file reports when the election (for Superior Court judge) got canceled,” he said. “I expect those penalties to be dismissed. Everything is now in good standing with the commission except the disputed 2012 penalties.”

Wilbanks is running against incumbent David Blevins and Assistant District Attorney Scott Helton for the Superior Court position in the nonpartisan election on Tuesday. Blevins was appointed to the position in 2012 by Gov. Nathan Deal after Robert Adams retired.

Wilbanks said he was not aware the commission claimed he owed late fees until a reporter contacted him with questions on Thursday.

“They have never sent any of this information to me, and obviously I disagree with most all of it, but it’s going to take me some time (to sort through everything),” he said before contacting the commission.

Wilbanks said he believes at least some of the late fees he’s been assessed stem from confusion over when he was technically considered a candidate since he tried to run for the position in 2012 before Deal appointed Blevins.

Political candidates are required by law to file a series of disclosures stating how much campaign contributions they take in and from whom as well as a yearly personal financial disclosure. The information is public record and is posted at intervals on the commission’s website, ethics.ga.gov. Wilbanks is the only one of the three candidates the site listed as owing fines.

According to information on the website, Wilbanks should have filed a personal financial disclosure report for 2013 by March 19 of this year but did not. The information is required within 15 days of qualifying as a candidate, said executive secretary Holly LaBerge of the commission.

LaBerge said Wilbanks also appeared to be missing a personal financial disclosure report for 2012 as well as a campaign contributions report for June 2012. Because the fines for failure to file on time multiply the longer candidates miss deadlines, LaBerge said it’s impossible to know now how much Wilbanks will eventually owe in late fees. She said whether Wilbanks was actually a candidate for all of 2012 may affect the fees, too.

Wilbanks had already planned to run for the position when the governor decided less than six months before the scheduled 2012 election to make an appointment to fill the vacancy created by Adams retiring. Wilbanks and Blevins — plus several other local attorneys — asked to be considered for the appointment. When Deal chose Blevins — who was actively involved in campaigning for him as governor in 2010 — the appointment essentially canceled the 2012 election for the position, putting Blevins in office until the end of this year.

Wilbanks said that when that happened, he was no longer a candidate. Wilbanks said he filed more reports than he believes he was legally required to during the interim between the 2012 election being canceled and the 2014 election season getting underway.

Wilbanks said the campaign contributions report that on the website appears to be late for the March 31, 2014, filing date was filed in a timely manner by mail and submitted later electronically. Wilbanks said he had incorrect sign-in information that wouldn’t allow him to submit the report online until a later date.

Wilbanks has previously said he thought he was in good standing on all of his financial reports and that the ethics commission has been “very understanding” at times when he’s had technical difficulties filing them.

“They knew that I was doing everything I could to comply,” he said.

Staff writer Rachel Brown contributed to this story.

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