July 8, 2014

Candidate pressed on ads at judicial forum

Charles Oliver

— Contempt of probation.

It’s a charge Superior Court Judge David Blevins says doesn’t appear in state law, and he has been running ads noting that his opponent in the July 22 nonpartisan runoff, Dalton Municipal Court Judge Jim Wilbanks, has sentenced numerous people on that charge.

At a Republican Party candidates forum at the Mack Gaston Community Center in Dalton Tuesday night, both candidates got an opportunity to discuss the issue.

Attorney Marcus Morris asked Blevins why those ads did not note that an ethics complaint had been filed against Wilbanks on that issue in 2011 with the Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission, which dismissed the complaint.

Blevins said that while the commission did not issue “any public discipline” of Wilbanks, he did not know the details of the decision because the commission’s proceedings are confidential. He said the commission may have decided not to take action because the complaint was not filed until seven years after Wilbanks last imposed the sentences. He called on Wilbanks to ask the commission to open its files.

Wilbanks said that is not necessary and that the commission’s findings were clear.

According to an Aug. 24, 2011, article in The Daily Citizen, Wilbanks received a letter from the commission stating that the commission “has concluded that the circumstances do not justify the institution of disciplinary action. For this reason, the complaint has been dismissed.”

Wilbanks received 46.44 percent of the vote in the three-way race for the seat on the Conasauga Superior Court on May 20, and Blevins got 35.38 percent, leading to the runoff. The Conasauga circuit covers Whitfield and Murray counties.

Both men touted their legal experience. Blevins noted that since being appointed judge in 2012 he has presided over 18 jury trials, more than Wilbanks has in his career, and handled more than 6,200 criminal matters.

Wilbanks said he has known “from fourth grade” that he wanted to be a judge and has more than 20 years of judicial experience, including serving as an associate judge for the Conasauga Juvenile Court and as a judge pro tem (temporary judge) for several courts, including Superior Court.

Blevins said his judicial philosophy is grounded in a strict construction of the U.S. Constitution and a belief in individual responsibility.

Wilbanks invited people to come watch him in court or to talk to people who have been in his courtroom to see how he conducts himself on the bench.