When voters go to the polls May 20 to select the next Superior Court judge for the Conasauga Judicial Circuit, they’ll decide from among one of three lawyers.
Incumbent Judge David Blevins, Assistant District Attorney Scott Helton and Dalton Municipal Court Judge Jim Wilbanks are seeking the non-partisan post for the next four years. Each took turns speaking at a League of Women Voters meeting on Tuesday. The League organizes meetings and events periodically to help educate would-be voters on candidates and political issues.
Blevins has served on the bench since early 2012 when Gov. Nathan Deal appointed him to fill the unexpired term of former Judge Robert Adams. The appointment delayed the election that was to be in 2012 until this year.
“I have been running since the fall of 2011 when Judge Adams announced his retirement,” said Wilbanks, who explained he’s wanted to be an attorney and a judge since he was 9 years old in the fourth grade.
Wilbanks, a Murray County High School graduate who obtained his law degree from the University of Georgia, said he is in his 30th year practicing law.
“During those 30 years, my goal has always been to become a Superior Court judge,” Wilbanks said.
Wilbanks has held a number of positions, including judge pro tem for the city of Varnell Municipal Court, associate judge for Juvenile Court in the Conasauga District that covers Whitfield and Murray counties, and a judge pro tem who fills in for Superior Court judges. He’s also been a judge pro tem for the Whitfield County Probate Court, Murray Count Probate Court and Cohutta Municipal Court. He said he’s also worked to make sure he has experience handling all types of cases as an attorney that would go through Superior Court to ensure he has adequate experience.
Wilbanks invited members of the public to sit in on court sessions to learn more about how the process works.
Helton said he’s known the value of hard work from the time he was a child growing up on his parents’ farm in Westside, and those values influence how he makes decisions.
“For the last 18 years I have worked as your servant as assistant district attorney, worked to protect you, the people that you care about and the things that you care about,” Helton said. “... (If elected), I would want to continue to work as a community servant... I would continue in honest and dogged pursuit of the truth. I would hope to apply the law equally and without bias.”
A Northwest Whitfield High School graduate, Helton obtained his law degree from Georgia State University and gained experience as a “glorified errand boy” at a law firm in Midtown Atlanta. After taking the bar exam, he came to work in the Conasauga Circuit as a law clerk in Superior Court where he conducted research for judges. About a year later, he began working in the District Attorney’s Office where he has been ever since.
Helton said he has volunteered for several organizations including Big Brothers Big Sisters and coaching high school mock trial teams at Southeast Whitfield and Northwest Whitfield.
Blevins has practiced law since 1985 when he graduated from the University of Georgia. As a young adult, it took him some time to decide he wanted to go into law, he said.
He said he was accepted into the University of Tennessee’s law school but couldn’t afford to attend. So he taught high school for about three years in Lithia Springs until a coach encouraged him on a path that would lead to a different livelihood.
“I always liked the law, but I thought the law would be too tedious,” Blevins said.
Before long though, he found himself working in a related field, taking the law school exam and enrolling at Georgia. He soon became an associate in the law office of Robert Whitlow where he said he worked at a three-legged desk and sat at a chair that had been rescued from the city dump, doing work for society’s less prestigious clients, he said. He later branched out to his own practice.
Although the Superior Court judge job is non-partisan, Blevins said he is “generally conservative” and believes in interpreting the Constitution “in the way it was written and intended by the framers.”
Blevins is married to Sheri Blevins, who is currently the probate judge for Whitfield County.
Answering questions from audience members on Tuesday, all three candidates said they believe the judge’s job is to apply the law and not to legislate from the bench or buck higher courts — even in cases where they feel the law is wrong.
Helton and Wilbanks said to do otherwise is to undermine the integrity of the justice system. Blevins said he agrees, but if he feels strongly about an issue he will also ask legislators to change the law.
The deadline to register to vote in the May 20 election is April 21. League members said there is a common misconception that registering to vote will place the registrant on a list to possibly be called as a juror, but the jury pool list actually comes from other sources that include contact information for non-voters.