Candidates for Troup County Superior Court judge said the impact of Gov. Nathan Deal’s criminal reform has yet to be seen.
Kevin McMurry, an assistant district attorney from Newnan, said many parts of the law are still being “digested,” including the tiered system for burglaries and drug charges based on weight, which means different circumstances lead to different charges. Those will move arguments in criminal cases to lawyers trying to establish what level of charges should be made, and it limit a judge’s discretion in a case because there are narrower classifications for those crimes.
He said the bill was well-intentioned and there are positive points, like a drug court that will help deter repeat offenders.
Emory Palmer, an private practice attorney from Newnan, said the bill was driven by policy concerns and lessening the burden on taxpayers’ cost of housing prisoners. However, the first time someone gets out of prison after serving a reduced sentence then commits a murder, people will call for reform of the reform.
He said it can work “under the right circumstances, in some cases.”
Both candidates also addressed how they believe a superior court judge should act and the responsibilities of the job. Judges are tasked with applying established law, but have discretion as well.
McMurry said a judge should look at case law and the constitution when hearing a case, but said he would base his discretion on his faith. Palmer agreed and said he would have three criteria to help him make decisions: facts of the case, his life experience and common sense.
Palmer said judicial ethics are written down, but a judge should have the discipline to know what’s right and not be swayed by who he knows. Judges typically know most of the lawyers in their district, but they have to put that aside to make the right choice.
McMurry said there have been problems with judges that have acted unethically and allowed people to influence them or violated rules by discussing cases with one party in a case. A judge should have a clear line defining how he should act and make sure he doesn’t do anything that could people to question his decisions, which affect people’s lives.
Palmer felt the biggest threat to judicial independence are judges that have arrogance “infect” their attitude. McMurry said some judges tend to get isolated, let their guard down and allow people to influence them on cases.
Despite public perception that the judicial system is broken, Palmer said that it works, but there are loopholes that need to be addressed. McMurry said that judges who are corrupt open up their decisions to be rightfully questioned, and he pledged to be a judge who would earn the trust of the public.
Both candidates said that a superior court judge needs to have experience in both civil and criminal trials. McMurry said a Superior Court judge needs to have the knowledge to preside over trials from murder cases to civil lawsuits. Palmer said that the judge doesn’t need to be an advocate, but have the experience, temperament and common sense to preserve the integrity of the legal system.