NATCHEZ — With the Nov. 8 general election just over two weeks away, candidates for two seats as Sixth District Circuit Court judge are on the campaign trail.
Six candidates for District Circuit Court judge and unopposed chancery and county court judges voiced their platforms at a candidates’ forum hosted by the NAACP in Co-Lin this week.
Wilkinson County is represented only by Station 1 Circuit Court Judge and Franklin County is represented only by Station 2 Judge. However, Adams and Amite counties share the two judges and half of the constituencies in each county vote for position 1 and the other half vote for position 2.
Circuit judge candidates for Station 1 include Lydia Roberta Blackmon, Carmen Brooks Drake and Scott J. Pintard. Candidates for Position 2 include outgoing Sixth District Circuit Court judge Debra W. Blackwell, Timothy David Blalock and Eileen M. Maher.
Incumbent Justice 1 Lillie Blackmon Sanders, who is candidate Blackmon’s sister, chose not to seek another term.
Walt Brown is not opposed to being elected for his third term as a county court judge.
“We have two circuit court judge races going on right now. I don’t think we’ve ever had two at the same time and I certainly don’t think we’ve ever had six candidates vying for those positions,” Brown said. “Chancery Court and County Court tend to fly under the radar, but both of these positions are in the crosshairs and under the microscope every day as they deal with so many serious criminal cases.
“I invite you all to do your research. Go talk to your lawyers. Ask them, “Who do you think would make a fair judge?” A compassionate judge not only for the victims but also for the defendants. Talk to your law enforcement and ask them.
Vincent Davis, who is unopposed for the position of judge of the Court of Chancery 1, said voters should not only consider who would be a fair judge, but also “be fair to the judges”.
“Don’t expect a judge to do something they’re not supposed to do,” Davis said. “All you can expect is for that person to be fair, honest and uphold the law. Even if you lose, if you had a good shot, that’s all you can expect.
Lydia Roberta Blackmon
Blackmon has 32 years of forensic experience as a lawyer.
“I grew up in a family where hard work and excellence were expected. All my life I have strived to be excellent,” she said. “I’m running for this job not because of who I’m related to. … I’m running for this job because I truly believe I’m the most qualified.
Blackmon said her “faith and religious beliefs” as a Christian would guide her decisions if elected.
“Being a judge is a huge responsibility. You need someone honest. It takes someone who is firm but fair…tough but compassionate. It also takes someone with strong moral convictions. … Being a judge also means respecting the law. I ask you to come out on November 8 and vote for me. But if there is nothing else you can do, please pray for me as I will for you.
Carmen Brooks Drake
Drake bolstered her campaign with her background as a Natchezian native educated in Natchez public schools with experience as both a lawyer in private practice and as a city judge in the city of Port Gibson. She held that position until she was hired into her current job as the Port Gibson City Attorney. She previously worked as an assistant in the attorney general’s office, pursuing cases across the state.
She left Natchez, “only to be educated and trained to return home” and use her experience and education to help her hometown, she said.
“You don’t get to this job if people don’t trust you and they trust you because they’ve seen your work. … I will make the hard decisions. I’m not afraid to do it because I know that’s what my oath will be. To make the tough decisions and apply the facts to the law. It sounds simple because it is. I will not be influenced by who you know, who you are or how much money you have. It is nowhere in the oath that I will take.
Scott J. Pintard
Pintard offered different experiences, having served the Natchez Police Department as a criminal investigator before earning a law degree from the University of Mississippi. He began practicing law with his father in 1995 and still practices solo after his father’s retirement.
Pintard said that as a judge, he would make rulings in a way that defense attorneys, the district attorney’s office and the law enforcement community understood how the laws applied to them.
“The only way I see to improve our justice system is through our court staff,” Pintard said. “The laws are going to pretty much say the same thing and the rules are going to stay the same. We have no control over this.
Pintard said police and sheriff’s departments are constantly working to improve their services to better protect and serve the community and the justice system should do the same.
“The secret to helping law enforcement is having good defense counsel,” he said, adding that a better understanding of how defense works would help law enforcement and prosecutors develop rock-solid business.
Pintard said he would also use programs to help people in the drug court system become productive citizens rather than being thrown by the wayside.
As the race’s only titular judge, Blackwell said she was the most qualified to have held any Circuit Court position in her career. She was an assistant district attorney in Adams County before becoming a judge and also worked in private practice.
“I know everyone who has been involved in the Circuit Court, what each person’s role is and what their job is,” she said. “In addition to experience, I stand on my reputation. I have a reputation for being a person of integrity. I am honest, open minded and fair.
Blackwell said she also has a reputation for handing down “lots of harsh sentences” to those who deserve them and for being considerate of those who deserve a second chance. Blackwell also uses drug court, Damascus Road and Mercy House to rehabilitate convicts, she said.
“It’s my job as a judge to make sure everyone in my courtroom gets a fair trial,” she said. “I make my decisions based on the law and the facts. It’s not a popularity contest.
Timothy David Blalock
Blalock said he portrayed “the good, the bad and the ugly” in thousands of instances. He added that the region’s criminal justice system is broken and it is not the fault of the judge or the lawyer.
“Most of the time a jury is involved and that’s where everyone is involved. Everyone in the county participates in the Circuit Court to some extent with us. We are all working to make the system work. The problem is there, the system isn’t exactly working. It hasn’t been working for a long time. … For years we’ve had this concept that we’re just going to send people to the MDOC warehouse. Well, the department of corrections got filled in. If you didn’t notice they throw them back out on the street. It’s frustrating and there’s not much the judge can do.
Blalock said he would also use drug courts and intervention courts to keep nonviolent offenders “on a short leash,” which would save money on incarceration costs.
“In the 90s, you could be charged in December, have an indictment in March and have your trial in May. Now you’re indicted in October and in a year and a half you could have an indictment and six months later you could have a trial. There are many people who have been in prison for two or three years. It’s unconstitutional and as a judge we would have to make that decision. Should I leave a violent person on the street? Well, they have the right. They are not guilty. They have the right to be released on bail and you cannot detain people for life. As a circuit judge, I can pressure the district attorney’s office and either say they show up or I’m going to give them bail they can make.
Eileen M. Maher
Maher said that in addition to having experience in private practice, she has served as a judge in the Court of Justice since 2017, as a municipal and youth prosecutor, public defender and as a public defender of the Federal Court appointed by Judge David Bramlette III.
She also has health care training and experience as a registered nurse specializing in psychiatric and behavioral health issues.
“My background and education make me the most qualified candidate,” Maher said. “For those of you in District 6-2, you will see that on the ballot I am the last name. There are two reasons for this. Number one is alphabetically and number two is we’re saving the best for last.
She said her campaign so far has included a listening tour that has included more than 8,000 people whom she has visited both door-to-door and at social events.
Maher said she spoke with former inmates, teachers and preachers. Through these encounters, she learned ways to help each of their concerns, “being patient as a judge and letting people speak up in court.” She would advocate for special interest programs like mental health courts, veterans courts and rehabilitation courts and help others make them happen, she said.
“People like the chance to tell you what they think,” Maher said. “They like candidates who contact them personally. I heard: ‘You are the only candidate who has ever come to see me. You have my vote, literally hundreds of times.