Senior Assistant Cobb County District Attorney Jason Marbutt is squaring off against Marietta attorney Greg Shenton for a seat on the Cobb Superior Court.
Both men were the top vote getters in the June nonpartisan primary, triggering an Aug. 11 runoff to decide who fills the seat held by retiring Judge Stephen Schuster.
Among Marbutt’s supporters is Cobb Solicitor Barry Morgan and former Cobb District Attorney Pat Head, while Shenton has received campaign contributions from former Gov. Roy Barnes.
In the June 9 election, Marbutt earned 39% of the vote and Shenton earned 32.5%. The two edged out John Greco, who had 28.4% of the 152,601 ballots.
Since none of the candidates earned more than 50% of the vote, a runoff was triggered between the two with the most votes.
It’s about turnoutJason Shepherd, chair of the Cobb County Republican Party, predicted the judicial candidates will likely try to win over voters interested in the runoff races for seats on the Cobb Board of Commissioners. There is a Democratic runoff for the District 4 seat and a Republican runoff for the District 2 seat.
“Those are the voters that are more likely to get back to the polls, either voting in the Democratic primary or the Republican primary,” he said. “That doesn’t mean there aren’t going to be other voters scattered around the rest of the county to target. Just figuring out who those people are and who will go out to vote, it’s tough to do, but I think that’s where an opportunity lies.”
Shepherd added that voters have very different candidates in front of them, with Marbutt as a career prosecutor and Shenton with more of a business background.
“So I think Marbutt’s going with more the angle that he’s been tough on crime, as a prosecutor, and he would do so on the bench. Shenton is going more with, we could use a few more judges who understand how business works and how business cases affect the business community, and we’re missing out on that expertise on the Cobb bench right now and we could have someone with that,” he said. “They’re both very different campaigns. For the voters who will go out and make that choice, they are very different candidates, though both would make excellent judges.”
Cobb County Democratic Committee Chair Jacquelyn Bettadapur also said the partisan county primary runoffs may have an effect on the nonpartisan judicial race.
“What I think is they need to play both sides of the fence, they need to have a large base of Republican support, and also they need to have a large base of Democratic support,” she said, adding she has seen Shenton campaigning actively to both groups and hasn’t seen as much of Marbutt.
“I think what it comes down to, in general terms, is how strong is their base. It’s going to be a low turnout election, so it’s just a question of their personal network and support, how big that is in comparison,” Bettadapur said.
Marietta attorney Justin O’Dell, whose firm has donated to the Shenton campaign, and was the site of its initial kickoff, said Shenton has gotten support mainly from criminal defense attorneys and lawyers representing businesses, like himself, and many of Marbutt’s backers are fellow prosecutors or people who have worked with him in the Cobb County District Attorney’s office.
“It’s an interesting race. The judicial elections in Cobb County thus far have all been interesting races and I think this one will be too,” O’Dell said.
Solicitor Morgan, who has endorsed Marbutt, agreed there’s an opportunity for the two men to use the county commission runoffs to find voters.
“This is an unusual election with the virus, but a runoff is always about getting your folks back to the polls to vote,” Morgan said. “Social media will certainly help when face to face campaigning is difficult. With the runoff for the two commission districts I would think you would target these areas with mailers and signs because I think you will have the best turnout in those districts. I would make sure the folks who voted in that race in the primary received some type of contact, either phone or mail.”
Candidates discuss path to victoryMarbutt told the MDJ he believes his success stems from his experience.
“I have been working as a public servant here in Cobb for the past 15 years, devoting myself to service to our citizens. I’m particularly known for my work on elder abuse. I was a school teacher before I was a lawyer, and I have extensive experience working with kids from all backgrounds,” he said. “I like to think that my message has resonated with voters that I am the most qualified candidate.”
He added he will win through “hard work and authenticity.”
“I have devoted my life to public service. I want the voters to vote for me because they believe I am a good man trying to do what is right with each opportunity I am given,” he said.
In addition to Morgan, Marbutt said Acworth Mayor Tommy Allegood has endorsed his campaign.
Shenton said he has Cobb leaders and members of the legal community to thank for his success so far.
“What has gotten me into the runoff really is the support of the local leaders in the community and my fellow bar members, and their vocal support of my candidacy,” he said. “Their willingness to send out emails, encourage their friends and colleagues to vote for me and share Facebook posts has been my greatest asset. That, coupled with a lot of hard work and going out and trying to be as visible to the voters as possible have gotten me into the runoff.”
Shenton believes the community will continue to help his campaign, though he acknowledged the financial gap between himself and his opponent.
“I’m going to continue to do what I’ve done so far. I want to continue to rely on my reputation and the willingness of so many other members of the bar and the local community to vouch for me,” he said. “I would like to raise funds, to reach out to the rest of the voters, hopefully through a mailer, but I’ve already been outspent seven to one in this race, and asking folks for contributions at this point is really difficult.”
Marbutt self-finances, leads in campaign contributionsAccording to campaign finance disclosures, Marbutt has had $214,827 in total contributions to his campaign. Of that, $177,500 was a loan from Marbutt himself. Shenton, by comparison, has had $41,680 in contributions, and loaned himself $10,000 of that.
Marbutt’s larger campaign contributions include local law firms and attorneys, and one Washington organization.
The top donors to the Marbutt campaign with $2,800, are Marietta law firm Levine & Riedling, and Sandra and Michael Sabock of Hernando, Florida, who each gave $2,800. The Leaders in Education Fund in Washington, D.C. also gave $2,800.
Kimberly Gresh, owner of S.A. White Oil Company, contributed $2,000, and Frank Bradford and attorney Christopher Gunnels each gave $1,500.
Those who gave $1,000 contributions include Atlanta law firms Endmond Lindsay & Atkins, LLP, Fellows Labriola LLP, HudsonParrottWalker and Malone Law Office. Atlanta real estate broker Scotland Wright also contributed $1,000.
Smaller, but notable, contributions include retired District Attorney Pat Head, who donated $250. Marietta school board member Alan Levine also gave $250.
At the Shenton campaign, a significant amount of contributions have come from O’Dell’s firm and another of his businesses. O’Dell & O’Neil contributed a total of $3,800, and O’Dell Properties gave $2,800.
Barnes Law Group, the firm of former Gov. Roy Barnes, also gave $2,800 to the Shenton campaign.
The campaign received $1,500 from Marietta-based The Gentry Law Firm, and $1,000 each from William Gentry, James Eubanks, Benton Mathis and Kazuma Sonoda.
Both campaigns received $250 donations from the committee to re-elect state Rep. Bert Reeves, R-Marietta, Friends of Bert Reeves. Reeves also gave $250 to Greco’s campaign.