Candidates for U.S. Congress, local judicial races and for Superior Court clerk laid out some of their positions for voters at a virtual forum held by the Cobb County Republican Women’s Club on Monday.

The candidates, including those in nonpartisan elections, are on the ballot for primary elections June 9.

The event was hosted via Zoom and broadcast through Facebook Live. To watch the full forum, visit the Cobb County Republican Women’s Club Facebook page.

U.S. House District 13Caesar Gonzalez and Becky Hites, the Republican candidates running to replace U.S. Rep. David Scott, D-Atlanta, both positioned themselves as having relevant business experience and potential Congress members who would help make sure to balance the federal budget.

The district includes all of Douglas County and parts of Cobb, Clayton, Fulton, Fayette and Henry counties.

Hites discussed her experience as a small business owner and financial analyst and promised to develop businesses.

“I’ll bring my business skill set to development of business in our counties. I think mostly, the counties in this district have been neglected, because nobody’s really selling them,” she said. “We need an advocate who is out there fighting for constituents’ rights and selling our abilities and our contribution to the economy.”

Gonzalez said the 13th District has a lower average income than the national average, and said he wants to encourage skills training for people to attract large technology companies, and pointed to Huntsville as an example.

“Let’s move past the excuses and identity politics of the incumbent’s administration by first building bridges between communities,” he said, “I would encourage growth by stimulating, facilitating marketable skills training of our working constituents at the high school level and beyond to compete in this new age of technology.”

In response to questions, both Republican candidates denounced the House’s recent decision to allow votes by proxy, saying that open debate is a necessary part of the legislative process. Hites said the move was unconstitutional.

Cobb County Superior Court (Green)Cobb County Superior Court Chief Judge Reuben Green and his opponent, Magistrate Judge Angela Brown, had another chance to make their case to the voters.

Green, a former Marine, said he has a long history of public service, and he gave up a lucrative job in civil litigation to become a prosecutor at the Cobb County district attorney’s office before becoming a judge.

“I want our community to be a better place,” he said. “I treat everyone that appears in front of me with respect and dignity each and every day. I feel so blessed to lead the veterans court, to take care of these men and women that have served our country so well each and every day, to see their lives change for the better.”

Brown, who has worked in criminal defense, family law and appeals, said she would work to change a negative reputation of the bench.

“I am running for this because it’s time for a bench that operates without conflict. It’s time for a bench that is reflective of diversity of experience, ideas and arguments and I believe it’s time for a bench to be open, equitable and fiercely protective of the Constitution of the United States my family has sworn to protect.”

Unlike at a previous virtual forum, this time the judicial candidates attacked each others’ records.

Brown accused the incumbent of benefiting from an illegal grant in his time as a U.S. attorney, and said he has a “reputation of being a bully from the bench.”

“He is someone that shows up every four years and says all the right things and makes it seem as if he is that judge. He is not trustworthy,” she said.

In response, Green said in a federal district lawsuit, Kevin Thompson v. Dekalb County, Brown was named for “denying people their constitutional rights.”

“That court was determined to be unconstitutional and that court was closed down,” he said.

Cobb County Superior Court (Ingram)The two women running to replace retiring Superior Court Judge Lark Ingram shared different approaches to a judge’s role.

Family law attorney Daniele Johnson, when asked if she would have a role in bringing issues to the public or to lawmakers if elected, said she would.

“I do have somewhat of a role and a responsibility to bring certain issues to the public,” Johnson said. “Law, of course, is established by the Legislature, but how the laws are interpreted can actually create new laws and how our society is treated. So yes, I do think that how I interpret the law is going to have an impact on how we live as a society, and therefore I do have that responsibility.”

Magistrate Judge Kellie Hill disagreed.

“A judge’s role is to interpret the law, not to bring laws or issues to the public or the Legislature. Because when you do that, you then call into question the impartiality of the judiciary,” Hill said. “If a judge is wrong, that is what the appellate process is for and that is how new law is made. It is not the judge’s role to make law ... I would make sure that I follow the law, whatever it is, despite any personal leanings I may have.”

Cobb County Superior Court (Schuster)Voters also heard from the three men running for retiring Superior Court Stephen Schuster’s seat, John Greco, Jason Marbutt and Greg Shenton. Each gave their suggestions and ideas for the county’s court system.

Shenton said his specialty is representing small businesses, and he can relate to business owners as he runs a small business himself. He recalled the late Judge Conway Ingram, who asked him as a young lawyer, “What can I do for y’all today?”

“That to me sums up what a judge’s role is, what can that judge, he or her, do for the attorneys, for the parties, for the jurors, for the members of the public that are in that courtroom?” Shenton said. “I promise to treat each and every person that comes into my courtroom with kindness, dignity and respect regardless of their gender or their race or their national origin or whatnot.”

Marbutt, who before his legal career taught math and science, said he’s worked in Cobb County courts as a prosecutor for 15 years. He said as a judge, he would build on a reputation of being tough and fair as a prosecutor. To improve efficiency, he would insist that all parties be on time to legal proceedings.

“I believe in serving our community. That’s the reason I’m a prosecutor, is because I believe in being a public servant. It’s who I am as an individual. it is in my DNA,” he said.

Greco told potential voters he is the most experienced candidate in the race, having practiced law for over three decades in state and superior courts.

“I am invested in this county,” he said. “I have appeared, for 36 years, before every imaginable Superior Court judge in Cobb County and 36 years of experience learning from those great judges has made me qualified as the best candidate.”

Cobb County State Court Post 6Six candidates for Post 6 on Cobb County’s state court, Joseph Atkins, Trina Griffiths, Scott Halperin, Mazi Mazloom, Diana Simmons and David Willingham, worked to differentiate themselves at Monday’s forum. The seat is open for the next term after the retirement of Judge Toby Prodgers.

Willingham, a former Cobb County assistant district attorney, said he wants to help the court efficiently move cases, anticipating a backlog due to courts being closed because of coronavirus concerns.

“I am a business person. I am a manager. I know how to get things done and that’s what I want to do in this position,” he said.

Simmons, a deputy chief assistant at the Cobb County Solicitor’s Office, described herself as a career prosecutor and the leader that the state court bench needs.

“I’m the only candidate in this race that has dedicated their entire career to state court,” she said. “I would treat anybody that appeared before me with dignity and respect and give them the time and attention their case deserves, and make them feel like they had their day in court.”

Mazloom, a municipal judge for Marietta and Roswell, has also served as a temporary judge in state court. He has focused his legal practice since 2004 on personal injury and defense, he said. He said he is very involved in the community, and that a long list of endorsements.

“This race, I think, comes down to who has the most experience, and I’m the only candidate in this race that can say I have judicial experience,” he said.

Halperin said he has a diverse range of legal experience, working in criminal and family law, with previous work in civil cases. In December, he served as a temporary judge in the county’s juvenile Court, and that inspired him to run to become a judge.

“Nobody in this race has the diversity of experience that I have, and that makes me a lawyer’s lawyer and that will make me a lawyer’s judge when I get your vote,” he said.

Griffiths said she is new to politics, and has worked over three decades as an attorney, 11 years in state court, and has represented both plaintiffs and defendants in criminal cases.

“I’ve been...11 years a prosecutor where the goal is to make sure there’s justice in the criminal cases. As a defense attorney, the goal is to zealously represent my client and as a judge, it’s to follow the law and to be fair and impartial to all people who are before me in court. That way, you make sure there is justice for all and that is first and the foremost goal of the judiciary, so I ask for your vote.”

Atkins said he has extensive legal experience, mostly in civil cases, which will serve him as a judge.

“I have handled thousands of cases all across the state, both criminal and complex civil cases. I’ve been a hearing officer in thousands of hearings as well. There’s not much that I haven’t seen, I’ve appeared before hundreds of judges and I’ve seen what works and doesn’t work,” he said.

Cobb County Superior Court Clerk

Also at the forum, Cobb County Superior Court Clerk Rebecca Keaton defended her record against fellow Republican and primary challenger Sondra Rowan.

Keaton said in her time in office, her team has created a new passport issuing service, technology department, established civil e-filing and is working on criminal e-filing.

“There is only one candidate for this position qualified to be your clerk of Superior Court,” she said. “Over the course of the last eight years, my team and I have modernized and built a clerk’s office that serves the taxpayers with efficiency, consistency and a focus on good customer service. we have set the standard in the state of Georgia for how a clerk’s office should be run.”

Rowan said though she’s never run for office, she has run two of the departments under the Superior Court clerk’s office: the board of equalization and real estate. She said she brought real estate e-filing to the technology department in her time in the clerk’s office.

“I am a conservative business woman with over 20 years of leadership and management and proven results,” Rowan said. “I am running for the Superior Court clerk to continue my dedication of making the government work for the citizens of Cobb.”

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