County court judge candidates talk issues at forum
Published 12:12 am Saturday, October 11, 2014
NATCHEZ — Helping wayward youth make their way in the world and finding ways to save the county money were topics candidates for the county judge’s seat said were of concern Friday.
Five of the six candidates running for the position — which oversees among other things youth court matters and civil cases up to $200,000 — spoke to potential voters during the weekly Friday forum hosted by Alcorn State University and the Natchez-Adams County Chamber of Commerce.
When a forum attendee asked why candidates have spent so much time campaigning on youth court issues, candidate Walt Brown said it is because the youth court system is less regimented than other areas of the county court’s business.
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“In county court, (the judge’s) job is to move the case along and make sure everybody gets a fair shake, but youth court is almost like being a doctor on call 24-hours a day with kids,” Brown said. “It is going to be a very important job for whoever wins it.”
Candidate Scott Slover said youth court matters take up approximately 80 percent of the county court’s current caseload.
“Youth don’t have a voice or a vote,” he said. “As the youth court judge, you have got to be that voice. You have to go up there and fight for them because if you are not going to go up there and do it, who will?”
Candidate Lamar Bullen said if elected he would start a mentoring program with teachers, pastors and others in the community to work with at-risk youth.
“What is happening nowadays is our kids are getting in trouble, falling through tracks ending up in youth court or circuit court, falling through the cracks and ending up in prison,” he said. “I don’t have all the answers, but with God all things are possible. We need to get prayer back in schools, and we are going to need more than just prayer in our courtroom.”
Candidate Scott Pintard said as judge he would like to have a committee of parents and teachers to help identify children who might have problems later in life and get them help before they enter the justice system.
“I don’t necessarily believe every child needs to be in the system,” he said. “If you want to cut costs, you keep them out of the system.”
Candidate Brandi Lewis said she would work not only to rehabilitate child offenders, but to involve their families as well.
“Our children need continued support and backup, and they need constant reminders as to what they need to do, and that is the same with the youth court system,” she said.
Slover said he has a calling to help children who might not have the support they need at home.
“I want to make a career of helping those children,” he said. “I think we can do more with the abused and neglected kids. Often they are the ones who lead to delinquency and adult crimes, and I feel a true passion for those kids.”
When the issue of the county juvenile justice center’s $500,000 annual budget was raised, Bullen said he would look for ways to cut costs, while Lewis said she would also look for other grant programs to bolster the youth court.
Slover said he has worked on the juvenile justice center’s budget with the current judge, John Hudson, in his role as the attorney for the Adams County Board of Supervisors, and the matter is not a cost issue.
“The county (adult) jail costs $1 million (annually),” Slover said. “Government costs are expensive. I think we need to make more of an effort to get more jurisdictions into the juvenile center. If we can average 12.5 juveniles a day from other counties, the center will pay for itself.”
Brown said closing the juvenile center over money “is very short sighted.”
“We are still paying for that facility,” he said. “We can help relieve the debt on that just by talking to other counties and having them bring their adolescent offenders here.”
When a forum attendee asked what the court would do to accommodate special needs children, Pintard said he has spoken with grant writers to ensure the court would have what it needed for special needs children.
“The vast majority of your delinquent children actually are special needs when you understand the special education classes,” Slover said. “You are going to be working with them if you are elected, so you have got to have a passion for them.”
Lewis said each child would be treated fairly.
“But from a personal standpoint, I love children and plan to treat each child with dignity and love,” she said.
Bullen said he planned to look out for special needs children and give them what the law allows, and Brown said the judge will have to know what special circumstances apply in a given situation.
“This child will have to understand what his actions are and have the mental capacity to know what is right or wrong,” Brown said.
Candidate Patricia Dunmore was not present at the forum.
The election is Nov. 4.