Candidates in Nov. 7 special election discuss issues in forum
Published 12:37 am Thursday, October 19, 2017
NATCHEZ — Candidates for southern district justice court judge and county prosecutor discussed Wednesday night why voters should choose to elect them.
The Adams County Democratic Executive Committee hosted the forum, and eight candidates were present. The only candidate for the Nov. 7 special election absent was Alma Fletcher, who is running unopposed for District 5 Election Commissioner.
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Bryan Callaway, Shameca Collins and Scott Pintard have qualified in the county prosecutor’s race. Danny Barber, Timothy Blalock, Jack Blaney, Eileen Mary Maher and Stanley N. “Bucky” Merritt have qualified in southern district justice court judge race.
Callaway, a 1983 graduate from South Natchez High School and 1990 graduate from the University of Mississippi law school, said he has been a litigator for the past 27 years.
“I have been a justice court judge. I know what to expect. I know what is needed to make a ruling,” he said.
Collins, a 1999 graduate of Natchez High School and 2007 Southern University law center graduate, said she is currently serving as city prosecutor. Collins was appointed after former prosecutor Lisa Dale was elected municipal court judge.
“The county is just one step up,” Collins said. “I have currently been doing the job full since June 2016.”
Pintard, a 1984 graduate of Trinity Episcopal Day School and of the University of Mississippi law school, said after his undergraduate degree at Southern Mississippi he became a Natchez police officer for two years.
“I have 22 years of criminal law experience,” said Pintard, who became a defense attorney. “I know how defense attorneys work. I know what to expect in a trial if we have that.”
Prosecutor candidates were asked a number of questions, including why were they running.
Callaway said he was running because the justice system needs to be filled with people of integrity.
“I want Natchez to be the same as it was when I was growing up,” Callaway said. “I want to protect the citizens and ensure Natchez is a safe place to live.
“I know the law. It is not a foreign office to me.”
Collins said she is running because of her 3-year-old son.
“I need my 3-year-old son to grow up in a community where he feels safe,” she said. “Not only for me, but for all people. I take the job personally. You are touching the lives of each individual who comes in the court, whether they are the victim or the defendant.”
Pintard said as a police officer, he admired former county prosecutor Barret Martin, and Pintard said he wants to see defendants cases handled in the proper way. Pintard also said he has served the drug court for three years, and he has seen how drug court gives people a chance to straighten up their lives.
“With my experience in drug court, we can get people the help they need,” Pintard said. “I’d also like to take this opportunity to work with law enforcement again as a prosecutor.”
Justice Court Judge
Barber, a 1971 graduate of Natchez High School and sheriff’s office deputy, previously served as a justice court judge before the census eliminated the third judge seat.
“My main pet peeve is to get the right bonds, not slapping people on the wrists,” Barber said. “I want to serve the people of Natchez-Adams County again. I want to help protect the citizens of Adams County.”
Blalock, a 1996 Natchez High School graduate, Brigham Young University graduate and University of Mississippi law school graduate, said he was dedicated to helping people fix their lives.
“Crime is way out of control right now,” Blalock said. “I believe there is a basis behind that. I believe a lot of unhappy people are searching for happiness in the wrong way. There is a right way and a wrong way to do things.”
Blaney was born in Natchez and grew up in the Miss-Lou. Blaney, who runs an oil company, said he was the only candidate without a law background.
“I do have a passionate desire to help protect Adams County and its residents,” Blaney said. “The crime problem here lately is just getting out of control.”
Maher, who moved to Natchez in 1994, graduated from Boston College in 1978 and received her law degree from Western New England University. Maher was the former municipal court prosecutor and is currently the municipal court public defender.
Maher is also a registered nurse, having graduated from Alcorn in 2014. She recently became a board certified psychiatrist mental health nurse practitioner.
“I have an interest in justice, law and helping people,” Maher said.
Merritt, a 1975 graduate of South Natchez-Adams High School and 1982 graduate of the University of Mississippi law school, has practiced law for 35 years, including as a defense attorney and in the youth court.
Merritt also touted his community involvement, including with the Jefferson Street United Methodist Church, Natchez Little Theatre and Natchez Festival of Music.
“I think this is a wonderful panel of candidates for the judiciary,” Merritt said.
Justice court judge candidates were also asked why they were running.
Barber said he is running because if the census had not dropped him, he would like to think he would still be serving in the role.
“I love dealing with people,” Barber said. “I am a stickler when it comes to felony cases. I take them very serious. I put bonds that go with the crime.”
Blalock said as a defense attorney he has noticed the mess in justice court — which while good for defense attorneys, is not good for taxpayers. Blalock said he also talked about fixing the fine collection by issuing contempt of court warrants when needed.
“(Many) counties have been sued for the wrong way of collecting,” Blalock said. “We are on that list. It is just a matter of time and the county can’t afford to get sued again.”
Blaney said as a citizen, he and others he has talked to are ready for a change. Blaney said the same names keep showing up in The Natchez Democrat because while the area law enforcement agencies are doing their jobs, the judges are releasing the suspects.
“People are tired of their houses being broken into, their trucks broken into and their four wheelers being stolen,” Blaney said. “Two years ago we elected our sheriff to stop crime. I think he needs help from the justice system.”
Maher said one important aspect of justice court no one had mentioned was that it was a vehicle for local businesses to collect debt. Maher also said she is fair.
“People need to be treated fairly,” Maher said. “You have to filter out the hearsay people are saying because that is not really evidence. You have to be careful with that.”
Merritt said more than half of his life has been spent working in the justice system.
“It is important to me that the justice system is run properly and run fairly,” Merritt said. “I’ve seen how much damage certain crimes can do to our business people — shoplifting, forgery and counterfeits. We have to get on top of that.”
Democratic committee chairman Robert Pernell encouraged people to go out and vote on Nov. 7, but he asked them to be informed.
“Don’t just go and vote for so and so because your friend said to,” Pernell said. “Vote with the knowledge of what you think they will do. We have a lot of work we need to do in Natchez-Adams County.”