Five running for justice court judge

Published 1:03 am Sunday, November 5, 2017

NATCHEZ — Five candidates are vying for the position of Adams County Justice Court Judge for the southern district, which will be on some county ballots Tuesday.

Danny Barber, Tim Blalock, Jack Blaney, Eileen Mary Maher and Stanley N. “Bucky” Merritt are running for the judge seat, which serves as the ultimate court for misdemeanors, the beginning court for felonies and also handles some civil cases.

The position is open after former justice court judge Charlie Vess retired at the beginning of the year before his term expired.

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Barber, who has been a justice court judge before, said he is running because he wants to protect the people of Adams County. Barber also emphasizes he would be a full time judge.

“If law enforcement needs a judge to sign a search warrant, you need a judge who is available,” he said. “They will have no problem getting a hold of me. They did not before.

“I don’t look at it as a part-time job. There are old fines you can go back and work on. There is plenty.”

Blalock, a defense attorney, said he is running because he has noticed problems at justice court and wants to see the system run correctly.

“I thought, ‘Who would I want to be a judge?’” Blalock said. “I would want someone who is calm, intelligent, someone who would be able to listen to the people involved, the issues, the evidence and know what the law is. I thought I would throw my hat in the ring.”

Blaney, who manages an oil company, said he is running because the crime, particularly the violent crime, has gotten out of control in the community.

“We need someone to step up and do something about that,” Blaney said. “All of our judges are being too lax on sentencing when they get a guilty verdict. We need punishments that actually go with the crimes.”

Maher said she is running to enhance the perception of justice in Adams County.

“The perceptions of the law and justice of most of our citizens comes from their experience with justice court judges,” she sad. “In order to make their experiences reasonable and proper, justice court judges must behave according to the judicial canons, which dictate proper demeanor and temperament toward civil plaintiffs and defendants.”

Merritt said he is running because while justice court is “the people’s court” of common sense, the complexity has also built to the point where knowing the law is important. Merritt said he could balance common sense with knowing the law after 35 years of experience as an attorney.

“When I am sitting on the bench, I will be acting on behalf of the people of Adams County,” Merritt said. “That is important to me. I love Natchez. This is my home. This is my heart. I don’t want to do anything to embarrass it.”

Merritt said violent crime has increased in the community, as has flat-out audacious crime such as daytime burglaries.

“I don’t know what you do to totally stop it, but from a court position, what you can do is get more severe in your handling of it,” Merritt said. “We have a big problem with impoverished people because we have lost so much industry.

“I will not put up with anyone making crime an industry. But as a community, we need to come up with a creative way to get ahead of it and fix it.”

Maher said the rise in violent crime and indiscriminate gunplay must be addressed head-on and stopped.

“Repeat offenders who commit crimes while out on bond or probation should be held without bail,” she said. “Certain crimes of violence that carry sentences of 20 or more years dictate extremely high bonds.

“It is vitally important to get the violent offenders off the streets so they cannot intimidate witnesses, and obstruct justice. The only way to eradicate violent crime is for the judges, law enforcement and citizens to work together to identify the dangerous criminals and get them off the streets and behind bars.”

Blaney said for violent or any crime, the justice court judge makes a common sense decision based on the evidence presented at arraignment on how high the bond would be. Blaney said that’s easy, but to him, people are not focusing enough on sentencing.

“You read about it every day in the paper,” Blaney said. “Without some form of uncomfortable consequences, the same people will keep committing the same crimes. I think people should do time to think about their behavior and hopefully change it in the future.”

Blalock said a judge has to strike a balance between total anarchy and a mob running the community.

“People are always hollering for blood, but someone has to make a decision and live with it,” Blalock said. “There are different types of people charged — some are terrible people, some were in the wrong place at the wrong time and some people did not do it.

“You have to preserve the process. The process is what holds us together as a civilization.”

Barber said when he was a judge previously his bonds were always based on the seriousness of the crime and criminal history. Barber said he is tough on crime when he needs to be, but he also said a judge has to be a good judge of character and know when to be lenient.

“A lot of people can be helped when they come through on the first time,” Barber said. “You don’t want to just put everyone in jail. People mess up. We are all human.”

Barber said he has the experience to do the job. Barber said he does not believe a person needs to be a lawyer to be a justice court judge.

“If you take all of the courses the judicial college gives to you, you can make a non lawyer a judge,” Barber said. “If you know the law, you can use common sense to lead you in the right direction.”

Blalock said he has the knowledge of the law, but is also wise enough to listen to people and find the right path forward. Blalock said he thinks people are taking justice into their own hands because many do not believe they have access to justice, and Blalock said the court needs a judge who can let people know the court exists to help keep problems from becoming giant.

“I understand how to listen and how to see the motivation behind people’s complaints and what is making them mad,” Blalock said. “We need more understanding.”

Blaney also said if a person is dedicated, a law degree is not required to be a justice court judge. Blaney said the court is a people’s court and can also serve as a speed bump from criminals and can hopefully serve as an opportunity to let them change their behavior before it gets out of control.

“I have run my father’s business since 1994,” Blaney said. “In doing that, I have been involved in all kind of different scenarios in different aspects of life in Natchez. I understand how the common, everyday guy feels, and the things that we go through.”

Maher said she has the experience, education, temperament and work ethic to make her the best candidate. Maher, as a board-certified psychiatric mental health nurse, said she is also interested and qualified to lead in the growing mental health issue in the community and state.

“I urgently suggest that mental health courts would save taxpayers a substantial amount of money for incarceration costs for non-violent, mentally ill criminals who are off their meds, address a growing need in our society and offer a more humane approach to justice,” she said. “Adams County can and should pursue this avenue of problem-solving courts.”

Merritt said he has served as a public defender as well as in youth court. Merritt said he has also been in front of many judges over the years, and knows what it takes to be a good judge.

“Experience counts for a lot, and I have practiced all aspects of law,” Merritt said. “I also think having served in youth court gives me an advantage.

“This happens a lot, a person whose adult record is clean and puts on the, ‘aww shucks,’ routine, I will know I have looked at that person for five years in youth court. I think I am the right person for the job.”