Who is best suited to be next justice court judge?

Published 12:48 am Sunday, November 5, 2017

Five people are vying to be the next Adams County Justice Court Judge for the Southern district.

The slate of candidates includes four men and one woman.

Those five include, in alphabetical order: Danny Barber, Timothy Blalock, Jack Blaney, Eileen Mary Maher and Stanley N. “Bucky” Merritt.

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All five are white.

That’s interesting since our county is among the most equally diverse in the state, having approximately 54 percent of the population black and 43 percent white. The result is often that race will play a large factor in election results, or at least people traditionally thought that to be the case.

More and more local voters appear to be voting for the person, not the skin color. That’s evident in the last Natchez mayor’s race when an overwhelming number of white voters statistically voted for Darryl Grennell and the same thing occurred in the last Adams County Sheriff’s race when many white voters gave their approval to the ultimate victor, now Sheriff Travis Patten.

The apparent move to vote for the person, not something as superficial as skin color is refreshing.

What’s more interesting is the backgrounds of those who are running. Hopefully voters will take to heart the candidate’s experience and not simply vote the most familiar name on the ballot.

Three of the five candidates are attorneys by trade; two are not.

The two non-attorneys are natives to the area.

One, Barber, has held a justice court judge position in the county before, when the county had three positions.

His platform seems to be: I’ve been there before, and I can do it again.

If you want the justice system of decades ago, he’s your man.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is Jack Blaney. He has no real legal experience at all, but simply says he should be picked because it’s time for a change.

That’s his platform: I’m the outsider with common sense who can help clean up the mess in the legal system.

If having someone with no experience who will have to do a lot of learning on the job, but who isn’t part of the system is your kind of a candidate, vote for Blaney.

The three other candidates each are attorneys.

Blalock and Merritt are Natchez natives, each graduating from high school here then going on to Ole Miss’ law school.

Blalock has worked as a defense attorney for a number of years in local courts and previously served a stint on the Natchez-Adams School Board. His work as an attorney, he would argue, makes him the best choice for judge.

Merritt has worked in the justice system for many years as well, much of it working with the Adams County Youth Court.

Like Blalock, Merritt will point to his work history and involvement in youth court as reasons voters should choose him as the next judge.

Maher came to Natchez more than 20 years ago, along with her family, has worked in law and interestingly earned a nursing degree while working as an attorney too. She was previously the city prosecuting attorney for the City of Natchez’s Municipal Court and is currently the public defender for that court. Maher would tell you that having worked on both sides of criminal and civil matters puts her uniquely positioned to serve as a judge, a large part of which requires the person to be fair and consider all angles of any matter.

She may be correct.

Like many of you, I’m trying to figure out which candidate will earn my vote. At the moment, I’m not positive, but I can confirm it will be one of the three attorneys. As much as it sounds good to have an outsider’s perspective on justice matters, the issues that come before the Adams County Justice Court are not as simple as they once were.

Laws have become increasingly more difficult to enforce and defense attorneys would like nothing more than to encounter an inexperienced judge that doesn’t understand the law. The results could be disastrously costly.

Although the state doesn’t require an attorney to hold the position, the community and public would be better served if it did.
Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or kevin.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.