Candidates for Sixth District Circuit Court Judge answer questions about their backgrounds, qualifications, what sets them apart

Published 10:44 pm Sunday, November 6, 2022

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

NATCHEZ — Adams County voters go to the polls on Tuesday, Nov. 8, to choose candidates seeking office in the General Election.

Arguably the most important decision on the ballot is who should serve as Sixth District Circuit Court judges, Posts 1 and 2.

The Natchez Democrat asked each Circuit Court Judge candidate three questions about themselves, their backgrounds and what they would like to see changed in the court system.

Email newsletter signup

Here are their answers, presented in the order received.

Candidates for Sixth District Circuit Court Judge Post 1.

Carmen Brooks Drake, Natchez attorney

What sets you apart from other candidates?

I started my career as a law clerk for the Mississippi Court of Appeals and later served as a Special Assistant Attorney General for the State of Mississippi. In 2004, I returned home to open my private practice in Natchez.

Carmen Brooks Drake

I have served as Municipal Court Judge (Port Gibson), Youth Court Defender (Adams), public defender (Adams and Wilkinson), and I am the current elected County Prosecutor (Adams).  I have litigated very high-profile criminal cases, successfully defended corporate clients, and represented private litigants in state and federal court.

Most importantly, I have a proven track record as a competent, experienced attorney and as a firm but fair judge. I have consistently been placed in positions of authority where I was called upon to make difficult decisions. And, just as I did as a judge, I made the right decisions even if they were not the most popular.

What is one thing you could change in the Circuit Court system?

I would like to see improved communication between all the criminal courts in the district to make our judicial system work more efficiently. I will spearhead the effort to bring more accountability to the judicial process to ensure that criminal matters do not linger in the system. I believe that a fair but swift process is beneficial to both victims and defendants.

Give a brief description of yourself and your qualifications.

I am a devoted wife and mother and lifelong resident of Adams County. I graduated from The George Washington University Law School in our nation’s capital and immediately returned to Mississippi to practice law. Like all of you, I am concerned about our communities, and I have a plan to restore respect for the law and the court. We now have the opportunity to change things for the better. I want our children to enjoy their childhoods just as we did. Children should not be afraid to ride their bikes, play in parks, or simply go to school.

I am the most qualified candidate to be the Circuit Court Judge for District 6-1. I have earned the trust of my clients, business leaders, and those who operate within our criminal justice system.  Law enforcement officers and other lawyers trust and recognize my ability to be both fair and just.

I respectfully request your prayers and vote on Tuesday, November 8th.

Scott Pintard, Natchez attorney

What sets you apart from other candidates?

I believe my practical experience sets me apart from the other candidates. Having been a Police Officer and felony investigator for the Natchez Police Department, I have seen and experienced a side of people and society that most people would find hard to believe exists.

Scott Pintard

This has made me wiser when it comes to understanding a person’s behavior. As such, I will be requiring a full pre-sentence investigation before passing sentence on anyone. We need to know what factors and experiences were at play in the defendant’s life, which led him to break the law. I will then be able to tailor the sentence specific to the individual, which will be best for him or her and society.

While some people will be incarcerated, the mass incarceration for non-violent violations has got to shift to alternative sentencing and rehabilitation. I was the attorney for Drug Court participants for many years and worked closely with the Drug Court staff and believe it is a great program to use as alternative sentencing. I plan on keeping the Drug Court and improving it in any way I can.

Violent offenders will be incarcerated and bonds will be set appropriately, as set forth in the Law. In addition, I plan on using this experience to make sure, not only do the officers of the court understand my rulings but, the people will be able to know why I ruled as I did. I will seek God’s knowledge and wisdom every day as Judge, for without God we are nothing.

What is the one thing you could change in the Circuit Court System?

The one thing I would change is to help get the Circuit Court online, that is, on the Mississippi Electronic Court System. Court records are public information and as such should be easily accessible to the public and the attorneys. This will save time and money in the long run.

Give a brief description of yourself and your qualifications.

I earned my undergraduate degree from the University of Southern Mississippi. I returned home to work as a night auditor for River Park Hotel, now called Magnolia Bluffs. I was then hired by the Natchez Police Department and shortly after completing the Police Academy was promoted to Investigator in the Felony Crime Unit.

I later went to law school at the University of Mississippi and after obtaining my Law Degree returned back to Natchez to practice with my Father. I began my practice in 1995 and have practiced in most areas of the law and worked with others in areas I did not practice.

I am a member of Community Chapel Church of God and, as such, am a God-loving and God-fearing man.

Lydia Roberta Blackmon, Natchez attorney

What sets you apart from other candidates?

My extensive legal background and diverse work experiences set me apart from the other candidates.  I have had a diverse legal career and have practiced in both state and federal courts.

Lydia Roberta Blackmon

What is one thing you could change in the Circuit Court system?

I could increase the pace of the resolution of cases in the Circuit Court system.  For example, I would like for the Circuit Court in each county to become a part of the Mississippi Electronic Courts filing system. This will allow the electronic filing of documents and will provide a more efficient method of tracking documents as well as give the public easier access to court documents.

Give a brief description of yourself and your qualifications.

I grew up in Black Hawk, Mississippi, the 10th of 11 children of Percy Lee and Leola Green Blackmon. I received a B.A. in Political Science from Alcorn State University; my J.D. (law degree) from the University of Tennessee College of Law; and an M.F.A in Film and Television from The Florida State University. During the course of my more than 32 years of practicing law, I have handled cases before the Mississippi Supreme Court and have represented persons before Circuit, Chancery, County, Justice, Municipal and Youth Courts in Adams County and throughout this state. I have served as a prosecutor and defended persons charged with criminal offenses. I have also represented clients in administrative proceedings.

Candidates for Sixth District Circuit Court Judge Post 2.

Debra Blackwell, incumbent, Circuit Court Judge Post 2

What sets you apart from other candidates?

I am the candidate who has held a role exclusively in the Sixth Circuit Court District for the past 21 years. Prior to having served as Circuit Court Judge since January 1, 2019, I worked as Assistant District Attorney in Adams, Amite, Franklin and Wilkinson for 17 years.

Debra Blackwell

I have not practiced in any court other than Circuit since 2002. In addition to hearing and deciding criminal issues from the bench, I have made hundreds of decisions in civil cases such as automobile accidents, medical malpractice and personal injury cases.

While at the District Attorney’s Office, I prosecuted cases in all four Southwest Mississippi

counties and worked with law enforcement, defense attorneys, Child Protective Service staff, Children’s Advocacy Center personnel and many other persons involved on a daily basis in Circuit Court.

It is my 21-year record of working only in Circuit Court that sets me apart from the other candidates and makes me the best choice to be re-elected District 6.2 Judge.

What is one thing you could change in the Circuit Court system?

As Senior Circuit Court Judge, it will be my responsibility to review the jail docket before every term pursuant to the Mississippi Rules of Criminal Procedure. I will review the jail docket every month rather than just six times a year, which was done previously.

Further, I intend to establish a Mental Health Treatment Court in our system. Since taking the bench in 2019, I have seen many people who suffer from varying degrees of mental illness, and I believe a Mental Health Treatment Court would be beneficial to our community by making it safer.

Give a brief description of yourself and your qualifications.

I am a lifelong resident of Adams County. I pride myself on hard work and independence. I did not decide to go to law school until I was thirty years old. My parents could not afford to send me to college when I graduated from high school so I found a job as a legal secretary and went to college part-time at the USM campus here. As a legal secretary, I gained a lot of knowledge and experience in the local legal community.

I paid my own way through law school with student loans and part-time jobs. I know what it’s like to work hard to reach your goals. I chose to come back to Natchez because this is my home. Prior to joining the DA’s office in 2002, I had a private practice where I handled civil as well as criminal matters. I am the only candidate who has been a criminal defense attorney in Circuit Court, a prosecutor in Circuit Court and now a judge in Circuit Court.

In a time of uncertainty and change in the courts, we need the most experienced professionals, and I believe my experience sets me apart and makes me the most qualified candidate.

Eileen Maher, Natchez attorney and Justice Court Judge

What sets you apart from other candidates?

My judicial experience of five years as a Justice Court Judge, my psychiatric nursing experience and my years as a teacher set me apart from the other candidates.

Eileen Maher

I have the medical knowledge to evaluate physical and psychiatric issues. I have managed a courtroom for five years with calmness and firmness. I know when to let a distraught person vent without letting it be abusive. I stay on top of the dockets, the law, and the myriad issues associated with juggling law enforcement, part-time defense attorneys and emotional civil litigants.

I am the only candidate who has worked both as a prosecutor and defense attorney on the criminal side.

I am the only judge in Adams County who worked with the Mental Health Court offered by the University of Southern Mississippi and the University of Mississippi Medical Center. That grant has ended and I will work diligently with the Administration of Courts to establish specialty courts in District 6-2 at the start of my first term as Circuit Court judge.

What is one thing you could change in the Circuit Court system?

I shall work diligently with the other newly-elected Circuit Court Judge of District 6-1 to establish a unified, rational approach to setting bonds within the framework of a defendant’s criminal history, the new charges, and the bond schedule set forth in the Mississippi Rules of Criminal Procedure.

Give a brief description of yourself and your qualifications.

My husband, Mark LaFrancis, and I are Natchosians. We came to Natchez and chose to stay. I graduated from law school shortly after we arrived and went to work for Truly, Smith, Latham & Kuehnle. I then went on to be the Adams County Youth Court Prosecutor, the Natchez Municipal Court Prosecutor, and a solo practitioner in Mississippi and Louisiana. Judge David Bramlette appointed me as a member of the conflict panel of attorneys for the Federal Public Defender for the Southern District of Mississippi.

While practicing law, I attended Co-Lin Natchez, Alcorn School of Nursing, and the University of Mississippi Nursing School to receive a bachelor of science and a master of science in nursing.

I ran for Justice Court Judge in 2017 and won by one vote. GO VOTE! Every vote is important.

Timothy Blalock, Natchez attorney

What sets you apart from other candidates?

There are many things that set me apart. I am a computer engineer, which enables me to solve problems. I have the ability to research and implement new technologies to make the court system more efficient. Because I have young children, I want to make this area a safer place for them to grow up. Having worked on the drug court panel for the past four years, I know the inner workings and the challenges our communities are facing. I also speak fluent Spanish, which negates the need for a translator.

Timothy Blalock

What is one thing you could change in the Circuit Court system?

One thing I would like to change is the efficiency of the court system in our communities. I’m tired of trials being delayed for years. I want to use electronic filing and scheduling, and drug court and mental health court to expedite the process. The guilty need to be sentenced and the innocent released, not awaiting trail.

Give a brief description of yourself and your qualifications.

I am from Natchez, and my heritage comes from Franklin and Amite counties. I have been married to my beautiful wife, Liz, for 21 years and have six amazing children ages 7 to 18.

After receiving a degree in computer engineering, we decided to return home despite having opportunities in bigger cities. I want my children to have the kind of childhood I had and will work to achieve that for them.

I have been an attorney here for 16 years working in the criminal and civil courts and have found the people in southwest Mississippi to be the salt of the earth. I want to make the system better for them. I serve in my community through my church and by volunteering in the schools. I believe that with my knowledge of the law and the interest that I have in the community, I will be a fair and honest judge and will strive to always be such for many years to come.