Two candidates for the chief magistrate judge said each other would be a viable pick for the open seat — but also extolled why they were the better choice.
Scott Lewis, a major with the Effingham County Sheriff’s Office, and attorney David Swords laid out why they should be chosen to replace Scott Hinson as chief magistrate at a candidates’ forum Thursday at the Mars Theatre. Hinson, who initially declared he was seeking re-election, is not running again. A third candidate, Springfield Police Department Sgt. Bryan Burgess, did not attend the forum.
Swords said his background as an attorney makes him the better choice for chief magistrate.
“It is important for Effingham County to use an attorney in the position of magistrate,” he said. “There is a certain amount of learning curve that is going to go on. You have to research in order to handle the cases. That is nothing against Scott or Mr. Burgess. They are both fine fellows. But it would be helpful if they were learned in the law other than criminal law and be able to dispense with court cases in a more fluid way.”
Lewis, who has been with the sheriff’s office for 23 years, oversees many of the ECSO’s departments, including patrol, courtroom security, drug unit, criminal investigation and the civil process division. Lewis said his daily duties bring him into contact with the issues handled by magistrate court.
“We do evictions. We do warrants,” he said. “Everything I do is what goes into magistrate court. I feel like that’s where I can bring an advantage. I’ve been doing it for 23 years.”
Lewis said not being an attorney should not be a hindrance as a chief magistrate.
“The interpretation of law is important,” he said. “But it doesn’t take a lot of interpretation to know if your dog is running loose. A people person who has been dealing with this on a daily basis is what we need.”
Swords said he was approached to run for magistrate after Hinson announced he was withdrawing from the race.
“I was approached when Mr. Hinson stepped down and had 12 hours to decide,” he said. “I like challenges. I like stepping into positions and make things better.”
Swords, who lives in Guyton and has been in Effingham for nine years, said he has experience in running emergency medical services for more than 20 years and managing Department of Defense contracts.
“I’m very good at making things more efficient,” he said. “As an attorney it would be a good opportunity to bring up the court, an opportunity to make it more fluid and utilize my experience as a manager and an attorney in dealing with people. A good calm demeanor and a soft spoken word sometimes goes a lot better than a stern hand.”
Lewis praised Hinson’s efforts in putting more of the magistrate court’s services online.
“Magistrate court has come a long way,” he said. “I’ve been involved off and on with magistrate and it’s working well on the law enforcement side.”
Lewis said he loves dealing with people and the magistrate court works for the people.
“That’s the biggest thing I’m going to make sure we keep doing,” he said.
Not having been in Effingham for as long as his opponents could help him as chief magistrate, Swords said.
“I’m not as well known,” Swords acknowledged. “But that could be an advantage. In some aspects, they are going to get a fairer shot because I don’t know them. I have an opportunity to meet and listen to the people individually in an even handed way, no pre-judgements of the people as they come in.
“The major difference I have to offer is I have courtroom experience,” Swords said. “I have been taught to interpret the law and listen to both sides of the conversation and apply that evenly to the law. I have proven leadership experience. Hopefully I have a good level of integrity and have a reputation for being accountable and honest.”
In his years with the sheriff’s office, Lewis said he has seen landlord and tenant disputes, which fall under the magistrate court, and how his experience in law enforcement will serve him well as chief magistrate. Lewis pointed to his more than 1,700 hours of training and said he would look at the Bridging the Gap program, which helps veterans who are behind in rent payments.
“I’ve been very fair,” he said. “I’ve seen both sides and I think that’s where the law enforcement may help. I’ve been there evicting people. I’ve seen houses destroyed by tenants we couldn’t get out. I’ve seen domestic violence issues. I understand both sides of the issue. I feel like I can easily take on the challenge. I’ve been fair and I will continue to be fair.”
The candidates added the voters have a good selection of candidates for the May 24 primary.
“I don’t think the people of Effingham have a bad choice,” Swords said.