The three candidates for the Ogeechee Judicial Circuit Superior Court judge position said they would be accessible to Effingham County residents.
Attorney Martha Hall, attorney Mickey Kicklighter and Ogeechee Circuit assistant district attorney Michael Muldrew are seeking to replace Judge John R. Turner, who is not running for re-election. At a candidates’ forum Thursday night at the Mars Theatre, each of them espoused their connection to Effingham.
Hall, who lives in Screven County, has an office on Highway 21 South in Springfield.
“I saw a need in this community for lawyers who handle all sorts of disputes, versus having to go to Savannah for their legal services,” she said.
Effingham, Bulloch, Screven and Jenkins counties comprise the judicial circuit. Bulloch is the most populous of the four and Effingham is next. Hall said because Effingham and Bulloch are the largest counties, their needs should be met equally, but having a judge seated in Effingham has to be a joint decision between the three sitting jurists. Currently, all three judges have their main office in Statesboro.
“I live in Screven, so for me going in either direction is easy,” she said. “I want to serve the community, I would be happy to be here on a full time basis.”
Kicklighter, a Springfield attorney and Effingham resident, said his primary office would be in Effingham. He added that all the judges have to work in each of the circuit’s counties.
“I already live here,” he said. “I would be here every evening.”
Muldrew, who served for nearly 20 years as an assistant DA assigned to Effingham, said he too would have an office in Effingham. He said he would be in Effingham two days a week and Bulloch two days a week.
“I will be accessible to everyone here,” he said. “I live right across the river in Bulloch County. I’m going to be a judge for the people.”
Muldrew said a judge has to have integrity to do his job.
“It’s not something you dust off every four years,” he said. “It’s something you live with every single day. An important quality you have to have is using good judgment, in your professional life and in your personal life. I’ve used judgment as a district attorney or the last 25 years.”
Even though he is a prosecutor, Muldrew said he often approaches his job from a defense attorney’s perspective.
“You do what is in the best interest of the case every time. You’re not just an advocate,” he said. “That qualifies me as a judge. I will use that 25 years of experience and that integrity and I will make sure I will listen to the facts, apply the law to the facts and you can be assured the facts will come out in the courtroom and not in the backroom.”
Hall said she would bring balance to the judge’s bench. She has served as a prosecutor and a district attorney and has represented both sides in custody battles. Hall added she also has tried death penalty cases
“I have represented mothers in custody disputes,” she said. “I have represented fathers. I’ve represented those who have been guilty of committing a crime and those who were innocent. I think that balance uniquely qualifies me for this position.”
Eighty percent of the cases coming to superior court involve children, Hall said.
“Superior court touches children’s lives in abundance,” she said. “That has sort of been my love throughout my practice as a lawyer. I have focused on domestic work. I think the balance of 21 years of work as a prosecutor and 16 years in practice gives me that fair and impartial approach to judging.”
Kicklighter echoed that judges need to have integrity and said his experience separates him from his opponents. He has been practicing law for 34 years and started out as an assistant district attorney. He also served as Cobb County’s risk management attorney and was the attorney for the Cobb County Police Department and Sheriff’s Department.
“I’ve tried cases in federal court in Rome and Savannah,” he said. “I tried cases in Atlanta for nine years. I have handled criminal cases, thousands of domestic cases, handled land use cases, I’ve represented local governments. I’ve represented individuals against government and I’ve been quite successful. This is a job where experience does matter. I have quite a bit of experience and the breadth of my experience is significantly broader. I think my experience is well-suited for the jurisdiction of superior court.”
Kicklighter also defended himself against accusations from years before when he represented the Effingham County Industrial Development Authority and his ownership of nearby land.
“The first thing the public needs to know is prior to the IDA taking on any of those cases, we hired a lawyer out of Atlanta to assess not only my role the role of each individual board member on whether we had a conflict of interest,” Kicklighter declared. “All of our land ownership was disclosed. We had no conflict of interest. The article claimed I owned property ignored the fact there was a railroad track between the two tracts. The cost to access the property would have been well more than the value of the property itself. From that perspective, I thought it was a little bit unfair. There was no conflict of interest on my part. I did the job I was expected to do and I did it quite well.”
He also countered a statement that he made $2 million off the county. He said what was misleading was that it was a lawsuit brought against the county on behalf of a client, and the county eventually bought the land for $1.8 million.
“Even though that money came into my firm for the closing, I was paid a $5,000 fee,” he said.
Hall said she would look at handling cases more efficiently.
“That’s probably the No. 1 complaint I hear,” she said. “Things are not done quickly.”
Hall also said she would require mandatory mediation for divorce cases and juvenile court mediation. Her goal would be to have the youth in question of committing an offense face the person they harmed and rectify the situation, “instead of writing an arbitrary letter of apology to someone they never see. A real apology and real accountability will make a difference.”
Muldrew said he would seek to have a juvenile court and judge established for the circuit.
“We are the only one of 49 (circuits) that does not have a juvenile court judge,” he said. “We deserve to have a designated juvenile court judge.”
Hall said she would “talk with each child that comes into the courtroom to figure out why they made the decision they made and see what services they can use to get them off the path they’re on.”
Hall also is certified mediator and guardian ad litem and said those will help her as a judge.
“I think it’s very important that whoever you choose is qualified to handle the gamut of cases that superior court touches,” she said. “I expanded my education from just being a lawyer to those areas so I can use those skills in superior court.”
It’s also important for voters to know where their judicial candidates stand, Kicklighter said.
“I believe the framers of our government and the drafters of the Constitution knew what they were doing,” he said. “The Constitution says what it means and means what it says. I believe any judge should rule accordingly. I am committed to the belief that we were endowed with unalienable rights including right to life, liberty, property and happiness.”
Muldrew said he has an unfair advantage because he’s represented the people of Effingham for the last 20 years as an assistant district attorney.
“If crime is of any concern to you, than I am the person for the job,” he said. “I will not allow victims to be revictimized by the court system. I have prepared my whole professional life for this and I promise you will not be disappointed and you will not be embarrassed by what I do on the bench.”