About 250 citizens heard from three candidates seeking the Ogeechee Judicial Circuit superior court judge seat during Tuesday night’s candidate forum at Ogeechee Technical College.
The forum also included candidates for the Bulloch County Sheriff’s race as well as those seeking election as Bulloch County probate judge.
All three seats are up for election, as Bulloch County Sheriff Lynn Anderson, Superior Court Judge John R. Turner, and Bulloch County Probate Judge Lee Deloach will all retire effective Dec. 31.
Former Assistant District Attorney and municipal Judge Martha Hall; Mickey Kicklighter, a former chief assistant district attorney for the Atlantic Judicial Circuit, and Michael Muldrew, current senior assistant district attorney with the Ogeechee Judicial Circuit, each answered questions that were submitted prior to the event online.
The questioned were posed by local TV news personality Dal Cannady, who served as moderator for the event hosted by the Statesboro Jaycees. The club partnered with the Statesboro Herald to livestream the event.
Each candidate was allotted two minutes to make an introductory speech. Kicklighter opened with comments about the United States having “the greatest Constitution in the world” and said as judge he would uphold his “fundamental belief” in that Constitution. He described himself as a “devout Christian,” but said he agrees with someone’s right to pursue their own beliefs as long as they do not interfere with those of others. He also touted his experience, being older and having spent more time in the law field than the other candidates.
Hall said she has 21 years’ experience under her belt and as a woman and mother, would “protect the rights of our children in this community one case at a time” if elected, and would “pledge mandatory mediation” in divorce cases and “keep children out of the courtroom.”
Muldrew said he has been a prosecutor for 20 of his 25 years in the field, and said “I believe public service is a calling. I have had that calling from an early age. I do not take that calling lightly.” He said his civic involvement within the community offers a “unique qualification” to the office and he has a strong relationship with the community.
Improvements , strengths
Cannady asked each candidate what improvements they would make if elected to the office. Muldrew said he would “carry on the tradition” of selecting excellent jurors, become more efficient in working with all other judges, and “communicate better,” adding he feels he can best work with the other two existing judges due to his longtime courtroom experience with them.
Kicklighter said he is a founding member of the current drug court program and “would expand that program.” Also, he said he would advocate the placement of a juvenile court judge and look into establishing a veteran’s program to help with problems veterans face in the judicial system.
Hall said a different perspective from a woman would benefit the position, recalling the deep respect and success of former superior court judge Faye Sanders Martin. She said she would take a “sincere understanding of each individual situation” and pay special attention to family dynamics that affect court cases.
When asked about strengths that would make them good judges, as well as reasons why they are seeking office, Hall said “I see things as a mother, daughter, sister and wife. I believe a different perspective on the bench would be beneficial,” adding her diversity of experience would be an asset. “I have had the opportunity to watch families in the most difficult of times.”
Kicklighter said his having more tenure in the field and a “breadth of experience,” serving as a three-time special master dealing with “lawyer discipline matters” are assets. He said if elected he would take a cut in pay, but said it is the “job that matters.”
Muldrew said “10 years’ experience is different than one year of experience 10 times.” He said he has had extensive experience in the “court arena and I have to seek justice in every case. Integrity, character and fairness are not words you can dust off and use every four years for a campaign. They are words you must live by.”
Assets and family violence mediation
Another question was how each candidate would improve the quality of life and why they are the right choice as superior court judge.
Kicklighter said he would improve and expand the drug court program, which he said “is the best in the country. Quite frankly, that program changes lives.” He listed several success cases where people convicted of drug crimes participated in the program and are now leading productive lives. Again, he mentioned he creation of a veterans’ program to help with cases involving situations caused by incidents occurring while veterans in active duty.
Hall said “knowing the community is very important. I feel very connected to this community.” She lives in Screven County, operates offices in Effingham County and Statesboro, and her son attends Bulloch Academy.
She said she would, if elected, “ protect our greatest resource – our children,” and find out what causes them to enter the court system and hold them accountable for their actions, not by meaningless apology letters or community service, but “making them fix what they destroyed” by their crimes.
Muldrew said “knowing your community, being involved in your community … and knowing what to expect of the court system” is critical, and he said he is a strong advocate of the drug court as well. He said, as judge, he would also expand the mental health court programs, adding that there is a great need for such across the country.
Each candidate expressed views about family violence mediation. Muldrew said he would try to ensure offenders realize what they did wrong in the situations, although “something is wrong if they don’t already know,” and pointed out that when the mediation is needed in a superior court case, the situation is “really, really bad.”
Hall said the mediation is seen in superior court cases more often than not, but agreed that taking steps to correct the violent behavior is a “personal responsibility.”’
Kicklighter suggested making all parties involved, not just the offender, take part on the mediation.
Another question dealt with minorities being treated unfairly in the courtroom.
“We need to be on guard for issues regarding racism and sexism,” Hall said, citing cases where she has witnessed prejudice. She said Bulloch County is ahead of the game in that “we have a female mayor ( Statesboro Mayor Jan Moore) and an African American female (Renata Newbill Jallow) leading the public defender’s office.”
Kicklighter also cited instances when he observed prejudice and said he walked of a case due to such. “The buck stops here. To pretend it doesn’t exist” is foolish, he said.
Muldrew said racism and sexism are “not just a trend, but severe injustice against minorities has been happening for the past 200 years.” He said a judge must “always be vigilant to make sure that does not occur” in the courtroom. “I can guarantee you (if elected) we will be making sure everyone is treated fairly.”
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.