Braswell, Jones seek bench for Superior Court
By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on October 5, 2008 7:51 AM
To incumbent Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Jerry Braswell, his race for re-election against challenger Arnold Jones II comes down to three factors -- experience versus inexperience, black versus white and city versus county.
"This is a first for Wayne County, because now Wayne County is looking at a choice," Braswell said.
And of those choices, he believes the most important is the question of experience.
"The position of superior court judge requires, in my opinion, someone who is well-versed in the law and has spent time preparing him or herself for the position. There's no crash course in being a superior court judge. It's called superior for a reason. We're talking major matters here," he said. "Any lawyer with the tools, the aptitude and with time in superior court can learn to be a judge, but you have to spend time in superior court to understand how superior court works.
"I have been doing this job for 10 years and I have never seen him (Jones) in my courtroom in either criminal or civil court."
But to Jones, such criticism seems somewhat unwarranted.
"I've practiced law in all types of courts. Jerry Braswell should be aware I've been in superior court. I tried a lot of superior court cases before he was on the bench," he said. "I believe I'm qualified for the job."
And while he acknowledged that he has spent significantly more time in district court than superior court in recent years -- his father sat on the bench from 1998 unti 2000 -- he said he is familiar with all the necessary rules of procedure, evidence and jury instruction.
Besides, he said, to him, the choice comes down to who will do the job "right" and in a way "people can be proud of."
"I believe in serving in such a way that people in this county can be proud to go into the courthouse, and that people know when Arnold Jones is on the bench, the law will be administered fairly and promptly," he said. "I've talked to a lot of people, and what I keep hearing is that the people really want somebody to do a job they can be proud of."
Braswell also believes voters should be proud of the job he has done with the court system the last eight years as the Wayne County senior resident Superior Court judge.
"For me, I think I've done my part to move us forward," he said. "I think our court system is better off."
He explained that according to the Wayne County District Attorney's office and the state Administrative Office of the Courts, the Wayne County Superior Court is No. 1 in the state in the dispensation of criminal cases, and is in the top five in the dispensation of civil cases.
And, he acknowledged that while the district attorney does play a large role in achieving that criminal case ranking by setting the docket and scheduling cases, Braswell also noted that it's the chief judge who is responsible for making sure things run smoothly and efficiently by utilizing tools such as an administrative week at the beginning of every month, and by being available "pretty much 24/7" to approve warrants and other necessities.
"It's a cooperative effort," he said. "We have to create a system that the prosecutor can move cases through. They have to get the cases ready for trial, and I have to create the time and the opportunity to try those cases. But the judge can't do it alone. It's not a Jerry Braswell thing, it's a partnership."
Braswell also referenced his efforts to help control the jail population -- specifically the court liaison position that he created, with the help of the Sheriff's Office and the permission of the Board of Commissioners, to help keep track of how long inmates have been in jail, if they want to plead out, the last time they were contacted by their lawyer and any other information that might help move them along.
"You got to bring all the players together to dispose of cases," he said. "A judge can bring them together and push pleas and provide information about the status of the population in jail."
And by doing so, he estimated they were able to reduce expenditures at the county jail last fiscal year by about $610,000.
There have been, however, questions over some of Braswell's actions, specifically his handling of magistrates, a 2003 censuring by the state Judicial Standards Commission and the amount of attention he pays to his outside business interests.
None of those, however, he said, should reflect on the job he has done.
Concerning the magistrates, he explains that when he was elected, "he inherited an office that was in disarray," and blames much of the problem on what basically came down to a difference of opinion between himself and the former clerk of court.
He maintains that despite the criticism, he has never acted illegally or improperly in regard to the magistrate office, and there is no record of any actual wrongdoing.
"I only ask that the people of Wayne County judge me on the team I have assembled and not the team I inherited," he said.
He also explained that his 2003 censure was not the result of anything done illegally, but rather a difference in the interpretation of whether an inactive lawsuit against him by a lawyer appearing before him warranted him recusing himself from a hearing.
He believed it did not, but the state Judicial Standards Commission felt otherwise.
"Because of the change in laws, the censure was the least minimal thing they could do," he said.
Other issues concerning his real estate business, he maintained, also have little bearing on his ability to oversee the courtroom, don't take away from his time on the bench or interfere with his cases.
"I was involved in rental properties before I was a judge," Braswell said. "My response is that they (those who oppose him) are just looking for ways to discredit my candidacy."
For his part, Jones refuses to discuss anything other than the specifics of his own campaign.
"I'm not talking about my opponent," he said. "I'm talking about me. I want to talk about what I can do. I want the public to judge me on who I am (in my personal and professional life) and what I offer.
"The public is going to elect me -- if they elect me -- because they trust me. I think the No. 1 thing for a judge is trust."
And, he added -- while acknowledging that some of what Braswell has implemented is probably good and worth keeping, he hasn't decided on which parts -- he would like to take the time between the end of the election and his swearing-in in January to examine the programs, policies and procedures currently in place at the courthouse.
"I'll be looking at things to improve our total system," he said. "I also think it's very important the senior resident superior court judge work closely with the public defenders, the clerk of court, the district attorneys and law enforcement, and I believe I can do that better than it's being done right now. I think I can communicate with all those officials."
But, he added, probably the most important thing is that he will be at work, that he will "open court on Monday and be there all week," including those weeks he returns early from out-of-county assignments.
"I'm just going to work hard to do things the right way, and I think by doing that we can improve," he said.
For both men, their No. 1 goal on the bench is to fairly and justly apply the law, particularly in the one area that judges have a bit of judicial leeway -- probation hearings.
During those, Braswell said, he strives to weigh whether the defendants are making genuine, good-faith efforts to follow through on their terms and stay out of trouble. That's why, he explained, he often will include requirements for substance abuse counseling and GED classes.
"We want to make sure they leave the court system better off than when they came, otherwise they'll be back," he said. "We try to help them, but they have to be willing to help themselves."
It's a sentiment that Jones said he shares.
"I think first and foremost, my job is to protect Wayne County and to protect the citizens," he said. "I'll have to use my judgment on a case-by-case basis, always keeping in mind I've got to be fair to the general public and I've got to be fair to the defendant."
The bottom line is, Braswell said, that in the end, voters will look at both candidates' resumes and make their choice.
"This is a first for Wayne County, because now Wayne County is looking at a choice -- experience versus inexperience, black versus white and city versus county," he said. "At the end of the day, though, whatever happens, life goes on."
Other Local News
- Care in the sky: Members of the aeromedical evacuation crew fight to get injured troops back to their families