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Candidates for court positions give pitch to lawyers

DULUTH -- This is the crowd that knows them the best.

Just days before the official qualifying period begins, kicking off the 2012 election cycle, a host of lawyers introduced themselves to colleagues in the race to fill an onslaught of open judicial positions this July.

With few other attention-grabbing races in the upcoming summer election, besides a high-profile tax issue, many of Gwinnett's voters will turn to attorneys to get a sense of the judicial candidates, Superior Court judge candidate Tracey Mason Blasi said in a statement read by a friend at the Gwinnett Bar Association forum Friday.

"Ya'll have the most vested interest in who you practice before," added Marlene Duwell, a candidate for Probate Court judge.

With long-time Superior Court Judge Dawson Jackson retiring at the end of his term, as well as State Court Judge Bob Mock and Probate Judge Jim Clarke and a challenger to Clerk of Court Richard Alexander, after his predecessor died last year, more than a dozen candidates boasted different qualifications that suit them for the jobs.

Chris McClurg, who is seeking the Superior Court bench, said he is the only attorney in the race who has faced every single judge in Gwinnett, including municipal judges. Giles Sexton, though, said he had more experience with felonies.

"This is a very serious position. Trial experience ought to be the main factor behind your decision-making," he said.

Active in the community with coaching and Girl Scouts, Kathy Schrader touted her work on both federal and state commissions on reforming juvenile justice.

Blasi, who missed the event because of her daughter's college graduation, said in her statement that the fact that many of her opponents in zoning cases now work on her campaign should exemplify her pattern of civility and fairness.

And Robert Walker, a former prosecutor, pointed out that he is the only candidate who is currently a sitting judge -- a full-time Magistrate judge who often sits on Superior Court cases.

The ballot is just as diverse for the State Court candidates, where former judge Richard Winegarden is running to return to the bench after his 2008 ouster from Superior Court.

His competitors include Emily Brantley, a former corporate lawyer who found a home at a downtown Lawrenceville office, Pamela Britt, who rescues greyhounds and mentors Girl Scouts while practicing law and volunteering with a criminal defense association, Norman Cuadra, a municipal judge who was inspired by his grandfather's emigration from Nicaragua, and Greg Lundy, a Superior Court staff attorney who says he has the most experience in not just making an argument but analyzing which side should prevail.

The Probate race pits Chris Ballar, a lawyer whose practice focuses on estate disputes and guardianships, against Duwell, who has worked as chief clerk in the office for 15 years, hearing such cases.

And in the Clerk of Court's office, Alexander hopes to continue work on a project to scan all court documents for access online, while challenger Brian Whiteside questioned a new, judge-approved trial program that occasionally leaves the system with too few jurors to begin trials.

"Vote for the best qualified person," Whiteside said. "That's not something to be taken lightly."