Phelps vs. Carmichael for judge

Thursday night’s political forum included the two Republican candidates for Northern Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judge. 

Incumbent Chris Phelps, who was appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal to replace Superior Court Judge John Bailey as he retired in 2015, is being challenged by Bowman resident Jim Carmichael, an attorney working out of Hartwell.

Carmichael was first asked what experience he possessed which qualified him to be a superior court judge. Carmichael responded by saying he was not a career lawyer. “I didn’t come from a family of lawyers, I didn’t always dream of becoming a lawyer.” Carmichael stated he decided to run because it matters to him and the community has to be protected. He also stated he knew the work of the previous judge and knew what was happening now and that he wanted to restore justice to the court.

Phelps was then asked about a response to the allegations made against him the previous week concerning a decision he made during a trial in Franklin County. Phelps said he practiced both civil and criminal law for 38 years. Phelps said a judge cannot overlook the spiritual side of a case, which involves family members and children. 

Phelps said the subject in question had been in court every time he had been called and had minor children at home he needed to say goodbye to and they needed to say goodbye to him. According to Phelps, the defendant had no one at home to help but his elderly mother, who was ill and he also needed to make sure his children were taken care of. Phelps said the defendant showed up for sentencing just as he had anticipated, and was sentenced to 15 years.

When asked about judicial activism in which a judge seems to create laws rather than apply them, both Carmichael and Phelps agreed a judge should always adhere to the law whether he liked it or not.

Candidates were then asked about how they maintain impartiality since both are residents of this area and know most of the attorneys and a good number of those who may appear in court. 

Phelps said there would be times when it happened but both parties understood their roles and the rule of law always prevailed. Carmichael said that a judge should make every effort to appear impartial, and should not engage in conversations or acts that might appear improper.

Both were then asked what determined the severity of a sentence. Carmichael stated a judge must look at what was done, not why. He stated there was a problem with disparate sentences and that a judge cannot get caught up in who or what failed the defendant. Phelps said a judge should consult with law enforcement officers and victims. He said a judge should also consider the severity of the crime and take all factors in consideration when handing out a sentence.

Both candidates were also asked to say something nice about their opponent, a tradition for The Elberton Star’s forums. Carmichael stated he had great respect for Phelps and had known him for a long time. “He’s a very good lawyer and a nice man.”

Phelps said he had no axe to grind with Carmichael and he really did not know him personally. He also said the accusation by Carmichael of ethics violation was not that he did not send in the appropriate form but that he was technologically ignorant and had failed to do it correctly.

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The Elberton star

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