HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Three candidates are only three weeks away from knowing who will be the first to win a new judgeship in the 12th Judicial District.
Charles Lawrence, former city attorney for Hattiesburg, Chad Shook, an attorney working in Hattiesburg, and Jon Mark Weathers, former district attorney and current lawyer for The University of Southern Mississippi, are all campaigning for the new judge seat created earlier in 2015.
The goal of House Bill 703, which created the second judge position in District 12, was to lighten the case load for Judge Bob Helfrich.
Helfrich is currently the only circuit court judge for 12th District, which includes parts of Forrest and Perry counties.
"It's exciting to know that you're going to split the docket, organize and office and get to manage your own case load," Weathers said.
Lawrence said he has already had the experience of setting up a new position.
"My experience with regards to having been municipal court judge gave me the opportunity to implement new things and new policies while I was there," Lawrence said. "So it won't be totally foreign from that stand point."
Shook said he stands out because he is a fresh face.
"My opponents are both good men, but if you look at where they've come from, between the two of them, they have 50 years of public service between them," Shook said. "I think we need some fresh blood, some new ideas and a lot of energy to start out this new position."
Lawrence said, "I like being innovative also with regards to creating solutions to problems."
Weathers said he had been eyeing the large case load for some time, and he wants to be sure he helps move both civil and criminal cases through the system faster if he is elected. He said his past experience and knowledge would allow him to help lawyers move criminal cases quickly.
"Particularly those people who are in the jails in a pretrial status in both of our counties," Weathers said. "That's costing our tax payers money. Medical expenses, food, so forth, and we need to move those."
As far as past experience for the candidates, all have extensive legal backgrounds.
"I've been practicing for 17 years," Shook said. "I have generally a civil litigation practice, but I have also practiced criminal law. My current practice is more civil litigation. I also teach college at Jackson State University. I teach criminal law criminal procedure, ethics and criminological theory."
Weathers was the DA for the same district from 1976-1980 and then again from 2003-2010.
"I've either handled, litigated or managed thousands of felony criminal and civil cases, so I just think that experience is what we need in this position," Weathers said. "It's such an important position because a judge has the responsibility of moving the cases and expediting the docket. I mean, it's a trite expression that justice delayed is justice denied, but I really believe that."
Lawrence said, "Judgeship position has always been an interest of mine, and particularly circuit court as opposed to chancery. I like working with people. I certainly enjoy, I guess for the most part, a large part of my practice has been in criminal law. It's one of the things I have a large focus on. I like helping people from the stand point of both the victim as well as the accused."
As a former DA, Weathers has already had the experience of working with Judge Helfrich.
"I had a good working relationship with Judge Helfrich when I was district attorney," Weathers said. "We're personal friends. We get along. We didn't always agree on everything, but we worked together. I'm confident that if the people allow me to do this, we'll do that this time."
Shook said, "I look forward to working with the place one judge when I am elected, so that we can make the justice system in Forrest and Perry County work for the citizens of this district."
Lawrence said, "First of all, I'm a person who likes people. I'm a personable person. I'm easily approachable. I'm easy to get along with. I work hard. I am easy to work with. I don't take anything personal, and I think that a lot of the people who appeared before me when I was municipal court judge would say that. Attorneys would probably say that. Even law enforcement."
All three are on the Nov. 3 ballot, and the position has a three-year term.