Three candidates have eyes for county state court judge seat
Published 9:00 am Thursday, May 14, 2020
The Troup County State Court election features three candidates with several years of experience and strong ties to the local community.
Luther Jones has been practicing law in LaGrange for 26 years out of the Luther Jones Law Firm and has been the assistant city court judge for the city of LaGrange since 2018. Wesley Leonard is the current municipal judge for the city of West Point since 2009 and also served as special assistant attorney general for the state since 2001. Kyle Lovejoy is an assistant solicitor for the Troup County Solicitor’s office since 2007 and has been a partner at the Roberts and Lovejoy Law Firm since 2008.
Lovejoy says he’s been in the state court every week since 2004 as assistant solicitor, adding there’s most likely not a criminal case that has gone through the court he hasn’t touched in some way.
“I think it’s fair to say that I’ve prosecuted more cases in state court in the last 15 years than any other lawyer,” he said. “I have more experience in that courtroom than any other lawyer.”
He said the state court plays a significant role in keeping the county as well as strengthening the community.
“I have the state court experience, the legal expertise and the appropriate temperament to give the people in your county the fair and just court official they deserve,” Lovejoy said.
His background is in prosecution, but he’s been an advocate for individuals, businesses and industries. He said as a prosecutor, he is a representative of the county.
“However, I think the judge represents the people of the county just as much,” Lovejoy said.
Leonard said as a municipal judge in West Point, he’s available 360 days a year to sign search and arrest warrants. He said it’s a part-time position now, but he’s looking forward to the full-time job as state court judge.
“It is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done,” he said.
He said a lot of the cases in municipal court are similar to those he would be handling as judge in state court, so the experience is there.
Leonard said he sees the role of the state court judgeship more as a calling than just running for office.
“I really felt led to pursue the office,” he said. “I feel if a person feels like there’s there more of a commitment than just filling a spot or doing a job, the public is better served.”
Jones said outside of running his private practice, he’s been a public defender for 25 years. However, he said his experience on the other side of the bench gives him the background to rule compassionately and fairly, according to the law.
“It’s never easy to put somebody in jail, but it’s also not easy to let somebody go,” Jones said. “You have to consider the circumstances every time.”
He said he’s handled dozens of jury trials and hundreds of bench trials, as well as obtained a masters of law degree with a concentration in litigation. He said he could put all this together to make sure evidence is heard and ruled on fairly.
ROLE OF THE OFFICE
Jones said with current State Court Judge Jeannette Little stepping down, he wants to continue the work she’s been doing. He said she’s been instrumental in starting accountability courts, DUI courts and mental health courts. Jones said these services provide alternatives in punishment.
“Not everybody needs to be in jail,” Jones said. “Some people need to be taught how to act right instead of just locking them up and throwing away the key.”
However, he said he would like to put a fresh set of eyes on those programs to see where they could be more efficient or be improved.
“I would certainly find every way possible to implement the right punishment or the right treatment to satisfy the state and the defense to create win-win situations,” Jones said. “Also, to help that certain individual through their difficult times.”
Leonard said to be an effective judge, a person needs to rule, but the people affected need to understand why the ruling was made. He said it’s his goal to communicate with everybody in the courtroom from the lawyers to the defendants.
“I think people can be satisfied with losing a case, or an outcome they didn’t expect, if they understand the logic behind it,” Leonard said.
He said he wants to be friendly with everybody in the courtroom, but he’s not their friend. Impartially is a must when sitting on the bench, Leonard said.
“I will conduct myself professionally, and I’ll expect the people appearing before the court to behave professionally as well,” he said.
Leonard said he represented one of the first defendants ever admitted into Judge Little’s DUI court, so he’s very supportive of the program. But, that doesn’t mean he won’t review the progress of the programs.
“I expect that I’ll take a strict look at who we put in the program,” he said. “It should be a doorway to getting better, not an escape hatch.”
Lovejoy said he probably has the best knowledge of how the courtroom works and what doesn’t work due to his frequent attendance inside.
“Being on the prosecution side helps me understand that a good judge commands respect by showing respect,” he said. “That’s not just respect to the defendant but also to the victims, to the lawyers and to the law enforcement personnel that are essential in every case.”
He said even something as small as a speeding ticket is important to somebody, and it’s also a means of keeping the community safe.
Lovejoy said part of his job as a prosecutor is making recommendations for people who are going to take a guilty plea instead of putting them in jail. He said he supports DUI and accountability courts.
“Bad things happen to good people, and I understand that, but sometimes it’s about getting them help to make sure that this isn’t something that’s going to continue to happen,” Lovejoy said. “By that, you’re bettering that person that person’s family, but you’re also making the community safe.”
Lovejoy says he loves Troup County, and he has two young daughters who he wants to love the county as much as he does.
“The most effective way I can do that is by making sure it’s safe, and the people here are safe, and I think I would be the proper candidate for judge to ensure that happens,” he said.
Leonard said one of the best attributes a judge can have is being a good listener. He said lawyers like to talk a lot, but when it comes to the other side of the bench, you have to listen rather than figuring out what to say next.
“I have the life experience and the legal experience to be a good state court judge,” he said. “It’s just part of my personality. If I didn’t think I was qualified, I would not be in this race.”
Jones said he’s served his country three years in the U.S. Army and five years in the National Guard. He said he’s always served his clients right, and now he’s ready to serve his county as a judge.
“With my judicial experience and my legal experience, I’d be the clearest and best choice for Troup County State Court Judge,” Jones said.