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West Point interviews municipal court judge candidates

Three candidates for West Point’s municipal court judge position took part in Zoom interviews on Thursday night. 

The position was left vacant when Wesley Leonard won a run-off election for Troup County State Court Judge on Aug. 11. The full interview session are available for viewing on The Valley Times-News Facebook page.

The three finalists that were selected for interviews by the West Point City Council were Benjamin Wilcox, Luther Jones and James Baker. 

Each interview was two rounds and lasted approximately 40 minutes with council members asking one question each with one follow-up during each of the two rounds. A time limit of two minutes for each question and answer was set to keep the interviews to 40 minutes. Mayor Steve Tramell served as the timekeeper for all three sessions. The interviews began at 5 p.m. and only the candidate that was scheduled for that time period was in attendance.

Councilman Henry Hutchinson did not participate in asking questions but was on hand to listen to the interviews. In the Monday business meeting, Hutchinson made it known that Jones was his personal attorney and asked city attorney Alex Dixon how that would impact the process. 

“It would not exclude him [Jones] from being an applicant, it would exclude you from voting,” Dixon said.

Benjamin Wilcox was the first candidate of the evening. Wilcox has been the sole practitioner/owner of his own practice in West Point since 2008 and also serves as judge pro-tem for the West Point Municipal Court. Wilcox served for two terms on the West Point City Council until January 2019, when he resigned to take on the position of municipal assistant court judge.  He said he is interested in the position because he has a love for the City of West Point. 

“I think without a doubt, I am one of us, I am a citizen, I am in our community,” Wilcox said when asked why he wanted to serve in the position. 

Wilcox also said that because he knows the people in West Point, he can make better decisions on what corrective actions to take that will not punish the wrong person. 

“Is it the grandparents or the young adult? So, if I placed a $1,000 fine on someone, whose pocket is that really coming out of? What corrective steps could I do to try to help this young person that is not going to punish the parent or grandparent? I think that comes from me knowing the people here,” Wilcox said.

The next candidate to interview was James G. Baker, who currently serves as the municipal court judge for the City of LaGrange and the City of Hogansville. His private practice consists of civil litigation including bankruptcy, wills and matters that fall under the probate code.

When asked about why he wanted to serve in the position, he said he has devoted a lot of his life to serving in municipal courts and it is something he enjoys. 

“More citizens come to municipal court than any other court and a lot of times it’s the only court they ever come to,” Baker said. “I feel like I have something to offer the City of West Point. West Point Municipal Court has had fantastic leadership over the past 10 years from Judge Leonard and I just look to continue on with that.”

The final candidate, Luther Jones, is currently the public defender for the City of West Point as well as the assistant municipal court judge for the City of LaGrange and is the sole practitioner of is own practice. When asked what makes him uniquely qualified for the position, Jones said he has tried thousands of cases sitting first chair, tried personal injury cases having to prove his case as well as working as a defense attorney trying to disprove the prosecution’s case. 

“I will be fair, impartial and give everybody a chance, listen to the evidence and make the best decision for the City of West Point,” Jones said.

All candidates indicated that they would keep current with the constantly changing legal landscape by subscribing to various trade newsletters as well as taking all the necessary continuing education.

The selection will be on the agenda for the Jan. 11 business meeting, however, since there is a judge pro-tem in place the council can take as long as they need without impacting the court.