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Troup County State Court Judge candidates participate in forum

Voters have three options of who they want to serve as the Troup County State Court Judge.

Luther Jones, Wesley Leonard and Kyle Lovejoy participated in a Facebook forum Thursday hosted by the LaGrange-Troup County Chamber of Commerce and was broadcast on The LaGrange Daily News Facebook page. 

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. Leonard has been the municipal judge for the city of West Point since 2009 and also served as special assistant attorney general for the state since 2001. Lovejoy has served as 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. 

The candidates were asked four questions and had two minutes each to respond.

The question-and-answer period kicked off when Curtis Brown, a member of the chamber’s board of directors and moderator for the evening, asked the candidates how they would prepare themselves to handle cases involving unfamiliar areas of the law.

Wesley Leonard answered first by saying the judge is one person that has the luxury of walking into the courtroom unprepared, but he or she should never be unprepared. He said he would rely on his strong legal background from Mercer University.

“I would give consideration to cases ahead of time, while cases were pending, by doing the research that’s necessary,” he said. “I would call on the attorneys that are working on the case to brief the case for me so that I can get their corresponding views and arguments.”

Lovejoy said he hopes there are not too many aspects of criminal law he hasn’t seen before, especially he has spent most of the past 16 years prosecuting cases in state court.

“I had to look at all the elements of the crime and make sure the facts supported that before I went in front of a judge or a jury,” he said. “If there was something that came up that we haven’t dealt with a lot, you just get in the book. You do what you have been taught.”

Lovejoy said statutes change, and new laws are created at times, and staying up on research would be the most effective tool.

“It is all about being prepared, and every great judge I’ve ever been in front of has always been prepared,” he said. “That was one of my calling cards and as a prosecutor. I’ve always been known as one who was prepared, and I plan on doing the same if I were a judge.”

Jones also said he hopes there aren’t too many things he wouldn’t be familiar with as the state court deals mostly with criminal cases, debt collection and torts — all areas he said he’d had multiple years of experience.

“I’ll be a good listener, and I’ll always have the computer research at my fingertips to get ready for any case,” he said. “I will be prepared to make an impartial decision based on the evidence and the law.”

 

Ethics 

The candidates were also asked about when they faced an ethical dilemma and how they resolved it.

Jones described a time when he defended a client on trial for murder. He said there were eyewitnesses, and the client failed a polygraph test but continued to say he didn’t commit the crime. Jones said he did his job in court by trying to poke a hole in the prosecution’s case and ended up losing, but he felt he gave his client a fair trial.

“I gave him his day in court, argued like [heck], and I went home knowing that I had a clear conscience,” he said.

Leonard said when he was in law school, he was taught that when a lawyer knows of case law that is against them, they have an ethical duty to make the court aware of it. He told a story of arguing a case in front of current State Court Judge Jeannette Little and did just that. Leonard said Little laughed and told him it was the first time a lawyer had ever done that.

“I was privileged and proud that she said that I set myself apart from the others that practiced before her that day,” Leonard said.

Lovejoy said as a prosecutor, he does have to prosecute pro se defendants, meaning a lawyer does not represent them. He said at times those defendants choose to take a plea deal or admit guilt, but there are other avenues those defendants can take. He said the ethical dilemma is that he has a person who wants to admit to a crime, but he feels he needs to advocate for them and tell them they shouldn’t take responsibility for a crime they didn’t commit.

On the other side of the situation, Lovejoy said there are situations where good people make bad mistakes, and it ripples down to other parts of their family.

“You want to help them out, but at the same time, you have an ethical obligation to make sure that laws are followed and make sure that everybody is held to the same standards,” Lovejoy said.

 

Strengths and weaknesses 

Leonard said he felt his greatest weakness as an attorney is similar to many other attorneys, which is he likes to talk. However, as a judge, the role is different.

“You have to learn to turn off the talk button, and to turn up your hearing aid and listen to what people have to say,” he said. “Listening is an important skill for all of us, but it is especially important for a judge.”

Lovejoy said his greatest strength would be to identify “nonsense” when he hears it from the practicing attorneys. He said he understands the role of a defense attorney to work for their client, but finds it aggravating when there are multiple objections every couple of minutes during a jury trial.

“I think I’m pretty good at being able to see through that,” he said.

As a weakness, Lovejoy said he feels he can be too compassionate as a prosecutor, which he admits hasn’t always been a good move.

“I think you can make that weakness a strength if you use it the right way, and use things like accountability courts or those kinds of other options that are available in state court,” he said.

Jones said his greatest strength is his military background and that he can command respect in the courtroom. Additionally, he said he can lean on his two law degrees and 27 years in the courtroom.  

“I would put all those strengths and use those on the bench to make clear and impartial decisions,” he said. “As for weaknesses, I can’t think of any.”

Early voting is currently ongoing until June 5, and the election is June 9.