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Four qualify for probate judge race

By Justin Reedy

Four candidates have qualified for the special election to replace Eugene Lawson as Clayton County's probate judge. Filing is now closed.

The field of candidates for the countywide Sept. 16 election includes Clay Davis, Pam Ferguson, Bobby Dean Simmons and Fred Zimmerman.

Zimmerman, 50, is a lawyer and former county magistrate judge who lives in Jonesboro. Simmons, a 49-year-old Hampton resident, is a lawyer with offices in Forest Park. Ferguson, 39, is a lawyer from Jonesboro who ran last year for superior court judge in Clayton County. Davis, a 59-year-old Jonesboro resident, is a lawyer and former state representative.

The four-way race will decide who will fill Lawson's shoes, since the longtime probate judge retired earlier this month. The winner will serve the rest of Lawson's term, which expires Dec. 31, 2004. The next probate judge term will be decided in next fall's round of elections, so the winner of this special election will have to re-qualify next April.

Simmons, a workers compensation and personal injury lawyer who has practiced for 17 years, thinks his experience working in the medical field prior to becoming an attorney gives him an edge in this race since probate judges often decide on health-related matters.

"I have the caring and compassion that I feel are necessary for this job," Simmons said. "I am willing to listen and I am deeply compassionate when dealing with the elderly."

Simmons thinks qualified ethnic minority candidates need to step up in Clayton County to run for office.

Ferguson, who finished in third place in last year's election for superior court judge, says her history in Clayton County and concern for its citizens is one of her important qualities as a candidate.

"I have a lot of honesty and integrity," said Ferguson, who added that she's very involved in the community and has practiced law for 14 years. "I'd be looking out for the interests of Clayton County as a probate judge."

Some of her experience as a lawyer includes probate law, wills and estates, and temporary guardianships, which are all areas handled in probate court.

Davis, who has been practicing law for 22 years, thinks his age and life experience will help him as probate judge. Davis has handled many probate cases during his career, and is now serving as a judge in the Forest Park environmental court.

"I think I can relate to people quite well," Davis said. "A probate judge has to be a person who has great compassion for people, and I think I'm well suited in that regard. They're there to help people and serve people, not so much as to mete out justice."

Zimmerman says he has the most and best experience of any of the candidates, having sat as a fill-in judge in the probate court for Lawson. He also served two years as the county's magistrate court several years ago. He is active in many community and professional organizations, and served in Bosnia with the National Guard.

"When you pick a judge, I think one of the biggest things is judicial temperament and the concern for people in need of help," Zimmerman said.

His ideas for the probate court in the future include using more computer technology in some areas, such as putting wills and estate case information on the Internet.

"I would continue on with Judge Lawson's efforts," he said. "I feel like I bring a level of professionalism that Gene Lawson started."