By Ed Brock
The voter turnout was low Tuesday but it was enough to put Jonesboro attorney Pam Ferguson into office as Clayton County's probate judge.
Ferguson received 2,309 to 2031 for Clay Davis, according to final but unofficial results from the county's 50 precincts and absentee ballots. About 10 percent of the county's 112,402 voters turned out in the first race three weeks ago when Ferguson led a field of four. By Tuesday that turnout number had dwindled to 4 percent.
"I want to thank the voters. I'm just awestruck that people came out and voted," Ferguson said. "I intend to make those who voted for me proud of their decision."
She is expected to take office in November and will have to run again a year after that in the regular election for the position.
Ferguson, who has practiced law for the past 14 years in Jonesboro, grew up in the legal system, working with her father, Monroe Ferguson, who has been an attorney for 37 years.
She is a certified mediator and a certified arbitrator.
She stressed her experience in the runoff campaign.
"I handled hundreds of cases in mediation, serving as both an attorney and a mediator. Through mediation, I helped many individuals resolve their disputes in beneficial ways," she said.
She told voters she believed "this experience will serve me well as a Probate Judge.
"The Probate Judge deals with a lot of tough issues and individuals who are experiencing numerous emotions. In my practice, I consult with families every day who are in crisis situations," she said.
The life-long Clayton County resident and her husband have three children.
Ferguson told voters besides her years of experience she has the demeanor to serve in that critical position.
"I am an even-tempered and caring individual. I have the patience and demeanor necessary to serve the county well as the next Probate Court Judge. I also have great listening skills, a quality which is essential in a judge."
Ferguson attended Clayton State & College and transferred to the University of Georgia, where she graduated with a B.A. degree in 1986. Later she earned a Juris Doctor from the University of Georgia in 1989 and was admitted to the State Bar of Georgia in June of 1989.
Ferguson will succeed 65-year-old Eugene Lawson who held the position from 1983 to July when he decided to retire.
During his two decades in office Lawson successfully lobbied for legislation to make probate court parallel to superior court in counties with a high enough population where he pointed out that the probate judge is as qualified as the superior court judges.
When Lawson was elected, the probate court in Georgia was considered an inferior court. That meant people who were not satisfied with the court's decision did not have to appeal the case, but rather took it to superior court and the probate judge's decision-making authority was diminished.
Another change that occurred under Lawson was opening the court up to people of limited means.
Being probate judge in Clayton County is "a big job and a big responsibility," said former probate judge Kathryn Gibbs who held the position from 1972 to 1983.
"They'll be a little relieved by an election board having been picked (last week)," Gibbs said.
Conducting elections was previously a duty of the probate judge.
Before Gibbs, Horace Roberts held the post from 1968 to 1972 and Joe Lane prior to that.
Gibbs said she was following Tuesday's election.
"Of course I'm interested," Gibbs said.
Davis said he has 22 years of practicing law including seven years as municipal court judge in Forest Park. He attended the National Judicial College on judicial leadership, special court jurisdiction and advanced evidence. Davis is also former state representative and U.S. Marine and represented the Sixth District at the Georgia Municipal Court Council.
After graduating from college and law school, Davis said he had hundreds of hours of continuing legal and judicial education.
In the first race three weeks ago, Ferguson polled 3,826 votes to 3,013 for Davis, 2,772 for Fred Zimmerman and 1,333 for Bobby Simmons. Because she did not receive 50 percent plus one vote the runoff was required.