Probate judge candidates stress experience, main issues

By Trina Trice

The four candidates running for Clayton County Probate Judge say they're all qualified to replace former Probate Court Judge Eugene Lawson who retired from the position in July.

The News Daily gave each candidate an opportunity to address the issues of their respective campaigns via filling out a questionnaire. Here are their responses.

? Clay Davis

Age: 59

Marital Status: married

Children (Names and ages): Angie, 43; Alisa, 40; Anita, 35; Missie, 35; Katrina, 33

Area of law currently practiced: Wills, trust, guardianship, domestic, misdemeanor defense

? Pamela Ferguson

Age: 39

Marital Status: married 31 years

Children (Names and ages): Kyle, 10; Josh, 10; Nicky, 8

Area of law currently practiced: Probate and domestic law

? Bobby D. Simmons

Age: 49

Marital Status: married

Children (Names and ages): none

Area of law currently practiced: Personal Injury, worker's compensation, probate/family, DUI/traffic

? Fred Zimmerman

Age: 50

Marital Status: married

Children (Names and ages): Holly, 26; Nicole, 22

Area of law currently practiced: Probate, domestic, criminal

ND: What qualifications make you the best candidate for the post of probate judge?

Davis: Twenty-two years law practice, 7 year municipal court judge in Forest Park, attendance at National Judicial College on judicial leadership, special court jurisdiction, advance evidence, former state representative, former U.S. Marine, Sixth District representative to Georgia Municipal Court Council.

Ferguson: I am a life-long resident of Clayton County. I have been an attorney in Jonesboro for 14 years. I have not moved my office during those 14 years. I have handled probate cases and, as my practice is mostly family law, I deal with emotionally charged issues all day, every day. I have the integrity and demeanor necessary to be the next probate court judge.

Simmons: I have well-rounded qualifications in all the areas needed to be an effective probate judge. Unlike the other candidates, I have legal, medical, technical and administrative training and experience. I have 17 years experience as an attorney handling probate matters, personal and worker injury matters, employment matters such as Title VII etc, criminal, and family law. I have over 26 years of medical related professional experience, in that I am a Radiologic Technologist, and have served as a Radiology Department manager and supervisor for 8 years with extensive administrative and managerial training. I have extensive training in computers.

Zimmerman: I am the only candidate that has probate court judge experience.

ND: What is your education and background in law?

Davis: College and law school, hundreds of hours of continuing legal and judicial education.

Ferguson: I attended Clayton State College and transferred to the University of Georgia, where I graduated with a BA degree in 1986. I earned a Juris Doctor from the University of Georgia in 1989 and was admitted to the State Bar of Georgia in June of 1989.

Simmons: I attended Mississippi College of Law in Jackson, Miss. I have 17 years experience working in numerous areas, while always handling wills and estate matters as a ministry through my practice and local church. I have training in mediation and dispute resolution. I have training in law office management and technology.

Zimmerman: As with all the candidates, we have high school diplomas, Bachelor's degrees and Doctor's of Jurisprudence.

I have practiced in the probate, superior and state courts, as well as the municipal and magistrate courts. I have sat as a Magistrate Judge in Clayton County, as well as a Municipal Judge in Forest Park and filled in for other judges in Riverdale and Jonesboro and sat as probate court judge in Clayton County.

ND: What issues are facing the probate court that you think need to be addressed?

Davis: Indigent representation.

Ferguson: The probate court needs to continue to meet the needs of the citizens of Clayton County in a considerate and respectful manner. As the next probate court judge, I would administer the law fairly and equally to all the citizens of Clayton County.

Simmons: As the county grows in population with its diverse ethnicity, we will find more and more cases being filed where there is no will. We will be facing language barriers. We will have more indigent persons needing assistance in administering the estates of deceased love ones. We will be faced with cases where an extended period has lapsed without anyone probating the estate. The probate court should take the forefront in educating the public and devising new innovative ways of addressing these issues.

Zimmerman: There are no issues facing the probate court that need to be addressed. Judge Eugene Lawson left the Clayton County Probate Court in a better condition than almost any other probate court in Georgia.

ND: Are there any changes you will make once you take office?

Davis: Develop a system for indigent representation and a judicial outreach program to pre-empt teen deaths.

Ferguson: We, as a nation, are moving to more computerized information. Clayton County Probate Court should be part of that and not get left behind.

Simmons: I prefer not to discuss changes until I have had an opportunity to study how my anticipated changes will affect operations. I do not wish to create apprehension on the part of the current staff without consulting with them and receiving their input. However, I will state I would like to explore performing marriage ceremonies, which are not currently done.

Zimmerman: My changes are in the form of additions. I have a vision for the probate court that includes three points. My vision of the probate court is to take the probate court to the next higher level, to take the court to the people. I want the county computers to be more accessible to the people and for the people. I will go to the churches, to the schools, and to civic organizations to teach the people about the probate process. I also want to establish a probate pro-bono project for those people who can't afford an attorney. It will be an effort to provide wills to those that needs wills; and for those people who have questions that can't afford to talk with an attorney. I want to make the process better ? for the people.

ND: Are there any things you want to add to the office as far as the way they serve the public?

Davis: Stress personalized and compassionate service.

Ferguson: I will not make radical changes just for the sake of change. I will have a better understanding of what we need to change once I am on the bench day in and day out. I will be open to suggestions once I take office.

Simmons: My first step would be to analyze the public's perception of the service they are receiving by providing them comment forms, which I would analyze I would institute a sign-in sheet in order to evaluate the elapsed time for assisting the public. I would continue to improve the Web site with a view toward providing complete electronic filings. I would like to create a list of attorneys who are willing to give discounted or free services to the indigent or sponsor public seminars on the importance of wills, estate planning and guardianships.

Zimmerman: Yes, the state uses forms in the probate court and I want to prepare a pamphlet that people can go to when they can't understand questions on the forms. When people need assistance they can either go to the pamphlet, or the pro-bono project attorneys.

ND: Are there any issues that you would like to address that have not been covered by the previous questions?

Davis: Yes, I want your vote!!

Ferguson: The probate court deals with a lot of tough issues and has an administrative function, as well. I believe the office of probate judge is a position of public service and trust. We need someone whose integrity is without question. I certify to you that I am that person.

Simmons: Not at this time.

Zimmerman: Only to say that I am the only candidate who has served in every position in the probate court. I am the only candidate that offers that level of experience and it is unmatched by any other candidate. I believe that you, every one of you, individually, want someone with a proven track record of community service. And, I do not believe that Clayton County has the time or resources to put training wheels on its judges.