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Race an issue in judge election

By Ed Brock

The challenger in the race for Clayton County Superior Court judge says there's a feeling in the community that justice is not being equally administered.

His opponent, incumbent Judge Deborah Benefield, says the image is untrue.

Challenger Robert Mack said the perception of some is that the inequity lies along racial and socioeconomic lines.

"I want to change that perception," Mack said.

Benefield said she wanted to point out that judges don't determine who gets arrested or prosecuted.

"What I can assure every member of the community is that in my court everybody is treated fairly," Benefield said.

A graduate of Spring Hill College in Mobile, Ala., and of University of Georgia Law School, 47-year-old Benefield has practiced law for 20 years and served in her current position for 12 years.

Prior to becoming a judge, Benefield was the county's first assistant solicitor in 1984 and in 1985 she went to serve as an assistant district attorney in 1985. During two years she took off for maternity leave Benefield wrote news articles and legislation on domestic violence.

She currently lives in Jonesboro.

The campaign has been going well, Benefield said.

"We've been working extremely hard and gotten out in the community as much as possible," Benefield said.

Benefield said she thinks the most important issue in the campaign is experience, something she has. Her docket is always up to date.

"I probably have one of the most efficient courts in the state and that's not accident," Benefield said. "Certainly you will be able to determine what kind of judge I will be by what kind of judge I have been."

She continuously updates her knowledge of the law, Benefield said, and a majority of the decisions she has made have been upheld in appeals. Being efficient frees her to do what needs to be done "in a substantive fashion" and to make sure people and cases "don't get lost in the system."

One thing she does want to do if reelected is work on educating the community on what superior court judges do.

"They don't know we exist until one of three things happens, their child is in trouble, they're getting a divorce or they're a juror," Benefield said.

Benefield said she has already helped become part of preventing crime by being in the educational short video "The Last Dance," produced by Clayton County's legal community and school system to encourage prom-goers not to drink and drive. She plays the judge who sends the fictional drunk driver to jail.

"There have been hundreds of requests for the video from across the country," Benefield said.

Along with the video Benefield also participates in the county's Mock Trial program that teaches school students about the legal process.

Also, Benefield said she is proud of streamlining her domestic caseload and initiating a computerized sentencing system.

"I have spent 20 years of my career in Clayton County protecting the families, homes, property, businesses and lives of the citizens of the county while ensuring the rights of all who appear before me," Benefield said.

Mack, 47, has been practicing law since 1993, first in Lithonia and then in Jonesboro, where he now lives, from 1996. He received his undergraduate degree from Southern Technical Institute in Marietta and then graduated from Georgia State University Law School. He currently has a general practice of criminal and civil law at Glaze, Harris, Arnold & Mack.

Like most candidates he has been putting out signs and speaking at forums.

"We're getting a lot of positive feedback from the community as we go door to door," Mack said.

Mack said he decided to run because he wanted to make some changes and implement some new programs.

"I don't want to see people pleading out to things they didn't do just to stay out of jail," Mack said.

Mack wants to promote pre-trial intervention programs for "victimless crimes" and he pledges to serve the citizens and to be impartial and fair.

"I pledge to treat every person who appears before me with dignity and respect and I'm committed to assuring equal justice for all," Mack said.

In addition to local courts, Mack said he has practiced in the Georgia Court of Appeals, Georgia Supreme Court, the United States District Court for both the Northern and Southern Districts and the United States Court of Appeals, 11th Circuit.

"Not only must a judge be knowledgeable of the law, but also a judge must have the patience, temperament and ability to communicate and work with people from all social, economic and ethnic backgrounds," Mack said. "My practice and life experiences have enabled me to acquire and develop these essential qualities."

Mack said he is a member of Keep Clayton Beautiful and he has been a coach for the North Clayton High School Mock Trial Team. Also, he served as an attorney for the Truancy Intervention Project and was appointed to serve as an advisor for the Children and Courts Committee for the State Bar of Georgia.

Incumbent Superior Court Judge Matthew Simmons is running unopposed in the election. He is 48 years old and has been on the bench for 11 years.