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Judicial candidate fails to disclose campaign funds

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

A candidate for a Clayton County Superior Court judgeship has apparently violated the state's campaign ethics law by failing to file any campaign financial reports.

Murble A. Wright, a defense attorney with a Jonesboro office, qualified to run on June 23. She hasn't filed the required Campaign Contribution Disclosure Report in July, or in October, according to the State Ethics Commission.

The filings are required by law "to protect the integrity of the democratic process and to ensure fair elections," according the State Ethics Commission. The judicial candidate was required, by law, to file the form seven days after she qualified for the race. To date, Wright has not made public any information about funds she has raised and spent. The violation is punishable by a $5,000 fine, according to state law.

Wright also has not filed a Personal Financial Disclosure Statement, a required report which would outline the candidate's financial and business relationships and possible conflicts of interest.

Wright did not return multiple phone calls to her office seeking comment for this story.

The incumbent judge, Deborah Benefield, who has been on the bench since 1992 and is seeking re-election, said a judge ought to follow the law.

"I follow the law personally and professionally," Benefield said at a candidate's forum Wednesday. She urged voters to look up her campaign and financial filings and compare them with the her opponent's filings.

Benefield's campaign disclosure reports reveal that:

She had $2,350 on hand in July, and had raised a total of $24,373.44 by the middle of October. She had lent herself $8,493.95, spent $19,266.93, and the campaign reports showed when and where the money had been spent, and exactly who had given to the campaign, and how much.

Benefield's financial disclosures also outline her personal financial situation, answering questions about any property, or business investments she, her husband, and her children own.

"It's easy to say you have a servant's heart, but I've been serving the citizens of Clayton County for 24 years" as a judge and as a county prosecutor, Benefield said.

Wright did not respond to the allegations during the candidate's forum in Lovejoy. She said she was the more qualified candidate because she's in the community, doesn't want the judge's position just for the salary and vacations, and because she wouldn't humiliate anyone in the courtroom.

"I'm a giver. I'm a servant ... There's a need to bring structure back to the bench, restore professionalism to the bench. It has been eroded and it needs to be established once again," Wright said.

Benefield opened and closed her re-election pitch in Lovejoy saying candidates should be judged by what they do.

"Past actions are the best predictor of future behavior," she said. "I've worked hard. I've run an efficient court. I've reached out to the community. I'd like to continue that service."