Candidates focus on youth court in public forum

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 22, 2002

Candidates for Warren County Youth Court Judge, from left, Robert Arledge, Bill Bost, incumbent Gerald Hosemann, Clarence Whitaker and Johnny Price await their turns to speak Monday at the auditorium at Hinds Community College Warren County campus. (The Vicksburg Post/C. Todd Sherman)

In their second public appearance in a week, Warren County Court judge candidates focused Monday night on their prospective job as head of the court designed to rehabilitate minors.

The winner of the Nov. 5 election will head not only county court, which handles cases involving criminal misdemeanors and civil claims up to $75,000, but also Youth Court, which deals with delinquency, abuse, neglect and supervision matters involving children under age 18.

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“That’s one of the very few cases where the judge is in on the case from the start,” said one of the race’s five candidates, Warren County Prosecutor Johnny Price.

The other four candidates, all also Vicksburg attorneys, are Robert C. Arledge, 45; William Bost Jr., 57; incumbent Gerald Hosemann, 50; and Clarence A. Whitaker, 59.

Each is seeking to be elected to a four-year term for the position that pays $93,700 annually.

Each made brief opening and closing statements and, in between, responded to questions read by moderator Don Brown, the president of the Vicksburg-Warren Chamber of Commerce. The public event, attended by about 40 people, was sponsored by the Child Abuse Prevention Center and held in the auditorium at Hinds Community College’s Warren County campus.

“Most civil lawsuits and criminal lawsuits are filed and the judge has no idea what’s going on in the case until he walks in the courtroom,” Price said. “But the Youth Court judge does have to be in on it. He has to sign the petition authorizing the arrest of a child or the detention of a child.”

Whitaker said that when he started practicing law here 24 years ago Youth Court had far fewer cases than it does today and most of them dealt with delinquency. Today, many more deal with abuse and neglect, he said.

“I have a special interest in these cases because I have great empathy for small children,” Whitaker said.

In 2001, the court handled 487 cases, court statistics show. About 70 percent of those concerned delinquency, 18 percent “status offenses” including runaways, 10 percent neglect or abuse and 3 percent for children in need of supervision and other matters.

Bost again stressed his experience as a Vicksburg lawyer for 32 years, his training as a judge advocate in the U.S. Army Reserve and his contributions to the state’s judicial system, including as a former chairman of the Commission on Judicial Performance.

Arledge, whose practice was Jackson-based and on a regional and national scale until this year, started the discussion by calling for additional programs to be developed for early identification of potential juvenile delinquents.

He said he has ideas for “creative and innovative programs” designed for early identification of “at-risk” children.

He also again mentioned his financial success and his pledge to finance his own campaign, which reported spending $174,868 through Sept. 30, about 10 times more than the next-biggest spender in the race.

Bost said he defines success in law practice differently from Arledge.

“I think it should be measured by the people you’ve helped, the things you’ve done and the example you’ve set,” he said.

Hosemann, first elected in 1986 and without opposition since, stressed, along with his experience in the post, the creation and expansion on his watch of programs and facilities for identification and rehabilitation of troubled young people in the county.

“Since 1996, there’s been a decline in the number of Youth Court cases every year,” he said.

Price also again highlighted his 18 years of experience as a prosecutor, including 13 in the elected post of county prosecutor.

“I have devoted 21 years of public service to helping the poorest children in this town,” he said, adding that his best reward is seeing “one of these 21- or 22-year-old little children that I played some role in turning their life around.”

Whitaker said he belonged to no special interest groups.

“I’m not beholden to one soul,” he said. “If you elect me to be your county and Youth Court judge, I will use my 24 years of experience to do the best job I can do.”

A question was put to the panel on an arson at Vicksburg High School three years ago, for which no one was arrested.

If suspects had been arrested and were of youth-court age, Price would have been responsible for prosecuting them. Price responded, saying he thought the question was based on “a rumor in the black community that rich white kids burned down the school and were not being prosecuted because they were rich and white.”

“You produce somebody who burned that school and I will prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law,” he said.

The five judicial candidates met publicly a week ago in forum sponsored by the Corps of Engineers’ Chamber of Commerce.