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Challenger calls for changes in district attorney’s office

[6/13/03] An independent challenger for the office of Warren County district attorney said Thursday night the office needs to work better with local police and be more reflective of the community.

“The reason I want to be your next DA is because I can do a better job,” said Richard Smith, 44, a local attorney and first-time officer seeker.

About 40 people attended Thursday night’s “Meet the Candidates” forum sponsored by the Vicksburg alumnae chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. Smith is challenging incumbent Gil Martin, 58, for the post that represents Warren, Sharkey and Issaquena counties prosecuting felony criminal cases.

Martin, also running as an independent, is seeking his fourth term. He said that his experience, maturity and fairness are what make him the better candidate.

“Our objective has always been to be fair to both the victim and the person who is accused,” Martin said.

“My primary focus will be the victims,” Smith said. “The defendants have their own attorneys.”

The only two candidates seeking the $79,830-a-year post were also asked to explain how they would make the office more representative of the black community. Today, one of the eight employees in the DA’s office is black.

“It’s very difficult to hire an African-American lawyer straight out of law school because if they are qualified they get a better job somewhere else making more money,” Martin said.

“I can promise you I will make the DA’s office more reflective of our community,” Smith said.

Because they are both running as independent candidates, Smith’s and Martin’s names will first appear on ballots for the general election on Nov. 4. Others who are seeking the 14 contested Warren County posts will run in party primary elections on Aug. 5, which will be followed by primary runoff elections, if needed, on Aug. 26.

In all, 46 candidates have filed to seek local office. In the most heavily contested race, for circuit clerk, the seven candidates were asked to explain how they would improve the office responsible for marriage licenses, registering voters and for county and circuit court records.

Most of the candidates said they would take advantage of modern technology to improve the office. Democrat Shelly Ashley-Palmertree, 33, who is seeking the post currently held by her father, Larry Ashley, said that for the past nine months the deputy clerks have been updating so records can be computer-scanned.

But, independent candidate Mike Caruthers, 48, said the technology has existed for longer than nine months.

“A good place to start with the efficiency is to actually be there,” Caruthers said. “I wouldn’t have waited until nine months ago to get started.”

Some of the candidates seeking that office said they would also work to keep the public better informed.

“It sort of amazed me going out and talking to people when I was campaigning and one of the first questions I get is, What does a circuit clerk do?'” said Gil Culkin, 49, a Democrat.

Others seeking that office are Jack Grogan, 51, a Democrat; Trey Miller, 36, a Republican; and independent candidates Bertha Conner, 55, and Fred Sherard, 40.

The circuit clerk position is paid a fee-based salary capped at $83,600 annually.

While most of the posts will be challenged in the upcoming election, no candidates filed to run against the incumbents for coroner, tax collector, chancery clerk or tax assessor.

“I’m here tonight to say thank you for not providing me with an opponent,” said Warren County Tax Collector Pat Simrall.

In addition to state and district offices, ballots this fall will include:

District 1 Supervisor David McDonald, 53, a Republican will be seeking his second term and will face Republican challenger William Muirhead, 48, and independent candidates Billy Boone, 53, Michael Terry, 56, and Kenneth Downs, 38.

In the District 2 race, incumbent Michael Mayfield, 45, Democrat, will face independent challenger Tony Hart, no age available.

Incumbent Charles Selmon, 43, a Democrat seeking his third term from District 3, will face, independent candidate and former supervisor Betty Jackson, 61.

Seeking his fifth term from District 4 is incumbent Bill Lauderdale, 55, an independent who will face Republican Charles Stevens, no age, and independents Carl Flanders, 33, and Reginald King Sr., 56.

In the race for District 5 Supervisor incumbent Richard George, 53, and independent will face Democrat Frank Gardner Jr., 45 and independent candidate Joe Wooley, 60.

Warren County Sheriff Martin Pace, 44, will be running as an independent and will face Gary Lick, 52, a Republican.

Seeking his second term in office, District 54 Rep. Chester Masterson, 70, will face challenger Alex Monsour, 40, in the Republican primary.

In the Senate District 23 race, incumbent Mike Chaney, 59, Republican, will face off with Democrat Marcie Tanner Southerland, 49, in the general election.

Seeking to fill the vacant post of Warren County Prosecutor will be independent candidates Clyde Ellis, 36 and Richard Johnson, 49.

In the race for the Warren County Constable posts will be incumbent Glenn McKay, 40, Democrat, and independent Eddie Hoover, 38, in the Northern District; incumbent Rudolph Walker, 49, Democrat, and independent James Jefferson, 42, in the Central District; and incumbent John Henry Heggins, 40, Democrat and independent Victor Worrell, 41, in the Southern District.

Central District Justice Court Judge Richard Bradford, 59, a Democrat, will be challenged by Democrat Dora Smith and independent candidate Anderson White II.

In the Northern District justice court judge Republican Eddie Woods, 38, will face off with independent candidates W.B. Duggins, 75; Bill Jeffers, 35; and Greg Kurtz, 36.

Incumbent Southern District Justice Court Judge Joe Crevitt, 65, a Democrat will also face Democrat challenger John Hunter, 62; and Republican Edward D. Miller, 38.