Forum adds heat to judicial race|[10/31/06]

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The circuit court for Warren and two neighboring counties must be more open, the challenger for a judgeship said Monday.

The 17-year incumbent for the court responded that his reputation for outreach and for making hard and fair decisions is well-established.

The contest between Assistant District Attorney John Bullard and Circuit Judge Frank Vollor has become the area’s most volatile.

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Bullard emphasized that he had originally not wanted to run and that he changed his mind based on observation of Vollor’s tenure.

&#8220Over the years I have been a part of the functioning of our circuit court long enough to see that something had to be done,” Bullard said.

&#8220I’ve got a record of 17 years,” Vollor said. &#8220You all know – you read about it in the paper every week – you know I don’t dodge the tough issues. You know I stand up and make a decision.”

The 31-year attorney also cited the effectiveness of the Warren County Drug Court initiative which he led.

The candidates addressed about 100 citizens summoned to the Warren County Courthouse as potential grand jurors Monday morning and, later, about 75 people at a forum at the Vicksburg Convention Center.

The forum was also attended by the Democratic challenger for a state U.S. Senate seat, both major parties’ candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives district that includes Warren and surrounding counties, both candidates for the Vicksburg-based chancery court judgeship and two of three candidates for Warren County coroner.

The general election is Nov. 7, a week from today.

&#8220The person wearing a black robe (as judge) cannot act as though he owns it,” said Bullard, 49, an assistant district attorney for 15 years.

&#8220Now is the time to change the circuit judge,” Bullard said at the forum. &#8220Now is the time to make the court more open, not isolated.”

Vollor responded that he would stand on the record he has made and cited his military service as an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps and as a major in the Reserves.

&#8220I told somebody, ‘That was the best training I ever had to become a judge – to stand up to the tough decisions,’” Vollor said of his military service.

Vollor also cited his community roles, including being a founding board member for the Child Abuse Prevention Center, a board member of the local chapter of the American Red Cross and a member of the Make A Promise Coalition for a Drug-Free Warren County.

Vollor is being challenged in an election for the first time. Judge Isadore Patrick, who also serves Warren, Sharkey and Issaquena counties, has no challenger. Vollor said having the drug court option is making a big difference because participants commit to treatment as an alternative to prison. Most crime, he has long said, is a direct consequence of drug addiction.

&#8220Nobody can say, ‘I can’t afford treatment,’ now,” Vollor said. &#8220We’ve seen miracles happen.”

Responding to a question about the program at the forum, Bullard said he would &#8220absolutely” continue it. &#8220I would like to see the screening be a little more effective,” Bullard added, indicating some may be entering the program merely to avoid incarceration.

In the contest for chancellor of the 9th Chancery District, challenger Ceola James said 12-year incumbent Judge Vicki Roach Barnes recuses herself too often. Barnes responded that her recusals have been made necessary by her prior role as a private attorney in the court.

In the House of Representatives race, Republican Tchula Mayor Yvonne R. Brown is challenging Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Bolton.

Brown said she looks forward to being able to support in Congress such proposals as universal health insurance, tax relief for small businesses and increased support for such programs as Head Start.

&#8220I look forward to voting on the critical issues,” Brown said.

Thompson cited his work to help federally fund Vicksburg’s new bus system and to bring an ethanol plant to the city’s harbor and his prospective chairmanship, if Democrats re-take a majority in the House, of the House Homeland Security Committee.

&#8220I’m standing on my record of service to the people,” Thompson said.

Three candidates, Larry Chisley, Doug Huskey and Noland Smith, are seeking the job of Warren County coroner. The post was vacated with the death in a wreck of John Thomason.

Huskey stressed the importance of compassion. &#8220You’ve got to have it when you deal with families who have lost a loved one,” he said.

Smith added that dedication to the job and loyalty to his community were also reasons he is seeking the job. A retired Marine, Smith cited death-investigation training he received while stationed in California.

&#8220You need a technical person as coroner,” Smith said, adding that he also has plans to establish a scholarship for students who want to go into the field and to push for office space and updated equipment for the coroner.

Both Huskey and Smith pledged to be punctual and efficient in dealing with death investigations and relations with families.

Chisley, long-time deputy coroner who was appointed coroner after Thomason’s death, did not attend.

And state Rep. Erik Fleming, D-Clinton, attended in support of his bid to unseat Republican Sen. Trent Lott. Also in that race is the Libertarian Party’s candidate, Harold Taylor of Nesbit.

Fleming said a key part of his platform was &#8220an overall attack on poverty in this state” and criticized Lott for ignoring the poverty that exists in Mississippi.