Whorton discusses election at Kiwanis
VALLEY — Isaac Whorton, the outgoing state representative for House District 38, was the guest speaker at Wednesday’s noon hour meeting of the Kiwanis Club of Valley. He discussed his current race for an open judgeship in the Fifth Judicial Circuit. He’s the Republican nominee and will face Democrat Mike Segrest in November.
He said that his campaign was not rooted in any kind of political party ideology. “I want the votes of Republicans, Democrats and independents,” he said. “My political philosophy and judicial philosophy are two different things.
They have to be. The legislature makes the rules and judges enforce those rules according to the law. I will never say ‘I’m a Republican and will take those values to the bench.’ You have to keep it separate.”
Whorton said the great thing about our judicial system is that everyone who walks into that courtroom is equal under the law. A single individual who has been hurt or victimized in some way is on equal footing with the multi-million dollar company that injured them. The jury, he said, is also something special about our system. While gifted lawyers fight out the issues in the court setting and a judge decides how to proceed, the ultimate decision in the case is made by 12 ordinary people who apply their collective judgement in doing what’s right.
Whorton said that he will treat everyone who stands before him with respect. “I don’t care if you murdered someone and admit it, you deserve a fair trial,” he said. “The state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty,” he said.
A member of the club asked Whorton how he felt about the death penalty. He said that’s not up to the judge – enforcing the law is. “If a jury finds someone guilty in a capital case and then decides the penalty should be death I will enforce that,” he said.
Whorton said that he does not agree that the judge alone should overrule a jury that recommends life in prison and sentence someone to death. The sentence should be up to the jury, he argued, and the judge should see that it’s carried out.
Whorton said that he’d just about decided to run for re-election to his house seat last October when he happened to run into Circuit Judge Tom Young at the courthouse. “He told me he’d been a judge for 18 years and would be retiring when his term expired in 2018,” Whorton said. “Sometimes, fate steps in. He encouraged me to run. Macy (his wife) and I talked about it, prayed over it and I decided to run.”
If elected in November, Whorton would join Steve Perryman and Ray Martin as one of three judges for a four-county circuit. Those three judges hear cases in Chambers, Tallapoosa, Randolph and Macon counties. The judge can handle everything from murder to traffic tickets. There are two criminal terms and two civil terms every year, and there’s a big backlog of cases to be worked. Most potential litigation – an estimated 90 to 95 percent of it – is settled out of court.
“Some of the most important cases you handle are the divorce and custody cases,” Whorton said, making the point that it was up to a judge to decide what was the best for the children involved.
As a courtroom lawyer, Whorton has had lots of experience in cases any circuit judge would handle. He adds, though, that things do come up in court that you thought you’d never hear about until it happens before your eyes. Judge Calvin Milford might attest to Wharton’s view that most situations like that take place in district court, where those found guilty go to the county jail. Those sentenced in circuit court usually go to state prison.
“Depending on the evidence and the witnesses, a trial could take anywhere from two to three days or two to three months,” he said. “The O.J. (Simpson) trial took nine months.”
Whorton said he would like to speed up the dockets with some common-sense solutions. If a jury is impaneled, for example, and the case they are about to hear is settled out of court, why not flip that same jury to a civil case, if they were to hear a criminal case, or vice versa?
“We need to work together to try more cases that need to be tried,” he said.
Whorton said that all judges need to be fair, impartial and someone with lots of integrity.
No one who stands before a judge is having a good day, he said. “They don’t want to be there, that’s for sure,” he said. “They are in some kind of trouble or they have a problem they can’t handle. I will always be respectful to anyone in the courtroom. I will be fair and impartial and make decisions based on facts and the law in relation to those facts.”
Whorton said it was impossible to go door-to-door and meet everyone in a four-county area but that he did want to meet as many people as possible. “I would appreciate your vote and support,” he told members of the club.