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Two candidates vie for position of Probate Judge of Sumter County

By MICHAEL MURRAY
michael.murray@americustimesrecorder.com
americustimesrecorder.com

AMERICUS — There are two candidates running for the nonpartisan position of judge of the Probate Court in Sumter County, to be decided upon in the May 24 election, Stephanie Bennett and Michael Greene. The position is currently held by Judge Judy Reeves, who will be retiring from office at the conclusion of 2016.
Each candidate was asked to answer a series of questions via e-mail and send their responses to the Times-Recorder for publication.
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Bennett was born and raised in Americus and is currently employed as the program director of Southwest Georgia CASA (court-appointed special advocate).
Bennett has not previously run for public office.
Asked what changes she would like to see in the office of the Probate Court, Bennett stated, “Our probate court has many responsibilities beyond that of probating wills. They include but are not limited to the appointment of temporary guardians of minors, appointment and monitoring of guardian/conservator of incapacitated adults and minors, issuing marriage licenses, issuing firearms licenses, and issuing affidavits for involuntary commitment for Mental Health, Alcohol, and Drugs. I have personally worked with our probate court in my current role as CASA Director and have found that Judge Reeves’ office runs effectively. So, while I understand the importance of making any changes necessary as laws and/or technologies are updated, I plan to continue Judge Reeves’ commitment to excellence in our probate court.”
Bennett is a graduate of both Georgia Southwestern State University and Troy University where, after earning a bachelor of business administration in human resources, she obtained two master’s degrees, one in business administration and another in education.
In response to the inquiry about her qualifications for the office, Bennett replied, “After I obtained my bachelor’s degree in business administration, I worked as a human resources manager for 10 years where I gained the strong leadership and interpersonal skills necessary to operate an efficient probate court and office where customer service is of the utmost importance. Currently, as CASA’s Program Director, I’m responsible for ensuring the success of our program which provides a dedicated Court Appointed Special Advocate to every abused and neglected child in foster care. Collaboratively with the Department of Family and Children Services, and the three juvenile courts in the twelve county area SOWEGA CASA serves, our volunteers make every effort to ensure children find safety and permanency quickly. My seven years serving in the juvenile court has allowed me to humbly serve others while also interpreting and respecting the laws of our land.”
Asked what she would like for the local voting population to know about her, Bennett replied, “The citizens of Sumter County deserve a Probate Court Judge who is not only educated to perform the job but is also efficient and fair-minded while exhibiting a pleasant disposition. I am invested in this community and the people in it. For over 17 years, I have served abused and neglected children in the Southwestern Judicial Circuit, seeking resources for their families to improve their outcomes in juvenile court, and also during that time, my role as a Human Resources Director allowed me to assist with securing employment for thousands of county residents. These experiences have allowed me to both interpret and follow the law as retiring Judge Judy Reeves has for over two decades. I love Sumter County and want it to be a place my son will be proud to grow up in and maybe raise his own family in one day. As your Probate Court Judge, I will commit to a full-time schedule, meaning, unlike my opponent, I’ll have one job which will consist of serving the residents of our county in one court out of one office. Your probate court needs will be my priority.
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Greene is also a resident of Americus and is currently employed as an attorney and Americus Municipal Court Judge.
Asked what changes he would like to see in the office of the Sumter County Probate Court Judge, Greene stated, “Change will come to the Probate Court system in Georgia in the next decade just as it did to the Municipal Court system in the last decade. The Municipal Court system in Georgia has undergone major changes in the last decade: making cases appealable on the record only, requiring the judge be an attorney, requiring electronic reporting of cases and data, etc. I have led the City of Americus Municipal Court system through this change and have the experience to lead the Sumter County Probate Court System through the upcoming changes.
Greene has never run for public office, as the position of Americus Municipal Court Judge is appointed by the City Council.
Asked about his educational background, Greene answered, “I am a 1986 graduate of Georgia State University School of Law (jurist doctorate). I am a 1981 graduate of the University of Georgia (master’s degree in journalism). I am a 1979 graduate of Georgia Southwestern College (bachelor’s degree in business administration).”
On his qualifications for the position of Sumter County Probate Courtjudge, Greene said, “I have served as Judge of The Municipal Court of Americus since 2000. I have tried thousands of contested cases as a judge. I have the tried and tested temperament of a judge. I am an experienced attorney, having practiced law for 30 years with 28 of these years in Americus. I have written thousands of Wills and probated hundreds of estates.”
Asked what he would he would like local voters to know about him, Greene answered, “The Probate Court of Sumter County now needs a judge who is an attorney. I am the only person running who is an attorney and who is an experienced judge. The Judge of the Probate Court of Sumter County may continue to practice law so I will be able to continue to represent my clients.  Also, my son Emory graduates from law school this May and will be returning to Americus to practice with me.”