State court judge
Native of: West Palm Beach, Fla., has lived in Gainesville since age 5
Education: Undergraduate degree, Clemson University; law degree, Woodrow Wilson College of Law
Family: Wife Nancy, one daughter
Native of: Atlanta, has lived in Gainesville since 1979
Education: Undergraduate degree, Georgia Tech; law degree, University of Georgia School of Law
Family: Wife Dancy, two daughters
For the first time in eight years, Hall County voters will decide a contested state court judge’s race.
Incumbent Chief State Court Judge Charles "Charlie" Wynne, who challenged and defeated the sitting judge for the job in 2000, now faces opposition from local attorney William "Sonny" Sykes.
State court judges preside over misdemeanor criminal cases and civil cases that do not have exclusive jurisdiction in superior court. State court, unlike superior court, is a big revenue producer for the county, with more than $3 million in fines and fees turned over to the general fund in 2007.
Wynne, who was chief magistrate judge prior to taking the state court bench, is running on his record of judicial experience and the achievements of a DUI court that has served as a statewide model.
Sykes says he can bring a different perspective to the bench from his 34 years as a criminal defense attorney and make the court more efficient.
The nonpartisan race will be decided Nov. 4. Here’s a look at the two candidates, in alphabetical order:
William "Sonny" Sykes
Sykes said he’s running "because I’ve wanted to be a judge for a long time. I have a passion for the job."
"I think it’s important to elect someone who has a passion for the job, has a passion for the rule of law and has a passion for fairness and justice," said Sykes, who unsuccessfully ran for superior court judge in 1984.
Sykes said his judicial philosophy "has been shaped by my life’s experiences and the 34 years I’ve practiced law."
"I come with a different perspective (than Wynne)," Sykes said.
He believes the biggest challenge facing state court is to get the cases of criminal defendants handled "in a more expeditious fashion."
"We ought to make certain we get these people before the court much quicker than we have in the past," Sykes said. "These cases need to be closed and closed out quickly."
Sykes said that while some misdemeanor cases require that defendants spend significant time in jail, "by and large most of them don’t."
"They need to be dealt with rather quickly," Sykes said.
Sykes said he would bring an even temperament and decisiveness to the job.
"I will not be impatient," he said. "These people appear before you really in a helpless state, and by virtue of having represented the people I’ve represented, I think I can be a good judge of what needs to be done and how it ought to be done. And I’m not going to be easily fooled."
The top priorities of a state court judge, Sykes said, would be dictated by the caseload.
"(A judge) needs to hold court as often as his caseload requires," Sykes said. "He needs to get these cases through the court opened and closed as expeditiously as possible, giving great respect to the person that comes before you and taking into consideration the rule of law."
Charles "Charlie" Wynne
Wynne said he has "a lot to offer in my continued service as state court judge."
"I would like to continue the successes of the programs developed in this court over the past eight years and continue the hard work that this court has demonstrated day in and day out," Wynne said.
Wynne said he and fellow State Court Judge B.E. "Gene" Roberts effectively have managed a caseload that the state’s administrative office of the courts calculated was the caseload of 3.7 judges. A third state court judgeship will be added this year with the Oct. 27 swearing-in of Larry Baldwin, who was appointed this month by Gov. Sonny Perdue.
"Judge Roberts and I have successfully handled the caseload ... in an effective and efficient manner," Wynne said.
Wynne noted that the court recently began taking unrepresented guilty pleas at the county jail in order to expedite certain misdemeanor cases and save the county money in inmate transportation costs.
The Hall County DUI court that Wynne presides over was one of only three such courts in the state when it launched as a pilot program in 2003. It has since won national and state recognition, he said.
"We’ve demonstrated great success in reducing the incidents of repeat DUI offenses and addressing serious alcohol-related problems with repeat offenders," Wynne said of the intensive 12-month treatment court.
Wynne said his top priority is keeping state court accessible. The biggest challenge is balancing a caseload that includes a very active criminal docket as well as a number of complex civil cases.
"You have to have a breadth of knowledge both in the civil and criminal area over a lot of different areas of the law," Wynne said.
"It’s a wide range and large volume of cases, and it takes a lot of hard work, long hours and the ability to oversee that, and use good judgement in administering these cases," Wynne said. "I believe I bring a combination of legal experience, judicial knowledge, a hard work ethic and common-sense approach to this court."