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Probate candidates defend experience, service
Winner of GOP runoff will face no Democrat in fall
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Hall County Probate Judge

Brook Davidson
Age: 32
Occupation: Probate attorney with Andrew, Merritt, Reilly & Smith LLP
Political experience: None
Education: Women’s College of Brenau University, Bachelor of Arts in international studies/history and political science. Georgia State University College of Law, juris doctorate.
Family: Husband, Tim Davidson, three sons
District history: My family enjoys a long history in Hall County. A native of Hall County, I returned to Hall County to attend Brenau University. I commuted from Clermont to Georgia State while attending law school. For the last five years, my family has lived in the Oakwood area. I am blessed to have the opportunity to raise my family in Hall County. From the amazing people, to the extraordinary recreational opportunities, to the unique opportunities in the public school system, I cannot think of a better place to live and work.

Patty Walters Laine
Age: 37
Occupation: Attorney
Political experience: None
Education: Gainesville High School, 1993; Furman University, Bachelor of Arts in political science, 1997; University of Georgia School of Law, juris doctorate, 2000
Family: Husband, Jesse Laine, two young daughters
District history: I was born and raised in Gainesville and am a lifelong resident of Hall County other than the seven years I spent in college and law school. I have my law practice in Gainesville specializing in real estate, estate planning, and probate work. For many years, we have been members of Redwine United Methodist Church, but I grew up in Gainesville First United Methodist. I have served on the Finance Committee and as a Sunday School teacher at Redwine. I am a Girl Scout leader and actively involved with Hall County Girl Scouts. Additionally, I am in Gainesville Phoenix Woman’s Club.

Among the decisions Hall County voters have left to make Tuesday is to pick a new arbiter for some of their most personal business.

Two women are left in the Republican runoff for Hall County probate judge — Brook Davidson and Patty Walters Laine.

The winner faces no Democratic opposition in November. She will be responsible for processing wills, administering estates, appointing guardianships for minors and incapacitated adults, and issuing firearm and marriage licenses.

The winner will serve a four-year countywide term.

Both women left in the race say they want to improve the court’s customer service. Each says she wants to get rid of the automated answering service so residents seeking the court’s services can talk to employees.

Each also says she plans to streamline the process for obtaining firearm licenses.

Laine received the most votes in the July 31 election, earning 31.2 percent of the votes to Davidson’s 25.9 percent.

Davidson at 32 was the youngest of the four candidates who originally sought the post.

Though she has not been practicing as long, Davidson says she has been involved in more than 200 probate cases in her career. She says the number far exceeds the number of cases Laine has worked on, citing fewer than 20 cases in Hall County Probate Court that Laine served on as lead counsel.

“There’s not a whole lot of lawyers who focused that heavily in probate work,” Davidson said.

Davidson is currently an attorney with Andrew, Merritt, Reilly and Smith in Lawrenceville, where she represents clients in probate courts throughout Northeast Georgia.

Laine has been in private practice locally for the last 10 years, handling estate planning and probate cases. She has deflected criticism from her opponent that she has worked few cases in court.

But Laine said court records don’t give an accurate picture of her experience.

“I have hundreds of clients, but until those people pass away (and someone calls me), it’s not going to be on the record,” Laine said. “There are plenty of ways you can help a person and not appear as lead counsel in a case.”

Since the July 31 primary, the campaign for the judgeship has become a little testier.

In recent weeks, Laine posted a side-by-side comparison with Davidson, saying she had more than 150 hours of volunteer service in 2011 with organizations like the Girl Scouts, Redwine United Methodist Church and Gainesville Ballet. In the chart, Laine alleged that Davidson had no known acts of service.

Davidson took issue with the allegation Tuesday at a forum in South Hall, holding up a copy of the chart, which was also printed in an advertisement in The Times.

In fact, Davidson does pro bono work with the Georgia Legal Services Project; serves on a conflict resolution advisory board for Brenau University; as secretary for her son’s booster club; and works with a women’s jail ministry and a program to give parents with special needs children time alone, her campaign spokesman Mark Pettitt said.

Laine said she felt the information was accurate when she posted it.

“She doesn’t seem to think it’s very factual, but I guess that’s how it would go at this point,” Laine said. “I’ve tried to stick to the facts and be fair in this whole race, and right now, I’m not being characterized as that.”

While the women seem to have similar plans for the office once elected, Laine said some of the ideas were hers first.

But Pettitt said voters don’t care who came up with the plans first.