Due to the social distancing guidelines, we have converted our traditional AllOnGeorgia candidate video interviews into short questionnaires. Each candidate in the race was provided an identical questionnaire with the same deadline. (Questionnaires were emailed to the email address listed on the qualifying paperwork) Candidates were told their answers would be blank in the event that they did not respond. Answers were not edited in any way.
The Primary Election was moved to June 9th.
The last day to register to vote in the primary is May 11th.
Early voting begins May 18th.
To sign up to volunteer as a poll worker, click here.
Derrick Eckroat, Teresa Pope, and Gary Woods are vying to win the Republican nomination for a chance to be Chattooga County’s next Probate Judge. All 3 candidates completed the questionnaire.
What made you decide to run for Probate Judge?
From the time I was a young man I have wanted to be a Probate Judge. I have seen how John Payne has conducted himself as a judge, and I have wanted to be as trusted and well respected as he is. I see that our county needs someone they can relate with and I feel that I can be that man. With the world so set on destroying itself, allow me the opportunity to try to put a little bit of it back together.
What makes you qualified to be Probate Judge?
I have experienced and/or have been part of some of the same things that most of our citizens have endured. I have been on the other side of those Probate papers and have seen firsthand the effects of those rulings. I have had to serve those papers where I have had to take a person to a nursing home or mental health facility against their wishes based on what the court has ruled. I have followed Living Wills and DNR’s (Do Not Resuscitate orders) to the letter. I have followed 1013’s and have seen the effects of such documents. I have been a part of family issues and the interactions with DFACS. I have studied Probate Law. I have helped with Wills and Will planning. I have helped settle estates. I have over 26 years of experience interacting with the public as well as 17 years of being on the ambulance, helping people in their most desperate hour. I have been with people when they had taken their last breath and have had to be the calm in the storm. I have been in hostage situations and at gun point, talking to the person, maintaining calmness and compassion, while deescalating the situation. Those things I feel make me qualified to handle the situations that are brought before the Probate court.
What are the duties of the Probate Judge?
The Probate court handles a wide variety of things: Handling wills, estate settlement, conservatorships, guardianships, commitment of mentally ill persons, performing marriages, adoptions, 1013’s, as well as handling elections.
In Georgia counties with populations above 96,000, probate judges are required to have at least seven years of experience practicing law, what will you plan to do if the law changes and all probate judges are required to have a law degree, would you step down and allow an election so someone with a law degree could run or would you continue to serve under being grandfathered in?
You have to evolve with the times. Yes I would continue to serve and be grandfathered in. Many teachers and other professions have grandfathered multiple people, and they have continued to do the job and have done it well. I will serve you as long as I can.
What resources do you plan to utilize to learn and understand the laws since you are not a lawyer?
There are multiple avenues that Probate Judges have to broaden their knowledge. I will attend a post- election school that all candidates who are elected must take, regardless if they are an attorney or not. I will look to the experience of Judge John Payne and to the office staff. I will take advice from other Judges as well as other attorneys that I trust. I will attend other non-mandated schooling if available to strengthen my knowledge. I will study the laws and refresh my memory on the changes of new laws.
The current probate judge has had an open door policy, how do you plan to make yourself accessible to the citizens of Chattooga County?
The Probate office is open to all of our citizens. The open door policy will remain in effect with me. As with my own home, we don’t close doors. We are open with our lives and my office will be the same. The only time the door will be closed is for confidential reasons that are not open to the public. I will remain visible in the public and will try my best to be there for anyone who needs me. I will work with my office, and if a person needs me, I will be contacted and I will return your call or meet with you as soon as I am available. I will be there for you.
Do you plan to remain Election Superintendent or will you seek to put an Election Board in place?
I will remain Election Superintendent. Our county cannot afford extra created jobs. The Probate Judge for a long time has been Elections Superintendent and I don’t see that needs to change. (The Probate Judge does this nationwide, not just our home town.)
Should the probate judge, an elected official, continue to run the elections?
Yes. If you look at every election, The National, State, and local elections you have the Secretary of the State of that state to supervise each election. And the local elections for the most part are the Probate Judge. You have to have a system of checks and balances. Just because you are appointed or elected doesn’t make you better than anyone else. Checks and balances must remain in order to have a successful election.
What ways will you seek to bring transparency and accuracy into the election process?
The election and voting is the single most important thing that citizens of our country have on deciding the outcome and/or direction of our country, state, county, or city. The best way to ensure that elections are accurate is to see that all who have voted are legally allowed to vote. The second is to see that multiple ballots are not submitted from the same source. If absentee ballots are sent out, say 100 go out, 100 come in. Not 101. Ensure that the one handling those paper ballots is a trusted individual and is qualified to handle the task. When the ballots are not in use, they remain under lock and key and guarded. Do not allow anyone other than trusted and sworn persons to handle provisional ballots. Have multiple witnesses any time a ballot is counted or returned.
Do you plan to have a more relaxed Court as has been the policy, or move to a more formal court setting?
Each court setting has its own uniqueness. Not all court matters have to be formal and not all relaxed cases have to be formal. But they all have to have the highest degree of professionalism and the utmost respect regardless of the situation.
Do you plan to get advice from Probate Judges in the area who have served multiple terms?
Yes. Wisdom and knowledge from elders and experienced persons is always a good resource.
Should a probate judge run partisan? Please explain.
Yes. Most people expect elected positions to be partisan, (Democrat, Republican, or socialist.) People want someone who they share their ideas and beliefs with. When you talk to most people they want to know what political party you stand for. There is really no such thing as non-partisan in my opinion. You have to stand for something.
How familiar are you with the technology currently used in the probate office, do you have any plans for updating the office?
Modernization of the Probate office is needed. I will bring new technologies to the Probate office, I will make the filing of things much easier and petitions more easily accessible to everyone.
What would you like to change about the way the probate office operates?
Make customer service my first priority. You should be treated professionally and respectfully from the time you walk in the door to the time you walk out, regardless of the situation. Cross training. If one person is out the office the office should run flawlessly and smoothly. Handle things in a timely manner.
If elected do you plan to keep the current staff?
Each person in the office will be evaluated on his or her abilities and if they are viable to the future workings of the office and our community. I will not go in and clean house. There is a lot of knowledge that needs to be harnessed before making hasty decisions.
Do you plan to have the clerks cross trained, if so how?
As answered in above statement. Cross training. If one person is out the office the office should run flawlessly and smoothly.
If elected, what three steps would you take to keep the county running smoothly in the areas of licenses, estate planning and other paperwork-oriented matters?
1. Return of paper work in a timely manner.
2. Handle all matters with the same level of professionalism and respect regardless of who the person or people are.
3. Do unto others as I would want done unto me.
If elected, how do you envision your partnership with other community entities and stakeholders, for example, DFCS, juvenile court, the division of aging, family connections?
I will work with all agencies. The Probate Judge is an advocate for the people and should have involvement with all partnerships that are involved with the Probate court.
While estate matters are a large portion of the job, probate judges also issue 10-13s, decide competency, mental health, substance abuse, and guardianship issues: how will you make these decisions?
I will listen to both sides regardless of who they are. Weather a person is mentally ill, unresponsive, or seeking to prove themselves as chief good in an estate settlement. They have a voice and need to be heard. In the case of law requested 1013’s: if a law enforcement officer or other professional is in need of a 1013, I will go on their initial decisions to request such documents, but the request must be made and brought to my attention in proper form and for just cause.
If there is a contested will, what will be your steps to resolve the matter?
The first step in any decision is to first have a clear head and be focused on the situation. For every action there is a reaction. Listen to both sides. Be honest and judge fairly. Review all evidence and ensure that all evidence is valid and in legal form. During estate settlements some evidence and wills can be altered. So you have to double check everything to ensure that everyone receives a fair trial and that things are done right.
Why do you feel like you’re the best candidate for the job?
I feel that I am the best candidate for this job because I understand the public. I have been in those ditches and have been in those houses and understand people. I have been there with you. I am someone you can trust. I am honest. I am caring. The experiences I have had with the public set me apart from my competitors, because I have been a part of multiple situations that no amount of schooling can replace. There is more to the Probate Judge than just book or office smarts. I have been more in touch with my community and understand what is needed to get the job done. I am not a YES man. I am a roll up your sleeves and get to work man. I do not answer to any one person or organization. I answer to the citizens of our community. I am not persuaded by money. I have funded my own campaign and have not taken any donations to fund my campaign. What I have I have worked for. I have never begged anyone for anything. I have never asked someone to do something for me that I have not been willing to roll up my sleeves and do myself. I believe in team effort. Believe in me because I believe in you. I am for you, because I am one of you. YOU MATTER TO ME!
We have one account in our family, because my life is an open book. My family is who I am, and why I am who I am. Everything that I am is because of my family.