Augusta’s candidates for probate court judge often find themselves explaining the purpose of the court as much as giving their qualifications.
Harry James, a court-appointed guardian in hundreds of probate cases, gives an example of family members who live for years in their deceased parents’ home without transferring the deed to their name.
Carleton Vaughn, who served as a substitute probate judge for 14 years, must explain the difference between conservators and guardians in many of his cases.
Both hope to take their knowledge of probate matters to the bench.
“I want to take some of the mystery out of it,” James said.
James, 61, the Democratic candidate, opened a private practice in 1981, but has put his law degree to a variety of uses since then. He has served as solicitor for Richmond County Magistrate Court for 12 years, prosecuting between 300 and 400 cases a month for the county. His experience also extended to Jefferson County, where he was a municipal judge for eight years in the 1990s.
A good judge, James said, is intimately familiar with the law and knows how to apply it in a case. But a judge must also show compassion and understand the impact a ruling will have on the people standing before him, James said.
“ ‘Fairness and compassion’ is my master slogan,” James said.
Vaughn practices a similar philosophy, though he said his compassion has been learned through community volunteering as much as his time on the bench.
Serving at shelters for abused women and homeless men “raises a basic charity in me,” Vaughn said. “You (better) understand people’s problems.”
Vaughn, 70, used those lessons while serving as the on-call probate judge for now-retired Judge Isaac Jolles over the past 14 years.
He applied them to his 40-year-old law practice, which focuses on the heart of most probate court matters: wills, trusts and estate planning.
Vaughn counts that legal experience and his master of laws degree in taxation as his greatest assets in running for probate judge. As someone already familiar with actuarial tables and accounting issues, “I can see what the decision should be,” Vaughn said.