Augusta lawyer questions judge's eligibility

An Augusta lawyer has filed a complaint with the state director of elections questioning the eligibility of a candidate for Superior Court judge.

Augusta attorney Jack Long claims Ju­ve­nile Court Judge Willie Saunders is ineligible to hold office or run because he has not paid thousands in federal income tax.

“If Mr. Saunders is allowed to qualify, please consider this letter an objection to his eligibility to run for office,” Long says in the May 16 letter to Linda Ford, the state elections director.

Saunders, who filed Chapter 13 bankruptcy in Sep­tember, owed more than $159,000 to the Internal Revenue Service
and entered into a payment plan with the court to satisfy part of that debt, according to federal court documents.

Long says the Georgia Constitution states that anyone who owes taxes is ineligible to run for office without a payment agreement with the taxing authority to repay the full amount.

“His payment plan is not to pay all his back taxes,” Long said. “When he is done, he will pay zero percent on $73,000 in taxes.”

Saunders dismissed the complaint as political maneuvering by a friend of his opponent, Superior Court Judge J. Carlisle Overstreet. He said he is meeting his obligations as outlined in the bankruptcy agreement.

“If you check, you will find that I am in good standing with the bankruptcy court,” Saunders said, declining to comment further.

Long agreed that he is friends with Overstreet but said that had nothing to do with his objections to Saunders’ candidacy.

“If you find any other candidate for any office that owes back taxes, I will file a similar complaint with the appropriate authority,” Long said.

Tim Fleming, the chief of staff for Sec­retary of State Brian Kemp, confirmed that the state had received Long’s letter. He said it will be forwarded with any other challenges filed in the next two weeks to be heard by a judge with the Georgia Office of State Administrative Hearings. The judge’s decision will be returned to Kemp, who has final say on such matters, Fleming said.

Long has already gotten one answer in a recent court motion, which uses a similar set of arguments in an attempt to block a paternity case being transferred to Saunders’ jurisdiction. Long’s motion claimed Saunders’ failure to pay back taxes disqualified him to sit as a Juvenile Court judge and that he shouldn’t be allowed to hear the case.

Superior Court Judge David Roper dismissed the motion May 21, calling it a “frivolous and reprehensible attempt to embarrass a sitting judge who has announced his candidacy for elected office.”

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