Speaking at midday on the steps of his downtown Augusta law office, James, 60, said that, too often, people don’t understand the purpose of family court and don’t take advantage of its resources.
James, the solicitor of Richmond County Magistrate Court, gave the example of people with mental illnesses who commit violence against themselves and family members. A probate judge can issue an emergency order to have that person temporarily detained and evaluated to avoid those types of situations, he said.
“It burdens my heart when people say, ‘We don’t know where to go,’ or, ‘No one will help us,’ ” he said.
While the misunderstanding about probate court don’t always have violence as a consequence, it can hamper the distribution of wealth among family members, James said. Probate court has jurisdiction over wills and estate issues, but he has encountered people who have never had their deceased parent’s estate properly transferred to their name.
He said he plans to create a bureau of speakers who can address civic clubs and organizations to explain probate court’s functions.
“Only through the knowledge of citizens can (probate court) run efficiently,” he said.
Running against James is attorney Carleton Vaughn, 69, who previously announced his intent to run for probate judge. Vaughn said in an interview Thursday that his greatest strength is that he’s served as acting probate judge whenever the current judge, Isaac Jolles, had to recuse himself or otherwise wasn’t available.
Vaughn said his main area of expertise since starting his law practice in 1971 is wills, trusts and tax issues, all of which come before probate court.
“It’s a highly specialized field,” he said.