Originally created 07/22/98

Richmond Co. probate judge runoff in August



Augusta lawyers Isaac "Buddy" Jolles and Ben Swain McElmurray Jr. are headed for yet another election -- this time a runoff Aug. 11 for the Richmond County Probate Court judgeship.

Final but unofficial results Tuesday night showed that Mr. Jolles garnered 6,895 votes, or nearly 41 percent of the total. Mr. McElmurray trailed with 5,216 votes, which is 31 percent and enough for him to face his former law partner in the runoff election. The third candidate, attorney James T. Plunkett, followed with 4,839 votes, about 28 percent.

Because no candidate was able to get more than 50 percent plus one additional vote among Richmond County voters, the top two vote-getters must square off in a runoff election next month.

Tuesday night, Mr. Jolles was pleased with the outcome.

"I feel great about what happened today. Hopefully, I can enlarge the number of people who have been supporting me to include the people who supported Mr. Plunkett," he said.

Mr. McElmurray was feeling pleased but tired late Tuesday night.

"I don't really know," he said of plans for the runoff election. "I'm physically and mentally exhausted, and I think my opponent is too. We will evaluate the situation, but as far as what I said to the citizens of Richmond County, that will not change."

The judgeship became an open contest this year when longtime Probate Judge Iree Pope retired for health reasons after 41 years on the bench. The probate judge presides over a mostly record-keeping court, although the judge also must probate wills and determine guardianships and mental commitments.

As of Jan. 1, when the winner of the election takes office, the job will pay $65,468 and on Jan. 1, 2000, the pay increases to $75,000 annually.

The three candidates spent a lot of money in the election just in the past two months. According to their most recent financial disclosures this month, Mr. Jolles raised $26,240, Mr. McElmurray raised $34,449, and Mr. Plunkett raised $19,426. All three spent most of their budgets.

The three candidates campaigned aggressively but cordially during the past weeks, speaking of their own qualifications and experience.

Mr. Jolles, 66, has practiced law the longest, since 1957, after a tour of duty with the Army. He worked for 10 years as a judge for the city's Recorder's Court and he taught legal classes at Augusta State University. He also served as secretary, president-elect and president of the Augusta Bar Association.

Mr. McElmurray, 61, has practiced law since 1959, leaving the field only during an active tour of duty with the Army. During his legal career, Mr. McElmurray served as an attorney for the city of Blythe.