Court record checks uncover few surprises

Compared with past years, the candidates on the November ballot appear to walk the straight and narrow, for the most part, when it comes to paying bills and obeying the law.

Checks in Richmond County criminal and civil court records of the 12 candidates vying in contested elections found few surprises, unless you count traffic and municipal ordinance violations and a pending lien by Medical College of Georgia Hospital and Clinics against a candidate who was injured in a car wreck and didn't have health insurance.

A 2003 check of commission candidates, by comparison, found 25 judgments entered against Freddie Handy for delinquent taxes and bills and Marion Williams' record of simple battery and criminal trespass charges from 1992 involving his ex-wife. A 2005 check found commission candidate Robert DeMello's dizzying record of criminal charges, liens, bankruptcy and foreclosure.

The most checkered past this time belongs to commission District 1 candidate Matt Aitken, whose rap sheet includes a list of marijuana, cocaine and criminal trespass charges from the late 1980s.

But that's nothing he's hiding. He spent 14 months incarcerated on cocaine and methamphetamine charges. He became a Christian while in the Richmond County jail and has led a clean life ever since.

According to Georgia Department of Corrections records, he was released from Coweta County Prison in April 1990 at age 31. He soon began a prison ministry, and within a few years got a job at Olin Corp., where he still works. He was pardoned by the state in 1990. All of this can be found in his campaign literature.

"I know my heart's changed, and I know what God's done for me," he said in a September interview. "That's why we have a pardon process. That's why we have forgiveness."

Another District 1 candidate with an arrest record is Bill Fennoy, though he was cleared of wrongdoing and the case was dismissed by the State Court solicitor's office.

Mr. Fennoy and civic activist Woody Merry were both charged with misdemeanor simple battery in June 2008 after a probable cause hearing over their infamous run-in the May before at an Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority meeting.

According to an account from solicitor Harold V. Jones II based on witness statements, Mr. Merry confronted Mr. Fennoy in the corridor of the James Brown Arena for not attending a previous meeting, which prevented a quorum and a likely vote to rehire former facilities director Julie Huggins. After a chest bump, Mr. Merry pushed Mr. Fennoy; then Mr. Fennoy pushed Mr. Merry to the floor and kicked him.

"It wasn't until he put his hands on me that I did what I did," Mr. Fennoy said in an interview earlier this month.

As a condition for having his case dead-docketed, Mr. Merry had to write a letter of apology. The charge against Mr. Fennoy was dismissed and has since been expunged.

Another District 1 candidate has a probable cause hearing coming up in Magistrate Court on Nov. 6, three days after the election.

Last month, Elliot Davis filed paperwork to pursue a warrant against James R. "Butch" Palmer, who he said pointed a gun at him, a misdemeanor. Mr. Davis told police that as he drove past Mr. Palmer's Tuttle Street home Sept. 24 with his stereo on, Mr. Palmer pointed a shotgun at him and said, "Turn that music down, boy, before I shoot you."

Mr. Palmer denies pointing the gun or calling the man "boy" and says it was Mr. Davis who launched degrading slurs at him that day. Mr. Davis has a criminal history himself, having served time in state prison on cocaine charges and having been arrested last summer in a raid at an illegal boardinghouse Mr. Palmer has targeted in his neighborhood campaign against crime and drug-dealing.

As for liens, Medical College of Georgia Hospital and Clinics has filed a notice of a pending claim for $20,409 in medical bills against District 1 candidate JoRae Jenkins. The notice filed Sept. 24 in the Richmond County Clerk of Court's office says it's for treatment received from July 6 through Sept. 17.

Ms. Jenkins said she was injured in a car wreck -- a six-car pileup -- on July 6, and she's still undergoing physical therapy.

"That's a little odd," she said of the filing, "considering that I'm still in a lawsuit with State Farm."

Her attorney, Joe Neal, said it's not a lawsuit, but an insurance claim. He said Ms. Jenkins wasn't at fault, but she's self-employed and didn't have health coverage.

Once a settlement is reached with the at-fault driver's insurance company, the lien will be paid off, Mr. Neal said.

"That's what they do," he said of MCG's court filing. "They do that to anybody that's in a wreck who doesn't have health insurance."

Other candidates had records of only traffic infractions.

Correspondent Sylvia Cooper contributed to this article.

Reach Johnny Edwards at (706) 823-3225 or johnny.edwards@augustachronicle.com.