The Union Recorder

April 27, 2014

State court seat hotly contested

Kyle Collins
The Union-Recorder

MILLEDGEVILLE — Early voting for primary and nonpartisan elections begins Monday.

Two men are vying for the Baldwin County State Court seat when the final votes come in at the May 20 primary.

Sixteen-year incumbent Alan Thrower faces a challenge from Carl S. Cansino. This is the first time since Thrower’s election in 1998 that a rival surfaced.

“I think there is a need for change,” Cansino said. “Judge Thrower has had that position for 16 years with pretty much no changes in the way the court is run. I think it is outdated.”

Thrower stands by his record.

“I’ve been getting better each year at what I do just from the experience. It’s a thing you can’t understand until you become a judge,” Thrower said. “Everybody needs to feel, and I think they have that when they come into court they get a fair shot.”

State court judges hear misdemeanors including traffic violations, issue search and arrest warrants, hold preliminary hearings in criminal cases and try civil matters not reserved exclusively for the superior courts.

Georgia currently has 70 state courts with 123 judges. State court judges are elected to four-year terms in countywide nonpartisan elections.

•Cansino preaching a new look

“I’ve waited to build the experience I think is necessary to be a state court judge,” Cansino said. “I’ve had experience both as a prosecutor, criminal defense attorney and I’ve also tried to have a well-established civil practice. That’s all the types of cases that the state court takes.”

Cansino and his family relocated to Baldwin County in 1998 after taking a job with the Baldwin County District Attorney’s Office. As an assistant district attorney, the state court hopeful prosecuted felony cases in Baldwin County and the Ocmulgee Circuit.

By 2004, Cansino formed his own law firm now known as Cansino Petty & Stribling, LLP.

Cansino still serves on the Consumer Advisory Board to the Governor’s Office of Consumer Protections. He was named chairman of the board in 2008 and is presently one of the longest serving board members.

The state court judge challenger also serves as municipal court prosecutor for the City of Milledgeville.

Last year, Cansino was selected as a member of the National Trial Lawyers top 100 lawyers in Georgia.

The challenger says the state court should have more electronic records access.

“Gone are the days where you have to file everything with a piece of paper. We are in the electronic age. We need to utilize that to save time and money,” Cansino said.

If elected, he would travel to similar counties collecting best practices in areas like drug and mental health court, he said.

“There is no secret that we have too many people incarcerated,” Cansino said. “Sometimes it’s for the wrong and sometimes for the right reason. There could be some alternatives for them.”

Cansino enjoys the campaign trail and hopes county residents do their homework before May 20.

“I want you to figure out who the best, qualified candidate is,” the state court challenger said. “I want them to make a decision based on what they feel is best for the county.”

•Thrower confident in body of work

Thrower has resided in Baldwin County since 1956.

After graduating law school, Thrower returned to Milledgeville and served as the first judicial research assistant/staff attorney for the Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit under Chief Judge George L. Jackson.  

Thrower started his law practice that’s still standing in 1979.

From 1988 through 1998, he was occasionally appointed as Probate Court Judge Pro Hac Vice for Mental Health Hearings at Central State Hospital and acted as Milledgeville Municipal Court judge also.

The state court incumbent twice earned the honor of District 5 Chairman of the Council of State Court Judges of Georgia.

Caseloads have increased for the part-time judicial position over the years.

“We’ve had to increase our court days and weeks both civil and criminal to take in as many cases as we have now,” Thrower said.

He said Baldwin state court disposed of almost as many cases as Bibb County, which has two-full time judges.

“We finish our civil and criminal cases. We don’t have a backlog,” the incumbent said.

The state court judge noticed how mental health and drug dependency affect court proceedings and jail population numbers. Thrower works with defendants for the best possible outcome.

The county state court will transfer certain cases to the Baldwin ATCC Mental Health and Substance Abuse Court.

“We’ve tried to change our way of looking at things from a just chopping off the top of the weed to actually getting down to the root of it to reduce or take away the cause of that behavior,” Thrower said.

In the incumbent’s tenure, the Baldwin County Law Enforcement Center courtroom has made “jail cases” easier to handle and cost effective.

Jail court convenes twice each month.

The campaign trail is new to Thrower. He still has his 1998 signs.

“I don’t know what to defend. I stand by my record and think we’ve been doing a good job,” Thrower said. “I know the county and the people in it. I’ve been with them through thick and thin.”