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Branham, Towell seek Republican nod for probate judge

Posted: June 5, 2014 4:53 p.m.
Updated: June 6, 2014 5:00 a.m.

Debbie Branham (left) and Ned Towell (right).

Q: (For Debbie Branham) Why do you think it is important that someone with a legal background, as you have, needs to be probate judge?

Debbie Branham: The probate judge makes decisions and rulings that affect the lives of the people who are before the court. These decisions are based on the facts, the law both statutory and case law, and the rules of civil procedure. Having a legal background and experience with the probate code, being able to research law and cases, and knowing the rules of civil procedure are imperative in being able to make sound decisions on the matters that come before the judge. I have the experience of working with the probate code on probate matters. I know how to research law, brief cases and apply the rules of civil procedure in a case. That comes with 20 years of experience in a law office assisting a trial lawyer and handling the probate and estate cases for the firm. This experience will be invaluable when presiding over cases with well experienced lawyers. I am ready on day one and I will not require on-the-job training.

Q: (For Ned Towell) Why do you think your experience as a city councilman and business owner are important for being probate judge?

Ned Towell: The first business that my company assumed management of was a small operation with an antiquated business model. The technology was 50 years old and the financials had not been audited for years. I knew this business could be successful and profitable with the right management. It was in this process that I truly learned the importance of leadership in management. When I arrived, it was apparent how dedicated the employees were, not only to their jobs, but to the company as a whole. The only thing lacking was direction, and as a result, the operation as a whole was suffering. A good manager is able to work with their support staff, listening to them and learning from them, while also helping them create an efficient business. I cut costs where possible yet maintained the integrity and quality of the business. Successfully running a business requires one to understand when to rely on time-tested methods and when to implement new ones. These same qualities should be effectively applied to probate court.

As a city councilman, I focused on representing the best interest of the people that elected me. An elected official must be willing to serve the citizens by listening to them and addressing their issues in council. I voted against tax increases and championed the individual liberties of all citizens. As probate judge, I will implement new technology that eliminates wasteful government spending while giving the citizens of Kershaw County the more efficient and effective probate court they deserve.

Q: What do you think is the most important of the Probate Judge’s Office?

Branham: All of the functions of the Probate Judge’s Office are important and no one citizen is more important than the other. Just ask the person entering the office for assistance. Whatever they are needing help with that day is the most important thing to them. Each year, more than 500 estates are opened in the Kershaw County Probate Office and approximately 35 to 45 conservatorships and guardianships are filed each year. Hearings to settle contested issues and formal probate administrations are becoming more customary in the probate court and mental health hearings are needed in Kershaw County. In addition, the issuance of marriage licenses and approving minor settlements are other responsibilities held by the Probate Judge’s Office. The Probate Judge’s Office is a very important part of our judicial system as almost every citizen will need the assistance of the probate court at some point in their lives.

Towell: Protecting those that cannot protect themselves, the young, the old, and the mentally ill. Those citizens incapable of making life decisions on their own. The appointments of guardians and conservators is without a doubt the greatest responsibility of a probate judge.

Q: What would you change, if anything, at the Probate Judge’s Office?

Branham: During my campaign and talking to people in the county, it became evident to me that our citizens have some concerns about the relationship with the mental health community and the Probate Judge’s Office. I will work to turn those concerns into confidence by holding mental health hearings and working to improve the relationship of the Probate Judge’s Office and the mental health community. A long term goal of mine is to one day implement a mental health court like the one offered in the probate court of Richland County. This court will handle cases of defendants who commit criminal misdemeanors because of a mental health illness or because of a chemical dependency. The goal is get the defendants the help they need instead of sending them to jail or charging them a fine. Improving the relationship with the mental health community is the change I will make at the Probate Judge’s Office.

Towell: I will work tirelessly to introduce a mental health court. A mental health court gives our magistrates an alternative to criminalizing the mentally ill. It allows mentally ill persons that have committed a nonviolent first time offense an opportunity to be helped rather than locked up.

Jailing people with mental illness must be a last resort. It is costly and ineffective. A mental health court allows those people the opportunity to make amends for their offences and receive the help needed for them to be successful members of our community.

This is not a get out of jail free card and certainly no free ride. Those committed to the mental health court must devote themselves wholly to the cause and with strict judicial supervision are given the opportunity to improve their own lives. If they are unwilling to help themselves then they are redirected to the prison system.

A mental health court is good for the mentally ill and good for the taxpayers. It costs twice as much to incarcerate a mentally ill inmate as it does for a non-mentally ill inmate. The state and federal government provide the funding, so the next probate judge needs to know how to get it.

Q: What is something most residents wouldn’t know about you?

Branham: I have dealt with the loss of both my parents. My mother passed away unexpectedly due to an aneurism at the young age of 57 and my father led a long and healthy life of 87 years. I have been through the probate process during the two most difficult times in my life facing immense heartache while handling the affairs of my parents’ estates. I have walked in the same shoes as those citizens who come to the Probate Judge’s Office to handle the estates of their loved ones and it is the fuel to my 20 years of passion for probate matters as a paralegal. Even though it has been 19 years since the loss of my mother and five years since my father’s passing, I miss them every day. My daily reminder of them has continued to connect me with my probate clients today and is the root of my compassion for the elderly and those with disabilities.

Towell: On May 30th I became an uncle for the second time. My sister gave birth to Elizabeth Adeline Boyd at 10:18 on Friday. There are few things in life as wonderful as the birth of a child and the growth of a family.



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