By Natalie Simms
The only local issue on the Floyd County ballot on May 22 is the race for Floyd County Superior Court Judge. Candidates Emily Matson and Kay Ann Wetherington are facing off to replace retiring Judge Tami Colston in the nonpartisan election.
Emily Matson, age 38, is a lifelong native of Floyd County. She currently is an attorney in private practice with her husband, Patrick, in Matson & Matson, P.C., where she has had a general law practice specializing in family law since 2011. She graduated summa cum laude from Berry College with a Government major in 2003 and graduated from Regent University Law School in 2006. She clerked with Home School Legal Defense, the American Center for Law and Justice in Washington, D.C., and for Smith, Shaw & Maddox in Rome. In 2006, she started law practice with the same firm before starting her own practice. Matson and her husband have three children and are active members of Seven Hills Fellowship. Her volunteer experience includes coaching youth basketball and high school mock trial, women’s outreach ministries, TeenPact Leadership Schools, Georgia Life Alliance and thousands of pro bono legal hours for churches, non-profits, and indigent clients.
Kay Ann Wetherington, age 54, currently is an assistant district attorney in the Rome District Attorney’s office where she has worked for the last 20 years on jury trials, bond hearings, arraignments, appeals and other criminal matters. Prior to joining the D.A.’s office, she was a former Associate of Rogers, Magruder, Hoyt, Sumner and Brinson for five years, where she practiced in the areas of insurance defense litigation, real estate, probate, estate planning, family law and criminal defense. She holds a degree in Economics from New York University and graduated from Pace University School of Law in 1992 and was admitted to Georgia Bar in 1993. She currently is an advisory board member of the GNTC Criminal Justice Program and past president of Rome Bar Association. She has served on numerous community boards including the Exchange Club’s Family Resource Center and Open Door Home. She and her son, Marc, 15, reside in Rome.
Question: What specific, single skill makes you the best candidate to be Floyd County’s next superior court judge?
MATSON: “Impartiality. For the past 12 years, I have represented hundreds of mothers, fathers, grandparents, children and small businesses. My clients have been middle class, indigent, wealthy, educated, illiterate, deaf, disabled, victims and defendants, pastors, teachers, and drug-addicts. The list goes on and on. Whether we’ve gotten custody of children, a $30,000 jury verdict or defended a simple traffic ticket, my clients have taught me the power of the law and how a judge’s perspective and attitude can immediately impact the life of an individual. When each citizen walks into the courtroom, she or he must believe they will be treated with respect and without prejudice. The foundation and success of our court system depends on the law being applied justly and without partiality. My experience in representing every person from every walk of life has equipped me with the impartiality we need on our court bench.”
WETHERINGTON: “I am the only candidate in the race who has actually tried criminal jury cases. For 20 years, and on a weekly basis, I have been preparing and trying cases in front of the jurors of our community. Before I came to the District Attorney’s office, I tried civil cases. It is only through the actual trial of jury cases does any lawyer come to understand the rules of evidence. If I am fortunate enough to be elected, I will be ready on day one to make sure cases are moving through our legal system in a fair and efficient manner. My years of actual jury trial experience are irreplaceable preparation for assuming a seat as a trial court judge.”
Question: Most of us think of a judge as presiding over criminal trials. But there are many more duties that come with the position. Which would seem the most challenging to you?
MATSON: “Certainly, the moral issues before the Court like sexual offenses against children and elder abuse are going to be challenging. However, the overall responsibility to know and uphold the law encompasses every issue addressed by the Court. Because a Superior Court Judge deals with such a broad range of issues, I think the most challenging duty is to stay educated on the law and ensure it is properly applied to each case. For example, in 2007, we had an overhaul of the child support laws – and they have been amended at least twice since that time. In 2013, the rules of evidence were drastically changed (signed into law in 2011 but implemented over time). Every legislative session, a new version of the law is printed and it is incumbent on the judge to stay educated so that the constitutional authority and judicial integrity is upheld.”
WETHERINGTON: “Certainly, most of our judges’ time is spent on criminal matters, and I have been involved in every aspect of these criminal matters for over 20 years. The challenge any judge faces is maintaining efficiency in the courtroom and moving cases through the system in an organized and efficient manner. Thus, a judge must be well organized and prepared to deal with every type of case assigned to her in a manner in which all sides believe they have received a fair and impartial administration within our system of laws. The manner in which a judge handles herself must inspire confidence in our judicial system regardless of which side prevails. Citizen respect, belief in the rule of law, and its impartial and fair administration are goals I strive for each and every day.”
Question: A superior court judge today is far different from even a decade ago. There are new techniques for criminal investigations — even for “cold cases” — and the digital age has introduced both new evidence and new headaches. How does a sitting judge keep up with it all?
MATSON: “Like attorneys, judges are provided continuing education opportunities and each new case presents the opportunity for attorneys and witnesses to present new processes and information sources. However, a Superior Court Judge must synthesize all evidence and all legal arguments through the law. The burden is on attorneys and pro se parties to present evidence properly and credibly. Whether a judge or a jury should be able to weigh or consider that evidence should be limited by the judge’s proper application of the rules of evidence and the protections of the United States Constitution and Georgia Constitution. The key for a judge is to take advantage of educational opportunities and information available to him or her and to always remain a student of the law. I love our Constitution and I am committed to keeping the bounds placed on the Court in weighing every case and every piece of evidence.”
WETHERINGTON: “One of the benefits I have received by serving our community as an assistant district attorney is that I must stay current on the laws coming out of our Supreme Court and Court of Appeals. I am disciplined in staying current on the law, which has benefitted the cases I have been fortunate enough to participate in, especially related to the rules of evidence. In addition, in my role as assistant district attorney, I must keep up with current testing methods including DNA analysis, forensic chemical testing of drugs and ballistics. My work with the GBI and other forensic laboratories has affronted me the privilege of staying on the cutting edge of technology. Lastly, over the last 10 years, courts have allowed testimony in certain instances via Skype, and my position affords me the knowledge of knowing the applicable procedural rules and in what instances Skype is a fair and appropriate way to admit testimony.”
Question: This campaign — with more than $110,000 in contributions to date — has dominated an otherwise sleepy May 22 ballot. What has surprised you the most about the campaign so far?
MATSON: “The biggest surprise has been how my community, family and life-long friends, have affirmed my willingness to step out and offer myself to serve. I have tried to practice law honestly and seek to problem-solve and guide my clients through the hardest trials of their lives. Along the way, I have not compromised my ethics or tried to ensure favors from people. If I am honored to win this position as our local Superior Court Judge, I will sit down in that position with a clear conscience and open mind to receive each case as it is presented to me. This is why each person has sacrificed so much to support my campaign and for this investment and support I am truly grateful.”
WETHERINGTON: “There is so much joy in getting out in the community and meeting so many people. Public service is my passion and asking people for their support is a humbling experience. If I am fortunate enough to be elected, I will be taking the hopes and aspirations of our community with me. I have learned so much more about our community by meeting people and listening to their hopes and concerns. We are so fortunate to live in a wonderful, caring community with a diverse group of people, with each of them believing in their own way in the promise of our great country.”