Repeat of 2012 contest

Marion County Judge Thomas “Tommy” Thompson knows most people who walk through the courthouse door will only interact with a county court judge.

So when people leave his courtroom and the courthouse, Thompson wants them to feel they were treated fairly.

“That’s the only thing that really matters to me is that the litigants that come to county court think it’s fair,” he said. “I think I’ve had some success in doing that. I think it’s a different kind of approach that I take.”

Before beginning court proceedings for the day, Thompson said he always explains what will be happening. He also explains that he and the other court employees will treat the defendants with respect and that he hopes they do the same to the clerks, attorneys and bailiff.

When he first became judge, Thompson said, he often got looks of confusion from inmates and defendants at this instruction.

“They’re used to being talked down to like errant children by a very aggressive parent,” he said. “I don’t know that that sets up the right dynamic.”

Now, if one inmate starts acting up, the others will spring into action. They police their own, Thompson said.

Thompson is up for re-election in the Group 3 judge position. Marion County has four county-level judges; three are up for re-election. Chief Assistant Public Defender LeAnn Mackey-Barnes is challenging Thompson for his bench seat. The two ran against each other in 2012, when Thompson was first elected.

He said the race is familiar, but the dynamics have shifted.

In 2012, it was a prosecutor against a public defender, but now it’s more complicated, he said. At the beginning of his term as judge, he put a lot of time into studying. And now that’s experience he has that Mackey-Barnes doesn’t.

“I started this term as judge and I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t really understand how much I did not understand about the law until I actually got the job,” he said. “Because you think you know, but until you actually get into doing it – there’s so many different types of cases that come to county court.”

Thompson took over most of the civil cases for the 2016 calendar year to widen his experience. He said that year was like drinking out of a firehose. He spent weekends studying the nuances of civil law.

After recent docket shifts, Thompson presides over half of county civil cases. He still has criminal cases to dispose of, but he will not receive any new ones.

Mackey-Barnes said she’s been preparing for the past six years. She didn’t want to wait another term to run again.

“I believe justice is not just about the law,” she said. “It’s about the person interpreting the law, and I believe that person has to be fair. I believe that person has to have patience.”

She believes she is more than qualified to be a judge.

She has the temperament and experience in county court. Mackey-Barnes served as the county court supervisor for the Marion County Public Defender’s Office for about 14 years. She helped develop Marion County Veterans Court and Marion County Mental Health Court, two diversionary programs that provide defendants treatment for underlying problems instead of placing them in jail or on probation.

Mackey-Barnes said this time around, she has worked harder to visit various places in Marion County and has more support than she did in the last election. She’s stayed active in the community, too, something that she’s done since childhood.

She said she does not have much experience in county civil cases, but neither have many of the judges that came before her. And she’s a quick learner.

“If it takes longer hours for me to prepare, then I’m going to do that,” she said. “So I don’t think that’s a hindrance at all. I think all of us have to learn something.”

Contact Katie Pohlman at 867-4065, katie.pohlman@starbanner.com or @katie_pohlman.