published Thursday, May 29th, 2014

Catoosa probate judge's widow won't seek job

The widow of former Catoosa County, Ga., Probate Judge Gene Lowery will not seek his position, but it appears that a magistrate will.

Stephen Keith said he plans to run for the seat in a special election, which will take place Nov. 4. Keith is the only person so far to submit a declaration of intent with the Catoosa County Elections office.

A declaration of intent is a document stating that a person will spend money to influence the outcome of an election. It is required for anybody who will make a financial investment in a race, regardless of whether that person is actually a candidate.

Keith also will have to submit qualifying paperwork and pay a fee of about $1,900 with any other candidates the week of June 23-27. The base salaries for magistrate and probate judge are both about $63,200.

The position of probate judge handles traffic tickets, gun permits, wills and marriages. The job became open when Lowery died on April 16 after a battle with skin cancer.

His widow, Sandy Lowery, initially said she would run for her husband's position. On May 1, she told the Times Free Press she and Gene Lowery discussed the issue before he died. She said her husband of 30 years wanted her to run.

But last week, she withdrew her declaration of intent from the Elections office. She said she changed her mind for "personal reasons." She would not elaborate when asked for specific reasons why she no longer wanted the seat.

"That's not in the plans for me," said Lowery, who works as a clerk in the Catoosa County Superior Court.

Keith, a member of the Catoosa County Sheriff's Office for 21 years before becoming a magistrate in 2011, submitted his declaration of intent last week but had eyed the probate position before Sandy Lowery announced she would not run.

"I love law," Keith said. "When I got into magistrate work, I got my new passion."

The rest of the field, however, is murky. Candidates cannot officially sign up to run until June 23.

Fort Oglethorpe attorney Robert Stultz has served as Catoosa County's interim probate judge since Gene Lowery's death, but he said he is not interested in keeping the position beyond November.

According to the Georgia Secretary of State's Office, a probate judge candidate must have lived in the county for two years before the election, must be at least 25 years old, must have a high school diploma (or something equivalent) and must be a registered voter. Candidates also must have no felony convictions on their records.

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or tjett@timesfreepress.com.

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