District Judge Terri Willingham Thomas, of Cullman, issued an official response, but declined to be interviewed Tuesday, in regards to a recent newspaper article alleging her parents had ties to the Ku Klux Klan.

The article, which ran in The Montgomery Advertiser Sunday, stated the issue was raised by Democratic Party Chairman Joe Turnham, who reportedly asked Thomas "to disclose her campaign contributors so voters can determine whether she has ties to extremist groups."

In her written response, she pointed out The Advertiser endorsed her candidacy in the July 18th Republican runoff. She also invited the voters in Cullman County to make their decision based on her qualifications, experience and record of service.

"The Montgomery Advertiser could have easily confirmed the fact that I have always treated each person in my courtroom fairly without regard to race, religion or economic status," she stated. "In 10 years of service as a juvenile and district court judge, there has never been a complaint lodged against me alleging racial bias."

Before e-mailing her response Tuesday night, Thomas said she could not conduct a full interview in an effort to protect her three children from the allegations, but she may be able to discuss the issue further at a later time.

"I've got three little girls," she said.

According to the article, "government records" indicate Thomas' parents, Joe and Violet Willingham, both participated in the KKK in the late '70s and early '80s.

It also claimed her mother was arrested in 1979 for "transporting guns with an expired permit at a Klan march in Montgomery," and her father won an award from the Council on Conservative Citizens in 1993.

According to Wikipedia, the Southern Poverty Law Center classifies the CCC as a "racist organization," dedicated to fighting integration in public schools and intimidating black voters.

Her brother, attorney for the Cullman County Commission Dan Willingham, was also mentioned in the article for his defense of two KKK members "in 1980 civil lawsuit filed against the Klan."

Thomas herself was quoted in the article, claiming "if her parents were in the Klan, she wasn't made aware of it."

In a statement made to The Advertiser, she said, "I treat everyone fairly and with respect. I'm not by brothers, I'm not my sisters, and I'm not my parents and I'm not my cousins. I'm not my grandparents. I am me, and I am fair. I am not prejudiced at all."

Local party leaders also responded to the article this week.

Keith Kugler, chairman of Cullman County Democratic Party, said he has never seen Thomas make a biased decision and he does not expect her do so in the future.

"I want to show the positive things about my candidates," he said. "We're not out to bash anyone."

Likewise, Bill Floyd, chairman of the Cullman County Republican Party, spoke on behalf of the whole Willingham family, saying, "I have had personal and business dealings with the entire family for the past 29 years.

"They are all people of the utmost integrity."

Floyd said he also had a copy of a letter detailing Thomas' family connections to the clan that had been circulated early on in her run for re-election.

"Smear tactics are only used by weaker candidates, and they don't work on me," he said.

Thomas' opponent, Jim McFerrin, was quoted as calling her family history a "huge issue" in the Sunday article.

"People want to know how far the apple falls from the tree, and I think that's fair enough," he said.

While visiting Cullman on a campaign stop last week, he said he would be very surprised if Thomas lost her home county in the Nov. 7 general election.

Thomas currently serves as the District Judge of Civil Appeals Place 3. She was elected as the juvenile court judge of Cullman County in 1996 and 2002.

According to her Web site, she is also a founder and board member of Traditions Bank, a member of the Children's Policy Council, the Children's First Board and People Against a Littered State.

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