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Wednesday, October 27, 2010 - 10:03am

State Supreme Court Race Heats Up

Updated: 4 years ago.
One of three candidates will earn a seat on the Georgia Supreme Court in this year's election. (photo Brian Turner)

Georgians going to the polls next week will decide who should take a seat on the state Supreme Court.

The incumbent is facing an aggressive challenger.

Governor Sonny Perdue appointed federal prosecutor David Nahmias to the state's highest court last year.

Nahmias took the place of a justice once considered on Barack Obama's high court short list, Leah Ward Sears.

Court watchers say, Nahmias is reliably conservative.

Nahmias models himself after arch-conservative U-S Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

The shift in judicial outlook now goes before voters as two lawyers vie to unseat Nahmias.

The first, Matt Wilson, describes himself as a moderate conservative.

"There's a great deal that (U.S. Supreme Court Justice William) Rehnquist did that I agree with and I admire many of his decisions," Wilson says. "And Sandra Day O'Connor. I particularly agree with her attempt to be polite and to try to develop consensus on a case.

Wilson has made Nahmias' record a big part of his campaign.

Wilson says Nahmias has "rolled back" justice in cases involving the right to a jury trial and business liability.

But his challenges are harshest about ethics.

Wilson calls Nahmias, who has served in politically-appointed jobs, a "consummate insider" with "political debts to pay."

"I think it's insider versus outsider," Wilson says. "A conflict of interest and political insider versus clean government."

Wilson cites a recent case when former state Attorney General Mike Bowers argued at the high court on behalf of public schools against charter schools.

Bowers co-chairs and donated money to Nahmias' re-election and chaired the committee that recommended Nahmias for his seat on the court.

Nahmias didn't recuse himself or disclose his ties to Bowers.

Matt Wilson says, that's just one example of conflict.

"That's how this elite clique of Atlanta high-paid law firms and Justice Nahmias view the way in which they should conduct business," Wilson says. "I think that's abhorrent."

Nahmias denies he has a conflict of interest in the charter school case and on the court in general.

"I'll put my reputation for integrity up against my opponent's any day of the week," Nahmias says. "With respect to Mike Bowers, he has donated to my campaign. I didn't know the amount until it was reported in the newspaper after my opponent ginned up some stories because I don't look at the amounts of money that any of my contributors contribute."

In response to individual cases, Nahmias says, Wilson didn't hear the testimony and shouldn't judge.

For Nahmias, his campaign is about experience.

He prosecuted high-profile cases in federal court, served in the US Justice Department and has been on the court for a year.

He also touts an experience rating by the Georgia Bar Association.

"In the state bar poll, 95% of the respondents who knew me and knew my record said that I was well-qualified or qualified to serve as a justice," Nahmias says."

Nahmias' two opponents both scored less than 70%.

Nahmias also claims the support of Leah Ward Sears.

He says, that proves, even though he's a conservative, people know that he's fair.

"Judges should do everything in their power to keep their own personal preferences out of it and also to make sure that when the law produces results that may be unpopular that judges have the integrity to actually follow the law and not twist the law to reach some particular end," Nahmias says.

Tamela Adkins also is challenging Nahmias, but she's something of a mystery.

She's not campaigning and recently changed her name to Tammy Lynn Adkins.

GPB made several attempts to speak to her, but she did not return phone calls.

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