Mississippi votes sweeping change into high court

Legal News Line Nov. 5, 2008, 12:14pm

Ann Hannaford Lamar

JACKSON, Miss. (Legal Newsline)-Justice Ann Hannaford Lamar defended her seat on the Mississippi Supreme Court by a wide margin on Tuesday.

Her fellow justices up for reelection were not nearly as successful, including Chief Justice Jim Smith, who was soundly defeated.

Lamar won a commanding victory - 62 percent to 38 percent - over challenger Gene Barton.

"I hope to continue the way I have done for the last 17 months," Lamar told news organizations late Tuesday night.

Lamar had been appointed to her post on the state's highest court in 2007, following the retirement of Justice Kay Cobb.

Attorney Jim Kitchens defeated Jim Smith 54 to 36 percent -- a result Kitchens' campaign manager Sam Hall called "the biggest upset of the night."

Kitchens and Smith combined to spend more than $1 million on the campaign, in which the challenger claimed the Chief Justice was part of a majority that is on the side of powerful corporations.

In another upset, Chancery Judge Randy "Bubba" Pierce defeated Justice Oliver Diaz 58 to 42 percent. The two candidates never criticized each other, but third party advertisements ran negative attack ads on both sides.

Finally, challenger David Chandler defeated Justice Chuck Easley 67 to 33 percent to radically reshape the state's highest court.

Lamar, the last justice standing on election night, said her fair approach likely earned her the victory during Tuesday's election.

"I do not have an agenda," she said. "I don't decide whether I'm on this side of that side. I try to make as fair a decision as I can on a case-by-case basis."

During the campaign, Barton, who has no judicial experience, accused Lamar of taking financial contributions from special interest groups and political action committees.

He said these organizations that did not properly represent themselves, send campaign materials that Barton called unfair and libelous.

Barton said the materials claimed he would be an opponent of tort reform.

"I never mentioned tort reform one time," Barton said in published reports.

Lamar said she did not approve of the ads, nor ask for the support of the groups sending them.

Barton said his grassroots campaign bolstered awareness of financial contributions to state justices. He hopes legislation will be passed in the future to block state Supreme Court candidates from taking undisclosed campaign contributions.

"We don't need big business, big industry, big banks trying to control the selection of our justices," Barton said following his defeat.

Newspaper editorials voiced concern over the influence of "millions of dollars from outside interests" dumped in the state's high court races.

Lamar's seat was won of four contested Supreme Court races, nearly half of the nine seats of the court.

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