The Clarion-Ledger - Appointed High Court Justice Wins by Wide Margin to Keep Seat

News Article

By:  Ann Lamar
Date: Nov. 5, 2008
Location: Unknown

The Clarion-Ledger - Appointed High Court Justice Wins by Wide Margin to Keep Seat

Opponent decries third-party advertising he slammed as unfair

Kathleen Baydala

State Justice Ann Hannaford Lamar fended off opposition Tuesday night to retain her District 3, Place 1 seat on the state's high court.

Lamar, 56, was appointed in May 2007 by Gov. Haley Barbour to fill Justice Kay Cobb's seat when Cobb retired. She became the third woman to sit on the bench.

"I hope to continue the way I have done for the last 17 months," Lamar said from her home in Senatobia. "I do not have an agenda. I don't decide whether I'm on this side or that side. I try to make as fair a decision as I can on a case-by-case basis."

The 3rd District is made up of 33 counties in north Mississippi. By press time, 91 percent of the district's voting precincts had reported. Throughout the night, Lamar held a steady lead against her opponent, Gene Barton.

Previous to her time as state Supreme Court justice, Lamar served five years as a judge in the 17th Circuit Court that covers DeSoto, Panola, Tallahatchie, Tate and Yalobusha counties, and, most recently, she presided over the 17th Circuit Drug Court.

Lamar did face some tough criticism from her opponent.

Barton, an Okolona lawyer, accused Lamar of taking financial contributions from special interest groups and political action committees that did not fairly represent themselves. He also said these groups sent out campaign materials that made unfair, libelous claims about him.

"I got compared to individuals in ads who are in jail because they tried to bribe judges," Barton said. "They said I would turn the clock back on tort reform, when I never mentioned tort reform one time."

Lamar responded to Barton's accusations, stating she had no control over third-party ads.

"I did not approve of those ads. I did not ask for their endorsements," she said. "Most of them I have not even seen."

While Barton said he did not make any statements about tort reform, officials with the Mississippi chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business say they were concerned that he and other candidates were siding with trial lawyers and gunning to overturn the current law.

"We just want someone to follow the law and not try to legislate from the bench," said Ron Aldridge, state director of NFIB in Mississippi. The chapter has 3,400 members.

Aldridge said the current law restricting jury awards is important because many small businesses could be sunk by having to pay hefty damages.

Barton, 54, said he decided to run against Lamar to "bring balance" to the court.

"This is not Congress. We don't need the justices getting together and forming a general consensus," he said. "They ought to have independent minds."

Lamar said she felt the court already was balanced.

"Diversity on the court is important," she said. "We don't want a court that looks alike or thinks alike. But I think we all bring different experiences."

Barton is city attorney and a prosecutor for Okolona and a public defender for justice court in Tupelo. He has practiced law 30 years.

Barton described his campaign as grassroots, and he used much of his own money to finance it. Despite his defeat, Barton said he hopes his campaign efforts will spur legislation to block state Supreme Court candidates from taking undisclosed contributions from special interest groups and PACs.

"We don't need big business, big industry, big banks trying to control the selection of our judges," he said.

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