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Supreme Court race crowded

No nominees from Hall; three from Dahlonega

POSTED: June 13, 2009 12:00 a.m.

There is no shortage of people vying to succeed Georgia Supreme Court Justice Leah Ward Sears on the state’s highest court.

But while there are 47 lawyers from across the state whose names have been submitted to the state Judicial Nominating Commission, none are from Hall County.

Lumpkin County, on the other hand, has three people nominated for the post, which will be appointed by Gov. Sonny Perdue after the commission has forwarded him a short list of no more than five names following applicant interviews June 29 and June 30.

Bruce Edenfield, Steven Leibel and Superior Court Judge Lynn Akeley-Alderman all are based in Dahlonega, though Edenfield and Leibel primarily practiced in Atlanta until recent years.

Dahlonega attorney Raymond George, who is not a nominee, said it’s not surprising that Lumpkin County has three lawyers with their names in for the post.

"We are very proud of our high degree of professionalism up here," said George, who has practiced law in Dahlonega since the early 1990s. George said Lumpkin County, population 27,000, has no more lawyers than any other similarly-sized county. "We just have high standards," he said.

Leibel is a civil attorney who specializes in personal injury and wrongful death cases. He is perhaps best known for representing the family of slain DeKalb County Sheriff-elect Derwin Brown in a civil suit that resulted in the largest jury award in Georgia history.

"It’s a great honor to be nominated for consideration," Leibel said. "The work that the Supreme Court does is very important, and it is an honor for anyone to be a candidate for such a position."

Edenfield, the son of the late U.S. District Court Judge Newell Edenfield, is a trial and appellate lawyer who has practiced law for 35 years, primarily in Atlanta. He bought a home in Dahlonega two years ago and moved his practice there in January.

Edenfield knows the political vagaries of seeking an elected judicial post. Last year he ran unsuccessfully in a seven-candidate race for the Georgia Court of Appeals. Edenfield said establishing name recognition in a down-ballot statewide race in which many voters were unfamiliar was nearly impossible.

What the governor considers the ideal candidate for a Supreme Court justice may be equally unpredictable.

"You don’t know exactly what he’s looking for or if he’s got anyone in particular in mind," Edenfield said. "We’ll just have to see."

Akeley-Alderman has served as a superior court judge for the Enotah Judicial Circuit since January 2007. Previously she was a juvenile court judge and assistant district attorney. She has practiced law in Dahlonega since 1997.

Akeley-Alderman said she was "very pleased" that three Lumpkin County names were among the nominees, "and I think Lumpkin County and the Enotah Judicial Circuit should be pleased, too. Whenever North Georgia gets representation in any capacity I’m pleased."

Whether a Northeast Georgian will be the next state Supreme Court justice remains to be seen.

"There are 47 candidates, and they’re all very capable lawyers and judges, and so I think it’s very much a toss-up as to who gets on the proverbial short list," Akeley-Alderman said. "But we should be happy that so many capable and qualified people are on that list."

Said George: "There’s no way you even pick front-runners right now. Once the short list comes down, you may have a better idea. But it all comes down to a political decision."



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