MOULTRIE — Sara Doyle knows she has her work cut out for her — not only to defeat six other candidates for the state Court of Appeals seat, but just to get voters to care about the race.

Doyle, who visited Moultrie Friday in a state-wide campaign tour, affirmed that the court was important to the citizens because it interprets laws that lower courts then apply to other cases they hear.

“It affects everybody in the state, whether they know it or not,” she said.

Many cases heard in the state’s various Superior Courts are not appealed, but of those that are, nearly all go to the Court of Appeals. Doyle said a few, such as murder, jump straight to the state Supreme Court. She said most of the Court of Appeals’ workload is civil suits — workers compensation, tort claims, contract law and real estate suits.

The seat Doyle is seeking is currently held by Judge John Ruffin, who has announced his retirement.

“When I saw that,” Doyle said, “it was like lightning struck.”

She spent the next several days researching the judge’s job, talking with judges and the court’s employees about their jobs and deciding that she really wanted to take Ruffin’s place.

“Very few people from my background ever leave because of the pay cuts,” she acknowledged.

Doyle said she would bring a unique mix of legal and life experience to the job.

A 1994 graduate of Mercer Law School, she originally worked at a small law firm in Atlanta. The firm exposed her to a wide variety of legal cases, she said. While she developed a reputation as an education law specialist, she said, she actually had to work as a “jack of all trades.”

“Being exposed to all areas of the law trained me for this job [the judgeship],” she said.

Doyle said she left the small firm for Holland and Knight, a much larger company, in 2000 and was named a partner in 2003. The result was a lot of cases and a lot of time spent working them, often at the head of a team. She said she’s the only candidate with that experience, “not only having substantive law experience, but knowing how to manage.”

Since becoming a partner, Doyle said, most of her job has been administrative, so the judgeship appeals to her.

“What they do every day is the part I love the best,” she said: research and the practice of law.

Doyle said 12 judges sit on the Court of Appeals. Most appeals are heard by a panel of three of the judges, although in some cases the entire court may hear a case.

A mother of one young child, Doyle pointed out that only one of the sitting judges is a mother, and her children are grown. Of the seven candidates for the post, only Doyle and Tamela Adkins are women.

Also running are Bruce M. Edenfield, Christopher J. McFadden of Decatur, Perry J. McGuire, Michael S. Meyer von Bremen of Albany and Mike Sheffield of Lawrenceville.

At 41, Doyle is the youngest of the candidates.

“To me this is not a retirement opportunity or a feather in my cap,” she said.

The non-partisan seat will be on the ballot Nov. 4.

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