MOULTRIE -- Appellate court judge candidate Debra Bernes made another round through Moultrie recently, striving to take the lead in a race lengthened by a court challenge.

Bernes, 48, a Marietta attorney, securing nearly 30 percent of the vote in a six-person race in July. She garnered more than 30 percent locally as well.

Bernes was scheduled for a run-off in August against second place finisher Mike Sheffield, 54, a Lawrenceville attorney. Atlanta attorney Howard Mead, 43, finished a close third, but his name was listed incorrectly on nearly 500 absentee ballots in Laurens County. Because those 500 votes were enough to put him in second place had they all been in his favor, the Georgia Supreme Court agreed to a three-way race to be voted on Nov. 2.

If no candidate receives 50 percent of the votes plus one, there could even be another runoff.

"I'd like to win without another runoff," Bernes said. "... That's why I'm here in Moultrie. I want to let people know that I care enough to come."

Bernes said she isn't daunted by Mead's campaign, which has dominated the airwaves of South Georgia with advertisements.

"His experience has been in the political arena. I think my contrast is that I've been a practicing lawyer, and my experience has been in the appellate court and that's the office I'm seeking. I think there's a clear contrast there," she said.

With more than 20 years as an assistant district attorney for the Cobb Judicial Circuit prosecuting felonies and handling appeals in the Georgia Court of Appeals and Georgia Supreme Court and five years of private practice, Bernes said her experience has been endorsed by newspapers in Albany, Savannah, Augusta, Atlanta and Rome. Georgia Association of Educators has endorsed her as well. She's filed more than 400 legal briefs before the Court of Appeals and the Georgia Supreme Court.

In the State Bar of Georgia Judicial Poll, lawyers voted Bernes most qualified out of all six candidates in the July nonpartisan race. Mead and Sheffield, respectively, received the most votes for "not qualified." The poll was sent out to 24,329 bar members, and 4,018 were returned. Of that 4,018, however, at least 65 percent of members said they didn't know enough about the candidates to judge, the poll indicated.

Bernes believes she can be fair and impartial and is concerned about opponent Sheffield's decision to respond to a Christian Coalition of Georgia questionnaire on such issues as abortion, homosexual conduct and prayer in school. Sheffield was the only candidate in this race to respond.

"My main concern is that if you express a personal opinion on an issue, if I ever hear a (related) case, I would be disqualified. That happened with Justice Scalia with the pledge of allegiance," she said. "I promise that I know what the role of an appellate judge is and that is to interpret the law, not create it. I also think if you get onto issues and express personal opinions, you imply a promise that you'll vote that way. To some extent I think that can be misleading -- particularly in an intermediate appellate court, because you're bound by precedent of the Georgia Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court whether you like it or not. And I emphasize whether you like it or not."

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