2 veterans in Ga. appeals court runoff today

ATLANTA - The two candidates remaining in the six-person race for an open seat on the Court of Appeals already know their way around the Atlanta courthouse.

 

Toni Davis worked there 14 years as a staff attorney for the Supreme Court, and her opponent Chris McFadden has spent so much time there arguing cases before the Court of Appeals that he co-authored a book on its procedures. Now voters must choose between them.

Their colleagues who know their work offered their opinions in a survey for the State Bar of Georgia. Of the 751 who said they knew Davis, 43 percent judged her "well qualified" to sit on the appellate bench, but of the 1,884 who knew McFadden, 60 percent gave him the top grade.

Of course, lawyers won't be the only ones deciding the outcome since any registered voter can participate in the Nov. 30 runoff, even those who didn't vote Nov. 2. Other groups are also weighing in, such as the Georgia Chamber of Commerce that is siding with McFadden and the new group Georgia Women Vote started by Democratic blogger Amy Morton that is supporting Davis.

For her part, Davis says she doesn't vote based on a candidate's sex, race or religion and wouldn't expect voters to. As a judge, she is only interested in bringing her legal logic to her view of cases, not represent some group on the bench.

"I am not looking to bring any feminine qualities to the court," she said.

She was an English major who discovered in her first year of teaching handicapped students that she was more cut out helping people as a lawyer. She likes the solitary research and scholarship involved in weighing legal questions.

"I am truly a nerd," she joked.

Since leaving her job at the Supreme Court, she's been in private practice with a small firm where most cases are for clients wanting to file lawsuits, and most settle before going to trial. Of the three or four each year that go to trial, she handles the appeals.

McFadden worked almost exclusively with appeals for the last 25 years on a variety of cases - civil, criminal and domestic. Since his book was first published in 1996, he has received a lot of calls from other lawyers seeking advice on their appellate cases.

"I have been told by the DeKalb County Courthouse that it is the most stolen book in the law library," he said.

Beyond the book, he has worked with other lawyers to craft both part of the law and a rule that governs appeals.

"I have been working for many, many years to help the Court of Appeals be more effective and work in a more efficient way," he said.

He ran in 2008 and came in fourth. His practice is in Decatur, but he lives in Griffin since his wife is a professor at nearby Gordon College.

Like Davis, McFadden declines to state an opinion on types of cases, vowing instead to keep an open mind and to judge each according to the facts and the law.

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