Republican governor hopeful Deal insists he's done nothing wrong. Barnes' campaign says likewise of the Democratic candidate.
And maybe he hasn't.
But - as Deal already has - Barnes is developing an acute smell-test problem.
Aside from his recent personal and family financial woes, Deal is dogged by questions about his business arrangements with the state.
No matter how the former congressman answers them, people remain wary of the way his public and private business has intertwined.
Now former Gov. Barnes faces similar issues.
His law firm has appeared three dozen times before judges he appointed, winning - or helping win - his clients hundreds of millions of dollars.
Never mind, say his supporters.
Never mind one of the judges gave Barnes' campaign $10,000 less than a month before Barnes named him to the bench.
Never mind that judge has given Barnes' current campaign $2,000.
Never mind that judge and another Barnes judge - also a campaign donor - helped pave the way for a $459 million judgment.
Although the case was a dispute over junk faxes, no one died from paper cuts.
So never mind the judgement looks - at least on the surface - like a poster child for sky-high, trial-lawyer-stampeded verdicts.
Never mind that, even though he didn't try the case, Barnes personally appeared in court several times on the matter.
Never mind another Barnes appointee before which his firm has appeared repeatedly also has donated to his campaign.
Never mind the other multimillion-dollar judgments the firm has won before his judges.
You can't really prove that any of the above gives Barnes a leg up, can you?
And even though he owns the firm and its income is his income, he didn't personally appear in many trials.
Moreover, judges are picked by random - it's not his fault he sometimes ends up with one of the 57 folks he appointed.
And if a couple of his appointees slipped his campaign checks just before they were named to the bench, so what?
Anyway, even though they often run unopposed, his judges have to stand for re-election.
Remember, too: Opposing attorneys can move to recuse a judge they think is biased. And juries, picked in part because they don't know much about the cases they hear, matter, too.
Besides, is it right to tell Barnes he can't make a living as a lawyer just because he appointed so many judges?
About that $459 million junk fax judgment: A closer look suggests it may be firmly grounded in federal law.
But such mitigating circumstances don't makes the problem go away.
Barnes knows appearances count; when he was governor, he put his finances in a blind trust.
But he seems to be making up for lost time.
It's hard to imagine it doesn't look to the guy on the street like Barnes is cashing in on old political connections.
You appoint judges, some of whom contribute to your campaign, and then have cases before them. Level playing field, right?
Like Deal, Barnes seems to resemble the many insiders who've gamed the system and done well by each other.
His judges aren't the only example.
Months into his campaign, he still co-owned a firm that did almost $19 million in engineering business for local governments and the state.
For his part, Deal is desperate to change the subject - most recently his dance along the precipice of bankruptcy.
So he's more than happy to hammer Barnes with the judges and trial lawyer stuff for all it's worth.
Is that fair?
About as fair as Barnes has been to him.