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November 5, 2008

MS--Judicial Elections

By JACK ELLIOTT JR.

Associated Press Writer

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The Mississippi Supreme Court will lose one of its independent voices when Oliver Diaz Jr. makes his exit in January, says a law professor.

Diaz was one of three justices — Chief Justice Jim Smith and Justice Chuck Easley — losing re-election bids Tuesday.

However, Matt Steffey, a professor at the Mississippi College School of Law, said Wednesday that the judge who defeated Diaz will bring to the high court valuable chancery court experience that "is a big part of the judicial experience for many Mississippians."

Chancery Judge Randy "Bubba" Pierce defeated Diaz with 58 percent of the vote according to complete but unofficial returns.

Diaz, 48, was acquitted in two federal trials — one on bribery charges in 2005 and another in a tax-evasion case in 2006. A former Court of Appeals judge, Diaz was appointed to the Supreme Court in 2000. He won election in November 2000 in a bitter, expensive campaign in which he was targeted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

In the closing weeks of the campaign, Diaz was stung by third-party ads that attacked his record on the court. The ads were condemned as misleading by a watchdog group.

Pierce, 43, is a former lawmaker who was appointed to the chancery court in 2005. He said his chancery court work immersed him in the needs of families in crisis and the impact on children. He said that perspective is missing on the Supreme Court.

Steffey said Diaz must have felt "like a game animal for the past few years ... being stalked and relentlessly hunted by a better armed opponent," said Steffey, referring to Diaz' trials over the past eight years.

"He was the subject of baseless criminal charges and beat them. He was the target of the first million dollar election in 2000 and beat it. I think he just ran out of lives," Steffey said.

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