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Friday, October 31, 2008

Bottoms takes low road against Bedford

I've been surprised by the unprecedented level of interest in the Fulton County Superior Court race between incumbent Judge T. Jackson Bedford and his challenger, Atlanta Magistrate Court Judge Keisha Lance Bottoms. Normally, judicial races attract little attention from the public and the news media, but this one is different, probably because some of T-Jack's actions – such as chaining Fulton DA Paul Howard to a radiator – have brought him a measure of notoriety.

We sort of wussed out in our Voter Guide description of the race by not taking a definite stand:

We aren’t convinced Bottoms has the necessary legal background to replace Bedford, but we’re concerned about his temperament.

But now I have to say I'm concerned about the tone Bottoms' campaign has taken. Her latest flier reads like a political hit piece on Bedford and contains some dubious claims. First off, she claims T-Jack is "under investigation for ethics violations," and she cites your friends here at CL. Unfortunately, this statement isn't true and we didn't say it. What my colleague Thomas reported was that an ethics complaint had been filed against Bedford by political instigator George Anderson, whose track record with ethics filings is long and shaky. There's a big difference between a complaint and an investigation, and an attorney like Bottoms should know it. What her flier says is patently false.

Another spurious, CL-related claim on the flier is that Bedford "allows underage strippers," citing an article I wrote in July. This statement is misleading. Last fall, the Atlanta City Council passed an ordinance aimed at stopping women under the age of 21 from working in strip clubs. But the way the measure was written, it bars anyone under 21 from entering a nightclub for any reason – including bar workers, janitors and even members of bands booked to play there.

The city was sued by several young dancers at the Cheetah who were in danger of losing their livelihood. Bedford issued an order enjoining the city from denying licenses to women who were already employed at strip clubs until the lawsuit could be heard in court.

It's misleading for Bottoms to use the term "underage strippers" because, under state and local law, the minimum age to work as a stripper is 18. The Atlanta ordinance took the roundabout approach of banning anyone under 21 from entering a bar or nightclub. Again, it's a narrow distinction, but it's a judge's job to parse the law. For Bottoms to attack Bedford for enjoining a poorly written ordinance without providing the relevant context is irresponsible.

Finally, on both sides of the Bottoms flier is a fuzzy, black-and-white photo of T-Jack. I've never seen a judge run a photo of his or her opponent in campaign material and I suspect the reason here is simply to remind African American voters that Bedford is a middle-aged white guy.

State legislative candidate pull these smear and fear tactics all the time; it's not commendable, but very common. We expect better of our local judges, however – especially those who serve on the Superior Court bench. When I look at this flier, I'm reminded of those sleazy law firm ads on the tops of taxis with the ambulance-chaser asking, "Have you been in an accident?"

If Bedford sometimes allows his temper and ego to overcome his discretion, he deserves an Election Day challenge. But this flier causes me to doubt whether Bottoms, whose judicial resume is already paper-thin, has the integrity and judgment to handle this important job.

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