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Diaz announces run for re-election

Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz Jr., who was acquitted of bribery charges in 2005 after a high-profile federal trial, announced Thursday he is running for re-election to a seat on the state’s highest court.

“The people of south Mississippi, my family and I have weathered very personal storms together over the past few years,” Diaz said in a statement Thursday announcing his candidacy. “My lengthy trials and subsequent acquittals, followed immediately by the horrors of (Hurricane) Katrina, have strengthened not only my personal faith, but my professional resolve to be a fair and honorable jurist.”

Diaz will face Randy “Bubba” Pierce of Leakesville, a chancery judge and former state lawmaker, who has already qualified for the District 2 seat. The state is divided into three Supreme Court districts. District 1 covers central Mississippi counties, District 2 the south and District 3 the north.

Diaz and his former wife, Jennifer, were indicted in 2003 along with two other lower court judges and wealthy attorney Paul Minor, who was accused of bribing the judges.

Oliver Diaz was the only defendant found not guilty of all charges. Jennifer Diaz pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of tax evasion and agreed to cooperate with investigators. She was never called to testify and Justice Diaz was acquitted in August 2005. The jury could not reach a decision on some of the counts against the others.

Minor and the two remaining judges — former Harrison County Chancellor Wes Teel and former Harrison County Circuit Judge John Whitfield — were convicted the next year and are serving federal prison terms.

Oliver Diaz was later indicted and acquitted on federal tax evasion charges.

“I am grateful for, and humbled by, the support many of you have given me over the past few years,” Diaz said. “I am also encouraged by the resilience of our communities to overcome adversity. In this spirit, I seek re-election and ask the people of south Mississippi for your continued support and your vote.”

The deadline for qualifying for the nonpartisan court races is May 9.

Those who have qualified so far:

— District 1, Place 3: Incumbent Chief Justice Jim Smith of Brandon, former district attorney Jim Kitchens of Crystal Springs and former 9th District Chancery Judge Ceola James of Vicksburg.

— District 2, Place 2: Pierce.

— District 3, Place 1: Former Circuit Court Judge Ann Hannaford Lamar of Senatobia, who was appointed by Gov. Haley Barbour in May 2007 to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court.

— District 3, Place 2: Incumbent Justice Chuck Easley of Columbus and state Court of Appeals Judge David Anthony Chandler of Ackerman.