A lawsuit challenging Democrat Shea Roberts’ narrow victory in a local state House election last year will be heard on appeal by the Supreme Court of Georgia. 

Meanwhile, Deborah Silcox, the Republican incumbent who lost — or maybe won, according to the lawsuit backers — says she is undecided on running again in 2022 despite a campaign finance system glitch that made it look like she was.

The biggest expenditure in that campaign report: $15,000 for Silcox to retain a lawyer for the Supreme Court case.

Former state Rep. Deborah Silcox.

A miniature version of Republican Party attempts to question the Nov. 3 presidential vote in Georgia and Fulton County, the lawsuit targets House District 52, which includes parts of Buckhead and Sandy Springs. On Nov. 3, Roberts ousted Silcox by 377 votes. While Roberts went on to represent the district for the entire 2021 legislative session, Silcox never publicly conceded. 

The lawsuit was filed against Fulton County by Warren Schmitz Jr., a resident of Sandy Springs’ High Point neighborhood who is a plaintiff in at least one other Fulton County election system legal challenge. The lawsuit makes various claims of illegally cast votes. A Fulton County Superior Court judge questioned the case on its merits and dismissed it in April on procedural issues.

Ray Smith III, Schmitz’s lawyer, appealed to the Supreme Court, which on June 7 docketed the case for a hearing in October.

Neither Silcox nor Roberts, both of whom are lawyers, were directly involved in the lawsuit as plaintiff or defendant. But Roberts later filed to intervene in the lawsuit to call for its dismissal. And Silcox has not asked for the challenge to be killed. Her recently retained lawyer consulted on the brief filed with the Supreme Court, she said.

Silcox has said that she wants “the truth to come out.” However, in a recent interview, Silcox said she is not enjoying the court process. 

Silcox said “this is not what I signed up for at all. I’ve just been trying to mind my own business and I’ve just got drug into this.” She also downplayed the similarities to Trump’s actions, saying she was not a fan of the former president.

She said that people close to her advised her to get her own lawyer as the case headed to the Supreme Court. She said she spent the $15,000 in campaign money as a retainer to Harry MacDougald of the Dunwoody-based firm Caldwell, Carlson, Elliott & DeLoach, and hopes she won’t need all that help and can get some money back. “I didn’t want to spend that money,” she said.

State Rep. Shea Roberts.

Roberts says Silcox could end the election challenge by conceding. Roberts has been fundraising on criticism of the case as “conspiracy theories” by “Big Lie bullies.” 

“Deborah, being a lawyer herself, should know that hiring an attorney in this final stretch is a waste of her donors’ money,” said Roberts. “The Supreme Court can’t consider new evidence and her Trump buddies produced none in the lower court. She herself admitted she isn’t aware of any evidence that would overturn the outcome. Regardless, she has now confirmed her active participation in trying to overturn the will of our community. And that won’t play well if she decides to run again.”

Which raises the topic of that Silcox campaign report on the Georgia Government Transparency & Campaign Finance Commission’s new online filing portal. A June 23 registration and the June 28 report appeared to list Silcox as a 2022 candidate in the district. Roberts bashed that, too, in fundraising messages on social media saying that Silcox appeared to be running again while “she’s still participating in a baseless lawsuit that aims to silence voters.”

But Silcox said that was not the purpose of the campaign filing. “To be honest with you, I haven’t decided if I am or not,” she said of a possible 2022 run for the seat. 

She said the recent campaign report was just a regular update that all candidates must make to account for money still sitting in the bank. But the brand new state system, she said, forced first-time users to file as a “2022 candidate” despite the funds dating to earlier campaigns. 

Other former candidates had similar problems that also sparked political confusion, including former Gov. Nathan Deal and former Atlanta mayoral candidate Vincent Fort, who both had to issue disclaimers that they are not running again now. The Campaign Finance Commission later issued a press release cautioning that filings do not necessarily indicate someone is actively running for office, and Silcox said an official from the commission called her to formally apologize.

“I was just doing what I was supposed to do as a responsible person,” said Silcox. “Please tell Shea, this was a screw-up on the ethics commission’s part. This is not me trying to poke her.”

Roberts says she will be in the race. “I am looking forward to running for reelection regardless of who joins the race,” she said. “Serving my community is an honor and a privilege.”

John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.