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Already making waves

Gov. Sonny Perdue may have appointed a boat rocker to the Georgia Supreme Court. Upon taking his oath as an associate justice, Harold G. Melton, 38, Perdue's former legal aide, broke with tradition on a couple of fronts:

- He wrote a separate dissent in a 5-2 decision to deny a stay of execution for convicted dismemberment murderer Robert Dale Conklin. Freshman justices never write separate opinions in their first week on the job. It is just not done. Conklin was put to death over the objections of both Melton and Chief Justice Leah Sears, considered the high court's most liberal member.

- When veteran Supreme Court Justice George H. Carley offered to show Melton around and brief him on the court's routine, Melton brushed him off, saying he would take care of it himself. He gave the same cold shoulder to longtime court staffers who offered a similar guided tour.

- Through no fault of his own, Melton stands as a signal snub of both Sen. Saxby Chambliss and Sen. Johnny Isakson, both of whom strongly recommended that Perdue appoint former state bar president Jimmy Franklin of Statesboro to the high court. In addition to solid legal credentials, Franklin has been a leader in the Georgia Republican Party. Perdue chose Melton instead. "If Franklin has so much support, let him run for governor," Perdue snapped, apparently irked at the amount of pressure brought to appoint the south Georgia lawyer.

Some mainstream bar members are said to be seething and actively looking for a challenger to Melton in the next election. Trial lawyers are irked at what they see as a big-business appointment. Conservatives are outraged at his first dissent, an attempt to spare the life of a brutal murderer.

WHO OWNS OUR WATER? A federal bankruptcy judge in Savannah has been asked to do what the Georgia Legislature would not do: Declare that Georgia groundwater is a corporate asset that may be sold across state lines. Macon attorney Ward Stone, trustee for bankrupt Durango Paper Co. in Camden County, has said in open court that he hopes to auction off Durango's water rights to the highest bidder to help settle the company's debts.

Durango is the successor company to Gilman Paper, which for years drew huge quantities of water from the aquifer under the Georgia coastline. The depletion caused freshwater wells to dry up and resulted in saltwater intrusion, environmental experts said.

The Georgia Legislature in 2003 declined to pass a measure that would have allowed private entities to peddle their water-use permits, even across state lines. Keep an eye on this coastal water case. It could have statewide ramifications.

NOT AGAIN! Another high-profile sexual misconduct case is said to be brewing at the University of Georgia, this time in the controversy-hounded athletics department.

The latest episode could prove to be even more embarrassing to UGA than the recent forced resignation of acclaimed Grady Communications College dean John Soloski, who was accused of making inappropriate remarks to a former female aide.

SLIPPAGE GOES ON: Two leading House Democrats, Rep. Richard Royal of Camilla and Rep. Mickey Channell of Greensboro, have delivered campaign contributions to the Legislature's Republican leadership. The cash tributes are seen as a sure sign that the declining Democrats are about to lose another pair of lawmakers.

HOW TO RAISE GEORGIA'S SAT SCORE: The Georgia Board of Regents will no longer require SAT scores from students applying for admission to the state's two-year colleges. The new policy originated with the same group that earlier proposed tying HOPE Scholarships to SAT performance.

On average, junior college applicants score markedly lower on the SAT than students applying to four-year institutions. The end of the SAT requirement for would-be junior college students is expected to raise Georgia's historically low average SAT score. Surely, this couldn't be an election-year political ploy. Of course not.

BOTH SIDES CHIP IN: Sen. Casey Cagle, R-Gainesville, Ralph Reed's main opponent for lieutenant governor, has contributed $5,000 to Perdue's re-election campaign. Perdue also picked up $2,000 for his re-election from Greenberg Traurig, the former law firm of Jack Abramoff, pal of Reed and multimillion-dollar manipulator of Indian casino funds.

TAX BREAK: 11th District Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Marietta, has introduced a measure to abolish capital gains taxes on private property taken by the government through eminent domain. The bill was triggered by the U.S. Supreme Court's recent decision to expand the government's ability to seize private property for private development.

DEPENDS ON HOW YOU LOOK AT IT: Senate Republican Leader Eric Johnson of Savannah has collected $61,730 from a fundraising event with a "tort reform thank-you theme." So what's wrong with reaping direct quid pro quo cash benefits from passing specific legislation? Nothing, says Johnson.

Syndicated columnist Bill Shipp writes on Georgia politics. Write him at P.O. Box 440755, Kennesaw, GA 30160, or e-mail bshipp@bellsouth.net . His Web site is www.billshipp.com . His column appears on Wednesday and Sunday.