Friday, October 31, 2008

Associate Justice, Alabama Supreme Court

This race was pretty run-of-the-mill stuff until about a month ago when an infusion of national party money and strategy started driving the campaigns. Now it's an old fashioned mud-slinging contest with both sides accusing the other of being bought by oil interests. From the "evidence" presented I'd say Paseur is less tarred only because she received support from an individual oil lobbyist while Shaw is supported by an oil lobby in toto. Shaw also seems to have much more support from the RNC than Paseur has from the DNC. A lot of people outside Alabama seem to really want him to win. One has to wonder why.

Greg Shaw (R)

Shaw is a sitting criminal appeals court justice but - true to Alabama form - he was not a judge before being elected to the position. Before that he was a staff attorney for the Alabama Supreme Court. In his ads he often leaves the impression that he is an incumbent ON the Supreme Court but he actually serves on an internal affairs court as a presiding judge in ethics cases brought against other judges. Was that at all clear?

His biggest coup was having the RNC use former Senator Fred Thompson's voice in Shaw's television and radio spots. He has heavily courted the support of law enforcement and gun rights activists.

Deborah Bell Paseur (D)

Paseur is an ex-cop who has been a Lauderdale County judge for nearly 28 years. Her service was primarily in civil and family court but she has criminal experience as well. Her ads emphasize the criminal court experience because, well, it looks tougher to show a guy in an orange jumpsuit carted off to jail than to show an estate being split in a divorce. Shaw's ads gleefully highlight the fact that "she's never sentenced a rapist or murderer" but neglect to mention that the Supreme Court hears just as many civil cases as criminal. Or that he's never done it either.

Paseur is actually a proponent of a merit-based method of choosing judges rather than politicking. And I'm all for that, although it's a bit of a mixed message.

Recommendation for Associate Justice, Alabama Supreme Court:
Deborah Bell Paseur (D)


Thursday, October 30, 2008

Justice, Court of Criminal Appeals - Place 1

In terms of judicial experience, this one is fairly one-sided. But other factors bear some consideration and, happily, this is one instance where neither would worry me should they get elected. The candidates have pretty much split the major newspapers between them in endorsements but Clyde Jones has an advantage with law enforcement groups.

Beth Kellum (R)

As seems to be de rigeur in this election, Kellum has no experience as a judge.

She has, however, been a staff attorney for 14 years at the very court she seeks to sit on. She has extensive experience in drafting and reviewing appeals, which is primarily about researching precedent. This would give her an extensive knowledge base when approaching cases.

In a move atypical for potential jurists (who traditionally try to project impartiality), Kellum has openly acknowledged her opposition to abortion. History seems to indicate such cases would typically come through a civil court rather than criminal but you never know.

Clyde Jones (D)

Jones has nearly 30 years experience as both an attorney and judge. He served as a prosecutor and a defense attorney which is a balance I like to see. He's been on the Jefferson County circuit criminal bench for the last six and has never had a case overturned. He sits on innumerable law and judicial boards and is heavily favored by law enforcement groups (and firefighters, too) for his "tough on crime" stance.

Jones is, interestingly, one of the architects of the practice of using non-violent offenders to gather roadside trash.

Recommendation for Justice, Criminal Appeals Place 1:
Clyde Jones (D)


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Justice, Court of Civil Appeals

This one's pretty much a slam-dunk for the incumbent.

Bill Thompson (R)

Thompson is a two-term incumbent at this post. He was elected in 1996 and recently became presiding judge of the Civil Appeals Court last year. He's on multiple Alabama law and judicial committees and was mentored by a former chief justice of the Supreme Court.

He's also had his photograph taken with Ronald Reagan. So that automatically makes him the best person for the job. ;-)

That's all you'll need to know when you read about his opponent.

Kimberly Harbison Drake (D)

Harbison is easily the most unqualified candidate seeking a statewide judgeship. I'm impressed that she is a former nurse who obtained her J.D. while working full-time. But she passed the bar only four - yes, four - years ago. She may be an excellent lawyer but her only experience is that she has written briefs for juvenile, divorce, DHR, workmen’s comp, Social Security and disability cases. She needs to get several more years under her belt before running for any judicial position.

Recommendation for Justice, Civil Appeals:
Bill Thompson (R)


Monday, October 27, 2008

Justice, Court of Criminal Appeals - Place 2

Let me get this off my chest first: I don't think we should elect judges at the statewide level. The candidates have often never even been judges and it's scary that most of our judges have been elected primarily by people who couldn't name the candidates before they entered the voting booth. District judges should be executive appointees just like at the federal level and should be promoted to appellate and supreme court positions based on merit.

But it is what it is.

On the face of it, this race seems pretty much a wash. Both candidates have been practicing law for virtually the same length of time and actually attended Faulkner University's Jones School of Law in Montgomery at the same time. Neither is a judge, which is rather disheartening. On closer inspection, however, there are distinct differences.

Mary Windom (R)

If Windom's last name sounds familiar it's because her husband, Steve, is a former Lt. Governor. Windom was primarily a community volunteer and a chamber of commerce leader until she embarked on a mid-life career change to attorney. On graduating she was immediately given a staff attorney post at the Attorney General's office and has been there ever since, rising to a deputy position. While it may not have had a thing to do with her husband, it's been difficult for her to shake the perception that her connection to him had everything to do with her hiring.

Windom has not articulated very much about her goals for criminal appeals court. She uses boilerplate phrases such as "conservative values" and "not legislating from the bench." She says she intends to be conservative, fair, and decisive and to "work diligently for the victims of crime." Because this is Alabama, she never mentions the rights of the accused.

Aimee Cobb Smith (D)

Although she's a bit younger than Windom, Smith actually began practicing law a year earlier than her opponent. Smith also has a much more varied experience, serving as both a public prosecutor and a defense attorney over the years. I think this gives her an advantage in understanding the tricks of the trade on both sides of a criminal case. Smith has run her own practice as well. And, with the paucity of judicial experience, Smith has an edge in that she's actually served as an interim judge in local court.

Smith says she wants to increase the efficiency of the appellate system and turn cases around more quickly. It can take up to a year for non-capital cases to reach the appeals bench. She claims this is fair neither to victims seeking closure nor to potentially innocent convicts seeking an overturned verdict.

I think the last point is an important distinction from Windom's mission. Victims must have justice but the accused must have it, too. Not everyone who is accused (or convicted) is guilty. Whether some would like to believe it or not, because of underhanded prosecutors, inept defenders, and the abuses of hanging judges, the Bill of Rights was written with the accused in mind. We should never forget that in our pursuit of justice.

Recommendation for Criminal Appeals Place 2:
Aimee Cobb Smith (D)