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)



Mike said...

Neither one seems very qualified to me. Any idea what their positions are on Roe v. Wade?

Sharp said...

As usual, judicial candidates (who aren't Roy Moore) are pretty tight-lipped about it. Most Alabamians are pro-life, even the Democrats, but I couldn't tell you for sure about these two.

As I said, I think Smith at least has more varied experience and has actually been behind a bench, if only temporarily.

If you think these two are unqualified, wait till you see some of the other judicial candidates.

Mike said...

I personally know more than a dozen attorneys and judges who are eminently more qualified.

Mike said...

Smith seems more qualified, as I look into it further. I am concerned deeply that neither has much experience and that there are so many unknowns.