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Cobb wants to change judicial elections

By Staff
Bob Ingram, Capitol Scene
MONTGOMERY — I am not sure many Alabamians lie awake at night worrying about it, but the election of state court judges in this state has become a national disgrace.
The battle for control of the courts between the trial lawyers (on one hand) and big business (on the other) is now completely out of control. If not, how can you explain that more money has been spent in judicial races in this state in the past decade than any state in the union? It is indeed disgraceful.
Now comes Chief Justice-elect Sue Bell Cobb with an idea which might well restore some sanity to judicial elections.
It is not the plan backed by the Alabama State Bar, because her idea would in effect do away with the election of judges. But Cobb's plan would be a giant step forward.
First, she proposes that judicial elections be non-partisan — that the candidates not run as Democrat or Republican. That in itself is but a modest step in the right direction. You know full-well that the voters would know which candidate was backed by the trial lawyers, which was backed by big business, whether than ran as a Democrat or Republican, etc.
But Step Two in Judge Cobb's plan has merit. Once a judge has been elected in a non-partisan election, when his or her term expired they would run in what is called a “retention” election; that is, the voters would simply decide whether the judge merited another term or should they be removed from office.
If the voters said the judge deserved another term then there no other election; if the voters said they should not be retained, than the non-partisan election process would kick in again.
As I said, this is not the perfect solution to the problem, but it is a step in the right direction.
We had an example of what I speak a few days ago. The Montgomery Advertiser and the Mobile Press-Register both had editorials suggesting that because she had made such a mess of her office, Secretary of State Nancy Worley should resign rather than waiting for her term to expire in January. (Worley was defeated for reelection on Nov. 7 by Beth Chapman.)
The writers of those editorials had to know that under no circumstances would Worley resign. She was elected in 2002 to a four-year term, it expires in January, and she has every right to remain in office until then.
But once the editorials were written the story grew legs. The first day the editorials made the news pages of most Alabama newspapers; the next day there was a story in which Worley said she had no intention of resigning. The day after that came yet another story in which Chapman insisted she had not asked Worley to vacate the office early.
Three days of headlines on a “non-story.”
Scrushy was actually paid $52 million in bonuses — all of which the company wanted to recover — but he insisted the company owed him $21 million in legal expenses he incurred during his various trials.
The company agreed to credit him for those expenses, reducing the total to the $31 million.
While this would be a hard hit to most of us, it should be remembered that Scrushy's net worth was set at $287 million by government prosecutors in his trial in Birmingham.
Not surprisingly, former Chief Justice Roy Moore was the leading vote getter among the write-ins. In fact, that may be his political future — some of his intensely loyal followers will never give up on him.
Some of the others who got write in votes were not too surprising. Former Gov. Don Siegelman, Charles Barkley, the former Auburn and NBA basketball star, former President Bill Clinton, former Gov. Guy Hunt and at least two men who are now deceased received votes. (They were former Gov. George C. Wallace and Ralph “Shorty” Price, a run-forever gubernatorial candidate of the distant past).
And while it is small consolation considering what has happened to him in recent days, fired Alabama football Coach Mike Shula also got a vote or two.

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