State court seat most watched race
Published 6:10 am Wednesday, February 27, 2008
With the start of the New Year, the presidential juggernaut bolted out of the gate with a cavalcade of early contests culminating with Super Tsunami Tuesday on Feb. 5, which included us in Alabama. The race for the White House has clear frontrunners earlier than ever in history. The early primaries have definitely had a winnowing effect. The process has weeded out the wheat from the chaff.
Even though the presidential race will dominate 2008 politics, we do have some state races this year. The highest profile race will be for the one seat open on our state Supreme Court. Justice Harold See is retiring. See saw the court see saw during his tenure. His election was the high profile ice breaker that broke the stronghold that the plaintiff trial lawyers had on the Alabama Supreme Court.
The court was all Democratic and all trial lawyer-oriented. We were indeed the most high profile bastion of large punitive judgments in America. Time magazine rightfully labeled us “Tort Hell.” Alabama's business community, with help from corporate America, came off of their pocketbooks and got serious about changing our legal dilemma. See won with business backing and became the first Republican on the court.
After See it became a snowballing avalanche. Now, a decade later, our Supreme Court is made up of eight Republicans and one Democrat. It was nine out of nine until Sue Bell Cobb took back one of the seats for the Democrats in 2006. Our Civil Court of Appeals is all Republican. Indeed, Alabama's voters have clearly decided that they prefer Republicans on their state courts.
This voting trend appears to be as entrenched as our tendency to vote Republican for president. The practice of Alabamians voting for Republicans for the court has not been lost on the plaintiff trial lawyers. They are discretely backing their candidates in the GOP primary.
The Alabama business community takes these judicial contests seriously today. They do not want to relinquish control. They do not want to go back to the days of tort hell.
It appeared early that Jim Main, the governor's finance director, might be the frontrunner for See's seat. However, the business community quickly stymied that effort. They saw Main as a wolf in sheep's clothing.
Main had been a partner in the plaintiff law firm of Jere Beasley, Alabama's No. 1 plaintiff trial lawyer. Shortly after the Alabama Civil Justice Reform Committee endorsed Main's opponent, Greg Shaw, Main dropped out of the race. The business community's choice of Shaw made him a prohibitive favorite.
Greg Shaw and his wife have a unique place in state history. They both were elected statewide together on the same ballot in 2006. Samantha Shaw was elected state auditor at the same time Greg was to the Court of Appeals. Samantha Shaw is the quietest state official I have ever witnessed. She inaudibly runs the State Auditor's Office without any fanfare or publicity. Unlike other lower state office holders of the past and present, she does not constantly deluge the state with self-serving promotional propaganda.
Steve Flowers is a political columnist who served 16 years in the State Legislature. He may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.