Bar Waits to Push for Appointed Judges

By: The Associated Press
By: The Associated Press

The Alabama State Bar won't use the upcoming legislative session to push a proposal for appointing the state's appellate court judges because the president of the bar says an election year is not a good time.

Bar President Bobby Segall of Montgomery says the idea is this ought to be an issue upon which a consensus can be reached, and in an election year, consensus does not appear to be a possibility.

The lawyers' group recently announced plans for a constitutional amendment that would switch Alabama's three top courts, the Supreme Court, Court of Criminal Appeals and Court of Civil Appeals, from elections to a process called "merit selection."

It involves appointments by the governor after a screening process.
At present, 18 of the state's 19 appellate court seats are held by Republicans. Eleven of those 19 seats will be up for election in 2006, including the one held by the lone Democrat.

Leaders of the Republican Party were ready to attack the Bar Association's plan in the legislative session starting January 10, and even though Republicans are in the minority in the Legislature, they have enough strength in the Alabama House to block a constitutional amendment if they vote together.

Segall says the State Bar will keep working on its proposal and will probably push it in the 2007 legislative session. He says the bar leadership is committed to the idea.

State Republican chairwoman Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh is pleased the State Bar is going to hold off. She says the public wants to elect their judges and doesn't want a back-room group of lawyers picking their judges.

Segall says former Supreme Court Justice Gorman Houston will head a citizens group that the State Bar is putting together to work on the proposal and solicit public support.

Houston, who won election first as a Democrat and then as a Republican, said the time has come for change.

Candidates for the Alabama Supreme Court have led the country in fundraising since 1993, with $41.1 million pouring into their campaigns. Texas is second at $27.5 million, according to Justice at Stake, a Washington-based group that monitors spending in judicial races.
Houston says there is a perception that justice is for sale.

Keith Norman, executive director of the State Bar, said talk about switching from the election to the selection of judges is nothing new. A bar president brought it up in 1952, and others have since then.

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