Sizing up judicial races

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The 2012 elections are one year away. The presidential contest will be the marquee event. We will not have many state offices up for grabs. Most of our high profile posts are on the ballot in gubernatorial years. Most of the action next year will be for state judicial seats.

Because we are now a one-party state when it comes to statewide positions, all of the action will be in the GOP primary. Our courts have actually been controlled by the Republican Party for close to two decades. Our state appellate judiciary is 100 percent Republican. Our Supreme Court is nine out of nine. Although five of the nine Supreme Court seats are up for election, it is a safe bet that all nine seats will be held by Republicans when the votes are counted and the dust has settled next November. The Democrats may not even field candidates.

The best contest will be for chief justice. We will have an interesting race for the top judicial post between Mobile Circuit Judge Charlie Graddick and former Tuscaloosa Circuit Judge Chuck Malone. Malone is the governor’s best friend. They both served together as deacons at the First Baptist Church of Tuscaloosa. Bentley convinced Malone to leave his judicial post and follow him to Montgomery as chief of staff. Malone held that post until August 1 when Bentley appointed him to be Alabama’s 30th Chief Justice. He was appointed to take the place of Sue Bell Cobb who resigned with more than a year left on her term.

Malone will face a tough challenge in his race against Charlie Graddick. Graddick began his campaign for chief justice more than a year ago. He has been a Mobile circuit judge for more than a decade. He also has a statewide resume that gives him strong name identification and that is probably the only ingredient necessary to win a judicial post in Alabama. Graddick served as attorney general of Alabama for eight years from 1978-1986. He then won the Democratic primary for governor in 1986, which was tantamount to election at that time. However, he had the nomination stolen from him by a small group of Democratic Party insiders. After a group of five party activists met and gave the nomination to Bill Baxley that year, Alabamians were so outraged that they elected an unknown primitive Baptist preacher named Guy Hunt governor.

After that debacle, Graddick went home to Mobile and ran as a Republican for Circuit Judge. Graddick was probably always a Republican. A lot of folks who ran as Democrats in that era were really Republicans.

There seems to be a gentlemen’s agreement among the Republican jurists that they will not run against each other. The other four seats up for grabs appear to be clear sailing for the incumbents. The seat held by retiring Justice Tom Woodall will likely be filled by Court of Civil Appeals Judge Tommy Bryan. Bryan has been a sitting appellate court judge for over a decade. He is well qualified and popular.

Justice Glenn Murdock and Lynn Stuart will have easy races for reelection. They will more than likely be unopposed in the primary and general election, as will Justice Jim Main. This will be Main’s first election test as he was appointed to the Supreme Court.