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Alabama Supreme Court Candidate Donna Wesson Smalley talks Justice with APR

Brandon Moseley

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Thursday, the Alabama Political Reporter went to Jasper for an extended interview with Democratic candidate for Associate Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court Place 4.

Donna Wesson Smalley grew up on a cattle farm in Etowah County near Attalla. She is an attorney with four decades of experience with the law. She earned her law degree from the University of Alabama Law School. Smalley is 62 years old.

APR asked: Why are you running for Alabama Supreme Court?

“The real truth is that I feel a real calling for it,” Smalley said. “I have dedicated my whole life to the law, and this is a natural next step.”

APR asked: What are your qualifications to serve on the state Supreme Court?

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“I offer a lot with the breath of my experience. I have 40 years as a practicing attorney. I am a former adjust instructor at the University of Alabama School of Law. I am a former adjunct professor in writing in the English Department. I relocated to Walker County in 2005 after being in Tuscaloosa for 23 years. I have done a lot of different things in the practice of law, which I think is important.”

“That I am a woman brings another experience to the court and Alabama needs more women in leadership positions,” Smalley said.

APR asked if the Judicial Inquiry Commission  and the Court of the Judiciary should be tasked with disciplining judges, or should judges be treated like every other constitutional office and the legislature be the body tasked with impeaching judges (like in the federal system)?

“I think the JIC is much better equipped to handle disciplining judges with an eye of protecting the sanctity of judges and the courts than the legislators. They are not as well equipped by education and experience. There is a balance between popular opinion and a more studied reasoning. That is one of the aspects of our code that has been used as a model used around the world.”

Smalley credited Howell Heflin with modernizing that section and felt that it, “Should be kept.”

APR asked: Does the state of Alabama have an ethics problem?

“Yes, obviously we have an ethics problem when three of our top elected officials have had to be replaced,” Smalley replied. “One definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

“We have pretty good ethics laws, but we need better enforcement of them,” Smalley said. “For the few public officials that do break the public trust – they need to be punished.”

APR asked: The Business Council of Alabama (BCA) has been very active in endorsing and contributing towards judicial races. Is there a conflict of interest there in judicial candidates accepting contributions and donations from business interests that routinely have business before the court system?

“It is hard to avoid the appearance of impropriety when any one group contributes large amounts of money to the judges that settle disputes that often involves companies that are members of that group,” Smalley said. “This is a big problem and we need to figure out how to solve it.”

“We really need for the legislature to come up with a plan to deal with campaign finance laws in a fair and effective matter,” Smalley added.

APR asked: Should judicial races in Alabama be partisan political races?

“Not in my opinion,” Smalley said. “Politics really shouldn’t have any place in the review of elected races at all. I have practiced with judges who have been both Democrats and Republicans in different points in their careers; but they ruled the same way.”

Smalley said that running judicial races without the party affiliations would be very difficult; but there needs to be some campaign finance reform by the legislature. Our current system has no limits on dark money and allows unlimited donations from businesses and individuals. The appearance of impropriety should be avoided in judicial races.”

APR asked: There is a wide range in caseloads from circuit to circuit across the state. Should the legislature reallocate the judges from areas that have experienced population declines to areas that have experienced growth?

Smalley said no, that we should be adding judges to those areas of the state that are growing faster than other areas not taking judges away. “Getting more judges across the state would streamline how fast cases could come to trial. Justice delayed is justice denies.”

APR asked: Do the poor get treated fairly in our court system, or is there two sets of laws? One for people with money to have the best representation and another system for those who can’t afford the same defense.

“No, the poor are not treated fairly in our court system,” Smalley said. “I don’t know of anyone who can seriously argue otherwise. That is a problem we continue to struggle with, and that is not just a criminal court matter but also in the civil courts.”

APR asked: Do poor people get trapped in the court system being assigned penalties and court costs they can not afford and then additional fines and fees for not paying the previous fines?

“Absolutely, yes, people do get trapped in that system and in my opinion it is indefensible,” Smalley said. “Some agencies like the courts are not supposed to be self supporting. They are supposed to be supported by all of us so that everyone regardless of their station in life can seek justice for wrongs created by others. Justice for all is a basic tenant of our society. It is depressing how the poor are treated in our state and our country.”

APR asked: Republicans have dominated Alabama judicial races for well over a decade because there is a perception that Democrats are soft on crime. Are you strong enough to punish criminals and get justice for victims of crime?

“I don’t think that is why Republicans have dominated judicial races,” Smalley said. “That is a false premise. Republicans have dominated judicial races because they have spent more money to influence the voters. Democrats are like Republicans: they don’t want crime in their families or neighborhoods,” Smalley continued. “We need to do some of the things that we know will reduce crime. We need to be spending more money on early childhood education, job training, and mental health. They all dramatically reduce crime. That is where we need to be focusing instead of creating a cottage industry of private prisons. My hope is that everyone including Republicans will join in solving the problems. Republicans have had the House the Senate the executive branch, the courts, and their approach has not worked. People are still concerned about crime.”

APR asked: Alabama recently executed a man in his eighties. Is there something administratively the courts can do to expedite the appeals process so that death penalties can be performed in less than 20 years of sentencing?

“If there were enough judges and a better system for providing competent defense attorneys, that would streamline it some,” Smalley said. “I don’t think we should change the defendants’ protections.”

“Sometimes justice delayed is justice denied,” Smalley said. “We know it is less costly to have life without parole than the death penalty.”

APR asked: Does the state legislature need to find more funding for the Alabama Court System, particularly the circuit clerks offices?

“It is ridiculous,” Smalley said. “They lost manpower consistently. There is a third of the manpower that they had when I started practicing. ”

APR asked: There has been a popular perception, that in the past, some of the Justices on the Alabama Supreme Court have been a little lazy. If you are elected to the state’s highest court, can the public trust you to put in a full week’s work and not get behind on your work?

“Yes, and I pledge to write opinions,” Smalley said. “One of the things that I have heard across the state, particularly from lawyers, is that they don’t receive a reason written response on their filings. They deserve that much from the appellate courts.”

APR asked: There is a perception that whoever wins the GOP nomination for a statewide judicial race will win the office. Is that making it hard for you to fund raise in this race?

“I just don’t believe that paradigm is true anymore,” Smalley said. “The pendulum has begun to swing, and I don’t really need for somebody to give me hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy my vote. I intend to work my campaign at the grass roots level. That will win voters over.”

Smalley said, “I am confident that I am the most qualified candidate in this particular race. I am 62 years old, and I have been practicing law for 40 years. I have a breadth of experience that my opponent lacks. Most of his work has been with lobbying and governmental affairs. Most of my work has been with real people with real problems.”

“I don’t think either party should have every appellate judgeship, and that is what we have now.”

Donna Wesson Smalley (D) is running against James “Jay” Mitchell (R) for state Supreme Court Justice Place 4.

Jefferson County Circuit Judge Robert Vance Jr. (D) is running for Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court against Associate Justice Tom Parker (R).

Smalley and Vance are the only Democrats running for any of the statewide judicial offices.

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Elections

Attorney General Steve Marshall defeats Troy King for GOP nomination

Brandon Moseley

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Republican voters went to the polls and elected Steve Marshall as the Republican nominee for Alabama Attorney General.

Marshall was appointed as District Attorney by then Governor Don Siegelman (D).

Tuesday night Marshall thanked his supporters and his team and said that there would be a new vision for Alabama going forward.

“What reaffirms me is I’m not going to do this alone,” Marshall said. “I’m with amazing warriors that have a passion to help the people of this state. I can tell you tonight they are ready to go to work and I’m ready to let them go, let them at it.”

Marshall said in a statement, “Before almost every athletic event in which I competed, the last words from my father were always “don’t leave anything on the field.” I can say with certainty that, in this campaign, we have left it all on the field. I remain forever grateful for all the volunteers who have devoted countless hours over the course of the last 13 months and the dedicated staff who worked on the campaign. We have given Alabama a clear choice. And, I am steadfast in the belief that God is sovereign and He is good in the result.”

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The race pitted the current Attorney General Steve Marshall versus former Attorney General Troy King.
King was appointed Attorney General by former Governor Bob Riley (R) in 2004. He was elected to his own term in 2006; but was defeated in the 2010 Republican primary by lobbyist Luther Strange.

Steve Marshall was appointed as AG by then Gov. Robert Bentley (R) after appointing Strange to the U.S. Senate. Marshall was the District Attorney of Marshall County for many years. He switched to the Republican Party in 2011.

Troy King campaigned vowing, “We have got to take this state back from the grips of violent crime.” King described himself as the only Republican running in this Republican runoff and he had support from many prominent conservatives, most notably retired Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court Roy Moore who sent out 50,000 letters of endorsement to his most committed supporters across the seat. Trump advisor Roger Stone flew in Monday to endorse King and prominent Trump backer Perry Hooper Jr. also endorsed King.

None of it helped. Republicans voted to stick with Marshall. As of press with 100% of precints reporting: Marshall had 211,562 votes 62 percent. Troy King had just 129,409 votes 38 percent.

Marshall was supported by most of the business groups in Alabama and he was endorsed by 41 of the 42 district attorneys.

Steve Marshall raised $3,233,610 in contributions much of it from out of state plus $20,215 in in-kind contributions, outraising Troy King by over a million. King raised $2,225,663 plus $16,218 in in-kind contributions.

King has accused Marshall of using the Republican Attorney General’s Association (RAGA) to skirt Alabama’s 2010 law banning PAC to PAC transfers. Marshall says that since RAGA is not Alabama based the PAC to PAC transfer ban law does not apply to them. King filed a lawsuit; but the Montgomery judges dismissed the lawsuit saying that he does not have jurisdiction over RAGA as it is out of state.

Marshall defended his campaign in an interview with WSFA TV Montgomery.

“We have followed the rules and done the right thing,” Marshall said. On King’s lawsuit Marshall said, “I think it was a desperate act for a candidate that was losing. Nothing that we have done is inconsistent with Alabama law.”

RAGA contributed over $700,000 to Marshall’s campaign.

“RAGA and those Republican attorney generals are fighting a very important fight in this country,” Marshall said. “I don’t have any regrets in this campaign.”

King conceded that Marshall won the election but did not drop his complaint with the Alabama Ethics Complaint over the RAGA money, which King claims may have come from Mississippi gaming interests and pharmaceutical companies regulated by the AG.

Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA) Chair and Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge congratulated Marshall in a statement:

“What a great night for Steve Marshall and the people of Alabama,” Rutledge said. “Steve is a dedicated conservative who has always stood for the rule of law and defended the Constitution. A fierce advocate for Alabama, Steve is also an incredibly decent man.”

“Steve Marshall is completely committed to serving his state and tomorrow he will wake-up and get right back to work. Steve will continue to combat opioids and violent crime,” Rutledge added. “He will continue to fight for Alabama families. RAGA is proud to stand with Steve Marshall – a big congratulations to my friend and colleague on his victory tonight.”

Marshall suffered the loss of his wife, Bridgette, just last month. When asked how her suicide affected the race Marshall said, “People see me more now as a person than as a political figure and know that we suffer too.”

Marshall will now face Joseph Siegelman (D) in the November 6 general election.

 

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Elections

Will Ainsworth captures GOP nomination for lieutenant governor, toppling Twinkle Cavanaugh

Chip Brownlee

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State Rep. Will Ainsworth, a first-term newcomer to Montgomery and rising voice within the Alabama Republican Party, has captured the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor, outpacing longtime ALGOP official and Public Service Commission President Twinkle Cavanaugh.

The Associated Press called the race for Ainsworth. At the time of publication, Ainsworth had 51.49 percent of the vote to Cavanaugh’s 48.51 percent.

Both candidates advanced to the runoff after neither received 50 percent of the vote in June’s primary.

Ainsworth’s victory comes after a contentious runoff race that included heated political ads and attacks from both camps. Ainsworth painted Cavanaugh as a Montgomery insider, zeroing in on her tenure on the PSC, while Cavanaugh hit Ainsworth on a petty theft conviction from his days in college.

Ainsworth spent the last few days ahead of Tuesday’s primary traveling around the state with a fake tiger and boat, countering Cavanaugh’s claims that he had been arrested for the theft of several tigers used for fundraising in Auburn in 2002 and for a boating incident in 2001.

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With the fake tiger and boat behind him, Ainsworth said Cavanaugh distorted the facts. He downplayed his 2002 felony theft arrest as a college prank gone wrong. He also disputed that he had ever been arrested for driving an unregistered boat.

While Cavanaugh’s campaign said Ainsworth had been arrested and jailed for the boating incident, Ainsworth released a note from Jackson County Sheriff Chuck Phillips that said Ainsworth had never been jailed for his boating violation. Instead, Ainsworth pleaded guilty to the charge and paid about $130 in fines and court costs.

And the felony theft charge — a class B felony — was later dismissed without prosecution after Ainsworth performed community service. He was 20 and in college at Auburn at the time of the arrest.

The battle for the lieutenant governor’s race focused in large part on South Alabama, where Ainsworth picked up numerous endorsements in the Mobile area. State Sen. Rusty Glover, who was also seeking the nomination, picked up a plurality of the vote in Baldwin and Mobile County in June’s runoff.

Ainsworth will face Democratic nominee Will Boyd, who ran unopposed in last month’s Democratic primary.

Ainsworth labeled Cavanaugh as a Montgomery insider throughout the campaign. She spent several years as ALGOP chairwoman after being elected to that position in 2005 and has been PSC president since 2012.

Cavanaugh initially planned to run for governor before Gov. Kay Ivey formally announced her intention to seek a full-term. Cavanaugh switched to the lieutenant governor’s race in August, APR first reported.

Elected in 2014, Ainsworth made a name for himself as a conservative bulwark, sponsoring legislation during the last legislative session that would have allowed teachers to be armed in Alabama public schools. He introduced the legislation after a mass shooting at a Parkland, Florida, high school took the lives of more than a dozen students.

The legislation was met with intense opposition by Democrats and a lukewarm reception from his Republican colleagues and leadership in both chambers.

Ainsworth has branded himself as a Montgomery outsider, promising to clean up ethical lapses among the state’s leadership and fight corruption. He backed Articles of Impeachment against former Gov. Robert Bentley and sponsored legislation that would allow for a public vote to recall state elected officials.

Ainsworth and Boyd will face off in the general election in November.

 

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Elections

Roby beats Bright again

Josh Moon

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It’s like 2010 all over again.

Rep. Martha Roby won the Republican runoff for Alabama’s 2nd Congressional district on Tuesday, knocking off Bobby Bright, a former Congressman and Montgomery mayor. Bright held the seat as a Democrat in 2010 when Roby pulled off a surprising upset.

On Tuesday, she was the incumbent, but the results were the same, if more lopsided.

Watched nationally as a possible referendum on President Trump and his influence in red state elections — Roby had stated publicly that she would not vote for Trump following the release of the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape prior to the 2016 presidential election — that angle was largely moot following an endorsement by Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.

Not to mention, Bright, the longtime Democrat, wasn’t exactly a more conservative option who might attract voters swayed by criticism of Trump.

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Roby won easily, pulling in 68 percent of the vote.

“I’m deeply humbled by the confidence the people of the 2nd district have shown in me,” Roby said following her win, at times holding back tears. “It means so much to me.”

Roby also repeatedly thanked Trump and Mike Pence for their endorsements in recent weeks and said she was looking forward to continuing to work with the White House on several issues.

“The (2016) campaign is over and we’re governing,” Roby said of her criticism of the now-president. “Of course I want (Trump) to be successful. When he’s successful, we’re all successful. I look forward to continuing to work with them. We have a shared conservative agenda with the White House.”

For his part, Bright said during a TV interview with WSFA that the endorsements and special interest money were the deciding factors.

“It’s awfully hard to fight the president and vice president and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and all the other special interests out there,” Bright said. “We did our best. It wasn’t enough.”

Roby will now face Democratic challenger Tabitha Isner in the general election in November.

 

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Alabama Supreme Court Candidate Donna Wesson Smalley talks Justice with APR

by Brandon Moseley Read Time: 8 min
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