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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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Kay Ivey attends HudsonAlpha’s grand opening of Paul Propst Center

Brandon Moseley

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via Kay Ivey for Governor campaign

Wednesday, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey (R) was in Huntsville for the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology’s ribbon cutting ceremony for their newest expansion.

The Paul Propst Center is a 105,000 square foot building and is named to honor the memory of the father of Huntsville businessman and philanthropist William “Bill” Self Propst. Propst’s father, Paul, was a North Alabama minister.

“Technology is rapidly advancing in today’s world, and this facility will give scientists, educators, and entrepreneurs an opportunity to not only keep up but lead the way in biotechnology.” Governor Ivey said, “Following the ribbon cutting, I had a chance to tour HudsonAlpha’s new center and see firsthand the great work going on here. I fully anticipate and look forward to what revolutionary breakthroughs are next.”

“The research, education and economic development efforts happening at HudsonAlpha are revolutionizing the way that Alabamians live and the way the world lives, which is why I am so proud to join them in expanding those efforts through the addition of the Paul Propst Center,” Gov. Ivey said. “Thanks to HudsonAlpha, Alabama will be the state to make good on the promise of having 21st-century healthcare and agriculture.”

In addition to Gov. Ivey the event was attended by Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, Alabama Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia), Alabama State Senator Arthur Orr (R-Decatur), U.S. Representative Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville), and Huntsville area economic developer Nicole Jones.

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“HudsonAlpha is a leader in biotechnology and genomic research. Once again, they are on the cutting edge with the opening of the Paul Propst Center,” Rep. Brooks said. “The Paul Propst center is truly a state of the art building and will strengthen a workforce that continues the advancement of the biosciences economy in North Alabama. I was proud to participate in their ribbon cutting today.”

“This campus is a shining star for the state of Alabama, for this community, and the world stage,” Speaker McCutcheon told WHNT Channel 19.

“Bioscience, one of the State of Alabama’s targeted industries, brings in an estimated annual economic impact of $7.3 billion,” Nicole Jones told the Alabama Political Reporter. “The vision of HudsonAlpha Founders Jim Hudson and Lonnie McMillan contributes significantly to that number, and more importantly, enhances the quality of life of mankind.”

“At HudsonAlpha, members of the public and private sector partner to make innovations in biotechnology happen.” Nicole Jones added, “HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, literally and metaphorically, is built upon principles of collaboration. It has been an incredible opportunity to witness the institute’s growth over the past decade. Huntsville, Alabama is changing the world with the brilliant minds at HudsonAlpha.”

The Paul Propst Center is made possible by the state of Alabama and community support, including the generosity of Mr. Propst.

“Throughout my career, I have been focused on improving people’s health. My family and I continue to work towards these goals,” said Propst. “I see those working at HudsonAlpha with the same commitment to making life better. We are honored to be able to support HudsonAlpha as they continue to grow and make advancements.”

“HudsonAlpha is really helping us develop an industry that will drive not only the future of Huntsville but the future of healthcare as we know it. Cures for diseases will come out of HudsonAlpha that will impact the lives of our children and children’s children for decades to come,” said Mayor Tommy Battle.

“HudsonAlpha has accomplished so much in the only ten years, all of which would not have been possible without the support our community,” said HudsonAlpha co-founder Jim Hudson. “Cutting the ribbon today on the Paul Propst Center was a special moment not only for me, but all of us at HudsonAlpha and in Huntsville.”

The Propst Center has a similar look and feel to the flagship building at 601 Genome Way, the Propst Center will house components of HudsonAlpha’s education and research programs, and growing biotech companies. The details in design, glass walls, common sidewalks, a grand staircase, are intended to create a “team science” environment and contribute to the culture of collaboration.

“The vision of the institute’s founders is to see discoveries and advancements quickly occur with research and business working together,” said HudsonAlpha Vice President for Economic Development Carter Wells. “Today, we celebrate not just the continuation but a strengthening of the culture of collaboration and innovation created 10 years ago.”

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Jay Mitchell campaigns in St. Clair County

Brandon Moseley

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Republican nominee for the Alabama Supreme Court Jay Mitchell addressed the influential St. Clair County Republican Party at City Market Grill in Pell City Thursday.

Mitchell said that he wants to go to Montgomery and be part of, “Restoring confidence in what we do in Montgomery.”

Jay Mitchell said that he was born in Mobile and grew up in the Wiregrass. When he was ten, his family moved to Homewood. Mitchell went to Birmingham Southern where he played basketball and was part of a Division 3 basketball national championship team. Mitchell went to the University of Virginia School of Law, where he met his wife.

Mitchell and his wife, Elizabeth live in Homewood, with their four children. Jay is a partner with Maynard, Cooper & Gale in Birmingham. He has handled numerous cases at both the trial and appellate levels. He is recognized as one of the top attorneys in the United States

Mitchell said that if he is elected to the Alabama Supreme Court he is going to focus on what does the law say. “I believe that we have a responsibility as the Judiciary to stay on the right side of our boundary line and not become some sort of a super legislative group.”

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“I am not running for a paycheck, I am not running for a safe seat,” Mitchell said. I am going to Montgomery to work.

Mitchell said that he is glad that if he goes to Montgomery that St. Clair County District Attorney Richard Minor (R) will be working in the Judicial Building with him. Minor is the Republican nominee for the Court of Criminal Appeals. Minor has no Republican opponent.

Mitchell said that retired St. Clair County Judge Jim Hill does a great job representing St. Clair County in the Alabama legislature.

Mitchell said that “there is a great forgetting going on” right now. We are forgetting how the country was founded, the liberties guaranteed by the Constitution, and how men have sacrificed to protect our liberties. Mitchell promised that if he is elected to the Alabama Supreme Court that he will take time to talk to school groups. I am committed to do my part to help educate the next generation about this country.

Mitchell’s race is one of just two state appellate court races where the Democrats fielded a candidate. Mitchell faces Jasper attorney Donna Wesson Smalley (D) in the November general election.

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

Former St. Clair Republican Party Chairman Paul Thibado said that we need to put a lot of effort into recruiting new people particularly young people to the county party. St. Clair County should be an industrial mecca.

St. Clair County Republican Party Chairman Lance Bell said that the newly elected St. Clair County Republican Party representative on the State Republican Executive Committee Emory Cox has had to resign his post because he has taken a job in the White House.

The St. Clair County Party Executive Committee members there elected St. Clair County School Board Attorney John Rhea to fill the vacancy. There was no opposition.

Bell said that Richard Minor was also stepping down from the State Republican Executive Committee and that the county party executive committee will vote on his replacement next month. The October meeting is tentatively set to be held in Moody.

St. Clair County Circuit Clerk Annette Manning Hall reminded the Republicans present that absentee ballots become available at her office on Monday, September 24.

Bell said that Kay Ivey’s St. Clair County Chairman Bill Morris was going to need help manning stations at the polls on election day.

Gov. Kay Ivey (R) faces Tuscaloosa Mayor Walter “Walt” Maddox (D).

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Small business group endorses Kay Ivey for governor

Brandon Moseley

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Tuesday, September 18, 2018 the NFIB Alabama Political Action Committee has endorsed Kay Ivey for governor. The National Federation of Independent Businesses is the nation’s leading small-business association. NFIB State Director Rosemary Elebash announced the endorsement Monday at a news conference at Southern Distributor/Auto Electric and Carburetor Co., an NFIB member business in Birmingham.

The NFIB Alabama PAC’s endorsement is based on the candidate’s record and position on small-business issues.

“Kay Ivey is the clear choice for Alabama’s small businesses,” Elebash said. “Kay Ivey is a strong leader who understands the challenges facing Alabama’s job creators. She opposes higher taxes and burdensome rules and regulations that would make it harder for small businesses to succeed and create jobs. This spring, she signed legislation prohibiting cities from requiring companies to purchase a municipal business license before driving through their jurisdictions for work purposes.”

“As Governor, I have made it my job to create a strong environment for job creation,” Gov. Ivey said. “That’s why I’ve worked closely with the NFIB and the state Legislature, signing the largest tax cut in a decade and eliminating unnecessary regulations that make it more difficult and more expensive to do business. Being endorsed for Governor by Alabama’s small businesses is truly an honor. I am grateful for their trust, support and everything they do to keep Alabama working!”

“Since taking office a little over a year ago, Governor Ivey has announced more than 15,500 new jobs and more than $8 billion in capital investment, creating exciting new opportunities for all kinds of small businesses,” Elebash added. “Under her leadership, our pro-business climate has received national recognition from the likes of the influential Business Facilities magazine, and Alabama’s employment rate is the highest it’s ever been.”

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The President of Southern Distributors Steve Kampwerth said, “I would lie to welcome our guests including our esteemed guest, Governor Kay Ivey.”

Kampwerth personally thanked Gov. Ivey for her support for Senate Bill 316 during the last legislative session. “This bill established a 10,000 maximum before they had to apply for a local delivery license. As an auto parts distributer, we had to apply for hundreds of these licenses annually. Thank you governor for supporting this bill.”

Director Elebash said that each election, “We send a ballot to each of our members statewide. For the very first time since I have been here, Governor Ivey received the endorsement of 98 percent of our members. That is a record.”

Gov. Ivey was elevated to the office in April of 2017 Elebash said. “The NFIB has passed more than 80 small business bills in that period of time.”

“It is my honor to be here and spend time to people like you that our devoted to keeping Alabama working,” Gov. Ivey said. “Job creators are important to keep Alabama working.”

“It is not enough for our business to survive but to thrive,” Ivey said.
Elebash promised that, We will be working each day to make sure that our member are out working to help turn out the powerful small-business voting bloc on Election Day.

Reporters asked Ivey about her school sentry program that allows schools to arm one administrator.

“It is up to each school system to make their own decision,” Ivey said on whether or not they participate in the program.

Ivey said that she was not surprised by the recent court decision against the Alabama prison system and said that the prison system was working on filling its staffing shortage.

“We are working best and fast as we can,” she said. “Just because you have to hire more folks, it doesn’t mean they are available.” The prisons, “Are an Alabama problem, it will be solved by Alabamians.”

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson, a Jimmy Carter appointee, ordered the state to show why it should not be held in contempt of court for failing to meet his deadline for increasing the number of staff devoted to mental health in the prisons. The Southern Poverty Law Center is suing the state and the Alabama Department of Corrections on behalf of the convicts claiming that the lack of mental health staff amounts to cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The Alabama Political Reporter asked Director Elebash why they were not supporting Tuscaloosa Mayor Walter “Walt” Maddox (D) who has promised a lottery as a solution for some of the state’s revenue problems.

“We consider that as more of a social issue,” Elebash said. “None of my members have said that to me. My members have real world problems. They call me and say I have a problem,” with a regulation or something, such as like the issue here about the local delivery licenses. “Governor Ivey has been real good at working with us.”

“Gov. Ivey is all about action, not words,” Elebash said.

The NFIB said in a statement that “Today’s endorsement puts the considerable grassroots support of the state’s small businesses behind the governor’s campaign. Small-business owners and their employees vote in high numbers and are known for recruiting friends, family members and acquaintances to vote. NFIB will encourage its Alabama members to help turn out the powerful small-business voting bloc on Election Day.”

For more than 75 years, NFIB has been the voice of small business, advocating on behalf of America’s small and independent business owners, both in Washington, D.C., and in all 50 state capitals. The NFIB is nonprofit, nonpartisan, and member-driven. Since its founding in 1943, NFIB has been exclusively dedicated to small and independent businesses and remains so today.

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Maddox touts plans to expand Medicaid, launch education lottery at bus tour kick off

Chip Brownlee

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Democratic gubernatorial candidate Walt Maddox promoted his plans to establish a state education lottery and expand Medicaid at the kick off of his statewide bus tour in Tuscaloosa on Monday.

Maddox is attempting to make gains against sitting Gov. Kay Ivey by visiting 35 different stops on the tour. After the launch in Tuscaloosa, Maddox stopped at the Walker County Kiwanis in Jasper on Monday.

Later this week, he’ll visit the Shelby County Democrats in Pelham on Thursday and attend the Dr. Yvonne Kennedy Community Service Awards Banquet in Mobile on Friday.

The last stop of his tour will be at Magic City Classic football game between Alabama A&M and Alabama State University in Birmingham on Oct. 27 at Legion Field.

At the kick off event in Tuscaloosa Monday, Maddox said he was running for governor because of his two kids, Taylor and Eli, who joined him at the event along with his wife.

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“Our state is not where it needs to be,” Maddox said. “We are at or near the bottom in everything that matters — everything. And they deserve to grow up in a state that can provide them the opportunities that I’ve had and that your families have had. And this is the pivotal moment.”

Maddox said he would continue to push hard for an education lottery and Medicaid, two issues he said would appeal to crossover and moderate voters.

“I’m willing to tell the truth to things that matter,” Maddox said when asked how he would appeal to Republicans in a deeply red state that hasn’t elected a Democratic governor since 1998.

“If you’re in Haleyville, Alabama, right now, you’ve had to experience an increase in taxes because your hospital is on the verge of closing,” Maddox said. “If you’re in Alex City right now, your hospital could close all because, whether you’re Haleyville or Alex City, because we didn’t expand Medicaid.”

Maddox said the state’s road and bridges are inadequate to handle 21st Century traffic, and the state’s schools are behind in offering a 21st Century education.

“Too many families woke up this morning and saw they were sending their children to schools that are not going to meet a technology-driven economy,” Maddox said.

And the Democrat said Ivey, who has so far refused to debate him ahead of the Nov. 6 election, is ducking those issues in favor of other, more controversial issues that will turn out her conservative base.

“How do you get moderates, moderate Republicans and independents to vote for you? You talk about more important things than monuments,” Maddox said.

Maddox also promised to address mental health issues and overcrowded prisons during a 10-minute question-and-answer session with reporters who attended the kick-off event.

“Those are things that people care about, not this nonsense of political rhetoric. They want results, and that’s what we are going to deliver as governor,” Maddox said.

When asked what he thinks about Ivey’s decision not to debate him, he said it wasn’t a slight against him, but a slight against the people of Alabama, who he said deserve a debate.

“It doesn’t hurt me that she doesn’t want to debate. It hurts the people of Alabama,” Maddox said. “Think how many schools today — nearly a hundred schools in our state are struggling  — doesn’t she owe the parents at those school a debate?”

The Democrat said Ivey should also answer pressing questions about prisons, infant mortality and access to health care before the election in 50 days.

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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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