Judicial elections in Alabama have always caught the nation’s eye, due to the enormous sums spent each campaign season.
In two recent Birmingham News articles, new Alabama State Bar President J. Mark White has offered an interesting new perspective on skewed priorities. He notes that more money is raised in Alabama to elect a few Supreme Court justices than to provide legal counsel to low-income people in civil cases.
To change the way Alabama selects judges, a reform he says is needed because our expensive, partisan elections have fueled a perception, rightly or wrongly, that justice is for sale.
To find a way to increase the money available for legal services for the poor. Alabama ranks behind every other state and even Puerto Rico in providing legal services to the poor, White said.
White offered one comparison that linked the issues and put the problem into shocking focus: In 2006, he said, 15 state judicial candidates spent more than $17 million on their campaigns. That same year, less than $7 million was spent on providing legal services for the poor in civil court.
In Alabama, all money for judicial elections and civil representation for the poor is raised through private contributions.
The American Bar Association’s president-elect, H. Thomas Wells Jr., also hails from Birmingham, and he too has voiced concerns about campaign spending in court elections. In a column published in September 2007, Wells issued a call for judicial selection reform.