Friday, December 30, 2022

With focus on the courts, Alabama Trucking already gearing up for 2024

Editor’s note: This article appears with the permission of Alabama Daily News.

By Todd Stacy

It may sound silly, but in the wake of the 2022 elections, politicos in Alabama are already gearing up for the 2024 cycle. Not the presidential contest, mind you, though that will no doubt again capture the attention of most voters. Insiders and associations will be focused on the all-important, but often overlooked judicial races on the ballot.

By our count, there will be 11 statewide judicial races up for election in 2024, from the Supreme Court to the Court of Criminal Appeals and the Court of Civil Appeals. The reason these seats are so important is because the battle for prevailing judicial ideology on torts between the business community and trial lawyers remains quite active in Alabama.

The Alabama Association of Justice, the trial lawyer group that most brilliantly re-branded itself after Republicans came to dominate elections, is a competitive force in Alabama politics, and in particular judicial races. One of their most recent success stories is Associate Justice Sarah Stewart, who is in prime position to run for Chief Justice as current Chief Justice Tom Parker faces mandatory retirement. There is no shortage of names talked about to potentially also challenge for Chief Justice, including some of the current associate justices. Justice Will Sellers is often discussed as a potential candidate, but he’d be giving up what is a very safe seat and potentially creating yet another open judicial position on the ballot.

The same situation exists for Justices Jay Mitchell and Tommy Bryan, both of whom are up for reelection in 2024. A few from the bench that would have a “free shot” at the Chief Justice spot, meaning they wouldn’t be risking their seats to run, include Court of Civil Appeals Judges Bill Thompson and Matt Fridy, and Court of Criminal Appeals Presiding Judge Mary Windom, who just last year backed out of a race for Supreme Court Associate Justice. There are also those from beyond the judicial world that are being discussed as potential Chief Justice candidates. Some well-meaning politicos have spun their wheels trying to convince Attorney General Steve Marshall to pursue the seat, only for it to become clear that he has his sights set on other advancements down the road. One name that has recently surfaced as a potential contender is State Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, the current Chairman of the Education Ways and Means Committee. Orr, who is an attorney, has been thought to be interested in higher office, specifically Attorney General or something on the court. He also has two qualities of great interest to those who care about judicial races: solid conservative bonafides on tort issues and a campaign finance account with more than $1 million in it.

In any case, look for the business community to try to replicate their success in the latest election with the victory of Greg Cook for Supreme Court. A handful of key business groups — primarily led by the Realtor’s Jeremy Walker, the Trucking Association’s Mark Colson, the Alabama Farmer Federation’s Paul Pinyan and BCA’s David Cole and Drew Harrell — came to the aid of Cook to help put him over the top in an unpredictable Republican Primary. Had they not, Ginger Avery and the Alabama Association for Justice may have been notching another impressive Supreme Court victory.

Speaking of the courts, last year, when the Legislature passed a bill restructuring judicial pay, they included a requirement that judges get continuing education. As most judicial circuits can’t afford serious judicial education, Justice Will Sellers designed a continuing education program for Alabama trial judges using his friends at the Law and Economics Center at the Scalia Law School at George Mason University. Sources tell IAP the seminar occurred in November and was designed to focus on the economic consequences of judicial decisions that are sometimes overlooked.