The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

March 13, 2012

Three face off for GOP chief justice nomination

Associated Press

— MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The Republican primary for the chief justice spot heated up in the final weeks of the campaign when two candidates said they would have obeyed a federal judge's order to remove a Ten Commandments marker from the lobby of the Alabama Judicial Building.

Former Chief Justice Roy Moore was ousted from office in 2003 when he refused to take down the marker. Moore is running for the seat again this year against incumbent Chuck Malone and former Alabama Attorney General Charlie Graddick.

Moore said he believed the federal judge's order was illegal. Both Graddick and Malone said they would have followed the ruling. Moore is probably the best known of the candidates, though not always for positive reasons.

Graddick, a former Mobile County District attorney, was also Alabama attorney general from 1979 to 1987. He has been asked recently on the campaign trail about the 1986 governor's race when he appeared to have won the Democratic Party primary until a party committee awarded the nomination to then-Lt. Gov. Bill Baxley because of accusations that Graddick received illegal crossover votes from Republicans.

Graddick has since switched parties. He said it's not uncommon for people to come up to him at campaign stops now and say "you should have been governor."

The primary winner will face Pelham attorney Harry Lyon, the only Democrat running in a statewide judicial race, in the general election in November.

Malone, a former Tuscaloosa County circuit judge, was Gov. Robert Bentley's chief of staff when the governor appointed him chief justice last year. Malone replaced former Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb, who resigned last summer to spend more time with her family.

At the time, Cobb was the only Democrat among the state's 19 appeals court judges. Malone's appointment gave Alabama all-Republican appellate judges.

At the polling place at the Chilton County Courthouse in Clanton voters mostly remembered Moore and Graddick, but not always for positive reasons.

Barbara Hall, a 41-year-old Clanton stay-at-home mother and homeschool teacher, said she voted for Moore because she agreed with him the most of the three candidates.

"I looked at the other ones and didn't agree wholeheartedly," she said.

Richard Leonard, 51, of Clanton, said he voted for Malone after consulting with his son.

"I liked all three of them, but my son and I talked about it, and he voted for Malone, so so did I."

Ernie Bray, a 62-year-old Clanton man who raises money for volunteer fire departments, said he also voted for Malone.

"Graddick, I've got no use for. I don't know Malone, but Roy Moore, I don't favor him either."

Bray said he felt Graddick had been around too long and he didn't like the fact that Graddick had switched parties from Democrat to Republican after the 1986 election.

Besides the chief justice's race, civil appeals court Judge Tommy Bryan and Calhoun County Circuit Judge Debra Jones are competing in the GOP primary for the Supreme Court seat being vacated by retiring Republican Justice Tom Woodall.

Compared to past court races, the chief justice race had been relatively quiet with the candidates crisscrossing the state, speaking to forums about their experience and background. The candidates have mostly highlighted the state's financial crisis. That changed when an ad paid from the Malone campaign hit the airwaves criticizing Graddick's time as attorney and his 1986 race for governor. Then the Ten Commandments debate arose again.

The only other statewide judicial race on the ballot is the GOP primary for a vacant Supreme Court seat between Court of Civil Appeals Judge Tommy Bryan and Calhoun County Circuit Judge Debra Jones.