Off-year election very important one for state#039;s judges

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 5, 2000

If it seems like every other lawyer you know is gearing up to run for judge this year you are not entirely wrong.

While this is an off-year election in Alabama, which is to say none of the major constitutional offices are on the ballot, it is by no means an off-year as far as judicial seats are concerned.

The Administrative Office of Courts has released data indicating a record 131 judicial offices will be on the 2000 ballot. That includes 45 district court judges, 75 circuit judges, and 11 seats on the state's three appellate courts.

In fact, a majority of seats on all three state courts will be filled this year-five seats on the nine-member State Supreme Court, and three each on the five-member Courts of Civil and Criminal Appeals.

Two incumbent members of the Supreme Court cannot run for another term because they have passed the mandatory retirement age of 70. They are Chief Justice Perry Hooper Sr. and Associate Justice Hugh Maddox.

Three other incumbents on the high court have already announced their intentions of seeking another term-Justices Ralph Cook, Champ Lyons and John England.

All three incumbents on the other two appellate courts have also said they would run again: Criminal Appeals Judges Frank Long, Sue Bell Cobb and Jimmy Fry; and Civil Appeals Judges Bill Robertson, Roger Monroe and John Crawley.

Judge Cobb had earlier said she would run for the Supreme Court but announced last week that due to the illness of her husband…BellSouth exec Bill Cobb, who is battling cancer…she would instead seek to remain where she is.

Judge Crawley will always remain a footnote in judicial election history. In 1994 he did no campaigning for the office and the only contribution he got he gave to another candidate.

Yet in the GOP sweep that year he was elected.

There are persistent but unconfirmed reports that the taxes imposed by the legislature late last year to resolve the franchise tax crisis may generate substantially more money than was needed.

In fact, the mere hint that there might be some extra money on the table has more than a few groups jockeying for position to share in these unexpected spoils. The scent of money is irresistible on Goat Hill.

Another scenario also being talked: If the new measures do produce more than required Gov. Siegelman may propose a tax cut. That is always good politics.

He probably will never get the credit he deserves but Emory Cunningham, dead at 78, probably did as much as any man to improve the image of Alabama and the South in other parts of the nation.

Cunningham was no public official. Far from it. He was the founder of Southern Living Magazine, a phenomenally successful publication based in Birmingham which now has a total circulation of more than 2.5 million.

Despite it's regional name, Southern Living became must-reading all over the nation, giving readers a far different picture of Alabama and the South.

A good yardstick of the success of this magazine: It was bought by Time, Inc. several years ago for $470 million.

Cunningham was a native of Kansas in Walker County and a 1948 graduate of Auburn. He served 12 years as a member of the Auburn University Board of Trustees.