Shaw wins Alabama Supreme Court race

Published 1:14 pm Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Republicans won all four appeals court races in Alabama, including another hugely expensive state Supreme Court contest that featured a crossfire of negative ads.

With 99 percent of precincts reporting Wednesday, Republican Greg Shaw, who received heavy backing from business interests, polled 50.4 percent of the vote against Democrat Deborah Bell Paseur, whose candidacy was funded largely by the Alabama Democratic Party and plaintiff lawyers.

The Shaw campaign claimed victory with a lead of more than 14,000 votes, while Paseur eyed a possible recount.

Shaw said voters’ reactions to his opponent’s negative ads helped him win a race that had been dead even in the polls.

“How we run a judicial race reflects on how we will serve,” he said.

But Shaw’s campaign also was helped by a radio ad targeting Paseur that the Administrative Office of Courts said was misleading.

Paseur’s campaign was awaiting the final votes to see if they would tighten up the race to within one-half percentage point and trigger an automatic recount.

“We are going to wait until every last vote is counted,” campaign manager Marion Steinfels said Wednesday.

In the other court races, Republican incumbent Bill Thompson defeated Democrat Kimberly Drake for a seat on the Court of Civil Appeals. Republican Beth Kellum beat Democrat Clyde Jones for an open seat on the Court of Criminal Appeals, and Republican Mary Windom defeated Democrat Aimee Cobb Smith for another open seat on the Court of Criminal Appeals.

The GOP sweep means Republicans will continue to hold all seats on the civil and criminal appeals courts and eight out of nine seats on the Supreme Court.

Shaw said the four winning court candidates were helped by a tour they made of all 67 counties in a recreational vehicle. The brightly painted RV stopped in about 100 small towns, and the visits made the front pages of weekly papers throughout the state.

“It was campaigning the old-fashioned way,” Shaw said. “Everywhere we went people really appreciated it. They thanked us for coming.”

Shaw replaces Republican Justice Harold See on the state’s highest court.

Paseur had raised $2.42 million through last week largely from donations by the state Democratic Party and lawyers, while Shaw had brought in $1.60 million due to strong support from business groups. Spending by Citizens for Individual Freedom on ads praising Shaw pushed the total for his side to equal Paseur’s.

Two groups that track spending in judicial races, the Brennan Center for Justice and the Justice at Stake Campaign, said Alabama was on pace to have the most expensive or second most expensive judicial race in America this year.

From 1993 through 2006, Alabama led the nation in Supreme Court campaign spending, with $54 million raised by candidates.

Paseur, a 56-year-old retired district judge from Florence, was seeking a comeback after narrowly losing a statewide race for the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals in 2006.

Shaw, a 51-year-old judge serving his second term on the Court of Criminal Appeals, was trying to move to the court where he worked as a staff attorney for 16 years before getting into politics.

By the end of the campaign, both candidates were accusing each other of being untruthful.

In the Criminal Appeals court races, the candidates were running to replace two retiring Republicans, Bucky McMillan and Pam Baschab, on the all-Republican court.

Kellum, 48, of Montgomery, was seeking to join the court where she has worked as a staff attorney. Jones, 53, of Birmingham, was trying to move up from the circuit judgeship he has held since 2002.

Windom, the 49-year-old wife of former Lt. Gov. Steve Windom, was making her first race for public office. Cobb, a 38-year-old Montgomery attorney, was also making her first race.

In the Civil Appeals contest, Thompson, 46, was seeking his third term on a court that is all Republican. Drake, 41, of Cullman, was making her second race for the court after losing in 2006.