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State bill aims to limit spending in judicial races

MONTGOMERY — A bill has been pre-filed in the Alabama Legislature that would limit contributions to candidates in Alabama judicial races.

The bill by state Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, will be considered after the Legislature begins its 2009 regular session on Feb. 3.

The proposed legislation comes after this year’s expensive race for a state Supreme Court seat. Republican Greg Shaw defeated Democrat Deborah Bell Paseur in a close race where the candidates spent a total of at least $4 million.

England’s bill would limit contributions in court races from individuals or political action committees to $500 per candidate. England, the son of former Supreme Court Justice John England, introduced similar legislation in the last regular session. The bill was approved by the House Constitution and Elections Committee, but died without coming up for a vote in the full House.

Language in the proposed legislation says the large amount of money in judicial races creates “the potential for corruption and, as important, the appearance of corruption.”

The American Bar Association has been critical of the spending in judicial races in the state. Mark White, the president of the Alabama Bar Association, said he had not read England’s bill, but that the motivation was “absolutely correct.”

“The real problem candidates had last election is the amount of money and the tactics used by third parties,” he said.

The state has seen heated and expensive races for court positions over the past decade, and Alabama has gained a national reputation for high-priced runs for the bench.

The 2006 race between current Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb and then Chief Justice Drayton Nabers was estimated to have cost up to $13 million.