NEW YORK, June 30 (Reuters) - The top judge in Alabama is
stepping down in the middle of her term, citing the mounting
costs of judicial elections.
Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb, the lone Democrat on Alabama's
nine-judge elected court, said in a statement on Wednesday that
she had a variety of motives, family included, for resigning.
"One of my keenest disappointments has been my inability to
convince the members of the legislature to improve the method
in which judges are selected in our state," Cobb said in a
statement describing her 4-plus year tenure as the top judge.
Between 2000 and 2009, contributors spent more than $40
million for Alabama's top court election campaigns, according
to Justice at Stake, a Washington-based non-profit group that
advocates for judicial reform. That amount is nearly twice as
much as the second-highest state, Pennsylvania, where
contributors spent $21 million.
Of 26 states with elected top court judges, there are wide
swings in the contributions doled out: from Alabama on one
extreme, to North Dakota - where just $15 was raised - on the
other, the group said. Spending on top court elections across
the country doubled from one decade to the next.
"The amount of money spent in Alabama on judicial races is
obscene," said J. Mark White, an attorney with law firm White
Arnold & Dowd in Birmingham and the past president of the
Alabama State Bar Association.
"She tried every way possible, along with the bar, to get a
more civilized and economical way to select our judges," said
Albama's top court races have been increasingly heated in
recent years as money from interest groups poured into the
races, according to Justice at Stake. Tort reform groups and
plaintiffs' lawyer groups, seeking to sway the high court
agenda, both made large donations. Contributions for top court
races have ratcheted up with each election since the
In her statement Cobb urged that top court judges be either
appointed, or elected only in retention races.
"To do otherwise is to perpetuate the public perception
that judges are selected more on campaign contributions than on
ability," Cobb wrote.
Cobb herself received $2.62 million in contributions during
the 2006 Alabama Supreme Court election, a multi-candidate
election that was the costliest state judicial race ever, with
candidates raising a total of $13.5 million, according to
Follow the Money.
Cobb will step down on August 1. She was slated to be up
for reelection in 2012.
Alabama Governor Robert Bentley, a Republican, will appoint
someone to fill Cobb's seat, and an election will be held in
(Reporting by Carlyn Kolker)