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Lauderdale judge kicks off campaign for state High Court

By Phillip Rawls
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — Lauderdale County District Judge Deborah Bell Paseur kicked off her campaign for the Alabama Supreme Court on Tuesday, saying she wants to help end the perception that justice is for sale in Alabama.

Standing on the steps of the Supreme Court building, Paseur became the first Democrat to enter next year's race for the Supreme Court seat being given up by retiring Justice Harold See, a Republican.

Alabama's Supreme Court races during the past 12 years have been the most expensive in the nation, according to a recent national study. During that time, the state's highest court has gone from all Democrats to eight Republicans and one Democrat.

Pledge of integrity

Paseur said there has been increased polarization between the political parties in Alabama, which has spilled over to the courts and affected the public's perceptions. She signed a pledge to conduct her campaign with "appropriate decorum and dignity" in hopes of reversing the trend.

"The integrity of the system is in crisis. People have a perception justice is for sale," she said.

Paseur, 55, of Florence, said that since getting elected as Lauderdale County's first female judge in 1980, she has won re-election four times without opposition. She attributed that to exhibiting fairness rather than partisanship and getting support from the Republican-leaning business community.

Decision by party

Asked about the Supreme Court's 8-1 decision Thursday to overturn most of the $3.6 billion verdict that the state government won against Exxon Mobil, Paseur said, "I'm concerned that that decision fell completely on party lines."

Paseur said nothing has changed since the 2006 elections to curtail the cost of court campaigns, and she expects next year's race to be more expensive than it should be.

See's seat is the only one on the Supreme Court up for election next year. Currently, none of the justices are from north of Birmingham. Bell said that is an issue for North Alabama voters. If elected, she would be the first justice from the Shoals area since the late Chief Justice Howell Heflin of Tuscumbia.

Potential challengers

So far, one Republican, state Finance Director Jim Main, has said he will seek See's seat, but others have said they are considering it, including criminal appeals court Judge Kelli Wise, Opelika attorney Ben Hand, and Montgomery attorney Doug McElvy.

Paseur ran unsuccessfully last year for the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, losing to Republican Judge Sam Welch. But she ran a close race, with 48 percent of the vote, and Democratic Party leaders immediately began encouraging her to consider another statewide race for 2008.

Party Chairman Joe Turnham and Stewart Burkhalter, president of the Alabama Labor Council and a Democratic Party vice chairman, stood with Bell at her kickoff Thursday.

Paseur at a glance

Biographical information for candidate Deborah Bell Paseur:

Party: Democratic.

Date of birth: Nov. 13, 1951 (55).

Hometown: Born in Little Rock, Ark.; grew up in Birmingham; now lives in Florence.

Education: Bachelorís degree in social work and masterís degree in criminal justice from University of Alabama; law degree University of Alabama School of Law.

Professional background: Worked as a police officer while attending law school; attorney for a legal clinic and a private practice from 1977-1980; served as district judge of Lauderdale County since 1981.

Political experience: Elected as district judge of Lauderdale County in 1980, re-elected four times without opposition.

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