By Monique Jones
The Birmingham Times
Jefferson County Judicial and District Attorney Candidates on Monday got a chance to meet voters during a forum hosted by The Gatekeepers Association of Alabama held at Guiding Light Baptist Church.
Candidates answered questions about their platforms, judicial philosophies, and how they balance legal responsibilities with religious ideals.
“Any time we can begin to inform the voters as to who the candidates are, to help them be more educated as to who to vote for, we have done something to improve our community,” said Bishop Jim Lowe, senior pastor of Guiding Light and a member of The Gatekeepers Association’s Executive Committee. “That’s one of the most important things we can do, and we feel we have reached [that] here.”
The general election is Nov. 8.
Several candidates made clear their desire to improve the relationship between the judicial system and the community.
“I think in order to bridge the gap, you have to engage the community,” said Reginald Jeter, Democrat candidate for Circuit Court Judge, 10th Judicial Circuit, Place 25. “…It’s very important that once you get on the bench that you continue to engage the public, teaching them about the justice system so that they won’t have a negative connotation toward the justice system. It’s extremely important that once you leave that courthouse, that you go back to the community that put you in that office.”
Republican John Tindle, the Republican candidate for the Place 25 seat, cited his work to end jury discrimination.
“When I started my career in the 1990s … there was a pattern of discrimination against African Americans being on juries,” he said. “When I started out, you would have juries that were 12 white jurors on the jury…Now, you see equality [with] African-Americans being on juries in Alabama[.]”
Charles Todd Henderson, Democrat candidate for District Attorney, 10th Judicial Circuit, said a major part of his platform was split sentencing, reverse sentencing, and second chance programs.
“When you look at first time offenders, especially those at the felony level, once you’re labeled as a felon, your whole life changes,” he said. “Your opportunities become less. You have trouble with housing. You have trouble getting good-paying jobs,” he said. “…[W]e have to have what we call split sentences. If we do the probation up front and we give them an opportunity upfront to show they can be productive citizens…then we don’t need to send them to prison. We need to put them back in society.”
His opponent incumbent Republican DA Brandon Falls did not attend the forum.
Christianity served as the benchmark for several of the candidates.
Elisabeth French, Democrat candidate for Circuit Court Judge, 10th Judicial Circuit, Place 17, referenced her empathy to those who appear court.
“There are times when we have discretion,” she said. “…One example of a way I balance justice and mercy is…if there’s a request that someone be put out by the sheriff and it falls on Christmas Eve, I won’t do it. I won’t do it to a mother who has lost her job and lost her home…I will let them have time to prepare.”
Her opponent Republican James Whitfield did not attend.
Bernadette Brown Green, Democrat candidate for Circuit Court Judge, 10th Judicial Circuit, Place 11, said, “I balance [justice and mercy] by using the word of God as a foundation. Any person who sits in a position is going to make decisions based on their heart.”
“I too, am a man of faith,” said Pat Thetford, the Republican candidate for the Place 11 seat. “… What we can do to make a difference locally is based on our experience and knowledge of when there is an opportunity … Sometimes we [as civil court judges] can see an opportunity to bring the [opposing] sides together so that the case can get resolved short of a judge’s ruling … Some of that extends itself to mercy, and I’ve seen it up close.”
Republican Dorothea Batiste, a candidate for Circuit Court Judge, 10th Judicial Circuit, Place 23, said, “A lot of times, people believe their position belongs to them. That it is their will, their efforts, that provides to them their seat. God is the maker of kings and queens. It is His permission that you’re allowed to serve.”
Agnes Chappell, the Democrat candidate for the Place 23 seat, said, “It is through God that I live, that I move and that I have all my being. It is just down, deep down inside of me. It comes up [and] it comes out when I least expect it. It is just who I am.” She stated her love for people comes from God. “He plays the total role of who I am,” she said.
Michael Glover Jr., Republican candidate for Circuit Court Judge, 10th Judicial District, Place 14, cited his humility as a defining factor in his role on the bench.
“I’m a very humble person, and I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life. I understand what it’s like when you go through things that are very difficult,” he said. “As a criminal judge, you need to understand that there are victims [and] there are victims’ families. There are defendants [and] there are defendants’ families. There’s a vast array of emotions going on in that courtroom, and you must be humble. You must have dignity.”
Clyde Jones, the Democrat candidate for the Place 14 seat, talked about his insistence to follow the law as it’s written while applying mercy. “In everything that I do, I try to put a touch of mercy into the formulation [of] the sentence,” he said.
Tamara Harris Johnson, a Democrat running for Circuit Court Judge, 10th Judicial Circuit, Place 22, provided one of the strongest examples of balancing professional responsibility with personal beliefs. Johnson stated that one of her earliest cases involved representing a Neo-Nazi. “When he came to my office…I said, ‘You know what? You’re the first case I’ve ever tried in my entire life. I’m going to do the very best I can to make sure you win this case,’” she said. “He did everything he could to get me off it. I represented him to the best of my ability [and] I won his case.”
Bentley Patrick, the Republican candidate for the Place 22 seat, did not attend.
Full profiles on the candidates and their platforms can be viewed at The Gatekeepers Association’s website.