As Baldwin County District Attorney Hallie Dixon mulls her political future during an extended medical leave-of-absence following the settlement of a sexual harassment complaint against her, challengers are lining up to take her job.
Former Circuit Court Judge Robert Wilters, who retired from the bench in June, has announced he will seek the office of Baldwin County District Attorney in the upcoming March 2016 Republican primary. Wilters is the only candidate. Incumbent District Attorney Hallie Dixon has not formally announced a re-election campaign.
A spokesperson from the district attorney’s office said Dixon has taken a three-to-four-week leave of absence for medical reasons due to a recent surgery and is unable to comment on her political future.
Wilters said this week he’d restore leadership and accountability to the district attorney’s office. He began considering a run for the office about a year ago, when he was approached by friends encouraging him to challenge Dixon.
“When you see a problem with leadership in the district attorney’s office, you can either ignore it or you can choose to do something about it,” he said. “I chose to do something. I believe I can bring back a sense of integrity, credibility and competence to the office. It is the most important elected position in any county, and it is critical that you have proper leadership there.”
Wilters cited his involvement in the county’s drug court as his most significant professional achievement. The court began in 2007, and Wilters presided over it until his retirement.
“We saw that we kept having the same people come through the courtroom time after time, for the same things again and again,” he said. “We wanted to try to help people break the cycle of addiction so many of those folks were experiencing.”
The drug court, he said, has graduated about 250 people and greater than 70 percent of those have not re-offended.
“This was the most rewarding thing I’ve been able to do in my professional career,” Wilters said. “The drug court has helped to rebuild families, bring mommas home to their babies, and bring sons and daughters back to their families.”
Dixon is currently serving a six-year term that began in January 2011. She defeated David Green, former District Attorney Judy Newcomb and Ken Hitson in the Republican primary at the time. Dixon recently said she will make a decision on her political future “soon.”
Dixon’s personal and professional life has been scrutinized in media reports over the last few months. In July, Dixon settled a sexual harassment complaint filed against her related to a federal investigation into allegations from a district attorney’s office employee through the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Though few details of the settlement or the complaint have been publicly released, news reports have stated the employee, Dean McGowan, will receive an undisclosed pay increase and will stay on with the district attorney’s office for 14 months. According to a report on WKRG, the suit was settled for approximately $65,000.
In May, Dixon announced through social media that her daughter, Victoria Scott Dixon, was arrested and booked into the Baldwin County jail on a pair of second-degree theft charges. The district attorney said her daughter has struggled with depression and substance abuse for years and relapsed, using methamphetamine. In a statement, Dixon said she contacted law enforcement with evidence of her daughter’s drug use prior to the arrest.
Dixon has also been the subject of news stories about her pet dogs violating the city of Daphne’s noise ordinance. The district attorney has paid more than $5,000 in fines related to the ordinance. And in April, at least two employees in the district attorney’s office were made sick when a temporary employee brought brownies laced with marijuana into the office.
Wilters’ replacement on the 28th Judicial Circuit, Scott Taylor, appointed in July by Gov. Robert Bentley, has also announced his intention to run for the circuit court judgeship in the primary. Taylor is a former district court judge, mediator for Baldwin County Domestic Relations and district courts, special master for Baldwin County Circuit Court and a member the Alabama State Bar.
Taylor, a Loxley resident, has practiced law in areas including criminal, juvenile, domestic relations, real estate, tort law, adoption, municipal planning and zoning, and contract law.
“Having grown up in Baldwin County as well as spending my legal career here, I am excited about the opportunity to seek election for the circuit seat,” Taylor said. “My legal background has given me the experience needed to handle the diverse legal issues that fall within the jurisdiction of this court.”
Taylor’s replacement on the district court, J. Clark Stankoski, has also announced intentions to run for that seat in the primary. Before his July appointment, Stankoski served as the city attorney for the town of Silverhill, served as Baldwin County assistant district attorney from 1998 until 2002 and worked in the Alabama Attorney General’s Office from 1995 until 1997.
UPDATE: The online version of this story was updated Aug. 6 at 10:42 a.m. to clarify that Baldwin County District Attorney Hallie Dixon’s leave of absence was due to a recent surgery. The print version of this story says Dixon’s leave of absence was for personal reasons. A spokesperson at the District Attorney’s office said Dixon is the only person who can speak to her political future and due to the surgery, she is currently unable to comment.