Photo | Gittings Photography
It’s not a title you’re likely to find on the shelves of any Barnes & Noble — if you can even find a Barnes & Noble — but the two-volume, 2,000-page “The Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure Annotated, Fifth Edition,” is written for a very small target audience.
“I love the law and I update my book every year,” said Birmingham attorney Greg Cook, a Republican candidate for Alabama Supreme Court. “Other people might be out playing golf or fishing, but I’m reading the law, because I’m boring.”
It’s not that he doesn’t have hobbies or other interests. In a conversation with Lagniappe last week while campaigning in South Alabama, Cook said he’s hiked hundreds of miles as a volunteer officer for the Greater Alabama Council of the Boy Scouts of America and has taught Sunday School at Dawson Memorial Baptist Church since 1994.
He’s a veteran of the U.S. Air Force and was a classmate of U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch at Harvard Law School, but for the last 30 years, Cook has practiced civil law and commercial litigation at Balch & Bingham LLP, where he is now partner and chair of the firm’s financial services litigation practice.
“I’ve handled almost 1,000 cases in 40 of our 67 counties, and in at least 15 different states,” Cook said. “So I have a lot of experience doing almost every kind of civil law.”
Cook has also been appointed to a statewide committee on civil rules of procedure, where he recently helped update rules on class action proceedings and proportionate spending in discovery, among other things. For the past four years, he has also acted as general counsel for the Alabama Republican Party, an organization he has served in other capacities since 1992.
“I’ve handled fraud and election contests and lawsuits, I’ve done recounts in Alabama, I’ve been in at least 200 polling places over the years arguing with election officials,” he said. “I’m the person that gets called on Election Day on the election hotline the Republican Party has. I went to Florida for the Bush/Gore ‘hanging chad’ fight. So there are not very many lawyers in the state who have more experience in the election area than I do. I have spent a lot of time doing that and I believe deeply in having fair and honest elections.”
Cook said with fellow Republicans in charge of most local and statewide referendums, he’s confident about the integrity of Alabama’s elections, but other states have shortcomings that need to be addressed.
Cook said he wasn’t heavily involved in the contested gubernatorial election of 2002, where Democratic incumbent Don Siegelman lost to Republican Bob Riley after Baldwin County election officials removed 7,000 votes from Siegelman that were allegedly recorded erroneously by a ballot box in Magnolia Springs. Instead, he recalls the 1994 Alabama Supreme Court election between Republican Perry Hooper Sr. and Democratic incumbent Sonny Hornsby as particularly notable during his career.
“On the morning after the election, the Republican was ahead by about 226 votes, I think,” Cook said. “Justice Hornsby and the Democratic Party thought they would try to overturn that and their methodology was to try to get absentee ballots that had been disqualified to be counted. Eventually the matter went to the Alabama Supreme Court where they decided what they call ‘substantial compliance’ was sufficient, as long as there was one signature instead of two, they were going to count those ballots. The federal court stepped in and said you can’t change the rules after the game is over. So Chief Justice Hooper, at that point, was sworn in about nine months after the most contentious election I’ve ever seen.”
Cook is running for an open seat being vacated by Associate Justice Mike Bolin, who has aged out. By state law, judges must be under the age of 70 at the time of election. Cook is 58.
Two other candidates have expressed interest in the campaign, both female judges, but Presiding Judge Mary Windom of the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals announced in May she was withdrawing from the race. Two-term Calhoun County Judge Debra Jones remains as a candidate and has been invited by this publication to be profiled separately.
Cook acknowledges that he lacks experience behind the bench, but said he’s familiar with every aspect of the appellate process.
“I’m somebody that’s been a litigator for 30 years and I’ve handled both trial cases and appeals cases,” he said. “Probably 60-plus appeals and I’ve argued in front of the Alabama Supreme Court and in front of various federal courts of appeals. So, I know how the appeals court system works. I’ve been one of those people that have had to write the briefs, because I had to get in front of [appeals courts] and argue. I’m not a judge today, but I guarantee you as to what a Supreme Court justice does, I am qualified.”
Balch & Bingham is one of Birmingham’s largest law firms and recently made regional news when a partner in the firm, Joel Gilbert, was convicted of conspiring with an executive of Drummond Co. to bribe a former state legislator, Oliver Robinson, to steer the Environmental Protection Agency away from expanding a Birmingham Superfund site. Gilbert’s conviction was upheld on appeal and he was sentenced to five years in prison.
“Ultimately the law firm determined that we were a victim because we were not told the truth about this, our executive committee was not told the truth about this and the firm administrators were not told the truth about this,” Cook said. “Our employees were called as prosecution witnesses in that case, and the U.S. Attorney officially announced that Balch & Bingham was not involved in wrongdoing and in fact we had been, I think the word he used, was ‘duped.’ So Joel was convicted and the 11th Circuit upheld the conviction, and we were obviously very disappointed in his conduct and the result. But the law firm had no connection with wrongdoing and I had no involvement whatsoever.”
Alabama is one of only seven states that chooses judges in partisan elections, although vacant seats can also be filled by gubernatorial appointments. Cook said the broader discussion about whether to elect or appoint judges is “a difficult public policy decision,” but he believes Alabamians have a right to “weigh in on judges.”
“The people of Alabama are entitled to saying ‘no, you got that wrong,’ and I’m willing to look them in the face and explain my decision,” he said.
He said statewide judicial campaigns have become much less expensive than in previous decades, when candidates frequently raised more than $1 million. Races are now often decided in the Republican primaries, and Cook noted candidates want to appear neutral, “not running with an agenda.”
“It is awkward for judges to raise money,” he said. “The Canons of Judicial Conduct strongly discourage asking for money, in particular, specific sums of money. So it makes it difficult to fundraise. On the other hand, if I were to ask for a particular sum of money from somebody, it does look like there is some sort of quid pro quo. People need to have confidence that their judges are going to decide the case on the facts and not on who’s giving them money, and that’s a hard balance to strike.
“There are certain groups in the state who, for lack of a better term, ‘vet’ candidates. ALFA, the Business Council of Alabama, the Forestry Association act sort of like a caucus, and you have to convince these people, meeting face-to-face, you’re the right person and you’re qualified for the job. So I don’t have to go ask them for particular amounts of money, it gives me an opportunity to convince them I’m the right person and then they can decide at that point whether they need to contribute and support me because they want the most qualified person.”
Regardless, Cook said the campaign can be grueling.
“It’s hard work, takes a lot of time, and takes more time than I expected,” he said. “But I put 17,000 miles on my pickup truck since January and I believe that if you’re going to do something, you do it 100 percent … I’m running because I believe in public service. I spent four years in the Air Force because I believe in public service. I volunteer for Boy Scouts because I believe in public service, I work in my church because I believe in public service, and this is the window in my life where I can give back to the law.”
The primary election is scheduled Tuesday, May 24, 2022. More information about Cook is available on cookforcourt.com or search Facebook for “Greg Cook for Supreme Court.”
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