There could be a few new faces among the state’s highest-ranking jurists next year following eight contested races for judicial seats on Alabama’s appellate courts — including a few candidates with ties to coastal Alabama.
The most prominent position up for grabs is chief justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama. Associate Justice Lyn Stuart was appointed in an interim capacity by Gov. Kay Ivey in 2016 after Roy Moore was suspended by the Judicial Inquiry Commission.
Ivey removed the interim designation last year and now Stuart is running her first race for the seat atop Alabama’s Unified Judicial System against Democratic challenger Robert S. Vance and one of her colleagues on the Alabama Supreme Court, Republican Justice Tom Parker.
Stuart previously served as an assistant attorney general under former Attorney General Charles Graddick and was also an assistant district attorney in Baldwin County, where she has been elected both a district and a circuit judge.
Stuart was elected to the supreme court in 2000 and has been re-elected two times since.
In the June 5 GOP primary she’ll face a challenge from Parker, who also served as an assistant attorney general under former attorneys general Jeff Sessions and Bill Pryor. He later served as the general counsel for the state court system and as a legal adviser to the chief justice.
Parker was also the founding executive director of what ultimately became the Alabama Policy Institute, an influential conservative “nonprofit research and educational organization.”
The only Democrat in the race is Jefferson County Circuit Judge Robert Vance Jr., whose father — U.S. District Judge Robert Vance Sr. — was killed by a 1989 package bomb sent to his home by Walter Moody. Alabama executed Moody in April.
Vance has served on the bench in Jefferson County since 2002. Prior, he practiced law with the Birmingham-based firm of Johnston, Barton, Proctor, & Powell and also clerked for a time under Judge Tom McGee on the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
He nearly won the chief justice seat in 2012 but narrowly lost to Moore, a Republican, with just over 48 percent of the vote. However, Vance entered that race much later than Moore and only did so because Democratic candidate Harry Lyon was disqualified.
Including the chief justice, there are nine places on the state supreme court — each selected through at-large, statewide elections and serving six-year terms. While four justices are up for re-election this year, only two face opposition.
Supreme Court of Alabama, Place 1
Brad Mendheim was appointed as a justice by Ivey at the beginning of 2018, and he’ll have to defeat Republican challengers Debra Jones and Sarah Stewart on June 5 to hold the seat.
Mendheim spent eight years as a district judge in Houston and Henry counties and nine years as a circuit judge after serving as an assistant DA in the same district. He also has a history of special judicial appointments and has presided over cases in more than 40 Alabama counties.
Jones has served as a circuit judge in Calhoun and Cleburne counties since 2011. She previously spent four years prosecuting crimes in the same area as an assistant DA for the 7th Circuit. Jones was in private practice for 16 years and co-founded the Calhoun Cleburne Children’s Advocacy Center.
Stewart has been a circuit judge in Mobile County since 2006. Originally from Arkansas, she received her law degree from Vanderbilt University in Nashville and practiced as an associate member of two Mobile law firms from 1992 until establishing her own firm in 1996.
There are no Democratic candidates in the race for the Place 1 seat.
Place 2, Place 3
Tommy Bryan served as a staff attorney for the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals and as an assistant attorney general before being elected to the court of civil appeals in 2004. He won his seat on the state supreme court in 2012 and is running unopposed for a second term in Place 2.
William Sellers also faces no opposition in his first race for the Place 3 seat he was appointed to in 2017. Sellers practiced law in Montgomery for nearly three decades prior to the appointment, where he focused on taxation, business organizations and finance.
James Allen Main did not seek re-election for his Place 4 seat and Republicans will have to choose between GOP candidates John Bahakel and Jay Mitchell next month, with the winner set to run against Democrat Donna Smalley in the general election. Bahakel has worked as an attorney in Birmingham for 35 years.
According to his campaign website, Bahakel has experience as “a judge pro tem, arbitrator, mediator, hearing officer, corporate counsel, private practice attorney and a law clerk.” He ran an unsuccessful campaign for an Alabama House seat in the Birmingham area in 2014.
Mitchell is a partner with Maynard, Cooper and Gale law firm in Birmingham. A Homewood native, Mitchell received a bachelor’s degree from Birmingham-Southern College, where he played as a forward on the 1995 NAIA championship basketball team.
Smalley has no opposition in the Democratic primary, but will make her third attempt to represent the party in a state election in 10 years in November. A member of the Alabama State Democratic Executive Committee, Smalley maintains a private legal practice in the Jasper area.
Court of Civil Appeals, Place 1
With Mobilian Craig Pittman not seeking re-election, the Place 1 seat on the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals will be up for grabs in next month’s GOP primary. No Democrats are running for any of the open places on the courts of civil or criminal appeals.
Christy Edwards is currently a judge for Alabama’s Tax Court and has served in various legal positions within the Alabama Revenue Department. Throughout her career, Edwards says she’s focused on the state’s “complex and often confusing tax laws.”
Peyton Thetford, a former Jefferson County circuit judge, focused on civil litigation in his years of private practice and claims to have “tried over 80 civil jury trials during the past 30 years.”
Michelle Thomason is currently the presiding district judge in Baldwin County, a position she’s held since 2006. Before that, she was a partner in the Daphne-based law firm of Pearson, Cummins & Hart, where she primarily practiced family law.
Incumbent Terri Willingham Thomas was the first female District Judge in Cullman County and spent 10 years on the bench until she was elected to the Court of Civil Appeals in 2006. She’ll face challenger Chad Hanson, a private attorney who co-founded the firm Seal Hanson LLC.
Terry Moore faces no opposition in his run for a fourth term on the court of civil appeals. He previously worked as an attorney in Mobile and founded the firm Austill, Lewis, Pipkin and Moore. He was in private practice until his first election in 2006.
Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 1
None of the candidates up for re-election on the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals has filed paperwork to do so, and seven candidates are eager to take up those spots.
Richard Minor is currently the St. Clair County DA and was previously an assistant attorney general in the violent crimes division under Sessions and Pryor. Minor also served as a special prosecutor for the state during the investigation of Alabama’s two-year college system.
His primary opponent, Riggs Walker, has served as a deputy DA in Jefferson County since 1999.
Rich Anderson began his legal career as a clerk for Alabama Supreme Court Justice Gorman Houston and has served as an appellate prosecutor in the capital litigation division of the AG’s office for more than a decade.
Chris McCool has served as a municipal court judge in multiple cities and is currently the DA overseeing Fayette, Lamar and Pickens counties.
Dennis E. O’Dell is currently a Circuit Court judge in Madison County, where he has experience as a District Court judge as well. In addition to his time on the bench, O’Dell has practiced law in the Huntsville area for more than 28 years.
Pelham attorney Donna Beaulieu has 32 years of experience in the legal field and more than 20 as a practicing attorney. She also successfully represented herself in a lawsuit over the city of Alabaster’s sign ordinance that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
J. William Cole worked in private practice before serving as a municipal court judge in the city of Morris from 2001 to 2005. He served as Circuit Court judge in Jefferson County from 2002 until losing a bid for re-election in 2012. However, Cole was appointed to fill a vacancy on the same judicial circuit by former Gov. Robert Bentley in 2013 and won re-election in 2014.