Six local attorneys are lining up for three spots in what could make for an unusually crowded field of judicial candidates in Mobile County.
With Circuit Judges Roderick Stout and Robert Smith as well as District Judge Bob Sherling all reaching the age limit of 70 years old before the 2018 election, there look to be at least three open spots on the bench. Attorneys Don Beebe, Wesley Pipes, Harry Satterwhite, Barney March, Derrick Williams and George Zoghby will be running as Republicans for those spots.
Beebe, a 65-year-old attorney with 41 years of legal experience, said serving in Smith’s seat on the bench would be his way of paying back the community.
“The reason I want to be a judge is I started my career as a clerk for Richard L. Jones,” Beebe said. “I looked up to him and saw the impact judges can have on society.”
Beebe said he has primarily been a trial lawyer doing corporate defense work. However, he added, as a former prosecutor, he believes he has a leg up over other candidates. But Beebe would only be eligible to serve one term on the bench before aging out, by state law.
He said he has never submitted his name to the Mobile County Judicial Nominating Commission, and even if the board has a chance to help name Smith’s replacement, he’d still run for the spot.
“I welcome competition,” Beebe said. “I don’t think anyone should be anointed.”
Pipes, who is 47, has also announced his intention to run for Smith’s seat on the bench. He looks to line up against Beebe in the Republican primary for that spot in June 2018.
“It’s a great honor to be a judge, but it’s also service to the public. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” he said. “It’s a good opportunity with so many open races. The time is right and the opportunity is there.”
Pipes started as an attorney in 1995 in litigation defense. He now focuses more on real estate law, he said, and has 21 years of experience. He said he also has no trepidation about running even if the nominating committee has an opportunity to find a replacement for Smith.
Candidates by law cannot begin raising money until one year prior to a primary election. In this case, that’s June.
March is set to run against Satterwhite for Stout’s seat on the bench.
March said he loves the legal system and that’s a big reason why he wants to become a judge at this point in his career.
“I think [the court] needs people willing to serve the system and not just doing a job,” he said.
Being a judge would add to March’s career of serving the public. The 50-year-old started out practicing insurance defense, handling workers’ compensation, property disputes and “a wide variety” of other things. He now focuses on commercial litigation, as well as bankruptcy and creditors’ rights.
March said he also works mental illness cases. In addition to helping start a voluntary guardianship organization, March also represents AltaPointe Health Systems and Mobile Infirmary in involuntary commitment cases.
Satterwhite has been practicing law for 22 years and views Stout’s seat on the bench as the next logical step.
“I want to take the next challenge in the legal profession,” he said.
He began working on insurance defense before “hanging out a shingle by myself,” and representing plaintiffs and defendants in property disputes. Now, he said, he handles a lot of business-related cases and a lot of litigation.
At 54, Satterwhite said he’s never run for judge before and never put his name in for appointment through the nominating commission. He has been a member of the county’s Republican Party executive committee since 2002 and on the steering committee for 11 years. He said he knew Stout would have to retire and wants to replace him with a member of the GOP.
“No disrespect to him, but I’m a Republican,” Satterwhite said. “I’m running because he’s a Democrat.”
Finally, Zoghby and White plan to face off for Sherling’s seat in 2018.
Zoghby said he wants to become a judge in order to serve the public.
“I know it’s cliche, but it is the honest truth,” he said. “There comes a time in your life when you want to do something more for people.”
The 51-year-old has been practicing law for 25 years. He is admitted to practice in state and federal courts and handles mostly civil cases. Zoghby said he has never before been up for a position through the nominating commission. He said one reason more attorneys don’t run for judgeships is because the bench has been good for years. However, with the number of seats coming up, a crowded field was to be expected.
“With it being an open seat, obviously you’re going to have more people running,” he said.
Williams has served as a prosecutor for the city of Mobile for eight years. At 35 years old, Williams said he has the criminal-work legal background needed to replace Sherling on the bench. Williams said he would be tough, fair and work to help put an end to what he called the city’s crime problem. Williams said he’d be tough on crime.
“Somebody needs to do something about crime,” he said. “That’s not a knock on any of the current judges; they are doing the best they can. Sherling was a good judge … tough. There needs to be someone as tough as him to take over.”
Because about 80 percent of the cases coming before district judges are criminal in nature, Williams said he’s “extremely qualified” for the position. Williams was a finalist to replace Judge Jay York on the district bench, but Gov. Robert Bentley picked Jill Phillips instead.