For the first time in almost 18 years, Morgan County Circuit Court Judge Sherrie Paler, a Democrat, has Republican opposition at the polls.
When she and two other judges took office in 1995, they faced thousands of cases that had piled up under the administrations of their predecessors. After about three years in office, Paler and the other judges had brought cases to manageable status.
Attorney Jennifer Howell, 34, is Paler’s GOP challenger in the Nov. 6 general election. Howell worked as an assistant district attorney for about five years and has been in private practice in Decatur for almost two years.
Circuit judges preside over criminal, civil and domestic cases and are top administrators of the judicial system. Although they are elected in county elections, they are state officials.
The Daily posed questions to the candidates.
Q: Why are you running for circuit judge?
A: I believe that I can and should make a difference in this community. This is my home and I have served in it since I was young. I have learned things in my various positions and roles that make me uniquely qualified to serve in this position. I have every intention of taking the court system in this county to the next level in terms of efficiency and output. I, like so many in our community, want more from our court system.
Q: What’s your platform and why do you think people should elect you?
A: My platform is “Because it Matters.” My campaign is focused on declaring my position on things that are important and matter to this community: justice, integrity and community. I think people should elect me because I will focus on what is important to them.
Q: Are you expecting to win because you are running as a Republican, because of recent past elections where GOP contenders were chosen because of political party?
A: Absolutely not. I was raised to never make assumptions and to work hard toward my goals. It is my goal to work to get into this position and to work even harder if I am blessed enough to be elected. I am going at this as if I have not one, single vote but my own. I am working to earn the rest.
Q: Judges make decisions that could change people’s lives forever, whether financially in litigation or ordering them to prison for life or, more drastically, placing them on death row. Do you believe you have the experience and knowledge to make rulings in civil and criminal cases?
A: Absolutely. In truth, each of us is called to make decisions daily that can affect the lives of others around us, from judges sentencing offenders to death row to your average driver who takes his eyes off the road to send a text or adjust the radio. I take every decision I make seriously as I believe we all should. ... Decisions made by judges are made based on the facts of the case before them. I intend to follow the rule of law and to be fair to all parties.
Q: As an attorney, how many civil cases have you tried and how many criminal cases?
A: To answer that would call me to make some approximations as well as some assumptions about the question. For example, many cases are tried before only a judge; others are tried before a jury. Some are tried and then settled in the middle of trial.
Q: Three people are charged with capital murder in the deaths of two Krystal restaurant employees. If you should win, do you think you are capable of presiding over these capital murder cases?
A: I am capable of presiding over these murder cases. I am qualified to preside over any case that would come before me, not because I have handled similar cases before, but because I am and will be focused on doing the right thing in the interest of justice. I intend to make every case, every defendant, every citizen important in this process. I will do my homework, ask questions when necessary and make firm, fair decisions in every case.
Q: What do you think of the job your opponent has done during her nearly 18 years on the bench?
A: I certainly am not a negative person and don’t intend to make any negative comments about cases that my opponent has decided, or how she has handled certain things. I respect the job that Judge Paler has done while serving our community. ... I am running because I felt called to do so, because I know I can not only do the job, but do it well.
Q: As a judge, would you favor prosecutors over defense attorneys or would you be unbiased, even if one or the other is your friend?
A: I suppose given my history and connections with the various police departments, and the fact that I was and am a prosecutor, that it would be easy to assume that my favor lies with the prosecution in a criminal case. I would imagine that not showing favor to friends is one of the most difficult parts of being a judge. I am committed to being unbiased even in the face of making a difficult decision that may hurt the ego or feelings of a friend.
Legal experience: Five years, four months as assistant district attorney, and about two years in private practice
Family: Husband, Johnny Howell, and two daughters
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