Democratic Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice candidate Bob Vance, Jr. stressed the need for help on drug addiction and mental problems during a campaign stop in Jasper Tuesday night. Vance, a …
Democratic Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice candidate Bob Vance, Jr. stressed the need for help on drug addiction and mental problems during a campaign stop in Jasper Tuesday night.
Vance, a circuit judge in Jefferson County, will face Justice Tom Parker, the Republican nominee, during the Nov. 6 General Election.
Noting he has been a trial judge for 16 years, Vance said in a brief interview he knows of things that need to be dealt with in the court system. He pointed out the chief justice is the top administrative official over all courts in the state.
"Our court system needs a strong, effective advocate in Montgomery" to help local courts throughout the state, he said, although that is not easy as money in the budgets are tight as demands upon the court are growing. He talked about working with state legislators to deal with funding, as well as encourage other judges to work with the Legislature.
"We need a chief justice who will focus on the real problems and will roll up his sleeves and get to work on those problems," Vance said. "Some chief justices in the past have gotten sidetracked with other matters. We can't have that because it is so difficult.
"I tell folks it is not going to be easy. There are no magic wands. It has taken us decades to get into this mess and there is no quick way out.
While funding is the top priority, he said drug addiction and a lack of treatment for mental health are generating many of the challenges the court faces. Many people facing those problems "are getting warehoused in our jails and prisons, and they are not getting the treatment they need," he said. As a result, they get back into crime when they get out and start a revolving door that costs taxpayers and leads, in turn, to overcrowded prisons.
"That is not just a court problem. That will involve the Department of Corrections, the governor and the attorney general," he said, although the courts and law enforcement are having to grapple with the problems "at the tip of the spear."
Vance noted about half the people coming into the court system has a substance abuse problem, and a quarter to a third of the people have some type of mental illness.
"And, of course, many have both," he said.
He hoped for a role for the chief justice and the courts to tackle those problems, noting solutions are being found in the court programs across the state. He said "diversionary" court programs allow supervision of a treatment program.
"It's not easy. I don't want anyone to think this gives you the warm and fuzzies inside. This is a tough program to go through, but they work," Vance said, saying data shows that.
As a Democrat running in a solid Republican state, Vance noted he ran six years ago against former Chief Justice Roy Moore. "It was a whirlwind campaign, and we came pretty close, and Sen. (Doug) Jones' victory last year shows a Democrat can win." Moore won against Vance with 52 percent of the vote, although he was removed in 2016 from the chief justice post for a second time, after defying a court order in both cases. Jones beat Moore in a special election for a U.S. Senate seat vacated by Jeff Sessions.
Vance said it is "an uphill battle" for a Democrat to run for the position in Alabama, "but I believe if you show people you are a reasonable alternative and you are really thinking about their problems, they will listen to you. The whole task is to get people comfortable with you, so that when they go into that voting booth, they will say, 'This guy, Bob Vance, I am comfortable with him, and I'm willing to support him regardless of what his party is, because I like his ideas and he seems to care about the problems that are affecting us.'"
Asked about Parker's close association with Moore, Vance said he was concerned about Parker "because he has always been a close ally of Roy Moore's. For the past 15 years, he has been Moore's closest ally on the Supreme Court. He has not hidden the fact he has always been a big admirer of Roy Moore. He seems to be using the Roy Moore playbook of focusing on divisive politics. He has wedged social issues instead of focusing on the issues I've been talking about.
"That is a grave concern, and frankly that was a big reason for why I got into this race, because we cannot go backwards to those bad days. We need to put our best foot forward on the problems I've been talking about."
Vance said he likes to think people in the state are "tired of ugliness. They are tired of the divisiveness. They are tired of politicians trying to pit one group against another. They just want people in there who are public servants and who will quietly and effectively do the job they were sent to Montgomery to do. I am convinced we are rounding that corner where more and more people are thinking like that. That is a large part of what this campaign is about."