Judge candidate clark: driven by law

Published 10:38 pm Monday, May 3, 2010

Coffee County attorney Shannon Clark said her passion for the law led her to the next natural career move: a bid for the Place 2 12th Judicial Circuit Judge seat.

Clark, a Republican, has spent the last 14 years as an attorney.

“Quite frankly, I love the law,” Clark said. “I see the circuit judge in a unique position to help people at a time of crisis.”

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That is why she decided to run for the office being vacated by Judge Robert Barr, a Democrat. She faces Troy attorney Cliff Hastings in the June 1 Republican primary. The winner will face Troy attorney Joel Williams, Democrat, in the November general election.

Clark, a native of Coffee County, graduated with an accounting degree from the University of Alabama and attended law school at Jones School of Law. During her final year in law school, she worked with the Coffee County District Attorney’s office, which serves both Pike and Coffee counties.

“After that, I’ve been involved in everything but bankruptcy and Social Security cases,” Clark said. “I’ve done little cases, big cases, child support cases, divorce cases. I deal with cases that affect people.”

Her experience, she said, is what makes her an ideal candidate for the seat.

“Our community is in need of (a judge) who will take time to deliberate — allow people to have their day in court and be able to believe the judge was following the law in making a decision,” she said.

Clark said her only platform in the race is to follow the law.

“The only platform a (judicial) candidate should have is law,” she said.

Other than that, she said her personality makes her a prime candidate for the circuit judge position.

“Temperament has a lot to do with following the law. To me, the temperament of the judge sets the tone for the whole courtroom,” Clark said. “I have been in the courtroom the last 14 years as an attorney. I know the impact it has on people’s lives, and you need this to be able to do a very good job.”

That temperament, she said, would also assist in one of her goals if elected in office — removing division.

“I want the courtroom to be the best place it can be,” she said.

Clark said while all aspects of the law enforcement aren’t always divided, there are times when the sectors could communicate better, something she believes she could bring to the table.

“I see the Sheriff’s Department, DA’s Office, police departments and the Bar Association working together,” she said “In my opinion I have the temperament to do that.”

While each court case heard in the circuit is different, Clark said if she is judge her sentences would follow state sentencing guidelines.

“I’ll also welcome input from victims. There are all sorts of factors (to consider in setting sentences),” she said.

Clark said she believes wholeheartedly in people being accountable for their actions, but she thinks there may need to be a look at exploring alternative sentencing.

An example would be sending a drug offender to a two-year patient rehabilitation center, where the individual would still be confined, rather than to state prison where the offender may be returned to the public in only months.

Clark said she is not a politician. Still, one of the political aspects of this particular judge race relates to an unwritten “gentleman’s agreement” formed by the bar associations of Pike and Coffee Counties that essentially says there should be a judge from each of the three courthouses seated at any time.

The circuit’s courthouses are in Elba, Enterprise and Troy. Judge Jeff Kelley, of Elba, Judge Thomas Head, of Enterprise, and Judge Robert Barr, of Troy, serve as the current circuit judges. Each has his home office in his hometown.

If Clark is elected, no judge will be from Pike County. She said that shouldn’t be a factor in determining how people vote.

“I understand concerns people have about it. I have roots in Pike County as I do in Coffee County, and if I’m elected my office is going to be in Troy’s courthouse,” she said.

Clark said she is the best candidate for the job for several reasons.

“I feel like I have a mind for the law and have the actual courtroom experience in dealing with all kinds of cases,” Clark said. “I’ve worked for everything I’ve received, and that’s what I want to do if I get this position. I bring to the table … integrity.”

Editors note: Stories on the two other candidates for the circuit judge race will be published this week: -Clif Hastings, Republican, will publish Wednesday. -Joel Lee Williams, Democrat, will publish Thursday.