Clark, Williams take opposite approaches

Published 9:19 pm Tuesday, October 12, 2010

November’s circuit judge election will be a battle of campaign principles, politics and long-standing traditions, as Democratic nominee and Troy native Joel Williams runs against Shannon Clark, a Republican nominee and active grassroots campaigner.

From his law office in Troy, Williams has enacted a kind of anti-campaign, in which he has not asked for support, planted any signs himself, or publicized his side of the election. He has talked to a few families in Pike and Coffee counties, he said, and he will give away campaign signs, but only if people ask for them.

“I’m not putting out signs, I don’t think you should do that,” he said. “I don’t think you ought to be posting up signs on trees up and down the highway.”

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Williams said he has run for legislature and has actively campaigned door-to-door in the past. On principle, however, he said an election for a circuit judge should be won on experience and public service, not campaigning.

“How can I go around and ask people for money, as a judge?” he asked.

Unlike Williams, Shannon Clark has been very active in her campaign ever since she ran for her primary earlier this year. When she campaigns, she hands out cards and acquaints potential voters with her background and plans as a judge.

“Our campaign has been grassroots from day one,” she said. “We go door-to-door every weekend, and during the week if we can. We try to get a conversation going so we can find out what the people want.”

So, what do the people want? An impartial, apolitical judge — that’s what they’ve told Clark, she said.

“That’s what I’ve heard everybody say, ‘I don’t want anybody to play politics,’” she said.

“I feel positive about what we’re doing. I don’t know how to run a campaign any way but grassroots.”

Under a “gentlemen’s agreement” through Pike and Coffee counties, there has been one circuit court judge each from Troy, Elba and Enterprise. Williams said the arrangement, while not a law, maintains a sense of balance and representation in the courts.

“We just all know that it’s right, and we all know that it’s smart,” he said.” It just makes sense to have a judge available.”

Williams said the balance has been a tradition for 30 years. Until now.

Clark doesn’t live in Troy. Then again, she doesn’t live in Elba or Enterprise, either. Her home is in New Brockton, and she drives to her office in Enterprise every day.

“I am committed to this area,” she said. “I want it to be the best it can be.”

Clark has been active in law for 14 years — as a law student, she was granted permission to practice before she graduated. At her firm, about 60 percent of her cases are criminal, with the rest split between domestic and civil disputes.

Clark said that if she is elected, she will serve from Troy’s courthouse. If not, she’ll go back to work as usual on Nov. 3.

“I’m running for the job, not against anybody,” she said.

Williams has worked as a lawyer for more than 30 years. He taught part-time for 10 years at Jones Law School at Faulkner University in Montgomery. At the law school, Clark was one of his students.

Rather than actively campaign, Williams is encouraging voters to ask themselves “What criteria would you select for a judge?”

“It’s not about winning, it’s about offering yourself for a service,” he said. “I tell the voters in selecting a judge, weigh the evidence. I’m willing to serve.”

Circuit Judge elections will be held on Nov. 2.