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SUNDAY, JULY 16, 2006

Thomas, Wood tout experience

By Jamie Kizzire
Associated Press Writers

MONTGOMERY — Terri Willingham Thomas and Phillip Wood are both hoping their experience on the bench will catch the attention of voters, but they admit the first challenge is reminding voters there is a runoff for a seat on the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals.

Runoff elections typically have low voter turnout, but this year's runoff vote is unique in Alabama because it is six weeks — not the typical three weeks — after the primary.

The Legislature changed the runoff to July 18 to allow military and other residents overseas enough time to vote.

Pushing the election back has given Thomas and Wood more time to campaign, but also more time for the election to be drowned out by the usual summer diversions.

"That's the hardest part," said Thomas. "It's hot. Everyone is on vacation."

Thomas has served 10 years as a district and juvenile court judge in Cullman County, while Wood, an Autauga County district judge, has more than two decades of judicial experience.

Both hope their experience stands out in the minds of voters who go to the polls for the GOP runoff.

The winner faces Democrat Jim McFerrin of Homewood in November for the Place 3 seat that incumbent Republican Judge Glenn Murdock is vacating to run for the Alabama Supreme Court.

Thomas has been speaking to various Republican clubs, rallying the party faithful. She's also passing out campaign postcards for supporters to mail to their friends.

Thomas said 50 percent of the civil appeals court's cases deal with domestic juvenile and child custody cases. That's what she currently handles from the bench in Cullman County.

She was one of 13 judges appointed to a state committee to rewrite the state juvenile code. With that goal accomplished, she's on a panel pushing for the Legislature to approve it.

Thomas said she could change the dynamic on the court because she would be the only female judge on the civil appeals bench.

"I'm harder on people who do not take care of their children," said Thomas, the mother of four daughters ranging from 22 to 5 years of age.

Wood is also trying to get his campaign message out while reminding people of the upcoming vote.

"It's almost like a new campaign over again," Wood said of the six weeks between the primary and runoff. Still, the Autauga County district judge is campaigning on his experience.

"The amount of experience is probably the differentiating factor," he said.

He cites 22 years of judicial experience, 28 years of legal experience and 25 years of military experience in the U.S. Army Reserve and the Alabama Air National Guard.

During a runoff where the highest profile race on the ticket is the lieutenant governor's race, Wood said he's reminding voters the importance of the court's rulings.

He's also reminding them he's not a judicial activist trying to legislate from the bench.

Thomas also cites the importance of following legal precedent, not personal opinion.

"If you want to change the law, you have to do it through the Legislature. It's not my job to change the law," she said.

Wood said it sounds like his opponent shares his view on judicial activism.

He said he's also trying to pick up supporters of Montgomery County District Judge William Shashy, who finished third in the tight, three-way primary.

During the June 6 primary Wood led with 130,277 votes
to Thomas' 129,134 votes. Shashy had 91,524 votes.

Biographical information

Biographical information on Terri Willingham Thomas and Phillip Wood, Republican candidates for the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals Place 3:

Terri Willingham Thomas

  • Political party: Republican.
  • Date of birth: Oct. 13, 1964 (41).
  • Hometown: Cullman.
  • Education: Attended Wallace State Community College in Hanceville; bachelor’s degree from Athens State University; law degree from Cumberland School of Law at Samford University.
  • Professional background: Worked as lawyer in private practice in Cullman. Former president of the Alabama Juvenile and Family Courts Judges Association, faculty member of Alabama Judicial College, serves on committee to rewrite Alabama’s juvenile code.
  • Political background: Elected in 1996 to first of two terms as Cullman County district and juvenile court judge.

    On the Net: www.terriw

    Phillip Wood

  • Political party: Republican.
  • Birth date: Sept. 4, 1951 (54).
  • Hometown: Born in Panama City, Fla.; now lives in Prattville.
  • Education: Bachelor’s degree from Auburn University in 1973 and law degree from The University of Alabama in 1977.
  • Professional background: Had a private law practice before becoming a judge.
  • Political background: Appointed Autauga County district judge in 1983 by Gov. George C. Wallace; elected in 1984 and 1990 as a Democrat; switched parties and got elected in 1996 and 2002 as a Republican.

    On the Net: www.JudgePhillipWood

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