Saturday, May 17, 2008

Profile: A. Thomas Stubbs, candidate for judge

Posted By on Sat, May 17, 2008 at 5:00 PM

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(Photo by Joeff Davis)

Decatur attorney Tom Stubbs represents plaintiffs in consumer law and personal injury cases, and defendants in criminal cases. He’s running to be a Dekalb County Superior Court Judge.

How is running for judge different than running for other offices?

You can’t promise anyone anything except that you’ll be fair and decent to them.

Also, when you challenge an incumbent judge, it’s dangerous to the financial health of people who are often in [the incumbent’s] court to help you. I have a lot of lawyers helping me behind the scenes. A judge’s discretion is enormous, so there are reasonable concerns folks would have [about openly supporting me].

Do you have a gavel?

I do have a gavel, from some of the organizations I’ve chaired.

Do you practice judging with it at home in front of a mirror?

I have three children and don’t have the chance to make a fool of myself like that at home.

What is Superior Court?

It’s the highest trial court in the county. It can hear every case. It’s the only place you can go for family law and felonies. It’s the only place you go for injunctive relief, for example if you want to stop a developer from building something.

You wear a name tag telling people you’re a candidate for judge. You also have a magnet on your car saying so. How often do people come up to you because of those?

Fairly often. A lot of people don’t know you can run for judge.

Do they come up to you at inopportune times, like if you’re at a store buying toilet paper?

I’m not quite at celebrity status, where people coming up to me are interfering with my life. I’m running for office against an incumbent, so I’m happy to talk anywhere.

Other than the sign on your car and the name tag, how do you campaign?

I get out and go to community events just about every night. For the last eight or so years, I’ve participated in civic and church events throughout the county.

What do people ask you about when they find out you’re running for judge. Do they want to know if you’re going to be ‘tough on crime’?

They usually aren’t that unsubtle. They ask what you feel about particular issues.

The main [issue I get asked about] is non-violent, first-time offenders. The danger of being associated with the prison system is horrific. It’s a deep stain that keeps them from getting jobs later in life. The extent to which I will have discretion [as a judge], I’ll try to protect the victim, but with compassion.

The second most extreme thing the government can do to you is put you in jail. I’m a firm believer that the greatest threat to our own liberty is our own government. I will not let myself be a tool of that.

Should judges be elected?

Absolutely. The election of judges is one of the most important ways to ensure the independence of the judiciary. When you have judges who’ve campaigned and gone to the public for support, other politicians won’t have the leverage to attack them. Unelected judicial offices can become insulated from the public. That makes them vulnerable [to attacks from politicians].

What kind of law do you practice right now?

I have a general practice, focused on representing consumers whether they’ve had a physical or a financial injury. I’ve also done criminal as well.

How long have you been doing it?

I’ve practiced here for 17 years. I was an economist in a prior life in the U.S. senate. This is a second career for me. I worked for three U.S. Senators: Ed Zorinsky (A Nebraska Democrat who served from 1976 to 1987), Paul Simon (An Illinois Democrat who served from 1985 to 1997), and Herb Kohl (A Wisconsin Democrat in his fourth-term), spelled K-O-H-L like the department store, which he used to own.

To which fictional lawyer are you most similar?

Half of us were inspired by Atticus Finch. I’m not egotistical to think I’m like Atticus Finch though.

How did you get trialattorney.com. That’s a pretty great domain name for a lawyer.

In the old days, domain names were released in batches. I wanted trialattorney.com, but I was too late [on the evening it was released for sale]. The guy that got it was a purveyor of porn. I called him, but he wouldn’t sell it. A couple of years later, he called and offered it to me.

A lot of judges have nicknames based on their style of judging. What do you want to be known as?

"Fat, but fair" would be a pretty good title.

Do you want to be a TV judge?

I’m too ugly for TV. If they develop radio judging . . .

Can you handle the truth?

I can handle the truth. I want the truth. I deserve the truth.

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