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State Supreme Court Justice Likens GOP Opponent to a Skunk

October 9, 1996 GMT

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) _ The 30-second TV spot opens with an image of a skunk and a narrator intoning: ``Some things you can smell a mile away.″

A promo for a wildlife group? Ad for a deodorant?

No, it’s the latest campaign commercial in a nasty race for a spot on the Alabama Supreme Court.

Justice Kenneth Ingram, a Democrat running for a second six-year term, is using the ad to attack Republican Harold See, a law professor at the University of Alabama for 20 years.

The contest has become the focus of an ongoing political fight between plaintiffs’ trial lawyers, who support the incumbent, and business interests, who want to defeat him.

In the ad, which began running statewide Tuesday night, the skunk is followed by a full-screen photo of See as the narrator says: ``You can smell how bad this man’s ideas are no matter where you live in Alabama. ... This Harold See ... a slick Chicago lawyer. Now Harold See wants a seat on Alabama’s Supreme Court, where he wants to use his power to take away our right to a trial by jury in civil lawsuits. Harold See doesn’t think average Alabamians are smart enough to serve on juries. That stinks.″

A fast-walking skunk reappears along with the written message ``Say NO to HAROLD SEE″ as the narrator says: ``You can smell what Harold See is up to.″

See described the commercial as ``character assassination″ and demanded an apology.

Rules of the state Supreme Court say judges seeking re-election should ``maintain the dignity appropriate to judicial office.″

``I think this is beyond anything that the drafters of that conceived as permissible judicial campaigning conduct,″ See said.

Ingram said Wednesday that he would never do anything to discredit the judiciary and that the commercial comparing See’s ideas to a skunk ``speaks for itself.″

``I can’t imagine anybody thinking that has a reflection on the court system of Alabama,″ Ingram said.

Ingram also questioned whether it was proper for See to run an earlier TV commercial that took issue with Ingram and a majority of the state justices for upholding a $2 million verdict against BMW for failing to disclose a touched-up paint job on a Birmingham doctor’s new car. The U.S. Supreme Court later referred to that verdict as ``grossly excessive.″

Business interests supporting See contend the Supreme Court has failed to control excessive damage awards in such cases.