Two Russell County District Court judge incumbents appointed by Gov. Robert Bentley face opposition in their first appearance on the ballot.
Judge Buster Landreau, who took office in December 2013 is facing a challenge from attorney Zack Collins for the Place 1 seat. Judge Walter Gray, who took office in January 2015, is being challenged by attorney April Logan Russell for the Place 2 seat.
Both judges will be elected in the March 1 Democratic seat because there is no Republican candidate for either judgeship.
One of the interesting twists is the Democratic primary is occurring at the same time as the Republican primary and though there are no Republican candidates for the three major local seats -- the two judge jobs and the contested Russell County district attorney post -- there is a hotly contested Republican presidential race. If a voter pulls a Republican ballot to vote in the Republican presidential race, they will not be eligible to vote in the local Democratic races.
The race is a contrast between a lifelong Russell County resident, Landreau, and a candidate with Columbus connections who moved to the county from Montgomery in November 2014.
"The two things are experience and community ties," Landreau said. "One thing every judge has to do is weigh what is in the best interest of the individual with the best interest of the community. I don't know how you can weigh the best interest of community if you have not been part of community."
That is not how Collins, who grew up in Columbus, attended Columbus State University before going to Jones School of Law in Montgomery, sees it.
"I am closer to the courthouse than he is." Collins said. "He grew up in Hatchechubbee. I found lot of people didn't know who he was. I have come back home and made significant ties. If you have lived here all your life and haven't done anything, it doesn't matter."
Landreau has been practicing law in Russell County since he graduated from the University of Alabama School of Law in 1979. He spent 19 years in private law practice and 15 years as chief district attorney before being appointed to the bench. In addition, he was the chief of the Ladonia Volunteer Fire Department from 1995 to 2005. He also is on the board of the Salvation Army and the Cora Green Foundation, which is trying to open an emergency shelter for abused and abandoned children.
The seat primarily handles juvenile matters, such as criminal cases, runaways, truancies, unmanageable and juvenile dependency. The judge also hears divorce cases and child support modification hearings.
Landreau points to what he has accomplished in more than two years on the bench.
"When I took office in 2013, we were hearing 839 juvenile cases a year," he said. "In 2015, we had cut to 471, which is close to 50 percent reduction. In 2013, we had 86 felonies committed by juveniles. In 2015, we had 59."
Landreau said there is a reason for such a reduction.
"We have instituted a juvenile diversion so first-time offenders get intensive supervision," he said. "We have started using ankle monitors so we know where they are and what they're doing. We have done a better job of using psychology students from Auburn and Troy to interview kids and see where the problems are."
Collins said the juvenile court is where his passion is.
"I went to law school because I always wanted to be a family court judge," he said. "Now, it is time with my experience and the availability of the seat to do that. I am ready to help young folks and families stay together."
Collins has been a contract lawyer for the Montgomery County Juvenile Court since 2005 and still does work in that court. He said his mother's health issues are the main reason he returned to the Chattahoochee Valley.
"I wasn't particularly eyeing this seat," he said of moving closer to home 15 months ago. "My mom was on dialysis, and I wanted to take care of her. This was just the time and the season."
The duties of the Place 2 seat include child support collections, criminal misdemeanor, a majority of the initial hearings mandated in felony cases, civil cases, traffic cases and small claims.
Gray and Logan Russell bring different perspectives to the race.
Gray spent more than 17 years in private practice before he was appointed to the bench a little more than a year ago. Knowing he was going to be on the ballot this year, he knew there was a strong possibility of a challenge.
"When you first get an appointment, somebody will come out and challenge you initially," Gray said. "It is not totally unexpected. But I have never understood why I was being challenged because it wasn't based on my record."
Logan Russell is running for the second time since June 2014. She lost a Russell County Circuit Court judge race to David Johnson, who had been in the District Court seat Gray now holds. Johnson got more than 61 percent of the vote, and it was Johnson's win that opened the way for Gray's appointment.
"As a female attorney in Phenix City, I feel like the elected offices should be representative of the community," Logan Russell said. "We have never had a female judge in Phenix City and never had that perspective from the bench. Don't take this as 'I am woman hear me roar,' but women have different life experiences, they think differently and they govern differently."
Gray, like Logan Russell, is a graduate of Jones School of Law in Montgomery. He said he has brought a businessman's perspective to the bench.
"When I was in private practice, I ran my own business," he said. "When I had a partner, I ran a lot of the business side of it. You look at business and apply accordingly."
One of the things he did in that respect was when he began to deal with the collections docket. One of the issues was the state of Alabama cut funding for its Restitution Recovery Initiative, forcing those who were not paying restitution and court costs into jail.
"There is no way of knowing of how much we have recovered," Gray said. "We had 220 cases on the December docket and 190 in January. I am a salaried judge. I am already here."
What Gray did was put the cases on the docket and help those with back fines set up payment plans.
"They could pay the court costs and fines or be put in jail where they were credited with $15 a day toward court costs," Gray said. "It costs $65 a day to house them in the jail. I ordered them to come in and be part of collections docket and set up payment plans. That generates revenue for county and saves the sheriff $65 a day."
Logan, who is in private practice and specializes in family law, said running her second race in a short period of time has been positive.
"I think the first time helped me with name recognition," she said. "I am seeing a lot of the same people. I think it is important for a judge to promise to be fair and impartial. And that is what I promise to do."
Name: Buster Landreau
Occupation: Russell County District Court judge since December 1, 2013; prior to July 1998-December 2013, chief deputy district attorney; private law practice October 1979-July 1998
Education: Macon Academy, Tuskegee, Ala., 1973; Auburn University, BS, political science, 1976; University of Alabama School of Law, 1979
Name: Zack Collins
Occupation: Attorney practicing in Phenix City, licensed in Alabama and Georgia; U.S. Air Force 1989-1993
Education: Baker High School, 1989; Columbus State University, BS, communications, 1998; Jones School of Law, Montgomery, Ala., 2002
Name: Walter Gray
Occupation: Russell County District Court judge since January 2015; prior to that in private law practice since 1997
Education: Glenwood High School, 1988; Auburn University, BS, medical psychology, 1993; Jones School of Law, Montgomery, Ala., 1997
Name: April Logan Russell
Occupation: Attorney in private practice in Russell County since 2005
Education: Coconut Creek (Fla.) High School, 1986; Auburn University, BA, political science, 2002; Jones School of Law, Montgomery, Ala., 2005