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My friend Martin Weinberg is running for Circuit Court Judge, Criminal Division Place 3 in Birmingham, Alabama. I asked him some questions, first personal and then about the race. Hopefully this helps Martin in his campaign. We would really appreciate comments that could help him with this race.

Personal Questions:
CA: On your website it says that your family ran a department store called "Cotton's" for over 90 years. What does it mean to you and to the community to lose that store?

MW: Wow.  It was really touching when we closed. So many memories of working in there as a kid learning values of hard work. Humility. Community and civic involvement.  Hearing from customers about how much it meant to them that we were one of first stores to give credit.

To African American customers and then how my grandfather told a mob of folks to get the hell out of his store when they told him not to hire a black salesperson. It's a two way street. Folks were loyal to us and that patronage put me through school. It means a lot to me to know how much goodwill we had.

CA: how has your part of Alabama changed in your lifetime? and/or in the last ten years?

MW: I think birmingham has gotten a bad rap especially because of all the negative connotations associated with the civil rights era. It's definitely becoming more progressive.  That's a lot of why I'm running for judge. I think its important to show that we have transcended demographic racial and socio economic barriers. Still a long way to go but we can change that by getting involved.

CA: When did you know you wanted to be a lawyer? Or when/why did you first become interested in justice?

MW: I think when I was exposed to different social justice issues during summer before senior year of high school.  I worked with mayors division of youth services and was able to interact with a lot of elected officials and community leaders and traveled to dc for youth violence forum. Got to meet First Lady Hillary Clinton. Vp gore.  The exposure was amazing.  And we were doing real work.

CA: Who taught you to be the man you are, and what was it they taught you?

MW: I think family members were the greatest influence.  My grandfather played a big role. The way he treated folks.  He could be tough but he had a good heart.  My grandmother was a fighter and an amazing spirit. She was one of first breast cancer survivors in Alabama. My dad is very humble and has an amazing work ethic. No work was beneath him he would open gates to store every morning. Take out trash.

CA: Are you religious?

MW: Jewish. It's a big part of who I am.  Grew up in temple and Jewish community. Very strong part of my identity.

CA: Fishing or Hunting?

MW: I like to fish. Don't do a lot of it.  Never been hunting in my entire life.

CA: Since Sochi just ended, favorite Olympic event?

MW: I watched about ten minutes unfortunately.  I love the summer Olympics.  Track and field since I was a runner in high school.

CA: What kind of track and field? Sprints, long distance.. javelin?

MW: My best event was 880.  I did mile some  440 some. Long jump.  Pole vaulting a little. Ran cross country.

CA: Favorite athletes of all time?

MW: So many.  Jackie Robinson although never saw him play obviously.  Bo Jackson probably the greatest physical talent  and he's an Alabama native.

CA: Favorite sporting event you've witnessed?

MW: Braves pirates nlcs 1992 game 7.  And Georgia Bama 2012 sec championship

CA: what's going on in Birmingham that would be surprising to those of us from out of state? what makes you hopeful about the future?

MW: There is a lot of revitalization in Birmingham. We have a new state of art minor league stadium.  Next door to an outdoor railroad park. Nice green spaces.  The school system has really held us back but we are starting to get on the right track.  The leadership seems to be really good though.  So I'm optimistic.  Lots of innovative ideas coming out of here.  I think we are doing a better job of embracing the civil rights legacy as well.

Questions about the race

CA: Why did you decide to enter this race for circuit court judge?

MW: This position is for Circuit Court Criminal Judge. 3 things about this positions 1. it's the highest county court 2. it handles serious  felony cases 3.  this is where jury trials are conducted.

Over the past decade I've practice primarily criminal defense, civil, rights, personal injury and social security disability.

“I have had a life long passion for helping others and I believe that is evident today in both my law practice and my commitment to civic and community activities. Even as a teenager I was involved in civic activities aimed at improving the quality of life in Jefferson County and have developed friendships and personal relationships that transcend  demographic and socio-economic barriers.

I learned a lot about my family history during the transition of Cotton’s closing after 90 years in the same location last year. Stories were told about how Cotton’s was one of the first stores to extend credit to African-American customers and later employ African-American salespersons despite pressure from other business leaders to do otherwise. Despite the numerous changes in the area, competition from big box retailers and closings of most other businesses my family stayed right where it started.  

I have had a series of conversations over the past year with my wife Angela, mentors, family members and friends about how my experience, leadership skills, values, vision, inclusiveness, hard work and humility could be best served.  

I majored in Criminal Justice in college and have had a number of valuable career experiences since that time which have shaped my vision of how the Courts can effectively interact with the public. During my legal career I’ve represented paying clients, indigent clients to which I was appointed by the state and on a number of occasions have represented clients pro-bono.

As a Judge, I understand that I would not be the arbiter of guilt or innocence but instead be a servant to make sure that all people are treated equal and start on the same level playing field.  It is my promise that if elected Judge of Jefferson County Criminal Court Place 3 that my interaction with the public will not be limited to the courtroom after election day. I will continue to listen, learn and remain approachable to all of the citizens of Jefferson County.  Over the next several months, it is also my goal to speak with as many people as I can and educate them about what the Circuit Criminal Court does and it’s importance to the community.

CA: Do you have any comments on the Michael Dunn verdict that came out today? Or the Trayvon Martin case from last year?

I knew you were going to ask that.  I'm not sure it's appropriate for me to comment on the jury verdict in the Dunn case specifically because I haven't followed it as closely as the Trayvon case. What I find is that both of these cases and others like Oscar Grant show is that people are losing trust in the Judicial system.

People are getting angry with with verdicts. As a Judge I will not be the arbiter of guilt or innocence but I would promise that I would preside over a trial with fairness, decorum, and making sure that everyone has a level playing field.

CA: What kind of funds are you hoping to raise and what would you plan on using them for?

MW: I'm anticipating that I need to run 30-40k for the primary. Going back to your earlier question about how this compares to political campaigns and involvement. I'm also discouraged from directly raising funds. My committee is suppose to raise the money.

Money raised would go toward signs, push cards, radio, canvassing, and other avenues of getting out my message. The campaign covers a very large area

of course we have a website www.supportmartin.com where folks can learn more about the campaign and donate.

CA: is there someone currently in that seat?

There is. The Judge that was in this seat for many years resigned in 2013. Appointed by the Republican Governor was a Republican Judge who lost his reelection in 2012.

However, our county has gotten significantly more Democratic even though the State has become more republican over the past several years.

First I've got primary opposition though. At this point I've got to just get my name out there and let folks learn what I'm about. What I want to do is spend a lot of time educating voters about what this position does and how the courts work. Most people don't know.

CA: if elected, what happens to your practice?

MW: i would have to wind it up between the general and the election. that has always made it a tough decision. i love practicing but I think that this is my calling and I would make sure that my clients are taken care of by other competent attorneys.

CA: how does the position you're running for compare to being a Supreme court justice? How much discretion would you have in interpreting the law?

MW: i think that there is always room for interpretation.  of course my decisions on procedural matters can always be appealed to the criminal court of appeals and onward to the state supreme court.

There have been some new sentencing guidelines that have been instituted which take a lot of discretion out. In some respects it does provide some consistency and the intention was to have presumptive sentences where those convicted or who plea guilty don't get jail time for low level drug and theft crimes.

CA: good stuff thanks

MW: thanks for doing it.

Martin's website is up at http://www.supportmartin.com, if you have a few dollars to spare he could sure put them to use!

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