Tuesday's Republican runoff will feature two attorneys, one of whom will be a groundbreaking successor to the retiring Rick Allison after what has been a fairly quiet campaign.
Either John Mark Dutton and A. Lee Tucker will be the ultimate winner, unless an unlikely write-in candidacy wins in the November General Election. No Democrats nor independents have signed up for the postion.
Dutton noted the office runs "fairly smooth" in general. He said the issue that usually gets the most attention — the length of the tag lines - is hard to know how to address until someone gets into the office to see what the issues and solutions are.
He said he also wanted people to feel "like they are welcome when they come into the probate office. I want them to feel like they are being helped and their issues are being addressed. That is what I am going to expect from everyone if I am elected."
Dutton also wants to change the filing fees.
"When you go into the judicial section and you file paperwork, whether it is an adoption, a name change or a will, any type of estate being probated, they have this sheet and they go down. They charge $30 for this, $50 for that, $20 — there's no consistancy. I want to get to a more uniform, consistant filing system. Many of our surrounding counties have done that, and there is no reason we can't do it," he said.
He said if one calls Winston County and asks how much it costs to file for an estate, the rate can be told. "They can't do it here in Walker County," he said. "You need go in and they have to look at a little check sheet. That is an antiquated way of doing it. That needs to be changed."
He said other counties have changed it, although it would have to be done legislatively.
Dutton also wanted to see an online filing system installed.
"I would like to have it where if people need forms and things that need to be filed, they could get online and get the pre-ready made forms like they have in the circuit and district courts," he said. "I would also like to get us on the state filing system where you can file papers online — your pleadings and your other court documents, you can do it online instead of having to come all the way to the probate court to do that."
Dutton noted both candidates are attorneys; both had advocated the benefit of having a lawyer in the position during the June 5 primary.
"That's not going to make a whole lot of difference whichever gets that" in regards to legal experience. However, he said it will help the circuit courts in a large way.
"We will be able to handle cases over there that would have normally been transferred over to the circuit court to deal with complex legal issues," Dutton said. "They can now be handled at the probate court level, which it should be. Again that was one of those antiquated rules, where you didn't have to be an attorney to be a probate judge in Walker County. That is going to change real quickly." He thinks that law will be changed in the next few years anyway, as the position is now somewhat complex.
Dutton has noted he handles a variety of cases, including probate matters.
Meanwhile, Tucker said he would try to do all he could do to make the tag lines better.
"I'm going to promise I'm going to try to make it a friendly place while everyone is there. Those are good people who work down there and they work hard, and I want them to continue so they can get better," he said.
Asked about other issues at the office, he said, "My plan is to take a hard look at everything if I get elected, and things that can change that make sense to change, that we do that," he said. "Once we have a good look at it, if there are things I feel that need wholesale change, then I'll look at that. But I'm not going to throw the baby out with the bath water so that when something is working, you want to adjust it. You don't want to necessarily throw it all away so it don't work anymore."
When pressed for more details, he said, "I've got a number of things that I'm thinking about doing, but it is something I want to do when I get in. I want to look at automation. I want to look at what we can do computerizewise in dealing with the Internet to make it easier for the public to have access. I want to look at whether or not there are things we can do with automation in the office. I think that is one of the biggest areas we can save money for the county and make it easier for the public," he said.
Tucker said he also wanted to make sure "everyone is informed about what is necessary so that they know when they are coming in what we're going to need and being a very helpful office," with workers being friendly and accessible, making the process as "painless as possible."
He also talked of wanting to use his 34-year legal experience in the legal field to good use to make sure all issues are heard fairly and responsibly. "I feel I have the most experience and the ability to do the job without training," he said.
John Mark Dutton
High School: Curry High School, in 1986.
Law school: Attended Birmingham School of Law while teaching; got degree in 2004.
Work Experience: Walker County Board of Education as instructor for 16 years; also taught at Bevill State Community College at night. Started own firm in 2006. Appointed and served as special prosecutor and judge on municipal level. Certified to practice in front of the U.S. Federal Northern and Middle District Courts; appeared before Alabama Supreme Court. Trained as rescue diver and instructor and is certified as full technical cave diver.
Membership: Woodland Trace Church of Christ in Jasper, Sierra Club, National Speleological Society and its Cave Diving Section, the National Association of Cave Diving, Birmingham Adventure Group and Horse Creek Hunting Club.
Family: Married to Lydia Dutton for 30 years, no children.
A. Lee Tucker
High School: Dora High School, in 1973.
Law school: Birmingham School of Law, got degree in 1984.
Work experience: Has run own law firm for 34 years. Municipal judge in Sumiton and associate judge in Jasper. Points to years of probate cases, with such cases now going on in five counties.
Membership: Elks Lodge, UAB Alumni Society and New Temple Baptist Church in Bagley.
Family: One son, Ian, 24.