If you had to stand in a court of law, desperate for justice, either for yourself or for someone you love, you would find comfort knowing Judge Deborah Bell Paseur would be serving behind the bench. Looking at her life story - from child to woman, mother and police officer and judge and community leader - reveals a person with a strict devotion to the rule of law, a belief in the opportunity for redemption, a passion to help children succeed, and a love for her country expressed by service to those who dedicate their lives to protect it.
Deborah Bell's parents raised her and her brother in Birmingham, Alabama. Her father worked for a company that manufactured corrugated boxes, while her mother cared for Deborah and her brother Roy. When Deborah was young, her father, who suffered from the disease alcoholism, drank heavily and the family had some tough times. But Roy Quinn Bell realized that if he continued, he would fail as a husband and a father. So, he not only stopped drinking but dedicated the rest of his life to helping others break from their addiction and turn their lives around. Redemption was taught at home.
So were some other very essential beliefs that have stayed with Deborah Bell throughout her life. Today, many parents do not want their young children watching the nightly news or seeing photos on the front pages of newspapers and magazines. War is frightening and complicated. Deborah remembers her parents having the same instinct to shelter her from the news of their day. As the country struggled with desegregation, Alabama was at center stage, and the images and language broadcast nightly were violent and angry. Repeatedly and clearly, Roy and Jeanne Bell told their daughter that racism was wrong. Equality is not to be questioned. This was put into the heart of Deborah Bell long before she became a judge.
The friends she made as a young girl at Ramsay High School in Birmingham have stayed close to her. They have shared many joys and struggles, and they continue to laugh and cry together as their children marry and have children of their own. "Deborah kept us laughing," remembers Birki Cvacho, a friend of Deborah's since the 8th grade. "She was the one who looked out for all of us. She was the responsible one," recalls Mary Anne Wimberly, a friend from high school.
"She was always everyone's mama and kept her common sense. She has so much compassion for others that she was always reaching out to help people...even total strangers. We often worried about her because she never gave a second thought to herself or even her own safety before jumping in to help," said Diane Liles Holcomb, who has been a close friend since high school.
Keeping friends for a lifetime is a sign of someone who is loyal and selfless. This is the kind of friend who answers the phone at any hour of the day or night and puts aside everything to get in a car or on a plane at a moment's notice. Deborah Bell will never be poor, because she is rich with friends.
A Young Woman
Deborah went to college at the University of Alabama and graduated with a degree in Social Work. But, like many people who go to college, she discovered a field of interest she had not really considered before then - the law. Law was a natural fit with her lifelong interest in criminal and juvenile justice. She applied and was accepted to the University Of Alabama School Of Law.
A friend told her about the possibility of working one summer as a police officer, and Deborah Bell pursued it. She took the tests and worked the shooting range, until she was sworn in and given her badge and gun. She spent the next two summers walking the beat or working undercover in plain clothes. It's a time in her life she looks back on with fond memories and with a respect for the men and women who worked alongside her. She knows the dedication and the danger faced by those in law enforcement today. It's tougher than ever, and it's the job of a judge to make certain that their work ends in justice for the victims of crime.
But becoming a judge was not the next stop in Deborah Bell's legal career. She had to go back to the University of Alabama to finish her law degree. She then took a job in a very small office in Florence, Alabama, providing legal services to those who could not afford an attorney.
We may all be equal in the eyes of the law, but that doesn't mean everyone gets a good lawyer. And, in our judicial system, a good lawyer is critical when you are in a struggle for child custody or Social Security benefits. She was a good lawyer, and the first woman to practice law in the county.
Later, she joined a general civil practice as a junior associate. It was a more equitable job, but her passion was always for the law first and never for the money. This dedication is further evidenced by her continuing her legal education by earning a Master's Degree in Criminal Justice.
It was at this time that a young man came back into her life. Deborah Bell met Randall Paseur from New Hope in Madison County, Alabama, while they were in college. After he finished college, he entered the U.S. Army with a Regular Army Commission while she pursued the study of law. The two
reacquainted, and soon after Randall completed his military service, the two were married in Deborah's childhood church in Birmingham. Her life seemed to be taking root. She had not, however, found her calling in the field of law.
In Lauderdale County, many attorneys complained about the actions of a certain judge. This is not unique. But the complaints about this judge were near universal. Everyone had a story of how he abused his position of authority and mistreated people. Regardless, nobody would challenge him for re-election, fearing they would lose and destroy their ability to practice law in the county. Deborah Bell Paseur decided to run for the office.
When she won, she became the first woman judge in Lauderdale County history.
And Judge Paseur wasn't just a woman and wife. She soon became a mother, giving birth to a daughter, Valerie.
Balancing the duties of motherhood with the duties of work remains a challenge that is often underappreciated. For Deborah, it was even more demanding, as her court had, and still has, one of the largest caseloads in the state. She was handling everything from civil cases and juvenile court to criminal cases including drug crimes and domestic violence.
Eventually, a separate family court was established, but Deborah's last case in the family court arena was one of her most personal.
Outside the Court
A certain troubled family found itself on Deborah's dependency and neglect juvenile caseload. Deborah dealt with the case for many years beginning in 1984 and ending only when the youngest child left the foster care system at age 21. The children were caught between foster care and returning to a home life that was unstable and unsupportive. The youngest child, the little girl, was having a particularly hard time.
Deborah realized the pressure put on someone so young and felt compelled to do more than simply act as a judge. Her family became this child's home away from home, and later, Deborah became her foster parent. It is never easy to become responsible for someone else's well being, and Deborah knew the challenges of acting as a parent to someone with this child's background. But she also knew that this girl needed help to get through the tough years ahead. This beautiful young woman is now married. Randall gave her away at the wedding. And her children have a grandmother who is a judge.
Reaching out and giving back was a lifelong impulse fostered by Deborah's parents and her church. Even as a teenager Deborah's heart has always been with young people and as an adult, most of the civic and charitable work she has done proves that. She is a founding member of the Big Brothers/Big Sisters chapter and the Safeplace domestic violence shelter program in her community. She founded the Shoals Alternative Network, Inc. to create community awareness of the affects of drug addiction. She also helped start a Drug Court to save lives and save the taxpayers from financing jail time for addicts destined to repeat their crimes. When she was a juvenile judge, Deborah established a truancy program to bring parents and children into the court before it was too late for a child to graduate. She knows how critical the early years of development are in establishing good habits. She is also a supporter of the Girls State program and the Children First Foundation from its inception.
Deborah has been active in many other civic endeavors. For more than twenty years, she's been a member of the Shoals Area Chamber of Commerce and has served on the Board of Directors. She is a member of Class XI of Leadership Alabama. She is currently president-elect of the Florence Rotary Club. She was elected Young Careerist of the Year of the Business and Professional Women's Club, received the Outstanding Young Woman Award of the Alabama State Jaycees, In addition, she has served on the Retired Senior Volunteer Advisory Board for more than twenty years and is currently president-elect of the Florence Rotary Club. Perhaps her strongest devotion has been serving Alabama's veterans. With a father, brother, and husband who served in our military, Deborah has been and still remains a member of the American Legion Auxiliary, holding every local and district office over the last twenty-five years. With her passionate commitment to good citizenship, Americanism and patriotism, and to passing those values on to our young people, Deborah recruited junior high and high school students to collect donations for veterans for more than twenty years.
Deborah maintains her ties to the men and women who serve in the police department, having served on the Citizens' Advisory Board of the Florence, Alabama police department. As a Member of the Children's Code Committee of the Alabama Law Institute, she helped complete a top-to-bottom revision of the laws governing the adoption of children.
A New Challenge
Today, Deborah is a candidate for the Alabama Supreme Court. It is not a position she planned to seek, but much like the first time she ran for judge, she sees a need that is not being met. The elections for Alabama's Supreme Court have become partisan and rancorous and there is a perception that justice is for sale in our state. This has eroded public trust in the judicial system that she has dedicated her life to serving.
Judge Deborah Bell Paseur is working to bring together all sides of the professional community and to maintain decorum in her campaign that is fitting of the office she seeks. When elected, she will serve only the law of the State of Alabama and deal only in the facts of each case. She also sees the position of Supreme Court Justice as a chance to make a statewide difference outside the duties of the job itself, and pledges to maintain her work helping children stay out of trouble and in school. She will also maintain open and frequent communication with the men and women in law enforcement. She never forgets that she wore a badge and carried a gun before she wore a robe and swung a gavel.
The lessons Deborah Bell learned as a child have stayed with her. In tough times, she holds tight to her faith and looks for ways that God uses bad for good. She is selfless and loyal to her friends, believes in acting not complaining, and she listens for moments when she is called to do more than just the duties of her job. The legal credentials and judicial experience that are found on her resume are exactly what a Supreme Court Justice should have. She is more than qualified. It is, however, her personal qualities and the strength of her character that will make Judge Deborah Bell Paseur an exceptional Supreme Court Justice.