Judgeship bill could address justice system in three North Alabama counties

WAFF 48's Matthew King reporting
Published: May. 24, 2023 at 5:52 PM CDT
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - Senate Bill 39 has been passed by the state house and senate and it will establish 13 judgeships across the state. It would bring a circuit and district judgeship to Madison County, a circuit judgeship to Lauderdale County and a district judgeship to Dekalb County.

“We’ve been running at full capacity in our system for several years,” Madison County Chief Deputy District Attorney Tim Gann said. “It didn’t account for population increase or crime increase.”

As more people move to North Alabama, more court cases are added to the docket and court officials say there just aren’t enough judges to take them all on. Gann said the COVID pandemic worsened the already growing caseload.

“We had about 7,000 cases that just backed up,” he said.

In the past, major criminal cases took two to three years to resolve. Now, they’re averaging four to five years before trial.

“Evidence gets destroyed, people move away, and witnesses pass away,” Gann said. “You have victims out here that have had some of the worst things imaginable to them. For example, for the last three capital murder cases that we’ve tried, they’ve been five years old. That’s half a decade waiting on a case to go for a trial.”

Lauderdale County Judge Will Powell said this is a massive step toward a faster court system, not just for criminal cases.

“Criminal cases make the news, but people’s real lives sometimes turn from the results of the civil litigation and the family law or divorce litigation,” he said. “Children, families, and small businesses will benefit greatly from that. We will now have a more stable and more effective court system.”

The bill has been passed by state lawmakers and awaits a decision from Governor Kay Ivey.

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