Attorneys argue bill addressing judge shortage across Alabama doesn’t go far enough

WAFF's D'Quan Lee reporting
Published: Jun. 25, 2023 at 10:50 PM CDT
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - WAFF 48 News is On Your Side, taking a closer look at the shortage of judges in Madison County and around the state. It’s leading to long delays in criminal cases and lawsuits being resolved.

With the passing of Senate Bill 39, 13 new judge positions will be added through the state, with Madison County set to receive two new positions. They’ll be voted on in the 2024 General Election and should help ease the workload of judges in undermanned districts.

Alabama State Representative Jim Hill of St. Clair County called the bill a big win for the state.

“To my knowledge, we have never added that many in that short period of time at least in the 50 years I’ve been practicing law I think that what we did was a big asset to the state,” Hill said.

The one caveat to the bill is being unable to reallocate one judgeship from one county to another until 2027.

Prior to it becoming law, this happened earlier this year when Jefferson County had one judgeship moved to Huntsville. But attorney Hunter Garnett believes reallocation is the best method of appointing new judgeships without breaking the state’s budget.

“Jefferson County and some other parts of the state are not only stagnant but actually in decline. And beyond that, court filings and those venues are on the decline even more than the population,” Garnett said. “And what that leads to is an abundance of judges with a much lighter caseload than what our judges here in Madison County have.”

I asked Representative Hill if reallocation would be a viable option for the state after 2027. He said it would be a difficult task to achieve and, politically, could get messy.

However, he said at that point, the question shouldn’t be about whether one county has more judges than they need.

“The next question is ‘Is there a vacancy that is in Jefferson County or any other county such that that particular vacancy can be shifted?’” he said.

In Alabama, judges are forced to retire at age 70, so Representative Hill said only time will tell if reallocation is the right answer.

For now, North Alabama will soon have more judges to make the flow of cases a little smoother.

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