Commission tables creation of judicial committee
by Will Heath


PELL CITY — St. Clair County commissioners voted to table a resolution that would have led to the creation of a judicial nominating committee.

At its last meeting, the commission — which first heard the idea of a nominating committee that would meet in case of a mid-term vacancy in the judicial system — tabled the resolution unanimously, after Commissioner Paul Manning moved to do so. Manning had stated previously that he thought the current process for judicial appointments is sufficient.

“In my opinion, it was for the best interest of the county (to table it),” he said.

Since 2008, the governor’s office has appointed Probate Judge Mike Bowling, Circuit Judge Phil Seay and District Judge Alan Furr. In each case, the judges were chosen from a pool of county residents who applied.

According to the resolution — first proposed by presiding Circuit Judge Jim Hill at the county’s Nov. 7 meeting — the committee would consist of five members: the presiding circuit judge (Hill), the chairman of the County Commission (Stan Batemon), the county’s representative on the Alabama Bar Association (Elizabeth Parsons) and two at-large members, one from the Northern Division and one from the Southern.

The committee would receive applications for any vacancies, and make non-binding recommendations to the governor for the appointment.

“We really have a good judiciary in this county, and I’m very proud of them,” Hill said Friday. “There are times when vacancies occur, and so far the governor has done an excellent job of filling those vacancies. The only purpose of this bill is to do a screening or vetting so that the best, the three most qualified people, can be presented to the governor for his selection.

“I started practicing law in 1975, and over that course of time I have appeared before judges that were selected that really should not have been. Eventually they got turned out, but why go through 2-3-4 years of that, when you don’t have to?”

Another attorney, Beverly Owen Barber, voiced her opposition to the idea during the commission’s work session Tuesday. Barber said she believes the current process to be sufficient.

“Even if they have a very, very good committee at this time, that does not mean it would not become a monster later,” Barber said. “So many times, things like that are difficult to control in the future.

“The way it’s been handled is a fairer and more open opportunity for anyone to compete for whatever vacancies there are. I just feel like, to narrow this down as to who is even going to be submitted as far as a candidate, is not something that our citizens are going to want.”

Barber said she expects citizen petitions to be circulated regarding the issue, and expects those petitions to make their way to the commission.

Batemon said the discussion would not come back to the commission unless Manning, who moved to table it, brings it back before them.

“I believe the judges will have to talk to the legislative delegation, and I could see it coming back up,” Batemon said. “Otherwise, I don’t see it coming back up for discussion.”

Batemon said he holds no position about the formation of the committee, but he wants to support the judges.

“If the judges, those that are being affected, if they feel a threat about the process, then I want to support them on it,” he said. “I would support whatever request I get from my judges, because they’re the ones that have looked at this.

“I do understand the other part of the question: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The other part of that is, you shouldn’t wait for something to break if you think there’s a possibility it will. It’s like preventive maintenance.”

Rep. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, said the committee would require a legislative action, and he intended to do more research before taking a position.

“I have no feelings up or down,” McClendon said. “I know Shelby County has that (committee), and they seem satisfied.

“I’m going to look into it, and find out those supporting it and those opposed to it and we’ll figure out what we’re going to do.”

Hill said he has no intention of taking it to the Legislature without the county’s blessings.

“If the commission ultimately decides they don’t want to do this, there’s nothing I can do about it,” he said. “I’m not going to go over their heads, so to speak.

“I do think it’s a good idea; if I didn’t think it was a good idea, I wouldn’t do it.”

The commission’s next regular meeting will be Tuesday, Dec. 11, at the county’s administrative building in Ashville.

Contact Will Heath at wheath@thestclairtimes.com.

© 2012