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Birmingham Bar Associations Bulletin Summer 2015

Circuit Court Judges Lloyd W. Gathings, Gathings Law Firm The Appointment Process for Circuit Court Judges in Birmingham— How Is It Done? How Well Does It Work? While our Circuit Court judges are elected pursuant to the Alabama Constitution, vacancies occurring during a term are filled by an appointment process. That process has been the vehicle for filling vacancies in the Circuit Court holding in Birmingham since January 16, 1951. It revolves around a Judicial Commission. The Judicial Commission is composed of two members of the State Bar, two members who are not lawyers and one circuit court judge in Birmingham. All members must reside in the territorial jurisdiction of the Circuit Court holding in Birmingham. The Executive Committee of the Birmingham Bar Association is charged with promulgating rules for the election of the lawyers to the Judicial Commission by the lawyers licensed and qualified to practice in the territorial jurisdiction of the Circuit Court in Birmingham. The senator and representatives in the Alabama Legislature from Jefferson County elect the two non-lawyer members of the Commission. The circuit court judges holding in Birmingham elect a circuit judge to the Commission. All members of the Commission are elected to six year terms. The appointment process followed by the Judicial Commission is non-partisan. The candidates are not asked which political party they are members of and the members of the Commission cannot hold any official position in any political party and cannot, other than the judge member, hold any public office. The Judicial Commission takes applications for the vacancy, interviews the applicants and considers recommendations given for each candidate. The Commission also considers any negative information or comments received. The Commission submits three names to the Governor for appointment. The Governor’s staff interviews the three candidates and the Governor appoints one of them for the remainder of the term for that place being filled. The appointee holds office until the first general election held more than six months after the appointment. Whoever wins the general election then holds that position. The appointment process, like all other processes for choosing judges, is not perfect, but it has worked well in Birmingham over the years. A similar process has been used in 48 states where the governor is allowed to appoint judges to fill unexpired terms, pursuant to certain requirements. Also, a similar process is used for the initial selection of judges in 13 states, where the governor is allowed to appoint from candidates selected by a commission. 6 other states allow the governor to make the initial selection, which must be approved by some other body such as the state senate. Finally, 26% of the states select judges by nonpartisan election and 11% of the states select judges by partisan election. Thus, the circuit court judge vacancies in Birmingham are filled by a process used by the overwhelming majority of other states, but selects judges initially by a process used by a small minority of other states. There is no clear answer to the question of which process is the best for selection of judges, either initially or to fill vacancies. Good arguments can be made for and against each method currently used by all states. The real question is which methods allow for checks and balances against corruption and undue political influence. That is a debate the writer will leave to others for another day. The purpose of this article is to inform the reader -- not to advocate a position.1 G ENDNOTES: 1 The information concerning selection of judges in other states was obtained from Judgepedia. 28 Birmingham Bar Association


Birmingham Bar Associations Bulletin Summer 2015
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