Records show Madison County needs more judges, state commission deadlocked

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — As the Alabama Legislature gets underway, officials in Madison County will likely ask for help for an overburdened court system.

In 2017, Alabama created a system to reallocate judgeships to courts with busier dockets as judicial vacancies occurred in counties where there was a recognized surplus of judges, but Ruth Ann Hall, Madison County’s presiding circuit court judge, says the law isn’t working.

The Alabama Legislature created the Judicial Resources Allocation Commission with a simple goal: make sure there are enough judges in areas of need and do it based on case load.

“The commission had a meeting, which I attended, Friday in Montgomery,” Hall told WHNT News 19. “It was the first time that three years of data had been collected by the commission, which was required by the statute.”

The commission unanimously agreed on the numbers last month, Hall said.

“The numbers showed that Madison County, once again, for the fourth year in a row, was number one in need for circuit judges,” she said.

There was a question of a vacant judgeship in Jefferson County. A winning judicial candidate had been disqualified after winning an election. Jefferson County currently has 27 circuit judge positions. Madison County has seven.

The commission was asked to consider moving a judgeship from Jefferson County and if that was approved by a two-thirds vote, decide where it should go. But the matter didn’t get that far.

The commission heard presentations and debated. After about three hours of discussion, including concerns over a few candidates who had qualified to run for the judgeship in Jefferson County, in the end, the commission deadlocked 6 to 6.

“The result is Jefferson County – who according to the Administrative Office of Court’s own numbers, has almost eight too many judges, according to the workload – gets to keep that position,” Hall said.

WHNT News 19 reached out to a spokesman for the Administrative Office of Courts concerning the commission’s action, but did not receive a response.

Hall said the main concern is the time citizens have to wait for their day in court, and it’s getting worse. She said the current system effectively pits counties and judges against one another for resources, and that each county will be reluctant to lose those resources.

The allocation commission’s figures show the Madison County Circuit Court is short three judge positions, based on case load. They handled 43,000 cases in circuit court last year.

“The thing that I think probably puts it in perspective for people, is that we have had one new circuit judgeship since 1972,” Hall said.

The judge said she plans to meet with leaders of the Huntsville-Madison County Bar Association this week. And, she expects to ask the Legislature to create a new judgeship for Madison County.

“I don’t think the statute is effective, and I think we need to do something about it,” Hall said.