The Alabama legislature has passed legislation that could substantially affect the number of circuit and district court judges sitting in venues in the state. Assuming that SB90 becomes law, it will mandate the creation of the Judicial Resources Allocation Commission. The Judicial Resources Allocation Commission will be tasked with annually reviewing the need for either increasing or decreasing judgeships in district and circuit courts and ranking each court according to need.
Members of the Judicial Resources Allocation Commission
The commission will be made up of the following, and should reflect the “racial, gender, geographic, urban/rural, and economic diversity of the state”:
- The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama
- The legal advisor to the governor of Alabama
- The Alabama attorney general
- Three sitting circuit judges
- Three sitting district judges
- Three licensed attorneys
Criteria for Altering the Number of Judgeships
In its annual review to determine whether there is a need to alter the number of judgeships in each district and circuit court, the Judicial Resources Allocation Commission will apply the following criteria
- The findings of the Judicial Weighted Caseload Study
- Population of the district/circuit according to the most recent census data
- Judicial duties in the district/circuit
- Uniformity in calculating of how civil, criminal, and domestic cases are accounted for between circuits
- Any other information deemed to be relevant
Circumstances Allowing the Commission to Make Changes
The Judicial Resources Allocation Commission may only reallocate the number of judgeships in districts/circuits under certain limiting constraints. Such changes may only be made “in the event of a vacancy due to death, retirement, resignation, or removal from office of a district or circuit judge.” Additionally, a reallocation may be made if an incumbent judge will be ineligible to seek reelection as a result of age limitations. Allocation decisions require a two-thirds vote of the commission members.
Results of the 2013 Judicial Weighted Caseload Study
In March 2013, the Supreme Court of Alabama released the findings of its Judicial Weighted Caseload Study, determining that “a need exists for increasing or decreasing the number of circuit or district judges,” and recommended the legislature to make changes. The Alabama Supreme Court ranked the needs for an increase of circuit judges in the following venues and in the following numbers of additional judges needed:
- 13th Circuit (Mobile) – 4.9
- 23rd Circuit (Madison) – 3.5
- 28th Circuit (Baldwin) – 2.4
- 6th Circuit (Tuscaloosa) – 2.0
- 19th Circuit (Autauga, Chilton, & Elmore) – 1.8
The Alabama Supreme Court recommended that the 10th Circuit (Jefferson County) be reduced by three circuit judges, with those judgeships to be distributed as follows: 13th Circuit (Mobile) – 2, and 23rd Circuit (Madison) – 1.
The Supreme Court of Alabama determined the following needs in increased district court judgeships:
- Madison County – 2.0
- Mobile County – 1.8
- Shelby County – 1.4
- Baldwin County – 1.3
- Marshall County – 1.2
Based on these findings, the Supreme Court of Alabama recommended that Jefferson County and Walker County each be reduced by one judgeship, with those judgeships to be reallocated to Madison County and Mobile County.
Statewide Statistics of Interest
- Average population per judge: 32,738
- Average square miles per judge: 348
- Average population per square mile: 88
- Average attorneys per judge: 98
Short-Term Practical Effects
Based on the findings of the Judicial Weighted Caseload Study and the directives guiding the Judicial Resources Allocation Commission (assuming that SB90 becomes law), one can expect that Jefferson County/10th Circuit will stand to be the biggest loser, as far as having the judicial resources currently at its disposal reallocated to other counties/circuits deemed to have more substantial need. But based on the limitations governing when judgeships can be reallocated, Jefferson County/10th Circuit should not expect significant changes to occur all at once, but rather only as judicial vacancies arise or judges age out.
Photo by Jimmy Emerson, DVM.