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Legislators to push for 3rd Morgan judge

By Sheryl Marsh
smarsh@decaturdaily.com · 340-2437

Seven years ago Morgan County’s two district court judges were given hope for a colleague to help with the caseload when the state Legislature approved a third judgeship.

A lack of funding year after year caused the hope to vanish.

The judges might be encouraged to know that the local legislative delegation plans to put forth efforts to get money into the state budget for another district judge here.

Rep. Bill Dukes, D-Decatur, who got a bill passed in 2000 for the judgeship, said he and others will work together to get funding.

“I will make a request of the Administrative Office of Courts, and I will discuss it with the chairman of the appropriations committee and the governor,” Dukes
said.

“We need to get everybody lined up and plead our case again in the next session. It’s been approved and we need to get it into the budget.”

Rep. Ron Grantland, D-Hartselle, said he will support getting funds for the
position.

“We look at it every year and try to get funding, but it’s based on the number of cases,” said Grantland.

“I know Morgan is pretty high, but I don’t think it had the highest number of cases. This session Chief Justice (Sue Bell) Cobb made the recommendation for St. Clair County.”

Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, said he’s doing his part.

“I’ve been working diligently with the governor and the chief justice on it,” Orr said. “I think we’re close to getting it funded because it’s definitely warranted and needed here.”

Rep. Micky Hammon, R-Decatur, shares the sentiment of fellow legislators.

“The General Fund has been so tight we haven’t been successful with getting the funding,” Hammon said. “I feel like we need to join together and push for it during the next session. It will take the entire delegation.”

Next session

The next regular session will begin in February 2008.

District Court Judge David Breland and former District Court Judge David Bibb ranked high in the state for disposing of cases. Dukes said he believes the efficiency hindered filling the third position.

“We have some of the best judges in the state, and it seems that they are being penalized because they are willing to go the extra mile and keep the caseload down here,” said Dukes. “I think our judges have been patient and we need to get the funding.”

Breland and District Judge Shelly Waters continue to move cases and said they would welcome help.

They said Orr has been conferring with them about getting money for the judgeship.

“I really appreciate Sen. Orr’s efforts,” said Breland. “We have need for a judge now, but we will have additional need in the future. Another district judge would enable us to develop more programs for children and adults. It will also give us an opportunity to do some innovative things.”

Breland said the third judge could also help with circuit court and with drug court once it begins.

As for the number of cases each county handles, the judges explained that the weight of the various kinds of cases determines the amount of work involved.

“For instance, a county might have 25,000 traffic cases and another might have 1,000 cases dealing with custody and juveniles,” Waters explained. “The one with the custody and juvenile cases has the more weighted caseload.”

Morgan handles multiple cases dealing with custody and juveniles, which are extremely time consuming.

Dukes’ legislation also created judgeships in Limestone and several other counties. Former Gov. Don Siegelman made an appointment to the Limestone district judgeship in 2002.

All of the approved judgeships were to be filled as money became available.

Cobb was not available for comment Friday.

Court cases in 3 counties

2006 disposed cases

Morgan (16,488 total)

  • Traffic, 6,790.

  • Criminal, 3,739.

  • Small claims, 2,930.

  • Civil, 1,017.

  • Juvenile, 1,222.

  • Child support, 790.

    Limestone (17,018 total)

  • Traffic, 10,917.

  • Criminal, 3,876.

  • Small claims, 1,099.

  • Civil, 475.

  • Juvenile, 651.

    St. Clair (35,040 total for two divisions)

    Pell City Division

  • Traffic, 11,876.

  • Criminal, 1,533.

  • Small claims, 767.

  • Civil, 318.

  • Juvenile, 823.

  • Child support, 186.

    St. Clair Division

  • Traffic, 13,976.

  • Criminal, 2,317.

  • Small claims, 995.

  • Civil, 443.

  • Juvenile, 1,599.

  • Child support, 207.

    Source: Morgan District Court Judge David Breland

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