By Chip Brownlee
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY — A bill that would give an authority power to reallocate judges based on demonstrated need, which senators hope will alleviate pressures in some circuits and districts, cleared the Alabama Senate on Tuesday.
Senate Bill 90, passed without any debate, would give the Judicial Resource Allocation Commission the authority to realign distribution of circuit and district judges.
“Right now, we’re operating with an antiquated allocation system that dates back to the 1970s, and obviously the state population has shifted over the past 40 years,” said Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, the bill’s sponsor. “This proposal would establish a non-partisan commission, and as judgeships become open, there will be an evaluation process to place new judges where they are most needed.”
The Commission will have 12 members: The Chief Justice, a legal adviser to the Governor, the Attorney General, three circuit judges, three district judges and three attorneys appointed by the State Bar and the Alabama Lawyer’s Association.
If the bill passes the House and is signed by the Governor, the Commission will meet annually to review the need for increasing or decreasing the judgeships in every district court and circuit court based on caseload, population and special duties.
They will be able to move judgeships from a circuit or district with a light load to circuits and districts with heavy caseloads and large population increases that demonstrate need.
When a vacancy occurs because of death, retirement, resignation or removal, the Commission can redistribute judgeships based on those criteria. The Commission can also reallocate judgeships if a judge cannot seek re-election because of his age.
No sitting judge can be affected by the law as written, and any reallocation would require a two-thirds vote of the Commission.
According to Pittman, several counties are currently in need of new judges, but the State can’t establish new judgeships because of budget constraints in the General Fund. Baldwin, Mobile, Madison, Etowah, Dekalb and Tuscaloosa are among the counties in need.
“Presently, there is a need for sixteen additional judgeships, which would cost the state between $6 and $8 million to establish,” Orr said. “Gradually shifting judgeships from counties with low caseloads to locations with higher numbers of cases both improves our judicial system and saves taxpayer dollars.”
The bill passed the Senate with 22 yeas and 5 nays, according to the Senate Secretary Patrick Harris. It will now head to the House where it will be referred to the House Judiciary Committee. Last year, the bill passed the Senate and died in the House.