By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Tuesday, March 7, 2017, the Alabama House of Representative during the first night session of 2017 voted to pass House Bill 86 giving judges of probate the power to fine or jail people that defy their orders. Only Probate Judges with law degrees will have these new powers. HB86 was sponsored by State Representative Matt Fridy.
Rep. Fridy said that those probate judges who are learned in the law will have the new civil contempt authority. Fridy said that the new powers are needed because probate judges presently can jail a person for just one day and/or fine them $20 for defying their orders. Probate judges dealing with large estates need the power to have their orders enforced. Probate judges deal with equity law and very large estates. “We have had situations where probate judges can not enforce their orders because they are limited to fines of $20.”
State Representative Napoleon Bracy (R-Mobile) said it is well known that I and my probate judge have our issues. I am not for giving my probate judge any more power.
Rep. Bracy asked, “Do you think that all probate judges should be lawyers?”
Rep. Fridy replied, “I do not have an opinion on that.”
Rep. Bracy asked, “Have you talked with the probate judges association about this?”
Rep. Fridy said, I have not and they have not approached me about this.
State Representative Paul Beckman (R-Prattville) said, “Some of your rural counties can not afford to have an attorney,” as the probate judge.
State Representative Thomas Jackson (D-Thomasville) said that the law should be the same across the board for all probate judges.
Fridy said that with this probate judges who are attorneys can put somebody in jail until they obey their orders. They can fine somebody until they obey the order. Right now they can do it for one day.
State Representative Mary Moore (D-Birmingham) said, “You have insulted all of the probate judges that are not lawyers. Give them training so they will have the same opportunity.” Moore said that counties with non-lawyer probate judges, “That is probably the best those counties could do.”
State Representative Louise Alexander (D-Bessemer) said, “A lawyer wants to get paid for his degree.”
Rep. Fridy said that he did not how many of the 67 counties had probate judges who were attorneys. There are only three counties where the probate judge has to be an attorney.
Rep. Alexander said, “This is a train wreck waiting to happen.”
The House passed HB86 by a margin of 75 to 20.
The bill now moves on to the state senate for their consideration.