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House passes bill raising the minimum requirements for new judges in populous counties

The Alabama House of Representatives passed a bill Wednesday that raised the qualifications to run for or be appointed as a district or circuit court judge.

House Bill 529 is sponsored by State Rep. David Faulkner, R-Mountain Brook.

The original version of HB529 would have raised the minimum requirements to be an Alabama circuit court judge from five years as a practicing attorney to 10 years and raised the requirements to be a district judge from three years to five years.

That version of the bill ignited a firestorm in the House of Representatives that resulted in Republicans from rural counties filibustering the bill until midnight on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, when the Legislature returned to unfinished business from Tuesday, Faulkner was ready to compromise with most of his critics but not all.

Several amendments were offered and most of those were accepted.

“This is an effort to keep young African-American lawyers in Jefferson County from being a judge,” said State Rep. Juandalynn Givan, D-Birmingham.

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State Rep. Tim Wadsworth, R-Arley, said rural counties do not have enough qualified candidates already, and it would be almost impossible for them to meet the stricter requirements.

Wadsworth said there was a district court vacancy recently in Lamar County, and there were only two qualified candidates available for the position. The candidate that got the appointment was the most qualified, but he had only been out of law school for three and a half years.

Wadsworth offered an amendment that said the change in the requirements for district judges only applies to counties with populations in excess of 50,000 people.

The Wadsworth amendment was adopted by the body.

“This is another bad bill,” Givan said. “This is a bad piece of legislation that will have unintended consequences for people who have worked their butts off to become an attorney.”

Givan, an attorney herself, said that she already had enough experience when she was ready to make her move. Faulkner accepted the Wadsworth amendment, and it was adopted by a vote of the House.

State Rep. Andrew Sorrell, R-Tuscumbia, is introducing an amendment that would grandfather in any sitting judge.

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“I support your amendment, but I hope that this bill is not targeting Jefferson County,” said State Rep. Merika Coleman, D-Midfield.

The first Sorrell amendment was adopted by the House.

Sorrell introduced a second amendment in which judicial circuits with a population of less than 75000 would be exempt from the new 10-year requirement to be a circuit judge.

The second Sorrell amendment was also adopted by the House.

“There are a lot of broke lawyers out there,” Givan said. “Trust me, I know.”

Givan offered an amendment changing the 10-year requirement to be a circuit judge to seven years and waiving the five-year requirements to be a district judges in counties with over 600,000 people. Jefferson County is the only county that large.

Faulkner introduced a motion to table the Givan amendment.

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That motion passed on a vote of 70 to 24.

The bill, as amended, passed the House on an 80 to 13 vote. It now goes to the Senate.

Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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