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Judge dismisses SPLC, ACLU challenge of judgeship transfer

Judge Jimmy B. Pool ruled the Legislature did not unlawfully delegate its authority in creating a commission to reallocate judicial resources.

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A judge Friday dismissed the case Hudson v. Ivey filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and the ACLU of Alabama that had the potential to restore a judgeship to Jefferson County. The litigation was filed to block a decision by the Alabama Judicial Resources Allocation Commission to remove a judgeship from diverse Jefferson County to majority-white Madison County. SPLC and ACLU attorneys are consulting with plaintiff Tiara Hudson about whether to appeal this decision.

Hudson earned nearly 54 percent of the vote in the primary election for the judgeship and with no general election opponent, was on track to assume the judgeship from Judge Clyde Jones. But Jones retired and the JRAC transferred the judgeship, ending Hudson’s chances of being elected.

Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Jimmy B. Pool dismissed the case on the basis that Hudson did not use the correct procedure to remove a sitting judge from office under these circumstances. The judgeship will remain in Madison County unless a higher court overrules Pool’s decision.

“The Legislature lawfully established the Judicial Resources Allocation Commission (JRAC) and the Commission lawfully reallocated a circuit judgeship from Jefferson County to Madison County,” Pool wrote in the ruling.

Pool said Hudson has no legal standing to challenge the transfer and that she failed to provide a remedy for the situation.

“We are disappointed that the court refused to step in and prevent this unconstitutional removal of a circuit court judgeship from Birmingham,” said Ahmed Soussi, voting rights staff attorney with SPLC. “The community of Jefferson County deserves fair representation on the bench and access to a court system with the full resources to serve them, but they are being denied both by Alabama’s current system.”

The transfer is a result of the Alabama Legislature’s solution to reallocating the state’s current allotment of judges based on caseload.

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On June 9, in the first judgeship transfer since it was created, the Alabama Judicial Resources Allocation Commission voted to permanently relocate the 10th Judicial Circuit, Place 14 judgeship in Jefferson County to the 23rd Judicial Circuit in Madison County. All Black members of the Commission voted against transferring the judgeship and all white members voted in favor.

Members of the public objected to the transfer, testifying during a meeting before the vote that it strips a county with a substantial Black population of a critical resource and gives that resource to a majority-white county. State Senator Roger Smitherman argued during testimony that Jefferson County, unlike Madison County, assigns case numbers in such a way that makes the county’s caseload appear smaller than it is. Additionally, he testified that the legislature has the funds to support up to 20 new judgeships, so no transfer was necessary.

“With his order dismissing Tiara Hudson’s cause of action, Judge Pool has ruled that it is ok for the Judicial Resources Allocation Commission to do the Legislature’s job. Judge Tuten is a qualified and dedicated public servant; however, absent an act of the legislature, his appointment lacks proper legislative support,” said Tish Gotell Faulks, legal director for the ACLU-AL. “We remain concerned that this lack of jurisdiction under the law could call into question the outcome of any cases decided in his courtroom.”

Jacob Holmes is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected]

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