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Distribution of judges lingering legislative issue

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

One issue briefly discussed but not resolved in the Alabama Legislature’s 2022 session was the uneven distribution of circuit and district judges around the state.

Legislative leaders now expect conversations to continue this summer.

Alabama Daily News reported in March on festering frustrations over the shortage of circuit and district judges, particularly in Madison and Baldwin counties and other high-growth areas. Jefferson County has significantly more judges than other parts of the state.

Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Range, said judgeships will be one of the discussion items in planned summer meetings of lawmakers on the General Fund budget committees. Albritton chairs the Senate committee.

Albritton and some other budget leaders think lawmakers have addressed the judge shortage and it’s up to the judiciary to reallocate judgeships as they become vacant rather than add new, expensive judge seats. Alabama Chief Justice Tom Parker last month told Alabama Daily News that even if the Judicial Resources Allocation Commission, created through legislation five years ago, was able to reallocate all judgeships that need to be reallocated, there would still be a need for additional new judgeships in Alabama. Earlier this year, Parker told lawmakers there is a need for 12 additional circuit judgeships and eight additional district judgeships.

Sen. Sam Givhan, R-Huntsville, in the last session had legislation to put more judges in the state’s highest need counties. Now, he said, he wants to work on a statewide formula for addressing the need.

“The truth of the matter is that the reallocation program that we have has not worked,” Givhan said this week. “It will take decades to work and it leaves too many counties, too many circuits, in a lurch in the meantime.

“… This is a state court system and we’ve got to figure out how we’re going to get it handled.”

Other summer meetings topics will include possible plans for the second round of American Rescue Plan Act funding, about $1.1 billion. The state will receive it later this spring or early summer. 

In the last two years, informal summer meetings related to federal pandemic relief and state budgets have become common.

“It helps with the education level, it helps in getting some direction on some things, it helps in letting the public know where we’re headed and what we’re doing,” Albritton said.

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