Two Mobile attorneys have launched campaigns to replace presiding Mobile County Circuit Court Judge Charles Graddick, who is ineligible for another term due to age limitations.
Jim Patterson will face off against Allen Ritchie in the March 1 Republican primary for the seat in Place 11. No Democrat has qualified, so the winner of the primary will succeed Graddick. Following the election, the judges of the 13th Judicial Circuit will vote on a new presiding judge.
Although he can no longer campaign for the seat, Graddick said he doesn’t exactly plan to retire. After the 70-year-old steps down in January 2017, Graddick intends to continue working as an appointed judge where needed, an arrangement permissible with the approval of the chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court.
“There’s a good deal of discussion about me staying on,” Graddick explained. “I still really enjoy the job. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be doing it.”
While it’s not uncommon for retired judges or attorneys to fill in as special judges if other judges within the same circuit have conflicts with a case, Graddick said he would be willing to “carry a full load if necessary.” Additionally, he said he’d be willing to work on the docket he currently presides over.
“I still have very good health,” he said. “I’m a very young 70-year-old.”
If the need for an additional judge arises in any circuit, a retired judge can be recalled by Chief Justice Roy Moore, according to Scot Hoyem, a spokesman for the Administrative Office of Courts. By law, a retired judge can continue to serve within the limits of the chief justice’s order. Unlike special judges, retired judges aren’t paid extra, except for what they receive in retirement checks, Hoyem said.
Graddick’s services may be necessary because Mobile County has the biggest shortfall of judges in the state, Hoyem said, based on a weighted caseload study. In fact, the study suggested Mobile could use more than one additional judge.
Ritchie said he is running for a judgeship after 24 years as a lawyer because, for one, he likes to solve problems. The Murphy High School graduate compared law to fishing and said judges work to get knots out of the line.
“You don’t cut the knots out,” he said. “You get them unraveled.”
He is also interesting in running “to give back” to the community native to him and his wife.
“I have a vested interest in this community,” Ritchie said.
Patterson, a former U.S. Navy aviator and graduate of UMS-Wright, said, “I spent a career in the Navy in service. I enjoyed it, I really did … I’d like to serve again.”
Patterson also said a judgeship would be a nice cap to his legal career.
Both Patterson and Ritchie have spent more time on civil litigation than criminal, although in Place 11, they’d be expected to adjudicate both types of cases.
Both men have experience trying cases in circuit court and both said they’d like to change the way dockets are processed. Specifically, though, Patterson said he’d like to see judges in Mobile consider more special settings for certain cases on long dockets because it would be more “conducive to getting the facts out.”
Ritchie said dockets in Mobile County tend to be “overloaded with cases,” but he didn’t think there was a true fix for the problem.
“The effect of it is the system always moves slower than you’d like,” Ritchie said. “There’s no fix for that. It’s due to no one’s fault.”
Both attorneys claimed they’d judge cases with fairness and would follow the law, and each expressed respect for Graddick.
Judge J. Donald Banks, 66, will also retire from the Mobile County Circuit Court bench, but unlike Graddick, he plans to only try cases “off and on” when other judges have conflicts.
“I’ve reached the age where I am in relatively good health and can still do the things I’ve wanted to do,” he said. “I’ve gotten to a point where I can retire from my law practice and as a judge.”
Banks is leaving one of the two positions on the county’s domestic relations docket, effective Jan. 1, but he said he won’t leave until Gov. Robert Bentley appoints his replacement. The Mobile County Judicial Nominating Committee is currently seeking applicants for the seat. Applications are due by Wednesday, Dec. 2, before a two-week comment period commences.
Afterward, the committee will meet and pick three qualified candidates, whose names will be recommended to Bentley. The governor will have 90 days to make a decision. Banks said Bentley has been quick in the past with appointments and he expects the decision will be made soon after the first of the year.
Place 11 is the only contested seat for circuit court in the 2016 election cycle. In other races, incumbent Judge Jay York is running unopposed in Place 4 and incumbent Judge Sarah Stewart is running unopposed in Place 7.