More members of the Mobile City Council have voiced concerns over the apparent mayoral appointment of former Mobile County Circuit Court Judge Charles Graddick to a seat on the municipal court bench.
It was discovered last week due to reporting by Lagniappe that Graddick was serving as a judge on arraignments and in a weekly gun court. Two more councilors have raised questions about his job, given that he was not appointed to the position.
Council Vice President Levon Manzie pointed to section 12-14-30 of the state code that prohibits the city from appointing any municipal judge that is “otherwise employed in any capacity by the municipality during his term in office.” Graddick is paid about $100,000 for his role as director of court and also brought on a highly paid assistant, according to sources.
“This isn’t a political issue,” Manzie said. “There’s always this big push for us to stay in our lane, but now we’re seeing encroachments upon the power of the legislative branch.”
There was no pushback when Graddick was named senior judicial advisory, or when he became the director of municipal court, Manzie said, but the power to appoint judges rests with the council.
“If there was a need for an additional judge at municipal court, council should have been made aware and we could’ve gone through the proper procedures,” he said. “I don’t understand the lack of communication that exists.”
While Manzie called Graddick, a former state attorney general, “highly respected,” who if recommended by Stimpson for appointment would have been given “great consideration,” he stopped short of saying he’d have voted for his addition to the court.
On the other hand, Councilwoman Bess Rich said she would’ve supported Graddick’s nomination to the court had it been handled appropriately.
“I have all the respect in the world for Charlie Graddick,” Rich said. “Had the mayor’s office worked with council as the appointing body … I would have been an advocate for it. I see the value in it.”
Rich said she can see how an additional municipal judge could be used to help clear cases and she supports the idea of a special gun court.
Stimpson’s office defended the action through a statement released by city spokesman George Talbot.
“As director he is authorized by the mayor to serve as an acting Municipal Court judge,” the statement reads. “As part of his duties, Judge Graddick sits on the Municipal Court bench when municipal judges are unable to do so. This service is conducted in accordance with state law and does not include any additional compensation from the city.”
While a mayor of a municipality may appoint a presiding judge of the court, Manzie argued that the judge must come from those appointed by a “majority of the governing body.” State law also allows a mayor to appoint a municipal judge in the event “of an absence from the municipality, death, disability or disqualification of a municipal judge for any reason.” It’s unclear if any of those circumstances are currently present.
Graddick isn’t the only judge serving on the municipal bench without a council appointment. According to the city’s website, the court has added three additional special appointment judges. Those judges are C. Zackery Moore, Debbie McGowin and James Harrad, according to information on the city’s website.
Councilman Joel Daves said that as long as Graddick was serving in a fill-in capacity as Stimpson’s office claims, then he doesn’t have a problem with it.
“I don’t have a problem with him filling in,” Daves said. “If he was going to fill a full-time position it would be a different story.”
In a statement of economic interest provided to Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill’s office, Graddick reported himself to be an elected official as director of municipal court. The position in question is one appointed by Stimpson and is not elected.
Stimpson and others have previously advocated for a nomination committee for municipal judges similar to the one used to appoint county judges when there’s an absence on the bench. That proposal has been flatly refused by councilors in the past.
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