Judge Charles Graddick is no longer taking the municipal bench, city spokesperson George Talbot confirmed in a text message Tuesday, June 25.
The former Mobile County Circuit Court judge and state attorney general had been hearing municipal cases on a newly created gun docket without approval from the Mobile City Council until a story in Lagniappe raised questions about the legality of such a move.
Graddick, who had been appointed by Mayor Sandy Stimpson to serve as a senior judicial advisor and director of municipal courts, will continue to serve in those roles, Talbot wrote. The decision to step away from the bench was a collaborative one, Talbot wrote, between Stimpson, Graddick and Presiding Judge Holmes Whiddon.
Several councilors questioned Graddick’s appearance on the municipal bench, given that he hadn’t been appointed by the body.
“This isn’t a political issue,” Council Vice President Levon Manzie said in a previous interview with Lagniappe. “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.”
Others members of the council are indifferent about the situation or are in favor of having Graddick on the bench, if the process had been handled correctly.
“I have all the respect in the world for Charlie Graddick,” Councilwoman Bess Rich said in a previous interview. “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.”
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.
Interestingly Graddick wasn’t listed among the “special appointment judges.” The mayor’s office has previous defended the appointment of Graddick to the bench as being within the mayor’s legal authority. It’s unclear what precipitated the change.
Graddick served as presiding judge on the county bench until he aged out by law and had to retire. As a city employee, Graddick makes roughly $100,000 per year.
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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