Judge Holmes Whiddon has seen thousands of people and heard thousands of cases from his bench in the Mobile Municipal Court, and has only replaced his robe once. He keeps two, he says, one for more formal occasions like swearing-in ceremonies, and a plain black one for everyday wear. He donned his plain black one before he left his office for a bond hearing Thursday afternoon, Sept. 15.
“It’s easy to see 200 people a week, and most of them have more than one case, at least half of them will,” Whiddon said. “You just think about seeing 800 people a month, that’s 9,600 people a year, which I think is a conservative figure.”
After 46 years working in Alabama’s legal system, with 16 years spent as presiding judge of Mobile Municipal Court, Whiddon is retiring his bench in Courtroom A for yard work, spending time with his wife and learning to fly fish.
The 72-year-old said making money and a career as a courtroom attorney appealed to him at the start of his career, but joining the judiciary in the 1980s made him realize he could put his talents toward public service.
Born and raised in Mobile, Whiddon graduated from the University of South Alabama with a degree in political science in 1972, and completed his law degree at Cumberland School of Law in Birmingham four years later. He returned to Mobile because he could not see himself living anywhere else, and began a private practice in criminal law, civil cases, worker’s compensation, probate and domestic relations.
“My focus seemed to get more down to real life and what’s important to you, where you are, what you are doing and how you feel about yourself and what you can do with your talents. I had some great years making money,” he said. “So you’ve made money. What do you do then?”
Whiddon joined the City of Saraland as a part-time judge in its municipal court in 1986, and the city of Mobile as a part-time judge in its environmental court in 1993, positions he held until the city appointed him to his current position in 2006.
Being a judge taught him to see the people inside the cases, to look at them as more than the set of facts laid out beneath their names. Every case is different and should be considered as such with respect for the standards set out in the law, he explained, saying judges — as faces of justice in the community — should demonstrate compassion in their rulings because they are dealing with a person’s future.
Pursuing community justice in municipal courts means being receptive to what people need and what is going on in the community, he said.
“It’s no longer just going out, sitting on the bench, and saying ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty,’” Whiddon said. “There’s much more to it. It’s up to you as to what you can bring to show what justice is. To put it this way, a judge has a lot of discretion in whatever [they] do, so much discretion at the municipal level.”
He said the court has always been blessed with “strong support” from the mayor’s office, the City Council and the city attorney, and credited Circuit Judge Charles Graddick’s work restructuring the court as laying a foundation for his own work carrying the court into the future.
“This Mobile Municipal Court, I’ve had the benefit of working with it, and I’ve had the opportunity to adjust to a learning curve because of the great assets the City Council and the mayor have provided in the way of the professionals you need to run a court,” he said. “We are at the point where we have probably the highest morale, employee morale, this municipal court has ever had.”
Whiddon said he is pleased with the progress the court has made under his tenure, and said he wishes he could still be part of it because there has never been a better time to live or work, especially in the public sector, in Mobile.
“I didn’t know you could have such a rewarding career as a judge, such a satisfying career as a judge, being able to help bring justice to the community and staying abreast of really what justice is,” he said. “I’m just proud to say I had some of the best opportunities ever, but I’m even prouder to have that feeling knowing what [I] will be leaving: good, great people, reliable people, highly qualified people who will continue with justice.”
This page is available to our subscribers. Join us right now to get the latest local news from local reporters for local readers.
The best deal is found by clicking here. Click here right now to find out more. Check it out.
Already a member of the Lagniappe family? Sign in by clicking here