Within the last few weeks, several articles and commentaries have highlighted the slow pace in filling numerous vacancies in our Federal Courts. A recent article in Slate titled "The Bench in Purgatory" as well as a piece in the Wall Street Journal Law Blog titled "Blame Game: On Obama’s Judicial and U.S. Attorney Nominees" have addressed the crisis presented by having too few Judges on a Federal level.
Here, at home in Alabama, Madison County faces a similar crisis. We simply have far too few Judges for a metropolitan area with our growing population. In her 2009 State of The Judiciary Address, Alabama Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb noted this significant problem in outlining her requests to the Alabama Legislature:
Madison County currently has the highest caseload per judge in the state. With the upcoming base re-alignment and closure the county is expected to continue to grow. Forty-two active judges and 26 retired judges have been assigned to take cases to help alleviate the state’s largest caseload in our fourth largest county. Madison has not had an additional judgeship added in over twenty-five years.
Our Chief Justice should be applauded for working tirelessly to keep our local courts running. Also, many excellent Judges from other counties in Alabama have volunteered their time to help by handling cases filed in Madison County. Earlier this year, I tried a week-long jury trial in front of a Birmingham Judge who sat aside her own busy docket in Jefferson County to spend the week in Huntsville.
It is difficult to explain to your client that he will most likely not receive a trial date any time in the near future because Alabama has not provided Madison County with a sufficient number of Judges. Those Judges from other counties who have volunteered to help at the request of Alabama’s Chief Justice must balance their own busy dockets with the extra needs of Madison County.
This crisis should be a legislative priority. It is time for the Alabama legislature to act and provide the support needed to administer justice in one of the most populous and fastest growing counties in Alabama.