Pick My Own Judge? Really?

If you have questions about private judges and how this new system to help expedite the resolution of certain types of cases will work, this short article by Judy Keegan of the Alabama Center for Dispute Resolution is worth a quick read:s

YOU PICK THE JUDGE: THE NEW ALABAMA PRIVATE JUDGES ROSTER

Earlier this year, Alabama became one of several states to implement private judging.  This means if you have a domestic relations, tort, contract, or combination tort/contract case, there is a procedure for you to select a judge, and within a short time have the case heard. Ala. Code §12-17-350 et seq. (1975, as amended).  Private judging is designed to quickly resolve issues, and to provide a judge with expertise in the subject area of the case.

The website www.alabamaprivatejudges.org was constructed for your use, and contains an on-line roster that provides names, expertise and information about judges that meet statutory requirements.  Those requirements include:

  1.  have been, but are not actively serving as a judge of a district or circuit court and have served in the capacity of judge for at least six consecutive years;
  2. are admitted to the practice of law in Alabama;
  3. are an active member in good standing of the Alabama State Bar Association; and
  4. are a resident of Alabama.

The case must be one over which the court in which the former judge served would have had subject matter and monetary jurisdiction.

Once parties have agreed that hiring a private judge will be helpful, and have selected a judge from the roster, then all parties to the action must file a written petition with the circuit clerk of the court in which the action is pending requesting a private judge and naming the selected judge.  The petition must be accompanied by a form signed by the private judge consenting to the appointment.  This petition may be filed contemporaneously with the filing of the action, or at any time after the action has been filed, but before the beginning of trial.  The filing fee is $100.

The clerk of the court will forward the petition to the presiding judge of the circuit of the pending case who will enter an order granting the petition and appointing the private judge.

A trial by private judge is conducted without a jury.  The judge has the same powers as the judge of a circuit court, and has judicial immunity.   All proceedings are of record, are filed with the clerk of the circuit court, and are made available to the public.  The Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure apply.  An appeal from an action or judgment of a private judge is taken in the same manner as any appeal from the circuit court of the county where the case if filed.  The private judge has access to all pleadings and docket entries as would any judge.

A private judge may hear your case at any time or place in Alabama, and will provide the clerk with date, time and place of hearing at least three days before the proceeding.  Compensation for a private judge is by contract with the parties, and will include costs of any personnel, facilities, or materials.

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