In January, 2011, Judge R.A. (Sonny) Ferguson, Jr., Retired from the Domestic Relations Bench and joined Christian & Small. Judge Ferguson has been mediating cases but has continued to look at ways to overcome large court dockets, delayed trials and funding issues in our state court system.
In March, 2011, Judge Ferguson had discussions on alternatives for our judicial system and the concept of private judging was introduced. A committee was formed to explore the idea. The committee consisted of Judge Ferguson, Law Professor Noah Funderburq, Attorney Wendy Crew, Judge Jimmy Sandlin and Attorney William O’Rear.
The Committee’s work produced a proposed bill presented to Senator Cam Ward who became its sponsor and presented bill SB138 which was passed on April 24, 2012 and submitted to Governor Bentley for signature. The Governor signed this bill on April 30, 2012 and it becomes effective July 1, 2012. Act No. 2012-266.
The concept of a Private Judge is not used to replace our public elected or appointed judges, but is one to help support our judicial system and to provide one more option to parties in dealing with their legal issues.
In Private Judging in Alabama – The New Kid on the Block, Judge Ferguson takes a closer look at Alabama’s Private Judging Act and answers questions that might arise concerning their Legislation, how it will work and what it will mean to the parties and lawyers involved.
As the name implies, Private Judges are, by statute, hired by the parties to preside over their case. The appointment of the Private Judge comes about by way of a motion to the Presiding Judge of the Circuit in which a case is filed or is currently pending. With the appointment, the Private Judge assumes the position of the Judge over all issues of the case. The same rules of evidence, procedure and appeal are in play to the conclusion of the case. The Private Judge’s orders are just as binding and enforceable as any Circuit or District Judge’s.
The state will maintain a roster of retired or former judges with a listing of their qualifications and experience. The parties and their attorneys will agree on a particular judge and then submit that name for the appointment. The Private Judge is compensated by the parties by a separate employment agreement just as a mediator or arbitrator. Once the appointment is made, the Private Judge manages the case which should result in savings of cost and time. This process become more efficient because the Private Judge will ensure and oversee the flow of information and prevent trial delays as this will be the only case that judge has before him or her.
Private judging may not be the answer or an option to every filed or pending case. It is just one more tool parties and lawyers have to resolve or move their case forward.