Published 12:02 am Friday, March 9, 2012

DUTIES: The functions of the probate judge include records, motor vehicles, document recording, elections, adoptions, marriages, etc.

THE PAY: $86,105, plus benefits TERM: Six years.




1. What is the top issue facing the probate court in the next six years?


2. Money comes in to the probate office for a number of different services. How will you ensure that it is properly disbursed and accounted for?


3. Many changes are being made in mental health services in Alabama. How will these changes affect the processes used in the probate court and how will you handle these changes


4. The probate office is the custodian of property records, wills, and other documents. What can be done to improve storage and access of those records?



He was appointed probate judge by Gov. Bob Riley in November 2008 to fill the unexpired term of Sherrie Phillips. Previously, he was a partner in the law firm of Albrittons, Clifton, Alverson, Moody and Bowden, and also worked as an assistant district attorney. He also is an attorney with the U.S. Air Force Judge Advocate General’s Corps.



1. I think modernization is the biggest issue for us. Almost every function of the probate office needs to be modernized with increased use of technology and evaluation of each process to see if we can create some efficiencies in the way that we handle literally every function of the office. We’ve done that over the last three years, but we haven’t done it in a systematic way. That would probably be my top priority over the next six years is to systematically review every process, every function, every service, and to attempt to apply technology and efficiency to those processes so that we can serve the public better.a


2. The first thing that you have to understand about that question is that we do receive money for lots of different reasons. For example, we hold money in a

fiduciary account that is designed to be a temporary account for money that we know that we have to transfer on to other people. We also receive money for fees for services that we perform — court costs, copying, recording. So that’s income. And then we receive money for taxes. We are a tax collector. It’s funny that I never dreamed that I would be filling the role of Zacchaeus of the county, but I’m a tax collector for state and local entities. We are collecting money for other people. Now, every one of those tasks has their own set of safeguards associated with them. Primarily, the employees in the office are required to, if they receive money, to receipt for it. At the end of the day, they have to balance up the money they receive, and there’s an extensive amount of reporting done internally. We are also audited by the state department of examiners approximately every three years. And I would say that 75 percent of the audit is financial. They check to see if our books are balancing up correctly. And so, I think we have that in place now, and I’m pleased with it now that we have an internal and external system. Now, that’s the same system that was in place when my predecessor was in office. And, so I think that there is a certain amount of trust the public has to have in the top official. Because no amount of systems can, in the short run, prevent mismanagement of funds. You are relying on the integrity and the trust of the people who you have placed in those positions.

As a manager it is my job to learn about all of those different systems, to spot check them from time to time, to sign the checks from time to time, and instead of just signing the check, asking what that check is for. I have my own means of staying involved in that to make sure I understand why we’re writing a check and understand where it’s going to.

And then, finally, I would say that I look at our budget on how we spend money. Now we’ve been talking about how we take it in, but I also look at our budget and our check register every month and see how that money’s going out, and I think that that’s a basic requirement of the manager of an office like mine.


3. We do about 75 to 100 involuntary mental commitments a year in the probate office. And we deal with a few more who don’t actually get processed with a mental commitment because they will volunteer to go to the hospital. So mainly, we’re talking about people who are mentally ill that they are unable to understand they need treatment. So that’s the segment of the mentally ill population we’re dealing with. We’re dealing with people who are dangerously ill and don’t know it. They’re not sufficiently aware of their illness to go get help, so we have to force them because they’ve become dangerous.

In my opinion, if the (state) plans as I currently understand them are implemented, then we are headed for some kind of mental health crisis in Covington County. Because when somebody becomes so dangerous that we have to commit them, that means that the family and the local authorities and their doctor and everybody have done everything that they can do for that person. They don’t start out at my office, they end there with people who are saying they’ve done everything they can. And when they’ve done everything they can, there’s nothing left locally for me to do but try to get them to a psychiatric, lock down facility.

OK, that’s fine for 50 to 75 percent of these people that we deal with. We get them into Mizell Memorial Hospital or over to Crenshaw Community Hospital or to Southeast Alabama Medical Center, local psychiatric facilities.

But these are private, non-state facilities, and the Code of Alabama does not give me the authority to order those facilities to accept a patient. So when those facilities are full, or the patient is not suited for that facility, they reject the patient. And I cannot make them take them. So at that point, if I don’t have an outlet, which right now is a state hospital, then I have nowhere to place that person.

The law is very clear that you cannot put them in a jail. If they commit a crime, and many of them have committed low-level, misdemeanor-type crimes, disorderly behavior, or threatening behavior that’s real, but because it’s being motivated by a mental illness, you don’t arrest them. So I believe that some of them will be arrested and confined because there is nowhere else to put them, which is a terrible result for the jail and for the patient, and then some of them will be turned back out into the street because there’s nowhere else to put them.

Now I think that is a crisis that we need to prepare for. It could be one of these situations when we have relied on either Washington or Montgomery to solve a problem for us where we now have to decide to solve that problem locally by developing resources locally for the dangerously mentally ill. It wouldn’t have to be many beds for them, but hat may be what our community has to decide to do if the state can’t satisfy that function. . Long answer. Bottom line is that I have alerted the state that I have concerns about her plan, and ff they continue with the plan and we don’t develop some alternate place for the dangerously mental ill, we will have a crisis.


4. We need to develop systems and increase the use of technology to alleviate that problem. But let me be more specific.

The new tag software that we’ve just gotten approval to purchase from the county commission will give us the ability to go paperless on the tag line. That’s a phased thing, we’ll get that system going and running and it’ll be kind of like we’re doing now, first. But then the next generation of that with this same software is to get scanners and we’ll scan the documents that we currently are making paper copies of now. And then give those documents back to customers. Long term we want to go paperless on the tag line.

In the next three or four days, the probate office will have its own web site. Right Now I have a page on county’s web site which is inadequate for the kind of activities, multi-level, lots of money, functions going on. One page is not adequate. So I went out, and contracted on my own, for a more modern, robust, technically-advanced web site. So again, long-range we want to be able to take every process we do in the probate office, and make that process available through the web site. That’s not actually, a modern idea. That’s passed us, and we’re just trying to catch up to that. That is a function that we should already have been trying to do. That will help.

The recording department, where we generate a lot of paper, already has the potential to be paperless, but we have to make some changes in the way we do things to be confident enough not to keep paper copies of things. With just a little bit of work, we’ll be able to stop making paper copies of everything. If we can just keep going in the direction we’re going, we’ll have a lot more efficiencies in that regard.



Enzor has practiced law in Covington County since 1988, and has worked as an assistant district attorney. Enzor served as special probate judge during an interim period in 2008 after Sherrie Phillips left office. He was appointed by then-Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb.



1. The Alabama Legislature. And by that I mean state funding, laws that are passed that will affect our ability to do an efficient job, meaning space, time, serving customers, budgets.


2. The same way that we did in 2008 when the Supreme Court appointed me to serve as special probate judge during Mrs. Phillips’ absence from the office. We discovered that an audit was necessary, that more detail to accounting procedures was necessary, and that minor changes in policy could be made that would affect the public attitude or the public trust. An example would be checks no longer made to Probate Judge Whoever, they were made to the probate office of Covington County. There are systematic accounting procedures required by law, that are enacted by the chief clerk and it’s overseen and made responsible to and by the probate judge. The monies come in, there’s places it’s supposed to go, you put it on the spreadsheet and you make sure it gets there. And if it’s done properly, and reviewed properly, minor mistakes are made, but nothing can’t be caught and fixed, with the proper checks and balances.

I feel we improved on some of that during my tenure.


3. Mental health has been a long-standing issue and concern with me. I hate to keep referring to my father, (a former probate judge) but he was instrumental in bringing the South Central Mental Health facility to Covington County, which serves a four-county area. He told me that everyone has a community debt, and as probate judge, he was responsible for many mental issues and decisions affecting our citizens. Therefore, he wanted the best possible resources available to him in our local area to do the best job for our people.

As a result of that, when I came back to Covington County and we opened our law firm in 1988, one of our first clients was the South Central Mental Health Center, which we served free of charge, and we continued that service for 12 years, at which time I was appointed to the board of directors for four years and then served on the executive board for four years.

Mental health is very important to me. The state is currently closing many mental health hospitals. Our main catchment hospital is Searcy down in the Mobile area. The current thought is that non-violent patients will be returned to the community where we are to develop housing. Hopefully, this is my term, little pods or small homes where you can house maybe three patients and full time professionals and they can maybe rotate out on shifts. This is a wonderful mental health model, but it’s going to be very expensive to implement. Earlier in my response, “what would affect the probate office,” and I said the legislature. This is a prime example of what I’m speaking to. As they cease state funding for hospitals, we are going to be forced to find it as a community. Covington County has always been generous to its people. We will find a way, we are finding a way. The current mental health board is doing an excellent job, but we have a long way to go.

Specifically, they won’t let you put more than three people in a facility, otherwise it becomes a nursing home and they won’t give you a certificate of need for those beds. You cannot have more than three people in a facility. That means multiple facilities, it means multiple people, it means multiple insurances. I’m concerned about the state budget as much as anyone else, but these particular consumers, our family, our neighbors, who can’t speak for themselves, have precious poor representation in Montgomery during this tremendous fight for tax dollars. If I were probate judge today, I would be screaming at top of my lungs for our people who are not being heard, because the 68 probate judges in state are where rubber meets road.

(Jefferson County has two probate judges.)


4. Technology is the obvious answer. What you can scan and place in hard drives and megabytes and megapixels and all that computer talk, you’re talking basement fulls to drawer fulls. It not only should be done, it must be done. The question then becomes suitable backups, where, cost of technology. Again, dollars.

As a young man, I remember playing in the basement of probate office. And stacks and stacks and stacks of records that go back to the 1800s that are down there sitting in water. They’ve got to be reclaimed. It’s great to have a pretty probate office, but it also has to function.