Chairman: County will hire attorney if needed

Published 12:04 am Saturday, April 4, 2015

County Commission Chairman Bill Godwin clarified Thursday that, in the event Covington County’s probate judge is named in forthcoming litigation involving the same-sex marriage issue, the county will provide legal representation.

Ben Bowden

Ben Bowden

Earlier this week, Probate Judge Ben Bowden asked the commission to allow him to retain Anne Sumblin to represent him.

Earlier this year, U.S. District Judge Ginny Granade struck down Alabama’s laws prohibiting same-sex marriage. At the time, Bowden said he didn’t believe Granade’s ruling applied outside of the district in which she serves.

Since then, the Alabama Supreme Court has ruled that probate judges have to follow Alabama law.

Meanwhile, legal pundits expect Granade to put all of the state’s probate judges in a class so that her ruling would affect all of them.

Bowden said he wanted to be prepared with legal counsel in the event he has to operate under conflicting rulings from two courts.


But Godwin said Thursday that the county has liability insurance through the Association of County Commissioners. Godwin said the county has a contractual obligation to use the attorney hired by the insurance company.

“If we go out of that, we’re on our own,” he said. “We have to pay all expenses, and whatever any judgment is if it goes against us.”

Commissioners voted to take no action on Bowden’s request.

Bowden said he understands the need to approach this issue with caution.

“However, I have reviewed the county’s liability policy, and I don’t believe there is anything in the county’s insurance policy, or in law, that would prevent us from hiring outside counsel at this point,” he said.

“In fact, it is common place for people or businesses to hire lawyers before they get sued,” Bowden said. “Some of the best work I have done as a lawyer was before my client got sued. The main point I am trying to stress is that I need to consult with counsel before the class is certified.

“I hope to continue the dialogue with the county commission about this important issue. I believe they want to help me,” Bowden said. “But even if they decline, I will continue to defend Alabama’s law on traditional marriage in Covington County until it is lawfully changed by a competent authority.”