5 throw names in hat for judge’s appointment

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 9, 2016


Presiding Circuit Judge Ashley McKathan’s pending retirement this month has a number of people seeking not his job, but the probate judge’s job.

McKathan, an Independent, chose not to seek reelection this year. Probate Judge Ben Bowden last week won the Republican nomination for the office, and has no opposition in the November General Election.

It will fall to Gov. Robert Bentley to appoint someone to fill McKathan’s unexpired term, and most expect him to appoint Bowden, necessitating a second appointment.

While the Code of Alabama requires that circuit and district judges be licensed members of the Alabama State Bar Association, probate judges are not required to be attorneys. The only requirement is that the probate judge has resided in the county for one year preceding his or her election or appointment. (Code of Alabama, Section 12-13-31)

Members of the Covington County Bar Association are urging the appointment of an attorney to the office, but the chairman of the local Republican party says the executive committee will consider all qualified individuals, not just attorneys.

Bar Association President Bill Alverson said, “The bar association thinks the position should be filled by a lawyer as has been traditionally done for several years.

“Many matters can be appealed out of probate court to circuit court,” he said. “But having a lawyer, particularly one that has had a probate practice, makes the system more efficient and cost effective for taxpayers. A few counties by state statute require the position to be filled by a lawyer. The Bar believes that an experienced attorney is more effective and efficient.”

While the Bar has not taken an official vote on the matter, the position has been unanimously supported in discussion, Alverson said.

As of Tuesday, Alverson said, local attorneys Anne Christensen, Stacy Brooks, and Paul Adams have expressed an interest in the appointment.

Late Tuesday, Emmett Massey, an assistant district attorney, also confirmed that he is seeking the appointment.

GOP Chairman William Blocker said the county’s Republican Executive Committee met Monday.

“We are taking input for possible candidates that are conservative and potentially have the background to do the job,” Blocker said. “Those resumes are due to me by Friday.”

The executive committee will meet again on Monday to review the applications, and after completing due diligence, will submit a list of potential appointees to the governor’s office, Blocker said.

“As far was we’re concerned, it does not have to be an attorney,” Blocker said.

Among those who have submitted a resume, Blocker said, is Patricia Gunter, the River Falls mayor who is a former chief probate clerk.

Blocker said he also is working with the state Republican party to get its support for candidates selected by the local committee.

“Of course, anyone in Covington County is free to submit whatever they want,” Blocker said. “We just want the governor’s office and the state party to know what we’re doing.”

Judge Bowden said Tuesday that Gov. Bentley has not made any announcements of his intentions. However, he said, the circuit court appointment doesn’t have to be immediate – Judge McKathan’s retirement date is March 16.

And according to the Code of Alabama, if Bowden takes an early oath as is expected, the chief probate clerk can perform all of the duties of the probate office, except those issues that might be contested, in the interim.

At present, Tracy Lawson is chief clerk of the probate office.