BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Last month, 31,327 Jefferson County voters made their voices heard in a primary election for circuit court judge.
With nearly 54% of the vote, Tiara Young Hudson won the Democratic primary election, and with no Republican opposition, she was set to become the first public defender to ever serve as a circuit court judge in Jefferson County. However, Hudson may never get to take the seat she won at the ballot box.
On Thursday, the Judicial Resources Allocation Commission voted to move the seat she’d campaigned for out of Jefferson County and over to Madison County. The body, which is chaired by Alabama Supreme Court Justice Tom Parker, is charged with setting criteria for determining the number of judges needed in courts across the state. The law allows the body to “reallocate” judgeships to address needs in other geographic areas.
In a statement, Chief Parker said the commission voted Thursday 8-3 to reallocate one Jefferson County judgeship, moving it to Madison County.
“The Commission voted to reallocate the judgeship from the 10th Judicial Circuit to the 23rd Judicial Circuit (Madison County), which has a deficit of 3.25 circuit judges,” Parker wrote. “While there is a need for 20 judgeships across the State (12 circuit judgeships and 8 district judgeships), the Legislature created this mechanism of reallocation to correct the needs gradually, although it will not take care of the entire need, or the immediacy of the need.”
The 2017 law that allows for judicial reallocations limits the commission to moving only one judge per circuit every two years.
Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, said that the move by the commission was a “very bad decision,” adding that the data used to determine that Jefferson County has a surplus of judges was “flawed.”
Because Jefferson County consolidated underlying cases when assigning case numbers, Smitherman said, it makes the county’s caseload appear smaller than it actually is. He said he believes the decision will impact public safety in Birmingham and the rest of Jefferson County.
“It creates a serious public safety issue,” Smitherman said.
If Madison County and other parts of the state need more judges, he argues, the legislature has enough money to hire them without taking positions away from Jefferson County.
The decision, Smitherman said, is motivated by politics and race.
“The judges they’re taking are African-American seats, and we only have a few in the state,” he said.
Until now, the seat at issue had been held by Judge Clyde Jones, who is retiring from the bench.
Jones also disagrees with the commission’s decision, but he said he’ll leave it for members of the public to use their “common sense” in deciding the motivated the move.
“It’s pretty well a fact that Jefferson County is a Democratic County, and Madison County is a Republican County,” he said.
Jones also said that the decision sends a bad message to the thousands of Jefferson County voters who chose to elect Tiara Young Hudson.
“I feel very sad for Ms. Hudson to have paid her filing fee, for her to have expended funds campaigning, for her to have campaigned for month, seven days a week, and then all of a sudden that voice of the people is taken away,” Jones said.
Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill told CBS 42 that lawyers for his office are looking into the situation.
As of Friday, Tiara Young Hudson has not publicly commented on the commission’s decision.