Circuit Judge J. Scott Vowel I, retired
Alabama's Private Judge Act allows litigants to hire certain qualified former judges to hear certain types of cases and to enter final judgments, bypassing the court system. It is designed to streamline the litigation process. In 2012, the Alabama Legislature enacted Alabama Act 2012-266, dealing with the appointment of private judges. The statute was amended by the latest session of the legislature, Alabama Act 2018-384. The amendments have become effective this summer and the Acts are now codified at Ala. Code (1975) §12-11 A-1 et seq.
The 2018 amendments expanded the scope of the Act by including probate judges who are lawyers among those former judges who may be eligible to serve as a private judge. The amendments have redefined the type of cases which are subject to private judging. Finally, the amendments have addressed the question of the private judges' continuing jurisdiction over post-judgment matters.
Private judging provides a method of legal dispute resolution as an alternative to both litigation and to arbitration. Since its effective date in 2012, the Act has been used primarily in domestic relations cases and it has seldom been used in other civil cases. Because of the 2018 amendments, private judging is now available in all civil actions. While it may not be suitable for use in all civil cases, it is an alternative method of dispute resolution which should be considered by the legal profession and their clients.
The statute authorizes the appointment of a private judge if he or she meets certain requirements. Private judges must: (1) have been, but are not actively serving as, a judge of a district, circuit or probate court and have served in the capacity of judge for at least six consecutive years; (2) be admitted to the practice of law in Alabama; (3) be an active member in good standing with the Alabama State Bar; and (4) be a resident of Alabama.
Any qualified judge who wishes to serve as a private judge must register with the director of the Alabama Center for Dispute Resolution in Montgomery. The director determines whether the judge is qualified under the Act and whether the judge will be added to the list of registered private judges. The list of qualified judges is available to the public. See...