Prosecutors unsure how judge’s promotion will affect Johnson trial

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

Prosecutors said they are unsure how a judge’s recent promotion to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals will affect the trial of the man charged with killing a Pelham Police officer.

Shortly after taking office, new Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley appointed Shelby County Circuit Court Judge Michael Joiner to the state court. Joiner has served with the Shelby County Circuit Court for more than 18 years.

Joiner will fill the vacancy left on the Court of Criminal Appeals after Judge Jim Main was appointed to the Alabama Supreme Court in January.

Joiner’s appointment came less than a month after he set an April 4 trial date for Bart Wayne Johnson, who is charged with the December 2009 shooting death of on-duty Pelham Police officer Philip Davis.

Johnson is charged with two counts of capital murder, one for intentionally killing an on-duty police officer and another for intentionally causing death by shooting from an occupied vehicle.

Because Joiner was the judge presiding over Johnson’s case, Assistant District Attorney Bill Bostick said Joiner’s promotion likely will affect the trial.

“Judge Joiner was the judge appointed to that trial, so him leaving can’t help but have an impact on the trial,” Bostick said. “He will move into that (Court of Criminal Appeals) position fairly soon.”

Although Johnson’s case was originally set to go to trial on Feb. 14, Joiner rescheduled it after Johnson’s defense attorneys, Charles Salvagio and Gregory Cox, requested a continuance in December 2010.

Bostick said he was not surprised by Joiner’s appointment to the state court, but he said the move leaves many unanswered questions in the Shelby County court.

“Sometimes these things happen. He’s done such a great job here that I should have anticipated that he would be called to higher service,” Bostick said of Joiner. “But we have some mechanics here that need to be worked out.”

Joiner’s departure from the court is further complicated because fellow Circuit Court Judge Hub Harrington is still recovering from injuries he sustained when he was struck by a car in Arizona while at the BCS National Championship game.

Harrington almost died from internal complications he suffered following the wreck, and returned to Shelby County in late January.

If Harrington and Joiner are absent from the county court at the same time, only Circuit judges Hewitt Conwill and Daniel Reeves would be left to handle the county’s caseload.

“I have equal confidence in our other judges,” Bostick said. “But the logistics of that will still have to be worked out.”

For now, Bostick said he and other prosecutors will continue to prepare to go to trial on April 4.

“From the DA’s perspective, we will continue to be ready for that April 4 trial date,” he said. “We’ll just have to see what happens.”