Amendment passes requiring county’s probate judge to be an attorney

By NEAL WAGNER / Managing Editor

COLUMBIANA – Future Shelby County probate judges will be required to be licensed attorneys after about 80 percent of the county’s voters approved a local amendment to the Alabama Constitution during a Nov. 4 election.

Fuhrmeister

Fuhrmeister

The Alabama Legislature approved Shelby County amendment No. 1 during its 2013 session requiring all future Shelby County probate judges to be licensed attorneys, sending the amendment to a vote of the people during the Nov. 4 election.

Shelby County is now the third county in Alabama, after Jefferson and Mobile counties, to require its probate judge to be a licensed attorney.

Probate judges handle elections and make rulings on cases such as adoptions, estates and parental guardianships.

Current Shelby County Probate Judge Jim Fuhrmeister said he strongly supported the amendment, and said it could also lead to cost-savings in the Shelby County Courthouse.

“In addition to the probate cases, having an attorney as probate judge allows him or her to serve as a volunteer circuit judge to assist with the circuit court caseload as needed,” Fuhrmeister wrote in a letter to the editor published in the Oct. 30 Shelby County Reporter. “This is at no additional cost to the taxpayer and for no additional compensation to the probate judge.

“If the probate judge is not trained in the law, many cases that we now hear in probate court will be transferred to circuit court which will cause delay and increase expenses to the litigants and their families,” he wrote.

After the amendment passed, Fuhrmeister called the election result “another step in the right direction for Shelby County,” and said the county’s growth has placed an increased workload on all judges at the county courthouse over the past several years.

“I spend most of my time ruling on legal issues,” Fuhrmeister said. “Shelby County has gotten to a point that we need to have someone with the experience and background to rule on these matters. This is a win-win for everyone.”

Fuhrmeister and Shelby County’s previous three probate judges have been licensed attorneys.