2006.10.15: October 15, 2006: Headlines: COS - Colombia: Law: Jurisprudence: Sports: Swimming: Daily Mountain Eagle Online Edition: Colombia RPCV James Brotherton ending career as one of Alabama’s longest sitting judges

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Colombia: Peace Corps Colombia : The Peace Corps in Colombia: 2006.10.15: October 15, 2006: Headlines: COS - Colombia: Law: Jurisprudence: Sports: Swimming: Daily Mountain Eagle Online Edition: Colombia RPCV James Brotherton ending career as one of Alabama’s longest sitting judges

By Admin1 (admin) (ppp-70-250-74-101.dsl.okcyok.swbell.net - on Monday, November 27, 2006 - 10:13 am: Edit Post

Colombia RPCV James Brotherton ending career as one of Alabama’s longest sitting judges

Colombia RPCV James Brotherton ending career as one of Alabama’s longest sitting judges

“The first time I walked into a Spanish class I was the teacher, and the first time I walked into a courtroom, as a participant, I was the judge,” Brotherton got his experience in the Spanish language after he joined the Peace Corps in 1955, and was sent to Columbia to coach the national Olympic Swim team there for two years. He had been a swimmer for many years and held a couple of Southeastern records.

Colombia RPCV James Brotherton ending career as one of Alabama’s longest sitting judges

End of an era

The Daily Mountain Eagle
Published October 15, 2006 2:21 AM CDT

Brotherton ending career as one of Alabama’s longest sitting judges

Walker County Circuit Judge James Brotherton is losing his seat after being one of the longest sitting judges in Alabama—though he seems to be coping with the loss well.

“I’m looking forward, ooooh Lord, am I looking forward to getting out of this,” he said.

He later added, “I’ve had 35 years in the courthouse dealing with the scum of the Earth.”

Brotherton has tried anywhere from 50,000 to 60,000 cases in his career. He also presided over more murder cases than any judge in Walker County’s history. He has convicted five people to death row, including the first woman in Walker County’s history.

However, it is a record he does not take much pride in.

“It’s very easy to sit at the dinner table and say ‘I would fry him in a New York minute,’” Brotherton said. “It’s a little different when you have the power to do that.”

He said he vividly remembers his first death penalty sentence.

“I thought, ‘Who the hell am I to sentence someone to death?” he said.

Before he came into the courtroom, Brotherton wrote down, verbatim, what he would say to the defendant. He sat down, stared at the card and read it. He said he has used the same piece of paper ever since.

In fact, there is not too much about the job Brotherton enjoys. He said even regular cases are never cut and dry. He said he often tries custody cases between two parents who are not fit to raise a child or cases with two parents who cannot live a moment without them.
“It’s horrible,” he said.

Another disheartening aspect of his job, Brotherton said, is the size of Walker County. He said he has tried cases that have touched the lives of almost every friend and family member he has, and it is the first association people make when they see him.

“The title Judge and Brotherton seem to have grown together into one word,” he said.

He said he often walks down the street, notices someone looking at him and thinks “Oh my god! I’ve sentenced her child to the electric chair.”
Brotherton does not have a wife or children—“just the courts,” he said.

“He’s given his life to serve the people of Walker County,” said Mac Andrews, law clerk for Brotherton.

He was born and raised in Jasper. He said his interest in the law only went as far as running a stop sign when he got his driver’s license. However, he grew up knowing the court officials in Jasper. He said he didn’t exactly know what a district attorney was, but the man seemed nice enough.

Brotherton attended Birmingham-Southern College in 1959 where he was a fraternity brother and “fishing buddy” with Howell Raines, the former editor of The New York Times. He then taught Spanish at Walker College, and went to the Cumberland University Law School at nights. He said he has skipped steps with many things in his life.

“The first time I walked into a Spanish class I was the teacher, and the first time I walked into a courtroom, as a participant, I was the judge,”
Brotherton got his experience in the Spanish language after he joined the Peace Corps in 1955, and was sent to Columbia to coach the national Olympic Swim team there for two years. He had been a swimmer for many years and held a couple of Southeastern records.

After graduating from law school, he clerked for a judge in Madison County. Soon after, he came back to Jasper and was appointed judge of the intermediate court in 1971, with “not a second of practicing law.” However, he said he believes it is better that way because one has no bias towards defense or prosecution attorneys.

He then ran for circuit judge in 1975. Brotherton couldn’t help but realize how much the courthouse had changed since he first started.
“When I came here, there were signs on the wall (that read) ‘Twenty-five-dollar fines if you spit on the wall,’” he said. “It was a drab operation.”
Since then, Brotherton has had more cases than he can count. He recently cleaned out a filing cabinet full of case notes that took up half of his wall. Though he could make an endless list of the negatives of his job, he said he does enjoy getting to help people.

“I’ve always enjoyed doing important things, but I have never for one second enjoyed being important,” Brotherton said.

Though he is able to sentence criminals to death, he said he will never preside on a case involving sexual child abuse again. He said he realized that when he tried the case where two girls had been taken by their neighbor and raped. The girls escaped into the woods near their home, and waited naked and shivering in the cold until they could make a safe run to their parents. He said it was the worst factual evidence he has ever had to deal with.

“I just quit trying those. I just have thrown my hands up and said I cannot do those anymore,” Brotherton said.

Despite this, he still holds a lot of faith in the judicial system. He talks about new crime investigation technologies, and the difficulty of getting away with a crime now.

Oddly enough, he still trusts the effectiveness of juries. He said he has only been surprised by a jury a handful of times. One being when a jury returned a $15 million verdict for a train hitting a truck.

Another involved a young African American who was accused of robbing a store, despite evidence that showed otherwise. His conviction rested on one witness who said she was sure he was the one, even though she said all black people looked the same to her.

Brotherton said he gave enough time to let the jury out of the courtroom and let the young man go home. It was later proven he was not guilty.

He said the man replacing him should be horrified by the amount of pressure and power that comes with the job. Brotherton has become a walking database for the criminal cases in Walker County—cases filled with justice and disparity.

Perhaps that is why he’s eager to leave.

“I think the electorate had more sense than I did,” he said.

Brotherton had 4,685 or 49 percent of the votes for the 14th Judicial Circuit, while Doug Farris received 4,901 or 51 percent.

Larry Lapkovitch, district judge for Walker County, said the community was lucky to have him as long as it did.

“He was an excellent judge and concerned about people in Walker County,” Lapkovitch said. “It’s been a joy to work with him the past 26 years.”

He said they will likely call on Brotherton for his wisdom and experience from time to time.

“We’re going to miss him being around, but we wish him luck on his retirement,” he said.

Brotherton said he plans to do “absolutely nothing” for six weeks when he relinquishes his seat, and maybe grow a beard.

“I’m going to have to find out who I am and what I am,” he said.

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By jan braswell (host-209-214-109-181.bhm.bellsouth.net - on Tuesday, June 12, 2007 - 7:09 pm: Edit Post

I would like to say that I think that someone should do something with JERRY K SELMAN a judge in walker county who does not treat the man fair in a divorce case and take 3 months to make a verdict and I think that he should hold a woman in contemp of court just like a man. I know a case in walker county that the woman had 4 contempt charges against her and the man only had one and the man was sent to jail. But the bad part was the money was setting at the clerk of courts office waiting for a check and he still went to jail for a week. He lost his job and he still has to pay the alimony to the woman and he left in September 2006 and still does not have his clothes or personal items that the judge order her to let him have. Also she said on tape that she took something to the salvation army and the said DO NOT DISPOSE OF MARTIAL PROPERTY and the judge did not do anything. Please help this man and other men in walker county so they will be treated fair not unfair.

Thank You
Jan Braswell

By mandy ( on Thursday, December 20, 2007 - 1:59 am: Edit Post

Jan Brasswell if you get this message please contact me! 229-220-7499 my name is mandy!

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