Municipal judge wants court changes

Published 8:45 pm Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Prince Chestnut, presiding municipal court judge for Selma, is hoping to help defendants with the court process and save the city money by having contracted defense lawyers at every court session

“I think it would eliminate a lot of confusion that individuals might have because there will be someone there that’s an advocate for them to immediately answer a question for them,” Chestnut said. “That’s one thing I really see as helping to give the little guy a better shot at at least understanding and being able to present his side of the issue simply.”

Chestnut said the attorneys would mainly be used for defendants that are looking at possible jail time for their offense, but they could also be useful for people in court for traffic citations.

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“Instead of the judge having to go through a laundry list of things to make the defendant aware of the possible consequences of trying a situation or dealing with a situation without the benefit of the guiding hand of counsel, it would really help with efficiency because you have a defense lawyer there to answer questions,” Chestnut said.

In some instances, defendants waive their right to an attorney, but Chestnut said sometimes after the fact they realize that they need one.

“In those situations where a waiver of a right to counsel occur, as a judge what I would usually do is talk with the person and explain you do understand there are things you don’t know that a lawyer would know because of his training, skills and experience,” Chestnut said.

On some days, there could be around 100 people in court, so having contracted lawyers could also speed the process up.

“To be able to give the citizens someone else that is on their side, I think it just helps the overall credibility of the municipal court system,” Chestnut said.

“They may have started with eight questions, but now they only have one when they come before me.”

Chestnut said it is something he’s been trying to get done for the past two or three years, and it is something the Selma City Council could take action on within its next few meetings with an ordinance.

It could save the city money because the court currently pays appointed attorneys by the hour.

“We already have a certain amount of money allotted for appointed lawyers, so it could come out of that,” Chestnut told the council during a work session two weeks ago. “We appoint an attorney for a case by case basis, which is much more costly because you have to pay $70 an hour when you do that.”

The contracted attorneys would be paid a similar amount to the prosecutors, which get $250 per court session, according to city attorney Jimmy Nunn.

Chestnut, who is running for the District 67 seat in the Alabama House of Representatives, hopes to get this in place before the election, so if he wins it will already be in place.