Chestnut’s resignation as municipal judges leaves open seat on the bench

Published 5:53 pm Saturday, February 10, 2018

The Selma City Council must appoint a new municipal judge after Rep. Prince Chestnut resigned from the position at the end of January.

Chestnut served as the presiding judge for more than a decade after his appointment to the seat in 2007. In a letter of resignation, Chestnut said he resigned to devote more time to serving as a legislator and to his family.

Thursday night, during a council work session, Selma City Attorney Jimmy Nunn said it is the council’s responsibility to appoint someone to the vacant seat. He also read a letter of recommendation from Mayor Darrio Melton to appoint attorney Tarackia Phillips Barge.

The letter states Barge is “duly qualified and capable of serving” as municipal judge.

Councilman Carl Bowline made a recommendation of his own. He recommended appointing Major Madison, an attorney who currently serves as a prosecutor for the city’s municipal court, as judge.

“Having known Major Madison for well over a decade now, I believe he brings all of the qualifications, mannerisms and characteristics necessary to run this, and I would like to recommend the city council look to appoint Major Madison to this position,” Bowline said.

“I think we’d be careless in our responsibilities if we did anything other than that.”

Councilman Johnnie Leashore said he wanted to uphold council tradition and vote for the mayor’s recommendation.

“Ever since 2000, the municipal judge has always been recommended to this council, and the council has readily agreed upon his recommendation,” Leashore said. “I know the authority of this council can do what they want to do but why are we going to divert from what traditionally has been a custom?”

Leashore said Barge is from Selma. According to her practice’s website, the Barge Lawfirm, she serves clients in Jefferson, Shelby, Dallas and the surrounding counties. The firm is located in Birmingham. Her profile on the firm’s website said she has a law degree from Birmingham School of Law.

Several council members said they had never met nor heard of Barge prior to the Mayor’s recommendation.

“I don’t know Tarackia Phillips Barge. I am certainly not averse to entertaining somebody else. She may be well qualified. It may be a mistake not to get her, but I wouldn’t know her. She may be in the audience, and I don’t know,” said Councilwoman Susan Youngblood.

“I would want to know that we are appointing the best person to preside over our municipal court. I think we have a duty to do that regardless of what tradition is.”

Youngblood said she is in favor of Madison being appointed because she does not know Barge.

Councilwoman Angela Benjamin suggested getting a resume from Barge. She also said she does not want to vote for an appointment until they get more information about Barge.

“We have nothing except this resolution with a name in it,” Benjamin said. “I don’t know this person. I’m not saying this person is not qualified. What I am saying is, if I voted for her Tuesday, I don’t have a clue who I would be voting for.”

Several other council members also want to meet Barge before making a decision.

Nunn said no matter who the council appoints, he suggests they make a decision soon to keep municipal court cases from piling up.

“I would ask you to move very hastily. At this point in time, we only have one judge at the municipal court, and if you have ever been over there, the caseload is great,” Nunn said. “It’s going to take a long time to get caught back up.”

Whoever is appointed by the council will serve as a part-time judge, not the presiding judge that is over the entire court. The new appointee will also serve just the remainder of Chestnut’s term, which ends at the end of September, not a full two-year term.