Bellamy now Russell County's first black Circuit Court judge

chwilliams@ledger-enquirer.comDecember 10, 2013 

Raymond Cochran has been pastor of Franchise Missionary Baptist Church in Phenix City for 45 years.

And on Tuesday afternoon at the swearing in of Russell County Circuit Court Judge Michael Bellamy, Cochran felt the calling.

"If ever I felt like preaching, it's right now," Cochran told more than 250 people assembled at the Central Activity Center. "I have known Judge Bellamy since he was a boy. I have seen him grow. I know he is obedient. I tell young people if you want to get anywhere, you need to sit down and shut up."

Cochran then pointed to Bellamy, 61, as an example of what happens when you do the right things.

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, a Republican, appointed Bellamy, a Democrat, as a Circuit Court judge last month.

Bellamy, who graduated in the last segregated class from Phenix City's South Girard High School, becomes Russell County's first black Circuit Court judge. He has been a District Court judge since 1998 and was the Phenix City Municipal Court judge for 14 years prior to that.

"I want to thank the Lord for giving Governor Bentley the courage to do what was the right and best thing to do and choose the most qualified person," Bellamy said.

Bellamy has spent 15 years on the District Court bench and at times handled Circuit Court duties in Russell, Montgomery and Jefferson counties. Bellamy ran for the Circuit Court job in 1996, losing a close race to Judge Albert Johnson, who is currently the presiding judge in the county.

Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Charles Price, who has been a mentor to Bellamy, spoke at the investiture.

"This is a big day," Price said. "He has labored as a District Court judge. I told him that one day it will come. And now he is the only African-American Circuit Court judge in this part of the state."

Phenix City attorney Jim McKoon shared an office and desk with Bellamy when they were both young prosecutors in the district attorney's office. McKoon called Tuesday a historic day.

"This is a historic first in Russell County and East Alabama," McKoon said. "Governor Bentley certainly did not chose and appoint Judge Bellamy because of his political affiliation or his race."

McKoon said he heard Bentley speak recently and the governor outlined two criteria for judicial appointments.

"First, he said he wanted a person of experience, someone who has been in courtrooms and seen clients," McKoon said. "Secondly, he said he wanted someone who would give a fair hearing to all sides."

Bellamy fits that mold, McKoon said.

McKoon and Bellamy developed a close friendship early in their careers as they were forced to share space for about a year.

"I was sort of conservative; he was liberal," McKoon said. "I was a Republican, and he wasn't. But it didn't take me long to realize what a wonderful man he was."

Bellamy tried to deflect some of the spotlight off of him and on Judge George Greene, who retired Dec. 1, creating the vacancy that Bellamy filled. The two have been longtime friends and Bellamy wanted to make certain Green was recognized for his 34 years work for the county, most of that as a District Court and Circuit Court judge.

"I wouldn't be here except for friends like George Greene," Bellamy said.

Greene was forced into retirement because of serious medical issues.

Bellamy asked Greene if he wanted to say anything, to which the judge quietly responded, "No, it's your day."

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