Longtime Russell County Circuit Court Judge George Greene has informed the Alabama Administrative Office of Courts that he plans to retire Dec. 1.
Greene, 63, has been battling medical issues for several years and has recently been on medical leave. He sent his retirement letter to the Administrative Office of Courts in Montgomery this week, director Rich Hobson said on Thursday.
Greene’s replacement will be appointed by Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, a Republican. If that appointment comes after Monday, the new judge will not have to stand for election until 2016. A spokesperson for the governor said late Wednesday that the office had not been notified of Greene’s retirement.
District Court Judge Michael Bellamy and Chief Deputy District Attorney Buster Landreau are among those who have said they will seek the appointment.
Greene has been a judge in Russell County since 1979, making him one of the longest serving judges in the state. He was a District Court judge until August 1998 when he was appointed to the Circuit Court bench.
Greene, reached at his home Thursday afternoon, declined to comment.
“I don’t have anything to say, thank you,” he said before hanging up.
Greene’s health has been an issue for years. It became a public issue in September 2012, when Greene could not continue during the capital murder trial of Lisa Graham, a woman accused of hiring someone to kill her daughter.
Three days into testimony, Greene declared a mistrial, citing personal health issues.
Attorneys for Graham subsequently filed a motion to dismiss murder charges against Graham, because a retrial would constitute double jeopardy. That motion was denied by Lee County Circuit Court Judge Jacob A. Walker and upheld by the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals. The case is now headed to the Alabama Supreme Court. Greene’s health issues were at the center of a hearing Walker held on July 3.
Greene testified during the hearing that he had several health issues — including blurred vision, high blood pressure, gout, high cholesterol and diabetes — that complicated his ability to perform during the capital murder trial.
He said he thought he could get through the trial, which he expected to last another week. However, on Sept. 25, 2012, Greene testified he was ordered by Russell County Circuit Court Judge Albert Johnson to declare a mistrial after Johnson approached him about reports that Greene had been sleeping during the trial.
Walker wrote in his order that Greene was dealing with a significant medical ailment and that more errors could have been caused if the trial continued.
Johnson, who is the presiding judge in Russell County, said the governor’s appointment needs to come quickly.
“Judge Greene’s unavailability to try cases has put an increased burden on the judges here, and, to the extent we could, we have had to ask judges from outside to come in and help us,” he said.
Bellamy, a Democrat, was appointed to the district judgeship by Republican Gov. Fob James in 1998 when Greene moved up to Circuit Court.
The 61-year-old made it clear he wants the job.
“I have already sent the governor my letter,” Bellamy said.
He said in addition to his 15 years on the District Court bench, he has handled Circuit Court duties in Russell, Montgomery and Jefferson counties.
“If I do not get it, I intend to run for it,” Bellamy said.
Landreau, 57, has worked in the Russell County District Attorney’s office since July 1998. Prior to that he was in private practice in Russell County.
“I think every lawyer would love to be a judge at some point in their career,” Landreau said. “I know that I can be fair and I can be impartial.”