Michael Bellamy has waited the better part of a career for the phone call he received Tuesday morning.
Bellamy, 61, was told by Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley’s office he has been selected to fill the Circuit Court judgeship vacated by George Greene’s retirement 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 am extremely humbled and appreciative of all the people who supported me,” Bellamy said. “There were so many persons who said it was not going to be possible because I was not in this particular party. ... I believe I am the most qualified person and I am extremely grateful.”
Bellamy has run successfully for the District Court seat as a Democrat. It is the second time in his career he has received a judicial appointment from a Republican governor. Gov. Fob James first appointed Bellamy to the bench.
Bentley wasted no time in filling the seat vacated by Bellamy, appointing longtime Chief District Attorney Buster Landreau, 57, as a District Court judge.
Bellamy and Landreau will not stand election until 2016.
Bellamy said he did not sign a pledge to run as a Republican.
“I have said — and I will continue to say — that judges should be independent or at least nonpartisan,” Bellamy said.
Bellamy is Bentley’s 10th Circuit Court judge appointment and the first African American.
Phenix City criminal defense attorney Jeremy W. Armstrong, an active Republican, said he was pleased Bentley crossed party lines to appoint Bellamy.
“Although Judge Bellamy’s appointment is monumental in the fact he is the first African-American Circuit Court Judge in Russell County history, for the past 15 years Judge Bellamy has effectively served our judicial circuit with integrity and is known in the legal community as a fair and balanced judge with impeccable character and judicial temperament,” Armstrong said. “He will serve the citizens of Russell County well.”
Bellamy’s experience was critical in the appointment, according to Jeremy King, the governor’s communication director.
“Judge Bellamy has a lot of experience,” King said. “He has served 15 years as a District Court judge. He has a good plan to help handle the current Circuit Court case load.”
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.
Local attorney Julius Hunter has known Bellamy since 1979. During their careers, the two men have shared an office.
“I think this is a good choice by the governor,” Hunter said. “What do you want in a judge? You want someone who is willing to listen and someone who is willing to be fair. Judge Bellamy has been willing to do that through the years in Municipal Court and in District Court.”
Johnson signed an order Tuesday assigning Greene’s full case load to Bellamy immediately. Bellamy will remain a District Court judge until Dec. 1, but will also be performing Circuit Court duties.
“I have known both of them for decades,” Johnson said. “They are both well respected in this community and I look forward to working with both of them.”
Landreau, who grew up in Hatchechubbee, has worked in the Russell County District Attorney’s office since July 1998. Prior to that he was in private practice in Russell County. Unlike Bellamy, Landreau did sign a pledge to the local Republican Party to run as a Republican in three years.
“I am pleased and honored to receive this appointment,” Landreau said. “A judgeship is always a great way to cap off a legal career.”
Armstrong was also pleased with Landreau’s appointment.
“Judge Landreau brings a wealth of legal experience to the District Court bench from his years as an attorney in private practice and serving as our chief deputy district attorney for many years,” Armstrong said. “In my opinion, Judge Landreau has one of the brightest legal minds among our local bar, and I am confident he will serve the citizens.”
Landreau starts Dec. 1.
Alabama’s Circuit Court, similar to Georgia’s Superior Court, handles civil matters of more than $10,000, felonies and domestic cases. The District Court, similar to Georgia’s State Court, handles civil matters under $10,000, misdemeanors and juvenile matters.
Greene, 63, had 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 last month.
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.