About 2,600 juvenile court cases are in judicial limbo following news that Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Drayton Nabers has eliminated the judicial authority of Juvenile Court Judge Tommy Dobson. Here’s a story about it in the Talladega County Daily Home.
The problem boils down to Dobson’s having given court referee Jack E. Swinford blanket authority to sign orders rather than merely to make written findings and recommendations to the judge. Swinford resigned as a referee on Monday, the same day that Justice Nabors stripped Dobson of his judicial authority.
The cases in question were decided from October 1, 2003 through June 15, 2005. Dobson signed an order when he appointed Swinford as referee granting to Swinford the same authority as a judge, even though Swinford was not elected and not accountable to voters. Here’s what the document said:
The findings and recommendations of the referee are hereby confirmed and ordered by the court and the parties are hereby ordered to abide by and obey the findings and recommendations made by said referee and shall be treated as a final order herein unless either party files a written request for a rehearing within 14 days of the refereeâ€™s recommendation.
Dobson signed the order on October 1, 2003, but there’s no indication it was filed with the court until October 21, 2004. Under its authority, Swinford issued orders in 2,579 cases, which now must be reviewed to determine the extent of irregularities in them and what curative orders need to be issued in them.
Although there’s no question this creates a huge mess in Talladega County, there’s no evidence of any criminal wrongdoing. The problems seem at this point to be administrative only.