ASHVILLE, Ala. (CN) – Family law has another meaning in rural St. Clair County, where two circuit court judges recuse themselves from cases nearly every week. Both judges have sons who are attorneys, and the state court system assigns cases automatically, by lottery, so it’s a regular juggling act to keep the sons out of their fathers’ courts.
Charley Robinson Jr. is a fourth-generation attorney, and most of the family’s practice has been run from the same office – on the corner with the only red light in town – where Highway 231 meets Sixth Avenue Court.
Robinson’s father practiced law for 35 years before he took the bench and became the first judge in the family.
The other father-son team is Judge James E. Hill Jr. and his son, James E. Hill III.
Judge Hill recuses himself from cases involving his son’s firm, Weathington, Moore, Weisskopf and Hill, and Judge Robinson recuses himself from his son’s cases. Judge Hill generally passes the case to Robinson, and Robinson returns the favor.
To make things more confusing, St. Clair County’s two main cities – Ashville and Pell City – each has its own county seat.
The cities are separated by the southern end of the Appalachian Mountains. St. Clair County, which boasts on its website that it’s a county older than the state – was established before roads were paved, and traversing the Appalachians was extremely difficult. So to expedite the legal process, the county put a seat in a city on each side of the mountains.
St. Clair County is still small, but growing quickly. Its population of 64,742 in the 2000 census had grown to 81,895 by 2010 – nearly 27 percent growth.
To make it even more complicated, James Hill III specializes in corporate law, one of the specialties his father practiced before taking the bench, and Judge Hill used to be a partner with Bill Weathington, who now is a partner with Hill III.
Hill III says he considers his dad a valuable resource; the elder Hill practiced law for 20 years before taking the bench in 1995.
Charley Robinson Jr. said though, that sometimes he feels like he lost a mentor. When he was a kid in Little League, his dad hit grounders to him harder than he hit them to other players, because he expected more from him. Charley Junior said he feels it’s the same with the law.
The two sons say it was easy for them to become friends, given the similarities in their family situations, and the regular, and unavoidable, interactions each has with the other’s father.
In fact, both sons used similar language to describe the other one, in separate interviews: nice, well-liked.
When asked what made him decide to follow his dad into practice of the law, Hill III said, “I’m still deciding.”