Although Circuit Judge Terry Dempsey sees the effects of the state’s budget woes every day in the Franklin County Courthouse, when it comes to his office he isn’t too worried.
His staff is as bare-bones as the State of Alabama will allow.
“By law, we have to have a judicial assistant and a court reporter, and that’s all we have in our office,” Dempsey said. “We don’t have anyone else working in the circuit judge’s office, so they can’t take away something we never had.
“But the state’s budget woes do impact us through the circuit clerk’s office being cut, and the district attorney’s office, so we’re indirectly affected.”
Dempsey is in the final year of his first six-year term as Franklin County Circuit Judge. He is the Democratic nominee for the position once again this year, and with no Republican opposition, he will begin a second term in January.
“I consider it an honor to serve as circuit judge, and I appreciate the voter confidence after the first election,” Dempsey said. “I appreciate the fact that I’ll get to serve a second term, and I pledge to continue doing the best job I can.”
Dempsey’s staff consists of Teresa Seal, Judicial Assistant, and De McGuire, the Court Reporter. His office is located on the second floor of the Franklin County Courthouse and is extensively decorated with University of Alabama memorabilia.
“I don’t get down [to Tuscaloosa] as much as I’d like, but we usually go to a couple of football games each year,” Dempsey said.
The circuit judge presides over all jury trials in Franklin County, including domestic cases and felony criminal trials.
“Our docket is probably 50-percent criminal, 40-percent domestic and 10-percent other civil cases,” Dempsey said. “We have so many more criminal cases filed now that I use the civil jury term for criminal cases when we don’t have any civil trials scheduled.
“Otherwise, the system gets backlogged.”
The Belgreen High School graduate began his law practice with Russellville attorney David Lowery in 1992. While Dempsey loves his job, he said being a judge in a small community requires that he be extra-cautious to maintain impartiality on all matters.
“I think 98 percent of people realize I can’t discuss cases with them. And they are very respectful of that,” he said. “If someone tries to communicate with me about a case, I try to be polite and explain that I can’t hear that or discuss the case, and that usually ends it.”
Dempsey and his wife Kristi have four children. Their home is in Belgreen. He has presided over cases involving friends, acquaintances and neighbors, and sometimes that is difficult, but he explains that as a judge he must separate personal relationships and feelings from the courtroom.
“If you can’t separate it, you need to recuse yourself from the case and let another judge handle it if the person is close enough to you that it will affect you,” Dempsey said. “Otherwise, I just try to rely on the law, facts and evidence that relate to the case and let the chips fall where they may.”
Although attorneys from across Alabama appear in his courtroom, Dempsey appreciates the working relationship his office maintains with Franklin County attorneys.
“I think we’ve got a really good local bar in Franklin County. The attorneys are competent, and they make my job easier by the way they perform theirs,” Dempsey said.
The Franklin County Circuit Court operates on a two-month cycle that repeats every 60 days. One month includes a week of civil jury trials and the next month has a criminal jury term. One week every two months is dedicated to domestic cases, and there is one week of a civil non-jury term. The rest of the calendar is filled in with additional domestic cases, civil cases, probation revocation hearings and motion dockets.