“We were young when we started,” said the 63-year-old judge, who has served as both a District and Circuit Court Judge in the St. Clair County Court system.
“There are different challenges,” Hill said. “Being able to be a District Judge and a Circuit Judge gives you the appreciation of the whole trial bench we have in this state.”
Hill initially ran for the District Court Judge seat in 1994. He began serving his first term on the bench in January 1995.
After St. Clair County Circuit Court Judge Bill Hereford retired, Hill became the Circuit Court Judge and in the past three years Hill has served as the Presiding Court Judge for St. Clair County.
In all, Hill served 10 years as a District Court Judge and almost nine years as a Circuit Court Judge.
He admits the responsibility is great.
“It’s a challenge,” Hill said. “You have to be thinking about it all the time.”
He said the most important thing the court system offers is a place where people can be heard.
“It allows people to air their grievances or issues in front of a jury or judge, who should be unbiased and impartial,” Hill said. “We use terms like equal protection under the law and due process, but it (court) really is giving people a chance to be heard and then a decision is made.”
Those decisions are not always set in stone. An attorney may disagree with a decision. He said the attorney is afforded the opportunity to sway a judge’s decision.
“I’ve altered rulings before,” Hill said. “I try to listen and give them the very best judgment I can.”
Since serving as a St. Clair County Judge, Hill has heard hundreds of thousands of cases from the bench, including several capital murder cases.
“Those are the hardest,” he said.
Hill said one of his most fun cases he has handled involved some local bookies.
The case surfaced shortly after voters of the state voted down the state lottery to fund public education.
In a highly unusual ruling, Hill ordered that the men pay thousands of dollars to the St. Clair County and Pell City schools systems with the alleged proceeds from their bookmaking.
The ruling brought state-wide media attention.
Hill has seen the St. Clair County court system grow dramatically in the past 19 years. During that time, the judge was instrumental in helping start new court programs, including “Early Warning,” a program to help turn juveniles around.
St. Clair County also has a new 72-hour juvenile detention facility in Ashvillle, which Hill said works well with the long-term Coosa Valley Detention facility in Anniston.
He also spearheaded efforts to help establish and support the Day Program, which has served the county’s juveniles and helps children get back on the right path.
“We’re up on child support collections,” Hill said, adding that for a couple of years the court system was up 400 percent in child support collections.
During his tenure, the court system also started domestic violence programs, drug intervention programs and the court system now has a mental health component which works with juveniles.
Hill also served on a taskforce formed by former Alabama Governor Bob Riley to find a way to ease over-crowding in state prisons. That’s when the Community Correction program started in counties across the state, including St. Clair County.
The community corrections program affords defendants one last opportunity to straighten up their lives in lieu of prison.
St. Clair County also has drug courts, part of the community corrections efforts, helping people kick their addictions. More than 100 people have graduated from drug court programs, and have never returned to the court system.
“Before, we were just rearranging the chairs on the Titanic,” Hill said. “We run three drug courts now.”
Hill said he will miss his staff, the other judges and the attorneys he dealt with on a daily basis in Circuit Court.
“I’ve always loved the interaction with the lawyers,” he said.
Hill will officially retire Oct. 31.
St. Clair County Commission Attorney Bill Weathington was recently appointed by Gov. Robert Bentley to serve Hill’s unexpired office term.
Weathington will start Nov. 10.
Hill, who resides in Moody with his wife Susan, said he will return to private law practice with his son James.
“I want to practice law with James. He’s still young (33),” said Hill, who practiced law for 19 years in Leeds before becoming a judge. “If I ever want to do it, I want to do it while I still have a lot of energy and drive.”
Hill could also seek election to a state office.
“I’m thinking about it,” he said.