The Birmingham City Council voted Tuesday to replace Municipal Court Judge Cathy E. Daniel with attorney Jermeria Moore, a move that Council President Valerie Abbott said might “politicize the court.”
Daniel’s term as judge expired in January, but the council’s decision to replace her was unusual.
“This council has never replaced a sitting judge in municipal court before,” Abbott said. “We have always allowed them to either retire, to move to another position if they get elected to another judgeship, or unfortunately, some of them pass away.”
The resolution for replacing Daniel with Moore had appeared on the June 4 council agenda, but Abbott had opted to delay the measure “for further discussion.” That decision was met with protest by Council President Pro Tempore William Parker and Councilor Wardine Alexander, both of whom serve with Abbott on the council’s Administration and Education Committee, which is in charge of vetting and nominating judicial nominees.
Parker and Alexander had supported replacing Daniel with Moore and expressed frustration with what they described as Abbott attempting to override the committee’s majority decision. Parker placed the item on Tuesday’s agenda himself, which meant that Abbott would be unable to unilaterally remove it, as she had the previous week, when she submitted the item.
Still, Abbott voiced her concerns about the vote to unseat Daniel.
“If we replace these judges, we will be firing people who have experience and who have no complaints against them,” she said. “I wanted to say that because a lot of times, boards and positions like this are plums, and people want to be appointed to them. But this isn’t Christmas, and we’re not giving away candy. This is our court system. We should not be removing people who have served ably and well just to give the positions to other people.”
Early in the nomination process, Parker and Alexander had expressed a desire to let applicants “come through the (selection) process,” regardless of whether there was an incumbent in the seat.
“(Municipal judges) are put into the position for a (set) period of time,” Alexander said during the Administration and Education Committee’s Feb. 26 meeting. “I do think as councilors and as members of this committee, we should reevaluate or look at, even if you are a sitting judge … We have this opportunity to look at their work and put them through this process of evaluation.”
The majority of the council sided with Parker and Alexander, voting 6-3 to give the judgeship to Moore instead. Parker and Alexander were joined by Councilors John Hilliard, Steven Hoyt, Crystal Smitherman and Clinton Woods in supporting Moore. Abbott, Hunter Williams and Darrell O’Quinn voted to keep Daniel.
Moore has worked as an attorney at the Birmingham firm Sperling & Moore, P.C., since August 2006. She originally had been nominated to replace Judge Anita Westberry, another municipal judge whose term expired in January. Instead, Westberry — along with judges Kechia Davis, Nyya Hudson and Lee Loder — were reappointed Tuesday without controversy.