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McRae decides to leave bench early

By Chip Drago
Mobile Bay Times
Ferrill D. McRae, the longest continuously serving judge in state history, will step down from the 13th Judicial District's circuit bench in Mobile County Oct. 1, three months before his term of office expires, sources close to the judge confirmed.

McRae, 71, was appointed to the circuit bench here 41 years ago by then-Gov. George C. Wallace.

McRae did not seek re-election this year. Mobile attorney Robert Smith won the Republican nomination for McRae's seat on the bench. No Democratic candidate qualified.

McRae did not return a call seeking comment. He did, however, have a trusted intermediary confirm the report.

The county's five-member judicial selection committee, chaired by Circuit Judge Herman Thomas, will likely submit Smith's name to Gov. Bob Riley who would then appoint Smith to fill the remainder of McRae's term. Typically, the committee submits a list of three names for the governor's consideration. However, in these circumstances, with Smith on the verge of taking the bench in January, Smith's may be the sole name sent to Riley.

"(McRae) has had a long and distinguished career on the Circuit bench here," said District Judge Judson Wells. "When I practiced law he always ruled fairly in any case that I had before him. Later, when I became his judicial colleague, he was always interested in my career and very supportive."

Wells noted that in addition to the title of judge he and McRae share a passion for the University of Alabama.

"He (McRae) is one of the most ardent University of Alabama supporters you will find anywhere," said Wells, who recently served as the president of the university's national alumni association.

"(McRae) tells you what he thinks and is not the slightest bit interested in political correctness, which I find refreshing in these times," Wells added. "To sum up, Judge McRae, like Judge Robert E.L. Key, is one of those people you first think of when someone mentions the word “judge”. God bless Judge McRae in his retirement."

Former Vigor, Alabama Crimson Tide and Green Bay Packer quarterback Scott Hunter said he considers McRae "a father figure."

"Judge McRae recruited me (when alumni could legally do that) for and to the University of Alabama," Hunter said. "He and the Head Coach up there at the time -- Paul Bryant I believe it was -- were the two biggest influences on my decision to go to the University of Alabama for my college degree and to play football there. As a person who was parented by his grandparents and then a single mother, I regard him, my Vigor High School Coach Glen Yancey, and Coach Bryant as my father figures."

Other comments on McRae's departure:

"Judge McRae has always been a great judge for justice. He doesn’t put up with defense attorney smoke screens nor does he allow the victims and witnesses in the courtroom to be chastised or abused by either side. I have the greatest respect for him. I have always found him to be fair and very judicial in his demeanor. But he also maintains a sense of humor. His position will be hard to fill."
-- Capt. Jack Dove, Mobile Police Department

"I hate to see Ferrill go. He has been an excellent, very fair judge. It seems to me that he had a strong aversion to class action suits and he may the only judge who never approved one. I've known him for years and it would be great if his age could be frozen at about 60 and he continue on the bench, but it hasn't happened before and it won't now.

If he has a special reason for leaving early, I hope that it's not due to his health. He will be very hard to replace."
-- Tom Horst, retired

After 41 years on the bench, it's about time Ferrill took it easy. The people of south Alabama owe him a debt of gratitude. He always spoke his mind, sometimes to the extreme, but he was always fair. He had his enemies in the courthouse but it was more envy than anything else. His knowledge of the law ranked him right up there with (the late Judge) Bob Kendall. Ferrill often ended up with the most difficult cases, was always tough but fair, was a true friend of the business community, and last but certainly not least, helped send many a fine player from this area to the Crimson Tide. Mobile never had a fairer judge or the University of Alabama a stronger supporter, than Ferrill D. McRae. My hat is off to him and I am proud to call him my friend."
-- Bill Yeager, advertising executive

He calls himself "el Diablo" and will terrorize your client, especially if he or she has broken a law deemed to be somehow super special.
But, for all of his law and order bombast, he is someone that you can count on to see the actual merits of a case. He can be counted out to mete out a consistent justice or - as is sometimes even more important - mercy. He goes about it in an odd combination of the application of the law and common sense. Noblesse oblige married to working class populism. I think that he's like all of the judges and is sometimes prone to letting extrinsics like ego, politics and publicity color what he does. But McRae really is as fair-handed as they come. It doesn't matter if you're black or white, rich or poor or if your lawyer is connected or not, you get the best shake in that courtroom.
He'll regale you with war stories, many times for the umpteenth time and has a reputation for being a bully. But folks that say that are only the ones without gumption - something he admires - or folks who haven't really practiced before him for any length of time. No lawyer has a better friend on the court. He goes out of his way to protect lawyers and as one of the few who had actually been in private practice, he is always conscious of the pitfalls and pressures of managing a law practice. You could go to him and say "Judge, I screwed up," and he not only would admire your candor but treasure your friendship. He would try to remedy the situation in a manner that was fair to all sides and still act consistently with his role of jurist. Many people don't realize some of the ways he has helped lawyers - especially those who might have gotten themselves into a fix. When a few of the lawyers have gotten themselves involved in scandal, drugs or look like they are in trouble for whatever reason, he has called on other members of the bar to speak with the lawyer, he has counseled the lawyers with fatherly - not pedantic - advice. When the matter boiled over, he has sought out other members of the bar to go to bat for them and has gone to bat for them before the bar.
-- Dom Soto, defense attorney