Meeting Chris Richardson!

Did you know that an election on May 24th, 2022 will decide who will be the new judge in Alabama’s 20th circuit? In this episode of “Home Grown,” we’re going to chat with Dothan attorney Chris Richardson, one of our local candidates running for circuit judge. We’ll learn why his background in the community, the military, and the law makes him an ideal choice for this important position.

Meet Chris Richardson 

Chris Richardson is an attorney at law here in Dothan, Alabama. Now almost 42 years old, he was born and raised right here in Dothan by parents Robert and Cheryl. The middle of three boys, Chris has an older brother Bobby and a younger brother Brett. He attended local public schools—including Northview—and went to church at First Presbyterian.

After college, law school, and the army, Chris moved back to Dothan in late 2010. He’s married to Leanne Richardson—formally Leanne Massey—and the pair have two sons, Charlie and William. The family continues to go to First Presbyterian, and Chris coaches his boys at pretty much every sport that they open up for them. His goal is to always stay very active in the community.

Early Inspiration

Growing up, Chris has always had a real interest in history. He’s always watched the news and had a real interest in military affairs and government. When he got a little bit older and had to decide what he wanted to do, it seemed like all the people he had watched for years were lawyers or had something to do with the law. Becoming a lawyer just came naturally for him. 

Chris’ grandfather was a lawyer and a WWII veteran. He lived in Greensboro, Alabama, and was a big influence on his grandson. When Chris got into practicing law, he found that he really enjoys it. As he says, it's an interesting way to make a living and there are a lot of different things one can do within it. 

Chris enjoys helping people find creative solutions to complex problems. He’s also enjoyed the competitive nature of trial work; as his kids’ coach and having played sports growing up, it’s exciting to apply those concepts to law.  

What Is A Circuit Judge?

With his extensive background, Chris is running for circuit court judge. A circuit court judge oversees cases of general jurisdiction, which means they tackle just about anything. The court handles anything from divorces to any kind of felony criminal case—from drug possession all the way to capital murder. 

The circuit court also handles any kind of probate case that's removed from probate court. This could include things like medical malpractice, corporations suing each other, personal injury, and more. It’s a full spectrum of cases that a circuit judge will see.

Extensive Experience

Chris started as a prosecutor throughout his time in law school up in Montgomery—and stayed in prosecution for a little bit afterward. On his first day of law school, the senior attorney handed him the docket and said, “The District Court is now yours.” It was trial by fire for Chris, but he learned a lot that way. While he doesn’t know if it's the best way to train somebody, he was able to survive and thrive.

When Chris got an opportunity to move back home to Dothan—the city that he loves—he worked at the firm of Espy, Metcalf & Espy. There, he gained experience in civil litigation, complex bankruptcy matters, social security, some divorces, and a little bit of criminal defense. In 2017, he went to the firm where he is now: Boles Holmes White. He worked with John Steensland, who is now a circuit court judge, and ultimately ended up taking over his practice.

Steensland had a wide range of things to pass on to Chris, including criminal defense. Chris now has a contract for indigent defense with Judge Binford. This enables those who can't afford a lawyer to have Chris appointed to their cases. He’s also a bankruptcy trustee for chapter 11 cases, which are businesses. Additionally, he also does a lot of estate planning.

The Duties Of The Judge

While it might sound funny, Chris says that a lot of times, the best thing a circuit court judge can do is get out of the way. He’s had cases all over southeast Alabama in particular where the judge wanted to do nothing but explain and show how smart they are—constantly interjecting and interrupting the flow of a case, an argument, or even a trial. 

The circuit court judge—or any judge for that matter—should just step back and let the lawyers make their arguments. Then, if they need to make decisions, they can make them. Additionally, the circuit court judge has a lot of opportunities to work hard and get more cases seen and disposed of. 

With the Coronavirus, the county has a backlog of cases. The next circuit court judge is going to need to get in there and work hard to get cases set, disposed of, and caught up.

What Sets Chris Apart

In addition to his background, what makes Chris the best candidate for the circuit judge? For one, what sets him apart is being well-rounded in all the law. Having both prosecuted and defended a criminal case, Chris is the only candidate that can say he’s worked on both sides. He’s also worked with many types of different civil matters. While it’s great to do one thing and do it well, Chris says, a circuit court judge needs to be able to step back and see cases on both sides. 

Additionally, how each type of case is prepared is very important. Chris notes that if you're prosecuting, you tend to think of a case one way. If you're defending, you tend to think of it in another way. If you’re representing a business against an individual, it's a little bit of a different thought process than if you're representing the individual against the business. Impressively, Chris has done all of those things.

While the circuit judge should be able to see more than one side, he may be a little biased toward one party over the other. While it’s not intentional, if a certain side is all a judge knows, there's a possibility of being biased. What Chris can bring to the bench is the ability to truly weigh both sides fairly. This is because he’s sat next to those types of clients on both sides. 

Making Fair Rulings

When making judgments in a case, I asked Chris if the judge is beholden to past precedents and rulings that have come before him or if he’s able to interpret the law in his own way. According to Chris, it depends. If something is spot on and is the exact situation that has occurred before, a judge is generally bound to follow what a higher court has said. 

If a judge doesn’t like something but the Supreme Court has said something different, they can’t just run out on their own and make wild decisions. In fact, that can actually get a judge in trouble. However, there are certain times when something is more of a gray area. This is where a wise judge would come in and examine what the Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court has said, and then make a wise decision. 

If either side doesn't like that decision, there is an appeals process that can move up the chain to the court of either criminal or civil appeals. Chris’ balanced experience allows him to be fairer in cases where a judge’s discretion is needed. It’s vitally important to be able to see things from both sides as well as how they work up to the appeal level, Chris says. Knowing where the pulse of those courts is is an asset for any judge.

Areas For Reform

While the judicial system strives to be fair, there’s always a need for reform. Chris says that anybody that's turned on the news or read a newspaper in the last few years has seen some significant challenges right now for the judicial system. For example, prisons are ballooning, and no one can seem to get together and afford to build new ones. 

At the circuit court judge level, a judge is often bound by certain things. They can't just put everybody in prison or let everybody out, either; that's not really their decision. Still, criminal justice reform is a major current topic that certainly needs some reforming. Chris has seen this on both sides when prosecuting and defending. 

For example, a defendant might come in on a low-level drug offense—but then they get into the cycle. There are payments and money owed, and many times the court will pull their driver's license. Now the court is asking someone to pay more money than they have probably ever had on a payment plan, all without a driver's license. These disadvantages will just put people in perpetual cycles that are hard to break.

Civil Cases

In civil cases, the way laws are working seems to be going well. However, Chris says, there's certainly some room for improvement. Getting clients and cases disposed of is vitally important, as is access to justice. Chris believes this is something that needs to be worked out at the state level.

For example, if you have a small matter against someone—such as a landlord or tenant—it could cost a few thousand dollars. For many people, this is not a big deal. For some people, though, it's a huge deal. Just to get to the courthouse and have their day in court may cost them $300-$400. If they have to hire an attorney, you might be talking about thousands of dollars. It is often just not worth it to them. 

These are some of the issues Chris believes need to be looked at by the state and resolved so it’s fair to everyone.

Community Involvement

In addition to plenty of experience in both prosecution and defense, Chris has also been heavily involved in the community. For the last 20 years, his favorite thing has been serving in the Alabama Army National Guard. Chris says it was probably the best decision he’s ever made outside of marrying his wife.

The National Guard has been an invaluable experience for him. He’s gotten to meet many people and has been to over 20 countries, including Afghanistan and Iraq. This has given him a sense of community, purpose, and service—which has translated to his life in Dothan.

Chris and his wife are on multiple boards. He’s worked with Westgate Dothan National Baseball League, the deacon at his church, coached all the boys in sports, and is pretty active with the library system. If elected, he’s hoping to use the position of judge as a platform to go out in the community and do even more. Additionally, Chris would love to be a role model to some of these folks that desperately need it. 

If he’s not elected, Chris knows the Lord has other plans for him—and that's okay, too. However, he’s going to continue to represent clients and be the Chris he’s always been.

Make Your Vote Count

The election for the Republican primaries is on May 24th, and there are three candidates running. Chris would encourage people to research all of the candidates. Judge Anderson is retiring after 26 years, so there will be big shoes to fill. It’s very important to get this decision right because whoever it is will likely be in that position for a long time. Chris hopes that, after they research, he’ll earn the vote of the people of Dothan.

We wish Chris luck in this election, and make sure you get out and vote. Don’t forget to also subscribe to my channel so you never miss an episode of “Home Grown,” my show about everything there is to do with Dothan and living in the Wiregrass area. Until next time, y'all have a good one!