Butts served as county’s first state Supreme Court Justice

Published 9:14 am Thursday, January 17, 2013

With Tommy Bryan’s investiture into Alabama’s Supreme Court, he became the second Crenshaw County native to achieve that honor.

Terry Butts, who was born in Patsburg and graduated from Luverne, served as an Associate Justice from 1994 to 1998.

His path to the Supreme Court was different from Bryan’s as Butts rose through District and Circuit courts.

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However, both of their journeys started at Troy State.

Butts earned his bachelor’s degree from Troy, which was followed by his Juris Doctorate from the University of Alabama in 1968.

He began practicing law in Elba and also served as the Judge of the Coffee County Court (which later became the District Court) and then for 18 years as judge of the 12th Judicial Circuit, covering Pike and Coffee counties.

Having sat on the Supreme Court, Butts is able to offer insight into what the position is like.

One of the foremost things a Supreme Court Justice deals with is the workload.

“This may be outdated, but it was true when I was there,” Butts said. “Supposedly, national studies show that a Supreme Court Justice should never handle more than 44 cases maximum in a year.  When I was there, and I don’t think it’s different now, we were handling two and a half times that.”

Butts said one thing that surprised him was that he was never able to catch up — new cases and appeals were constantly coming in from lower courts.

Because of that stream of cases, a Justice must read the associated paperwork and transcripts in addition to writing opinions on cases where a verdict had been delivered.

“There was never a weekend when I didn’t work,” he said. “You don’t have that large of a staff, and it takes all you can do to keep your head above water with all the reading.”

Butts also said that reviewing death penalty cases is also a lengthy process.

“On all death penalty cases, on the day of execution, every Supreme Court judge has to be available at all times to determine whether or not to vote for a stay of execution up until the minute of execution,” he said.

“It’s a very prestigious position, but it’s truly work,” Butts added. “The other thing that you find challenging is that you are absolutely besieged statewide for speeches and appearances.  You can’t generally find time to do events and things like that.”

After retiring from the Supreme Court in 1998, Butts has resumed private practice in addition to serving on committees for the Alabama State Bar Association, Troy University’s Foundation Board, and the Crenshaw County Industrial Development Board.

He has also successfully represented Alabama Governor Bob Riley and Chief Justice Roy Moore, in addition to serving as an at-large delegate for Alabama at the National Republican Convention since 2004 alongside his wife Suze.

Butts said it’s his understanding that he and Bryan are the only two Supreme Court Justices to ever come from Crenshaw County.

“It’s a little unusual for a county of this size to have two living Supreme Court Justices,” he said. “I’m proud Tommy has made it.  He’s a good guy.”

“Tommy will do a good job because he’s familiar with it,” Butts added.