Longtime Circuit Court judge dies
by Rachel Davis & Ron Harris
Jun 14, 2014 | 6501 views | 0 0 comments | 33 33 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Longtime Circuit Court Judge James Brotherton, who served on the bench for more than 30 years, died early Friday morning after an extended illness. He was 73. Photo Special to the Eagle
Longtime Circuit Court Judge James Brotherton, who served on the bench for more than 30 years, died early Friday morning after an extended illness. He was 73. Photo Special to the Eagle
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A longtime Circuit Court judge in Walker County who was instrumental in the development of several youth-related programs across Alabama has died.

Judge James Brotherton, who served on the bench for more than 30 years, died early Friday morning in Montgomery after an extended illness. He was 73.

Funeral services for Brotherton will be held at 2 p.m. Monday at First United Methodist Church in downtown Jasper. The Rev. Alan Beasley will officiate.

Burial will follow at Oak Hill Cemetery.

Visitation will be held from 12:30 until 2 p.m. Monday at the church.

Pallbearers will be Robert F. Ashurst, James B. Ashurst, J. Blake Young III, Gerson May, John K. Taggart II, Albert H. Simmons, Jerry P. Guthrie and Jonah A Alexander.

Brotherton is survived by his sister, Sally Brotherton Ashurst and her husband, Robert; two nephews, Robert Fleetwood Ashurst and his wife, Kenan, and James Brotherton Ashurst and his wife, Harrison; a niece, Catherine Ashurst Young and her husband, Blake; and three great-nephews and two great-nieces.

Brotherton, who graduated from Birmingham-Southern College, was first appointed as an intermediate court judge in Walker County in 1971.

In 1975, he was appointed as the Circuit Court judge for the 14th Judicial District in Walker County. He served in that position until 2007.

Brotherton served in the Peace Corps in Colombia in South America from 1964 until 1966. During that time, he coached the Colombian National Swim Team.

Following that, he took a teaching job at Walker Junior College and, while there, completed law school at the Cumberland School of Law in 1970.

Brotherton served as Presiding Circuit Court Judge for more than 25 years and was the second-longest sitting judge in the state’s history.

Current Presiding Circuit Judge Jerry Selman said he was a child when he first met Brotherton, and the older man taught him to swim, remembering him as a “great guy, a great human being.”

When Selman became a lawyer, he argued in front of Brotherton from the time he graduated from law school until he took the bench himself.

“Jim was a great judge,” Selman said. “He did all the criminal cases during the time he was on the bench. ... I’ve never known of anyone who was more fair to both sides. He didn’t play favorites, he listened to both sides and followed the law. He was always very compassionate in his dealings with people.”

He said Brotherton was also instrumental in the development of the juvenile court system in the state of Alabama, co-writing the original juvenile code for the state.

Selman said Brotherton will be greatly missed and that his influence has already been missed.

“I hated to see him retire when he did,” Selman said. “We are going to miss him, and we have already missed him being on the bench.”

Walker County Revenue Commissioner Jerry Guthrie said Friday that he and Brotherton were close friends for the past three decades.

“He’s been my best friend for 30 years,” Guthrie said. “I was probably closer to him than anybody in Walker County.”

Guthrie said Brotherton was well-respected in the legal community not only in Walker County but throughout Alabama.

“He was THE man,” Guthrie said. “He was a genuine guy, I’ll tell you. Most people don’t realize all the good things he did throughout his career.”

Brotherton was a founder and board member of Beacon House, a local children’s group home; Concerned Citizens for Our Youth, Inc.; Murphy Shelter, a temporary shelter for abused children; and was instrumental in the founding of the J. George Mitnick Boot Camp. He was also a founding member of Project People Walker County, a nonprofit designed to help the people of Walker County who are in need and do not qualify for federal- or state-funded programs.

Guthrie said despite Brotherton’s somewhat gruff exterior, he was a kind man who helped many people, often while demanding no recognition for his good deeds.

“There’s so many things he did for people that nobody knows about,” Guthrie said.

“Justice is deserved by every citizen in Walker County,” Brotherton said in 2006. “In my court, everyone has a level playing field.”

“He was a good man,” Brotherton’s sister, Sally Ashurst, said Friday night. “I’m incredibly proud of him and what he accomplished.”