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HANGING UP HIS ROBE

After 41 years of practicing law, Judge Bert Rice has resigned his position as Escambia County, Ala. Circuit Judge.

“I ran for and was elected circuit judge in November of 2006,” Rice said. “The next election I ran unopposed. I felt I must be doing a good job if no one decided to run against me. In 2018, I decided to cut back on my work load and made the decision to step down.”

That decision doesn’t mean he is going home to relax. Judge Rice has many more decisions to make, just not as many as has been across his desk in the past 41 years.

“It’s always good to surround yourself with good people that do their jobs,” Rice said. “I happen to be one of those who love decision making. I have seen a lot of changes in the years I have been sitting on the bench. Forty years ago we had a lot of cases related to alcohol. Now we see a lot of cases having to do with drugs. We went from alcohol to marijuana to hard drugs. These days we see a lot of synthetic drugs and drugs that will kill.”

Judge Rice said the other biggest change has been the computer. When he began his career, everything left a paper trail. Now Alabama is the first state to have gone completely computerized.

“I used to have to wait for for everything to take a while before it got to me, but now I can get the particulars of a case within a matter of minutes. I took the time to compare computer space to realtime space and found that shelf space for our paper files was 17 miles long.”

He said the storage space for all the paperwork in the clerk’s office now takes a lot less room and gives them more needed space.

“There is a big caseload here in Escambia County,” he said. “Our dockets are always full and right now we have one of the largest we’ve ever had. We have nine pending murder trials coming up.

“In all cases we have two things to consider; the truth and the law,” he added. “We have to learn who is telling the truth and then match that truth to the law. That gives us the tools we need for the decisions we have to make.”

Rice had a lot of good things to say about the lawyers he has been associated with.

“We have some good lawyers in this county,” he added. “I have enjoyed my time on the bench, and I will still be able to handle some cases in Baldwin County, Escambia County and Lee County. My wife and I are excited for me to work some in Lee County because we have a grandchild there to visit.”

Judge Rice said he is not quitting but is just slowing down. He said his job from now will be to help Judge Jordan.

He grew up in Birmingham, met his wife, Jan, at college in Auburn, and married her a week before he went to law school. They now have three children, Alan (Julie) Rice, Emily (Chris) Conte and Matthew Rice. They also have two grandchildren.

Rice attended Auburn University and graduated from the Alabama School of Law in Tuscaloosa. He and his family came to Atmore in 1974 to join a local law firm and Rice served as city judge for Atmore for 20 years and also served as assistant district attorney.

There will be a reception held on Thursday, Jan. 31, from 2 to 4 p.m. in the main courtroom at the Escambia County Courthouse to honor Judge Rice. The public is invited.