Cullman County Probate Judge Tammy Brown (Tammy Brown)
CULLMAN – The Tribune has been speaking with all local candidates who will be on the ballot in the June 5 primary election. Here, incumbent Cullman County Probate Judge Tammy Brown, who is being challenged by Carol Berry, answers some questions. Brown first won her seat in 2012, after 25 years of service in the Cullman County Probate Court and Cullman County Revenue offices. She began her career as a clerk for Probate Judge Tom Burleson in 1987.
What made you want to become a judge when you started?
“I began working in the probate office in 1987 in the driver’s license department, then to recording, probate court and elections. I knew from working in the different areas of the office that this office was about helping people. I love helping people. I am completing my first term in office after being elected in 2012. I was very fortunate to have first worked in the office and now the be the current Probate Judge.
"The probate court has original and general jurisdiction conferred upon the court by the Code of Alabama. I preside over cases such as commitments, adoptions, conservatorships, guardianships, estates (wills and administrations), condemnations, name changes and other jurisdictional court procedures. I knew, but quickly learned first-hand, that when there are opposing sides in court cases everyone cannot win or be made happy. I knew that I would be fair when presiding over cases and make court decisions based upon the law for the best interest of the person, the person’s estate and the child in the different cases, and I have done that.
“I must also state ‘who’ made me want to become judge when I first started was Probate Judge Tom Burleson and Betty Brewer. Judge Burleson presided over cases that he had to make tough decisions about when the parties involved did not agree. People at times would be upset with him, but he would state people involved in the case could not or would not make a decision and that is what I have been elected to do. Judge Brewer was more of a judge that just wanted everyone to get along. The employees in the office made sure we took care of her when there were tough times. In my first term as your probate judge, I’ve leaned from the thousands of experiences from working in the office and working with these two individuals while adjusting the work flow to handle the increased case load of today.”
What do you hope to accomplish in your next term?
“The first thing I want to accomplish is to secure additional assistance for mental health at the local level. this mental health group (Cullman County Mental Health Advisory Committee) or ‘task force’ that was started and went public began to help within our county first. We cannot stop here; the next goal is to secure more assistance for mental health issues at the state level. I witnessed first-hand when the 2011 tornado hit; we did not wait for someone to come in and help, we started helping each other first. I volunteered with the Cullman County EMA during the tornado to help people. That is when I saw our Cullman County people help each other during the time of need. That is our goal with mental illness. The local officials at Cullman Regional Medical Center, Wellstone Behavioral Health, law enforcement agencies, the County’s legislative delegation and everyone involved have been very cooperative and helpful with regard to mental health. This was not intended to rely on one agency, department, hospital, etc., to provide the assistance needed. Our goal was to reach out and educate people in Cullman County about mental illness in the hopes that we will start helping each other right here in our great county first. I believe that I can speak on behalf of everyone involved to say that it is our hope to continue to move forward for the mentally ill in Cullman County. The Probate Office averaged 257 mental commitments per year during the last two years, as opposed to 126 commitment cases in 2013. This number of probate court cases will only continue.”
Brown pointed out additional accomplishments of the probate court office during her term:
- “Employee cross training in all areas of the office to serve the people in our county”
- “Streamline employees so that we have probate office employees that want to work together as a team and that are proud to work for and to serve you”
- “Utilize the conference room setup for families to have a more private place to meet and to hold court”
- “Utilize the camera system in place for the security and safety of the public and employees”
- “Satellite offices in place now to remain with the collaborated plan for employees to better serve our community”
- “Ensure that the record room is available to our local abstractors for the hours needed”
- “Provide and update current information for the county probate court website (www.cullmancourts.org)”
- “Probate court to continue with mental health meetings for all departments, agencies, hospitals involved to discuss any and all information regarding mental health”
- “Working together to have audits like the last two audit results without any incidents of noncompliance with applicable state or local regulations through the Department of Examiners of Public Accounts”
“And finally, for this question, to continue with the three goals I made when first elected in 2012:
- All people will be served in an effective, efficient and professional manner.
- Your family matters will be my priority in presiding over probate court cases.
- I will set aside politics when making decisions, often time tough decisions, for probate court cases; the probate court and employees and will serve all people fairly."
What do you consider to be the big difference between you and your opponent?
“I find it amazing how people seeking any office for the first time emphasize accessibility and an open-door policy and exactly what that means. Well, the probate office is your office and it is open to you all the time. You hired me for the job. The license and recording departments are not shut off where the general public cannot see what we are working on or doing. But when a family is having their parent’s estate divided, families are having a loved one committed, a child is being adopted, or other cases that fall under the jurisdiction of the probate court, these cases deserve my undivided attention in a professional private setting exactly where you would want your family’s case to be handled.
“One important fact as your probate judge is that I cannot have communication about any case filed in probate court without all parties and their respective counsel present at the same time. If any judge discusses cases without all parties present this is ex parte communication and a judge cannot participate in this discussion. The general public does not fully understand this, but I want you to understand that I must follow this by law.
“Another big factor to consider is that as the probate judge I am here to follow the laws as they are written. Most people if not all people can provide an opinion. For example:
Alabama Code 22-52-1.1
- MENTAL ILLNESS. A psychiatric disorder of thought and/or mood which significantly impairs judgment, behavior, capacity to recognize reality, or ability to cope with the ordinary demands of life. Mental illness, as used herein, specifically excludes the primary diagnosis of epilepsy, mental retardation, substance abuse, including alcoholism or a developmental disability.
“I truly pray that the people in Cullman County know that we are at a crisis level in providing the treatment and assistance needed for persons diagnosed with a mental illness. What will this county do if we consider committing persons with substance abuse based upon the judge’s opinion? The number of commitments just soared from what we have at the present time. It concerns me greatly to believe that anyone would want to begin this process.”
If you had to boil your message down to a concise statement, what would you want people to know about you?
“I am thankful that I was raised by my parents, the late Talmadge ‘Buck’ Hudson and the late Thelma Hudson, that always taught me to never forget where I came from and use a common-sense approach when dealing with people. I have devoted myself to working in the office as your current probate judge. I will continue probate court law training so that I know the law for the cases that come before me. I will follow the law in making decisions about court cases. I will not make decisions that will affect people for the rest of their life based upon opinion. I feel that I have had a successful first term with many accomplishments that we want to continue plus new ideas as they are presented. I am proud of the probate court with the case load and factoring in the same number of employees handling court cases as we had 15 to 20 years ago even though the court cases have increased tremendously. Our vendor handles the number of probate court cases, recording, marriage and business license with updates as needed. The employees were provided the opportunity to change vendors and not one employee wanted to change and emphasized the ease of learning the system. It is important to me to include employees when making such a huge decision as changing computer vendors.
“I am proud of the employees in the probate office. ‘WE’ the probate office employees are working for ‘YOU’ the people we work for and love serving on a daily basis.
“I had over 20 years of experience when I began five years ago in my first term as probate judge. That experience allowed me to hit the ground running and to process this extremely heavy case load in a timely manner without having to learn the job first."
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