Judge Tom F. Young Jr. might not be ruling in court anymore but he is not leaving the courtroom.
“I am going out but not going away,” Young said. “The law is a jealous mistress. It will not let you get too far from it if you really love it.”
The law might be Young’s “mistress” but he has other loves.
“I have four loves in my life,” Young said. “I love the Lord. I love my wife. And I love the law and being a judge.”
Young has been serving as a circuit court judge in the Fifth Circuit since January 2001. He had worked as an attorney in Birmingham from 1982 to 1995 before serving as an attorney in Tallapoosa County from 1995 until taking office in 2001.
Young is proud of many of things he has done while serving on the bench. He helped develop the drug court and community corrections programs in the circuit. Young and other judges in the circuit helped clean up the backlog of the dockets .
“It was a huge issue early on,” Young said.
He is retiring Monday but the decision did not come easy for Young.
“If I was going to do something different, I would want to do it while I could do it well was my thinking,” Young said. “It was a difficult decision. I made it driving back one day from Chambers County. I was driving to The Outlook to speak to my friend Mitch Sneed about it. I drove around the building twice knowing once I entered the building and said it, the blood was in the water.”
Young said he pursued being a judge to serve the public as his family had.
“I had a lot of people ask me if I was interested (in being a judge),” Young said. “I grew up in a political family. It is just the love the law and a desire to be in public service. It was something my family preached to me over the years as being important.”
Young’s father Tom F. Young was the district attorney in the Fifth Judicial Circuit years ago. His mother Barbara Young was once mayor in Alexander City.
“There is a lot to be said for serving others,” Tom F. Young Jr. said. “I have always gotten a lot of joy out of it. I saw my father’s joy in serving as district attorney, my mother as mayor. All of us had serving others in mind.”
Young has handled his share of cases over 18 years of service.
“I have handled numerous capital murder cases, numerous product liability cases, numerous personal injure case,” Young said. “The more notable would be Victoryland because of the publicity.”
The Victoryland case of electronic bingo machines even brought Young one of his favorite pieces of memorabilia, a T-shirt. Young said a state attorney general had called supporters of places like Victoryland Aborigines. While the case was being tried, some protesters showed up with a custom T-shirt with “Aborigines for Victoryland” printed on it.
“I got the lawyers to get me one,” Young said jokingly.
But it is the cases involving children Young said are the toughest.
“The more impactful cases to me have been the child custody ones,” Young said. “They are heart wrenching. The death penalty cases do present a moral dilemma, but child custody cases where children are involved have impacted me the most. I am looking at a human being that I am about to rule in their best interest. I have some, where I have taken them from the mother and placed with the father and vice versa. I have to make sure the child doesn’t become another victim in the spilt up of that family.”
Young said it was others who made his success on the bench possible.
“I have been blessed to be surrounded by some fine folks in this job,” Young said. “Cathy Dabbs and I have been together as a lawyer and judge for 25 years. She made this job of running a judgeship idiot proof. She has been as big a part of it as I have. I am grateful for the others I have been surrounded by the last 18 years. They have made my journey comfortable.”
Young explained he could have retired years ago.
“I could have gotten out several years ago,” Young said. “I had my retirement in, but there was no particular thing. It was my desire to get out while my health was still good to pursue other occupational desires at a time when I could do those things at a high level.”
The retiring judge already has a plan for the next stage of his life and it still involves the law.
“I am retiring from this job on Jan. 15, and on Jan. 16 I am joining the firm Morris and Haynes,” Young said. “I certainly have presided over a lot of complex product liability and personal injure cases. It is the same things they do. I believe I can use the experience as a judge to continue to help people.”
But don’t be surprised if Young takes the bench from time to time as well.
“I will continue to be on the roster to be called in by the Administrative Office of Courts,” Young said “I could travel the state to go in as needed in other circuits to help with backlogged dockets.”