By Bonita Wilborn
Judge Randall Cole ran for the office in 1974, against two other candidates, and won. “I’ve been fortunate over the years to run opposed most of the time,” he said.
Cole has worked with about a dozen Chief Justices of the Alabama Supreme Court, starting with Hal Heflin, and many local judges including: W.G. Hawkins, David Rains, Richard Hunt, and Robert Wilson.
“There have been a lot of changes in the law during my tenure,” Cole said. “When I started, the juries did the sentencing, now the judges do all the sentencing. Initially the primary ground for divorce was physical cruelty now most divorces are granted for incompatibility of temperament. We’ve seen the advent of mediation and of course, a big change has been technology. We now have what we call a paperless system.”
Cole continued, “My dad was circuit clerk when I was a kid, and I’d come to the courthouse and watch court. As a result of that, I became interested in the court system and the legal system, so I decided that I wanted to be a lawyer, and maybe a judge someday.”
Randall Cole was born in Portersville, but when his dad was elected as Circuit Clerk, the family moved to Fort Payne. He graduated from Fort Payne High School, went to Jacksonville State University for undergraduate school, and then went on to the University of Alabama for his law degree.
“I had the good fortune of working a year after law school for a federal judge. That was a good experience. Then I came back to Fort Payne and practiced law for about five years with Clyde Traylor and John Baker.”
Judge Cole met his wife at Jacksonville. She taught school for 25 years before retiring a few years ago. They have one son, Jeff Cole, who is a surgeon in Fort Payne. Jeff’s wife is also a physician; the director of the Emergency Department at DeKalb Regional Hospital. Judge and Mrs. Cole are expecting their first grandchild in April.
“The thing I’m looking forward to most about retirement,” Judge Cole said, “is just the flexibility of not being on such a tight schedule. In this office, you plan your year in advance, as to where you’re going to be in court on particular days, what kind of court you’re going to be presiding over, and so I think having the flexibility of a looser schedule will be nice.”
Judge Cole concluded, “Sometimes I’m asked what advice I would have for a new judge. There are a couple of words I might give: patients and respect. I think it’s really important that a judge have the patients to listen to what litigates want him or her to hear. It’s their day in court, and they want to be heard. It’s the judge’s responsibility to patiently hear them, within the constraints that the law requires and allows. It’s also important that judges show respect to the people in their courtroom. There’s no need to talk down to people that come to court. It’s stressful enough on them when they’re in court without the judge adding to that, useless they misbehave. So, I think it’s very important for a judge to be respectful of everyone. If the judge will listen and treat them with respect, whether they win or lose, they’re more likely to feel that they’ve been treated fairly.”