HUNTSVILLE — Circuit Judge Ruth Ann Hall has been selected as the 2022 Alumni of Achievement award winner for the College of Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. Hall received her bachelor’s of criminal justice in 1986.
Hall was appointed to the District Court bench by then-Gov. Bob Riley in 2007 and appointed by then-Gov. Robert Bentley to the Circuit Bench in 2011. Prior to her appointments, she handled litigation for 17 years with a concentration on civil defense in north Alabama. She received her law degree from Cumberland School of Law in 1990.
Hall has presided over the Adult Mental Health Court and the Juvenile Conference Committee. Additionally, she founded the state’s first Juvenile Alternative Court. The court addresses the mental health needs of juveniles in Madison County.
“I am passionate about access to mental health and substance abuse treatment and assistance for veterans and alternatives for those suffering from mental illness who encounter the criminal justice system,” Hall said. “For the first 17 years of my practice, I defended people in business, insurance companies that had been sued, and I just got burnt out. I thought, there has got to be more to this than just money. And so I applied for a judgeship. But when I didn’t get that first one, I was just heartbroken.”
But, she reasoned, so often in life things work out the way they are supposed to, rather than expects or hopes for. When another judge retired for medical reasons, Hall saw it as a sign to try again.
“I applied for that second position, and the governor appointed me,” she said. “It was such
a good thing that I didn’t get the first one. The judge who was retiring had started an Adult
Mental Health Court and was not able to do anything with it after she had gotten ill. I’ll
never forget my bailiff saying, ‘we have Mental Health Court tomorrow.’ I had no clue; I’m
not even sure what that is. In Mental Health Court there are people who are normally first-
time offenders who have a mental health charge, and we basically try to help them get their life back on track.
“That’s how my involvement with mental illness got started, seeing people who were struggling with the system, jobs, doctors’ appointments, things they couldn’t understand.”
Hall soon recognized there was a real need to approach the problem from a new perspective as a way of helping those who found themselves struggling within the system.
“Someone would have horrible side effects to a drug, and they just wouldn’t say anything,”
she says. “So I started to see all the issues that were lacking, like the ability to help people
in court view themselves in a different light, to view the problem as a medical condition
and be active in their care.
“And basically take a holistic approach.”
Hall went on to establish a Veterans Court to meet the needs of veterans with mental illness and/or substance abuse issues. She said the impetus that led her to establish a program for veterans came from an encounter with a veteran in the Mental Health Court.
“When I became a Circuit Court judge, I lost jurisdiction over the juveniles,” she said. “I ran across a veteran in the Mental Health Court back in 2010 or 2011, and he would drive from here to Birmingham only to find out his appointment was cancelled. Then he would run out of his meds and miss his next appointment and couldn’t get them refilled.
“It had become a vicious cycle for him, all the things that he went through, and so I started the Veterans Mental Health Court program that I still run today.”
Hall said her guidance for the next generation comes from her own life experience.
“Volunteer and give back to your community, it will be the most rewarding thing that
you will do,” she said. “And choose your career path based on your passion regardless of the salary expectations or the popular career options.
“The men, women and children that I have met during my years as a judge that desperately need mental health services or the veterans that feel that they are forgotten continue to be my motivation.”