Charles Noel McKnight was born on Christmas Day. It was altogether fitting that his death came during Holy Week, on Maundy Thursday, March 28.

McKnight, 78, had been an attorney, the Municipal Judge of the Town of Dauphin Island, and, for 13 ½ years, a District Court Judge for Mobile County.

McKnight was a “people’s judge.” He felt led to work personally with people who came into his courtroom in trouble, especially in trouble with drugs as a contributing factor.  

The District Court in Alabama is classified as an “inferior court.” That just means that judgments by a district court can be appealed to Circuit Court, which has jury trials. In district court, the judge renders the decision from the bench without a jury.

McKnight had to serve as both judge and jury. 

In civil cases, the district court has limited jurisdiction, $10,000 claims when McKnight served, raised to $20,000 now.  It also ran a small claims division where citizens could more easily represent themselves without a lawyer.

McKnight’s court handled misdemeanor criminal cases, preliminary hearings on felonies, evictions, and traffic tickets.  (I am sure Judge McKnight would at this point add some duties to the list).

Judge McKnight would argue that the so-called inferior court had a superior effect on people’s lives.  They certainly thought so.

The judge had said he didn't lose sight of the court’s impact on lives, not only of criminal defendants but also on their families.  He handled thousands of cases in each of his over 13 years.  The district court was the state's busiest docket.

A graduate of Spring Hill College and Samford University’s Cumberland School of Law, McKnight first won his court seat by an election margin of only 96 votes. He says that experience helped to keep him humble during his 13 ½ years on the bench.

McKnight had been nominated as the replacement Republican candidate after the winner of the GOP primary, Mobile attorney Chuck Hillman, was killed in a traffic accident, along with his wife and daughter. McKnight quickly stepped up and did the job that needed to be done.

Services for Judge McKnight will be on Friday, April 5 at St. Dominic Church, 4160 Burma Road in Mobile. Visitation is 10 a.m. to noon followed by a mass.

Jim ‘Zig’ Zeigler writes about Alabama’s people, places, events, groups and prominent deaths.  He is a former Alabama Public Service Commissioner and State Auditor. You can reach him for comments at

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