John Godbold

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John C. Godbold (born 1920 in Coy, Wilcox County – died December 22, 2009 in Montgomery) was a judge on the 11th Circuit United States Court of Appeals and a former professor at the Cumberland School of Law.

Godbold was educated in the Selma school system and graduated from Auburn University in 1940 having been editor of the Plainsman newspaper. He served in the Army until 1946, stationed in Europe as an artillery officer during World War II. He then graduated from Harvard Law School and entered private practice with Richard Reeves in Montgomery in 1948. He became a partner of the firm of Reeves and Godbold a year later.

In 1966 he was appointed a federal judge by President Lyndon Johnson. He became the Fifth Circuit's chief judge in 1981 and oversaw a successful petition to split the court. He became the first chief judge for the 11th Circuit and left five years later to direct the Federal Judicial Center in Washington D. C. for a three year term, after which he returned as senior judge. In 1990 he was also named Leslie S. Wright Distinguished Professor at Samford University's Cumberland School of Law. He was honored with the Edward J. Devitt Distinguished Service to Justice Award in 1996 and inducted into the Alabama Academy of Honor in 2002.

Godbold is the author of "Twenty Pages and Twenty Minutes – Effective Advocacy on Appeal" which appeared in the Southwestern Law Journal in 1976 and has since become the most reprinted and widely distributed law review article in U. S. history. He also pioneered the legal procedure known as "Certification of Issues to State Courts" in which federal courts defer to state Supreme Courts for rulings on matters of state law.

Godbold was survived at his death by his wife, the former Betty Showalter, four children and nine grandchildren.


  • "Godbold made the judiciary better" (December 29, 2009) Montgomery Advertiser
  • "Ex-federal appeals Judge John C. Godbold, former Cumberland Law School professor, dies." (December 29, 2009) Birmingham News

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