Budget pinches Alabama courts – [Editorial]
By Mike Hollis, The Huntsville Times
July 30, 2012
Chuck Malone, chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, made some interesting points last week when he spoke to state judges attending a conference in Fairhope.
Among other things, he said the courts ought to be treated better than they have been when the Legislature has had to cut state spending.
The courts, Malone said, should not be treated like another agency of the executive branch. "No courts, no justice, no freedom sounds simple, doesn't it?"
The court system is suffering from recession-triggered budget cuts like nearly all of the rest of state government. The decline in tax revenues has forced layoffs in court system offices across the state in the last several years, and this has significantly increased the time it takes to handle civil and criminal cases.
And the courts could face still more cuts - 10 percent to 17 percent - Malone said, if voters on Sept. 18 reject the draw down of natural gas royalties from a state savings account to the state General Fund.
In a story reported by the Mobile Press-Register's Katherine Sayre, he said lawmakers and the public will get a better understanding of how the judicial branch spends state money from a study being commissioned by the court system.
Malone, who lost the Republican primary to former Chief Justice Roy Moore, didn't make a pitch for raising judges' salaries. But in the context of a study of state court spending, it may be interesting to look at how judges' salaries in Alabama stack up against the pay of judges in other states.
Rather well, according to a survey by the National Center for State Courts, which has tracked judges' pay across the nation since 1974.
The most recent survey, published in 2009, ranked the $180,005 salary of an Alabama Supreme Court justice as the nation's 9th highest. The pay of an intermediate appellate court judge at $178,878 ranked third highest nationally. The salary of an Alabama trial court judge, $134,943, ranked 23rd. When adjusted for the cost of living, that salary ranked 9th.
So Alabama judges are doing quite well compared to their colleagues elsewhere. And they are doing exceptionally well considering that Alabama is one of the poorest states in the nation and has one of the nation's lowest per capita tax rates. For example, Alabama ranked 46th in 2008 when half of its households reported income below $42,666 a year.
Meanwhile, state funding for the court system will fall from $125.6 million from fiscal 2012 to $98.8 million for fiscal 2013, a decline of just less than $27 million. Higher court fees approved by the Legislature are expected to more than offset that loss by raising $35 million a year. Supporters of the higher fees said they would save the jobs of 500 court employees across the state.
As recently as fiscal 2009 the courts had been budgeted at $159 million. The steep decline in just a few years reflects severity of the state's revenue problems.
As Malone says, the courts are not just another state agency. Their efficient functioning should not be allowed to deteriorate. But if voters agree to tap natural gas royalties to prevent a state budget crisis, legislators would do well next spring to resist any thought of using that money to raise the pay of judges.
They are doing exceedingly well.
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Birmingham lawyers to take top two leadership posts at Alabama State Bar
Eric Velasco, The Birmingham News
Wednesday, July 11, 2012
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama -- Birmingham lawyers Phillip W. McCallum and Anthony A. Joseph will take over as president and president-elect of the Alabama State Bar at its annual meeting, July 18-21, the state bar announced.
McCallum, a founding shareholder and senior partner in the firm McCallum Methvin & Terrell, will take the helm of the 17,000-member lawyers' organization for the 2012-2013 term.
McCallum, 51, succeeds Jim Pratt III, a lawyer with the Birmingham firm Hare Wynn Newell & Newton, as state bar president.
Joseph, a shareholder in Maynard Cooper & Gale, is set to take over as president for 2013-2014.
Both men are graduates of Cumberland School of Law, McCallum in 1988 and Joseph in 1980. Both also are active in civic, charitable and legal organizations.
McCallum, currently the president-elect of the state bar, is admitted to practice law in Alabama, Oklahoma, Texas and West Virginia. His firm specializes in complex litigation, class-action cases, insurance fraud and consumer protection. He also is a former Jefferson County prosecutor.
McCallum Methvin & Terrell received the state bar's 2010 Pro Bono Award for its work providing free legal services to the poor. The firm also is active in civic and charitable causes.
McCallum also has been active in the national, state and Birmingham bars and has been appointed to several policy-making panels. He received the state bar's President's Award in 2010 for meritorious service to the profession.
The lifelong resident of Vestavia Hills is a member of the city's parks and recreation foundation board and serves on the board of Triumph Services, which provides community-based support to help developmentally disabled people live independently.
McCallum is a volunteer coach for the Vestavia Hills Wrestling Club.
Joseph, 58, has an educational pedigree that also includes an undergraduate degree from Vanderbilt University, a Master's degree from Howard University and graduation as a special agent from the FBI Academy.
He played running back and fullback for the Vanderbilt Commodores football team, 1972-1974, according to the university athletic department's Web site.
Joseph now practices in white-collar criminal defense and general civil litigation, with a specialty in representing companies in criminal regulatory investigations and parallel criminal and civil proceedings.
The Homewood resident also is active in national, state and local bar associations and teaches at trial advocacy colleges.
He has been a member of the Birmingham Metropolitan YMCA board since 2002 and the Leadership Birmingham executive committee since 2008.
Joseph also has served on the American Red Cross and Leadership Alabama boards, the Homewood City Schools Foundation, and the Advent Episcopal School Board. He is a former president in the Big Brothers/Big Sisters organization.
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Judge Scott Vowell to get distinguished career, pro bono awards from Alabama chief justice, bar
By Eric Velasco, The Birmingham News
July 9, 2012
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama -- Scott Vowell, Jefferson County's presiding judge who will retire in January, will receive awards honoring both his career and help in improving legal services to the poor at this month's Alabama State Bar annual meeting.
Vowell will receive the Chief Justice's Professionalism Award in recognition of his contribution to Alabama's courts during his 51-year legal career, including 17 years as a Jefferson County Circuit Court judge, according to the state bar.
He also will share the Al Vreeland pro bono award with Gregory Hawley, the Birmingham Bar Association president in 2010 and shareholder in the firm White Arnold & Dowd. The awards will be presented at the state bar's annual meeting, July 18-21.
"I am highly honored to be recognized by the chief justice," said Vowell, who is stepping down because he has reached the state's mandatory retirement age. But, the judge said, the real credit for the pro bono award goes to the staff at the Birmingham Bar Association's Volunteer Lawyers Program.
Vowell said Hawley, Cumberland School of Law Dean John Carroll and he led an effort to revamp the program after the state Legal Services office complained the Birmingham bar was not doing enough to help people unable to afford counsel in civil matters. A similar program under the Mobile bar association provided the inspiration for retooling Birmingham's program in late 2009.
The number of cases the Birmingham Volunteer Lawyers Program handles has more than quadrupled, from 230 in 2008 to 1,209 cases in 2011, said Elizabeth Clark, the program's communications coordinator.
Vowell said Kelli Mauro, the program's executive director, is behind the recent growth.
"Under her leadership, remarkable things have been done," he said. "The number of people served has increased exponentially. They are at the courthouse two days a week helping people who are representing themselves get the right form, file the right case or provide other legal advice."
The professionalism award was created by the Chief Justice's Commission on Professionalism and the Alabama State Bar. Vowell was cited for his leadership at the helm of the state's busiest judicial district, including cobbling together a court system over the last several years as state and county budget cuts twice threatened to shut down most of the courthouses.
"Known for his ability to manage and diffuse difficult situations, he is regarded in the Birmingham legal community as a fair judge and dedicated public servant who transcends political affiliations and professional networks," the state bar said in a release.
At this weekend's state annual meeting, The Birmingham Bar Association will receive the Local Bar Award of Achievement. The award cites the members' 28 community service projects, including $25,000 contributed to charities by its Young Lawyers Section, under the leadership of the Birmingham bar association president, Joseph Fawal.
The Mobile Bar Association also will receive a Local Bar Award of Achievement for its 13 charitable and public service projects under the leadership of its president, Wesley Pipes, of Pipes Hudson & Watts.
"The Mobile bar has one of the most outstanding Law Day celebrations," the state bar said in a release. "Through its foundation, its Volunteer Lawyers Program and other entities, it continues to be a consistent model of excellence."
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Bradley Arant law firm honored for death penalty representation
By Eric Velasco, The Birmingham News
July 9, 2012
Lawyers with the Birmingham firm Bradley Arant Boult Cummings will be honored at next month's American Bar Association meeting for the firm's volunteer work representing Death Row inmates in Alabama and other states.
The firm will receive the Exceptional Service Award from the ABA's Death Penalty Representation Project on Aug. 3, during the bar association's annual meeting in Chicago.
Bradley Arant lawyers have represented 22 Death Row inmates, including 19 from Alabama, since 1988. They have spent more than 1,000 hours on cases for condemned killers who have no right to appointed counsel at latter stages of their appeals.
The representation is part of a larger program within the 400-lawyer firm to provide free legal services to people in need and nonprofits, said Chris Christie, co-chair of the firm's pro bono committee.
"Pro bono work emphasizes the calling that lawyers have to help people solve their problems," he said. "This is how I serve."
Bradley Arant was a unanimous selection from among a record number of nominees this year for the Exceptional Service Award, said Robin M. Maher, director of the ABA Death Penalty Representation Project.
"The firm has provided desperately needed legal assistance for prisoners in an extremely active death penalty jurisdiction," Maher said in a statement. "Bradley Arant Boult Cummings' commitment to justice is truly extraordinary."
For 26 years, the Death Penalty Representation Project has recruited lawyers to represent condemned killers without counsel. Already handling a couple of capital cases by the early 1990s, Bradley Arant decided to get more formally involved in the late 1990s as efforts stepped up to improve post-conviction representation in Alabama, Christie said.
The firm agreed to provide both direct representation and act as local counsel for volunteer firms from outside Alabama.
"We made it easier to recruit those firms," Christie said. "We interview witnesses, handle hearings, saving that expense for the out-of-state firms."
Among its capital clients, three now are off Death Row, two died in custody and one was executed. More than 40 Bradley Arant lawyers are working on the remaining 16 capital cases.
"Many lawyers in our firm have worked to ensure our capital punishment system is fair and accurate," said Beau Grenier, Bradley Arant's chairman. "We are honored to see their hard work singled out."
Capital and other prisoner litigation are way outside the firm's normal practice areas. Bradley Arant, founded in Birmingham in 1871 and now with seven offices mostly in the Southeast, is known more for its civil-law work with governments and corporations.
Christie said the capital representation "is not universally popular" and some clients have questioned it.
"I tell them it shows our commitment to all clients," he said. "If we can represent someone on death row and be committed to them, you know we will be committed to your problems."
The firm is a member of the Pro Bono Institute, which calls for members to devote three percent of billable hours to free legal services to the needy. Bradley Arant has exceeded two percent and is working to increase that, Christie said.
Firm lawyers cook at the Firehouse Shelter, participate in Habitat for Humanity and assist at clinics for the homeless. They have helped prepare documents for missionaries about to go abroad, obtain trademark protection for a non-profit and fight for a mother being denied her shared-custody rights, Christie said.
The lawyers benefit because the pro bono work often provides courtroom experience, increasingly rare in major civil litigation, Christie said.
Christie said he tells law students to ask during job interviews if the firm does pro bono work.
"That will tell you they do something other than make as much money as they can and go home," Christie said. "If you have a firm culture that values things like serving, it will be a better place to work. And if you attract lawyers who are interested in those kinds of things, you will attract better lawyers."
Lawyers Ranked No. 5 for Best Pay; Doctors Top List
By Debra Cassens Weiss, ABAJournal.com
July 3, 2012
Being a lawyer is good-paying work, if you can get it.
Lawyers make an average of about $130,000 a year, making their profession one of the most highly paid in the country, according to recent 2011 data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. CNBC.com used the statistics to create a list of the nation’s top 15 paying occupations.
Lawyers were No. 5 on the list. The article notes the job requires advanced education and says the profession “isn’t the easiest industry to break into.” Here are the top five:
1) Doctors and surgeons, with an average salary ranging from $168,650 to $234,950.
2) Orthodontists and dentists, with an average salary ranging from $161,750 to $204,670.
3) Chief executive officers, with an average salary of $176,550.
4) Petroleum engineers, with an average salary of $138,980.
5) Lawyers, with an average salary of $130,490.
•Current employment: 570,950
Lawyers working for the private sector are compensated more generously than those in the public sphere: legal-services professionals make $137,170 on average in the private sector, while government lawyers make between $81,960 and $129,430.The top three highest paying industries for lawyers are petroleum and coal products manufacturing at around $215,760 per year, motor vehicle manufacturing at $187,360 and specialty hospitals (excluding psychiatric and substance abuse) at $184,610.If you are a lawyer practicing in the District of Columbia, then you are in good company. Approximately 29,010 lawyers are located there, or 45 lawyers per 1,000 jobs. They are also the most highly paid, with an average annual salary of $161,050.