The Tuscaloosa News
May 29, 2011
The Alabama State Bar hosted its annual Leadership Forum on May 18-19 to honor the 30 lawyers chosen to participate in Class VII of the 2011 Leadership Forum.
Leadership Forum candidates are selected based on their demonstration of outstanding leadership qualities and service to their communities. This year, the state bar received 61 applications from private practitioners, government and corporate lawyers throughout the state. Members of the Leadership Forum Class VII from Tuscaloosa are Jeffery “Beau” Adrian Brown Jr. of the Tuscaloosa County District Attorney’s Office and Allison Suzanne Taylor of the Office of the Public Defender.
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VIEWPOINTS: Alabama's rules against confidentiality in judicial ethics complaints affect us all
The Birmingham News
May 29, 2011
By Mallory Schneider
When an Alabama citizen files a complaint against a state judge with the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission, the state Supreme Court requires the JIC to provide judges the names of the persons who file complaints against them, the contents of the complaint, as well as any and all evidence gathered by the JIC throughout its investigation of the judge's alleged misconduct. Alabama is the only state in the nation that mandates these types of disclosures.
On April 1 of last year, the Republican majority of the Alabama Supreme Court entered an order that maintained these disclosure requirements, which were first enacted by the Alabama Supreme Court in 2000. Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb was the sole dissenter in the 2010 decision. Before rendering its 2010 decision, the Supreme Court expressly refused to hold a public hearing on the matter.
The effect of the 2010 decision affects the bench, bar and the general public.
The vast majority of Alabama judges conduct themselves in a manner beyond reproach. However, the disclosure requirements mandated by the Alabama Supreme Court undermine the perceived integrity and independence of the judiciary. Rather, the JIC rules' lack of confidentiality creates a perception that judicial misconduct goes unreported due to the complainants' fear of retribution.
Alabama attorneys have also felt the impact of the 2010 decision. Specifically, the disclosure requirements create a fear of retribution. When attorneys file a complaint against a judge they practice in front of, that particular judge could retaliate against the attorney. That complaint could affect not only the attorney's relationship with the judge, but the attorney's and judge's relationship with his clients.
The Alabama Rules of Professional Conduct require attorneys to disclose to current and potential clients information that will allow the client to make informed decisions regarding a case. Tony McLain, the general counsel for the Alabama State Bar, said "while disclosing a filed complaint to a client is not mandatory, nevertheless, one should do so as a safety measure and in order comply with (the Rules of Professional Conduct)." Given that a judge's potential bias against an attorney could affect a client's case, attorneys are strongly encouraged to disclose filed complaints to clients.
Since the Supreme Court required the JIC to provide judges under investigation with the names of complainants, the number of complaints filed with the JIC has substantially declined. Associate Justice Tom Woodall said "it would be disingenuous to argue that the lack of confidentiality doesn't affect some potential complainants."
From 1996 to 2000, the JIC received an average of 260 complaints per year. After the names of the complainants were no longer confidential, the JIC received an average of 156 complaints per year.
The effect of the disclosure requirements on the general public is perhaps the most grave.
Take, for instance, this hypothetical: A 7-year-old girl accuses a judge of sexual misconduct and files a complaint with the JIC. According to the disclosure requirements, the judge must be provided the name of the young girl and any materials associated with the complaint, including any statements given by the child. Already in a position of power, the judge has in his hands a detailed statement made by a victim of his alleged sexual misconduct.
While proponents of the disclosure requirements argue that a judge has the right not only to face his accuser, but also to respond to allegations made against him, these considerations must be weighed against the safety and welfare of the public.
According to Cobb's dissent, the disclosure requirements "fly in the face of the constitutional provisions governing the JIC." The Alabama Constitution provides that "(a)ll proceedings of the (JIC) shall be confidential except the filing of a complaint with the Court of the Judiciary." Proponents of the disclosure requirements argue that the constitution merely requires the proceedings to be kept confidential from the public.
However, according to opponents of the disclosure requirements, the plain meaning of the constitution is this: The term "confidentiality" applies not only to the public, but to all parties associated with the investigation aside from the complainant and the JIC.
Currently, a proposed amendment to the constitution provides that certain disclosures, such as the name of the complainant and materials associated with the complaint, are not to be provided to the public or to the judge under investigation unless a majority of the JIC votes otherwise. Notably, the amended constitutional provision does away with the requirement that "all proceedings" of the JIC remain confidential.
A strong argument exists that the current disclosure requirements are unconstitutional. Nevertheless, the rules remain in effect and enforceable.
Now, the question remains as to any potential effectiveness the proposed amendment to the constitution might have. If the current rules are unconstitutional, yet enforceable, the same may be true after the constitution is amended -- the disclosure requirements will be enforced as written, regardless of what the constitution provides.
It is uncertain whether the Legislature will approve the proposed amendment. Additionally, given that the Supreme Court made its decision to maintain these disclosure requirements merely one year ago, it is unlikely that the court will revisit its decision on its own accord. Further, when the court made its decision, it did so against the recommendations of the American Bar Association.
Traditionally, the JIC has safeguarded the judicial accountability of Alabama's judges.
However, on April 1, 2010, the highest court in Alabama made it more difficult to discipline unethical judges. The Supreme Court needs to hear a call for revocation of the disclosure requirements from members of the Bar and the general public, because judicial integrity does not come without judicial accountability.
Mallory Schneider is a student at Cumberland School of Law and the Symposium editor of the Cumberland Law Review.
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TORNADO RECOVERY: Need help?
May 29, 2011
The University of Alabama School of Law, along with the Alabama State Bar’s Volunteer Lawyers Program and the Tuscaloosa County Bar Association, is offering free legal services for those affected by the tornado.
Law students and attorneys will be available on weekdays at the law clinic programs office at the UA School of Law from 9 a.m.-noon and at local response centers from 1-5 p.m. The response centers are at Leland Shopping Center in Alberta, Soma Church in Holt and the Belk Activity Center at Bowers Park.
For information or to make an appointment at the clinic, call 205-348-4960. Walk-ins are welcome at all locations.
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Budget cuts are crippling our nation's courts
By Tony Mauro, USA Today
May 26, 2011
In Concord, N.H., today the odd couple of Ted Olson and David Boies will convene an important meeting to shed light on a little-noticed crisis: the crippling impact of budget cuts on our nation's courts.
And attention needs to be focused on our courts. The judiciary's budget was cut in 29 states this year, according to the National Center for State Courts. Federal courts are feeling the pinch, too, but 99% of all criminal and civil cases — more than 40 million a year— are handled in state courts.
In Georgia, courts are closing their doors sporadically, and court personnel are asking vendors to donate pens and pencils. The already overloaded courts of New York— whose chief judge Jonathan Lippman is scheduled to testify today before the New Hampshire task force — have been slammed with a $170 million budget cut. Weekend arraignments might be canceled, raising the real possibility that criminal suspects will be released because of laws barring extended imprisonment without being charged.
"Our courts today resemble a dying tree that you prop up in your front yard so that the landscaping looks OK," said Oregon Chief Justice Paul De Muniz recently. "But it's a facade, because behind that are layoffs, furloughs and elimination of all kinds of services."
In Alabama, jurors are being asked to serve for free. In New York, jurors will have to pay for their own lunches during court breaks. Those measures might sound trivial, but it's no way to treat juries, the cornerstone of our Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial in criminal cases.
And that gets to the heart of why states should be taking extra care before cutting court budgets. They are not run-of-the-mill state agencies that could use a haircut. They protect constitutional rights and freedoms enshrined not only in the Sixth Amendment but also the Seventh, which guarantees the right to civil trials — disputes over contracts and property, divorce and custody, among other matters.
"There's no room to cut unless we want to cut our fundamental liberties and democracy," says Stephen Zack, president of the American Bar Association, which launched the Boies-Olson task force.
The impact is not just being felt by criminal defendants. Businesses depend on courts to create a fair and predictable process for quick resolution of their disputes. A recent study estimated that budget cuts in Georgia courts since 2007 have caused court delays costing as many as 7,000 jobs— and we're not just talking about court staff or lawyers.
What’s at stake
This is not to say the judiciary should be immune from cost-cutting. Some states are using the lean times to re-examine policies and see whether certain crimes, for example, could be handled more cheaply and appropriately outside the court system. Ohio is considering a series of changes that would reduce sentences for some offenses and shave prison time for inmates who participate in job-training and drug treatment programs. But wholesale budget cuts are not the answer. Judges, lawyers, business leaders and public interest advocates should join forces to build a constituency for defending courts.
"Failing to fund our courts is like failing to repair our bridges," says David Udell, executive director of the National Center for Access to Justice. "Disaster becomes inevitable, just a matter of time."
Tony Mauro, Supreme Court correspondent for The National Law Journal, is a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors.
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The people do elect honest judges – [Op-ed]
By Chris Bonneau, The Charleston Daily Mail (South Carolina)
May 31, 2011
Wisconsin's Supreme Court race this spring is likely to intensify the already heated national debate over judicial selection in the states. From the hyperbolic rhetoric in media reports, one would think that the very legitimacy of state courts is at stake when ignorant voters are allowed to decide whether judges should retain their jobs.
The New York Times editorial board lamented last month: "Whoever ultimately gets the job, all of Wisconsin has lost. This nasty, highly politicized race is raising serious questions about the impartiality of the state's highest court."
Powerful opponents of judicial elections - which include the American Bar Association, Justice at Stake and the American Judicature Society, as well as former Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O'Connor - have spent countless hours and funds to eradicate elections.
O'Connor even campaigned on behalf of a Nevada ballot measure that would have eliminated the state's judicial elections system, appearing in television ads.
Critics tend to cloak their activity in "good government" rhetoric, arguing that the election process erodes public confidence in the courts by injecting politics into the judicial process and threatens judicial independence as judges are dependent on the public to retain their jobs.
But political scientists have been examining judicial elections for some time and have amassed considerable empirical evidence in this area. The data suggest:
There is no evidence that elections cause voters to view judicial institutions as less legitimate. In 2008 and 2009, Washington University professor James Gibson, in a series of survey experiments, found that while particular campaign contributions can lead to legitimacy concerns, there are no such consequences when candidates engage in policy talk, negative ads or other ordinary incidents of a judicial race.
Additionally, according to Gibson's data, the net effects of elections are still positive in terms of public perception of the judiciary.
There is no difference, other things being equal, in the quality of judges who emerge from elections as opposed to appointments.
Law professors Stephen Choi, Mitu Gulati and Eric Posner recently found that appointed judges not only do not perform at a higher level than elected judges in terms of opinion quality and output but also that elected judges do not appear to be less independent than appointed judges.
The authors were appropriately cautious in interpreting their findings, but any fair reading of their results suggests that elected judges are, at worst, equal to appointed judges in quality and independence.
Campaign spending makes elections more competitive.
As my research has shown, just as in elections more generally, the more money challengers spend trying to unseat an incumbent, the better they perform with the electorate. Campaign spending thus has positive effects in these elections.
Moreover, stringent campaign finance limitations reduce the amounts a challenger can spend, thus making the election less competitive and increasing the incumbency advantage. Campaign spending is key to providing voters with a meaningful choice.
There is no proof that elected judges are for sale.
Critics of judicial elections frequently point to Caperton v. Massey as an example of how judges can be "bought."
This West Virginia case, in which a judge supported by the Massey coal company won election and then did not recuse himself regarding the company's appeal of a $50 million verdict, includes several facts that are routinely ignored.
A news release from the West Virginia Court of Appeals noted that Chief Justice Brent Benjamin - the judge who allegedly benefited from millions of dollars in campaign ads paid for by the chief executive of Massey Energy - voted against Massey Energy or its subsidiaries 81.6 percent of the time, including in the Caperton case.
These votes "cost" Massey Energy approximately $317 million. In contrast, Massey "benefited" from Benjamin's votes 18.4 percent of the time, for a total sum of about $53.5 million. So, was Benjamin's vote "bought"?
The numbers are unconvincing. More generally, there is no systematic evidence to date that judges' votes are influenced by campaign contributions.
Little has also been said about the biases in the systems with which critics would like to replace elections. No method is perfect. But, unlike the "merit" commission process most frequently offered as an alternative - in which judges are selected by the governor off a list formulated by political and legal elites and then retain their jobs simply by receiving a majority of "Yes" votes in an uncompetitive election - elections are at least transparent processes open to the public.
In the debate so far, many of the arguments have been based on rhetoric, not fact. It is important to remember that efforts to maximize judicial "independence" from the electorate can also maximize independence from the law and the Constitution. Without a mechanism for effectively holding judges accountable, judges are free to "go rogue" and make decisions based solely on their political views. Is that better than a campaign season every now and then?
Bonneau is an associate professor of political science at the University of Pittsburgh and co-author, with Melinda Gan Hall, of the book "In Defense of Judicial Elections."
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Why judges should be appointed, not elected
The Washington Post – [Letter-to-the-Editor]
May 30, 2011
Chris W. Bonneau’s defense of judicial elections [“A bum rap on elected judges,” Washington Forum, May 27] skipped over important data suggesting that justice could be for sale. State supreme court candidates raised more than $206 million in the past decade, shattering records in 20 states. Much of this money came from lawyers and interest groups who appear before these candidates in court. Three in four Americans, most business leaders and nearly half of judges themselves believe that campaign cash is affecting courtroom decisions.
Twenty-four states have used merit selection to pick judges for decades, so that judges can be screened for experience, intellect and judicial temperament, and not face a tidal wave of special-interest money seeking to tilt the scales of justice. Research shows that elected judges are disciplined at higher rates, and for more serious infractions, than are their appointed counterparts.
Finally, Mr. Bonneau mischaracterized the work of organizations that oppose judicial elections. We support a variety of reforms, including public financing of judicial elections, merit selection and tougher disqualification rules, so that judges do not hear cases involving major campaign spenders.
Bert Brandenburg, Washingtonand Seth Andersen, Des Moines
The writers are, respectively, executive directors of the Justice at Stake Campaign and the American Judicature Society.
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Bob Dylan’s Legal Fan Club
By PETER LATTMAN, The New York Times
April 7, 2011
It’s been a big week for Bob Dylan news.
On Wednesday Mr. Dylan played his first show in China, performing a set list that had to be sanctioned by the Ministry of Culture. (“The Times They Are Not a-Changin’” read a caption in The Financial Times.)
Closer to home, a group of legal scholars convened on Monday at Fordham Law School for a two-day conference on “Bob Dylan and the Law.” Academics presented papers on such topics as “Dylan as the Complete Trial Lawyer: Using Hurricane Carter to Teach Trial Skills” and “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll: Using Dylan’s Primer on Theory of the Case in the First Year.”
Mr. Dylan has long captivated the ivory tower. In 2006, Dartmouth College hosted a symposium called “Just a Series of Interpretations of Bob Dylan’s Lyrical Works: An Academic Conference.”
But the legal profession really has a thing for His Bobness. Mr. Dylan’s song lyrics are the most frequently cited by judicial opinions and law review articles, according to a paper by Alex Long, a law professor at the University of Tennessee. Legal scholars and judged cited Mr. Dylan 160 times with The Beatles a distant second at 74.
This brings us to why DealBook is delving into matters relating to Bobby D. David Zornow, the global head of litigation at Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom, is a serious Dylan devotee. He also has a busy white-collar criminal defense practice, representing a range of prominent defendants including Dr. Yves Benhamou, the French doctor facing insider trading charges, and Rajiv Goel, the former Intel executive who pleaded guilty to insider trading and testified in the trial of Raj Rajaratnam.
The 56-year-old Mr. Zornow only recently became fascinated with Mr. Dylan. His obsession began about five years ago after he saw Martin Scorsese’s documentary “No Direction Home.” Despite his newfound fandom, he’s got some serious Dylan cred, having attended the aforementioned Dartmouth conference and winning second place in a Slate magazine Dylan trivia contest (losing to another lawyer).
Mr. Zornow was the only practicing lawyer to speak at this week’s Fordham conference. He presented a paper called “Dylan’s Judgment on Judges: Are Power, Greed and Corruptible Seed All That There Is?” The “paper” is actually a mock indictment of “The Judges” brought by special assistant United States attorney Bob Dylan. The 10-page indictment quotes 27 Dylan lyrics — from songs as obscure as “Seven Curses” and “Percy’s Song” — that generally depict judges as, well, power hungry, greedy and corruptible.
Here’s my favorite, from the song “Joey”:
“What time is it?” said the judge to Joey when they met
“Five to ten,” said Joey. The judge says, “that’s exactly what you get.’”
Here’s a copy of the mock legal brief: Dylan and Judges
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Ala. Senate passes bill to revamp state's system of providing lawyers for indigent defendants
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
May 25, 2011
MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The Alabama Senate has passed a bill that revamps Alabama's system of providing defense lawyers for indigent defendants.
The Senate voted 25-3 for the bill that the sponsor, Republican Sen. Cam Ward of Alabaster, predicted would save the state $23.5 million a year.
The bill calls for lawyers to be paid $70 an hour for representing a client who can't afford one. It saves money by preventing attorneys from charging for overhead costs such as power bills or rent.
Ward, an attorney, called the bill "very fair." He said it saves the state money and provides a consistent level of defense for indigent defendants.
The bill now goes to the House. Speaker Mike Hubbard said it would be given top priority in the closing days of the session.
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House passes bill changing appeals process for teachers
by Brian Lyman, Mobile Press-Register
May. 26, 2011
After an all-afternoon debate featuring close votes on several amendments, the House of Representatives passed a bill Wednesday overhauling the state's tenure process for teachers.
The legislation, which passed 56-43 Wednesday evening, targets the appeals process for teachers who have lost their jobs. It replaces hearings run by independent arbitrators with hearings run by retired judges drawn from a pool maintained by the Alabama State Bar Association.
Supporters said the change was needed to address flaws in legislation passed in 2004 that they said allowed appeals of fired teachers to go on far too long.
"If the current system is not working, we've got to change it, and that's what this bill does," said Rep. Chad Fincher, R-Semmes.
Critics said the legislation -- SB 310 -- was flawed and reduced job protections for educators.
"You've got to have the law to be clear and distinguishable," said Rep. James Buskey, D-Mobile. "310 is so convoluted you can probably get two to three lawyers to read 310, and you'd get two to three opinions on what 310 is."
Under the law, tenured teachers could be fired for a "justifiable decrease in the number of positions" or for a host of other reasons, including incompetence, insubordination, immorality "or other good and just cause."
AEA president Anita Gibson said the legislation did not require school boards to adequately justify the elimination of jobs.
"There are specific reasons in the current law for why that can happen," she said. "That protection of making sure the reasons are above board is now gone."
Employees seeking to appeal the decisions would have to file an appeal with the local superintendent within 15 days of the decision, seeking a hearing. The employee could further appeal to the state superintendent of education, who would then ask the head of the Alabama Bar Association to assemble a "panel of neutrals" selected from a pool of retired judges to hear the appeal.
Supporters of the bill were particularly critical of the current system of independent arbitrators hearing appeals.
"In some cases, arbitrators' rulings were hard to understand and defied common sense," said state Superintendent Joe Morton, a supporter of the legislation.
In the case of the panel appeal, the legislation says "deference is given to the decision of the employer." An amendment that would have struck the language from the amendment was defeated 54-48.
Sally Howell, executive director of the Alabama Association of School Boards and a supporter of the bill, said school boards that shoulder the fallout from employees' actions should have a voice in the appeals process.
"As an employer, they should have some say," she said.
Gibson said the bill "destroyed 70 years of case law" in the state and would lead to increased litigation.
"The bill they passed now puts everybody's job in jeopardy," she said.
If either employer or employee is unhappy with the panel's decision, a final appeal can be made to the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals.
Probationary employees -- those serving for three years or less -- would be subject to firing without an appeals process.
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Storm damage complicates issues for landlords and their tenants
by Alison Gene Smith, Anniston Star
May 22, 2011
Ashli Teer and her husband, Thomas Chapman, were good friends with their landlord before the April 27 storms, but things have gotten complicated as they try to wade through legal issues surrounding the damage to their home.
“The insurance company said the trailer was a total loss and would cover the deposit,” Teer said.
As the couple returned to their single-wide trailer, they discovered a portion of the interior was impossible to reach because of the huge trees that had fallen on it. They decided to cut out a window to get into their bedroom and gather personal belongings.
Now, Teer said, their former landlord is trying to withhold the $500 damage deposit, saying the damage was caused by the tenants and not the storm. Attempts Friday to contact the landlord were unsuccessful.
The storms that hit the state three weeks ago damaged thousands of homes and created a legal nightmare for tenants and landlords alike.
Teer said they contacted the Alabama Bar Association to get help and were told it could be a week before a lawyer gets back to them, but she said she’s hopeful everything will be resolved soon and is keeping things in perspective.
“I’m just glad the kids weren’t at home,” she said.
Linda Lund, director of the Alabama State Bar Volunteer Lawyers Program, said it might be legal for landlords to require tenants to pay rent on damaged dwellings depending on their specific lease or other information. She said anyone with a legal question about issues after the tornado can call the Disaster Legal Hotline at 1-800-354-6154.
“It sounds like that landlord is treading on thin ice,” said Grayson Glaze, executive director at the Alabama Center for Real Estate in Tuscaloosa, referring to Teer’s situation.
“The key is that the house is totaled,” he said, adding there might not be a problem if the deposit could actually be used to make the house livable again. “It doesn’t make any sense to me.”
It is important for tenants to take action to figure out legal issues with damage to their rental.
“Some landlords will test the boundaries because it’s a unique situation,” Glaze said. “In some cases, they’re totally in the right.”
Overall, Glaze said, he’s been surprised at the lack of landlord and tenant problems he’s come across since the tornado.
David Webster, an attorney at the Anniston office of Legal Services Alabama, said he expects more issues to arise in the months to come, after the initial shock of the tornado wears off. He said that before the storm, landlord-tenant issues were one of the biggest issues dealt with at the office, especially landlords not repairing things.
David Skinner, a Birmingham lawyer who specializes in landlord-tenant issues, said he can see several possible situations arising from a disaster like the recent storms. One issue centers on when tenants vacated their damaged houses after the storm.
Under Alabama law, a tenant has 14 days to give notice to his landlord saying the home is too damaged to live in and that he is breaking the lease. For many people, the 14 days would have started the day of the tornado. Skinner said this start-date could be later, though, if a person was unable to get to his home because the area was blocked off or they were in the hospital, for example.
“Some of them are saying you can’t terminate unless it substantially impaired the use of the house,” Skinner said. In that case, it must be determined what “substantially impaired” means.
In the instance of a house being completely gone or severely damaged, it’s obvious that it can’t be used.
“It gets fuzzy with less dramatic damage” Skinner said.
Whether the property can be used is “fact specific” to each person affected.
Tenants also can get out of a lease if a landlord doesn’t fix damage that causes a health and safety problem within 14 days.
“An exterior door that doesn’t lock is a health and safety issue,” Skinner said, as is a lack of electricity or a leak in the natural gas line. “Tell the landlord in writing that you have an issue.”
Getting legal advice is important, but Skinner said people need to ensure they’re getting accurate information.
“One of the problems that I’ve seen out there is that most lawyers aren’t articulate in landlord-tenant law, or residential tenant law,” he said.
Asking individual lawyers if they normally handle landlord-tenant cases is a good way to measure how well they’ll know the law, as well as whether they have recently drafted leases or have been involved with evictions, Skinner said.
One less obvious question is to ask about the Uniform Alabama Residential Landlord and Tenant Act.
“Ask them to tell you how my rights are different under the act than before the act,” he said. “They ought to have that information in their head.”
Skinner said he believes, though it’s not written as law, tenants and landlords have a moral obligation to communicate with each other.
“Let’s disagree face-to-face,” he said. “Not in silence.”
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Warning issued about unlicensed lawyers
May 18, 2011
The Tuscaloosa Bar Association said it has notified local law enforcement agencies about a group from Texas that the Bar accuses of practicing law without a license.
A statement from the Bar said the group, Unified Claims Adjusters LLC, offers to adjust storm-related claims for homeowners, who must sign a contract giving United Claims a 10 percent contingency fee for its efforts. The Bar and the general counsel for the Alabama State Bar said the gathering of facts, valuing of claims and negotiating on behalf of claimants amounts to the unauthorized practice of law.
The Bar's allegations are not the first to question business practices since a major tornado devastated much of Tuscaloosa on April 27.
In the days after the tornado hit, out-of-town companies offered to file claims seeking assistance for storm victims with the Federal Emergency Management Administration for fees of several hundred dollars. The filings, however, can be done for free in about 20 minutes at www.fema.gov, by calling 800-621-FEMA or by visiting a FEMA aid station in Tuscaloosa between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.
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Legal assistance provided
Saturday, May 21, 2011
Members of the Alabama State Bar’s Young Lawyers Section and Volunteer Lawyers Program are available to answer legal questions or refer individuals to appropriate agencies or organizations handling tornado disaster assistance efforts. The toll-free number is 1-800-354-6154.
The state bar is also providing free legal help in cooperation with local and county bar associations throughout the state. In Tuscaloosa County, the walk-in legal assistance clinics will run through June 1 and will be at:
-- 101 Paul W. Bryant Drive, 9 a.m.-noon.
-- Leland Shopping Center, 1-5 p.m.
-- Belk Activity Center at Bowers Park, 1-5 p.m.
-- Soma Church, 212 44th Court NE., Holt, 1-5 p.m.
Call David Rains at 205-348-4960.
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Free legal clinic set for storm victims
By Jared Felkins, Times-Journal (DeKalb County)
May 19, 2011
Members of the DeKalb County Bar Association are sponsoring a free legal clinic for people affected by the tornado disaster who can't otherwise afford legal assistance.
The clinic will be Monday from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. at the Northeast Alabama Agribusiness Center in Rainsville.
Local bar members will donate their specialized skills as lawyers to assist their friends and neighbors in recovery. The clinic's purpose is to provide free legal information and answer disaster-related questions and not to provide legal representation.
Those affected by the April 27 tornadoes can receive attorneys' assistance in clarifying a variety of confusing legal questions, which include help with insurance claims, counseling on landlord-tenant and other housing problems, reviewing home repair contracts, resolving consumer protection matters, dealing with mortgage foreclosure problems, replacing or writing wills and drafting powers of attorney, according to Fort Payne attorney Dan Campbell.
This clinic is part of a larger effort sponsored by the Alabama State Bar to assist those affected by the tornadoes. In addition to local clinics sponsored by local bar associations, the Alabama State Bar started a toll-free legal helpline at 800-354-6154.
"Our bar has a tradition of outreach and service to the community," said state bar president Alyce M. Spruell, of Northport. "In addition to individual volunteer work being done by our members throughout the affected areas, our members do what they can to provide free legal advice to help tornado survivors return their lives to normal as soon as possible."
Farmers Telecommunications Cooperative and Berry and Dunn Office Equipment will have phone and Internet service set up at the clinic to allow attorneys access to resources.
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Meyers' Newest Fight: Helping Nonlawyers Own Law Firms
By NATHAN KOPPEL, The Wall Street Journal
May 18, 2011
Jacoby & Meyers Law Offices LLP, a pioneer of television legal advertising, filed lawsuits Wednesday challenging state laws in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut that prohibit nonattorneys from owning stakes in law firms.
The firm, which has more than 60 lawyers and specializes in personal-injury cases, claims that the restrictions have hurt its ability to raise capital to cover technology and expansion costs, and have hampered it in providing affordable legal services to its working-class clients.
U.S. law firms typically are owned by their senior-most lawyers, called partners. The structure was designed to ensure that all the principals of the business were accountable for the firm's work and that of their fellow partners.
The ban on law firms accepting nonlawyer investors is nationwide, with the exception of Washington, D.C., under ethics rules established largely by state supreme courts. Violations of the rules can lead to disbarment.
The restriction on investors is decades old and stems from even older strictures against lawyers sharing fees with nonlawyers, for fear that might compromise their professional independence.
The present system of ownership restrictions "perpetuates economic inequity," Jacoby & Meyers said in Wednesday's court filings. "The small [legal] practice does not have access to the capital markets that the Wall Street [law] firms have," it added.
Founded nearly 40 years ago, Jacoby & Meyers is known for its retail approach to providing legal counsel. It has opened offices in shopping centers and has maintained Saturday and evening office hours. The law firm has 11 offices in New York, where it is based, and locations in New Haven, Conn., and Newark, N.J., as well as other parts of the country.
Jeffrey Carton, the law firm's counsel, said the litigation targets New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut because Jacoby & Meyers has a "strong presence in the Northeast." But the litigation could have a broader impact, because the rule at issue "is in all material respects the same state by state," said Mr. Carton, an attorney with Meiselman, Denlea, Packman, Carton & Eberz PC.
Court authorities in all three states named in the lawsuits declined to comment Wednesday.
The ownership restrictions aim to prevent investors from influencing lawyers' professional judgment, such as by pressuring attorneys to put profits before the needs of their clients. But, with law firms face rising litigation costs, pressure is building to relax the ownership barrier.
Easing the rules could have a big impact on the legal industry, lawyers said, by giving smaller firms, which may have less access to bank loans than their larger peers, a way to raise capital to grow more rapidly. But larger firms might also be willing to seek out investments from venture capitalists or private-equity firms, if it were allowed
"There is no legitimate rationale that exists to prevent nonlawyers from owning equity in law firms," said Andrew Finkelstein, the managing partner of Jacoby & Meyers. "The rule unconstitutionally restricts interstate commerce by limiting attorneys' ability to act like any other business in the United States."
Australia and England have enacted laws allowing nonlawyers to own stakes in law firms, and legislation is pending in North Carolina that would likewise permit law firms to raise capital from nonlawyers.
The American Bar Association is exploring the issue of relaxing the outside ownership rules, which some lawyers consider outdated. "There is this idea of fraternity [in the industry]—if we allow nonlawyers to be members of our club, we are no longer special," said Stephen Gillers, a professor at New York University School of Law who specializes in legal ethics. "This is a deep and abiding sentiment of the American Bar."
Those in favor of allowing law firms to raise capital from nonlawyers say there are sufficient ethical safeguards in place to prevent attorneys from being corrupted by investors. "Firms are bound to honor their clients first. Outside ownership would not change that" said Mark Bernstein, a plaintiffs' attorney at a 22-lawyer firm in Michigan. "The ability to turn to other sources of capital to support activities of our firm or to monetize our investment, like any successful business, would be a welcome option," he added.
Wallace "Gene" Shipp Jr., a Washington attorney who investigates and prosecutes misconduct claims against lawyers in the nation's capital, said he hasn't received any complaints related to a local rule that permits nonlawyers to own stakes in law firms.
But relatively few Washington firms have taken advantage of this rule, because those that have offices beyond the District of Columbia remain bound by restrictions against outside ownership, ethics experts said.
Seth Zachary, the chairman of Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker LLP, which has about 1,000 lawyers and 18 offices world-wide, said his firm doesn't need outside capital to cover its costs, but he thinks other firms might find it attractive. "Firms might employ the capital to grow or to provide liquidity to partners," he said. "If you were to bring outside financing into a law firm, you begin to raise different prospects for liquidity events, such as cash-outs [by partners], which are foreign to the traditional way firms practice."
Critics argue, however, that relaxing restrictions on outside investors could endanger other bedrocks principals of the legal profession, such as attorney-client privilege and the duty of utmost loyalty to clients. Peter Kalis, the chairman of 2,000-lawyer K&L Gates LLP said professional mores "are placed at risk when we invite investors to the party whose professional vision extends no further than a private-equity firm's notion du jour of acceptable return on investment."---
Free legal assistance offered at bar clinic
The Athens News-Courier
May 18, 2011
Members of the Limestone County Bar Association are sponsoring a legal clinic for people affected by the recent storms who can’t otherwise afford legal help.
The clinic is being held at the First United Methodist Church’s Beasley Center on May 24, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Local bar members wish to donate their specialized skills to assist their friends and neighbors during recovery.
The clinic is part of a larger effort sponsored by the Alabama State Bar to assist those affected by the tornadoes.
In addition to the local clinics sponsored by local bar associations, the State Bar has set up a toll-free helpline: 1-800-354-6154.
The purpose of the clinic is to provide free legal information and answer disaster-related questions, not to provide legal representation.
Limestone County Bar President Mitch Shelly said individuals affected by the disaster can obtain the bar’s assistance in clarifying a variety of confusing legal questions including: help with insurance claims, counseling on landlord-tenant and other housing problems, reviewing home repair contracts, resolving consumer protection matters, dealing with mortgage foreclosure problems, replacing or writing wills and drafting powers of attorney.
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Stay out of court – [Editorial]
The Montgomery Advertiser
May. 17, 2011
The Alabama Constitution requires the Legislature to provide adequate funding for the state's court system, according to the chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. Of course, the real question boils down to the definition of "adequate."
Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb makes a compelling argument that the two versions of the budget adopted by the House and the Senate fall short of that mandated adequacy.
Cobb said Tuesday that the proposed appropriation to the court system for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 would require laying off at least 254 court employees plus an additional 25 employees in the Administrative Office of Courts.
The Associated Press reports that Cobb would not rule out the possibility the state Supreme Court could go to court to seek additional funding.
The last thing Alabama needs is a costly court fight over funding its court system, which would just eat up more of the funds so desperately needed for other things. So taxpayers should hope the court system and the Legislature can find some reasonable middle ground.
Cobb said the $138.9 million appropriation in the budget adopted by the House of Representatives for the coming fiscal year would be a $13.1 million decrease in funding of the court system over the current fiscal year. But that comes after years of inadequate funding.
"Alabama faces a crisis as our current revenues do not meet the state's obligations and needs, and I do not envy the Legislature in having to attempt to craft a balanced General Fund budget in these circumstances," she said. "However, the funding for the courts in the proposed budget is neither adequate nor reasonable for the courts to be open to provide a remedy by due process of law to every person for any injury as required by our state's constitution."
Obviously the biggest cause of the shortfall in funding is the economy, which has caused state revenues to stagnate.
But a significant part of the problem rests with the Legislature. Lawmakers like to create new judgeships for their districts back home. They like to grant cost of living wages in good economic times. Cobb claims that over the past few years the Legislature has not increased funding enough to keep up with such mandates. That leaves the court system ill prepared to deal with a 10 percent reduction in funding.
Legislators are struggling to balance the state's budgets in light of the economy, and some agencies are being cut much more than the courts. So there are no easy answers to the pending crisis.
Because the House and Senate have adopted different versions of the General Fund budget, a conference committee is working to find common ground. At the very least, conferees need to ensure that they do not increase the size of the cuts in the court system budget.
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Ala. chief justice warns more court layoffs coming
BOB JOHNSON, Associated Press
May 16, 2011
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb warned the state's judges and circuit clerks Monday to expect substantial layoffs because of the budget crisis in the state judicial system.
Cobb met with judges and clerks mostly by conference call Monday. The meeting was not open to news reporters or the public. She said 270 court employees have already lost jobs in the past two years because of budget cuts, and she expects another 265 court workers to be laid off during the coming fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.
Cobb told The Associated Press that she had hoped to receive a $10 million supplemental appropriation from the Legislature to help the courts get through the remainder of the current year. She said that is unlikely now because the money is needed to help with recovery from last month's violent tornadoes that killed more than 200 in Alabama.
She said she doesn't expect to receive the supplemental appropriation and she also believes a bill to raise the state's cigarette tax by $1 a carton is dead for this session. Some proceeds from the cigarette tax were to go to the courts.
Cobb said the extra $10 million would have saved 177 court system jobs.
Rep. Jim Barton, a Mobile Republican and chairman of the House Ways and Means General Fund committee, said even without the storms, he never thought the courts would receive the extra $10 million.
Barton also said there's not any sentiment in the Republican-controlled Legislature to raise any taxes, including those on cigarettes. The sponsor of the cigarette tax bill, Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham, said there were not enough votes to get the bill out of committee in the House.
Barton said the budget crisis is so severe this year that there may be no option but to cut courts and other agencies "and then see what we can and can't live with."
Cobb said the results of those cuts will be felt hard in Alabama's court system. In addition to layoffs, she predicted some trials would be delayed, court reporter services would be reduced and travel pay for judges and other court personnel would be eliminated.
Attorney Alyce Spruell of Northport said the budget crisis along with the tornadoes are forcing court officials to perform a "balancing act to make sure people have access to the court system."
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By Jesse Chambers, Birmingham Weekly
May 12, 2011
LET THE LAWYERS LIVE: Alabama lawyers are providing free advice for tornado victims, according to Mike Oliver in The Birmingham News. “For everyone affected by the tornado disaster, we are offering free legal assistance statewide to those who can’t otherwise afford it,” Alabama Bar Association President Alyce Spruell told Oliver. Those needing help can call the Alabama State Bar Association at (800) 354-6154 or Legal Services at (866) 456-4995. According to Oliver, the Birmingham Volunteer Lawyers Program and the Birmingham Bar Association will host the following legal assistance clinics: May 12, 9 a.m.-1 p.m., Faith Chapel Christian Center, 100 Lexington Street, Birmingham; May 24, 9 a.m. - 1 p.m. and 2 p.m.- 6 p.m., Mount Moriah Baptist Church, 316 Avenue U, Birmingham; May 26, 9 a.m.-1 p.m. and 2 p.m.- 6 p.m., Bethel Baptist Church, 639 Ninth Way, Pleasant Grove.
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The Alabama State Bar is providing legal help for storm victims.
Members were at the Guntersville recreation center, where the FEMA Disaster Center is located, on Thursday.
Residents can get free information on issues such as social security, unemployment, and issues relating to landlords.
At the tornado disaster clinics they're holding in affected counties, you can get information and for some, depending on income, free legal services.
"We're just able to give surface level advice right now. If that's enough for them then good, they leave today. If it's not enough and they need further representation, we're sending the forms down to the state voluntary lawyers program who will then refer them back to a lawyer here that's a member of the program," said Lea Mosley, Marshall County Bar Association President.
People who have questions can call 1-800-354-6154.
There will be more clinics in other counties until June 1st.
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Birmingham Business Journal
May 16, 2011
Thousands of Alabama State Bar members are providing free legal assistance to families, businesses and individuals affected by the tornadoes. A Disaster Legal Helpline at (800) 354-6154 has been activated to aid the residents of the affected counties that have been declared a disaster area by federal authorities. Members of the bar’s Volunteer Lawyers Program will be available to staff walk-in disaster legal clinics starting on May 23.
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Alabama lawyers offer free guidance for tornado victims in need
By Mike Oliver, The Birmingham News
Friday, May 06, 2011
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama -- One tornado victim wanted to know how to save his possessions from a bulldozer that was going to reduce his damaged apartment building to rubble. Another wanted to know how to collect insurance when the policy had blown away. And another wondered if he still had to make payments on his severely damaged car.
Questions about rental agreements, insurance and property damage were among those tossed to lawyers on Thursday over phone hot lines and walk-in clinics as Alabama's lawyers have jumped in to donate their best commodity: legal advice.
The Alabama State Bar Association started a toll-free legal helpline: 800-354-6154. Also dispensing free advice is Legal Services: 866-456-4995.
"For everyone affected by the tornado disaster, we are offering free legal assistance statewide to those who can't otherwise afford it," said Alabama Bar Association President Alyce Spruell. The state bar's Volunteer Lawyers Program, the University of Alabama School of Law and the Tuscaloosa Bar Association conducted walk-in clinics in Tuscaloosa on Thursday for tornado victims.
"We just started but we anticipate helping with insurance claims, perhaps probate claims for those losing a family member, maybe even some domestic family issues -- misplaced families, child visitation issues and the like," said David Rains, a volunteer lawyer from the firm Rosen Harwood in Tuscaloosa More clinics are planned for Birmingham and around the state in coming weeks, sponsored by an array of legal groups, including the state bar association, local bar associations and volunteer lawyer programs.
One of the most pressing legal concerns involves storm victims who are renters of houses, apartments or mobile homes made uninhabitable by the storm, said Lisa Borden, who directs pro bono programs for Baker Donelson in Birmingham.
Alabama law allows a renter to terminate the lease in such a situation by sending a letter to the landlord -- but the renter must do it within 14 days, which would mean a May 11 deadline for those displaced during the April 27 storms, Borden said.
"When you do that, the termination is effective the date you vacated," she said. "And the reason that's important for most folks who have lost everything is that they are entitled to get their security deposit back. For those who have lost everything, that security deposit and any prepaid rent might be a considerable amount of money."
Brochures highlighting the May 11 deadline for terminating a lease have been distributed throughout the affected sites by the Montgomery-based lawyers' organization Alabama Appleseed. "This kind of disaster is going to bring out all kinds of needs, including legal needs," Borden said. "And we will be here."
Here are some upcoming legal assistance clinics sponsored by the Birmingham Volunteer Lawyers Program and the Birmingham Bar Association:
- May 12, 9 a.m.-1 p.m., Faith Chapel Christian Center, 100 Lexington Street, Birmingham.
- May 24, 9 a.m.- 1 p.m. and 2 p.m.- 6 p.m., Mount Moriah Baptist Church, 316 Avenue U, Birmingham.
- May 26, 9 a.m.-1 p.m. and 2 p.m.-6 p.m., Bethel Baptist Church, 639 9th Way, Pleasant Grove.
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AL Bar Warns Victims About Illegal Claims Adjusters
By Lisa Blackwell
May 10, 2011
The Alabama State Bar Association is warning tornado victims to beware of illegal conduct by claims adjusters.
The bar says in some reported cases, out-of-state adjusters are offering to settle damage claims.
Alabama does not license claims adjusters so any claims settled by such third party recovery firms are considered to be an unauthorized practice of law which is subject to criminal prosecution.
Anyone assisting third party adjusters attempting to settle claims could also be charged with aiding and abetting in this illegal activity.
If someone tries to charge a fee to initiate a claim, say no and report it to the Attorney General's Office 334-242-7300.
If you need legal assistance for a legal-matter related to the tornado outbreak, contact the Alabama State Bar Disaster Legal Helpline at 1-800-354-6154.
Also, see: Alabama State Bar Alerts Tornado Survivors of Illegal Activity
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Alabama State Bar offering legal advice to storm victims
By Ashley Johnson, Special to The Tuscaloosa News
May 10, 2011
Storm victims might have the manpower to move tree branches off their roofs and cars, but what many people displaced by the tornadoes need right now is legal advice on an array of topics.
The Alabama State Bar, in conjunction with the University of Alabama School of Law, has set up help desks at three sites to dispense free legal advice to those affected by the storm.
Volunteer lawyers and law students began answering questions last week at the Belk Activity Center in Bowers Park, SOMA Church in Holt and Leland Shopping Center in Alberta. All three are open from 1 p.m.-5 p.m. on weekdays.
Help also is available at the law clinic programs office at the UA School of Law from 9 a.m.-noon on weekdays.
Anne Hornsby, acting assistant dean for clinical programs, said the help desks are scheduled to be staffed until June. “But we will be here as long as needed,” Hornsby said.
She said the service is a work in progress and will be tweaked as necessary to better serve those affected.
The UA School of Law is taking advice and considering experiences of law schools in New Orleans that worked with people affected by Hurricane Katrina.
Lawyers said they anticipate tornado victims will ask questions about housing issues, insurance policies, FEMA applications, public benefits, and even family law inquiries.
“Whenever you see a lot of displaced families, some will need guardianship papers or some might need help getting their kids into schools,” Hornsby said.
The help desks discourage trying to get legal advice from any source other than on an individual basis from an attorney.
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Albritton to be inducted in HOF today
By Michele Gerlach, Andalusia Star-News
May 6, 2011
Edgar Thomas Albritton, who founded what would become the state’s oldest law firm in Andalusia in 1887, is among five attorneys who’ll be inducted in the Alabama Lawyers Hall of Fame today.
Albritton began the practice of law in Snow Hill, N.C., after being graduated from Judge Strong Law School in Raleigh in 1878. Six years later, his 24-year-old wife died of typhoid fever, leaving him devastated and with two young children.
In search of a new life, he ended up in Andalusia, a small town that had been described to him as one in need of a lawyer. He was admitted to practice law in Alabama on Jan. 12, 1887, and hung out his shingle here. In 1888, Ed T. Albritton became Andalusia’s first elected mayor, an office he held until 1899. He served later as city attorney, and as judge of the Andalusia City Court of Law and Equity. His practice grew throughout South Alabama and the Florida Panhandle, a general practice ranging from the organization of new business enterprises to the defense of alleged felons.
In 1903, his son, William Harold Albritton, joined him in practice.
On June 1, 1925, while being driven home from a short stay at his cottage in Florida Town, he died quietly in his sleep.
His son continued to expand the practice, but died of pneumonia four years after his father, at the age of 47.
His grandsons, all of whom continued the firm’s practice, were Robert Bynum Albritton, who served for many years as Andalusia city attorney and was president of the Alabama State Bar; William Harold Albritton, Jr., one of the state’s earliest tax law specialists, and an organizer and chairman of the Alabama Federal Tax Clinic for Lawyers and Accountants; and James Marvin Albritton, who, in addition to his heavy trial practice, served three terms on the State Board of Bar Commissioners and two terms as a state bar delegate to the American Bar Association House of Delegates. His great-grandson, William Harold Albritton, III, served as Alabama State Bar president 20 years after his father, Robert, and is now a U.S. District Judge.
His great-great grandsons also practice law. William Harold Albritton IV, while practicing with the Andalusia firm served as a municipal court judge and as an active member of several state bar committees, is now a partner in Bradley Arant Boult Cummings in Birmingham; Benjamin Howard Albritton is a trial attorney in the Alabama Attorney General’s office; and Thomas Bynum Albritton, who continues the Andalusia firm as its fifth generation Albritton, and who served as Andalusia city attorney for a number of years, as president of the young lawyers section of the Alabama Bar, and for two terms on the State Board of Bar Commissioners.
A special ceremony will be held at the Alabama Supreme Court at 11:30 a.m. when the state bar will unveil the plaques which will be placed in the Hall of Fame located on the lower level of the Heflin-Torbert Judicial Building.
The Hall of Fame was established eight years ago to spotlight significant contributions lawyers have made to the state throughout its history.
Other 2010 honorees are Henry Hitchcock (1792 – 1839); James E. Horton (1878 – 1973); Lawrence Drew Redden (1922 – 2007); and Harry Seale (1895 – 1989)
This year’s group of inductees will join such notable legal figures as: Judge Frank M. Johnson, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, Ala. Supreme Court Chief Justice and U.S. Sen. Howell Heflin, attorneys Arthur Davis Shores and Vernon C. Crawford, among others.
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Albrittons carrying on a family tradition
By Al Benn, Montgomery Advertiser
May 8, 2011
Edgar Thomas Albritton was a Renaissance man who loved music, literature and politics, but the law was his passion and he would become the patriarch of a family of attorneys.
Today, it is a family law firm that continues to bear his name 86 years after his passing.
It may not seem like much to those unfamiliar with the legal profession, but the Albrittons are quite an exception. That's because many firms keep a founder's name on their shingles without a direct family connection.
Edgar Albritton didn't know it, of course, but he became the progenitor of five generations of lawyers who have provided legal advice, presided over juries in Andalusia and other Alabama cities and, in one current case, represent the federal judiciary.
At the moment, three great-great grandsons carry on the family name with the same dedication to the law as the founder of the firm displayed back in the 19th century.
What started in Andalusia 124 years ago is still going strong and, as Alabama's oldest law firm with a continuous family connection, the honors keep piling up.
Friday was an extra special day for the Andalusia law firm of Albrittons, Clifton and Moody -- one that had four previous names with the founder's name always prominently displayed.
Edgar Albritton, who died in 1925, was inducted along with four other attorneys -- Henry Hitchcock, James E. Horton, Lawrence Drew Redden and Henry Seale -- into the Alabama Lawyers Hall of Fame.
The five join 25 other legendary lawyers inducted into the Hall of Fame since it was initiated. Others include Frank Johnson, Hugo Black, Howell Heflin, John Sparkman, Oscar Adams, Thomas Goode Jones and Arthur Shores.
Those eligible for induction must be deceased at least two years and be nominated by someone familiar with the nominee and his or her history.
That wasn't hard to do for James Clifton, who is a partner in the Andalusia law firm created by Edgar Albritton in 1887, when Grover Cleveland was in the White House.
Albritton began practicing law in North Carolina in 1878, but moved to Alabama after the devastating loss of his young wife, who died of typhoid fever, leaving him a widower with a young son to raise.
Looking around for a place to resettle, Albritton was on his way toward Mobile when he heard of Andalusia -- described to him as a community "at the end of nowhere." It also needed a lawyer.
It didn't take long to establish himself not only as an attorney, but as a community leader as well. A year after arriving, he was elected the town's first mayor -- a position he held for more than a decade.
Albritton, who also served as a city court judge in Andalusia, built a successful and profitable law practice in south Alabama and the Florida Panhandle.
His son, William Harold Albritton, joined his practice in 1903 and took over the firm on the death of his father at the age of 68. Four years later, he died after contracting pneumonia at the age of 47.
Grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren have stepped forward to continue the family tradition. The grandsons:
*Robert Bynum Albritton was Andalusia's city attorney for many years and served as president of the Alabama State Bar.
*William Harold Albritton Jr., one of Alabama's earliest tax law specialists, organized the Alabama Federal Tax Clinic for Lawyers and Accountants.
*James Marvin Albritton served three terms on the state Board of Bar Commissioners and two terms as a state Bar Delegate to the American Bar Association's House of Delegates.
*William Harold Albritton III, who served as state Bar president 20 years after his father, Robert Albritton, is now a U.S. district judge.
The great-great grandsons:
*William Harold Albritton IV, a former municipal court judge in Andalusia, is now a partner in the prestigious Bradley Arant law firm in Birmingham.
*Benjamin Howard Albritton, a trial attorney in the Alabama attorney general's office.
*Thomas Bynum Albritton continues with the law firm that bears his family name in Andalusia, where he also served as city attorney. He is president of the Young Lawyers section of the state Bar and has served on the state Board of Bar Commissioners.
Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb was particularly pleased to offer remarks Friday because of her admiration for the Albritton family, especially its federal judge.
Cobb, who served as a district judge in Conecuh County before moving up the legal ladder to become the top judge on Alabama's highest court, described Justice Albritton as someone who "helped me be a better judge."
She praised him for carrying on the legacy of his great-grandfather by becoming president of the state Bar, and later by "sitting on the federal bench and continuing to provide great leadership."
All in all, it was quite a day for the Albritton clan of south Alabama as they basked in the glow of a man who made it all possible by moving to a little town "at the end of nowhere."
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Gadsden City students find principal 'not guilty'
By Kendra Carter, The Gadsden Times
May 6, 2011
A jury of Gadsden City High seniors Friday found Houston “Bubba” Bodine not guilty of unlawful of distributing a controlled substance.
In conjunction with Law Day, a mock trial was held Friday at the Etowah County Judicial
Bodine, a fictional, 46-year-old Gadsden man and Hokes Bluff business owner, was indicted earlier this year after an undercover buy by the Etowah County Drug Enforcement Unit showed a man resembling Bodine selling methamphetamine to a DEU operative.
A turning point in the case was the defense's introduction of Bodine's twin brother, Hoover “Bird” Bodine, who met shocked jurors when he stood next to his brother in Judge Allen Millican's court. The prosecution's star witness, Mike Haney, who acted as a confidential informant for the DEU and bought drugs in the undercover buyout, could not say definitively which brother sold him the drugs.
The mock trial was an exercise put on by the Etowah County Bar Association to teach high school government students about the court system.
Dani Bone, who defended Bodine (played by GCHS principal Keith Blackwell), said the exercise was an excellent way to show students what a criminal trial is like.
The trial was abbreviated, as most criminal trials can take days or week to complete. The students spent an hour and a half in the courtroom.
Students also were selected as jurors and heard the case from beginning to end, enduring twists that Bodine had a twin, their friend Bo (played by GCHS teacher Steven Fraser) telling inconsistent stories and a video of the undercover operation showing one of the “brothers” selling drugs.
While deliberations weren't possible because of time constraints, the student jury was polled and voted 7 to 5 for acquittal.
Law Day, a day to acknowledge the importance of the nation's legal and judicial systems, was May 1.
Millican, the defense attorneys and prosecutors Marcus Reid and Andrew Perkins with the county district attorney's office explained steps in the proceeding to students, all using their opening and closing arguments to explain the due process.
Defense attorney Jody Willoughby said it was important for students to learn that what they see about the law on TV is not real — that trials are not the next day, there's not always perfect evidence and twists occur during many trials.
He said the trial scenario presented Friday was based on experiences the attorneys have had in real-life cases.
Alabama State Bar providing legal help after tornadoes
By The Associated Press
May 04, 2011
MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The Alabama State Bar says a disaster legal helpline has been set up to aid people in Alabama counties declared disaster areas because of tornado damage.
The helpline number is 1-800-354-6154.
State Bar President Alyce Spruell says volunteer lawyers will be available to staff walk-in disaster legal clinics starting May 23 and will assist people at disaster recovery centers operated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
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Alabama lawyers offering free legal services to tornado victims
By Ben Flanagan, al.com
May 04, 2011
MONTGOMERY, Alabama -- Alabama attorneys involved in the Alabama State Bar, Alabama Association for Justice and the Alabama Law Foundation are pulling together to provide services to victims affected by the tornadoes that swept through the state on April 27, 2011.
The Alabama State Bar is currently scheduling pro bono clinics where members of the Volunteer Lawyer Program can provide free legal advice and assistance. The ASB is also creating a "bulletin board" at www.alabar.org to connect lawyers whose offices have been destroyed to those who can offer help and resources.
The Young Lawyers Section of the ASB is currently working with FEMA at the Disaster Recovery Centers by taking phone calls and assisting storm victims in completing and filing FEMA Disaster Legal Services Intake Form.
The Alabama Association for Justice is providing free help to storm victims who need assistance filing insurance claims. Individuals can contact them, give their information, and the organization will pair them with an attorney. You can reach them at (334) 262-4974.
The Montgomery-based Beasley Allen law firm, along with the Alabama Law Foundation and the Alabama Association for Justice, is also contributing financially by supporting the Red Cross, Salvation Army and the school systems in the affected areas.
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After Alabama disaster, a pro bono push
Karen Sloan, The National Law Journal
May 02, 2011
Five days after a series of tornados ripped through Alabama and several other Southern states, legal organizations are stepping up to help the victims of the storms and their lawyer colleagues.
The Alabama State Bar has announced a number of initiatives it hopes to have up and running by mid-week, including a hotline that people can call for pro bono referrals and an online bulletin board where lawyers can ask for or offer assistance such as office furniture or temporary space.
The Alabama Association for Justice is already taking requests from affected residents for help filling out insurance claims and matching them with volunteer lawyers. Local bar associations throughout the state are also planning walk-in clinics and other assistance programs. The University of Alabama School of Law plans to open a clinic next week to help people fill out Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) paperwork and answer any legal questions.
"It's a really tough time here," said Alyce Spruell, an attorney based in Tuscaloosa and the president of the Alabama State Bar. "A lot of our bar members have been out working in soup kitchens or doing debris removal. There's some law practice going on right now, but not a lot."
Spruell's home and office were spared from storm damage, though her in-laws were temporarily displaced. Power was not restored to her home until Friday afternoon, and she has been concentrating on organizing the bar's response since the tornados.
By Wednesday, the state bar anticipates it will have a working 1-800 number that residents with legal questions can call to be connected with a lawyer who is part of the bar's Volunteer Lawyer Program. The bar's Young Lawyers Program has plans to work with FEMA representatives in their disaster recovery centers. By May 23, the bar plans to have several walk-in clinics set up where residents can come in for help, Spruell said.
"We know that people are going to need help one-on-one by then," she said. "We anticipate there will be a lot of telephone contact with people before we get the clinics up and running."
The state bar is also planning to get lawyers into many of the smaller communities that were wiped out by the tornados.
The Alabama Association for Justice — an organization of trial lawyers — has already received at least 60 calls from people looking for free assistance on insurance claims, said spokesman Taylor Bright.
"We're looking for as many volunteers as we can get," he said. "The more we get our message out, the more phone calls we're getting from people who have been affected. A lot of people are calling from motels. They've lost everything, and it's just nice for them to hear a reassuring voice on the other end of the telephone."
Individual firms are getting involved as well. The Montgomery headquarters of Beasely, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis & Miles was spared from the tornados, but 100% of the firm's shareholders are participating in the state bar's volunteer lawyer program and many are expected to staff the free legal clinics, said managing shareholder Thomas Methvin. The firm has also donated money to the Red Cross to put toward its local disaster relief efforts. None of the firm's lawyers or staff was killed, though some have suffered property damage, he said.
"This is the worst tragedy we've ever see," said Methvin. "The lawyers are definitely sticking together and helping each other out."
Two employees at Birmingham-based Bradley Arent Boult Cummings lost their homes in the tornado, but remarkably were unharmed, said human resources director Judy Davis. The firm has taken up a financial collection and a clothing drive to help them, she said. The firm donated so many clothes that the excess will be given to local shelters.
Firm leaders are currently discussing volunteer opportunities, and plan to get involved in larger recovery efforts as they are put into action.
"We're looking to see if we can hook up with Habitat for Humanity when they come to town to rebuild," Davis said. "It really looks like a war zone today."
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Celebrate the rule of law in America
April 30, 2011
On Sunday, communities across the country will join together to celebrate the 54th observance of Law Day. Law Day, commemorating the significance of the rule of law in American citizenship, traces its roots back to May 1, 1958.
More than 50 years later, Law Day preserves the democratic spirit by recognizing the rights and privileges enjoyed by every American citizen and boosting awareness of the rule of law. Nationally, this year’s Law Day theme is, “The Legacy of John Adams: from Boston to Guantanamo.”
This year’s theme prompts us to remain aware of the life and times of John Adams, a man who defended the perpetrators of the infamous Boston Massacre. John Adams’ performance in that trial was a model of criminal defense. Despite his clients’ undeniable culpability, John Adams fought rigidly for the fair application of constitutional due process.
In Alabama, Gov. Robert Bentley has proclaimed May 1 as “Law Day in the State of Alabama.” The Alabama State Bar is contributing to the Law Day celebration by sponsoring student competitions for students in grades K-12, and by hosting the first official Law Day observance in the chambers of the Alabama Supreme Court.
The Calhoun-Cleburne Bar Association