3 months ago

Sara Williams is a 2019 Woman of Impact

The state’s largest organization for lawyers, the Alabama State Bar, cites trust, integrity and service as the values which should guide the group and its members.

Sara Williams has excelled in her career as an attorney by embodying each of those ideals.

And others have taken notice.

In 2018, Williams received the Stetson University College of Law Edward D. Ohlbaum Professionalism Award, which is a national award that seeks to honor those “whose life and practice display sterling character and unquestioned integrity, along with an ongoing dedication to the highest standards of the legal profession and the rule of law.” The award is named for the late Professor Eddie Ohlbaum and is designed to recognize a trial team instructor “who exemplifies his commitment to practicing with a high degree of professionalism, integrity and competency.”

Williams is the managing attorney for Alexander Shunnarah Injury Lawyers, P.C. She is the first African-American woman to serve in that role for the firm.
At the time of her award, Alexander Shunnarah, the firm’s president and CEO, remarked on her accomplishment.

“She never ceases to amaze me,” he said. “Her level of commitment and passion to her profession has been an added contribution to not only our law firm, but everyone in the legal community, including our clients, who always come first.”

A graduate of Florida State University and Cumberland School of Law, Williams saw a different path for herself, at first.

“I originally wanted to be a sports agent,” she noted. “So I applied and was accepted to programs at Tulane and Marquette that both have certificates in Sports Law. It was being involved in Cumberland’s trial advocacy program that solidified my desire to be a trial lawyer.”

She made a wise decision.

Williams has become one of the preeminent trial lawyers in Alabama.

She has litigated a multitude of cases, including premises liability, motor vehicle negligence, wrongful death and trucking cases.

While beginning her career as a civil defense lawyer, she has practiced as a plaintiffs’ attorney with Shunnarah since 2013. In December 2017, she secured a $12 million jury verdict representing a majority of the victims in a major bus accident in Birmingham.

Williams was peer-selected as one of Birmingham Magazine’s “Top Attorneys” for several years, named a “Rising Star” by Alabama Super Lawyers Magazine and chosen one of Birmingham Business Journal’s “Top 40 Under 40” in 2017

She is a frequent speaker in Alabama and around the country on issues regarding uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage, social networking and litigation, as well as various issues relating to the transportation industry.

Even with her natural ability in the courtroom and zeal for advocating on behalf of clients, Williams accepted the challenge of firm management in 2017.

“The role of Managing Attorney has been an interesting challenge in terms of balancing all of the different personalities that comprise the lawyers at the firm,” she explained. “When you are litigating a case your interests are clearly in opposition to that of your opposing counsel, but when it comes to managing there is a need to balance the interests of the firm with the needs of the lawyers and staff.”

The firm described her role in the position of managing attorney as “the supporting pillar to the firm’s success, using her confidence and decisiveness to help strategize the firm’s next steps.”

And that success has been significant under Williams’ management.

The firm has grown to 17 offices in five states, with 70 lawyers and two hundred employees who handle approximately 15,000 cases.

Her skill in the position has helped Shunnarah recognize just how vital Williams is to the firm.

“She is the pillar of the firm,” he said in a recent interview. “It would be very difficult to do anything in this firm if I didn’t have the best attorney in the southeast at my side every day.”

Despite the commitments of managing a large firm, Williams has still found time to share her knowledge and enthusiasm for the law as an adjunct professor of Trial Advocacy at Cumberland School of Law. She also serves as a coach for Cumberland’s nationally ranked mock trial teams.

“I love meeting or hearing from law students that are inspired when they see me in this role,” she said. “When I was in law school there were not that many women lawyers in management.  It is important for these young women to know that there is potential to rise through the ranks.”

Her desire to open up opportunities for women is more than mere words. In 2017, she founded the Alexander Shunnarah Women’s Initiative, which seeks to empower female lawyers through networking events and community involvement.

Having gone from prospective sports agent to decorated litigator is a path which helps her provide wise counsel to women pursuing a career in the law.

“Keep an open mind,” she advised. “So many young people feel like they have to know exactly what they want to do when they go to law school or that the first job they have has to be their forever job. I’ve learned so much from every firm I worked for and built long lasting relationships and friendships that really shaped my career. Had I only focused on what I planned on doing after law school as a 22-year-old college graduate, I can’t imagine that I would be as happy with what I do for a living.”

Yellowhammer News is proud to name Sara Williams a 2019 Woman of Impact.

The 2nd Annual Women of Impact Awards will celebrate the honorees on April 29, 2019, in Birmingham. Event details can be found here.

Tim Howe is an owner and editor of Yellowhammer News

6 hours ago

Mobile Bay Bridge project awarded $125 million grant by Trump administration

The I-10 Mobile Bayway Bridge project has been awarded a $125 million Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) grant by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The announcement was made Monday by Senator Richard Shelby’s (R-AL) office, which said the amount signifies one of the largest competitive federal grants ever awarded to the state of Alabama.

Additionally, the city of Tuscaloosa was separately awarded a $6.87 million INFRA grant to help replace an overpass bridge located on University Boulevard and U.S. Highway 82.

“Both of these projects will help improve safety, alleviate traffic congestion and concerns with overcapacity, and promote increased economic development opportunities across the state,” Shelby said in a statement.

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“Investing in essential infrastructure in Alabama and across the country promotes a more prosperous future for our nation,” he concluded. “I thank (U.S. DOT) Secretary Chao for her attention to these projects and look forward to continuing my work to ensure that our state is well represented in any effort to fund federal transportation priorities.”

The federal award to the I-10 Mobile Bayway Bridge project comes amid significant controversy over the Alabama Department of Transportation’s (ALDOT) plan to pay for the project, at least partially, through tolling. The total projected cost of the project is approximately $2 billion.

Congressman Bradley Byrne (AL-01) has previously lamented that ALDOT was not more focused on securing federal money and avoiding tolling, even as Alabama federal officials like Byrne and Shelby worked to secure funding access.

ALDOT was previously turned down for a $250 million federal grant application for the project last year.

Byrne led Alabama’s entire House delegation in sending a bipartisan letter to Chao in February in support of funding the project with an INFRA grant.

After the news of the award broke on Monday, Byrne released a statement celebrating the news and reaffirming his opposition to ALDOT’s tolling proposal.

“This is outstanding news for the people of Southwest Alabama! Fighting for federal funding for this bridge has been one of my top priorities in Congress, and I am glad the Trump Administration has come through with this grant award,” Byrne said. “I am very appreciative of the help from our entire Alabama congressional delegation, especially Senator Richard Shelby.”

“Today is a positive step toward making this project a reality, but our work is not over,” he added. “The current tolling proposal for this project is unacceptable, and I will continue leading the fight against tolling and working to ensure this project helps – not hurts – the people of South Alabama.”

The tolling proposal has also become a statewide political piñata, with 2020 Republican U.S. Senate candidates such as Tommy Tuberville and Secretary of State John Merrill coming out swinging in addressing the topic recently.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

Byrne: Border battle harms Alabama communities

The detrimental effects of the humanitarian and national security crisis on our border extend all the way to Alabama communities. That’s why I’ve made it a priority to address our immigration policies.

One of the most obvious ways our insecure border harms our communities is the drug trade. Our porous border is perhaps the most significant contributing factor to the ongoing opioid crisis — the worst drug epidemic in modern American history. In 2017, over 47,000 lives were claimed by opioids. That’s more than those from car accidents and firearms. These deaths have affected families across our great state.

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The drug problem is made worse by the unprecedented migrant surge. James Carroll, director of the U.S. Office of Drug Control Policy, said just last week that drug seizures are down this year because so much attention is being diverted to humanitarian needs.

Because of that diversion, border patrol agents and resources are unable to be allocated towards their fundamental law enforcement functions. According to Carroll, more drugs are coming in than ever before.

One of the primary drivers of the migrant crisis is our asylum policy. Through a combination of loopholes worsened by a legal settlement made by the Clinton administration, migrants are encouraged to cross our border and give themselves up to law enforcement.

After arrest, migrants claiming asylum are eventually permitted entrance into the country while their claims are processed. This is permitted even when migrants do not cross at a legal checkpoint.

Although, by some estimates, only around a tenth of asylum claims are found by our courts to be legitimate, the vast majority never show up for their court date and remain free inside the United States.

A disproportionate number of these asylum claims are made by able-bodied young men. Only a few months ago, a Mobile teacher was killed in a car crash by an illegal immigrant minor who had falsely claimed asylum but never showed at his court date to avoid deportation.

The coyotes and cartels, of course, have every reason to facilitate migrants along their journey and orchestrate lawlessness at the border.

Last week, one of the biggest points of entry at the Southern border had to be shut down after a wave of nearly 50 undocumented immigrants rushed the border into Texas. The group attempted to tear down barricades and assaulted several border patrol officers who were forced to deploy tear gas and pepper balls.

Let’s call these people what they are – criminals. And while border agents were able to keep these criminals out of our communities, many more slip through the cracks while agents deal with illegal stunts like this and the humanitarian needs of asylee claimants.

Last year, a 13-year-old girl in Huntsville was beheaded after witnessing the stabbing of her grandmother by gang members in a horrific incident involving members of the Sinaloa Cartel. It is disheartening that gangs like MS-13 have infiltrated communities throughout our nation, but stories like this reinforce the sad truth that the problem is impacting Alabamians.

There are other significant problems that do not receive headlines. I’ve spoken with Alabama sheriffs who have shared horror stories about the strain illegal immigration places on their deputies. And I’ve talk to incredibly frustrated school superintendents who must divert resources away from educating local students to deal with their illegal immigrant population. Our hospitals are also placed under enormous burdens by illegal immigration. And governments are forced to pay for services for illegal immigrants that could have gone towards roads, bridges and other services for Americans.

This is not just a Texas, New Mexico, Arizona or California issue. This is an Alabama issue. I will continue standing with President Trump and work to get an immigration system that works for the American people.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

8 hours ago

Boating deaths are soaring on Alabama’s lakes and rivers

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Alabama has already had its deadliest year in two decades for boaters — and the summer isn’t nearly over yet.

Boating accidents in the first 6 ½ months of 2019 have killed 25 people, AL.com reported.

Already, that makes this year the deadliest one since 1998, when 32 people died. The number of deaths so far this year is already higher than year-end totals for the past several years.

This July alone, 12 crashes resulted in six deaths.

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“In my 24 years of doing this, I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Capt. Gary Buchanan, the commander of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency’s Marine Patrol.

Investigators can’t definitively pinpoint the cause for this year’s drastic increase, Buchanan said.

“Some have happened at night, some during the day, some have involved one boat, some two boats and alcohol has been a factor in some,” Buchanan said. “It’s all over the spectrum.”

There has been a decrease in Marine Patrol presence on Alabama’s lakes and rivers. There are roughly 45 Marine Patrol current officers throughout Alabama. There are 21 vacancies — jobs that were all filled 10 to 15 years ago, Al.com reported.

Boater registrations have also increased in recent years.

“There’s an increase in boaters and there are fewer Marine Patrol troopers on the waterways,” Buchanan said. “There’s no doubt that an enforcement presence has an effect on behavior, just like when you top that hill and you see a trooper car in front of you.”

The year with the most boating-related fatalities was 1972, which had a year-end total of 55. The year with the fewest, according to ALEA statistics, was 2013, with 10.

(Associated Press, copyright 2019)

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9 hours ago

Alabama K9 officer dies after drug raid

“Jake,” a K9 officer with the Alabama Department of Corrections, has died following a raid Thursday on Staton Correctional Facility in Elmore County.

CBS 42 reported last week that Jake was recovering after having a medical emergency during a contraband raid at the prison. He reportedly came into contact with synthetic marijuana and became unresponsive. Medical personnel and his handler at the prison then heroically performed live-saving measures on the K9, who was expected to return to duty within a few weeks.

However, CBS 42′ Reshad Hudson reported on Monday that Jake died from complications following the initial incident.

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WSFA is reporting that Jake died on Saturday at Auburn University Veterinary Clinic.

“I was saddened to hear that one of the Corrections K9s, Jake, lost his life over the weekend,” Governor Kay Ivey said. “This K9 died in service to public safety and in service to the state. Jake is an example of the goodness, the loyalty and service that our four-legged friends provide. We certainly lost a loyal companion.”

A criminal investigation into Jake’s death is reportedly underway. More testing of the apparent synthetic marijuana is pending, according to ADOC. Officials told WSFA that anyone found to be responsible in Jake’s death will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Jake had worked with his handler, Sgt. Quinton Jones, since the K9 joined ADOC in 2014.

“This is a difficult time for our ADOC family and especially for Sgt. Jones and those assigned to our K9 Bureau who worked with Jake on a daily basis,” ADOC Commissioner Jeff Dunn told WSFA. “I extend our deepest condolences for the loss of this noble K9 who honorably served the State of Alabama and for ultimately giving his life while protecting the public.”

Dunn added that Jake likely saved lives by detecting the substance during the raid.

“With Jake’s training and ability to find the narcotic, he saved other lives by giving his own in the line-of-duty. Jake’s heroism and ultimate sacrifice will never be forgotten,” he emphasized.

Jake will be given a burial with full honors this week, according to WSFA.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

11 hours ago

Byrne visiting U.S.-Mexico border on Monday

Congressman Bradley Byrne (AL-01) is visiting the United States’ southern border on Monday, the Republican U.S. Senate candidate’s office announced in a release.

Byrne reportedly arrived at the border Monday morning and will meet with Customs and Border Protection officials, tour a port of entry and visit an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facility.

“As the national security and humanitarian crisis at our border escalates, it is important to see the situation firsthand and talk directly with border agents, law enforcement, and local officials about the challenges they face and what resources they need,” Byrne said in a statement.

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He has been a consistent supporter of President Donald Trump’s immigration policies.

“The American people have demanded a lawful system of immigration that protects their economic and personal safety, and I will continue working closely with President Trump and his Administration to secure our border, support law enforcement, and keep the American people safe,” Byrne concluded.

Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) has opposed building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn