8 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

8 mins ago

Ivey orders flags to half-staff honoring slain Navy ensign

Governor Kay Ivey announced Friday that she is ordering all flags on government grounds to be flown at half staff on Sunday, December 22 to honor the life of Navy Ensign Joshua Kaleb Watson.

Watson, an Enterprise native who spent many of his formative years in Blount County, was killed in the shooting at Naval Air Station in Pensacola, FL, on December 6.

“Let us remember the life and service of Ensign Watson, who died as a hero trying to protect his fellow service members. We offer our heartfelt condolences and prayers to his family, friends and community,” the governor said in her directive.

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According to reports relayed to the media by his family, the 23-year-old Watson saved many lives with his actions on the day of the shooting. His heroic actions drew praise from many of Alabama’s political leaders.

“After being shot multiple times he made it outside and told the first response team where the shooter was and those details were invaluable,” Adam Watson, the victim’s brother, told the Pensacola News Journal (PNJ).

Watson’s father, Benjamin, said of his son, “His mission was to confront evil, to bring the fight to them, wherever it took him. He was willing to risk his life for his country. We never thought he would die in Florida.”

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

You’re invited!

The biggest birthday party in Alabama’s history is taking place on December 14, and you are invited! Join us in Montgomery for the grand finale celebration of our state’s 200th birthday.

Watch the parade, listen to concerts and performances, visit open houses and much more.

This is sure to be a day you don’t want to miss. The event is free to the public and lasts all day starting with an elaborate parade at 10:00 a.m. The parade will travel from Court Square Fountain in downtown Montgomery up Dexter Avenue to the State Capitol. There will be marching bands, city floats and unique displays of Alabama history on wheels, such as the USS Alabama and U.S. Space and Rocket Center.

The parade is a great opportunity for families to enjoy the celebration together – and it’s only the beginning of a packed day. Following the parade, Governor Kay Ivey will dedicate Bicentennial Park. The afternoon will offer performances, exhibitions and open houses throughout downtown Montgomery. The day will conclude with a concert featuring popular musicians from Alabama and the history of Alabama presented in a never-before-seen way.

Visit Alabama 200 Finale for a complete rundown of the day’s events.

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56 mins ago

Roby votes ‘no’ on impeaching Trump, says Democrats setting ‘dangerous precedent’

U.S. Rep. Martha Roby (AL-02) on Friday voted “no” on both articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump during a meeting of the House Judiciary Committee.

Both articles were reported favorably from the committee, each on a party line vote of 23-17; all Democrats present voted to support impeachment, all Republicans voted against.

The two articles are expected to advance to the full House floor for a vote as one package. That vote is expected next week.

Before Friday’s vote, the Judiciary Committee held a markup on the articles the day before, and Roby made extensive comments about what she deems a “woefully incomplete” and “flawed” process conducted by House Democrats.

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“The articles of impeachment before us in this Committee do not meet the necessary requirements nor have they followed an exhaustive pursuit to even find all of the facts of the case. Therefore, the bar to impeach a sitting president of the United States has not been met,” said Roby, who is retiring from Congress after this term.

She outlined, “Whether you identify as a Republican, Democrat, or Independent, whether you agree or disagree with a president’s policies, whether you like or even dislike a president, the American people should feel cheated by what has taken place here.”

“The American people deserve a process that puts politics aside. The American people deserve a process that is led by our promise to protect and defend the Constitution. The American people simply deserve better,” Roby emphasized.

The full text of Roby’s speech as follows:

I have made clear how woefully incomplete this process has been, how the Minority’s right to a hearing has been completely disregarded, how no fact witnesses were called before us, and how staff questioning staff to get the truth was bizarre.

No matter what any Member on this side says here tonight, the Majority will unanimously vote to send these articles of impeachment to the House Floor. However, I have a duty to continue to point out how flawed this process has been. All Members of Congress are required to take an oath of office at the beginning of every Congress. By taking this oath, we swear above all else, to defend the Constitution of the United States.

I have the distinct honor to represent the hardworking people of Southeast Alabama. They have placed their trust in me to represent their values and be their voice here in Congress. This revered and longstanding oath serves as a guiding principle for every decision I make as a Member of Congress.

For the record, let me be clear:

I believe in the rule of law.

I believe that no person is above the law.

I believe process is vital to this very institution.

I have stated time and time again before this Committee: process matters. Without abiding by a framework that adheres to our Constitution, we are charting a course that does not follow our country’s founding principles.

Whether you identify as a Republican, Democrat, or Independent, whether you agree or disagree with a president’s policies, whether you like or even dislike a president, the American people should feel cheated by what has taken place here.

We sit here tonight without all the facts of the case because the Majority decided to conduct an incomplete and inadequate pursuit of the truth. Many questions remain.

With the consequential decision of impeaching a president, it is our right and duty to the citizens of this country to properly use the powers of congressional oversight, to adjudicate impasses through the courts, and arrive at actual undisputed facts of a case that all Americans, regardless of ideology, can agree are truthful and honest.

In the impeachment proceedings of President Nixon, the underlying facts of the case were undisputed. In the impeachment proceedings of President Clinton, the underlying facts of the case were undisputed. Here before us tonight, that is not the case.

The articles of impeachment before us in this Committee do not meet the necessary requirements nor have they followed an exhaustive pursuit to even find all of the facts of the case. Therefore, the bar to impeach a sitting president of the United States has not been met.

For the sake of our country and for the future trajectory of this body, I implore my colleagues to take a hard look at the course of this investigation. It has severely discounted the tenets of our democratic system.

Tomorrow, we write history: a history that cannot be undone. A dangerous precedent will be set for future Majorities of this body.

The American people deserve a process that puts politics aside. The American people deserve a process that is led by our promise to protect and defend the Constitution. The American people simply deserve better.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 hours ago

If character decides the Heisman Trophy, Jalen Hurts wins in a landslide

Nine yards.

That’s the amount of offense LSU quarterback Joe Burrow generated per game more than Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts this season.

That’s it.

Picking up a mere 27 extra feet each game, Burrow is now the prohibitive favorite to win the Heisman Trophy.

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Both quarterbacks had great years. In fact, their seasons largely mirrored each other. Both experienced breakout campaigns after previously respectable — but not necessarily exceptional — seasons. Both accounted for 51 touchdowns in 2019. Hurts and Burrow have each carried their teams into the college football playoff where they face off on December 28.

Hurts leads the nation with 11.76 yards per pass attempt. He is second in the nation in passing efficiency, with a 201.5 rating. The quarterback who sits third in passing efficiency? Joe Burrow.

Hurts may very well lead the nation in another category. It is not as easy to measure as most other statistical categories in the game, but one which should put him over the top for college football’s most prestigious award.

That category is character.

And it matters for the award. The stated mission of the Heisman Trophy is to recognize “the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity.”

You may not be able to attach a number to Hurts’ character and integrity, but it has been on display at every point during his college football career.

Who better to testify to the type of person Hurts is than Alabama head coach Nick Saban. Saban believes no player in the country has exhibited the level of integrity Hurts has shown.

“There’s never been a guy that anywhere in college football that did things more correctly and set a better example as a leader than Jalen Hurts did while he was here by staying here after he was replaced as a starter,” Saban observed.

Rather than dwell on being replaced in the middle of a national championship game, Hurts grew from it.

“That day made me who I am,” he told ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi. “I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

Hurts has led his new team with the same standard of excellence to which he held himself throughout his time in Tuscaloosa. The nation got a sneak peek at his legendary work ethic when he hit the weight room after a blowout win against Texas Tech in September. And he showed his uncommon focus when he slid into his own team’s Instagram account to comment “Rat Poison” on a post touting the Sooners’ impressive offensive stats.

Hurts befriended a young man who had been twice assaulted by bullies in videos that went viral across the country. In a typical show of humility, Hurts remarked that meeting the young man “was an inspiration to me.”

He added, “It meant the world to me honestly to meet him.”

None of this comes as a surprise to fans of the Crimson Tide.

In an era when players are more apt to begin working on their brand than working in their communities, Hurts shared his time with others. He had a special relationship with Alabama superfan Walt Gary. The two of them enjoyed snapping selfies together, with Hurts adopting a tradition of capturing Walt’s weekly game predictions on video.

These are a few of countless examples of the kind of character and integrity Hurts will carry with him to the Heisman ceremony in New York City on Saturday.

Hurts has nothing left to prove on the field. And his character has made him a winner off the field whether they call his name or not.

If character and integrity are the deciding factors for the award, expect Jalen Hurts to win in a landslide.

Tim Howe is an owner of Yellowhammer Multimedia

3 hours ago

Zeigler’s army and the legislature to butt heads on ending an elected school board

There may be a new heavyweight battle on the horizon between some powerful groups in the state of Alabama on a generally insignificant issue.

Back in May, the State Senate unanimously passed SB397, which paved the way for a vote on the 2020 primary ballot to decide if the Alabama Constitution will be amended to allow for the governor to appoint the State Board of Education rather than electing members.

Little did the legislature know that come later in the summer, a group of citizens throughout the state, led by Jim Zeigler, would come together to defeat the governor and ALDOT’s proposal to levy a toll on the I-10 bridge in South Alabama.

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Zeigler now thinks this makes him a potential person of the year for Alabama, and he’s probably right.

Make no mistake, his leadership led to a group of citizens defeating the toll project, and now Zeigler has shifted his attention to a new fight: keeping the State Board of Education elected and keeping the decisions in the hand of the people.

This will ultimately pit Zeigler against a new foe: the Alabama legislature.

State Senator Sam Givhan (R-Huntsville) joined WVNN radio in Huntsville Thursday, and when asked if the legislature’s unanimous vote was an effort to advance the issue to the ballot to let the people decide, or if it was an endorsement of the idea, Givhan told host Will Hampson it was the latter.

“No, that’s an endorsement,” Givhan plainly laid out.

He continued, “[W]hen the legislature sends something to the people, I think generally it is something they want to happen. When they send it to the people it’s not like, well yeah, let’s float this out there and see what the people think.”

The argument from the legislature is clear: the system we have right now is not working.

Alabama is consistently ranked in the bottom of education nationally and has been ranked there for decades.

Other groups, such as the Alabama Policy Institute (API), have been very vocal in their support of an appointed school board. API’s Phil Williams was an outspoken supporter at ALGOP’s summer state executive committee meeting.

However, this emerging citizens group led by Zeigler has made it clear that giving the people accountability is the answer, and taking away their vote is not.

Jim Zeigler is joined on this issue by his wife Jackie, who is the SBOE District 1 representative.

Jackie Zeigler told Alabama Media Group, “As representative for State Board of Education District One, I am vehemently opposed to any attempt take away the voice of the people.”

This represents another episode in an ongoing saga that has pitted the people versus those elected to represent them.

The people of Alabama are probably not going to give up their right to vote on a position they don’t pay any attention to. Most people reading this don’t know who their Alabama Board of Education member is; this won’t change that.

I’m indifferent to the whole thing because the decisions by the state school board aren’t going to have a huge impact on my kid one way or the other. Local school boards have far more impact and few people care about that either.

If the election were today, I would vote to keep the board the way it is, but I’m open to changing my mind.

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 am weekdays on WVNN