The Wire

  • Black Bear Sightings Continue to Increase in Alabama

    Excerpt from an Outdoor Alabama news release:

    Add Jackson, Limestone, Marshall, Morgan and St. Clair counties to the growing list of black bear sightings in Alabama in 2018. In recent years, bears have also been recorded in Chambers, Elmore, Jefferson, Lee, Macon and Tallapoosa counties. These recent sightings are more evidence of the state’s expanding black bear population.

    Biologists from the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources say the increase in sightings may be due to a combination of factors including changes in bear distribution, habitat fragmentation, seasonal movement and the summer mating season. However, most spring and summer bear sightings are of juvenile males being pushed out of their previous ranges by their mothers and other adult males.

    Historically, a small population of black bears have remained rooted in Mobile and Washington counties. Baldwin, Covington and Escambia counties on the Florida border host yet another population of bears. In northeast Alabama, bears migrating from northwest Georgia have established a small but viable population.

    “While seeing a black bear in Alabama is uncommon and exciting, it is no cause for alarm,” said Marianne Hudson, Conservation Outreach Specialist for the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF). “There has never been a black bear attack on a human in Alabama.”

    Black bears are typically secretive, shy animals that will avoid human interaction. Occasionally, a curious bear will explore a human-populated area in search of food.

    “If you are lucky enough to see a bear, simply leave it alone,” Hudson said.

  • Rep. Byrne Releases Statement on Russia

    From a Bradley Byrne news release:

    Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-AL) issued the following statement regarding President Donald Trump’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, this morning in Helsinki.

    Congressman Byrne said: “I applaud President Trump’s decision to start a dialogue with President Putin and I’m glad he is making it a priority. However, we must remember that Russia is not an ally – economically or militarily. They are an adversary. The United States should not tolerate actions by the Russians that intervene in our domestic affairs or pose a threat to our national security.”

  • Alabama Recreational Red Snapper Season Closes July 22

    Excerpt from an Outdoor Alabama news release:

    The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Marine Resources Division (MRD) announces the closure of Alabama state waters to the harvest of red snapper by private anglers and state-licensed commercial party boats at 11:59 p.m. Sunday, July 22, 2018. The quota of 984,291 pounds issued under NOAA Fisheries’ Alabama Recreational Red Snapper Exempted Fishing Permit (EFP) is expected to be met by the closure date.

    “Alabama anglers fished extremely hard on the good weather days during the season,” said Marine Resources Director Scott Bannon. “That level of effort, coupled with larger average-sized fish harvested this year as compared to last year, resulted in a daily harvest rate two times higher than 2017, which prompted an earlier than anticipated closure.

    “The purpose of the EFP was to demonstrate Alabama’s ability to establish a season and monitor landings within a fixed quota and I think we have shown we can do that,” said Bannon.

    Anglers are reminded of the following:

    — Possession of red snapper in Alabama waters while state waters are closed is prohibited regardless of where the fish were harvested.
    — Alabama anglers may fish in federal waters off the coast of Alabama (outside of 9 nm) and land in a state that is open to the landing of red snapper, but they must adhere to the open state’s rules and not transit in Alabama state waters with red snapper on board.
    — The season for federally-permitted charter for-hire vessels will close at 12:01 a.m. July 22.

Alexander Shunnarah’s “Shark of The Week” bites again! Travis McKay shares his best memories with the firm

Travis McKay (Alexander Shunnarah Personal Injury Attorneys)

Travis McKay joined The Ford Faction to talk about his time with the Alexander Shunnarah Law Firm. In this week’s “Shark of The Week” Travis went into detail how he went from Vanderbilt to Cumberland and achieved his law degree and gained employment with the Shunnarah Law Firm.

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Alexander Shunnarah’s “Shark Of The Week” – Brian Hornsby

Brian Hornsby was this week’s “Shark of The Week” powered by Alexander Shunnarah Law Firm. Brian went into length about how his start with the law firm began. He describes his first days at the Alexander Shunnarah Personal Attorneys, and how Alex helped him out before he got through his first week. Graduating from The University of Alabama, Brian was able to meet his wife and have a son.  Brian shares what it means to be a “Shark” that helps people in need!

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If a car catches on fire who is responsible for it? Alexander Shunnarah’s “Shark Of The Week” breaks it down!

Andrew Schwartz joined The Ford Faction for Thursday’s Alexander Shunnarah “Shark of The Week” to talk about his work with the law firm.  Andrew mentions his history from graduating from Alabama and getting into this field.  He talks about a particular case from a local strip club when a car caught on fire.  In an entertaining interview, Andrew delivers on yet another great segment from Alexander Shunnarah law firm.

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Find out how Alexander Shunnarah is branching out into the Birmingham community

Ronnie Rice makes his return to The Ford Faction for Alexander Shunnarah’s “Shark of The Week” to discuss what he’s been up to lately. Ronnie talks about how busy it’s been at the Shunnarah Law Firm and what they’ve had going on. He mentioned his work with the community and the outreach they’ve been working on.

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2 months ago

Does hard work pay off? It did for Angela Graugnard of the Alexander Shunnarah law firm

(YHN)

Angela Graugnard joined The Ford Faction in this week’s Alexander Shunnarah Law Firm “Shark of The Week” to talk about her introduction into the firm.  Angela mentions her great story of almost “begging” Alex into his law firm by saying she could fit nicely in the very packed office.  Angela mentions how she and her Southern Louisiana husband attempted a plant-based meal diet and it blows the guys minds in a very funny and interesting interview on The Ford Faction.

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3 months ago

Alexander Shunnarah goes to Comic Con!

Jay Holloway is this week’s Alexander Shunnarah “Shark of The Week” and he brings some of the best content The Ford Faction has ever seen.  He talks about the time Alex made an appearance at “Comic-Con” the convention for superheroes and other mythological characters.  He went into detail about what his role is at the law firm in a very funny but in depth interview on today’s show.

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3 months ago

Ronnie Rice Goes To The White House with The Crimson Tide!

Ronnie Rice is the Alexander Shunnarah “Shark of the Week” and shares with us the trip to The White House to celebrate the Alabama Crimson Tide’s Championship. He details the tour of West Wing and how it was seeing Trump in person. Find out how the day really went!

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4 months ago

Shunnarah attorney Craig Niedenthal reveals a ‘bizarre’ case he encountered

Craig Niedenthal joined for The Ford Faction to talk about his time at the Shunnarah Law Firm and one of the more bizarre cases he’s ever encountered —  a man who is “filing a lawsuit against America.” Niedenthal then helps explain what it’s like being an attorney.

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9 months ago

Chief Justice Lyn Stuart Announces Candidacy

Chief Justice Lyn Stuart has announced her run for election as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. Chief Justice Stuart has been a judge for 29 years and has served on the Alabama Supreme Court since 2001. She was appointed Chief Justice by Governor Kay Ivey in April 2017, bringing a firm and fair approach in guiding Alabama’s unified court system.

“I am proud to announce my campaign for Chief Justice because we need to continue making Alabama a place where justice is served and the law is evenly applied to all parties. We need a judicial system where our justices follow the law, not make the law. And we need justices who strictly interpret the constitution. I’m proud of my record of doing just that and I look forward to speaking with the voters to get that message out there over the coming months.”

Justice Stuart’s prior experience extends beyond her years of service as a member of Alabama’s Supreme Court. She also was elected and served for 12 years as a district judge and circuit judge in Baldwin County and before that prosecuted cases as an Assistant Attorney General and Assistant District Attorney. “I have a deep knowledge and understanding of how our state’s legal system works from top to bottom,“ continued Stuart.

“Securing adequate financial resources for our courts is a primary responsibility of the Chief Justice. State government is experiencing tough financial times. Everyone in our court system is having to do more with less. It’s important to have someone with my background, experience and work ethic, someone who will work hard every day to keep our courts fair and running smoothly. That’s what I’ve been doing for 29 years and, if elected, that’s what I intend to keep doing.“

Chief Justice Stuart is proud to call Alabama home. Born in Atmore and a graduate of Escambia County High School, she continued her education by graduating from Auburn University and receiving a Juris Doctorate from the University of Alabama School of Law. In addition to her duties as a justice, she has been married to her husband George for 36 years, is the mother of two sons, Tucker and Shepard, a daughter Kelly, and grandmother to Sophie and Thomas. Justice Stuart has attended and served at Bay Minette United Methodist Church for 33 years.

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9 months ago

Alabama to Step Up Enforcement of Automobile Liability Insurance Law

The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) has announced plans to step up its enforcement of the automobile liability insurance law beginning in November. According to the Decatur Daily, drivers without insurance will face stricter fines and penalties.

12.9 percent of Alabama drivers are uninsured, according to the Alabama Department of Revenue. Motorists are required by the Mandatory Liability Insurance law passed in 2016 to have liability insurance that includes at least $100,000 in coverage. “There has been a grace period in enforcing that law to give motorists some time to obtain the proper insurance coverage,” ALEA Secretary Hal Taylor said.

The law says that no one can register, maintain, or operate an automobile unless it is covered by a liability insurance policy. A form of the law was passed in 2011 but amended last year. Before the 2011 law was passed, Alabama had the sixth-highest percentage of uninsured motorists at 22 percent. That percentage has been cut in half since.

Taylor said that those involved in a car accident or traffic stop could be written a citation, or face a civil penalty later,  for not holding the proper insurance. Drivers without insurance could face a $200 penalty for their first offense, $300 for the second, and $400 for subsequent offenses.

“When involved in a traffic incident (traffic stop or crash), some drivers have been known to present what appear to be valid insurance cards. When checked, however, it turns out the drivers had let the liability insurance lapse,” ALEA Chief Public Information Officer Robyn Bryan said.

Those who fail to pay the penalty within 45 days could have their license suspended for 90 days.

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9 months ago

Big Changes At Talladega This Year

Photo: Talladega Superspeedway Facebook
Photo: Talladega Superspeedway Facebook

As reported by ABC 33/40, NASCAR fans are gearing up for one of the hottest venues in the racing world. Like every year, thousands will flock to Alabama for the opportunity to experience the Alabama 500. And this year, there is a new law fans are going to love.

For the first time in the city’s history, Lincoln officials have approved the sale of alcohol on Sundays.

Up until this point, if you wanted to enjoy a beer at Talladega, you had to bring it yourself or travel to another city and buy it. Now the city plans on saving fans and local businesses the hassle of maneuvering the archaic law by allowing Sunday sales.

Businesses will still have some restriction. For example, alcohol will be prohibited until after certain times. Nonetheless, many predict the new law will only boost Talledega’s popularity among fans.

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1 year ago

Iconic Alabama Attorney Alexander Shunnarah to Host Another Free Legal Advice Day

LEEDS, Ala. — After a successful first event in Bessemer this Spring, Alabama Attorney Alexander Shunnarah will host a second free legal advice day in Leeds on Wednesday, July 26 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Shunnarah and four top attorneys from his practice will take questions at the Leeds Public Library annex, and time slots will be issued on a first come, first serve basis.

Shunnarah’s firm focuses on civil litigation, and it has won clients settlements in personal injury, auto accidents, truck accidents, motorcycle accidents, wrongful death, social security disability, pharmaceutical litigation, drug recalls, medical devices, and mass torts throughout Alabama.

“Legal matters can be tough and even intimidating,” said Alexander Shunnarah, CEO of Alexander Shunnarah Personal Injury Attorneys, P.C. “Unfortunately, people do not always ask for the help they need. We encourage people to come see us and welcome all legal questions. We’re here to help.”

The completely free event allows people in the community to have an opportunity to ask attorneys important questions regarding auto and motorcycle accidents, social security, dangerous drugs, work injuries, wrongful death, nursing home abuse, sexual assault, defective medical devices, and more. Attorneys will discuss the issues within the time slot and offer contact information for future connection with those who do not receive a meeting once time slots are filled.

Shunnarah’s practice held its first free legal advice day back in April and had positive feed back from the people in Bessemer. “We were pleased with the turnout and outcome of our inaugural Free Legal Advice Day,” Shunnarah told Yellowhammer. “I have always strived to hire local attorneys with close community ties. It is important that people know there is legal help they can trust right in their backyard.”

Shunnarah started hosting free legal advice days because he believes many people do not know how to move forward with a problem that may involve the legal system. In April, Shunnarah’s community engagement specialist, Ronnie Rice, told Yellowhammer that the motivation lies within Shunnarah’s desire to give back to his community.

“With our Free Legal Advice Day series, we are coming straight to the people. As we reach out to our neighbors offering convenient access to legal expertise, we’re equipping them with knowledge to tackle legal matters weighing on them,” Shunnarah said. “The way I see it, it’s David versus Goliath. My attorneys and I want to help people take on their Goliath. That’s gratifying work. We look forward to this next Free Legal Advice Day in Leeds on July 26, and continuing to serve the greater Birmingham area.”

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1 year ago

The Way Officers Conduct Traffic Stops Is About to Change: Here’s What Alabamians Need to Know

(c/o flikr user Luca Venturi
(c/o flikr user Luca Venturi

Starting August 1, traffic stops will enter the Twenty-First Century. Thanks to Alabama Legislative Act 2017-242, drivers will now be able to show police officers their vehicle registration on their cell phone instead of having to reach across the cab to grab it from the glove box.

Alabama drivers already have the right to show police officers their insurance information via cell phone. Now, almost the entirety of a traffic stop can be completed technologically.

“It’s right here in your hands, so once they tell you to roll your window down so far or whatever you do, do; just say hey here you go officer,” Teon Thomas told ABC 33/40.

While the law allows a police officer to look at a person’s phone to get the necessary information, it protects individuals from improper searches of their device. The officer is only allowed to look at the information required to complete the traffic stop and no more.

Officials behind the law believe it will speed up stops and avoid misunderstandings that have led to recent tragic shootings, like the case of Philando Castille in Minnesota.

“When they pull up, most people have their phone in their hand already, so like here you go officer, swipe through there show them everything to see, send them on their way, tell them whatever you need to. It saves another life, you live to see another day,” Thomas said to 33/40.

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1 year ago

Use of Red Light Cameras Challenged in Alabama Courts

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Late last week, Federal appeals judges ruled that a lawsuit over the use of red light cameras in Alabama can move ahead in state court. The city of Montgomery and American Traffic Solutions, Inc. were first named in a class action suit back in 2015 that claims the use of red light cameras by the city is illegal. Attorneys are demanding that the program be suspended and that those who have been fined through the use of cameras receive a refund.

21 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands have laws specifically legalizing the use of red light cameras. 10 states prohibit their use, and 19 states — including Alabama — have no law on the subject.

Montgomery and Tuscaloosa were given permission by the legislature to use the cameras on 2010. A similar effort to prohibit red light cameras’ use in Tuscaloosa was unsuccessful in 2015. Tuscaloosa attorney Stuart Albea challenged their use on constitutional grounds, stating that municipalities fining those caught by the cameras have circumvented proper due process.

In upholding Tuscaloosa’s law, County Circuit Court Judge John England wrote that the cameras are permissible because the owners of a vehicle are subject only to fines, not arrest. “The tickets don’t go on the vehicle owner’s criminal record,” he said, “and no negative points are assessed to the owner’s driver’s license.”

Opponents of the technology also argue that the purpose of the devices is not to promote public safety but to boost local government revenue. As of 2016, Florida’s statewide law has increased revenue from traffic violations by over $100 million, giving cities a financial incentive to continue the program. The Tuscaloosa News reports there were 3,574 tickets issued between January and June 2015 and 5,198 during all of 2014 from the nine monitored intersections.

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1 year ago

Will State-Based Changes to Marijuana Laws Soon Impact Entire Country?

(Pixabay)

Though illegal for nearly 50 years under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), the possession and sale of marijuana seems to be losing its negative stigma. Medical marijuana is legal in 29 states, and the recreational use of marijuana is legal in Washington, Colorado, Oregon, Alaska, California, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, and the nation’s capital. Despite many states loosening their marijuana laws, the drug remains federally prohibited under the CSA. This means marijuana is legal and illegal at the same time. The tension between the federal prohibition of the drug and its legality in some states has the potential to cause significant problems for state officials and newly legal marijuana corporations.

It is somewhat unclear what the legalization of marijuana means for the states that have legalized the recreational use of the drug. In 2012, Colorado became the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. Colorado is consistently at the forefront of drug policy reform; the state also legalized syringe exchange programs and has the most comprehensive medical marijuana regulatory scheme in the country. After legalizing recreational marijuana, Colorado made over $135 million in tax revenue in 2015, and opened the door to a billion-dollar industry that has created thousands of new jobs in the state. So far, there do not seem to be many negative effects of recreational legalization in Colorado. However, it is possible that Colorado’s changing drug laws are outpacing government enforcement. There is still much confusion surrounding marijuana related DUIs, and a problem has emerged with children mistakenly eating THC infused edibles. Like the alcohol and tobacco industries, it’s possible that the marijuana industry might exploit its profitability to avoid much government regulation. Because of uncertainties like these, it won’t be clear for 5-10 years whether the long-term effects of marijuana legalization are negative or positive.

California is one of the most recent states to legalize recreational marijuana, along with Massachusetts, Maine, and Nevada. However, in 1996, CA was the first state to legalize medical marijuana use. Because the legalization of recreational marijuana in California is so recent, the framework for regulating and selling the drug will probably not be well-established until at least 2018. It is therefore unclear exactly what effects this change in the law will have on the state. It’s likely that CA will try to improve in areas where Colorado struggled; Californa will attempt to more strictly regulate edibles, for example, so that they are not mistakenly eaten by small children. Although California can look to the states that legalized before it, because recreational marijuana legalization is still such a new development there is no definitely correct regulation framework.

While California and Colorado are among the states at the forefront of marijuana legalization, Alabama and Georgia are among the states least likely to legalize recreational marijuana. Alabama has some of the strictest drug laws in the country. The marijuana usage rate in Alabama is extremely low, only 9.7%, because of high fines and serious penalties for possession, although Alabama does offer pre-trial diversion for most people who are charged with possession of marijuana. The Alabama senate recently killed a bill on medical marijuana legalization, and no form of legalization seems likely in the near future. GA has overall very strict drug

Georgia has overall very strict drug laws, and makes more marijuana related arrests per 100,000 people than the national average. However, Georgia does offer alternative sentencing for marijuana related crimes, to avoid jail time, and recently passed a law allowing eligible medical patients to possess cannabis oil that has high CBD but very low THC; these patients get the beneficial medical effects of the drug but no “high.”  However, the problem is that Georgia does not produce this oil in-state, and going across state lines to acquire it violates federal law. This federalism conflict thus renders the medical CBD exception somewhat useless.

The situation in Georgia highlights a major problem in state-by-state marijuana legalization- the drug is still illegal at the federal level, and marijuana may be completely legal in one state and completely illegal in the state next-door. This conflict creates several problems. Federal employees are still drug tested, even where the drug is legal. Smoking marijuana is still illegal in federally subsidized housing even where it has been legalized. Banks worry about financing marijuana corporations, as they may be penalized for money laundering or tied into the illegal transport of the drug over state lines. Attorneys are hesitant to work for marijuana corporations, as attorneys remain bound by federal law. Additionally, marijuana corporations cannot write-off expenses like rent or utilities when filing their federal taxes.

As more states legalize, it’s possible that federal law will change, but so far, the CSA remains in effect. The issue with federal law changing to legalize marijuana is that some states may not want to legalize the drug, and many argue that legalization should be for state citizens to decide. Some legal scholars have suggested a system of cooperative federalism. Under such a system, if states meet certain federal criteria for marijuana legalization they may be exempt from the CSA. This would give states the opportunity to experiment with legalization, but allow other states to keep marijuana illegal. Under a system of cooperative federalism, there would still be concerns of state-to-state spillover effects. However, if the federal government is still able to play a strong role in regulation this should not be a problem. Under the conservative Trump administration, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions who is staunchly against marijuana legalization, it seems unlikely that the federal-state conflict will be resolved in the near future. However, the country has remained stable after several changes in marijuana law over the last 20 years, and will likely still remain stable as states continue to debate the issue.

Editor’s Note: The views of Guest Contributors do not necessarily reflect the views of Yellowhammer, and Yellowhammer’s Editors do not support the legalization of marijuana. 


About the Author: Katherine Pickle is a Clerk at Reid Law Firm. She graduated from the University of Virginia with a degree in English and Political Science in 2016 and will be beginning her second year at Emory University School of Law in August.

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1 year ago

Alabama city considers decriminalizing some marijuana offenses

MOBILE, Ala. — Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson has introduced a potential city ordinance that would decriminalize several minor marijuana offenses. First brought forward at last night’s City Council meeting, the vote on the measure has been pushed back in order to ensure it complies with state law.

Decriminalization differs from legalization in that the former lessens penalties for certain illegal acts, while the latter eliminates any legal consequences for an act whatsoever.

The draft version of the Mobile ordinance would remove the requirement of law enforcement to arrest individuals for 12 marijuana related crimes, such as public intoxication, possession in the second degree, and possession of drug paraphernalia. Instead, those busted by law enforcement could receive a Uniform Non-Traffic Citation and Complaint. If a charge is uncontested, the mandatory court appearance would be waived and those convicted would be fined $100.

Stimpson and Mobile Public Safety Director James Barber say that the purpose of the ordinance is to allow law enforcement to focus their time and resources on violent crimes. “We’re transporting people from jurisdiction areas in custodial situations for very minor offenses and bringing them all the way downtown only to have them sign their own bond, so this is a way to have the bond issued at the scene and avoid transport,” Barber told Mobile’s NBC affiliate.

Over the past decade, states across the union have experimented with varying degrees of marijuana legalization. The Obama Justice Department generally took a hands-off approach to pro-marijuana state statues, but the DOJ under Attorney General Jeff Sessions has sought to increase federal enforcement of strict drug laws.

c/o Governing Magazine

According to Governing Magazine, eight states have legalized marijuana for recreational use and 19 others have “Medical marijuana broadly legalized.” Alabama is in neither category.

What do you think about the possibility of marijuana one day being legal in Alabama? Vote in our poll below.

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1 year ago

Yellowhammers Exclusive Interview with Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Lyn Stuart

In her seventeenth year on the Alabama Supreme Court, Justice Lyn Stuart was recently appointed Chief Justice by Governor Kay Ivey. Chief Justice Stuart was kind enough to visit with Yellowhammer for an exclusive interview to provide our readers some insights on the lady who holds the highest position in the Alabama Supreme Court. Below is that interview:

What was your childhood like in Atmore?
It was quite idyllic. Like most children in those days, we spent much of our time outdoors, actively playing when we weren’t in school. Because I grew up in such a small town, we knew our neighbors and it was safe for children to be out and about. We often rode our bikes to a small country store a quarter mile or so from our home and I have a great appreciation for the simple and tranquil Alabama upbringing I enjoyed.

When you were a little girl, did you ever imagine that one day you’d be Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court?
Absolutely not. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined I’d have the honor of serving my fellow Alabamians in this role.

As a student, what attracted you to the law?
It began with my interest in the juvenile justice system when I was still in high school. I really wanted to be a juvenile probation officer but those positions were rarely open, so at Auburn, I took the LSATs without much forethought. Thankfully, because my test scores were high, I received a scholarship offer from the University of Alabama Law School and was also accepted into Samford’s Cumberland School of Law. However, I didn’t enroll right away. I accepted an internship in Washington with former Congressman Jack Edwards. He was a great encouragement and really inspired my career. He also allowed me to audit a class at Georgetown Law School—a legal research and writing class. That proved to be really helpful when I eventually enrolled in law school at Alabama because I’d already mastered this discipline of legal research and writing. I was so impressed with that class that I considered staying in D.C. and going to Georgetown, but Congressman Edwards took me to lunch one day and encouraged me to come home to Alabama, which was definitely the right decision. Not only did I love my three years of law school in Tuscaloosa, Congressman Edwards told me there would be classmates I’d interact with throughout my career, and that proved to be some of the wisest advice I’d ever received.

Who are some of those people?
Honestly, they’re too numerous to name, but a few that come to mind are Harold Stephens, Bradley Byrne (my Congressman), John Tyson, Sam Crosby, and so many others. It’s a community of professional colleagues for whom I’m very grateful.

What’s one piece of advice would you give to students considering the law or already in law school?
It’s a great career, but if you don’t know exactly what you want to do, above all else do internships and shadow someone. My jobs in law offices and my internship in Washington went far in shaping my career, so by all means, young students should get the work experience they need to refine their interests, which will also make the classroom experiences more meaningful.

Who’s had the biggest influence on your career?
Once again, they’re too numerous to name, but in addition to Congressman Edwards, one that comes to mind is the late Judge Robert Key. He was a circuit judge in Monroe and Conecuh Counties, and a friend of my father’s, so I’d known him from childhood. I took a job as a runner in a small law firm in Monroeville, and that afforded me the opportunity to listen to trials, to see how law offices operate and have a front-row seat to the world that would eventually become my profession. So Judge Key was not only a trusted family friend but a person of tremendous influence in my life.

As a judge in the Juvenile Justice system in Alabama, what’s the most inspiring story you recall?
Once I was in Walmart near my home not long after 9/11 when I was approached by a gentleman I didn’t recognize. He said something like, “Ma’am, I know you don’t remember me but my son was in your court some years ago, and you were kind and fair with him. Today, that same young man is building those bombs that are being dropped on the terrorists that attacked our country, and I just want to thank you for what you did for my child. It helped him become the man he is today.” To say that hearing this redemptive story was a powerful and moving moment in my life is a huge understatement.

What’s been the most rewarding thing about your service on the Alabama Supreme Court?
Each of the Justices has areas of expertise. That’s what makes our Supreme Court function so well. When I first came on the Court, I was the only person with a background in juvenile and family law. People are always surprised at the number of those cases we have but I think my background in that field, and in criminal law in general, has allowed to me add real value to the court. Also, because I was a trial judge for 12 years before serving on the high court, I think it gives me a perspective that’s helpful for the cases we consider. My time as a trial judge taught me that judges must be patient with people—with attorneys and parties. We have to patiently and carefully consider what everyone has to say, no matter who they are or why they’re there, and I think that perspective has also served me well on the Supreme Court.

In a world full of judicial activism, how would you describe the Alabama Supreme Court’s role?
Quite simply, we decide every single case based solely on the facts and the laws that apply to those facts. In other words, our job is to interpret the law and to affirm and uphold what it says. It’s not our job to make the law. For that reason, we leave political considerations aside and do only what wise judges should do, discern what the law says about each case that comes before us.

In closing, tell me about your two grandchildren:
My husband and I are blessed to have two wonderful grandchildren. Our granddaughter Sophie starts kindergarten next fall and our grandson Thomas is two. Every moment spent with them is time well spent!

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1 year ago

Alabama bill protecting religious liberties of faith-based adoption agencies moves one step closer to law

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — In a 22-9 Tuesday vote, the Alabama Senate approved a bill that would allow faith-based adoption agencies to refuse placing children in homes with LGBTQ parents on religious freedom grounds. Specifically, the legislation prevents the state from refusing to license such organizations that turn away same-sex couples.

Sen. Bill Hightower (R-Mobile) sponsored the senate version of the bill, and he argues that the law would prevent religious adoption groups from having to make the choice between following their beliefs or staying in business. State Democrats claim that the bill legalizes discrimination.

Although the House of Representatives passed the bill, it must go back for re-approval after amendments were added in the senate.

Religious freedom has become a hot button issue across the nation, as several states have begun to add LGBTQ as a protected class in their civil rights laws. In Oregon, the owner of a cake shop was fined $135,000 and effectively shut down for refusing to bake a cake for a lesbian wedding that she disagreed with on religious grounds.

Currently, no such protected classification exists for LGBTQ individuals in Alabama.

At the federal level, private organizations are protected by the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. In the famous Hobby Lobby case, the U.S. Supreme Court found that closely held companies can make internal policy decisions – like refusing to pay for birth control – based on their religious beliefs.

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1 year ago

Iconic Alabama attorney Alexander Shunnarah to host free legal advice day

BESSEMER, Ala. — With billboards all over the state, every Alabamian has become familiar with the name Alexander Shunnarah. The local attorney has evolved into a state icon, and his practice only continues to grow throughout the southeast. Now, Shunnarah wants to give back to the community he calls home with a free legal advice day on Saturday, April 22 from 1 to 4 p.m.

The event will be held at the Bessemer Legacy YMCA and will offer anyone the opportunity to ask attorneys important questions regarding auto and motorcycle accidents, social security, dangerous drugs, work injuries, wrongful death, nursing home abuse, sexual assault, defective medical devices, and more.

Shunnarah hand-picked the team of lawyers that will be present at the event, as they represent the very best his firm has to offer.

Ronnie Rice, a community engagement specialist for Shunnarah, emphasized that the event is about helping the people in Shunnarah’s local Alabama community. “Mr. Shunnarah loves the community. He knows that the community has given so much to him, so he wants to give something back to the community,” Rice said.

Shunnarah will be there personally, and he encourages people to come talk to him, get to know him, and pick his brain on legal issues. “He’s a good christian guy, and he’s down to Earth,” Rice said. “When people meet him they’re definitely going to see that.”

Rice noted that Shunnarah wants to make “free legal advice day” an ongoing service. “This is something completely free; we’re not expecting anything in return,” Rice said. “We’re going to see what the turnout is, and from that we’ll determine how often we’ll do this.”

Over the past several years, Shunnarah’s firm has expanded outside of Alabama and into other portions of the southeast. According to Rice, the secret to the firm’s success is simple: treating people right. “I know it sounds cliché, but treating people right – whether its the client, employees, or even competitors – means that people are going to return the favor ten times over.”

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1 year ago

Justice Gorsuch: the Alabama Congressional delegation reacts to the court’s return to nine

WASHINGTON, D.C. — After a lengthy procedural battle, The U.S. Senate finally confirmed Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court on Friday by a vote of 54-45. President Donald Trump’s nominee will fill the ninth seat on the court which has been vacated since Justice Antonin Scalia passed away last February.

The Senate’s vote was mostly along party lines. However, three Democrats crossed the aisle to support the confirmation of an eminently qualified judicial nominee.

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said “Judge Gorsuch is one of the most qualified nominees that I have seen while serving in the United States Senate. His background, credentials, and commitment to the Constitution speak for themselves.”

Alabama’s junior senator, Luther Strange (R-Ala.), noted that Gorsuch’s selection and confirmation to the Supreme Court came from a direct democratic mandate of the people. “For so many Americans, casting a vote last November for Donald Trump meant restoring faith in the federal judiciary,” Strange said. “Alabamians want a high court that respects and affirms the rule of law, and because of today’s historic vote, that is what they are getting. I was proud to cast my vote to confirm Neil Gorsuch and help the President deliver on this important promise.”

Shelby and Strange’s colleagues across the hill had rave review’s for Gorsuch’s confirmation. Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-AL1) said that Gorsuch is the perfect replacement for the late Justice Scalia. “I applaud the Senate for confirming him to serve on our nation’s highest court,” Byrne said. “Judge Gorsuch has distinguished himself as a thoughtful and balanced jurist who understands it is not the job of the courts to write laws but rather to interpret the law as written. Our nation will be better off with him on the Supreme Court.”

Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL2) similarly applauded the confirmation of the latest Supreme Court Justice. “I believe our country will benefit from the new energy and experience that Justice Gorsuch will bring to the bench,” Roby said. “Throughout the confirmation process, Justice Gorsuch proved himself to be a highly capable individual who is supremely qualified for this great responsibility. I believe his stated commitment to interpreting the Constitution as it was written will hasten a long overdue return to the separation of powers and rule of law in this country.”

In addition to supporting the president’s selection, Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL5) reiterated his support of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) use of the nuclear option to break the Democratic filibuster. “I support the Senate’s use of the Democrat Harry Reid precedent to ensure Gorsuch’s confirmation,” Brooks said. “Despite failed partisan attempts and political theater aimed to paint Gorsuch as an ideologue who will rule based on personal beliefs, Gorsuch has consistently demonstrated his commitment and record of ruling on issues before his court based on rational interpretation of the original intent of the Constitution or law, regardless of his personal opinions. I am certain Neil Gorsuch will honor the legacy of Justice Antonin Scalia.”

The Alabama Policy Institute, a conservative think tank, noted that Gorsuch’s confirmation will help reverse trends of liberal activism on the high court. “As he endured over twenty hours of questioning by the Senate Judiciary Committee, Gorsuch demonstrated his ability to rise above politics and uphold the law of the United States,” API said in a statement. “His record on the bench shows that he will adhere to the law and the Constitution, as a thoughtful and responsible jurist.”

Before his nomination, Gorsuch served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. He graduated from undergrad with a degree from Columbia University, and he received his law degree from Harvard. His experience with the nation’s highest court goes back decades, as he clerked under two associate justices: Byron White and Anthony Kennedy.

Legal scholars agree that Gorsuch’s judicial philosophy is in the same vein as Antonin Scalia. Like Scalia, Trump’s nominee is a textualist who interprets the plain meaning of the law. He also believes the U.S. Constitution should be interpreted in the context that it was understood at the time of its adoption. In 2016, he wrote of his judicial philosophy:

Judges should instead strive (if humanly and so imperfectly) to apply the law as it is, focusing backward, not forward, and looking to text, structure, and history to decide what a reasonable reader at the time of the events in question would have understood the law to be — not to decide cases based on their own moral convictions or the policy consequences they believe might serve society best.

Gorsuch’s nomination is possible due to Republican obstruction of President Barack Obama’s nominee, Judge Merrick Garland.

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1 year ago

Strange praises President Trump’s order to roll back EPA regulations

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Sen. Luther Strange (R-Ala.) is lauding President Trump for his latest executive order, which rolls back President Obama’s expansive climate change agenda. The order removes previous regulations with the stated goal of increasing energy independence and creating American jobs.

“My administration is putting an end to the war on coal,” Trump said during his speech at the Environmental Protection Agency headquarters. “I am taking an historic step to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion and to cancel job-killing regulations.”

Trump’s executive action lifts restrictions on domestic coal and onshore oil and gas production, with key provisions taking effect immediately. Further rollback of major regulations under Obama’s Clean Power Plan are pending additional agency review.

Strange attended the roll out of the order along with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, both of whom praised the president for following through on his campaign promise.

“Unnecessary bureaucratic red tape in the energy industry costs Alabama families money at the gas pump and grocery store, stifles innovation, and depresses the job market,” Strange said in a statement. “It is a relief to see these Obama-era regulations being rolled back so that the full potential of domestic energy can be realized. I am excited to get to work with an administration that is serious about achieving American energy independence.”

It is only fitting that Strange was present at the signing of the executive order. As Alabama’s Attorney General, he challenged the legal merits of overreaching federal regulations on numerous occasions, including President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, the Waters of the United States rule, and other price increasing regulations.

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1 year ago

Alabama Senator prepares to roll back burdensome financial law

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.)
Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.)

Senator Richard Shelby has long planned to use his powerful position on the Senate Banking Committee to roll back regulations on community banks and credit unions across the nation. Now, with Republicans squarely in the majority on Capitol Hill, it seems he’s readying to make a move against Dodd-Frank.

On Sunday, The Hill reported that Sen. Shelby and others in the GOP are considering a special budgetary strategy that would allow them to bypass Democrat’s attempts to sabotage a repeal of the unpopular legislation. Through a process known as reconciliation, the Senate majority would be able to avoid a filibuster.

Sen. Shelby said that removing the regulation will benefit small businesses in Alabama and elsewhere.

“The 2,300 page financial overhaul known as Dodd-Frank negatively impacts our financial system and our economy with its ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to regulation,” Shelby told Yellowhammer News. “I believe that it is past time to fix what is broken, and our unified Republican government is an opportunity for us to finally give relief to hardworking Americans. Towns and cities in Alabama and across the country thrive when banks and other institutions can provide loans – not when they are smothered with burdensome rules and regulations.”

According to the Federal Reserve and the Conference of State Bank Supervisors, the Dodd-Frank Act caused compliance costs to increase for 94 percent of community banks. A Harvard study also showed community banks with less than $10 billion in assets are losing market share at twice the rate they were before the financial crisis.

Many of the 115 banks headquartered in Alabama fall under the definition of community bank, and would benefit from removing the regulations.

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1 year ago

Judiciary committee approves Sessions for AG

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A day later than expected, the U.S. Senate Judiciary voted to confirm Sen. Jeff Sessions to be the next Attorney General by an 11-9 party-line vote. Sessions’ confirmation now goes to the floor, where his Republican colleagues are expected to approve him.

Sessions’ nomination was originally supposed to come to a vote yesterday, but Senate Democrats did not show up in an act of protest. Already a contentious nominee for liberals, Sessions became even more controversial after President Donald Trump’s executive order banning refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries.

“Not one order idea or pronouncement is meant to bring this country together; they only serve to drive us further apart,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) “It is in this context we are being asked to consider this nomination.”

Sessions, and his Republican colleagues, have vehemently defended his reputation, his record, and his ability to do the job of Attorney General. “He knows the department better than any nominee for attorney general, he’s a man of his word, and most importantly he will enforce the law no matter whether he would have supported that law as a member of the Senate,” Committee chairman Sen Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said.

The American Civil Liberties Union called for Democrats to protest Trump’s nominations until the executive order is rolled back. Throughout the day on Tuesday, Democrats failed to show up to approval votes on several of Trump’s selections, including Sessions.

“We’ve got [attorney general nominee] Jeff Sessions, who we’re told was involved somehow in the drafting of these executive orders,” said Faiz Shakir, political director for the ACLU. “If they want to press this through, say: You don’t get an attorney general until you overturn the Muslim ban.”

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1 year ago

Trump adds another Alabama congressional staffer to his administration

Right: Peter and his wife, Kira, stand on the Speaker's Balcony, above where President Trump was sworn into office.
Right: Peter and his wife, Kira, stand on the Speaker’s Balcony, above where President Trump was sworn into office.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Alabama connections to the Trump Administration keep getting stronger and stronger. Today, it was announced that Peter J. White, Legislative Counsel to Alabama Congressman Mo Brooks (R-AL5), will be joining President Trump’s White House Domestic Policy Council as Senior Policy Analyst.

“Alabama’s Fifth Congressional District’s loss is President Donald Trump’s gain. President Trump is immensely fortunate to gain the expertise of Peter J. White as a member of the White House Domestic Policy Council,” Rep. Brooks said in a statement. “I wish him the best in this new position and commend his selection. The White House is gaining a passionate staffer, dedicated to helping President Trump keep his campaign promises.”

White is from Alabama’s Fifth Congressional District and graduated from Grissom High School in 2001. He earned his J.D. from American University’s Washington College of Law and went on to serve as Legislative Counsel for Brooks in D.C. During his time working under Brooks, White helped craft legislation on immigration, space, and cybersecurity. He also served as Brooks’ chief advisor on judiciary and transportation issues.

Before his time working with the House, White worked at the Federal Trade Commission in the Office of International Affairs and the Bureau of Competition, and the Federal Communications Commission’s Spectrum and Competition Policy Division of the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau.

He will be far from the only Alabamian to play a large role in crafting policy with President Trump. Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions (R) will – in all likelihood – be the next Attorney General of the United States and set the agenda for the Department of Justice. Sessions’ former staffer, Stephen Miller, is currently a senior advisor to the president, as well.

Yellowhammer’s own Cliff Sims, who formally stepped down on Inauguration Day, also took a job in the White House as Special Assistant to the President and Director of White House Message Strategy. “It is an incredible honor to be asked to work in the White House and I look forward to serving the President and the country in this role,” Sims said.

RELATED: Yellowhammer’s Cliff Sims accepts senior communications job in Trump White House

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