Yellowhammer’s Exclusive Interview with Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall
Good afternoon Mr. Attorney General. I’d like to start by asking when you first become interested in the law and what sparked that interest? It wasn’t until I was in college. Earlier in life, I’d hoped to become a professional golfer. However, I was the first person in my family to attend college and, once there, I realized my interest in research, writing, and communicating ideas could allow me to make a meaningful difference in the lives of others. For those skills, a legal education fit the bill and that’s what prompted me to go to law school.
Who’s had the biggest influence on your career? The person who had the greatest influence on my legal career was a man named Bo Torbert. He was Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, and I was fortunate to work with him for about two and a half years. He was a remarkable person who invested in me, not so much by teaching me technical aspects of the law, but by teaching me the duties and responsibilities of being a lawyer. He continually instilled in me an ethical code that’s guided my career and that means something. He was a great teacher and a great man, and he cared about me not just professionally, but personally. He’s someone for whom I will be forever grateful.
When did you decide you wanted to become a criminal prosecutor? Before becoming a prosecutor, I was appointed to defend a man shot another man over a game of checkers. The defendant went to his truck, pulled out a .22 rifle and shot a man in the back from 20 yards away. It was horrendous. As a young lawyer, I was appointed to represent him. We tried the case and the jury found him not guilty. I performed the role I was bound by law to execute, but when that case was over, I didn’t feel good about how my skills had been used. At that moment, I made a commitment that for the rest of my career, I’d prosecute criminals, so when I was offered the opportunity to become a district attorney in Marshall County, it was part of a natural progression from previous prosecutorial roles.
What’s the most rewarding case you’ve prosecuted? The case that had the most profound impact on me involved a young girl who’d been sexually abused. When I first met her, she’d barely look anyone in the eye or speak a word. Two years later we were trying her case and I had to ask her to go in front of 12 strangers on that jury and share the horrible and intensely private accounts of her abuse. The jury found the perpetrator guilty. After the trial, I went to check on her and she thanked me. I said ‘you don’t have to thank me for the jury finding him guilty, I was just doing my job.’ She said, ‘No sir, I’m thanking you for believing my story and for believing in me.’ After gathering myself emotionally, there was a profound recognition that we were able to restore a sense of belief in this innocent young girl—a belief in herself and faith in others that this predator had torn from her. That made me realize that, as prosecutors, we have the ability to not only convict criminals but to truly help change the lives of the victims and their families. What I was so poignantly reminded of that day is that justice isn’t just punitive, it’s also restorative. The word “redemption” means to buy back and in this case, I believe that trial literally bought this girl’s earthly life back. So in that sense, it was truly redemptive. That’s what drives not only me, but prosecutors around the state to seek justice on behalf of the people. That one story perfectly captures why I go to work every day and fight the fight.
What’s most personally exciting to you about this position? First, I’m passionate about law enforcement and victims’ rights, so it gives me a platform to advocate for those things on a broader scale. Leaving the job as Marshall County’s District Attorney was the single hardest decision I’ve ever made because it was a great job and an amazing community, and there’s no doubt this is the only job I would’ve left it for. Whether I’m here for 18 months or 10 years, my responsibility is to serve the people of this state ethically and responsibly. That’s the mission every day coming to work, just as it was back home. So my hope is that people all across Alabama will get to know the same man the people in Marshall County knew as their prosecutor who executed those duties to the best of his ability every day.
What are Alabama’s most pressing needs with respect to curbing crime? There are many, but a few come immediately to mind:
- • First is the heroin/opioid addiction problem. It came to Alabama a little more slowly than to other states, but it’s here now and we must not only view this as a law enforcement challenge but a public health problem. As our understanding grows, we need to be engaged in policy discussions and in creating tools for law enforcement. That said, it’s not merely a badges and guns solution. It will have to be a comprehensive effort by the broader community. The good news is there are positive steps being taken in Alabama now to determine real, tangible ways we can make a difference in curbing this problem.
- • Human trafficking is another emerging issue in this state. Like the opioid fight, it’s two-pronged. First, we must raise awareness, which we’re doing with our state task force on human trafficking—End It Alabama. The other side is law enforcement. In the three months, I’ve been in this job, I’ve spent more time on this issue than any other because we must identify the perpetrators and hold them accountable. Just like domestic violence, this is a crime in which some are skeptical of our ability to make a difference. Victims, however, need to understand that we’re here to support them by prosecuting cases and by affirming the fact that they’re truly victims of horrendous crimes and that we are totally committed to bringing swift justice to those who exploit them.
- • Technology crimes are also growing at a tremendous rate. We’ve had three significant cases that this office has been involved with and we’re helping share technology with law enforcement so they can better work these cases. Like with the other issues, public awareness is key so we can help individuals and institutions more quickly identify how they can become a victim of these increasingly sophisticated crimes. That’s something you’ll hear us talk about more and more.
- • Another issue that continues to be a priority is public corruption. This office plays a vital role in supporting local law enforcement and prosecutors, as we have expertise and specialists in this area that allow us to serve that role effectively across the state.
- • Finally, I’d just say that one passion of mine is advancing best practices cases across Alabama regarding how law enforcement works in communities. For example, the Alabama Safe Schools Initiative is important because we can point to communities like Orange Beach who do this very well and share the reasons they’re being successful with other communities statewide.
What’s surprised you most about the job since you’ve taken it? I clearly come from a public safety background where we put bad guys in jail. In this job, however, I recently spent a day and a half with AG’s from across the nation discussing the intersection of public health and crimes. Also, my first act as Alabama’s Attorney General was suing the state of California over regulatory issues involving Alabama’s egg producers. There are also issues with Attorney Generals across the nation standing together to support the 10th amendment (states’ rights). So while those sort of things are probably not what I would’ve envisioned being part of this job, I’ve been fascinated and greatly energized by them, recognizing that they’re part of serving our citizens well.
In closing, tell me about your family: My wife and I have a daughter who’s 20, who’s a rising junior in college here in the state of Alabama. My wife and my daughter are my support system and I’m excited for my wife to be here in Montgomery with me soon.
Editor’s Note: To learn more about the Attorney General’s initiatives, visit his website at ago.state.al.us