3 years ago

Yellowhammer’s Exclusive Interview with Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall

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

9 hours ago

Livingston, Whatley elected to lead Alabama Space Authority

The Alabama Space Authority this week held a meeting, respectively electing State Senators Steve Livingston (R-Scottsboro) and Tom Whatley (R-Auburn) as chair and vice-chair of the body.

Both senators, who were appointed by Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) to the authority, plan to work diligently towards making Alabama a leader in the space industry, according to a joint release.

The Alabama Space Authority was created in 2017 to promote research and development of new space exploration and spaceport technology; to sponsor conference and business roundtables within the aerospace, aviation and related industries; and to promote activities and industries related to exploration.

The authority includes representatives of the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), the Alabama Department of Commerce, the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, the Alabama Department of Transportation, the governor, the State legislature and other stakeholders and experts.

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Livingston, who recently played a leading role in the creation of the legislature’s Aerospace and Defense Caucus and serves as its chair, stated that the Alabama Space Authority will be looking into how the Yellowhammer State can further improve this industry.

“We are looking into the possibility of the Dream Chaser being able to land in Huntsville,” Livingston said. “This is going to be a great opportunity to look into how the legislature can aide in supporting the aerospace and defense industry in Alabama.”

Whatley added that he was honored to be selected as vice-chair and that space is a growing industry in Alabama.

“I’m proud to be a member … because this is a big deal for our entire state, from Huntsville to Auburn’s aerospace programs and to the robust aircraft manufacturing on the coast. Aerospace is a $12 billion industry and a key component to Alabama’s economy,” Whatley commented.

Livingston concluded by advising he expects to receive an update from the U.S. Space Command and is looking forward to bringing more space industry projects to Alabama.

RELATED: Ainsworth in Huntsville: Alabama is ‘the aerospace capital of the world’

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

10 hours ago

Lewis touts McCutcheon; Brooks touts Trump, his record with space and defense

Alabama Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) this week endorsed Chris Lewis in the GOP primary race in the Fifth Congressional District.

The surprise endorsement by McCutcheon caught many in the state off-guard because this race has flown under the radar and polling shows this race, like all of U.S. Representative Mo Brooks’ (R-Huntsville) previous primaries, handily in the bag.

But McCutcheon’s endorsement rightly got the attention of multiple media outlets and observers of Alabama politics with many wondering what this was really all about.

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So when Brooks saw the endorsement and a hostage-style video promoting it by McCutcheon, Brooks responded by highlighting the most coveted endorsement a Republican candidate for any office could get: President Donald Trump.

Brooks told Yellowhammer News:

I have the strong endorsement of President Trump, a man I worked hard with to CUT TAXES on American families and secure America’s borders! In contrast, Chris Lewis has the endorsement of legislator Mac McCutcheon, whose greatest expertise has been RAISING TAXES on struggling Alabama families!

While speaking to WVNN on Friday, Brooks noted that the endorsement on the bounds of support from the space and defense industry is laughable.

“If Mac McCutcheon is saying that Chris Lewis has more support in Research Park, that is categorically false. We have received more support from the state and defense community, vastly, vastly, vastly, vastly more support from the state and defense community than Chris Lewis has,” he told “The Dale Jackson Show.”

Brooks also touted his seniority, and how that plays into serving his district in Washington, D.C.

“The people who engage in space and defense know that my growing seniority on science, space, and technology and on House Armed Services, coupled with more than a hundred occasions in which I’ve been able to get favorable language into legislation that they’ve wanted me to get for the benefit of our country and what we do in the Tennessee Valley,” he added. “They’re my primary support base in Congress: space and defense.”​

My takeaway:

This is all pretty interesting, but the idea that a McCutcheon endorsement on these grounds can overcome the booming North Alabama economy that Brooks has been a part of since being part of the Tea Party-wave in 2010 is false.

The Trump endorsement might make better television and radio spots, and it will definitely help Brooks, but the real issue is that Lewis and McCutcheon can’t point to how Brooks hasn’t served his district well — because he has.

Barring some massive bombshell to follow up this endorsement, a battle of endorsements between Trump and McCutcheon seems like a fight that was over before it started, much like the Brooks/Lewis race.

Listen:

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

11 hours ago

Human clinical study begins at UAB for groundbreaking brain tumor treatment

The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) continues to evolve as a worldwide leader in biomedicine, research and innovation.

Incysus Therapeutics, Inc., a Birmingham-based biopharmaceutical company, has now announced the initiation of a Phase 1 clinical study of a novel Drug Resistant Immunotherapy (DRI) technology for the treatment of patients with newly-diagnosed glioblastoma.

This trial is being conducted at UAB and is now active and open for enrollment.

Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM or glioblastoma) is a devastating and fast-growing brain tumor that typically results in death within the first 15 months after diagnosis. GBM is inherently resistant to conventional therapy and accounts for approximately 52% of all primary brain tumors.

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A release from the company outlined Incysus’ innovative DRI approach, which seeks to combine conventional chemotherapies with a γδ T cell-based immunotherapy to modify the tumor microenvironment and drive the immune system. By using alkylating agents such as temozolomide, chemotherapy can activate immunity through the upregulation of the DNA damage response (DDR) pathway. A significant challenge is that such chemotherapies also kill the white blood cells needed to drive an immune response. Incysus’ technology “chemo-protects” immune cells to allow them to remain functional while DDR activation creates an immune signal that allows directed killing activity against cancer cells.

Incysus is the first company to use this type of therapy in patients, and the research marks a landmark moment for Incysus, the overall biotech industry in Birmingham and anti-cancer research across the globe.

Dr. L. Burt Nabors, MD, the co-head of neuro-oncology at UAB and the study’s principal investigator, stated, “The initiation of this clinical trial represents a significant milestone towards developing effective immune-based therapies for the treatment of GBM. We are pleased to work with … the team at Incysus to bring this innovative therapy to patients for the first time.”

Further information on the clinical trial is available here.

Incysus is a UAB spinoff company. Its success in the Magic City — and this kind of potentially revolutionary research spearheaded by UAB — is a prime example of why many legislative and industry leaders in the state, especially in the Birmingham area, are calling on Governor Kay Ivey to fund a world-class genomics facility at the university. They argue that the project could make Birmingham the “Silicon Valley of Biomedicine.”

RELATED: Planned UAB genomics project could make Birmingham the ‘Silicon Valley of Biomedicine’

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

11 hours ago

Amendment One puts kids first, politicians last

When Alabamians take the to the polls on Super Tuesday, they will either be concerned with the Democratic nominee for President of the United States or the Republican nominee for the United States Senate. More important to the future of Alabama is a constitutional amendment that would end our current model of a popularly elected state school board in favor of one appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state senate.

Supporters of Amendment 1 argue that this would be a major step in improving Alabama’s permanent residence at the bottom of the education barrel. As it is currently designed and managed, the state board of education is doing very little to improve the quality of education in the state. Board members are trying, but clearly nothing is working very well. Supporters of the amendment argue a shake up is the best hope for improving education in Alabama. In some respects the argument does not go far enough. That is because the current process creates negative incentives for board members; because they hold their office at the behest of voters, there is every incentive for them to avoid upsetting their constituents.

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That is the chief problem with the board as it is currently construed. Board members are not uncaring or ignorant or irresponsible. Instead, they respond to the whims and wishes of voters or other powerful political interests. No matter what politicians say, they are inevitably swayed by the whispers of voters and donors. Not because they are corrupt, but because they are human. All people are prone to this, which is why the framers of the Constitution created a system that checked and balanced one human tendency against another. It’s true that voters can provide a check on board members, but that argument does not account for an additional problem.

The second problem with the current system is that voters have limits to their knowledge about education in our state. Committed parents and citizens can often learn a lot about their own schools and school districts, but rarely does even the most passionate citizen have the time and mental energy to devote beyond that. Should Amendment 1 pass, the state Senate would have a direct responsibility to ensure that the governor appoints quality people to the board, but also to make certain that the Board is making progress in evaluating and improving the quality of education in our state.

Critics argue that an appointed board would lend itself to cronyism. That’s possible, but the executive and legislative branch often have competing interests, even when they share the same partisan and ideological commitments. Those competing concerns would help smooth over concerns about patronage and cronyism. Still, the amendment will not be an easy transition given the natural tendency of politicians towards vanity and self-promotion. The current system is of a worse nature, however, as it leaves the governor and senate almost powerless to impact education policy, which is instead run by another group of politicians with little incentive to do anything that might upset the voters who put them there.

But shouldn’t voters have a say in these matters? No, at least not directly. This is because education policy is a difficult matter, and it is hard for voters to adjudicate the success or failures of these policies beyond the very narrow window of their own experience. It’s fine that we elect local school boards; they are indeed local, and voters often see those board members at church or line at Piggly Wiggly. Only the most politically involved voters are likely to have any encounter with their board members, who are busy juggling very difficult conflicts within their own districts. Each district contains such a variety of constituents that it is almost impossible for board members to adequately address those concerns, instead pandering to the one or two constituencies most likely to keep the member in office.

There is a final reason to support Amendment 1. A central feature of modern politics is the tendency of politicians to see themselves as mouthpieces instead of statesmen. Some of that is natural but other parts of it are due to the incentive structure within our own government. This is as true in Montgomery as it is in Washington D.C., and Alabamians should care far more about the goings-on in our state capital than in our nation’s capital. Since our legislature is stripped of any real influence in state education policy and therefore little accountability to voters, it leaves them free to demagogue and pander on the issue without really having to stand before the voters and take account for their time in office. The same is true for the governor. By making the governor and the state senate responsible for staffing the state school board as part of an ongoing process of appointment and confirmation, these branches of our government would finally have real skin in the game. The success of our schools would be their success, and the failure of our schools would be theirs, also.

Matthew Stokes, a widely published opinion writer and instructor in the core texts program at Samford University, is a Resident Fellow of the Alabama Policy Institute, a non-partisan, non-profit educational organization based in Birmingham; learn more at alabamapolicy.org.

12 hours ago

Gary Palmer honors the late NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson on House floor

U.S. Rep. Gary Palmer (R-Hoover) honored Katherine Johnson with a speech in the House chamber on Thursday.

Johnson, who passed away recently at the age of 101, was one of America’s most important mathematicians in the space race. She pioneered a place for African-American women at NASA and was portrayed in the Oscar-nominated film Hidden Figures.

“Despite intense discrimination throughout her years at NASA she remained committed to advancing America’s space program,” said Palmer during his speech in her honor.

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“She hand-calculated the flight path for America’s first crewed space mission in 1961, and also helped calculate the trajectory for the famed 1969 moon landing,” continued Palmer.

Palmer also recounted the famous anecdote when astronaut John Glenn was about to become the first American to orbit Earth and he demanded that Johnson do the calculations for his mission. Glenn trusted Johnson more than he trusted NASA’s new computer system.

Watch:

“I stand with my colleagues in the House and with countless other Americans in gratitude for Mrs. Johnson’s hard work and pioneering spirit that have undoubtedly made our country a better place,” Palmer concluded.

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