How have your
training, professional experience, and interests prepared you to serve
on the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals?
elected Montgomery County District Judge in 2000 and served from
January 2001 to January 2007. My case management abilities as a
judge have been commended by the Alabama Chief Justice. The
jurisdiction of the district courts in Alabama is both civil and
criminal: I presided over 23,000 criminal cases and 50,000 total cases.
Entering the Montgomery County District Court judgeship, I found the
criminal caseload seriously backlogged. I began holding criminal court
two days per week and was able to clear the backlog in less than a
year. My civil and criminal dockets remained current through the end of
What do you consider to be the three most important
attributes of a judge?
Upon assuming the district judgeship, I found that large numbers of
court-ordered restitution, costs, and fines had remained uncollected
for years. I established a collection docket and, in six years, I
collected $1.52 million.
Prior to being elected to Montgomery County District Court, I practiced
law in Montgomery from 1986-2000 under the firm name Underwood and
McLemore, as its managing partner. Previously I had been employed in
the Legal Division of the Alabama Department of Finance and as a law
clerk in the Montgomery County Circuit Court, 15th Alabama Circuit.
Currently I am engaged in the private practice of law in Montgomery.
My record speaks for itself: a good judicial officer is part judge and
part administrator. All of my professional experiences have given me
sound administrative and managerial training, and a broad knowledge of
judges should have (1) a broad knowledge of the law that has been
seasoned and refined by significant experience as a litigator, a judge,
or both; (2) the ability to remain impartial and not allow personal
beliefs or biases to interfere with the administration of justice; and
(3) demonstrated success as an administrator, so that cases can be
concluded in a timely manner.
What is your judicial philosophy?
believe in the vision of government codified in the United States
Constitution. The framers of the Constitution and those who created our
state constitution created a system with built-in checks and balances.
The legislative and judicial branches were designed for separate
functions. The legislative branch should create laws; and judges and
justices should interpret and apply the law when presented as
individual cases with individual facts and circumstances.
How do you define “judicial independence,” and how
important is it to our judicial system?
framers of the United States Constitution established the principle of
judicial independence by creating three separate branches of
government: The legislative branch having the responsibility to create
laws, the executive branch having the responsibility to enforce the
laws, and the judicial branch being responsible for interpreting laws
that have been enacted by a legislative body. Having clear lines of
responsibility was a considerable improvement over the British system
as observed in the colonies before American independence. Under that
system, the monarch appointed judges. At that time, members of
Parliament were the only branch of government truly independent from
The independence of judges, whether elected or appointed, is essential to the effective administration of justice.
What is the greatest area of need in the Alabama criminal justice
how should the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals respond, if at all?
citizens need to have confidence that our courts are rendering
effective decisions for the safety of our society. The Alabama Court of
Criminal Appeals, on the whole, has been doing a good job of keeping
current and up-to-date in rendering decisions. There is one thing I
would want to look into soon after becoming a member of this five-judge
court. Prominent lawyers, including the president-elect of the Alabama
State Bar, have suggested appellate courts need to increase the number
of cases heard on oral argument. Public awareness of the processes of
decision-making would go a long way toward increasing the confidence of
the public. Having frequent oral argument sessions and making the
sessions available in various locations throughout the state would
encourage community interest in the Court of Criminal Appeals.
What part, if any, should public opinion play in the decision of a
It is not the duty of a judge to change the law or make new law. That
is the function of the legislative branch of government. A judge's duty
is to interpret the law and apply the law to the fact situation being
In a case before the court, how should a judge handle a conflict
between his/her personal beliefs and the law?
Alabama judges must take an oath to uphold the laws of
the United States and the laws of the state of Alabama. Personal beliefs
should not enter into a decision in a court case. Any judge who cannot put
on legal blinders and remain completely impartial should not serve. Life
experiences can render a judge unable to remain unbiased in certain types
of cases or controversies. There is no room for biases that might affect
the outcome of a case in which a judge might serve.