How have your
training, professional experience, and interests prepared you to serve
on the Alabama Supreme Court?
The formal legal education I received combined with my work as a police
officer, an attorney and more than 27 years as a trial court judge
equip me in a unique way for the position of Associate Justice on the
Alabama Supreme Court.
work of the Supreme Court involves writing opinions based on trial
transcripts and briefs. This important work is much more than an
academic exercise. The same is true for dispensing real
justice. You cannot read a book or a transcript to understand
what it requires to look someone in the eye in a court of law, as you
make a decision that will affect the rest of his life.
Lauderdale County District Judge, I have presided over literally
thousands of cases, including civil, criminal and juvenile. I have put
thousands of people in jail, divided assets in divorce cases, removed
children from abusive parents and taken property and money from
individuals by court order. All the while, I have lived in a small
community with these same people day-after-day. This experience has
instilled in me the important understanding of the power and authority
that a judge has over the lives of individuals that appear before us
and the resulting impact on our community.
I have also
been a leader outside the courtroom in a wide variety of areas,
including addressing the problems with domestic violence and working
with law enforcement and community leaders to keep children safe,
educated and out of the legal...
What do you consider to be the three most important
attributes of a judge?
Broad experience with the law, not just in the classroom or the
library, but on the streets and in the courtroom.
The ability to rule based only on the law and the facts of each
case, regardless of who is on trial and who is representing each party.
3. The appropriate temperament, which requires
the ability to forego one’s ego and put aside any personal bias or
What is your judicial philosophy?
"Let the chips fall
where they may.” Judges and justices are required to interpret the laws
as written by the legislature and to follow precedent developed in
previous decisions. Period. They cannot answer every problem a litigant
has or fix every bad policy that exists in the law. Judges should
address only the issues that are presented to them.
I do not
have an agenda when I approach a case – I only want to get the law
right and apply it correctly to the facts. That has been my approach
since I was first elected as a trial court judge nearly 30 years ago,
and that will not change.
How do you define “judicial independence,” and how
important is it to our judicial system?
independence is best described as the ability of a judge to make
rulings based on the law and the facts and free of any undue pressures
or influences. Indeed, judges are mandated by law to so
rule. Judicial independence is of the utmost importance in order
to maintain the system of checks and balances between the three
separate but co-equal branches of government that was created by our
founding fathers. It is of paramount importance that judges be
free from even the perception of any outside influences.
Unfortunately, campaigns for judicial office put pressure on candidates
to take positions and pledge allegiances to various special
interests. I have never bowed to such pressure and never will.
What is the greatest area of need in the Alabama justice
how should the Alabama Supreme Court respond, if at all?
greatest area of need in the Alabama justice system, in my opinion, is
the often prohibitive cost and the unacceptable delay in accessing the
courts. This problem applies to both civil and criminal
cases. Citizens should be able to address grievances in our
courts of law in a timely and expeditious manner. They should be
able to get a case to court and receive a ruling within a reasonable
period of time. The Judicial Canons of Ethics encourage judges to
be involved in efforts to improve the administration of justice.
Our current chief justice, the Honorable Sue Bell Cobb, has
commissioned a task force on access to justice issues. This
group, composed of lawyers, judges and citizens should be able to
recommend meaningful measures that, after careful study and review, can
be adopted by Supreme Court rule and possibly by legislation.
have another concern about our judicial system that is not a specific
“area of need,” but rather a need for sweeping re-focus. We have
to find ways to prevent children from becoming criminals. This
will require more than judges, politicians and legal scholars.
Those people only get involved when it is too late. Every third
grade teacher knows who is headed down the wrong path. We need
entire communities coming together – parents, teachers, churches,
non-profit groups, law enforcement, prosecutors, etc… Right now, we
have clogged courts and overcrowded jails, and that won’t change, until
we focus on stopping the flow into the system. Entire communities
What part, if any, should public opinion play in the decision of a
None. A judge
in trial should not watch the TV news or read the newspaper coverage
pertaining to a pending case. It is the mandate of a judge to rule
based only on the law and the merits of the case and to follow legal
In a case before the Court, how should a judge handle a conflict
between his/her personal beliefs and the law?
If a judge can’t
put on the robe and remove his or her bias, he or she needs to
recuse. Law school training teaches the ability to analyze issues
with objectivity and to appropriately filter personal opinions. The
mandate of a judge is to follow legal precedent and uphold laws
established by the legislative branch of government and then to make
rulings based only in accordance with the facts and the law and not
based on personal opinions, agendas or biases. The danger of
interjecting personal beliefs is that the law could be constantly
subjected to change based on the varying beliefs of each judge instead
of being based on the law. That is not the judicial system
envisioned by our founders.