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Birmingham Bar Association Spring 2014

Special Interest Jessica Brown Powers New Jefferson County Circuit Court Judges We have three new Jefferson County Civil Circuit judges in the Birmingham division. While they have been on the bench for almost a year, there is much to learn about them as they, too, are learning and crafting an individual style. I recently visited with all three to ask questions that will hopefully provide insight into each on both a professional and personal level. JUDGE CAROLE C. SMITHERMAN As a Practitioner Legal Education: Graduated from Miles law school in 1979; The only woman student and I finished first in my class. Legal Career: Clerked for Justice Ralph Cook (former Associate Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court) and Polly Conradi (former Clerk of the Jefferson County Courts) and served as a deputy district attorney in Jefferson County; I was the first woman municipal judge for Birmingham, first black female judge in the state of Alabama, a city council woman for 11 years, during which I was the president of the counsel and interim mayor. I practiced for more than 20 years with husband, Rodger Smitherman, doing general civil litigation. Why a lawyer? I first decided that I was going to be a lawyer when my best friend, Denise McNair, was killed in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing. Role Models: Justice Ralph Cook, Justice Janie Shores, Michele Obama, Beyoncé. Admirable qualities in judges: Consistency; fairness even if they ruled against you; courteous; eventemperament; timely rulings/opinions. Biggest frustrations of practicing law: The public’s perception that a citizen can do the work of a lawyer. I’m from the era where when a lawyer told you something, you could depend on it. That seems to be eroding in places, depending on the circumstances. The cut-throat competition for work also is very frustrating. Most rewarding about the practice? I loved to help solve problems. Solving problems didn’t necessarily mean you won, but you found a just solution for clients. I also was able to spend a lot of time in the community reaching out to young people to show them that being a lawyer is a noble profession, worthy of consideration. Community service gave me a lot of pleasure. I enjoyed working with my husband as his law partner. I enjoyed doing the research and background work and he enjoyed the presentation. We were a good pair. I also liked running a business. As a Judge Your judicial style? Relaxed and patient. I understand that lawyers have to be in 15 different places at one time. A judge that is unpredictable or temperamental has no place. Chambers or Courtroom? Chambers unless you have a client with you, or if one side is pro se. The courtroom is reserved for trials and lengthy motions. If they come in with lots of boxes and briefcases, then we use the courtroom. Scheduling conference: I will conduct them on the phone. One day I hope to do scheduling conferences and status conferences by Skype. Docket call or special setting? Both. Court starts on Monday at 9:00a.m. and motions are set every 30 minutes. However, we specially set a motion if it is going to take hours. Briefing preferences: No particular form. All lawyers practice differently. Whatever way a lawyer feels conveys his/her case is how I want to hear it. Oral Argument? Yes. Absolutely. I prefer you to give me the highlights, the executive summary. Call ahead and get a hearing date before filing the motion. “May I approach”? Always ask to approach the bench or approach a witness. All the old school courtesies in the courtroom are required. 26 Birmingham Bar Association


Birmingham Bar Association Spring 2014
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