|The Alabama Supreme Court at the University of Alabama
This is post No. 4,615 since Legal Schnauzer began in June 2007, and while we have not figured out percentages, I'm pretty sure the vast majority of our posts have been about injustice in Alabama's broken "justice system." By injustice, I'm referring to instances where a compromised or incompetent judge clearly (and probably knowingly) rules contrary to what lawyers call "black letter" law.
We will examine another form of injustice in a moment. But a classic example of our experience with injustice revolves around our "neighbor from hell" (and his hellish lawyer) when we lived in Birmingham, Alabama. This guy next door ignored repeated warnings to stop trespassing on our property -- and given that he has an extensive criminal record, perhaps you can understand why we didn't want him intruding on our space. He threatened to sue me, said he was "going to keep on coming," and we suspected he was capable of violence --and he later confirmed those suspicions by physically assaulting me. Mrs. Schnauzer and I were left feeling we had little choice but to swear out a complaint against him for criminal trespass.
How did the case go? The neighbor unwittingly admitted he had trespassed, but Shelby County District Judge Ron Jackson offered up an acquittal because he determined there was reasonable doubt that the written warning we had sent via U.S. mail -- in the form of a letter from an attorney, who cited relevant Alabama law -- had arrived on time. Our complaint stated that we had witnessed the neighbor trespassing on numerous occasions, but Jackson threw out all but one of the instances, focusing on one date and finding our letter did not arrive before that date.
The kicker comes when you consider actual Alabama law regarding trespass and warning of any kind, written or verbal. It probably is best stated in a case styled Chambers v. City of Opelika, 698 So. 2d 792 (Ala. Crim. App., 1996), which holds:
The appellant has cited no authority for his position that to be guilty of criminal trespass the intruder must be aware that he or she had no license or privilege to enter or to remain on the premises. There is authority, however, that states that when those premises are private and not open to the public, there is no requirement that the prosecution prove that a prior written or verbal warning was given to the intruder. Gentry v. State, 595 So.2d 548 (Ala.Cr.App.1991)
Our property clearly was private and not open to the public, so we had no obligation to warn the neighbor at all, verbally or in writing. Since the neighbor admitted to being on our property, and we did not have to warn him (by the way, anyone's property would not be private if the owner had to warn would-be trespassers), so the law makes sense in a country where the concept of private property is embedded in our constitution. With that in mind, there was only one possible verdict in the case -- guilty. But Judge Jackson ignored his oath to uphold the law and set us up for a legal nightmare. None of the court-related headaches we've experienced in the years since (see here, here, here, and here) would have happened if Jackson had ruled correctly on that one simple case, which did not even involve a misdemeanor charge: criminal trespass is a violation under Alabama law.
Longtime attorney Donald Watkins has witnessed injustice in Alabama on many occasions, and writes about it in a much broader sense than was present in our little case. He starts by noting the photo at the beginning of this post. In fact, the title of Watkins' post is "What's Wrong With This Picture?" He writes:
On April 5, 2023, before a large audience of law students and faculty members, the Alabama Supreme Court held a special session—an oral-argument hearing—at the University of Alabama School of Law.
Chief Justice Tom Parker expressed hope that "Alabama Law students would be educated by seeing our courts in action, and hopefully, also inspired to pursue and walk in the paths of justice in their forthcoming legal careers.”
So, what is wrong with this picture of the event?
The Alabama Supreme Court is an all-white judicial body in a state that has a 26.6% black population, a 26.25 % black voting-age population, and 26.39% black registered voters. The state's Supreme Court has been all-white since 2001. Every vacancy that has been filled on the Supreme Court by gubernatorial appointment since 2001 has been a white appointee.
The five-judge Alabama Court of Civil Appeals and five-judge Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals are all-white, as well.
Those numbers are ugly, and they get uglier. Writes Watkins:
In total, all 19 judgeships in Alabama's appellate court system are held by white men and women, exclusively.
The all-white Alabama Supreme Court was paraded in front of a diverse group of law students to "inspire them to pursue and walk in the path of justice" in Alabama.
Where is the "justice" in having an all-white Supreme Court, Court of Civil Appeals, and Court of Criminal Appeals in Alabama in 2023?
Who represents the interest of Alabama's 26.6% black population in the fair administration of justice in this all-white, ultra-conservative, all-Republican court system?
How does this all-white portrait of "justice" in Alabama "inspire" black law students to believe that justice is possible for them (as lawyers) and their clients in Alabama?
By any objective definition used by people of interracial goodwill, this is a portrait of "injustice."
Members of the Alabama Supreme Court probably do not even recognize the injustice. States Watkins:
Obviously, the Alabama Supreme Court justices see greatness in themselves. I see an enthusiastic return to the old Jim Crow court system that defined Alabama from 1901 until 1980 -- when the first of three black justices was appointed to the Alabama Supreme Court. The last black justice departed the Court in January of 2001. The Court has been all-white since his departure.
How is it possible for reasonable people to see anything else in this picture other than a return to the Jim Crow era?
Are you comfortable with this picture? I certainly am not. I have fought against the reality depicted in this picture all of my life.
As for our little family unit here at Legal Schnauzer, it is now 4,614 posts later, since our first article was posted -- and we still are looking for justice in a system that churns out a whole lot of injustice.