Committee votes to name Theo Lawson Jefferson County’s top in-house attorney

By Barnett Wright

The Birmingham Times

Theo Lawson becomes first African American to lead the county’s in-house law department. (Jinnifer Parnell, for The Birmingham Times)
Theo Lawson set to become the first African American to lead the county’s in-house law department. (Jinnifer Parnell photo)

A Jefferson County Commission committee today voted unanimously to hire its first African American to lead the county’s in-house law department.

Theo Lawson was selected to serve as lead county attorney by a committee made up of three Republicans and two Democrats. The full commission will vote Wednesday to ratify the decision. Lawson has served as assistant county attorney since 2005.

If confirmed, he would become only the fourth lead attorney since the county established its law department in 1975 and the first non-white.

“I appreciate the confidence the commission has placed in me,” said Lawson after the meeting. “We’ve worked closely with all of the commissioners over the past 11 years, keeping them advised.”

One of the priorities for the law department is to get the county from under federal court oversight over its past discriminatory hiring practices, Lawson said.

“We’re moving forward and making great strides under the current receiver and getting jobs back into the county,” Lawson said.

Lawson said he is pleased to continue work with a law department made up of four lawyers, one paralegal and two support staff.

“They have a great set of legal minds,” he said.”We all work together to get the job done and I am happy that this provides some stability there and to know that the team will continue to operate as we have.”

Carol Sue Nelson, the outgoing county attorney, said she was “thrilled” by the appointment.

“Theo Lawson is an excellent lawyer. I’ve worked closely with him for the last three and a half years,” Nelson said. “He is highly respected by all of the lawyers in this office and all of the employees of the county and the commission. His temperament and ability to bring people together and deal with complex issues are among his strengths. He’s been a valuable asset to me from the day I walked in this office.”

Commissioners said they were elated by the selection.

“It means so much for Jefferson County and residents,” said Commissioner Sandra Little Brown. “We are breaking down barriers. Years ago this would not have happened. The decision was easy because Theo has the institutional knowledge for what this county needs.”

Commissioner David Carrington said, “I hope in coming days and years that this is not seen as historic but this is the way the county operates. Somebody has to be the trailblazer. And that’s Theo Lawson.”

Lawson was “heads and shoulders” above the other applicants for the job, said Commissioner George Bowman.

“We all collectively felt he was good for this job,” Bowman said. “The institutional knowledge that he brings, the ability that he brings, the service and good spirit” all stand out. “I am glad to be a part of this historic moment.”

Lawson 53, has been an as­sistant Jefferson County at­torney since 2005 and a former executive officer to Fairfield police chief and mem­ber of Fairfield Crime Task Force and SWAT officer. He is also a former professor at Miles Law School and director of public safety at Miles.

Lawson said his only job going forward would be Jefferson County attorney.

He was a chief assistant city attorney in Birmingham from 2000-2005 and Jefferson County deputy district attorney from 1991-2000 and a special prosecutor Birmingham Municipal Court in 1991.

Lawson grew up in Wenonah. Lawson State Community College, the first trade school for African-Americans in the area, is named after his father.