By Nicole S. Daniel
The Birmingham Times
As she enters her second term as Bessemer cutoff DA, Lynniece Washington wants to pick up where she left off from her first.
“There’s one big plan I would love to have [and] that’s a West Jefferson One Place Family Justice Center,” Washington said. “There is one in Birmingham [One Place Metro Alabama Family Justice Center] where all services are obtained. [For example]. A rape victim can get an exam, police report, and speak with a prosecutor. People (in Bessemer) … need [a center like that] as well, especially if they live in this area.”
Washington, 54, was the first Black woman elected as DA in the state of Alabama in 2016 and she won re-election in November with 26,635 votes or 53.25 percent. Her second term in many ways will mirror her first, she said.
“I am often present in the community by attending and participating in church programs; supporting the schools with various [activities] such as West Jefferson Helping Families Initiative; reading to our younger generation and discussing the law with middle and high school students about preventive, crime fighting methods.”
She’s also active in giving ex-offenders an opportunity to obtain employment with the Second Chance Hiring Fair. “My office also conducts a candlelight vigil program and information during the Annual National Crime Victim’s Rights Awareness week,” she said. “Each year my office participates with Bessemer PD and Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office during National Night Out,” she said.
Washington points to Operation Python, a task force she created with the U.S. Marshals to capture individuals with outstanding warrants that committed violent crimes as one of her proud moments since becoming the DA of Bessemer cutoff well as starting the very first Conviction Integrity Unit in the state of Alabama. It reviews the cases of wrongful convictions.
Destined To Be an Attorney
Washington was born and raised in the northern side of Birmingham in a two-parent household and a brother that was 15 years older than her.
“My family and I lived in an area called Acipco. Some people call it Sippy Co, but it was an area where people with low to moderate income more low than moderate resided,” she said.
During an hour-long interview with The Birmingham Times, Washington reminisced about a photo that was taken of her when she was between the ages three and four. “I had a little red jumpsuit standing in our yard at the apartments we lived in,” Washington said.
She remembers the apartment complex not having much grass, but she was holding a broom in the picture. “I was just as happy as I wanted to be. And I look at that picture like wow. I was a little girl that was really impoverished in an area that really doesn’t have much, but I was a happy baby.”
For kindergarten she attended a church school called Christian Valley. “That was my educational foundation. They taught us about the Bible … But that’s where we learned how to sound out letters and to pronounce words. I can remember that being a happy time,” Washington said.
She attended A.H. Parker High School where she joined the school’s choir. “I sang alto. I remember the choir director [Dr. Perry Anderson] was well respected. We had to sing from our diaphragm. We had to sit straight up and put our hands on our legs while singing.”
Washington’s most memorable moment being in the choir was making an album with Nell Carter, a singer and actress from Birmingham, AL who appeared on sitcom Gimme a Break! in 1981 until 1987. “I still have that album now. She had a booming voice. We practiced with her and did a concert.”
Another memorable moment was when the choir traveled to Carnegie Hall in New York City her senior year. “That was a goal for me. Anybody in the choir knew they had to sing well enough to be selected. It was huge for me and my family to be able to go.”
Washington said $300 was a lot of money and contributed to her travel expenses. “That was the very first time I saw homelessness. People were lying on the streets early in the morning,” she said.
She graduated from A.H. Parker High School in 1986 and Auburn University of Montgomery in December 1990 with a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice.
Growing up, Washington knew she would become a lawyer. “There’s nothing else I’ve ever dreamed of being,” she said. “I gravitated to shows like Wonder Women the Bionic Women, Perry Mason Shows and as time went on Law & Order shows.”
She graduated from AUM in December 1990 and would eventually find her way to Miles Law School at the recommendation of friend Birmingham attorney Emory Anthony who was a Municipal Court Judge at the time.
“All I did was study. I remember them [professors] telling me that the law is a jealous mistress. It’s true because if you’re serious about law, and you want to be proficient in it and do well you’re going to have to sacrifice going to parties,” she said.
In May of 1995 she graduated from law school while she was five months pregnant with her son Clinton, now 26.
After Washington passed the bar, she introduced herself to some judges to get appointed cases for people that couldn’t afford an attorney and was appointed cases in Birmingham, Bessemer and Walker County. “I was the only Black female attorney in Walker County they thought I was a social worker,” Washington said
In 2002, Washington went to the DA’s office in Bessemer wanting to speak with a prosecutor regarding a case she was appointed. “I got along well with the entire office, so they approached me about working in their office,” she said.
She worked there up until 2010 when she ran unsuccessfully for District Judge.
In August 2010, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and in September she had a bilateral mastectomy. “That was life altering. As women we don’t define ourselves in our chest and our behind, but it gives us confidence. It’s about being feminine. To know that I was going under with breast and knowing when I wake up I wasn’t. That was something to think about,” Washington said.
After the procedure she followed up with chemotherapy and radiation. She is now cancer free.
In February of 2011, she was appointed as Municipal Court Judge for the city of Bessemer and the following year Bessemer held its very first amnesty court where residents with outstanding warrants came to court if they have committed an offense, pay their fine or set up payments without being detained. “At first people thought it was a setup. They were really skeptical but I did tell them if you have an outstanding warrant for a violent crime you will be detained,” she said.
Washington said the first amnesty court was a huge success and it changed so many lives. “We called it Operation Clean Slate.” That’s how individuals got to know her as a judge.
“My reputation in the community is she’s fair. She will give you an opportunity the first time but if you’re stubborn all bets are off.”
Updated at 9:25 a.m. on 12/14/2022 to correct the title and make clarifications.
Updated at 1:24 p.m. on 12/14/20 for additional clarifications.