Jefferson County’s historic number of black female judges come highly qualified

Times staff report

Black women dominated the local elections Tuesday.
Black women dominated the local elections Nov. 8.

Their professional experiences run the gamut — from lawyers in private practice to partners in major law firms; from elected judges to appointed judges; from city attorneys to assistant city attorneys.

They are graduates of Miles Law School, the Birmingham School of Law, the University of Alabama Law School, the Cumberland School of Law, the Howard University School of Law, the Thurgood Marshall School of Law, and other venerable institutions.

They have participated in a broad range of civic and volunteer activities with foundations, boards, steering committees, after-school programs, service organizations, and faith groups.

A record number of skilled, qualified African-American females were elected to judicial seats in Jefferson County, Ala., last week. Here are bios on each, including the first black female and first woman to be elected District Attorney in the Bessemer Cutoff.

judge_pix-2Nakita “Niki” Perryman Blocton (D)

10th Judicial Circuit, Place 20

Date of birth: November 7, 1977, age 39

Residence: Birmingham

Political experience: First race for elected office.

Professional experience: Attorney in private practice for 13 years; former managing partner at Threatt & Blocton LLC; special sitting judge, Family Court, over seven years; daily master in Jefferson County Domestic Relations (Divorce Court) over five years; former regional foster care recruiter at Children’s Aid Society; investigator at Legal Aid Society in Family Court.

Civic experience: Board member, Rickey Smiley Foundation and Impact Family Counseling; former board member, SafeHouse; member, Sigma Delta Kappa Law Fraternity, Kiwanis Club of Vulcan, Vestavia Chamber of Commerce and Delta Sigma Theta sorority.

Education: Birmingham School of Law, doctor of jurisprudence; Miles College, bachelor of arts in political science.

Qualifications: Blocton is a wife and mother. She was voted by local attorneys as Top Attorney in Family Law, Birmingham Magazine. She was a Birmingham Volunteer Lawyers Honoree. Blocton has spent her career serving as an advocate for children and families. She has handled hundreds of cases on trial and appellate court levels.

 

judge_pix-6Agnes Chappell (D)

10th Judicial Circuit, Place 23

Date of birth: Jan. 28, 1952; age 64

Residence: Birmingham

Political experience: Ran for District Court judge, 2000, and Circuit Court judge, 2010.

Professional experience: Judge, Birmingham Municipal Court, 2002-present; special Circuit Court judge, Jefferson County Family Court, 1999-2002; senior trial referee, Jefferson County Family Court, 1983-2002; private practice, Brown, Chappell and Burrell, 1981-1983; managing attorney/staff attorney, Birmingham Area Legal Services, 1977-1980; officer in the Magic City Bar Association and Alabama Lawyers Judicial Council.

Education: University of Alabama School of Law, juris doctorate, 1976; University of Alabama, bachelor’s degree, 1973.

Civic experience: Board member, The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham, 2008-2014; board member, Momentum Alumni Program, 2011-present; advisory board member, Paul Jones Art Collection; Jefferson County Family Violence Coordinated Response Steering Committee, 2007-present; city of Birmingham Revitalization and Policing Steering Committee, 2010-present; state Statutory Committee for Domestic Violence, 2009-2013; founder and board president, New Rising Star Missionary Baptist Church Community Support Corp., 2007-present; board of directors, Bethel Learning Center, 2009-present.

Qualifications: Chappell said her 32 years of judicial experience qualified her to serve on the Circuit Court. She said she established the Domestic Violence Court in Birmingham and has worked with government and community groups to solve social issues and improve the community.

 

french-1Elisabeth French (D)

10th Judicial Circuit, Place 17

Date of birth: December 1972; age 43

Residence: Birmingham

Political experience: 10th Judicial Circuit judge, Place 17, 2010-2016.

Professional experience: Circuit Court judge, 2010-2016; member, Alternative Dispute Resolution Committee for the Alabama Supreme Court; The French Firm private practice, 1998-2010; former president, vice president, treasurer and secretary of the Alabama Lawyers Association, 2004-2008.

Civic experience: Member, University of Montevallo’s Foundation Board, 2008-2015; volunteer, Birmingham City Schools’ after-school program; former member, Children’s Dance Foundation board; provides Mock Trial Field Trips to students in Birmingham Schools; member, Living Stones Church.

Education: Cumberland School of Law, juris doctorate, 1997; University of Montevallo, bachelor’s in political science and Spanish, 1993.

Qualifications: French has nearly 20 years of legal experience. She said her experience as a sitting judge qualified her for continuing in the position of circuit judge.

 

judge_pix-4Shera Craig Grant (D)

Jefferson County District Court, Place 5

Date of birth: Sept. 21, 1977; age 39

Residence: Birmingham

Political experience: Appointed District Court judge, Place 5, Jan. 8, 2016.

Professional experience: District Court judge, Place 5, January 2016-present; deputy public defender, Jefferson County, 2013-2016; managing attorney, The Grant Firm LLC, 2011-2013; prosecutor, promoted to chief assistant district attorney, DeKalb County, Georgia, 2004-2010; adjunct professor, Alabama State University, 2008-2010; adjunct professor, Kennesaw State University, Kennesaw, Georgia, 2007-2009; assistant city solicitor, Atlanta, 2002-2004; assistant solicitor general, Fulton County, Georgia, 2003.

Civic experience: Founder of Leadership Academy, a youth development program for high school students. Awarded Al.com’s Young Professionals Project of the Year for creation of the Leadership Academy. Also named “Women Who Shape the State” award recipient. Board of directors for Growing Kings, Inc., mentoring organization, 2016-present; Vestavia Hills Board of Education member, 2015-2016; Leadership Vestavia Hills board of directors member, 2014-present; Help the Hills Committee member, 2014-present; Rape Crisis facilitator, 2007-2010; Create Your Dreams volunteer facilitator, 2007-2010; The Women’s Network member.

Education: Paul M. Hebert Law Center, Louisiana State University, juris doctorate, 2002; Paul M. Hebert Law Center, Louisiana State University, bachelor’s degree, civil law, 2002; Alabama State University, bachelor’s degree, computer information systems, 1999.

Qualifications: Grant is currently serving as District Court judge, Place 5, and has served several years as a private practice attorney, a prosecutor and chief assistant district attorney, a college professor, and assistant city solicitor and assistant solicitor general.

 

dsc_0831Brendette Brown Green (D)

10th Judicial Circuit, Place 11

Date of birth: October, 1957; age 59

Residence: Birmingham

Political experience: Ran for Alabama House District 58, 2006; member, executive committee of the Democratic Party.

Professional experience: Board member, Women Lawyers Section; Birmingham Municipal Court judge, 2008-present; special circuit judge, 2004-2006; senior trial referee, 2003-2006.

Civic experience: Member, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority; Birmingham Park and Recreation Board; American Association of University Women; National Coalition of 100 Black Women; Black Women’s Roundtable; Vulcan Park and Museum Board; member of The Worship Center Christian Church.

Education: Judicial College, 2013; Miles Law School, juris doctorate, 1998; University of Alabama, bachelor’s of science, 1981.

Qualifications: Green said her 18 years of legal experience, including 20 years of judicial experience at Jefferson County Family Court and Birmingham Municipal Court, qualified her for the judgeship.

 

judge_pix-3Tamara Harris Johnson (D)

10th Judicial Circuit Court Judge, Place 22

Age: 62

Residence: Birmingham

Political experience: Ran for Jefferson County Circuit Civil Court, 2012; ran for U.S. Congress, 7th Congressional District, 2014.

Professional experience: Private practice, 2012-present; executive counsel, Fulton County (Georgia) district attorney, 2011-2012; private practice, 2008-2011; hearing officer, JCPB, 2008-2011; adjunct professor, Cumberland Law School, 2005-2008; city attorney, Birmingham 2000-2008; Alabama Bar examiner, 2000-2004; national legal adviser, The Girl Friends Inc., 2005-2007; national legal adviser, Jack & Jill of America Inc., 2006-2010; associate, Gorham & Waldrep, P.C., 1998-2000; general counsel and executive director of human resources, Birmingham City Schools, 1997-1998; deputy district attorney, Jefferson County, 1990-1997; trial attorney, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 1988-1990; deputy city attorney, Los Angeles, 1985-1988; partner, Johnson & Johnson Law Offices, Los Angeles, 1984-1985; law clerk, Department of Water & Power, Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office, 1982-1984; associate, Patmon & Young, P.C., Detroit, 1981; Associate General Counsel, NAGE/IBPO/AFGE, Washington, D.C., 1978-1979; law clerk, Associate Judge William S. Thompson, Superior Court, Washington, D.C., 1977-1978.

Civic experience: Member, Leadership Birmingham Members’ Council, 2010-2019; member and former officer, The Links Inc., 1978-present; board member, Alabama School of Fine Arts Foundation Inc., 2003-2012; Master of the Bench, Birmingham Inns of Court, 2001-2014; member, The Women’s Network, 2002-2008; board member, The Crisis Center, 1998-2001; graduate, Leadership Alabama, 2000; graduate, Leadership Birmingham, 1995; board member, Legal Services of Metro Birmingham, 1994-1997; volunteer, The Dannon Project, Pathways, YWCA and Literacy Council; member, Sixth Avenue Baptist Church.

Education: Howard University Law School, juris doctorate, 1977; Spelman College, bachelor of arts, 1974.

Qualifications: Johnson has practiced law 37 years in Alabama, California, the District of Columbia, Michigan and Georgia. She has tried more than 600 jury trials and hundreds of bench trials as a criminal prosecutor and defense attorney and a civil plaintiff’s and defense counsel. She has worked as a solo practitioner, with large law firms and for governmental entities.

 

judge_pix-7Javan J. Patton (D)

10th Judicial Circuit, Place 4

Date of birth: May 1982; age 34

Residence: Birmingham

Political experience: First campaign for elected office.

Professional experience: Assistant city attorney for Birmingham, 2011-present; Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office, 2009-2011; prosecutor with Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office, 2007-2009.

Civic experience: Director of Liturgical Dance Ministry, Sixth Avenue Baptist Church; volunteer, Sisters Inspiring Sisters Through the Arts; social event co-chair, Alabama School of Fine Arts Alumni Association; board member, Alabama School of Fine Arts Foundation; board member, Railroad Park Foundation; former member, Birmingham Zoo Junior Board; former member, UAB Minority Health and Research Committee Young Professional board; member, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority.

Education: Thurgood Marshall School of Law, juris doctorate, 2007; University of Alabama, bachelor’s in political science, 2003.

Qualifications: Patton has tried more than 50 cases and has represented people in Montgomery as well as Jefferson County.

 

judge_pix-5Annetta H. Verin (D)

10th Judicial Circuit Judge, Place 12

Date of birth: May 10, 1954, age 62

Residence: Bessemer

Political experience: 10th Circuit Judge, 1993-1995 and 2011-present; Bessemer municipal judge, 1998-2010. Was the first female circuit judge in the Bessemer Division, after appointment by Gov. Jim Folsom in 1993.

Professional experience: Accountant, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Washington, D.C., 1976-1978; attorney, Legal Services Corp., Tuscaloosa, 1982-1984; assistant city attorney, Birmingham, 1984-1990; attorney with Jefferson County district attorney’s office (Bessemer Division), 1990-1993.

Civic experience: President, Humanistic Challengers Club of Bessemer; board member, Alabama Solution; board member, Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham; president, Magic City Bar Association; member, Birmingham Bar Association’s Mentor Committee; member, Judicial Council of the Magic City Bar Association and the National Bar Association; president, Birmingham American Inn of Court.

Education: Howard University, doctor of jurisprudence, 1981; and bachelor of business administration in accounting, 1976.

 

judge_pixDebra Bennett Winston (D)

Jefferson County District Court, Place 10

Age: 65

Residence: Hueytown

Political experience: Municipal judge, city of Midfield, 2004-present; municipal judge, city of Fairfield, 2008-present.

Professional experience: Owner, Debra Bennett Winston Law Firm for 25 years; substitute Circuit Court judge, 10th Judicial Circuit, Jefferson County.

Civic experience: President, Alabama Association of International Ministers Wives and Ministers Widows; Grace House, 2014.

Education: Southern University Law Center, juris doctorate, 1987; University of Alabama at Birmingham, bachelor’s degree, 1984.

Qualifications: Winston has served as a municipal judge for 12 years and has owned her law firm for 25 years. She has received numerous certificates and honors during her legal career.

 

BESSEMER DIVISION/DISTRICT ATTORNEY

 

lynniecewashingtonLynneice Olive-Washington (D)

District Attorney,

10th Circuit, Bessemer Division

Date of birth: Dec. 27, 1967; age 48

Residence: Bessemer

Political experience: Ran unsuccessfully for district judge, Place 10, 2010; presiding judge, Bessemer Municipal Court, 2011-present.

Professional experience: Presiding judge, Bessemer Municipal Court, 2011-present; appellate prosecutor, Irondale Municipal Court, 2013-present; hearing officer, Jefferson County Personnel Board, 2013-present; solo practitioner, 2010-present; assistant district attorney, Bessemer District, 2002-2010; solo practitioner, 1996-2002.

Education: Miles Law School, juris doctorate, 1995; bachelor’s in criminal justice and corrections, Auburn University Montgomery, 1990; graduate, A.H. Parker High School, 1986.

Civic experience: Member and past president, Bessemer Rotary Club; board member, Girls Inc., 2010-present; mentor, Bessemer Business Professional Women’s Club’s P.I.N.K. program, 2009-present; member, Domestic Violence Task Force, Bessemer, 2011-present; member, Children’s Hospital Committee for the Future program, 2012; advisory board member, Brenda’s Brown Bosom Buddies cancer awareness organization; recipient, NAACP’s Wonderful Outstanding Women Award, 2015; recipient, Woman of Achievement award, Bessemer Business and Professional Women’s Club, 2014; recipient, A.G. Gaston Boys & Girls Club’s Pillars of Character Excellence: Fairness Award, 2014; Rotarian of the Year, Bessemer Rotary Club, 2014;

Main issues: Implement a program to educate students about how laws can affect them. Develop a citizen and police advisory board to, “bridge the communication gap between the community and the police.” Identify community-based re-entry programs to help people convicted of crimes transition back into life outside of incarceration.

These bios were compiled by AlabamaVoterGuide.org/Birmingham Watch, Alabama Initiative for Independent Journalism.