Solomon Crenshaw Jr.
For The Birmingham Times
Birmingham City Attorney Nicole King knew since age 5 that she wanted to be a lawyer just like her father, David Sullivan, who used to take her to court when he had cases. “I have learned, and he’s always taught me, ‘Don’t ever go into a profession when you can’t help somebody,’” she said.
Not only did King follow her father into the profession, but they have also achieved a rare feat: father-daughter city attorneys in adjacent jurisdictions.
King, 43, is a Birmingham city attorney and her father, Sullivan, 73, represents the city of Midfield.
Sidney Jackson, immediate past president of the Magic City Bar Association, can’t remember father-daughter city attorneys in the Birmingham metro area.
“I think it is certainly a special situation, especially as related to Black attorneys. I’m unaware of this really being the case anywhere else, at least I haven’t heard of it—two head city attorneys being essentially in adjacent jurisdictions . . . father and daughter,” said Jackson, who is also board member for the Magic City Bar Association, which was founded in 1984 in response to a need to promote the professional advancement of African American attorneys.
King and Sullivan say the same.
Sullivan said, “I think we are unique, I know, to this county, probably to this state, maybe to the nation.”
King added, “Definitely, no African Americans.”
King was prepared for her profession as much by her mother, Juliette Sullivan, a retired social worker after 35 years, as she was by her dad. Both parents taught their daughter to always give back and not think about just herself.
“I will say that I get my kind and gentle nature from my mom,” King said. “I get my pit bull nature from my dad. My mom taught me the importance of giving back, by seeing her as a social worker and also being exposed [to the type of work my mother did]. She took me to her job, [where I met] some of her clients and actually saw her passion for what she did.”
Sullivan said he wouldn’t call himself a pit bull in the courtroom: “I don’t, but a lot of folks do.”
Because of his daughter, Sullivan knows exactly how many years he has been a lawyer: 43. He remembers because his daughter was born the day he had to take the bar exam.
King, the only child of Sullivan and his wife, was born eight weeks premature, weighing just three pounds and eight ounces.
“This was her head, and this was her feet,” he said, motioning from the tip of his middle finger to the base of his palm.
The city of Midfield lawyer also credits Juliette Sullivan for his legal career. “She supported me through law school and financed my daughter also in her matriculation through law school and undergrad,” he said. “Whatever we are, we owe it to my wife.”
King grew up in the Birmingham subdivision of Winewood in the Echo Highlands neighborhood and graduated from Ramsay High School. She earned her law degree at Thurgood Marshall Law School at Texas Southern University in Houston, Texas.
Sullivan graduated from the University of Alabama with a degree in psychology and a minor in sociology before ultimately earning a law degree at Samford University’s Cumberland School of Law. In his role as Midfield’s city attorney, Sullivan has been an asset.
“[Sullivan] is a legal scholar. He’s a fighter. He’s taken on some giants and won for the city,” said Midfield Mayor Gary Richardson. “If I had to go to battle, I’d definitely want [Sullivan] by my side.”
The father and daughter each considered a career other than law. He initially wanted to be a dentist, and she wanted to be a teacher. Late-night chemistry labs influenced Sullivan to change course, and he remembers what prompted his daughter to shift career paths after teaching for about a year.
“A little student picked up some rocks and hit her in the back of the head,” he said. “She told me, ‘I can’t be a teacher. I’ve got to do something else with my life. … She made up her mind then [and said], ‘I think law is a better option than teaching.’”
King said Circuit Court Judge Tamara Harris Johnson, the first African American female city attorney for Birmingham, has served as a mentor. Harris Johnson hired King as a paralegal and ultimately promoted her to an attorney slot on her staff.
“She was a hard worker,” the judge said of King. “Not only was she a hard worker, but she wanted to do good work. She came from a family that was accomplished in terms of their work ethic, so I wasn’t worried about her work ethic. She demonstrated that throughout the entire time I was there.”
Harris Johnson served as Birmingham city attorney under Mayor Bernard Kincaid from January 2000 until the end of November 2007, when Larry Langford assumed the office. King, who was hired during Harris Johnson’s first term, between 2000 and 2004, started as a law clerk because she had passed the Texas Bar and had not taken the Alabama Bar.
In her role as city attorney, King feels it is her duty to reach back and help other young people—especially young women—to know what they are capable of being. A wife and mother of a 5-year-old daughter, a 3-year-old son, and a 23-year-old “bonus” daughter, King said she is determined to affect change within the city of Birmingham.
That dogged determination led to the creation of the Office of the City Attorney Drug and Nuisance Abatement Team.
“I created that team as a way to help Mayor [Randall] Woodfin in his number-one priority, which is neighborhood revitalization,” she said. “Our goal is to help clean up drug and nuisance properties within the city of Birmingham.”
That dogged determination dates back to when King was 3 years old—and ran away from home three times in one night, recalled her dad. “That’s the way she started out in life, and that’s what it is,” said Sullivan. “She’s a hard-headed, wonderful person, and I just love her almost to death.”