Jameses dedicate law careers to helping children
Published 12:46 am Saturday, March 26, 2016
“Whatever, you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
Christians know this Bible verse all too well, and Sonny and Linda James have lived it in their law careers.
The husband and wife team, who practiced law in Andalusia for the last 38 years, have retired.
During those years, they dedicated much of their time to helping children through child support cases and protective services cases at the Department of Human Resources.
Both have made names for themselves in being fierce advocates for children.
They moved to Andalusia from Fayette after buying the property on North Cotton Street that once housed the offices of attorney Hiram Brodgen Jr.
Brodgen died suddenly and was responsible for half of the county’s real estate law.
“One thing led to another and we inquired about buying the property and bought the real estate records,” Sonny said. “It looked like it might be a step up for us.”
Linda, who had worked as an assistant district attorney in Fayette, took more domestic cases.
The couple would lay their roots at the First United Methodist Church, where they met Virginia Mills, former DHR director.
“She came to see me and asked if I’d like to represent DHR in protective services,” Sonny said. “I said, ‘well, yeah.’ Dad taught me that you don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”
Linda said the couple was able to diversify their cases to survive the bad real estate times.
“Linda had been prosecuting child support cases in North Alabama and the state people knew her,” Sonny said.
It wasn’t long before she had half the child support cases and former District Judge Trippy McGuire had the other half.
“I was representing one side of DHR and she was the other and I carried on with real estate,” Sonny said.
“Sonny has done child welfare cases not only in Covington County but in the surrounding counties,” Linda said. “He’s the most called upon with the DHR state legal department. He’s been all over.”
Linda said the couple served as city attorneys for the city of Andalusia for four years.
Additionally, Sonny has been an attorney for the Department of Transportation.
He was involved in most of the project in four-laning Hwy. 84 from Andalusia to Enterprise, the Andalusia and Opp bypasses and others.
Linda has served on state and national child support boards and has taken the county’s successful strategies throughout the country.
When she started as child support attorney, DHR collected $300,000 in child support. Last year, they collected some $4 million.
She’s used all kinds of strategies to get parents to go to work.
“I had a man who was in jail and his employer wanted him out of jail because he was one of his best employees,” she said. “He agreed to let people come to work for him and he would pick them up.”
The job was picking up chickens at a poultry farm.
“Not one person took the job,” she said. “They found jobs.”
Another time, Linda said she took a mortgage on a horse to get a man to pay his child support.
She said the state of Alabama didn’t know what to think about it, but the man paid his child support to get his horse back.
Linda said they had heavy case loads and that they were paid a flat rate that wasn’t very high.
“There is no way an attorney could afford it without having a lucrative outside practice,” she said. “But we did it and we love it, and we feel good about what we have done.”
Sonny said over his 41-year law career, he could have made a lot more money doing other forms of law, but “money comes and goes.”
It was what they were able to do for children that kept them going.
“What you are able to do for a child in need, a dependent, a child who has been neglected or abused, that’s what’s important,” he said. “Jesus Christ taught use that he always put children first in his kingdom. We will look back and be much prouder of this than anything else we have done.”
Sonny and Linda were quick to give credit to social workers and other employees at DHR who do the footwork.
“We just take it and use the legal system to help,” he said. “Our Covington County DHR is in the best shape it’s been in in years. Lesa Syler is an outstanding director.”
As for retirement, the two plan to spend plenty of time with their grandchildren, who live in Fairhope.
“They play the biggest part in our personal lives,” Sonny said. “We haven’t missed out on much with them, but we’ve been willing to travel.”
The couple plans to move to Fairhope to be with the grandchildren.
“We have a lot of loose ends that we have to tie up here,” he said. “We are not walking away from any commitments we have.”
Sonny and Linda had much appreciation for Covington County.
“Covington County and Andalusia has been very good to Linda and I,” he said. “I have often joked but it is the truth – the people here enabled us to give our daughter the best education possible. We are very blessed and thankful for the education she received here.”