As a Staff Attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center, Latasha L. McCrary (’08) works on behalf of more than 24,000 individuals incarcerated in Alabama’s prisons.
The SPLC, a civil rights organization based in Montgomery, filed a federal lawsuit against the Alabama Department of Corrections in 2014, claiming the department doesn’t provide adequate medical and mental health care. The SPLC lawsuit alleges that persons who have been incarcerated in state prisons have received delayed care for medical conditions, and that those who need care for mental illnesses have received little or no treatment.
“When people do not receive preventative care or proper care, then they keep needing more care. The more care they need, the more that care actually costs” McCrary said. “If you treat early and treat appropriately, that’s going to save money in the long run.”
The medical portion of the case is expected to go to trial next year, while the mental health portion is scheduled for trial in December. The Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program joined the case, claiming the prison system discriminates against inmates with disabilities, and the matter has been settled. The department of corrections has agreed to outline steps it will take to ensure its prisons and policies comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“The department had no way of tracking people with disabilities,” McCrary said. “It also had no grievance system, and those are required by the ADA.”
Fighting for those who cannot wage a battle themselves has long been a goal for McCrary. She decided to go to law school after she took constitutional law and civil rights courses at the University of Alabama in Huntsville and couldn’t believe how the rights of individuals were being violated. During her senior year, she took the LSAT and applied to law school. She wanted to stay close to home and remain in Alabama after graduation. When she was accepted to UA, there was no doubt where she would attend.
McCrary said Professors Gene Marsh and Bryan Fair influenced her career. Marsh told his students it was a privilege to be in law school and that they should not take it for granted, while Fair engaged her in conversations about constitutional law and civil rights, as well as encouraging McCrary, the mother of a 2-year-old daughter when she started law school, that she could successfully complete the degree.
McCrary has achieved success despite some challenges as a child and a young adult, which is why the Rev. T. C. Johnson, pastor of St. Luke Christian Church in Huntsville, describes her as the “epitome of perseverance.”
“She‘s the kind of person who walks on trouble really well, and the reason for that is her faith,” Johnson said. “She doesn’t sink down in the storms. They’re there, but she doesn’t let them dictate who she can be, what she can become.”
After she graduated, McCrary worked as a volunteer in Huntsville as an attorney for Legal Services of Alabama and for the Office of Chief Counsel at the Marshall Space Flight Center. In 2009, she opened her own practice, where she focused on general law and criminal defense for five years.
At the SPLC, McCrary is the first UA Law School graduate hired as a staff attorney since the center was founded in 1971. While founders Morris Dees (’60) and Joseph Levin, Jr. (’66) are both graduates of the Law School, no UA Law graduates had been hired to work as staff attorneys at the SPLC before McCrary joined the staff in July 2014, said Maria Morris, Senior Supervising Attorney for the SPLC.
It was McCrary’s extensive experience with the prison system and the criminal justice system in Alabama that helped her land the position.
“When I saw what she had on her resume, and the skill set and knowledge she brought with her, it seemed very clear to me she would add something different than someone who had been doing similar types of work in a different place, and she has,” Morris said.
In January, McCrary delivered the keynote address at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Commemoration Program at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.
McCrary was honored to be chosen as the keynote speaker and she used the opportunity to remind those in the audience that Alabama’s constitution, adopted in 1901 as a way to disenfranchise African-Americans and poor whites, continues to affect the state. For example, about 30 percent of the residents of Alabama are people of color, while more than 60 percent of people incarcerated in the state’s prisons are people of color.
“So, we certainly believe that what has happened in the past is having a current impact on the future of our state,” she said.
It’s just one of the reasons McCrary is dedicated to serving Alabama. She keeps the needs of the most vulnerable population in mind as she works to protect it. As the only Alabama native working on the case against the Alabama Department of Corrections, McCrary has given a lot of thought and consideration to how her work will affect the state’s residents.
“This is my home,” she said. “These are my neighbors.”
Law School Graduates Named Rising Stars of Law for 2016
The Birmingham Business Journal has named its Rising Stars of Law for 2016, and nearly half of those listed are graduates of the University of Alabama School of Law. The list takes a look at 30 up-and-coming attorney’s in Birmingham.
Study Supports Do Not Sell Voluntary Waiting Period for Gun Sales to Reduce Suicide
A new study, led by UA School of Law Professor Fredrick Vars, suggests many patients at risk for suicide would voluntarily place their name on a Do Not Sell list, prohibiting gun shops from immediately selling them a firearm.
“There is evidence that suicide, in particular suicide-by-gun, is often impulsive — that once an individual decides to take their own life they are, in many cases, able to quickly obtain a firearm and use it,” Vars said. “The concept of a Do Not Sell list, similar to the national Do Not Call list, would be to eliminate such impulsive transactions. Restricting access to firearms, even temporarily, could save many lives.”
The authors report that previous studies of survivors of firearm suicide attempts found a majority had suicidal thoughts for less than a day, while another found that, of nearly lethal suicide attempts among people 13-34 years of age, about one-fourth of attempters spent less than five minutes between the decision to attempt suicide and the actual attempt.
“People with mental illness are more likely to commit suicide,” said Richard Shelton, M.D., vice chair of Research for the UAB Department of Psychiatry and a study co-author. “Studies indicate the vast majority of suicide attempt survivors end up eventually dying of something other than suicide, so a means of preventing someone from making future gun purchases during a suicidal crisis might reduce suicide rates.”
The researchers surveyed 200 patients at an inpatient psychiatric unit and two outpatient psychiatry clinics at UAB. The most commonly reported conditions of those surveyed were mood disorders, anxiety disorders, psychotic disorders or substance abuse.
The survey presented two options to study participants. In the first, respondents would voluntarily place their name on the Do Not Sell list, which would feature a seven-day waiting period following a request for removal from the list to avoid an impulse buy. The second option would require a judicial hearing to remove a name from the list and allow a gun sale. A total of 46 percent of respondents indicated willingness to participate in one of the two methods, with a slight preference for the seven-day waiting period.
“Nearly one-half of participants indicated they would like to be able to restrict their own future gun purchases,” Vars said. “This approach wouldn’t stop all suicides, but any dent we could make in the estimated 20,000 people who use a gun to commit suicide every year in the United States would be significant.”
“Waiting periods to purchase firearms have been shown to reduce gun suicide, most likely due to the impulsive nature of suicide attempts,” said Karen L. Cropsey, Psy.D., associate professor of psychiatry at UAB and a study co-author. “The Do Not Sell list is a new type of means restriction, and means restriction generally has been shown to be one of the most effective suicide prevention strategies.”
Cheryl B. McCullumsmith, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor, University of Cincinnati, was also a co-author of the study.
UA Law Alumnus Establishes Undergraduate Scholarship
Jordan, a product of the Birmingham City Schools, earned an undergraduate degree in accounting from UA in 2001.
The scholarship was announced Sept. 26 during “Coming Back, Giving Back,” a dinner gathering hosted by the Division of Community Affairs advisory board at the Bryant Conference Center.
“I always dreamed of serving my community through the practice of law,” said Jordan, a Community Affairs board member. “The University of Alabama’s commitment to helping all of its students reach their full potential provided me with an opportunity to fulfill that dream. I want to do my part to ensure that others have that same opportunity.”
The New York Times Cites Article Written by Professor Rushin and UAB Professor
The New York Times cites the Cornell Law Review article, “De-Policing,” written by Professor Stephen Rushin and University of Alabama Birmingham Professor Griffin Edwards.
“In a paper soon to be published, they examine what happens to local crime rates when police departments come to the attention of the federal government for systematically violating civil rights, or, in more extreme cases, become subject to federal oversight and reform. Because such oversight is a form of criticism, it offers a test case of the thesis that increased scrutiny of the police leads to more crime.”
Law School Students Address Pre-Law Students at National Conference
University of Alabama School of Law students conducted critical outreach to pre-law students at The Third Annual National HBCU Pre-Law Diversity Summit and Expo at the Georgia State University College of Law in Atlanta. Briana Knox (’17) and Samantha Pline (’17) spoke on the LSAT Success Strategies panel where they shared their stories of how they excelled at being able to score high on the LSAT. Neena Speer (’17) served as a moderator on the HBCU Law School Experience panel as a past HBCU alumni from from Howard University. Speer also served as a team leader for the conference this year and an advisor for pre-law students for the one-on-one conferences.
Professor Pierson Discusses Acting Chief Justice Lyn Stuart
Professor Pam Bucy Pierson discusses Acting Chief Justice Lyn Stuart, who replaced former Chief Justice Roy Moore, with Fox 6 in Birmingham and NBC 12 in Montgomery.
Professor Krotoszynski Comments on Solomonic Resolution That Effectively Removed Moore from Office
Professor Ronald Krotoszynski is quoted in The Los Angeles Times about the Solomonic resolution that effectively removed Chief Justice Roy Moore from office.
“The practical effect is, I think, indistinguishable in that he will no longer to be able to hear and decide cases as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the state of Alabama,” Krotoszynski said.
“I think the big picture here is that law isn’t politics and politics isn’t the law,” Krotoszynski said. “As a political matter, the chief justice can oppose Obergefell, argue it’s wrongly decided, and propose an amendment to the federal Constitution. But as the chief justice of Alabama, there’s no meritorious argument here.”
For more, read “Why Roy Moore, Alabama’s Chief Justice, Could Be Removed — Again.”
Law School Offers 13 Online CLE Programs on Economics, Emotional Intelligence and Financial Planning
The University of Alabama School of Law is offering 13 online CLE programs on how to thrive in the new legal marketplace. The CLE program are part of The Business of Being a Lawyer series, and they focus on economics, emotional intelligence, and finances. The Business of Being a Lawyer course was created by Professor Pam Bucy Pierson with the help of over 100 lawyers.
The course focuses on:
Emerging technology, evolving business models of law office practice, virtual law practices, new approaches to delivering client services including limited scope representation, legal services apps and interactive websites, project management, alternative billing arrangements.
Applying the science of psychology to EQ challenges faced by lawyers including managing stress, building resilience, maintaining balance, and using one’s strengths.
The average lawyer changes jobs 7 times in a career. Being nimble financially is one of the keys to being an effective free agent throughout one’s career. Practical tips and resources for managing student loan debt, analyzing the financial calculus of career decisions, budgeting, savings, and retirement decisions.
The programs are approved for credit in Alabama and Texas. All proceeds will be donated to UA law student scholarships.