To the Victor Goes the Spoils: The Story of Judge Carnella Greene Norman

 Judge Carnella Greene Norman

A long time ago, in a country, far, far away, a man named Bull Connor gave a speech in Selma, Alabama. He was discussing the fight to break the resistance to desegregation, and, as Bobby Wilson relates in his book “Race and Place in Birmingham: The Civil Rights and the Neighborhood Movements” said:

…unless the South united to “fight this plague,” black would dominate. Using a metaphor that seemed appropriate for Birmingham, once considered the football capital of the South, he went on to state, “We are on the one-yard line. Our backs are to the Wall. Do we let them go over for a touchdown, or do we raise the Confederate Flag as did our forefathers and tell them… ‘you shall not pass’?” (p.33)

Flash forward to January 8, 2013 and the footprint squarely on the face of white America is still just as fresh as when it was made so long ago.

And it is Birmingham where that footprint was made, with the winning score being blared across the world; the ramifications of this victory still reverberating around the halls of government and academia today.

But it is in the halls of City Hall in Birmingham that the smell of victory still lingers [Birmingham City Council staffers flee strong industrial odor at City Hall offices, Birmingham News, 10-18-12]:

Several Birmingham City Council staff members remained at home Thursday following complaints of a mysterious industrial odor from an adjoining conference room as renovation occurs in the office.

Some workers complained the smell emitting from the closed-off conference room just feet away was making them sick — literally.

Employees were absent Thursday and are expected to remain away from the City Hall again Friday as work continues in the conference room.

The smell of victory in Birmingham doesn’t smell like napalm, but it does come in industrial strength. What was going on in that City Hall conference room you ask? Why, a huge mural being painted commemorating victory over Bull Connor and the society he dared to represent and defend[With fumes gone, Birmingham City Hall conference room now a shrine to 1963 civil rights history, Birmingham News, 10-31-12]:

 Construction of a civil rights-themed conference room on the third floor of City Hall is now complete, but not before sickening some city employees, and sending at least one woman to the hospital complaining about strong fumes.

The renovation of the small conference room near the City Council offices was blamed for emitting industrial odors so intense that office workers were sent home for several days.

At least one council employee went to the hospital and other complaints about the fumes compelled Council President Roderick Royal to send workers home until the alleged hazardous condition had ended.

The renovated room is now finished and features a wallpaper collage of familiar black and white 1960’s civil rights images, a glossy, freshly painted black floor and an accent wall with quotations in red from both Mayor William Bell and President Barack Obama paying homage to hard-won civil rights gains of the past. The office also has a new gray glass tinted door and repainted conference table.

The work was ordered by Bell’s staff and the door was closed and locked until now.
“The first time I was made aware of the repainting of the conference room was when the council administrator notified me that employees had to leave because of fumes from the paint,” Royal said.

The room which had been shared by both the Council and the mayor’s staff, and was renovated as part of the city’s upcoming 50th anniversary of 1963 civil rights activities, said Bell’s chief of staff Chuck Faush.

 Victory hasn’t smelled so sweet (or so toxic, but isn’t that irony?) then the delectable aroma of cocooning a City Hall meeting room in Birmingham with images of 1963. 

But what does true victory smell like in 2013 Birmingham? What happens when black people come to dominate the city, the very city, that once served as the source of resistance to the nationwide implementation of Black-Run America (BRA)?

Her name is Carnella Greene Norman [Carnella Greene Norman wins Jefferson County District Court Judge Place 3 race, Birmingham News, 11-6-12]:

Carnella Greene Norman, who had resigned her job as a Birmingham municipal court judge a decade ago as part of a settlement in a racial discrimination lawsuit, won the race for Jefferson County District Court Judge Place 3 in today’s general election.
Norman, a Democrat, defeated W. Davis Lawley, a former Birmingham drug court judge.

With nearly 98 percent of the votes counted, Norman had 143,531 votes or 52.5 percent, and Lawley had 129,977 votes, or 47.5 percent.

Norman was a Birmingham Municipal Court judge from 1991 to 2002, but resigned as part of a legal settlement in a racial discrimination lawsuit brought against her by a white employee. 

 And you wonder why black people keep flocking to theaters to see “Django Unchained”? You wonder why Victor Hill won re-election as sheriff of Clayton County (Ga.), the same man who once fired all white officers and had black police point sniper rifles at them as they were led from the station in 2006, despite being under indictment….

The power of “racial democracy” was on display on November 6, 2012 in Jefferson County (Alabama), home to 75 percent black Birmingham [After vote, Alabama needs serious soul searching, 10-6-12, Birmingham News]:

But while Republican soul-searching might be wise in light of what happened Tuesday, the bluing of Jefferson County is not as simple as race.

Blacks make up 42 percent of the county’s population, according to the U.S. Census. Victories Tuesday night were far higher than that.

Six of every 10 voters – 174,498 people in Jefferson County – simply pulled a straight ticket ballot. Some 35 percent of all ballots cast were Democratic straight tickets, while 24 percent of all ballots were straight Republican tickets. 


Carnella Greene-Norman, who was forced out of her Birmingham Municipal Court job years ago as part of a settlement in a lawsuit that outlined a pattern of racial discrimination in her court, will now decide real issues for real people in a decimated family court.

 So wait.. why was Judge Greene-Norman forced out to begin with? [Black Judge Sued For Reverse Discrimination, Birmingham News, 1-10-2002]:

Birmingham Municipal Judge Carnella Norman accused of ignoring a legal settlement requiring her to quit, has stepped down, according to a letter from her attorney included in federal court records. “Judge Norman has now retired and she is in compliance.” Birmingham lawyer Howard M. Miles wrote to plaintiff lawyer Susan Reeves in a letter dated Tuesday.

“As of January 7,2002, Judge Norman’s employment with the City of Birmingham ceased, effective December 28, 2001,” Miles wrote.

Efforts to reach Miles for an explanation of the chronology were unsuccessful.
Ms. Reeves, who represents Joyce Franklin, a former senior legal secretary who sued the judge and the city, took issue with Miles in a Tuesday response letter:

“Retirement is not what is called for by the terms of the mediated settlement.”

Ms. Reeves wrote that the judge has not resigned but simply submitted a request for early retirement in an “outrageous grab for additional benefits to which she is not entitled for any reason.”

Efforts to reach Ms.Reeves for comment were unsuccessful Wednesday.

Judge Norman was accused in federal court filings of not complying with a confidential settlement she reached with the city and Ms. Franklin. Ms. Franklin claimed the judge, who is black, discrimanated against her because she is white.

The settlement reached last February in private mediation called for the judge to resign by Dec. 28 according to court findings. The settlement also required the city to pay Ms. Franklin $250,000, according to former city council members.

Court filings also say that Judge Norman has accused the city of not complying with the settlement. She is seeking reimbursement for legal fees and sanctions against the city, according to the filings.

In a court hearing last week, Judge Norman said she had been reporting to work every day but there were no cases on the docket until Monday, and a city lawyer said she remained on the payroll. A special judge has been appointed by the city to hear cases in the courtroom where Judge Norman normally sits.

U.S. District Judge H. Dean Buttram Jr. last week set a Friday hearing to consider a request by lawyers from the city and Ms.Franklin to enforce the settlement. It is unclear whether Judge Norman’s retirement would satisfy the guidelines of the original settlement, which has never been released even though the City Council had to approve it.

  And now, Judge Norman is back as a Jefferson County Court Judge.

Victory has never smelled sweeter, right?

An article appearing in the Birmingham Post-Herald back in 2000 by Elaine Witt detailed the racism Judge Norman exercised against whitey in her courtroom [Council ignores claims against judge]:

 And some people in the Birmingham legal trade will tell you that unprofessionalism is the order of the day in the courtroom of Birmingham Municipal Judge Carnella Greene Norman.

For weeks now, listeners to a local talk radio show have been hearing allegations that this judge hardly ever shows up for her $103,000 job. But citizens concerned about the efficient administration of justice might be just as worried about what happens when this judge does come to court.

I went to see Judge Norman on the bench on Thursday. She wasn’t there. A bailiff, who once was fired by the judge but was reinstated by the Jefferson County Personnel Board, told me the judge hadn’t shown up regularly since August. Another court employee countered that the judge did come in two or three weeks ago to handle a handful of cases.

Judge Norman’s dockets, I was told, are slim to non-existent most days, meaning that the court’s two other downtown judges, David Barnes and Raymond Chambliss, may have to handle hundreds of traffic and misdemeanor cases per day. Defendants thus have to wait even longer than usual to see a judge. And if you’ve ever been to city court, you know the wait never has been short.

But documents filed in a pending race discrimination lawsuit against the judge, who is one of three black judges at the downtown court, tell a more chilling story.

In a sworn statement, one black court employee, the bailiff mentioned above, said Judge Norman made it clear to him that she did not like white people and did not want white employees working near her. He said he feared to be friendly toward white employees in Norman’s presence, for fear of turning the judge against him.

A white lawyer stated under oath that she knows other white lawyers who charge their clients extra if they have to appear before Judge Norman, “because of her abusiveness.”

An attorney who in 1981 helped establish a mediation program in municipal court stated under oath that the program disintegrated after Norman became presiding judge, because the mediators and their clients would show up at the appointed time but could no longer get access to their case files.

One black employee stated under oath that when she went to work for Norman, she was required to style the judge’s hair before each court session. 

The bias complaint has dragged on since 1996, mainly at city expense. Presumably, it will be resolved in court.

But Norman’s judicial career is in the hands of the Birmingham City Council, which already has cast its vote. A majority on the council recently named Norman to another four years as a municipal judge. And after Mayor Bernard Kincaid took the title of presiding judge away from Norman and gave it to Judge Barnes, the council passed a resolution praising Norman for “ensuring the dignity of the administration of justice.”

Judge Norman is the face of victory that Bull Connor warned about; while the Birmingham City Council celebrates the events of 1963 (hilariously painting a mural that emitted toxic fumes in a City Hall conference room that necessitated an evacuation of the building), the now 3/4 black city of Birmingham is on the verge of complete collapse.

But don’t worry — Judge Norman is back.

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