James Sims sworn in as Anniston’s first black municipal judge
by Paige Rentz
Circuit Judge Bud Turner, left, swears newly appointed municipal Judge James Sims into office at the Anniston City Council meeting Thursday night. (Anniston Star photo by Paige Rentz)
James Sims made history Thursday night, becoming Anniston’s first black municipal judge.

Sims, who served as alternate judge for nearly two years, was appointed to the position by the Anniston City Council at its regular meeting and then sworn in immediately after by Circuit Judge Bud Turner.

Mayor Vaughn Stewart, himself a 15-year municipal judge whose time on the bench overlapped with Sims’ service as an alternate, said the new judge “was always there, a steady hand in temperament, everything you’d want as a judge.”

Sims came into law as a second career after two decades with the BellSouth telephone company. With a bachelor’s degree in economics from Tulane and an MBA from Samford already under his belt, he completed law school at the University of Alabama in 1998. He began working for a local attorney in Anniston that same year, and in 2000 opened his own practice in the Lyric Square building.

Sims was initially drawn to the bench as a way to expand his involvement in the city. “I think the municipal court bench is an opportunity to affect a lot of people,” he said.

A widower who devotes a great deal of time to his two teenage daughters in Birmingham, Sims does not live in the Model City, but commutes to his downtown practice.

Councilman David Reddick was pleased with Sims’ historic appointment Thursday.

“It’s showing we’re becoming more inclusive as a city,” he said. “It’s showing we don’t have that good ol’ boy mentality this city was famous for.”

While the new judge has cemented his own place in local history, his main concern is carrying out his duties.

“I think it’s important from a symbolic standpoint,” he said, “but my mission is to be a municipal court judge and to do the job to the best of my ability and to be fair and make reasoned decisions.”

Sims replaces Judge Jennifer Downey, who submitted her resignation Thursday to spend more time with her newborn child, according to her husband, Bruce Downey.

City Manager Don Hoyt announced during the council’s work session that Bruce Downey will be serving as the city attorney. He will replace Cleo Thomas, whose services Hoyt announced last month would no longer be utilized by the city.

Downey, who is originally from Montgomery, attended the University of Alabama as an undergraduate and received his law degree from the Cumberland School of Law at Samford University in 2006. After stints as a clerk in the U.S. Court of Appeals and as a corporate lawyer with a large Birmingham firm, he moved to Anniston, his wife’s hometown, two years ago.

Hoyt said the city has employed Downey’s services for contract negotiations and other matters in the past with success.

“He is extremely good at dealing in situations of settlements: Hoyt said, also noting Downey’s capacity as a “really quick learner” who can solve problems.

Staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.

© 2013