ALAJ Salutes...

Ernie Hornsby

 DOTHAN ---Ernie Hornsby was a child of the 60's. Now, at almost 60 years of age, he maintains his idealism by mentoring young lawyers and networking with fellow trial lawyers.

"I have reached a point in my professional and personal life  that I have to be careful not to let cynicism overcome my youthful idealism," Hornsby said. "Two ways that I have found that help me professionally are mentoring young lawyers and staying active in ALAJ, especially regularly attending ALAJ seminars.

"Both keep me renewed and hopeful," he said.

In fact, the turbulence of the 60's led Hornsby to a law career. He was attending the University of Alabama during the civil rights movement and began to notice that "lawyers seemed to be able to get things done."

Although there were not, and still are not, any lawyers in Hornsby's family, (he and Sonny Hornsby call each other "cuz" but haven't hit on their common ancestors yet) Hornsby said his father, Ernest Jr., and mother, Peggy, were very supportive and encouraged him to go to law school.

"My mother loved the TV show "Perry Mason", she watched it on our black and white TV all the time," Hornsby said. "She thought  lawyers were exciting.

"My father was assistant manager of the then-Dothan Cigar and Candy Company and they employed lawyers and he seemed to like and respect them," he added.

Hornsby received his undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Alabama and, after serving a stint in the U.S. Army, he turned down offers from Birmingham law firms and chose instead to come back home to Dothan.

"It was one of the best decisions I have ever made," Hornsby said. "I practiced law within a block of the hospital where I was born."

Although Hornsby decided to remain a "small town" lawyer, he has been in some big time cases. He has been involved in dozens of national breast implant cases, which have given him an opportunity to work with lots of "big time" lawyers and try cases all around the country. Hornsby said that being a small town lawyer sometimes is very beneficial.

"Because you are from a small firm in a small town they don't always take you as seriously as they should," he said. "Their perception usually changes after awhile but it gives you an early advantage."

Although the breast implant cases are very high profile, Hornsby points to a much more obscure case as one where he thinks he really made a difference in someone's life.

Ironically, it was a criminal case he tried years ago. As the story goes a city clerk in nearby Midland City, which makes Dothan look like a big city, was charged with embezzling city funds.

"I was 100 percent convinced that she was innocent," Hornsby said. " It was a complex case and after several days of trial the jury went out and within minutes found her not guilty."

"That case had the capacity of  totally destroying her and her family, so I felt all my work really did make a difference there," Hornsby said.

In some of his other more rewarding cases, Hornsby was actually a juror, not a trial lawyer.

"Serving on a jury really dispelled myths about what juries do and do not see," Hornsby said. "Juries really do look for lawyers to guide them and you can be sure that if a jury does not trust a lawyer that lawyer is in trouble.

"It also helped me in trying my cases because I gained an insight that most lawyers can only speculate on," he said. "I feel like I am a better lawyer because I have actually been a juror in the box."

Although Hornsby chose to return to Dothan, he spent his college summers working out of state. In fact, he met his wife of 38 years working at a resort in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Marianne was a college student from Detroit also working there that summer and her first introduction to the South was a University of Alabama football game when she visited that fall.

"It took her a while to get used to the heat but she loved football and everything else about the South," he said. "I don't think she would live anywhere else now."

The Hornsby's have three daughters and six grandchildren, all within driving distance. On a typical fall Saturday, they drive to Tuscaloosa to visit their daughter, Susan and her child, and go, yes, to a UA football game. On their way home they stop in Montgomery to visit their daughter Stacey and her three children. And, when they can get away other times of the year, they head to their home on the bay in Santa Rosa Beach where their daughter Jenny and two grandchildren live.

Marianne taught school for 30 years before retiring and now teaches reading to children at risk in the Houston County School System. Like her husband, she keeps her idealism alive by mentoring and giving back to others.

For all that he has done for young lawyers and for his continued support of ALAJ, a still idealistic Ernie Hornsby is our "Champion of  Justice."