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Opinion | The devastating loss of Judge Sandra Storm

Joey Kennedy

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This is a big political week, and normally I’d comment about that. But there’s plenty of commentary on the Democratic and Republican Party primaries.

I’d like to write about a loss for Alabama that not many people are writing about because of all the election noise.

On Monday, retired Jefferson County Family Court presiding Judge Sandra Ross Storm died. She suffered a massive stroke on Sunday while traveling to Chicago with a friend. She died Monday after her family decided to take her off life support. She was 72.

There was no chance of a recovery for Judge Storm. She would not have wanted her family to do anything but what they did. That’s what I’d want, too.

This is a hard loss for her family, the nation, Alabama, Jefferson County, and for me personally. I’ve known Judge Storm practically her entire career and my Birmingham journalism career. I covered Family Court for decades as an opinion writer. I watched the important changes Judge Storm made at Jefferson County Family Court, including the introduction of a well-respected gun court and drug court. Dozens of programs have Judge Storm to thank for their existence.

My wife, Veronica, and I were longtime, volunteer Court Appointed Special Advocates, representing abused and neglected children at Family Court. I’ve had a few cases before Judge Storm, and she always handled them as good judges do. She also freely offered advice when we asked for it.

During the 1990s, The Birmingham News did an editorial page series on juvenile justice in Alabama, and Judge Storm was a key source for that series. She gave the editorial writers at The News practically unfettered access to Family Court and the cases there.

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Judge Storm was also a key member of the group that helped pass Children First in Alabama.

But Judge Storm didn’t quit after she retired in 2005. She stayed involved in judging, child advocacy, and advocacy for women, especially abused women.

Judge Storm never quit, not until this very sad week.

I knew Judge Storm in her other roles as well, as a leader at First Presbyterian Church, as an animal advocate. Most important, I knew her as a friend.

Judge Storm worked closely with Birmingham’s Hand-in-Paw Animal Assisted Therapy organization. She was a nationally renowned judge, yes, but she never shied from doing the heavy lifting in her volunteer or professional work.

In 2015, one of our pugs, Veronica Pearl, a tiny, crippled girl who had to use a cart to get around, painted for Hand-in-Paw’s Picasso Pets event. The animals’ paws are dipped in paint and they run around on a canvas. Skilled artists finish these paintings. The paintings are then auctioned off to help raise money for Hand-in-Paw’s important work.

Pearl painted in her wheelchair, and acclaimed artist Traci Noles Ross finished her painting, naming it “Pearl’s Roses.” It’s beautiful, and meaningful.

But on the day Pearl painted at Hand-in-Paw, Judge Storm was there, too, waiting to wash the paint from Pearl’s paws and cart after she painted.

Pearl died the week before her painting was to be auctioned at the annual Picasso Pets event. A group of people – we never learned who participated – purchased Pearl’s (and Traci’s) artwork and presented it to my wife and me. It was an emotional moment.

I’m not sure, of course, but I’ll bet Judge Storm was part of that group that made sure we had this lasting memory of our Pearl to hang on our wall.

The honors Judge Storm earned over her life are many, and well-earned.

The legacy she leaves is deep and lasting.

Still, Judge Storm left us all too soon. She was a good and faithful servant.

She will be mourned. She will be missed. But she cannot be replaced.

Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column each week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected]

 

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