Two sisters born just 18 months apart have basically charted the same course throughout their lives and now both have been elected judges in Montgomery, Alabama. Samarria Dunson, the elder of the two, was recently sworn in as Montgomery Municipal Court Judge. The younger one, Lloria James, is a newly elected Circuit Court Judge.
The pair graduated from Lee High School in the 1990s and went to the University of Alabama. This is where their individuality shined through a bit. Whereas Dunson was unsure of what to do, James knew from the get-go she wanted to be an attorney at law.
According to the Montgomery Advertiser, having a big sister to guide James was an advantage that helped her stay true to her chosen career path. The inseparable sisters ended up at the University of Alabama Law School where they were each other’s motivation and cheerleaders.
Dunson, 42, started her journey at the law school before James, 40. Dunson mentored her little sister and made her know it is okay not to ace all your courses in law school.
“Everything in my path was much easier because she was right in front of me,” James said. “All the clubs, student judiciary, it was a lot easier for me to follower her.”
Right after passing the Alabama Bar Exam, the pair went to Montgomery to practice as a way of contributing their quota to the neighborhood they grew up in. “We wanted to actively contribute to making Montgomery a place where our children and their children would want to come back and live their adult lives,” James said.
James dived into the role of prosecutor not long after graduating and went on to serve as a municipal court judge in Montgomery from 2012-2015. She returned to the District Attorney’s office as a chief prosecutor until her recent election. When James is sworn in at the end of the year, it will be her second time acting in the capacity of a judge in Montgomery, but this time, she heads to the Circuit Court.
Dunson preferred making her mark behind the scenes and practiced as a health-care compliance law for years. When James was running for District Attorney, she was instrumental in her campaign and at one point she took charge of James’ household, raising her children while her sister was out there campaigning.
Now, Dunson’s biggest cheerleader, James, could not be prouder that her sister is no longer laying low with all the good works but is now going to do them behind the bench, where everyone can commend her for her contributions.
“I was really insistent and excited about her having her time because she really deserves it,” James said. “She’s brilliant in her own right. She spends a lot of time in the shadows and not stepping out and taking credit where it’s due, so I was really excited for her.”
James believed her sister was ready to take on that role even when the latter had doubts.
“And I wasn’t going to do it. Like when I first heard about it, I thought there’s so much going on but then she really encouraged me,” Dunson said. “I never expected to be a judge. The whole time I was out standing in the street, holding signs for Lloria, I never thought this would be an opportunity for me.”
The pair attribute their success, work ethics and compassion to their parents. Their father, Sam Munnerlyn, was president of Trenholm State Community College for 12 years but is currently retired. He showed them that dedication does not give room for excuses. Their mother, Marielle Munnerlyn, on the other hand, served as a professor at Alabama State University and would stop at nothing to see her students excel.
As Black women, representation is everything to the sisters and they intend to bring these attributes they learned from their parents to the bench and beyond. Dunson and James will mentor the youth of Montgomery to dream bigger than their current circumstances may present. They hope their role as judges will be an inspiration enough to push these children to go for gold.