U.S. District Judge Madeline Hughes Haikala, who is drawing attention for her ruling in the Gardendale school case, has been no stranger to headlines in high-profile Alabama cases since she became a judge in 2013.
She is handling the Hoover City Schools’ attendance rezoning issue, which could affect school desegregation in that system. She was the judge in a 2014 Huntsville City Schools desegregation case. And in 2016, she threw out charges and acquitted a Madison police officer accused of using excessive force against an Indian grandfather injured while visiting his son; her actions came after two juries deadlocked on verdicts.
Haikala was named a U.S. magistrate judge for northern Alabama in 2012. President Barack Obama nominated her as a U.S. district judge in 2013 and the U.S. Senate confirmed her.
Before that, Haikala worked with the Birmingham law firm of Lightfoot, Franklin & White from 1990 to 2012 and was an adjunct professor at Cumberland School of Law from 1998 to 2005, according to information submitted to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary.
Haikala also told the committee that she is a native of New Orleans and a graduate of Williams College and Tulane University Law School. In her years as an attorney, she worked with school projects, wrote on occasion for law publications and, in a higher-profile initiative, was an officer of the Women’s Fund “Voices Against Violence” domestic violence initiative. Her interest in domestic violence issues began with her pro bono work for indigent and homeless clients, she said in the materials submitted to the committee.
She lists only three media interviews, one in connection with the domestic violence initiative and two when she was named a magistrate judge. In her short tenure as magistrate, she told the Senate committee, “The cases that I have set for trial have settled, so I have not had the opportunity to preside over a trial yet.” Among the cases she listed as the “most significant” over which she presided were Fair Labor Standards Act actions, a claim under the Rehabilitation Act, and detention hearings for those charged with crimes.
During her years at Lightfoot, Franklin, her practice focused in earlier years on post-trial and appellate practice. In the five years before joining the bench, her work was split between trial and appellate work and dealt with “cases of every variety from product liability wrongful death actions to business disputes to environmental class actions,” she said.
In her employment history, Haikala listed summer jobs in 1986: “Various New Orleans grocery stores. Planters Peanut greeter and marketer.”