Retired U.S. Judge Sam Pointer, 73; Faced Threats in Integration Cases

Associated Press
Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Retired U.S. District Judge Sam C. Pointer Jr., who served nearly 30 years on the federal bench in Alabama and endured death threats for his school integration rulings in Birmingham, has died. He was 73.

Judge Pointer died March 15 at a hospital of an illness, his wife said. He had retired from the court about eight years ago and joined the Birmingham law firm of Lightfoot, Franklin & White.

"The legal community revered Judge Pointer for both his brilliance and his wonderful temperament," Chief U.S. District Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn said.

Judge Pointer, who was appointed by President Richard M. Nixon, issued controversial decisions as Birmingham struggled with desegregating school systems in the 1970s. He ordered the busing of children to achieve integration in Jefferson County schools.

During the school cases, he received threats on his life, prompting round-the-clock protection by U.S. marshals, even at a church service.

Judge Pointer also presided over other complex litigation, including 26,000 silicone-gel breast implant cases in the 1990s.

Pointer also was lauded for his work in the classroom. He taught legal education courses to federal judges across the country.

The Birmingham native began his law education at Vanderbilt University but transferred to the University of Alabama, where he received a law degree in 1957. He received a master's degree in taxation from New York University in 1958.

Returning to Birmingham, he joined his father, Sam C. Pointer, in a small practice until 1970, when he was appointed to the bench for the Northern District of Alabama, the state's largest federal court district. He served as chief judge of the district from January 1982 until November 1999.

Survivors include his wife, Paula; a son; and a daughter.

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