Donald V. Watkins
Attorney| Journalist| Entrepreneur
Donald V. Watkins (born September 8, 1948) is an American trial attorney, journalist and international entrepreneur.
He appears in the May 11, 2020, "King Richard" episode of the Netflix "Trial by Media" series.
Mr. Watkins has founded, owned, and managed many businesses across a variety of industries and disciplines. These businesses operate in U.S. and international marketplaces.
Mr. Watkins serves as Chairman and CEO of Masada Resource Group, LLC (www.masada.com), a global waste-to-ethanol/diesel fuel development company, with waste-to-energy projects in varying stages of development in forty-seven countries across four continents.
In 2011, Mr. Watkins co-founded Nabirm Energy Services (Pty) Ltd. (www.nabirm.com) in Windhoek, Namibia. He is a principal shareholder in Nabirm. Nabirm explores and develops oil, natural gas, and uranium resources.
In 2016, Nabirm announced that its offshore Namibian oil block contains a massive volume of unrisked recoverable oil and natural gas. In 2012, Nabirm successfully competed against the Iranian government for valuable uranium mining concessions in Namibia.
In 2000, Mr. Watkins co-founded Alamerica Bank (www.alamericabank.com), a state-chartered bank headquartered in Birmingham, Alabama, USA. This was the first and only bank charter issued by the State of Alabama to an African American-owned financial services institution.
Mr. Watkins is the Bank’s largest shareholder. Alamerica Bank is one of only nineteen black-owned banks in America. The Bank never sought or received federal “bailout” money during the Great Recession of 2008. It enjoys one of the best Tier 1 capital ratios among banks in Alabama.
Mr. Watkins is a life member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. Mr. Watkins, who is single, is the father of four sons and one daughter, all of whom are adults.
Mr. Watkins’ life story is the subject of a 2017 video oral history produced by The HistoryMakers (http://www.thehistorymakers.org/biography/donald-v-watkins).
Mr. Watkins was born in Parsons, Kansas on September 8, 1948 to Dr. Levi Watkins, Sr. (1911–1994) and Mrs. Lillian Bernice Varnado Watkins (1917–2013). He is the fifth of six children born to Levi and Lillian Watkins. Dr. Watkins was president of Alabama State University from 1962-1981. Mrs. Watkins was an educator by training and certification.
Mr. Watkins attended Southern Illinois University from 1966 to 1970. In September 1970, Mr. Watkins was one of two black students to desegregate The University of Alabama School of Law. Three black law students broke the color barrier at the law school the prior academic year.
Mr. Watkins attended the three-year law school program on a Herbert Lehman Scholarship awarded by the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund in New York City. Lehman Scholarships were awarded to young African-American students in the 1970s who demonstrated an interest in advancing the cause of civil rights and/or serving the public interest.
After graduation from law school, Mr. Watkins started his law practice in Montgomery, Alabama. In 1979, he became the youngest person ever elected to the Montgomery City Council where he served as a council member from 1979 to 1983.
In 1985, Mr. Watkins expanded his law practice into Birmingham, Alabama, and became a confidant of and Special Counsel to Birmingham Mayor Richard Arrington, Jr., the City’s first African-American mayor. Mr. Watkins served as Mayor Arrington’s Special Counsel until 1998.
During his distinguished legal career in Alabama, Mr. Watkins handled a record number of landmark cases, including the following nationally recognized cases:
Clarence Norris, the last known surviving “Scottsboro Boy”: On November 26, 1976, Mr. Watkins won a full and unconditional pardon from the state of Alabama for Clarence Norris, the last known surviving “Scottsboro Boy”. The nine Scottsboro Boys were falsely accused in 1931 of raping two white girls on a train running through Paint Rock, Alabama. All were arrested, tried, convicted of rape, and sentenced to death on multiple occasions. The U.S. Supreme Court saved the Scottsboro Boys on three occasions within hours of their scheduled execution.
The Clarence Norris pardon was based upon a finding of “innocence” of the criminal charge of rape, as proclaimed by the Alabama Pardons and Parole Board. This was the first pardon ever granted by the state to a person who was originally sentenced to death and who was later declared innocent of the charges for which he was convicted.
The Estate of Bernard Whitehurst v. The City of Montgomery, Alabama, et al.: In December 1975, Mr. Watkins represented the Estate of Bernard Whitehurst in a wrongful death case against the Montgomery police department. Whitehurst was an unarmed black man who was fatally shot by Montgomery police officer Donnie Foster. The police initially claimed that Whitehurst was a fleeing felon who shot at Foster while on the run. Mr. Watkins’ investigation, which included exhuming
Whitehurst’s body, revealed that Whitehurst was shot in the back, and that the gun found beside his body was “planted” by police after his death.
The Whitehurst case evolved into a nationally recognized scandal that resulted in the resignations of Montgomery’s mayor and police commissioner, the indictment of three police officers, and the firing or resignation of eight others. During this period, the Whitehurst case grew into the largest police scandal in Alabama’s history. This scandal was headlined in the April 3, 1977, edition of the Washington Post as “Alabama’s Watergate." More recently, this shooting was featured in a December 19, 2015, edition of the New York Daily News in an article titled, “Innocent Alabama man murdered by cops 40 years ago, police officers were heard saying 'We done shot the wrong n-----'”.
In April 2013, the City of Montgomery erected a marker at police headquarters formally acknowledging that, “Whitehurst, 32, did not match the robbery suspect’s description; that he was unarmed, despite police claims that they returned fire after being fired upon; that the gun found by his body had been confiscated by police in a drug investigation a year earlier, and was placed at the scene as part of a police cover-up."
In 2015, the City erected a second marker bearing the same language on the street where Whitehurst was killed.
Allen, et al. v. Alabama State Board of Education: In 1981, Mr. Watkins represented a group of black teachers and teacher applicants who successfully challenged the constitutionality of the Alabama’s newly instituted teacher testing program. In 1985, Mr. Watkins won an unprecedented settlement in the case when the State Board of Education agreed to halt the testing program due to widespread psychometric defects in all of the subject-matter tests. Teacher testing resumed in Alabama twenty years later with Mr. Watkins’ consent.
The Todd Road Incident: In 1983, an out-of-state black family was mourning the death of their mother/grandmother in Montgomery when two white police officers mistook the Michigan and Ohio mourners’ license plates as a gathering of out-of-state drug dealers. Unbelievably, these officers raided the funeral gathering and violence erupted in and around the home. The officers, who were believed to be home invaders, were shot during the ensuing melee. The mourners were subsequently arrested and beaten while in police custody.
Mr. Watkins’ investigation into the Todd Road incident as a Montgomery city councilman resulted in felony criminal charges against eleven of the mourners being reduced to misdemeanors in four cases and dropped altogether in eight others.
SCLC v. The City of Gadsden, Alabama: Beginning in 1978, Mr. Watkins filed a series of civil rights lawsuits on behalf of the SCLC against the City of Gadsden, Alabama seeking to desegregate its fire, police and civil service departments. Gadsden’s city hall, fire and police departments were all white at the time. All of the cases were successful and resulted in the full integration of City Hall and the fire, police, and civil service departments.
Sidney Williams v. The City of Montgomery, Alabama: In 1978, Mr. Watkins represented black police corporal Sidney Williams, who sought a promotion to sergeant in the Montgomery police department. His promotion was blocked because the department was using racially biased promotional tests that had not been validated in accordance with EEOC Guidelines. Mr. Watkins won the case and the tests were scrapped. This victory cleared the way for a host of black officers to rise through the ranks of the department all the way up to the rank of police chief.
Williams retired as a major in the department. After his retirement, Williams became the chairman of the Alabama Pardons and Parole Board, where he served as a board member with distinction for eight years.
U.S. v. Richard Arrington, Jr.: From 1988 to 1992, Mr. Watkins successfully represented Richard Arrington, Jr., Birmingham, Alabama’s first black mayor, in his fight against federal prosecutors who sought to make Arrington a criminal defendant in an ongoing public corruption and bribery case. In 1991, prosecutors named Arrington an unindicted co-conspirator in the fraud trial of another individual.
In 1992, the government cleared Arrington of all allegations of wrongdoing, and issued the first-ever public apology to a public official for smearing his name.
Arrington’s case was published by the U.S. Congress in the Congressional Record-Senate at S2533-2546 (March 9, 1990).
U.S. v. U.W. Clemon: In 1996, federal prosecutors in Los Angeles formally notified U.S. District Judge U.W. Clemon (in Birmingham, Alabama) of their intent to indict him on various fraud-related charges arising from his sister’s operation of a non-profit school in Los Angeles. Mr. Watkins represented the lead political group responsible for Judge Clemon’s appointment to the federal bench in 1980. Mr. Watkins immediately launched an investigation into allegations of prosecutorial misconduct in the case.
Mr. Watkins’ investigation produced a comprehensive report to the U.S. Attorney General on the prosecutorial misconduct. Based upon the Watkins report, the Department of Justice terminated the criminal investigation of Judge Clemon with no charges filed.
Judge Clemon went on to become the chief judge of the federal bench in Birmingham for ten years. He served with distinction on the federal bench until his retirement in 2009.
In August 2013, Judge Clemon received the American Bar Association’s highest award - the 2013 John H. Pickering Award - for his outstanding legal ability and his distinguished record of service to the profession and community. Ironically, this award was presented to Judge Clemon thirty-three years after the ABA vigorously opposed his 1980 nomination by President Jimmy Carter for a federal judgeship. At the time, the ABA said publicly, repeatedly and loudly that Judge Clemon was “unqualified” for the position. The Pickering award was an incredible but fitting end to Judge Clemon’s judicial career.
U.S. v. Richard Scrushy: In 2003, Mr. Watkins represented Richard M. Scrushy, the former CEO of HealthSouth. Scrushy was originally indicted on 85 felony counts of Sarbanes Oxley and related accounting fraud charges. If convicted on all charges, he faced 650 years in prison. Scrushy was the first CEO in the nation charged with violating Sarbanes Oxley. In 2005, Scrushy walked out of the federal courthouse in Birmingham a free man. Mr. Watkins defeated prosecutors on all charges in Scrushy’s case.
The July 25, 2005, edition of Fortune Magazine profiled the case in a feature article titled, “Donald Watkins: The Man Who Saved Richard Scrushy.” Mr. Watkins was labeled the “real legal mastermind of the case” in a front page article in the February 2, 2005, edition of the Wall Street Journal. The case was also featured on “60 Minutes". Mr. Watkins' role in the Scrushy case is featured in a May 11, 2020 Netflix documentary series titled, "Trial by Media, Episode #4, King Richard.
No white-collar criminal defendant before or since the Scrushy case has defeated 85 felony charges in an individual case.
Other Notable Cases: Mr. Watkins’ landmark civil rights cases in Alabama: (a) desegregated residential housing in Montgomery, Alabama; (b) changed the method for selecting members to the Alabama State Board of Education from at-large to district elections;(d) desegregated Alabama’s junior colleges and technical schools; (e) desegregated the faculty and staffs within 67 of Alabama’s 128 public school systems; (f) desegregated Alabama’s 32 four-year public colleges and universities and resulted in court-ordered doctoral and new academic programs, as well as nearly $600 million in new funding (beyond the regular state appropriations) and endowment money for Alabama State University and Alabama A&M University; (g) changed the method for selecting Birmingham City Council members from at-large to district elections; and (h) preserved the City of Birmingham’s affirmative action goals in municipal employment, as well as procurement contracts with municipal agencies.
In addition to his career in law, Mr. Watkins received national media coverage for his attempts to purchase the Minnesota Twins in 2002 and the Anaheim Angels in 2003. The owner of the Twins decided against selling his baseball team and the Angels were sold to Arturo Moreno. In 2009-2010, Mr. Watkins competed in a qualified bid process for the St. Louis Rams football team. In the end, the Rams sold to Stan Kroenke, who was a limited partner in the Rams franchise. Mr. Watkins continues his quest for a professional sports team.