Meet Cullman County Attorney Emily Johnston

Emily Johnston (contributed)

CULLMAN, Ala. – Emily Niezer Johnston was recently hired by the Cullman County Commission as the new Cullman County attorney. Johnston replaces former Cullman County Attorney Chad Floyd, who was appointed March 13 by Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey as Cullman County District Judge, Place 1.

Johnston, a Cullman County native and 1992 graduate of Cullman High School, took over the position of county attorney just as social distancing restrictions began regarding the COVID-19 pandemic in late March.

“I was born and raised in Cullman,” Johnston said. “I am from Cullman. My dad was an assistant district attorney here in Cullman for all my life. My mom was an elementary school teacher. She started at Jones Chapel and then she was at West Elementary, and she finished her teaching career at East Elementary.”

Johnston is the daughter of the late Charlie Niezer and Kay Niezer. Johnston’s grandparents were G.O. and Lola Mae Anderson, who owned the Martin Twin and Ritz theaters.

“People that are my parents age or older typically would associate me with- they were my grandparents that ran the movie theater,” Johnston said.

When she finished high school, Johnston attended Birmingham-Southern College and the University of Alabama before finishing her degree in education at Athens State University.

She explained, “While I was doing my student teaching is when I received my letter of acceptance to go to law school at Cumberland. That’s where I went to law school at Cumberland School of Law (at Samford University) and finished there in 2001.”

With a teaching degree and a law degree, Johnston had several career options.

“When I finished law school, I stayed in Birmingham and I worked for litigation firms. I did trial work and courtroom work,” she said. “I worked at the district attorney’s office in Lee County doing trial work.”

Johnston moved home 15 years ago after the birth of her older daughter. In Cullman, she began working with Knight & Griffith before opening her own law practice.

In 2016, Johnston became the department chair for the Paralegal/Legal Assistant Program at Wallace State Community College.

“It’s sort of coming full circle,” she said. “I got to get back to teaching, but I was able to do it on a legal side. When I was approached about this opportunity, I was honored to be considered and I am honored to be here and to be working for the people of Cullman County.”

She described her new position as the county attorney as “exciting every day.”

She said that the new position is a different area of law, explaining, “For example, if you are going to draft a deed or something, if the County is selling property or receiving property or vacating a road, from a procedure standpoint, it’s not as simple as, ‘I’m going to go sell this piece of property.’ It’s important that it’s not that simple because there needs to be transparency and everybody needs to know what’s going on. You have to go through the proper channels to make sure everything is done correctly.”

She added, “I love it! I love it! It’s a lot of fun and you just don’t know what’s going to happen the next day. There’s always something different that comes up and that part’s fun. It’s important work and I feel it’s rewarding helping people and keeping everything moving forward. It’s a wonderful opportunity and I am just thankful beyond words that I have been given this opportunity to do it and I am very humbled and honored that I was considered, much less hired. I am very excited.”

The timing of Johnston taking over the position came at an unprecedented time in history. The COVID-19 pandemic has presented many unique challenges, but Johnston is optimistic.

“It’s brand new for every county attorney, all the things coming up as a result of it,” she said. “It’s also new for anybody in leadership, facing completely different issues. When you think about how people work, how we communicate, how we work together. What do we do with our kids out of school? Just so many contingencies that have never been faced by anybody else up until this point. I would say that the good part of me starting, that has consumed almost 100% of my time.”

With changes coming every day throughout the pandemic, she said, “I am thankful that there is a really good support system here and throughout the state. Everybody’s trying to navigate and work through these changes together so that we can make the best decisions everybody can at the time, try to give the best advice, rather, as everybody is moving through this uncertain and unfamiliar territory.”

Johnston has two young daughters who attend Cullman City Schools. She and her daughters are active in sports and school activities. She enjoys playing golf and tennis in her spare time. The family enjoys spending time at the lake and attends church at St. John’s.

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