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Bill Britt

A Dark Omen Rises From Moore Trial

Bill Britt

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By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

Those politicos and advocates who follow history should mark Friday, September 30,2016 on their calendars and note it as the day the State of Alabama changed due to the suspension of Chief Justice Roy S. Moore from the Alabama Supreme Court.

There is no reason for anyone on either side of this issue to celebrate. By suspending Judge Moore, the Judicial Inquiry Commission (JIC) and the Court of the Judiciary (COJ) have completely undermined the very institutions that stand for equal justice.

An old and poignant saying to which I wholly agree states, there are two times when an individual should expect fair judgment: when they stand before a court of law and when they stand before their maker.

There are people whom I respect on both sides of the issue of what constitutes a marriage. I have known same-sex couples who have enjoyed, built and remained in relationships with far greater love and depth of commitment than others, in what is considered a traditional marriage, and, of course, I have witnessed the opposite as well. Perhaps I fall into the category of those who feel marriage is not a matter for the state, but a private one. This belief may show my ignorance, as I am woefully underserved in my small capacity to judge such weighty matters.

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However, I do have some notion of politics and the things that spark hatred and incite the worst passion which led to unforeseen consequences. I also have some idea of how opportunists move for advantage when those emotions bring gale-force changes.

In our state, judges are elected by the will of the people. Elections may not be a perfect method, but it is the law. Under our system, the will of the people is expressed by their vote. Again, far from perfection, but it beats all other models. But in this instance, the will of the people was overturned by a politically-appointed body. You might say the politically-appointed US Supreme Court does this with regularity…..but do they?

In this case, it appears Justice Moore was forced from office because he had an opinion. A majority of people who arguably hold the same view of resisting federal mandates elected Moore. This majority’s beliefs may be flawed, but these are the realities of our state.

Moore is an anachronism to the sophisticated and progressives and an embarrassment to many Republicans and Conservatives. But Moore is who he is and silencing him by way of suspending him from office without pay only gives his argument of a “lawless court” strength.

If his ethics violation was so heinous, why not render the judgment the JIC attorney called the “only solution” which was removal not suspension? Why did the Court of the Judiciary choose an arbitrary middle ground instead of the full-force of the indictment?

In a word: Politics.

Here is why September 30, 2016, should be remembered: Because an elected judge was indicted by a politically-appointed secret commission with liberal leaning and convicted by a politically-appointed court which feared an onslaught of outrage in the form of name calling and accusation from those who believe Moore was wrong.

Moore issued an opinion that was overruled by the federal court and for this he was in effect removed in a political coup de tat.

Anyone who saw the Will and Grace tribute to presidential candidate Hillary Clinton knows how far the LGBT movement has come. The skit was quaint by today’s standards.

Those on the right should have known the majority of Americans have moved on from worrying about who marries whom. Same-sex marriage is the law of the land, like it or not.

Moore lost that battle on same-sex marriage.

At issue here is the JIC and its power vs. the will of the people. Will they now indict judges whose opinions are overturned by a circuit court or the State Supreme Court? Doubtful.

In Alabama, when a public official is accused of an ethics violation, the Ethics Commission investigates and decides if the matter should go to the Attorney General for prosecution (note: its track record is not so hot).

Here again, a politically chosen body is offering up probable cause. However, the difference is the Attorney General’s Office is elected and employs career prosecutors, not a hired gun like JIC.

The JIC, like the Ethics Commission, should be dissolved and those responsibilities placed into the hands of District Attorneys and the Attorney General’s Office. But that is my opinion.

But if there is an unwillingness to abolish it all together then the State Legislature should move to limit its scope to classic misconduct.

In Moore’s case, the JIC acted as a legal review, not conduct review, but I am certain their lawyers would try and spilt hairs on that concept.

Before Troy King, the Attorney General’s Office served as the prosecutor for the JIC. Upon taking office, Attorney General Strange sought to reestablish that tradition, but they rebuffed him. The commission prefers to hire ideologic, simpatico lawyers. In this case, the very liberal John Carroll. Their unwillingness to work with General Strange alone should cast doubt on the commission’s bias.

At the very least, the Legislature should permanently by law recognize the Attorney General’s Office as prosecutor for the JIC.

As with the Ethic Commission, it may develop a case and recommend prosecution but only the Attorney General’s Office would have authority to bring the case to trail.

Some may argue this scenario places too much power in the hands of the Attorney General, it’s easy to argue this would be a lesser risk to justice than what we currently have with the JIC.

While I only saw one lawmaker at Justice Moore’s trial, they should not ignore what happened. Lawmakers should not shrink from fully evaluating the JIC and recommending changes that present more transparency and accountability. There should be a very high bar established for removing a Chief Justice from office.

I don’t fear that same-sex marriage or what consenting adults practice in the privacy of their homes will harm my marriage. But I do fear and loathe what I witnessed on Friday because it casts a harsh shadow over the future of our justice system. The JIC’s action serves as a dark omen that should be addressed by the State Legislature before unwanted change sweeps away equal justice.

And isn’t that what this was all about anyway?

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Bill Britt

A move to reunify BCA is underway

Bill Britt

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Reconciliation efforts are underway to salvage the Business Council of Alabama after a very public split with some of its most influential members.

Those close to the negotiations speaking on background say recent talks have been productive, but there are still many details that must be agreed upon before a reunification occurs.

The forced exit of President and CEO Billy Canary earlier this month was the first step toward restoring BCA’s reputation and mending fences.

Individuals who are negotiating rapprochement are looking to restructure BCA’s governance to ensure that any future leader will not exercise the unchecked authority wielded by Canary. They also want to make BCA more equitable, fair and balanced in its representation of its members.

Beyond the mechanics of structure is the need for a strong leader who can restore not only confidence in the once powerful organization but also one who can navigate the state’s political landscape while enduring the inevitable discord that comes with change.

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There is a level of hope that an improved structure and new leadership might be in place by BCA’s summer conference, which begins August 10 at Point Clear. But even those involved in the process know it’s a tall order to fill given the short window of opportunity.

Perhaps the most significant challenge is identifying an individual who can articulate a vision for BCA, inspire confidence in its members and ensure elected officials that they are dealing with an honest broker.

There is much at stake in the upcoming legislative session, not only because it is the first year of the quadrennium, when hard tasks are generally achieved, but the 2019 session will also welcome many new legislators not necessarily in step with BCA due to a bruising primary season.

People may forgive, but they often do not forget, and there are many bridges to build.

Lawmakers will be wise to remember the warning of President Ronald Reagan, “Trust but verify.”

For a revitalizing transition to occur, a clean sweep of BCA’s leadership team is imperative, as those who served the old guard must be replaced or else it’s a false start doomed to fail.

BCA would be wise to move away from the partisan approach taken over the last eight years and look to establish relationships that favor business-friendly legislation without bright lines of division.

In business as in life, sharp breaks are sometimes required and often are inevitable, but this doesn’t have to be one of those times.

Now is an hour for wise deliberation, difficult choices and bold resolve to strengthen the entire business community and not merely to fortify the narrow interests of a few.

Over the last year, good and honest leaders called for BCA to do what was right. That fight hopefully can be put aside to now do what is best.

 

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Bill Britt

The fix was in

Bill Britt

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Montgomery Circuit Judge James Anderson’s ruling to allow out-of-state political action committees to donate to in-state campaigns without disclosing its donors through PAC-to-PAC transfers may be the legal fulcrum Democrats need to target key Republican officeholders in the state.

On Wednesday, attorney general candidate Troy King filed a lawsuit in Montgomery County Circuit Court seeking a restraining order to prevent his opponent, appointed Attorney General Steve Marshall, and his campaign from using donations it received from the Republican Attorney Generals Association (RAGA) which doesn’t disclose some of its mega-donors by using PAC-to-PAC transfers.

Judge Anderson ruled against King and dismissed the lawsuit in Marshall’s favor.

Marshall, unlike an ordinary plaintiff, wasn’t present at the hearing before Judge Anderson, which should have alerted the public that the fix was already in.

The State’s Ethics Commission will likely weigh-in on King’s question soon— finding that RAGA’s actions were unlawful—but Thursday’s judgment holds for now, with no consequences for Marshall, win or lose.

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In 2010, the state’s newly minted Republican supermajority outlawed PAC-to-PAC transfers as part of its effort to show voters that there was a new day in Montgomery politics.

Since 2010, both Republicans and Democrats have found ways to circumvent FPCA restrictions, but until Thursday, there wasn’t a court ruling that opened a flooded-gate to renew PAC-to-PAC campaigns using outside interest groups.

Republican conservatives who believe that undisclosed donors shouldn’t control the state’s election process through hidden contributions should worry.

Is it now legal for pro-abortion groups to finance judicial races with stealth campaign donations to defeat pro-life candidates like Supreme Court Justices like Tom Parker?

What about Gov. Kay Ivey? Is it now legal for The Democratic Governors Association (DGA) to upend her campaign with hidden contributions to her rival, Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox?

Ethic Commission Executive Director Tom Albritton has all but definitively stated that RAGA’s contributions are illegal, but it’s too little too late for this election.

Perhaps none of this matters because it seems that many of the Republicans who passed these bans in 2010, don’t seem to honestly believe in them or any of the ethics reforms that they once championed.

So once again, it’s winning, not the law, that matters, or as a prominent Montgomery attorney said, “When you have a Democrat judge, a Democrat lawyer and a Democrat attorney general what else did you expect?”

More, I guess.

 

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Bill Britt

Opinion | BCA takes out the trash, finally

Bill Britt

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In a last-ditch effort to save the Business Council of Alabama from the dung heap of political obscurity, President and CEO Billy Canary was pushed out of the business association late last Friday after he waged an ugly and protracted battle to remain in power.

Canary’s fight to keep his job has left the once powerful business interests a hollow and factored alliance with an uncertain future. He didn’t care if he destroyed BCA; it was all about his ambitions.

For years, Canary, along with now-convicted felon former Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard and former Gov. Bob Riley, reigned over an unparalleled orgy of greed and corruption.

Canary, Hubbard and Riley’s perverse domination of the state’s political landscape was supreme, and even now, the tentacles of their profiteering are evident from the Capitol to the State House and beyond.

Even during this election cycle, Canary has used BCA’s political arm, Progress PAC, to back disreputable candidates who seek to overturn the state ethics laws that convicted Hubbard, advocate for so-called education reform that profits Riley’s business interests and to stall efforts to create a statewide lottery in favor of gambling concessions for the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.

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During Hubbard’s last years in office, PCI Vice Chair Robbie McGhee joined forces with Hubbard, in hopes of exercising more sway over Republican legislators. Over the previous year, he coupled the tribe to Canary with the same end in mind. McGhee, who faces a reelection challenge in August, casts himself as a Hubbard-Canary protege. Even now, he tells candidates who come calling for campaign contributions, “We are BCA,” meaning the tribe, under Canary, is controlling many decisions being made at the business association.

McGee, like Hubbard and Canary, is viewed by many as a pariah in the state capital where he still hopes to further the Tribe’s gambling operations by lavishing money and entertainment on Republican lawmakers. Twice now, McGhee has chosen poorly and tarnished the Tribe’s reputation in the bargain. With McGhee’s backing, Canary gave at least $250,000.00 to appointed Attorney General Steve Marshall so that he will continue Riley’s bingo wars.

Hubbard stands convicted on 12 felony counts of using his office for personal gain and other criminal violations of the state’s Ethics Act, yet he remains free because of the corrupting influence of Canary and others of his ilk.

During Hubbard’s trial, Canary said, “I love Mike Hubbard like a brother.” He even waxed poetic, saying his friendship with Hubbard, “Blossomed like any blessing in life.”

So infectious are the remnants of their power that even after two years Hubbard remains free because Court of Criminal Appeals Justices Samuel Henry Welch, J. Elizabeth Kellum, Liles C. Burke and J. Michael Joiner will not rule on his conviction.

Canary, in a face-saving announcement, says he is taking a position as a, “senior fellow at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce,” which is a nothing job.

Canary, like Hubbard and Riley, pimped the state like a cheap whore, and now he’s busted for the user he is. He left BCA in shambles, and don’t think for a minute that the coalition that left BCA isn’t coming back just because the executive committee finally took out the trash.

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A Dark Omen Rises From Moore Trial

by Bill Britt Read Time: 5 min
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