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Judicial reform: Why the JIC and COJ must go in 2017

Maggie Ford

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By Maggie Ford

On January 6, 2016, Chief Justice Roy Moore issued a factual and legal Administrative Order. Since then, we have seen the Judicial Inquiry Commission (JIC) file charges against him because of it.

They also shared confidential information with The Montgomery Advertiser and The New York Times, and displayed a conflict of interest by using $75,000 of taxpayer money to hire the formal legal director of the Southern Poverty Law Center – the organization that filed the original complaints – as their prosecuting attorney (despite the one they already had).

They violated their own rules by:
a) Failing to notify the Chief Justice of certain charges brought against him
b) Filing a charge without a certified complaint.

What’s worse, they do not have statutory jurisdiction over Administrative Orders.

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We also watched the Court of the Judiciary (COJ) ignore this travesty, hold a trial, find Moore guilty of all six bogus charges, and finally overstep their authority by suspending him without pay for the remainder of his term – in effect, removing him without the unanimous vote required to legally do so. The citizens of this State who elected Roy Moore twice have had their will thwarted by the appointed members of the JIC and COJ – both acting outside their authority. Citizens have no recourse and are wondering where these unaccountable bodies came from.

In 1973, this State had a history of corrupt judicial appointments, “backed-up dockets,” racial injustice and judges practicing “law” with no license. Alabama needed change. Within fifteen minutes of the 1973 Session’s close, Amendment 328 passed after the House suspended rules and brought it up for a vote. With its passage, our entire judicial system was revamped. A unified system of circuit and district courts with limited jurisdiction was established. All judges except probates were required to be licensed to practice law. A judicial code of conduct was adopted and the Administrative Office of the Courts was created. The goal was “constitutional reform” ensuring that law ruled in Alabama – not politically motivated, appointed “judges.”

Lost in the fine print of Amendment 328 was the establishment of the JIC and COJ, which gave citizens a new way to lodge ethical complaints against judges, bypassing the legislature – a reasonable idea.

However, the idea was based on the impossible assumptions that the members of the JIC and COJ would never need complaints lodged against them, would never act unethically or break their own rules and would never be appointed by people who were driven by personal agendas.

These assumptions do not work in politics. Yet, to these groups fell the responsibility of investigating, censoring or removing any judge who violates the Canons of Judicial Ethics, abuses his office or fails to perform his duties.

In most states, this responsibility rests solely with legislators who represent the will of the people – not with appointed members, who represent either the will of whoever appointed them or their own interests, while using half a million taxpayer dollars to do it. Lord Acton stated a century ago, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Ironically, the “judicial reform” of 1973, which sought to prevent judges from putting themselves above the law, created the JIC and the COJ, now poster children for that very problem.

Regardless of what you think about Chief Justice Moore, his case reminds us why unaccountable bodies policing the judiciary were never consistent with Alabama’s quest to preserve the integrity of the judiciary and a balanced government of the people. It’s time for a new judicial reform.

Sen. Dick Brewbaker of Montgomery has introduced a bill to abolish both the Judicial Inquiry Commission and the Court of the Judiciary. If passed into law, SB11 will return judicial censorship to the sole jurisdiction of the Legislature – a body accountable to Alabama voters.

Even if it means suspending the rules and bringing it up for a vote within fifteen minutes of session’s close, the JIC and COJ must go.

Maggie Ford writes from Montgomery.

 

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Opinion | Role model statesmanship showcased in the public square

John W. Giles

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Americans got their fair share of hand to hand combat politics in the 2018 general election, which is still going on in Georgia and Florida. As we approach Thanksgiving; there is a national story buried in the heart and soul of Crenshaw County Alabama politics that needs to be shared. In a county that voted 72 percent for Trump, the centerpiece of this story lasers in on local Democrats and Republicans putting their county first, let me explain.

For decades, Crenshaw County was a Democrat stronghold in all of the county elected positions. In fact, many stated for years there is no way to get elected in Crenshaw County unless you ran as a Democrat. Over the past three quadrennial election cycles, Republicans have picked up the Probate Judge office, Sheriff, and three of the five County Board of Education seats. In this recent election, Republicans earned four out of five commission seats; here in lies the role model statesmanship showcased in the public square.

Reverend Charlie Sankey is a black Democrat Commissioner who was re-elected from the north end of the county. He is also a bi-vocational Pastor serving at Rockwest Baptist Church just inside Pike County and is a full time officer at First Citizens Bank. In this election cycle, the other four county commission seats were won by white Republican men. Sankey had served as Chairman of the County Commission for the last four years. With the Republicans clearly holding a majority of power now, the chairmanship over the next four years has certainly been a kitchen table discussion since the election.

Yesterday; all five commissioners were sworn in for their new term. The first order of business was to nominate and elect a new chairman. The county attorney statutorily opened the floor for nomination for chairman three times; and only one name surfaced; Charlie Sankey. In a unanimous vote, Charlie Sankey a black Democrat was just elected as Chairmen by his four white Republican colleagues. What a testament of bi-partisanship. There are so many takeaways from this historic move; I don’t know where to begin.

In my discussions with Sankey over the years, I have found him to be an economic, moral, social and constitutional conservative. We still have our minute differences, but he always puts the county first, makes one dollar do the work of three dollars; and if something is right he stands firm and if it is wrong, he fixes it. He has a common sense approach to governing and will not allow little, agenda driven side shows cloud the focus of what is best for the county. The county is in strong fiscal shape under his watch.

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In an environment where politics are highly charged, it is refreshing to see these four Republicans demonstrate such great statesmanship and bi partisanship in this historic decision. They looked at the content of Sankey’s character, rather than the color of his skin or party affiliation. They put what was best for the county rather than nominating someone who has not yet been seasoned for the job. On the other hand, Sankey has demonstrated over the past four years to be a steady handed competent leader. After months of observing Sankey in the chair, newly elected Commissioner Raymond McGough showed great leadership; and without equivocation, nominated Charlie Sankey and got the vote through unanimously.

Most who know me understand I do not vote for Democrats and in some remote cases; I will not vote for a wayward Republican. The Republican National Committee and the Alabama Republican Party platforms espouse the core issues that drive my heart, vote and support. Setting aside my party affiliations for one moment; these four Republicans made the right decision and have my greatest and profound respect.

While this is a win win win for the citizens of Crenshaw County, it should be a shining example from the courthouse to the Whitehouse to always do the right thing and the hell with the consequences.

 

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Opinion | Words cannot express our gratitude

Bradley Byrne

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One hundred years ago, on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, the world’s largest, deadliest, and costliest war to that date drew to an end. The guns that boomed over field and forest in Europe fell silent.

World War I was over.

Over 116,000 Americans had lost their lives.

One year later, President Woodrow Wilson issued a statement to the nation in celebration of the first Armistice Day, expressing his thoughts on the war’s end: “To us in America the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service, and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of nations.”

In 1938, twenty years after the Armistice, Congress formally recognized Armistice Day as a national holiday “dedicated to the cause of world peace.”

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Unfortunately, the “war to end all wars” was only the precursor to an even deadlier, costlier war.

The next year, World War II broke out across Europe, a war that would cost the lives of over 400,000 American soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines.

For a particular Alabamian and veteran of WWII, the celebration of Armistice Day was not quite recognition enough for the service and sacrifice of veterans who had served, not just in WWI, but for all those who had worn the uniform of our nation.

Raymond Meeks, a native of Birmingham, brought the idea of a national Veterans Day, to be held on what was then Armistice Day, to General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Gen. Eisenhower greatly supported this idea, and in 1947 Weeks led the first national celebration of Veterans Day right here in Alabama.

In 1954, President Eisenhower signed into law the formal celebration of Veterans Day here in the United States, dedicated to the memory of all those who served our country in the armed forces.

To this day, words cannot express our gratitude for that service.

Today, as I serve in Congress, it is an incredible honor to know that I am able to represent a free people thanks to the service, dedication, and sacrifice of our veterans.

That is why I advocate so strongly for our nation’s veterans. We need to provide them with proper access to educational and workforce opportunities, we must work towards a health care system that actually gets them the care they need, and we must help them get the benefits they earned.

Just this year, I voted to provide greater funding for programs in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), positive reforms to the G.I. Bill, and better access to career and technical education for veterans to reenter the civilian workforce. Additionally, my office has helped to resolve hundreds of cases for veterans and their families right here in Southwest Alabama.

Service in the military is so much more than just a job. It is a dedication to support and defend the Constitution and the people of the United States, both at home and abroad. That service is immeasurable, and I am humbled to represent so many of those who have fought for our freedoms.

The words of President Eisenhower on the first official Veterans Day stand as a charge for today: “Let us solemnly remember the sacrifices of all those who fought so valiantly, on the seas, in the air, and on foreign shores, to preserve our heritage of freedom, and let us reconsecrate ourselves to the task of promoting and enduring peace so that their efforts shall not have been in vain.”

 

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Opinion | Alabama board of education member says school choice is trying to “destroy a whole race of people”

Rachel Blackmon Bryars

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Alabama board of education member Ella Bell, D-Montgomery, spoke out during a work session Thursday claiming that Alabama’s landmark tax credit scholarship program for low income families was part of an effort to “destroy a whole race of people.”

“They took money from the poorest counties in the state to send kids to private school,” Bell claimed, after accusing the program of “stealing” from the state. “That’s just awful.”

Trouble is, that’s just not true.

The small yet popular program created by the Alabama Accountability Act only amounts to one half of one percent of the state’s multi-billion-dollar education trust fund – a fund that has grown well beyond the minuscule cost of providing the scholarships, according to state budget data.

And more than 80 percent of the parents who received scholarships last year from the two largest providers are minorities, according to an AL.com report. All made at or below 185 percent of the federal poverty level when they applied, as required by law, which is also the eligibility requirement to receive free or reduced priced lunches.

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Disabled veteran Dalphine Wilson of Montgomery, who is African-American, is one of those parents.

The single mother of two uses the scholarships to send her children to private school instead of the city’s troubled public school system.

Wilson’s children dropped to one knee in protest during a recent Montgomery County School Board meeting after its members approved a resolution demanding a repeal of the scholarship program.

Her daughter wept after the meeting, afraid she’d lose her scholarship. Her son asked if they could leave Alabama.

“Parents deserve a choice,” said Wilson, 44, who applied for scholarships after seeing what she described as the “overwhelming” and chaotic culture in her daughter’s elementary school classroom. “And your choice should not be, ‘Gosh, I really hope my child can get into a magnet school, and if they can’t, their only option is this failing school that is under state intervention.’”

She said if anyone is stealing, it’s those who want to take away the scholarships.

“Why rob us of a choice?” Wilson asked.

Ryan Cantrell, a school choice advocate in Montgomery who was an aide in the State Senate when the act passed in 2013, said the program was specifically designed to provide parents like Wilson with a choice that was once only available to higher income families.

“We’re talking about families who absolutely had no other option,” he said. “For the life of me, I don’t understand how an elected official could consciously vote to take that away from a low-income child. It boggles the mind.”

Cantrell said the “heart of the problem” is that opponents of the scholarship program are primarily concerned with the public education system itself, not the students it was established to serve.

“We are so focused … on the adults in the room, and our education system is not built to serve adults,” he said. “Our education system is built to serve students, and whatever it is that works for kids ought to be what we’re doing.”

Cantrell also disproved Bell’s claim that the program has been “stealing” from public school systems. On the contrary, he said, public schools have more funding and less students now than when the scholarship program began.

Montgomery’s school system, for example, has seen its funding increase by more than $8 million, up 5 percent since 2014, even while the overall student population has decreased by more than 7 percent, according to Cantrell.

During the board meeting, Bell also said the program “is absolutely horrifying to me because already I’m black and I grew up in Montgomery County 70-years ago and I know all the tricks.”

But the scholarships aren’t a trick. They’re a lifeline, a choice, for thousands of kids who otherwise wouldn’t have one. Alabama shouldn’t allow that choice to be taken away because of past wrongs.

The plain fact today is that the Alabama Accountability Act is a tiny fraction of our state’s education budget, it gives low-income families a sometimes life-altering choice, and almost all of the students receiving scholarships are minorities.

We should all be proud of that.

Because in the end, this is about what we believe education dollars are for – the system or the student.

Please call your state legislator and local school board member today and let them know what you think.

Rachel Blackmon Bryars is a senior fellow at the Alabama Policy Institute. Contact her at [email protected].

 

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Opinion | Brewbaker: Advice for new legislators

Dick L. Brewbaker

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Congratulations on your election. Public service is a high calling but as recent history has shown, it can get you in trouble in a heartbeat. So as an ex-legislator who has survived his career and is now safe in “Bucks Pocket,” here is a little advice.

1. Watch out for all the “new friends” you suddenly have acquired. They are friends who want something from you. You don’t work for them, even if they gave money for your campaign. Don’t forget you are there for your neighbors who actually voted for you.

Read Proverbs 27:5-6 once a day. It was written for politicians.

2. If you are a family man and are invited to an event where your spouse is not welcome — don’t go.

3. Judge not. Do not get in the business of assigning bad motives to people that disagree with you. It makes listening impossible.

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4. Make it a point to buck your own leadership at least once a session. If you are voting with them 100 percent of the time, you’ve stopped thinking.

5. Beware of becoming a consultant. You aren’t any smarter now than you were before you got elected. If someone offers you money to “consult,” turn it down. It’s a bribe, and it could land you in jail. The Ethics Law can be summed up simply: “Thou shalt not use your position as a legislator to enrich yourself.” Don’t.

6. Pay your own way. Always.

7. Be nice to your legislative assistant. Your career is in their hands.

8. Listen to the other side, sometimes they are right.

9. Take time to get to know the pages, and always, always make time for school groups even if they aren’t from your district. It will make your day a lot more fun.

10. Keep your sense of humor. Remember that the state Legislature is just the AA baseball of politics. The really important stuff is back home, so don’t let politics ruin your good name. Keep it in good condition.

Brewbaker is the president and CEO of Brewbaker Motors in Montgomery. He served two terms in both the Alabama House of Representatives (2003-07) and the Alabama Senate (2010-18). He would have easily won re-election but chose not to run.

 

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Judicial reform: Why the JIC and COJ must go in 2017

by Maggie Ford Read Time: 3 min
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