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Bill Britt

A further look at revelations in final report on scheme to smear Pouncey

Bill Britt

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By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

A recently exposed internal investigation by the Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE), alleges five individuals devised a “scheme” in July of 2016, to deny Dr. Craig Pouncey a fair chance of being selected as the State Superintendent of the Department of Education.

The internal investigation also found that an unnamed individual or individuals participated in the plot to discredit Pouncey. At this time it is unclear who, other than the five people named in the report, may have colluded in the actions taken to derail Pouncey’s election. A statement by attorney Dennis Bailey at Wednesday’s Board meeting may reveal some tantalizing clues.

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According to the final report accepted by the State Board of Education last week in a 6 to 1 vote, a plan was hatched and executed by Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE) board member, Mary Scott Hunter, then-Interim Superintendent Philip Cleveland, and ALSDE attorneys Juliana Teixeira Dean, James R Ward III, and Susan Tudor Crowther.

The report states: “Most regrettably, these five participants have caused grave and serious harm, and casts a major shadow on the veracity and credibility of the State Department of Education and the State Board of Education (through no fault of the majority) that still lingers to the present day.”

Who are the others that may have participated in the alleged scheme?

Bailey, a partner at Rushton Stakely, is representing Dean, Crowther and Ward, three of the five people named in the report.  Bailey is being paid to represent the trio from a taxpayer-supported insurance fund.

On Friday, Bailey said Dean, Crowther, and Ward were following the advice of counsel in their handling of the anonymous complaint against Pouncey. Is Bailey laying the groundwork for an “advice of counsel” defense for the three attorneys? Are Dean, Crowther, and Ward going to accuse other attorneys for their actions against Pouncey?

Who is the legal counsel Bailey is referencing?

The final report submitted by ALSDE attorney Michael Meyer contains emails between Balch Bingham lawyers and those, which Meyer says, were participants in the scheme. Emails show Balch Bingham attorneys Dorman Walker and David Boyd, who serve as outside counsel for the Department, were in contact in some way with the five individuals accused of executing the plan to tarnish Pouncey. Also, the evidence present by Meyer found that only board member, Hunter, was aware of these discussions.

Why are Balch Bingham lawyers giving advice on a matter that the report finds outside of official department duties?

If this was as the report states a “scheme” by Hunter and four others, why are Walker and Boyd giving advice in a smear campaign? The report shows Hunter was the only Board member aware of this information.

According to the report, “In a memorandum dated July 22, 2016, Associate General Counsel, James Ward, wrote a memo to General Counsel Dean and Associate Attorney, Susan Crowther, in conjunction with submission to [Balch Bingham attorney] Mr. Dorman Walker, departmental outside legal counsel, outlining four ways that the legal staff could pursue an investigation of Dr. Pouncey.”

According to the report, “relevant e-mails and documents beginning on July 22, 2016, thumb drive submission,” were given to Cleveland and Dean that would have cleared Pouncey’s name.

However, the investigation found that despite having information exonerating Pouncey, neither “General Counsel
Dean nor Dr. Cleveland displayed the professionalism, initiative, or fairness to acknowledge it to Dr. Pouncey, Senator Dial’s Joint Investigative Committee, or the State Board members (except Mary Scott Hunter).”

Why if Hunter, Dean, and Cleveland “beginning on July 22, 2016” had the evidence proving Pouncey’s innocence did Dean seek advice from outside counsel Walker on how to proceed with the investigation? Why did Hunter, Dean and Cleveland leave Pouncey’s reputation in doubt when the report says they had the information to clear him in their possession?

Also why did Dean feel a need to write Walker about reviewing Ward’s four steps to investigate the Pouncy allegation when according to the report she had all the relevant emails and the thumb drive information? On July 22, 2016, she writes, “Dorman [Walker], Good morning. We would appreciate your review so that the three of us can discuss at a later time.”

On August 11, 2016, in a 5 to 4 vote, Sentance was elected Superintendent.

On August 30, 2016, Balch Bingham attorney David Boyd (with Walker copied) suggested Dean and Cleveland follow up with the Ethics Commission given the information that came to light when Hunter “demanded that Mr. Pope conduct a computer search, as the departmental Chief Information Security Officer, for all e-mails and documents regarding the anonymous allegations.”

Boyd wrote, “I understand that the Department’s Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) [Pope] has personally advised you as well as Dr. Cleveland that he has identified certain archived emails or other documents that may shed light on the veracity or not of the allegations against Dr. Pouncey.” He further advised, “Finally, let me add a point in case there might be any misunderstanding of the significance, or lack thereof, of the fact that the Pouncey-related emails that surfaced recently were from an anonymous source. Whether receipt of documents or information from an anonymous source could trigger a reporting obligation under ’36-25- l 7′ is irrelevant here. The CISO [Pope] has confirmed the existence in the Department’s records of certain documents that may be relevant to a potential violation of the law. It is that information, not the earlier anonymous distribution, that prompts the need for further investigation, evaluation, and potential reporting under ’36-25-17.'”

Pope later testified that neither Dean or Cleveland acted on the information he gave them. Those emails, the final report concluded, would have cleared Pouncey of any wrong-doing.

Why, after Sentance was elected Superintendent, did no one reveal the documents that would have cleared Pouncey? Why did Hunter and the others remain silent?

Even now, the cloud of conspiracy hangs overhead as Sentance tried to hide the final report that would clear Pouncey, while casting Hunter, Cleveland, and the three attorneys as the prime movers in the scheme to ruin Pouncey?

Why are Sentance, Hunter, and Dean even now trying to discredit the report by bringing in retired Judge Bernard Harwood to punch holes in its conclusions?

Who are the others? We don’t know. But, the probe into this smear campaign is far from over, no matter how hard the schemers work to cover their tracks.

 

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Bill Britt

Opinion | The black hand behind Perry Hand

Bill Britt

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Perry Hand (via BCA)

Shortly after the Alabama Political Reporter made it known that the Business Council of Alabama’s Executive Board had voted on April 10 to terminate Billy Canary from his position as CEO, nearly a dozen Republican lawmakers were burning-up their mobile phones, trying to find out who Perry Hand is and who could convince him to push Canary out immediately. Hand wants to keep Canary in place until the fall

Billy Canary out at BCA, sort of 

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Hand’s motivation to protect Canary is not easily definable unless it’s weighed together with former Gov. Bob Riley’s plan to consolidate power after leaving office in 2010.

Perry A. Hand is the current BCA board chair and chairman of Volkert Inc., an engineering company, which primarily earns its money from government contracts. Volkert Inc. is a significant player in developing disgraced former Gov. Robert Bentley’s lovenest, aka Gulf State Park.

Hand cut his teeth in politics first as a state senator under Gov. George Wallace but came to prominence as an appointee and confidant of accidental Republican Gov. Guy Hunt.

It was Hunt who appointed Hand to secretary of state in 1989, only to see him pummeled in the next general election when former Wallace aide Billy Joe Camp bested him by over 115,000 votes. Hand was also appointed the head of the department of transportation as another temporary position.

An Auburn engineering graduate, Hand found success at Volkert where he flourished, rising from the company’s marketing man to chairman and CEO of the Mobile-based firm.

The plan was elegantly simple: Riley’s handpicked successor Bradley Byrne as governor, Hubbard as speaker, Del Marsh as Senate president pro-tem and Luther Strange as attorney general. They would oust Dr. David Bronner at RSA, replacing him with one of their own, and the coup would be complete.

Now, it appears in the twilight of his career, Hand is the man who stands between Canary and some of the state’s most potent business interests who want to see him removed from BCA.

Canary’s deep connection to the Riley machine has been the secret of his success, and like his friend, former speaker of the House and convicted felon Mike Hubbard, that same connection is likely to be his downfall.

Before leaving office in 2010, Riley, along with Hubbard and Canary, devised a plan to carve up state government in such a way as to have the Riley machine controlling the levers of power for a generation and beyond.

The plan was elegantly simple: Riley’s handpicked successor Bradley Byrne as governor, Hubbard as speaker, Del Marsh as Senate president pro-tem and Luther Strange as attorney general. They would oust Dr. David Bronner at RSA, replacing him with one of their own, and the coup would be complete.

But that scheme unraveled first with Bentley’s election over Byrne, Strange’s hiring of prosecutor Matt Hart and the trial and conviction of Hubbard, which exposed the whole enterprise.

Canary, in effect, is the last man standing, and Riley and his gang are hard pressed to stand by while one of their last cohorts goes down in disgrace.

Marsh, for his part, washed his hands of the affair soon after Hubbard was under investigation and there was no longer a need to get rid of Bronner, because Riley loyalist, Canary’s wife Leura Canary, was installed at RSA to keep Bronner in check.

So, it is that Hand, with a few devious or unwitting members of the BCA board, are left to protect what’s left of Riley’s once-thriving empire.

There is little doubt that Canary’s days are numbered, but to think that Riley’s machine will walk away without a fight is naive.

However, greater forces are pushing for Canary’s exit, and if they stay strong, the black hand behind Perry Hand will fail.

 

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Bill Britt

Opinion | Hey Batter, Batter: Taunting Ivey over debates is a silly thing

Bill Britt

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Gov. Kay Ivey throws out the first pitch at a Baron's baseball game in Birmingham, Alabama, on Thursday.

Some in the media, a handful of politicos and three Republican challengers for governor are dyspeptic over Gov. Kay Ivey’s decision to skip last Thursday’s debate to attend a baseball game.

While these head-to-head match-ups between Republican gubernatorial candidates might be entertaining, only the debate between the major party primary winners could prove decisive.

Ivey knows that she has little to fear from the men who want to replace her. So instead of engaging her Republican rivals, Ivey left them all standing like jilted prom dates to have some fun tossing out the first pitch at a Baron-Biscuits baseball game last Thursday night.

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No doubt the impish side of Gov. Ivey enjoyed donning a Magic City jersey to appear before a cheering crowd while across town campaign consultants and media types fretted over being deemed irrelevant by a governor who doesn’t care what they think.

Ivey’s opponent, Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, cares that Ivey doesn’t give him the time of day, so does evangelist Scott Dawson and state Sen. Bill Hightower. But the sellout crowd of nearly 9,000 at the Baron-Biscuits baseball game Thursday night didn’t care about the debates, and neither do most voters who will determine the winner of the June Republican primary.

Why would a sitting governor who holds a 60-plus percent statewide approval rating attend an hour-long food-fight with candidates who aren’t even close to challenging her for election?

Ivey knows that she has little to fear from the men who want to replace her. So instead of engaging her Republican rivals, Ivey left them all standing like jilted prom dates to have some fun tossing out the first pitch at a Baron-Biscuits baseball game last Thursday night.

Like Thursday’s game where the Montgomery Biscuits took an early lead to defeat the Birmingham Barons 7-1, Ivey would be foolish to confront her opponents directly, when she already holds a commanding lead. Ivey will easily coast to victory in the ALGOP primary unless she commits an error, which is always a possibility in a public election.

Rarely do these stage confrontations have a significant impact on the outcome of a political contest, and usually, as with Thursday’s talkfest, nothing is actually learned by the viewer. Canned answers, even worse questions and general public apathy have made modern campaign forums almost useless— if the goal is to gain insight into how a candidate will govern.

Calls for Ivey to face Battle, Dawson and Hightower isn’t so much about a discussion of ideas but an opportunity for supercilious outrage as flimsy as a balsa wood cross whose bearer laments, “Ivey won’t debate.” Signal jackasses braying.

When talking heads and politicos whine and moan about Ivey ducking their get-togethers, it’s not about Ivey or the public’s interests – it’s about them.

What happened Thursday night wasn’t a serious policy debate or even a real opportunity to examine the candidates in any real meaningful way, it was a show. Like a beauty contest, moderators tossed out softball questions that drew vague answers.

When the candidates were asked if they supported Judge Roy Moore in the U.S. Senate, it was as if the moderator had hurled a beanball, with only Dawson directly admitting to voting for Moore while Battle and Hightower equivocated saying little more than they supported the Republican ticket.

The bloom may be off Moore’s rose, but the thorns remain, and that’s always been his appeal; a thorny character who doesn’t mind sticking his sharp finger in the blurred-eyed confusion of modernity. If Moore ran as an independent, he would give Ivey a real run for her money while sending the media into an apoplectic fit of indignation.

First off, only the left-leaning media cares about who supported Moore in the Senate election. Anyone who thinks a vote for Judge Moore hurts a candidate in an Alabama Republican primary doesn’t know much about Republican primary voters. In the ALGOP primary for the U.S. Senate race, Moore overwhelmingly bested his challenger, Luther Strange, by double-digits. He just barely lost to Democrat Doug Jones, even after all the scandal-mongering by the press.

A good 95 percent of the Alabama Republican Party’s base voted for Moore, including Gov. Ivey. Her vote for Moore will not hurt her in a Republican primary.

The bloom may be off Moore’s rose, but the thorns remain, and that’s always been his appeal; a thorny character who doesn’t mind sticking his sharp finger in the blurred-eyed confusion of modernity. If Moore ran as an independent, he would give Ivey a real run for her money while sending the media into an apoplectic fit of indignation.

There are no good reasons for Gov. Ivey to wade in to a blathering-pool for media ratings or to raise her opponents name-ID. All she needs to do between now and June is toss out more two-hoppers, shake hands, kiss babies, and she crosses home without breaking a sweat.

Now, if she refuses to face whoever emerges victorious from the Democrat primary, be it Judge Sue Bell Cobb, former state Rep. James Field or Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox, then there will be a reason to call foul. Until then, taunting Ivey is a silly stunt.

As for Battle, Dawson and Hightower, each man, if not facing an incumbent, would be a formidable candidate and even perhaps a good governor. But like a grand slam, it’s all in the timing.

 

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Bill Britt

Opinion | Court of Criminal Appeals continues its failure to rule in Hubbard case

Bill Britt

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Stock Photo

With the indictment, conviction and sentencing of former Republican Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard, there was an expectation of change. But because the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals has failed to rule on Hubbard’s case, the once-hoped-for new dawn in Alabama politics is on hold.

For 11 months, the appeals court has been in procession of the final briefs needed to rule on Hubbard’s case, yet the court continues to stall its judgment.

For all the motions, pleading and downright cheating by Hubbard’s defense, it now comes down to politics and an elected court with judges who want to avoid putting Hubbard in jail, where a circuit court judge and jury of his peers in Lee County said he belongs.

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Most notably since Hubbard’s conviction, Criminal Appeals Court Judge Liles Burke has been nominated to the federal bench by President Donald Trump. Burke has been confirmed by the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee and awaits final confirmation by the full Senate.

How in the name of all that is justice and fair can the United States Senate in good conscience vote to confirm a man to a federal judgeship who will not rule on the most egregious public corruption case in Alabama in over the last decade?

For eleven months the appeals court has been in procession of the final briefs needed to rule on Hubbard’s case yet the court continues to stall its judgment.

How can Sens. Richard Shelby and Doug Jones vote to confirm a man like Burke who even now shrinks from his duty?

Has duty, honor and blind justice become so subservient to politics as to render an entire court neutered and slavishly beholden to the donor class?

Hubbard’s case is not complicated. Lee County Circuit Court Judge Jacob Walker III studiously and with an abundance of caution adjudicated Hubbard’s trial. There are no grand questions of law hanging over his rulings. What there is are big donors and influential men who were caught in the same web as Hubbard, and these individuals have access to the levers of power that frighten elected courts.

How is the public to trust that Burke will do any better given a lifetime appointment on a federal court? How can we as a state and nation believe that justice sits on the ultimate balance scale where no one individual is above the law no matter their status when the state court of criminal appeals weights case after case while ignoring Hubbard’s?

It seems there is nothing that can be done to move the court forward but what can and should be done is for Burke to be denied a seat of the federal court for failing to do his duty.

When then-Republican Speaker of the House Hubbard was indicted on 23 counts of felony ethics violations, many of us thought things would change. It didn’t. Many in the Republican supermajority stood by Hubbard at a rally the same days as his indictment and praised the would-be felon. Not only did Republicans stand by Hubbard after his indictments, every Democratic House member save Rep. Alvin Holmes voted to re-elect him speaker.

After Hubbard’s conviction on 12 of those 23 felony charges, once again, there was an expectation of better days to come. But those hopes for renewal are dashed against the hard reality that weak judges who know better and should enforce the law are crushed under the weight of the rich and powerful who believe they are a law unto themselves.

It is widely believed that the Court of Criminal Appeals will leave the Hubbard decision until a new court is seated in 2019, or worse, will dismiss it under the cover of darkness. Either way, the State Supreme Court will hear Hubbard’s appeal before the public has closure.

It seems there is nothing that can be done to move the court forward, but what can and should be done is to deny Burke a seat on the federal court for failing to do his duty.

The courts deserve women and men who put the law before political connivance – something that is sorely lacking here in the Heart of Dixie.

 

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A further look at revelations in final report on scheme to smear Pouncey

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