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When politicians perpetuate the death penalty against the will of the people

Stephen Cooper

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By Stephen Cooper and Rory Fleming
 
Progressive Alabamians faced an election night last year that was by turns terrifying and soul-crushing, but also, when it comes to criminal justice reform, vaguely hopeful. While many were unsurprised by Trump’s victory in the presidential contest, there were, nevertheless, several heartening changes in the selection of the state’s powerful district attorneys. Sadly, however, stand-in Governor Kay Ivey’s recent appointment of Mike Anderton as Jefferson County District Attorney – an appointment that smacks of politics trumping the expressed will of the people – may undo much of the momentum reformists had worked to build.
 
States have differing procedures for replacing a DA who leaves for reasons that can span from assuming a higher office to being ousted due to criminal conduct. In New York, like in Alabama, the governor can appoint a replacement. For example, Kathleen Rice was a DA in Long Island from 2006 to 2014, when she was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives; she was replaced by Madeline Singas, her top deputy. Though New York Governor Andrew Cuomo had the legal right to choose someone else, he decided to retain Singas in the role. By contrast, in California, DAs who leave in the middle of their term are replaced by county commissioners, and in Pennsylvania, a board of local judges makes the decision.
 
These replacement procedures and the outcomes they yield are critical because, as criminal justice experts routinely emphasize, it is elected head prosecutors on the local level who are responsible for the vast majority of discretionary choices in the criminal justice system; this includes, for example, deciding who gets charged, and, with what crimes, and also, who faces the death penalty. Moreover, whether deserved or not, because of their high-profile jobs, district attorneys are often considered paragons of their community and their position is frequently a launching pad for higher political office. Many prominent members of Congress from both parties are former DAs; Senator Kamala Harris (in San Francisco, California) and U.S. Rep. Daniel Donovan (in Staten Island, New York) are just two recent examples.
 
Precisely because of their awesome, mostly unfettered power, the election of new state district attorneys can be an incubator for populist change. Unfortunately, in many areas throughout the country, people’s views on the need for justice reform have outpaced those held by their local DA. In part, this is because these races are often misunderstood or ignored. Last year, 72 percent of prosecutor races were unopposed. But in Contra Costa County, California earlier this year, county commissioners revamped the DA’s office by appointing Diane Becton, a former judge who has since participated in events hosted by a coalition of forward-thinking prosecutors called “Fair and Just Prosecution.” Refreshingly, Becton is the first African-American and first woman to become district attorney in the office’s roughly 160-year history. Becton’s appointment was only possible because former DA Mark Peterson resigned after pleading guilty to felony perjury (relating to his misuse of $66,000 in campaign funds). First elected district attorney in 2010, then re-elected unopposed four years later, Peterson was a staunch foe of criminal justice reform. He vigorously campaigned in favor of a terribly flawed ballot initiative (Prop. 66) that he ghoulishly and fraudulently advertised would “speed up” executions by claiming it would ensure all death penalty appeals are heard within five years. (The California Supreme Court has since struck this provision down as unconstitutional.) Furthermore, Peterson disagreed with his county’s voters on ballot initiatives to fix the state’s onerous three-strikes law (the same law that sent a man to prison for 50 years to life in prison for stealing $153 of videotapes), to change some felonies to misdemeanors (Prop. 47), and to broaden parole access and stop prosecuting kids as adults (Prop. 57). And finally, on top of all that, foreshadowing the winds of change perhaps, Peterson is a Republican, in a county where 69 percent of voters picked Hillary Clinton for President in 2016, and 68 percent of voters chose Governor Jerry Brown in 2014.
 
Echoing what happened in Contra Costa County, the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Board of Judges chose Kelley Hodge, the city’s first black woman DA who had experience as an assistant public defender, after R. Seth Williams was sentenced to five years in federal prison for corruption. The board turned down former DA Lynne Abraham; Abraham’s checkered record includes putting over 100 people on death row, opining that black people were responsible for 85 percent of the city’s crime, and remarking after observing her first execution that it was “a nonevent” for her. Fortunately for Alabamians, Abraham has not indicated any future plans to pick up and move to Alabama, because with these credentials, dubious as they are, she’d undoubtedly be the apple of Kay Ivey’s cold and calculating eye. Unfortunately, Ivey still has Mike Anderton to call upon. And that’s every bit as bad.
 
To understand why, what you need to know is: Jefferson County, Alabama consists of two criminal court jurisdictions; there’s Birmingham itself, and there’s the much smaller Bessemer, which lies outside of the city. In the 2016 election, Bill Veitch, a Republican incumbent district attorney, was defeated by Lynneice Washington, then a black municipal judge in Bessemer. Washington is now Alabama’s first black female head prosecutor since achieving statehood in 1819. While not as monumental or historic, progressive change also took place in the Birmingham district, where Charles Todd Henderson bested former District Attorney Brandon Falls. According to a report by Harvard Law School’s Fair Punishment Project, Falls helped make Jefferson County one of the less than one percent of counties nationally that sent five or more people to death row between 2010 and 2015.
 
While DAs like Falls have to sign off on office decisions to seek the death penalty, their approval is easily secured by line prosecutors in Alabama – prosecutors who have been called out by scholars and courts alike for their often overzealous, at times absurd, conduct at trial. Mike Anderton knows this all too well. He has personally obtained at least four death sentences, at times showing scant regard for legal ethics and human dignity. Perhaps most infamously, he wrongfully put an innocent man named Montez Spradley on death row, and denied paying his girlfriend to frame him. But documents from the Jefferson County DA’s office say otherwise; the woman was paid $5,000 from a “private fund” run through Anderton’s office, and another $5,000 from the governor’s office. Anderton has also said that a man with an IQ score of 56 was “faking” his intellectual disability to avoid death row, and he obtained a death sentence for an 18-year-old – a sentence that was later commuted to life without parole because of prosecutorial misconduct.
 
In 2016, Birmingham voters decided they’d had enough. They did not want a man like Anderton in charge when they voted for Charles Todd Henderson, the Democrat who defeated former DA Falls. Henderson, like the Bessemer district’s new DA, is “personally opposed” to capital punishment. Talking to reporters in November, he indicated that his office would engage in greater scrutiny in ensuring that the death penalty is only sought in the most heinous cases. Specifically, Henderson declared that it was “not going to be my routine policy to seek the death penalty in every capital murder case,” citing Jeffrey Dahmer as his death penalty poster child. (Dahmer was a serial killer who killed and ate body parts of 17 boys and men.)
 
Unfortunately for local voters, they did not know Henderson committed acts that would later see him convicted of felony perjury. He was charged just before taking office, long after news of the election had left people’s minds. That made Danny Carr, Henderson’s chief deputy, the “acting” DA. While he has not made public statements like Henderson’s about disfavoring the death penalty, Carr nevertheless cut a rare, progressive figure as a black Democrat DA in Alabama. But Alabama law permitted Gov. Ivey to appoint a new head prosecutor after Henderson was convicted. And so, despite impassioned pleas from prominent politicians and other members of the Birmingham community for her to keep Carr in the position he’d occupied for almost a year, Ivey chose Anderton, a Republican.
 
Ivey has made no secret of her partisanship – or her willingness to play along – irrespective of the negative optics. Having opined that “we need to have a Republican in the United States Senate to vote on things like the Supreme Court justices, other appointments the Senate has to confirm and make major decisions,” Ivey even endorsed Roy Moore for U.S. Senate, despite Moore being accused, among other outrages, of molesting a 14-year-old girl. (Oddly contrasting with Ivey’s embrace of the Senate candidate who has been accused of serious lascivious crimes, her “tough on crime” ideology recently led to her support for the leasing of private prisons, instead of reconsidering Alabama’s harsh sentencing schemes.)
 
Anderton, Gov. Ivey’s choice for Birmingham’s DA in lieu of Democrat Danny Carr, is better suited for an order of permanent disbarment than the role of top prosecutor. That’s likely how some high court judges in Oklahoma would rule, if Anderton practiced in their jurisdiction. In 2013, former Oklahoma City prosecutor Brad Miller got a 180-day suspension of his law license because of “egregious” prosecutorial misconduct leading to overturned convictions in a death penalty case. Justice Stephen Taylor on the Oklahoma Supreme Court wrote that “no attorney should ever commit [similar] ‘reprehensible’ conduct in death penalty (or any other) litigation.” Like Anderton, Miller worked for yet another elected prosecutor notorious for his death penalty zeal, Oklahoma County District Attorney “Cowboy” Bob Macy.
 
But since the discipline of prosecutors for committing misconduct is very rare – and exponentially so in Alabama – it is up to other elected leaders in government to keep the bad apples in line. Certainly, they are not supposed to reward them with promotions over other qualified candidates more representative of the will of the people. Voters, therefore, must hold Governor Ivey accountable for her bad choices in 2018. And hopefully, at the same time, Alabamians will send a strong message to DA Anderton – and to all of Alabama’s wayward prosecutors – that lawbreaking and unethical officials are no longer welcome in their state. While Carr is not the DA Birmingham chose in 2016, he is more capable of reflecting its values and its priorities than Anderton. And most importantly, he follows the law.
 
Rory Fleming is a Minnesota attorney and an alumnus of the Fair Punishment Project, a joint initiative of Harvard Law School’s Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race & Justice and its Criminal Justice Institute. He tweets from @RoryFleming8A.
 
Stephen Cooper is a former D.C. public defender who worked as an assistant federal public defender in Alabama between 2012 and 2015. He has contributed to numerous magazines and newspapers in the United States and overseas. He writes full-time and lives in Woodland Hills, California. Follow him on Twitter at @SteveCooperEsq.

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Opinion | Pro-growth policies are working in AL-02 communities

Martha Roby

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Over the last year and a half, Republicans in Congress and the Trump Administration have worked tirelessly to unleash our economy and foster growth right here in the United States. Since November of 2016, 3.7 million jobs have been created, and one million of those came after the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act became law. Unemployment numbers are at the lowest point they’ve been in decades. Job openings are at a record high – 213,000 jobs were added in June alone. Also last month, there were 6.7 million job openings, which marks the first time since the year 2000 that the number of job openings is larger than the number of people unemployed.

As you may know, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act roughly doubled the standard deduction while lowering tax rates. Because of this historic tax reform, 90 percent of Americans have seen bigger paychecks this year. Plus, more than four million Americans have seen increased wages, bonuses, and expanded retirement options.

Thanks to tax reform and our efforts to spur economic growth, Americans are working and businesses are growing – and Alabama’s Second District hasn’t missed out on the momentum. Since the enactment of our tax overhaul last year, several businesses have announced they are opening branches in our district, expanding existing ones, offering pay increases to employees, and more. I would like to take this opportunity to briefly share some of the great economic news we’ve received so far.

Most recently, Alabama manufacturer Sabel Steel, which has locations in Montgomery and Dothan, announced they will provide pay increases to all employees, invest in new equipment, expand existing facilities, and hire additional workers thanks to tax reform. I believe the company’s CEO Keith Sabel said it best himself: “There’s optimism. With the previous administration, we were hammered by rule changes and regulations. It was like trying to drink water out of a firehose. The change in policy under President Trump was enormous, and the attitude among businessmen and especially other steel manufacturers has been incredibly optimistic. Tax reform and other policies psychologically have made an enormous difference.”

James Hardie Building Products announced plans to open a new manufacturing plant in Prattville. This project is the largest industrial development in Autauga County in 50 years, and it will have a significant economic impact on the area.

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U.S. firearms maker Kimber Gun Manufacturing also announced a project in AL-02. By early 2019, the company will open a $38 million production facility in Troy that will create more than 350 high-paying jobs over the next five years.

Also in Troy, Rex Lumber Co. will soon open a state of the art sawmill operation that will employ more than 100 people. This $110 million investment will create quality employment opportunities and a significant new timber market in Pike County.

In Coffee County, Wayne Farms has announced a $105 million expansion at their Enterprise fresh processing facility. This investment will bring a strong economic boost to the area.

Last, but certainly not least, Great Southern Wood Preserving based in Abbeville recently announced it will use savings from the tax overhaul to invest in additional employee benefits, including lower health care costs, more paid time off, and a new scholarship program. In addition, the company has given pay increases to employees across the board.

So you see, thanks to our pro-growth policies and a commitment to fostering economic growth in this country, Americans are confident in our economy – and rightfully so. Hardworking people in our very own communities have already benefited tremendously as a result of these important efforts, and I am eager to see this positive forward momentum continue for all Alabamians.

Martha Roby represents Alabama’s Second Congressional District. She lives in Montgomery, Alabama, with her husband Riley and their two children.

 

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Opinion | Americans are better off now

Bradley Byrne

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Two years ago, I joined other Republican House members in unveiling our “Better Way” agenda. The agenda covered everything from national security to tax reform to the economy. It was a bold vision about a different path for America that wasn’t driven by a larger, more powerful federal government. Instead, we advocated for a better way where we got government out of the way and allowed the American people to flourish.

 Working with President Trump, we have held true to our promises to the American people. Two years later and with many parts of the agenda in place, we can safely say that Americans are better off now. Our communities are safer. The economy is booming. Our military is being rebuilt. Our “Better Way” is paying off.

 Our communities are safer because we have made supporting law enforcement a top priority. We have passed historic legislation to address the opioid crisis, which is having a horrible impact on communities in Alabama and throughout the country. In addition to better policy, we have invested $4 billion in grants and programs to help combat the opioid crisis.

 We passed legislation to devote more resources to school safety, and we have made real progress in the fight against human trafficking. In fact, we have seen a 60 percent decline in online advertising for sex trafficking.

Also, important to keeping our communities safe, we set aside $1.5 billion for physical barriers and technology along the southern border and provided for over 90 miles of a border wall system. Border security is national security.

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No one can deny that the American economy is booming. Just consider these numbers: 90 percent of Americans are seeing larger paychecks under our tax reform bill. 3.7 million jobs have been created since November 2016. There are 6.6 million job openings in the United States as of May 2018, meaning more jobs than job seekers. And, $4.1 billion has been saved in agency regulatory costs by rolling back burdensome government regulations.

 One of my biggest concerns during the Obama Administration was the hollowing out of our military. We had planes that couldn’t fly and ships that couldn’t sail. We were not making the continuous critical investment in our military necessary to keep up with our adversaries. Thankfully, those days are over.

 We have made the largest investment in our military in 15 years. This means 20,000 new troops, the largest pay increase for our service members since 2010, more training time, better equipment, new ships, and much more.

 On the world stage, countries know that the United States means what we say. ISIS is on the run in the Middle East, North Korea has come to the negotiating table, and China is being held accountable for their dangerous trade practices.

 Now, I want to make clear that much work remains. For example, we have to keep working to fix our broken immigration system and ensure that our borders are finally secure. We also cannot give up on our efforts to improve health care in our country. Costs remain too high and rural communities right here in Alabama are facing dangerous hospital closures.

 But, despite what some on the other side of the aisle and the national news media want you to believe, the American people are better off now than they were two years ago. That’s a testament to our pro-growth agenda, but, more importantly, it is a testament to the spirit and drive of the American people.

Want to know more? I encourage you to visit Better.gop to learn more about the various ways the American people are better off now.

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Opinion | Pro-Life Movement momentum is strong

Martha Roby

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As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, I have the privilege each year to advocate for the priorities most important to the people who live and work in Alabama’s Second District.  Among many other key issues, I have been proud to stand up and fight for a strong military and smart agriculture policy on this committee. On the reverse, I am also in a strong position fight against funding from being steered towards programs or organizations that I adamantly oppose. Recently when the Appropriations Committee approved our Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (Labor-HHS) Fiscal Year 2019 funding bill, I had the opportunity to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves: the unborn.

As a member of the Labor-HHS Subcommittee, I am extremely proud to report that our bill passed by the full Committee includes the strong pro-life language I have fought for year after year and implements additional policy riders to defend life. Every single one of these measures is critically important and further ensures that no taxpayer dollars can be used for abortions.

Among the key pro-life provisions included in the Labor-HHS FY19 funding bill are the Hyde Amendment, which directs that no taxpayer dollars be used to fund abortions, and the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, which bans Labor-HHS funding from being used on research that harms human embryos.

In addition to these longstanding pro-life measures, our bill also includes several other important pro-life provisions that continue our efforts to assign greater protections for life under the law. These measures include the Conscience Science Protection Act, which protects the rights of health care providers that do not participate in abortion.

In addition, the bill includes language that prohibits funding for fetal tissue research obtained from abortion. This measure might sound familiar because it is a direct response to the 2015 scandal that revealed how Planned Parenthood officials were systematically altering abortion procedures to preserve babies’ organs in order to sell them to researchers for profit. Planned Parenthood’s action was sick, callous, and completely inhuman.

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Finally, the bill includes language to prohibit abortion providers like Planned Parenthood from receiving any available funding, including through Title X family grants. This measure works hand-in-hand with the Trump Administration’s “Protect Life” rule, which also directs that Planned Parenthood is not eligible to receive Title X grant money. As I have said many, many times: Abortion is not family planning. Abortion is not health care. Organizations that offer these services should not receive taxpayer dollars that are intended for family planning.

Throughout my time in Congress, I have remained unapologetically pro-life. I believe life begins at conception, and our laws and policies should reflect a strong commitment to defending life at every stage. I have considered it a great privilege to have a platform with which I can serve as a voice for the voiceless.

After eight long years of coming up short pro-life victories, I am encouraged that we now have a President who supports our efforts and is willing to sign important measures into law. The pro-life movement’s momentum is strong, and I look forward to seeing it grow as we continue to impact meaningful change on behalf of the unborn. I am eager to support our Labor-HHS funding bill when it comes before the full House for a vote.

 Martha Roby represents Alabama’s Second Congressional District. She lives in Montgomery, Alabama with her husband Riley and their two children.

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When politicians perpetuate the death penalty against the will of the people

by Stephen Cooper Read Time: 9 min
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