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Opinion | Alabama’s civil forfeiture laws aren’t just unfair, they’re un-American

Josh Moon



By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter

Last week, Barry Matson, the executive director of the Alabama District Attorneys Association, stood before a Senate committee and said flatly that “rumors” of improper civil asset forfeitures in this state were just not true.

He should try telling that line of bull to Jamey Vibbert.

If you’re unfamiliar with the civil asset forfeiture laws of Alabama — and around the country — or if you merely think everything is probably OK because Jeff Sessions, one of the worst people on earth, says they are, let me explain.


Essentially, these laws give law enforcement the ability to seize assets — such as cars, guns, homes, cash, etc. — that it determines has come into the possession of a criminal and because of criminal conduct. For example, the cash was in the criminal’s possession as a result of selling drugs.

So, the cops take that property. Ever been riding down the Interstate and see blue lights flashing on an unmarked car, like a Lexus or a Corvette? The cops likely got that car by way of a civil forfeiture case.

Now, I don’t think anyone has an issue with those seizures, except maybe the criminal. But here’s where the problems arise: there is a very flimsy level of proof that must be met in order for cops to confiscate a person’s property and keep it.

That level of proof falls well short of the usual reasonable doubt standard, and the process for civil forfeitures also turns the innocent-until-proven-guilty standard that’s the backbone of our legal system on its head.

In fact, the system is so, so flawed that it often results in people who are found innocent of charges expending their personal money in a civil trial, in which they sue the government, in order to FORCE the return of their property. And in such a case, the citizen plaintiff is forced to prove why he or she should be entitled to the return of their property.

It might be the most anti-American process in all of government.

And if you doubt this, have a chat with Vibbert.

Several years ago, Vibbert sold a couple of cars to a guy who he’d never met before. The guy walked onto Vibbert’s used car lot, bought two cars and drove away.

A few months later, that guy was arrested for dealing drugs and the cops were at Vibbert’s doorstep. Naively, he cooperated, believing he was helping law enforcement lock up a dangerous criminal.

Instead, those law enforcement agents were building a case against him.

Not necessarily because they believed Vibbert was guilty, but because they wanted the $25,000 in cash that had been paid to him. And they only wanted that cash after they learned that seizing the two cars from the drug dealer would cost them about as much as the cars were worth, according to Vibbert, who recently wrote an op-ed for

So, they arrested Vibbert and seized his money.

A few months later, he was found not guilty. During that trial, he said the judge stated on the record that he didn’t believe the civil forfeiture laws should extend to Vibbert.

But that didn’t deter the state, which refused to give the money back. Which seems odd, given the very transparent system that Matson told lawmakers about — the one that prevents such injustices.

Vibbert was forced to sue. And by the time he got his money back, Vibbert, the three-time “Ambassador of the Year” for the Dothan Chamber of Commerce, was out about $300,000 and had lost his business.

How could such a thing happen?

Easy answer: Money.

Police departments and sheriffs’ offices around the state have come to rely on asset seizures as a means to fund certain things, such as drug task forces. With budgets so tight and this conservative state unwilling to raise taxes to support anything, they’re in a crunch.

So, instead of raising taxes, they’re sacrificing personal rights. And the willingness to do so, while justifying it by citing money is more than a tad concerning.

An op-ed written by the presidents of the DAs Association and the Sheriffs Association literally asks this question: “What incentive would local police and sheriffs have to invest manpower, resources and time in these operations if they don’t receive proceeds to cover their costs?”

Ummm, the incentive of fighting crime?

I’m sorry, but you can’t justify every action by pointing to the pile of money it produces. Because, and try to follow me here, that’s sort of what criminals do.

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Opinion | The changing atmosphere at ASU

Josh Moon



File Photo

On Thursday, Alabama State University officials and administrators will travel to Concordia College in Selma to help.

Concordia, the nearly-100-year-old historically black college that has served the western portion of Alabama, is closing its doors for good. It can no longer afford to stay open.

ASU has long been a sister school to Concordia, and as such it will welcome many of Concordia’s students who wish to complete their degrees. But ASU officials aren’t stopping there.

According to a press release from ASU, numerous school officials — including a rep from each of ASU’s different colleges and its financial aid department — will travel to Concordia to work with its students who would like to transition from Concordia to ASU.


It’s a great move for everyone involved.

And it’s a sign of the kind of leadership that ASU has sorely lacked in the past.

More than anything, bad press has killed ASU over the years. Some — maybe even most — of it has been the school’s own doing, as it skipped from one insane controversy to another.

But an even bigger problem has been the lack of imagination among the executive staff — the inability to consider grand ideas or to take the innovative approach.

That appears to be changing under new university president Quinton Ross.

For a school that so desperately needs to change its public image nothing could fit better than a president who will not just send regards and a press release to Concordia but will send a team; not just go to the State House to sway lawmakers into giving more, but will use his influence and connections to bring state lawmakers by the dozen to ASU to show them where their money is being spent; not just rely on the same methods of fundraising to offset the debt he’s inherited from past administrations, but will use government programs to restructure that debt.

This is the sort of change that makes a lasting difference for ASU.

Because let’s be honest: there are a whole bunch of people who want to see the place fail. Those people love to see stories in the local media of ASU officials bickering or screwing up or doing generally dumb things.

So they can point and laugh at the black college. (Or, if you’re a governor, so you can, with very little resistance, cripple a funding source for state Democrats.)

If you doubt this, let me ask you a question: What is the long term credit ratings for Auburn University or the University of Alabama? What about UAB? Troy? AUM?

Of course you don’t know.

But if you read any one of a half dozen news sources from around the state last week, you learned that ASU’s had recently been downgraded due to past debt and high board turnover. And in some places, you also learned that ASU’s long-term outlook had been labeled “stable,” which was quite the improvement.

Overall, the long-term outlook forecast was probably a bigger deal than the initial debt downgrade, but … why?

Why on earth do I know this information about ASU and not about any other university in the state?

Why does ASU get so much attention?

Simple: Because stories that paint ASU in an unfavorable light draw eyeballs (clicks, hits, engagement, viewers, etc.).

This is a simple fact. Trust me, I’ve seen the numbers.

The only way to change that reality is to introduce a new one.

Ross seems to understand that. Unlike past administrations, his doesn’t seem to be focused on the singular approach of complaining about bad news. Instead, they’re working to introduce their own narrative, provide their own news stories.

It’s an approach that other universities and companies use all the time. Because it’s effective and it’s fair.

And in ASU’s case, it’s reality-altering.


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Opinion | Beware the Ides of March

Joey Kennedy



Beware the Ides of March, warned the seer to Julius Caesar, but Caesar didn’t, and the Roman emperor was reportedly assassinated on March 15, 44 BC.

On this Ides of March, there are other warnings going out, not for a literal assassination but, perhaps, massive political consequences. Politicians on all levels – federal, state, and local – need to be paying close attention, because voters, and especially young voters, look to be mad as hell and aren’t going to take it anymore.

They’ll let their voices be heard this fall in the midterm elections, so the seer might warn the Caesar-like politicians to beware the 6th of November as well.

At some point, more Americans are bound to wonder exactly what President Donald Trump owes the Russians. Or what the Russians have on him.


There must be something.

The president refuses to slap sanctions on Russia, despite near-unanimous approval of those sanctions in a bipartisan vote by Congress. The president is quick to criticize specific Democrats and even members of his own administration (AG Jeff Sessions is “beleaguered”), but has yet to call out Russian President Vladmir Putin on anything, whether it’s cyberattacking the United States, running a simulation that has Russian nuclear weapons targeting Florida, or assassinating his critics with a deadly nerve agent in the United Kingdom.

And most Republicans appear to be standing behind their “beleaguered” president. Together they stand, united they fall?

Perhaps the most serious warning politicos would be astute to observe, or at least understand, is the hornet’s nest stirred up after the Valentine’s Day massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

Wednesday marked one month since the shootings, a month, generally of little or no activity on the part of Congress or state legislatures to do something about the violent gun culture we live in today.

The United States is an anomaly on this issue. The politicians try to limit the causes to mental health or violent video games and movies.

There are mentally ill people across the world. Kids across the globe play violent video games and watch violent movies.

We live in the only nation that has such a high rate of violent gun deaths, either one-on-one on a daily basis or the much too often mass killings like the one a month ago in Parkland, Fla.

It’s not even close, and the major difference between us and them: We have more than 300 million guns, many of them easily converted to fully automatic, out there, and practically unregulated.

Young people across the country aren’t being quiet this time. They’ve taken up the challenge to either change the current politicians’ mind-set toward sensible gun restrictions, or to warn them (Beware the Ides of March) that they won’t be around for long if they don’t do something more than simply bowing to the thugs who lead the National Rifle Association.

On Wednesday, students across the United States, commemorating the one-month anniversary of the Parkland shootings, walked out of their classes for 17 minutes – a minute for each of the victims killed in the spree.

Many students in Alabama walked out, too, with the blessings of their school officials. Other administrators didn’t allow students to leave their classrooms. Some students walked out, anyway, risking discipline for doing so.

Gov. Kay Ivey, in her typical proclivity to double-speak, said the students were “noble,” but shouldn’t walk out of their classrooms.

“We need our children in school to learn so they can advance their own careers,” Ivey said.

They’re learning, Governor. And they’re teaching, too. The adults better be listening to this lesson, because many of these students are going to be voting in November and certainly after. Don’t take them for granted.

It was Ivey, remember, who said she had no reason to doubt the sexual abuse accusers of former Chief Justice and U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore, then declared she’d vote for Moore because he is a Republican.

Do not ignore these young activists. Hear them, and respond to their pleas to be allowed to live in peace in their schools.

And that doesn’t mean arming teachers, either.

So the Ides of March is upon us. It’s a good time to heed warnings. Or, like Caesar, be ready to pay the consequences.

Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column each week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected]


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Opinion | Greed is threatening the daycare bill again

Josh Moon



By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter

It is happening again.

In the bowels of the Alabama State House, where the rancid sausage of state government is put together, the men are scheming again.

Scheming to kill, or severely weaken, the daycare licensing bill.


The same people are involved: Sen. Larry Stutts, the Alabama Eagle Forum and Sen. Shay Shelnutt.

For the last several days, Rep. Pebblin Warren and other advocates for the daycare bill have been meeting with that group of malcontents, listening to their insane demands and trying to come up with some way to placate this group who will apparently go to the mat to prevent churches from spending the money to properly care for and protect defenseless children.

The bill is expected to be on the Senate floor Thursday, but its fate is, at this point, unknown. Which is, quite honestly, astonishing.

Even for this group, the blatant bending to the almighty dollar in this instance is breathtaking.

In case you’ve forgotten what’s being proposed here, let me provide a quick refresher: Warren’s bill would force church-affiliated daycares to mostly follow the same rules and regulations as non-church daycares.

That’s it.

There’s nothing sneaky. No one wants to force the church daycares to bake a cake for a gay wedding.

There’s a specific provision within the bill that makes it clear that the guidelines being imposed relate entirely to the safety of the children and that the state will not get involved with curriculum.

But that’s not really a problem. And this small band of malcontents know it.

This is about money.

That’s what it’s always about in Alabama. Even when the people chasing that dollar routinely invoke the name of a man who warned repeatedly of the dangers of valuing money over people.

These daycares churn out a profit for the churches. And because they’re not beholden to the same guidelines as non-church daycares, they can often churn out a huge profit.

The math is pretty easy. If a church daycare and a non-church daycare each have 20 kids enrolled, but the non-church daycare is required to employ four, trained workers to watch those kids, while the church daycare employs just Bill, a guy who had a few hours to kill today, guess which one makes more money.

But you know, that’s not really a fair example. Because it makes Bill sound semi-competent. And in some cases, the employees, and the administrators, of these “church daycares” are anything but competent, respectable people.

You might recall that we had this debate last year. This same group of people managed to kill the daycare bill.

Less than two months after they did so, a 5-year-old child in Mobile was dead.

Because the “church daycare” he attended didn’t run a basic background check on the person driving the daycare van. Had it, it would have learned that its employee had a long criminal record.

Instead, the child was left to suffocate and die in scorching hot van and his small, lifeless body was dumped in some random front yard.

See, that’s the sort of thing that licensing prevents.

It also prevents the unintentional poisoning of children (yep, that happened), the burning of children by workers smoking cigarettes too close to them (happened), the near death of dozens of children from extreme food poisoning (happened) and the deaths of children in a fire-trap daycare (happened).

We all know what the right thing is here. And in moments when they’re not beholden to special interest groups and lobbyists, Alabama’s lawmakers let you know that they also know what’s right.

Gov. Kay Ivey did so last August, shortly after the death of the 5-year-old in Mobile. When asked if all church daycares should be regulated, Ivey said she “strongly believes” that all daycares should be licensed by the state.

But that was before campaign season. Before the church-backed lobbying groups and PACs got involved.

These days, Ivey is less forceful. Sources told APR that Ivey told a group of lawmakers that she would take no position on the bill.

When I asked her office directly what her position is, “strongly believes” all daycares should be state licensed morphed into … some other words.

Governor Ivey remains in favor of improved guidelines for day care facilities in Alabama,” the statement from her office read. “She believes more must be done to protect our children and that it is essential we have quality day care staff, rendering quality service.”

It is essential.

Unfortunately, with our weak state leadership — from the governor’s office on down — bending to the call of money, thousands of Alabama are unlikely to experience that essential service.

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Opinion | Alabama’s civil forfeiture laws aren’t just unfair, they’re un-American

by Josh Moon Read Time: 4 min