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Opinion | Montgomery reappoints disgraced judge, needs new leadership

Josh Moon

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By Josh Moon

Alabama Political Reporter

Former Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard shouldn’t go to prison.

Nope. His sentence should be commuted and he should be returned to his lofty position atop the Alabama House, because the things he did, while illegal, were not things that he invented and he wasn’t alone in doing those things.

Lots of lawmakers before him were using their offices for personal gain. Lots of lawmakers were involved in the schemes, or schemes very similar, for which Hubbard was convicted of 12 felonies.

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So, set the man free and let him reign over the Legislature once again.

That’s stupid, right?

No one believes that the above argument — that others were doing it, so what’s the big deal? — is an argument that holds any real weight with adults, right? It’s an elementary schooler’s argument, right?

Well, apparently y’all haven’t met the Montgomery City Council and Mayor Todd Strange.

Because if their friends were jumping off bridges, they would be right with them.

On Tuesday, despite vocal disagreement from numerous citizens — and not a single citizen speaking in favor of it — the council accepted the mayor’s reappointment of Judge Lester Hayes to the Montgomery Municipal Court.

If you’re unfamiliar with Hayes, you should be aware that he’s quite unique in Alabama, a state that goes to great lengths to never, ever punish or even investigate most judges. Hayes was not only investigated, he was removed from the bench in 2016.

That decision by the Judicial Inquiry Commission (JIC) followed a number of complaints filed against him over his continued jailing of indigent defendants, and also because of his use of a private probation company contracted with the City of Montgomery to extract pennies from the penniless.

The JIC called the findings against Hayes — that he violated TEN! different canons of judicial ethics — “very troubling” and “serious.”

And they were.

Because in addition to violating those canons, Hayes also blatantly violated Alabama law when he locked up poor people without offering them a chance to explain their situation or present evidence of indigency.

And he continued to do this, over and over, despite complaints from attorneys in town, despite threats of lawsuits from the Southern Poverty Law Center, despite the pleas of poor people and despite his responsibility to know and uphold the laws of this state.

And Hayes stopped this practice, not out of some deep concern for the people of Montgomery or out of a crisis of conscience, but because he and the city courts were sued on three separate occasions in federal court.

And to prove there was zero remorse on his part, Hayes illegally took a legal job with the City of Montgomery and was later forced by the JIC to repay the city his salary.  

But on Tuesday, none of that mattered to the mayor and seven of the Montgomery City Council members who voted to reappoint Hayes to the bench. (Only councilman Tracy Larkin voted against Hayes.)

Their childlike reasoning: Hayes wasn’t the only judge to lock up poor people, and he didn’t start the practice.

For normal adults, such a statement would be the start of a process to remove all of the judges who violated the laws so blatantly. Because while the council spoke at great length of how such practices were common in Alabama and in other cities, it is more common that such practices are uncommon.

Thousands of American cities have managed to conduct business without operating debtors’ prisons. They either never had them, recognizing their cruelty and uselessness, or they voluntarily stopped them without court intervention.

But Montgomery is apparently led by a different group of people.

That group was unconcerned that Hayes had admitted in legal filings to treating the citizens that the council are supposed to represent unfairly and cruelly. That group of city leaders apparently believe it’s OK if judges get caught up in an illegal conspiracy to improperly jail citizens. That leadership group accepted a juvenile excuse and ignored their constituents.

So maybe Les Hayes isn’t the real problem here.

Maybe Montgomery needs new leadership.

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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Opinion | The Shorty Price story

Steve Flowers

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Since this is Alabama vs. Tennessee week and we have a Governor’s Race in three weeks, allow me to share the Story of Shorty Price.

Alabama has had its share of what I call “run for the fun of it” candidates. The most colorful of all these perennial “also ran” candidates was Ralph “Shorty” Price. He ran for Governor every time. His slogan was “Smoke Tampa Nugget cigars, drink Budweiser beer and vote for Shorty Price.”

In one of Shorty’s campaigns for governor his campaign speech contained this line, “If elected governor I will reduce the governor’s tenure from four to two years. If you can’t steal enough to last you the rest of your life in two years, you ain’t got enough sense to have the office in the first place.” He would use recycled campaign signs to save money but he rarely garnered two percent of the votes in any campaign.

Shorty loved Alabama football. Following the Crimson Tide was Shorty’s prime passion in life. You could spot Shorty, even though he was only 5 ft tall, at every Crimson tide football game always sporting a black suit, a black hat with a round top, his Alabama tie and flag.

I do not know if Shorty actually had a seat because he would parade around Denny Stadium or Legion Field posing as Alabama’s head cheerleader. In fact he would intersperse himself among the real Alabama cheerleaders and help them with their cheers. There was no question that Shorty was totally inebriated in fact, I never saw Shorty when he was not drunk.

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Shorty worshiped Paul “Bear” Bryant. Indeed Bryant, Wallace and Shorty were of the same era. Like Bryant, Shorty hated Tennessee.

Speaking of the Tennessee rivalry, I will share with you a personal Shorty story. I had become acquainted with Shorty early on in life. Therefore, on a clear, beautiful, third Saturday, fall afternoon in October Alabama was playing Tennessee in Legion Field. As always, Shorty was prancing up and down the field. I was a freshman at the University on that fall Saturday. Shorty even in his drunken daze recognized me. I had a beautiful date that I was trying to impress and meeting Shorty did not impress her. Shorty pranced up the isle and proceeded to sit by me. His daily black suit had not been changed in probably over a year. He reeked of alcohol and body odor and my date had to hold her nose.

After about 20 minutes of offending my date, Shorty then proceeded to try to impress the crowd by doing somersaults off the six-foot walls of Legion field. He did at least three, mashing his head straight down on the pavement on each dive, I though Shorty had killed himself with his somersaults. His face and his head were bleeding profusely and he was developing a black eye. Fortunately, Shorty left my domain and proceeded to dance with Alabama cheerleaders that day as bloody as he may have been.

Shorty was beloved by the fans and I guess that is why the police in Birmingham and Tuscaloosa seem to ignore Shorty’s antics. However, that was not the case in a classic Alabama game four years later. By this time I was a senior at the University and we were facing Notre Dame in an epic championship battle in the old New Orleans Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Eve. It was for the 1973 national championship. Bear Bryant and Ara Parseghian were pitted against each other. We were ranked #1 and 2.

One of the largest television audiences in history was focused on the 7:30 p.m. kickoff. It was electrifying. Those of us in the stands were awaiting the entrance of the football team, as were the ABC cameras. Somehow or other, Shorty had journeyed to New Orleans, had gotten on the field and was posed to lead the Alabama team out on the field.

As was customary, Shorty was drunk as Cooter Brown. He started off by beating an Irish puppet with a club and the next thing I knew two burly New Orleans policemen, two of the biggest I had ever seen, picked up Shorty by his arms and escorted him off the field. They did not know who Shorty was and did not appreciate him. Sadly, Shorty, one of Alabama’s greatest fans, missed one of Alabama’s classic games sitting in a New Orleans jail.

I have always believed that Shorty’s removal from the field was a bad omen for us that night. We lost 24-23 and Notre Dame won the National Championship.

See you next week.

Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.

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Opinion | Maddox is pro-life, pro-gun — and the Ivey campaign is freaking out

Josh Moon

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The Kay Ivey campaign threw a bit of a hissy fit earlier this week.

You probably missed it, since it took place mostly on old fashioned radio and rightwing blogs, but there was outrage aplenty.

Because Walt Maddox, who’s running against Ivey for governor, released his first statewide campaign ad and revealed that he’s both pro-life and pro-second amendment.

And whooooo boy, the Ivey campaign went crazy.

In a bizarre, angry statement, Ivey’s handlers called Maddox a liar — an allegation for which they offered zero proof — and then tossed in some Sarah Palin-like buzzwords and pretended to be just aghast that Maddox would say such things.

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“Walt Maddox promises not to lie, yet he just told two lies in 30 seconds. That takes lying to a whole new level – even for a politician like Walt Maddox,” the Ivey campaign wrote, and then paused for a breath.

While that all might seem a bit over the top, it’s actually understandable.

Because the phony issues of abortion and guns are all the Ivey campaign has.

If they can’t use those, and instead have to run on Ivey’s record of staying the hell out of sight, they’re toast. And they know it.

So, they can’t sit idly by and allow Maddox to tell people what he believes. They have to attack him and call him a liar.

And as proof of his lies, they offer … well, nothing.

Because mayors, like governors, don’t have a voice in the abortion argument. So, Maddox has no record of opposing abortion. He has two children, so he’s at least been pro-life twice. And there’s nothing to suggest that he doesn’t believe exactly what he says he does.

As for guns, I have a newsflash for you rightwingers: lots of people on the left own and enjoy shooting firearms of all sorts. Quite a few of us are pretty good at it. And even more of us think that owning a gun for personal protection is a right that we’d like to protect.

The fact is there are a whole bunch of Democrats who fall all over the map on both issues. Because both issues, despite what the fringes of both sides would have you believe, are incredibly complicated and nuanced.

Of course, that’s not the way the Ivey campaign wants to present them. There’s only abortion and not abortion, guns and not guns.

But how Ivey herself would respond to the specifics of each question — for example, what would she do in the instances of rape, or does she favor stronger protections to prevent the mentally ill from obtaining firearms — is unknown.

That’s because she’s refused to debate, where the specifics of complicated issues often get exposed as candidates go back and forth and voters are given an opportunity to better understand the issues and the candidates’ positions.

Ivey has run scared from those, because she knows the truth.

Walt Maddox isn’t some super-liberal. He’s a moderate with a better track record of actually doing things. If Ivey participated in a debate with Maddox, and his actual views and ideas were presented side-by-side with hers, all the PAC money in the world couldn’t save her.

Instead of debating, Ivey continues to hide behind her PR people and participate in 2-minute press scrums and softball radio interviews — places where she can toss out folksy soundbites without ever being truly challenged on her beliefs, lack of ideas and zero accomplishments.

Her handlers are hoping to do just enough to distract voters from these facts.

Maddox took away two of their shiny objects this week.

That’s why they were so mad.

 

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Bill Britt

Opinion | The people have a right to know if their attorney general is a cheat

Bill Britt

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If there is a shred of integrity left at the Alabama Ethics Commission, it will immediately convene an emergency hearing to settle the issues of whether the State’s Attorney General Steve Marshall violated campaign finance laws.

For nearly three months, the commission has failed to rule on whether Marshall knowingly ignored the state’s Fair Campaign Practice Act in taking $735,000 in illegal contributions from the Republican Attorneys General Association. RAGA is not registered with the state and commingles its funds with other political action committees, masking the donors contrary to Alabama law. Ethics Commission Executive Director Tom Albritton knows Marshall’s contributions were unlawful, so does Secretary of State John Merrill, but no one is willing to act. Even Marshall himself is on the record saying the type of contributions he received from RAGA are illegal and banning such contributions was, “the only legal protection standing between Alabama voters and the reality or appearance of quid pro quo corruption.”

Perhaps the larger question for the Commission and the Alabama Republican Party is should a candidate who willingly takes illegal campaign contributions be allowed to remain on the ballot?

In the least, the voters in Alabama have a right to know if the Republican nominee for the state’s top lawyer violated the law.

The primary function of the state’s attorney general is to represent the state in legal matters, protect the people and seek out and prosecute public corruption.

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The Ethics Commission must call a special hearing to address the allegation against Marshall before the Nov. 6 election.

If the commission refuses to act, it will confirm it is merely an extension of the political corruption that plagues our state.

Ethics Director Albritton and Secretary Merrill have made it clear in statements and previous writings that Marshall’s acceptance of the RAGA funds is an unlawful act.

Merrill, in 2015, asserted out-of-state PAC contributions made to an Alabama candidate are illegal if the PAC is not fully compliant with Alabama laws which require registration and full disclosure of its donors.

RAGA is not registered in Alabama, and its donors are not immediately disclosed under Alabama law because it accepts PAC-to-PAC transfers which mask the original donors.

Secretary of State’s letter addressed out-of-state PACs meddling in Alabama elections

For his part, in June, Albritton told al.com that he had informed other campaigns that similar donations would not be legal.

Merrill and Albritton make it evident that Marshall’s acceptance of the RAGA funds is a violation of the state’s campaign finance laws.

On too many occasions, the Commission has bent to the narrow interests of well-connected individuals or the broad considerations of powerful special interests. For once, it should look to protect the state’s voters from an attorney general who would skirt campaign laws for personal gain.

The right remedy in the Marshall situation lies with the Alabama Republican Party, which is responsible for pursuing such violations and taking appropriate action, but the so-called party of law and order has taken a pass on the Marshall fiasco, choosing to remain silent.

Republican Party Chair Terry Lathan and the Executive Committee could end the charade by immediately moving not to certify Marshall’s votes in the upcoming general election. Of course, this would mean conceding the race to Democrat Joe Siegelman. This might not be palatable, but how much more bitter is a win by cheating?

Since the party will not act on the issue, it falls to Ethics Commission Chairman Judge Jerry Fielding who can swiftly move to bring the Marshall matter before the Commission.

For years, Fielding enjoyed a sterling reputation as a respected jurist, but slowly over time, his willingness to allow questionable compromise on the Ethics Commision has taken the shine off his former standing. Marshall’s case is an opportunity for Judge Fielding and the entire commission to affirm the rule of law applies to everyone, even an appointed attorney general.

It is now time for the commission to act because the people have a right to know if their attorney general is a cheat.

 

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Opinion | In the wake of the Brett Kavanaugh disaster, let’s finally start living well

Joey Kennedy

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Folks, Brett Kavanaugh is now a justice on the United States Supreme Court. We can’t do anything about that. For now.

This man, who despite credible accusations that he is a sexual predator, still didn’t deserve a place on the highest court in the land even if no accusations had been made. Kavanaugh showed he could easily become unhinged in his bizarre testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, even rudely challenging questioners when they asked about his excessive drinking and sex games as a high school and college student. He lied to the Judiciary Committee and America, even before that disturbing day following the brave testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. His crocodile tears and mock anger were embarrassing.

The cloud Kavanaugh brings to the Supreme Court will remain until he dies, but, seriously, there’s nothing we can do now. When Donald Trump, a sexual predator himself, apologizes to Kavanaugh for him having to answer for his bad behavior, we know Trump has little respect for the court, or women, or, indeed, humanity.

So here we are. We’re angry, sure, and we have a right to be. Even the one woman who could have made a difference, Maine Sen. Susan Collins, turned her back on the many women who have been raped and sexually assaulted during their lives, to vote for a man credibly accused of sexual assault of a 15-year-old girl and others.

Old, angry white men — knowing they won’t be in power much longer or even among the majority in this diverse, growing nation of non-white citizens — rammed through Kavanaugh’s nomination, even as a great majority of Americans opposed it. The geezers have to live with what they’ve done, as does beer-loving boofer Kavanaugh, who will always have a tattered reputation among decent people, no matter how long he serves on the Supreme Court. They won a battle; however, friends, this is a war.

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And that war, we can win.

Our voices can be heard. Let’s not let our anger and depression and frustration over what happened during the torture of the Kavanaugh confirmation make us forget the power we do have.

Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill predicts that just 35 percent to 40 percent of Alabama’s more than 3.3 million active and inactive registered voters will turn out of the Nov. 6 elections.

I think turnout will be much higher. And I think that, finally, Democrats and Independents will swamp Republicans in overall numbers at the polls. I’m not being naïve; it’s likely Republicans will still win most races – voters in Alabama have a long history of voting against their best interests and Republicans know their gerrymandering. The hot-button issues Republicans love to mine – immigration, abortion, LGBTQ rights, race issues, even their evangelical god – will drive many low-information voters to the polls.

Still, a lot of smart voters will be there, too. So I expect some surprises on Nov. 6. I don’t think Republicans, so comfortable in their arrogance, have any idea what kind of giant they have awakened.

With the #MeToo movement energizing women, the March for Our Lives movement motivating young voters and others disturbed about gun violence, the failure to protect young immigrants and children now in danger of deportation inspiring families from all ethnic backgrounds, the cruel attack on access to affordable health care rousing those without easy access to doctors and hospitals – Republicans may have stirred up voters in a way we have never seen during our lifetimes.

Yes, even here in Red, Red, Red Alabama.

I mean: Really? Fewer than half of Alabama’s voters showing up in less than a month for the election of our governor, chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, and other important offices? A 65 percent level of apathy in the wake of Kavanaugh and the re-victimization of thousands and thousands of women raped and sexually assaulted by men during their lives? In a day when our elected representatives refuse to pass reasonable gun restrictions and mental health reforms? When race relations are getting worse, not better? While our gay and lesbian friends and family members are openly being discriminated against? As millionaires and billionaires are getting whopping tax cuts, but hard-working individuals can’t even earn a living wage, and lawmakers are actively working to prevent them from doing so?

Sixty-five percent of Alabama voters staying home during next month’s election?

Maybe so. But perhaps not.

We need to take a Xanax, tap down our anger and misery over Brett Kavanaugh claiming his soiled seat on the U.S. Supreme Court, and work hard during the next month and weeks to make certain voters know who is running for office, who they’re voting for, why they’re voting for them, and then, dammit, turn up at the polls in record numbers to actually vote.

My wife, Veronica, often says: “The best revenge is living well.”

Let’s get out and vote on Tuesday, Nov. 6, and let’s finally start living well.

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

 

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Opinion | Montgomery reappoints disgraced judge, needs new leadership

by Josh Moon Read Time: 4 min
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