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Alabama House OKs juvenile justice reform

Brandon Moseley

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Thursday, the Alabama House of Representatives passed a massive reform package of the troubled Alabama juvenile justice system.

HB225 was sponsored by state Rep. Jim Hill, R-Odenville. Hill chairs the House Judiciary Committee and was the co-chair of the Juvenile Justice Task Force created by Gov. Kay Ivey. Hill is a retired judge in St. Clair County.

Hill said that 70 percent of the children we have in confinement with the Department of Youth Services are in there for minor offenses.

Hill said that the bill would expand early intervention issues and would require the development of a risk and needs determination for each child that enters the juvenile courts. The money saved by decreasing detentions would be reinvested in local community intervention programs.

State Rep. Kerry Rich, R-Guntersville, said, “Rep. Hill, I respect you, but I have some concerns about this bill. This is an 80 something page bill. I admit that there is a lot about this I do not understand. Before I want to vote on this bill I want to know what it does.”

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“I did not even know about this bill until 2 or 3 weeks ago and I was told that it was not going to pass,” Rich said.

Rich said he would vote aginst the bill’s BIR, and he encouraged others to do the same.

State Rep. Thomas Jackson, D-Thomasville, said, “I arise in opposition to this unless there is amendments made to this bill.”The task force has given us a bad piece of legislation,” Jackson said.”

“We send them off to some place for correction and they come back a thug,” Jackson said.

Hill replied, “Then you should support this bill.”

Jackson replied, “I am supportive of parts of the bill but It needs some amendments.”

State Rep. Phillip Pettus, R-Killen, said, “My juvenile probation officer has just texted me and asked me to vote no on this. Are the association of Juvenile probation officers for this?”

Hill replied, “It is my understanding that the association is for this.” “There were probably 20 different agencies represented on this task force. There were votes taken and obviously not everybody got what they wanted.”

State Rep. Matt Fridy, R-Montevallo, said, “A number of other states have adopted these reforms including Georgia.” Fridy asked, “A local district judge has contacted me in opposition to this but are the judges association for this?”

Hill answered, “The association is for this. The current president and the past presidents were on the task force.” Supreme Court Chief Justice Lynn Stewart was on the task force.

Hill said, “The governor has put a $million into the general fund budget to get this started.”

The House adopted the committee substitute version of the 86-page bill and several amendments. The version of the bill that passed the House would be the fourth version of the legislation.

“The Pugh Foundation found that 60 percent of the kids that are in out of home placements are there for relatively minor offenses,” Hill said. “Not only is it more economical to treat them in their own home, their own environment, their own school it is also more effective.”

State Rep. Juandalynn Givan, D-Birmingham, asked, “Is the intent of the bill to create a true diversion program in the juvenile justice system?”

“Yes, I will take that word,” Hill said. “The state will prepare a risk and needs assessment tool on every child. I envision this to be similar to the sentencing guidelines. A risk and needs assessment is going to be different to the sentencing guidelines but this is analogous. The risk and needs assessment will make a recommendation and the judge will have the option to accept it or not.”

“There are counties that have absolutely no services other than a probation officer and that is not enough,” Hill said. “If a child is two years behind in school that child needs educational services, if that child test positives for drugs that child needs drug treatment services. If that child has mental health issues that child needs mental health services. The needs are unique to each child.”

State Rep. John Knight, D-Montgomery, said, “Thank you for bringing this bill. I applaud what you are are trying to do. We need to do something; but I want to warn this body that this is going to cost money.”Hill said that this is not a savings, rather this is a diversion of resources from DYS incarceration to community based services.

Knight said, “There is not enough money in savings to fully implement this bill.

Hill responded, “Are you happy with locking up 60 percent more kids that are necessary?”

State Rep. John Rogers, D-Birmingham, said, “I got a text from a probation officer named Beverly something and they are having a meeting to discuss problems with this bill. I have not had a chance to read the bill but I promised her that I will.”

Rogers asked Hill to delay the bill so further discussion could take place.

“This is the fourth version of this bill and there have been meetings on this bill for months,” Hill said in response. “No, I am not willing to carry it over another day for more meetings.”

Rogers said, “They said that upstairs (the State Senate) it is not getting out of committee but that is your problem.”

Hill said, “No that is Cam Ward’s problem (State Senator from Alabaster who co-chaired the task force with Hill). My job is to pass this out of this house.”

Rogers said, “I have not looked at the bill myself but I am concerned because they (the juvenile probations officers) are concerned.”

Hill responded, “When you talk to them ask them if they have read the latest version of the bill.”

Hill said, “I have gotten a message from Senator Ward and he said that if we pass this bill today it will be in committee in the Senate on Tuesday. Passing this will decrease juvenile detentions and save $35 million over the next five years to be reinvested in local communities for the purposes of providing services to these children locally.”

State Rep. Elaine Beech, D-Chataom, said, “My judges and JPOs (juvenile probation officers) have contacted me during lunch and they are opposed. They say that this version of the bill is not the one that they worked on.”

Knight said, “I am getting a lot of calls about this because somebody upstairs led them to believe that it was dead upstairs.”

Knight makes a motion to carry the bill over, which would effectively kill the legislation this late in the legislative session. That motion failed on a 36-50 vote.

Hill said that committee amendment number three would charge the state for each day that a detained juvenile is held by the county awaiting DYS (the Department of Youth Services) to pick up the child after seven days. The counties are currently paying this cost. Hill opposed the amendment, but it passed 76-12.

State Rep. Joe Lovvorn, R-Auburn, proposed an amendment with a number of changes in the bill which he said that the juvenile judges wanted to make.

Hill said, “I am not for this amendment,” and introduced a tabling motion to kill Lovvorn’s amendment. The tabling motion passed.

There were several friendly technical amendments that did pass. In total nine amendments were considered on the House floor.

Jackson invoked a house rule requiring that the bill be read at length. That added an additional hour and forty minutes for the robot to read the entire bill.

HB225, as substituted and amended, passed the House of Representatives on a 69-20 vote.

The bill now moves to the State Senate for their consideration.

It is the Alabama Political Reporter’s current understanding that the Senate Judiciary Committee will consider the bill in a special called meeting on Tuesday.

If the bill can get out of committee on Tuesday or Wednesday, there will be time for the bill to pass in the Senate. Both budgets have passed both houses so the Legislature, once they concur on both budgets, will have met their constitutional duties.

According to our sources, the Legislature plans to leave and go home using only 25 of their constitutionally allowed legislative days. Thursday was day 20.

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Roberson and Gilbert both found guilty of federal corruption charges

Brandon Moseley

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Friday a federal jury today convicted prominent Birmingham attorney  Joel Iverson Gilbert and Drummond Coal executive David Lynn Roberson in a scheme to bribe a state legislator to use his office to lead efforts opposing proposed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) actions in north Birmingham.

The convictions in the federal corruption trial were announced by U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town, FBI Special Agent in Charge Johnnie Sharp Jr. and Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation, Special Agent in Charge Thomas J. Holloman.

The jury returned its verdicts after deliberating about 12 hours following more than three weeks of testimony before U.S. District Judge Abdul Kallon. The jury found that Balch & Bingham partner Gilbert, age 67, and Drummond Company Vice President of Government and Regulatory Affairs Roberson, age 46, guilty of bribing then Alabama state Representative Oliver Robinson (D-Birmingham) to advocate for their employers’ opposition to EPA’s prioritization or expansion of the north Birmingham Superfund site. The indictment claims that the bribe came in the form of a lucrative consulting contract that paid Robinson $360,000 through his Oliver Robinson Foundation, a non-profit organization, between 2015 and 2016.
Drummond Company was a client of the Birmingham-based Balch & Bingham law firm.

The jury found Gilbert and Roberson guilty of bribery, honest services wire fraud, conspiracy, and money laundering conspiracy.

Rep. Robinson pleaded guilty in September to the conspiracy, bribery, wire fraud, and tax evasion.

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“This case was not about the EPA,” Town said. “This case was not about pollution. This was a case about greed at the expense of too many.  The findings of guilt for these three individuals, by trial or plea, should forewarn anyone who would be corruptly motivated to act in similar unlawful interest. Voters deserve public officials who seek to represent them honestly and fairly. When elected officials, corporate executives or their lawyers violate our federal laws, they should expect to suffer the fate of these three guilty defendants. We appreciate the dedication of the federal agencies that worked tirelessly on this case.”

“Public corruption continues to be the top criminal priority for the FBI and those who violate the public’s trust must be held accountable,” Sharp said. “As long as corruption and greed exists, the FBI will work to bring them to the bar of justice.”

EPA had designated an area of north Birmingham, including the neighborhoods of Harriman Park, Fairmont and Collegeville, as a Superfund site after finding elevated levels of arsenic, lead and benzo(a)pyrene during soil sampling. In September 2013, EPA notified five companies, including Drummond-owned ABC Coke, that they could potentially be responsible for the pollution. Such a finding could have cost the company tens of millions of dollars in cleanup costs and fines.

EPA also proposed expanding the size of the Superfund site to include Tarrant and Inglenook.

In September 2014, EPA proposed adding the site, designated the 35th Avenue Superfund Site, to its National Priorities List, signaling that it required priority attention. Placement on the priorities list would have allowed EPA to use the federal Superfund Trust Fund to conduct long-term cleanup at the site, provided the State of Alabama agreed to pay 10 percent of the costs.

Roberson and Gilbert found powerful allies from both political parties in opposing EPA’s plans.

According to evidence at trial, Gilbert and Roberson were intent on protecting ABC Coke and Drummond from the tremendous potential costs associated with being held responsible for pollution in the 35th Avenue site. As part of their strategy to accomplish that goal, they began working to prevent expansion of the site or its placement on EPA’s priority list.

The defendants hired Robinson, whose legislative district adjoined the Superfund site, to persuade north Birmingham residents and governmental agencies to oppose EPA’s actions. According to documents and testimony, Balch made the payments to Robinson’s foundation, and then invoiced Drummond or the Alliance for Jobs and Economy, a tax-exempt organization whose account the defendant controlled, for reimbursement. At Gilbert’s and Roberson’s request, the invoices Balch sent to Drummond and to AJE were scrubbed of any reference to the Oliver Robinson Foundation.

One of Robinson’s first tasks was to appear before the Alabama Environmental Management Commission (AEMC) and the director of the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) in February 2015 to advance the opposition to EPA’s plan. Robinson urged the AEMC to “narrow the list” of parties potentially responsible for the pollution in north Birmingham and argued that the Superfund designation or placement of the NPL could harm property values of residents in the area.

Robinson went before the AEMC as a state legislator and concealed from its members that Balch & Bingham and Drummond were paying him to represent their interests, according to testimony and other evidence.  Rep. Robinson also failed to inform EPA officials in an earlier meeting that he was working for Drummond and Balch & Bingham. Gilbert provided Robinson with talking points for that meeting, which Robinson secretly recorded and then provided the recording to Gilbert, according to testimony.

Evidence also showed that, in June 2015, Robinson voted, as a member of the Alabama House Rules Committee, to send to the floor an anti-EPA resolution that Gilbert had drafted. Gilbert prepared the resolution for the Alabama legislature knowing that Robinson would have a vote on it, at a time when Robinson’s foundation was working on a retainer contract with Balch.

The case against a fourth defendant, Balch & Bingham attorney Steve McKinney was dismissed by Judge Kallon.

The jury found Roberson guilty even though Alabama Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) and Birmingham businessman George Barber testified as character witnesses for the Drummond executive.

The decades old industrial pollution in the area was discovered by environmentalist with GASP.  GASP has been advocating for the residents of the area, many who claim that their health ailments are related to the pollution in the air and the soil.  GASP brought these concerns to the EPA who agreed.  Their advocacy however has largely fallen on deaf ears with state of Alabama officials.

GASP Executive Director Michael Hanson told the Alabama Political Reporter, “Today was a great day for the people of north Birmingham and all of Alabama. It is rare that corruption is held to account, and it’s even more rare that those who do the corrupting are held accountable. And while we are thrilled about the fact that justice was upheld for the people of north Birmingham, we are cognizant of the fact that this is not the end, but rather a beginning.”

According to testimony from the trial, then Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange (R) then Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R), Senate Rule Committee Chair Jabo Waggoner (R-Vestavia), other Balch & Bingham attorneys and partners, other Drummond executives, other area companies that donated to the Robinson charity, Birmingham head of the NAACP Hezekiah Jackson, and overwhelming bipartisan majorities of both Houses of the Alabama legislature were all involved with the three conspirators here in a greater effort to block EPA’s plans for the north Birmingham area, which tests high for the pollutants.  The political effort to limit EPA’s actions in North Birmingham, which has been widely reported on in the media, was not on trial here.

Town told APR that there was no wider criminal conspiracy and that only Roberson, Gilbert, and McKinney (who has since been dismissed from this case) had any knowledge of the actual corruption conspiracy with Rep. Robinson and that even other partners at Balch & Bingham and the other executives at Drummond had no knowledge of that criminal conspiracy.  No further indictments are expected.

Robinson resigned from the legislature in 2016, citing a conflict of interest created by his daughter being hired by Gov. Bentley to advance the governor’s legislative agenda.  Robinson pled guilty in 2017 and agreed to work with federal prosecutors.  His testimony in this trial was critical in implicating Roberson and Gilbert.

Judge Kallon will set a date for Roberson and Gilbert’s sentencing.  At Roberson’s advanced age, he could potentially spend the rest of his life in prison.

GASP has pending civil litigation and the EPA is likely to also take administrative action based on Friday’s convictions.

The 35th Avenue Superfund site still has not been prioritized.

Hash Tags: Abdul Kallon, EPA, Joel Gilbert, GASP, Michael Hanson,  David Roberson, Oliver Robinson, superfund site, Steve McKinney, U.S. Attorney, 35th Avenue, pollution, Drummond Coal, ABC Coke, ADEM, Jay Town, Johnnie Sharp, bribery, corruption, money laundering

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Elections

Secretary of State’s Office begins voter fraud investigation in Wilcox and Perry Counties

Brandon Moseley

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Turnout in Tuesday’s primary runoff was just 12.7 percent across the state. That percentage, however, varied wildly across the state.

Many Democrats did not vote as there were not any statewide Democratic runoffs. Understandably then, the counties with the worst voter participation rates were Democratic dominated Black Belt Counties. Choctaw County was the worst in the state with an incredibly low .59 percent. It was followed by Hale with 1.53 percent. Third worst was Sumter with 1.6 percent followed by Bullock with 2.8 percent.

The Blackbelt had the worst voter turnout; but it also recorded by far the highest turnouts in Tuesday’s runoff election.

The Wilcox County probate judge’s race was apparently so exciting that 44.1 percent of voters turned out despite the heat and no statewide Democratic races.

Wilcox County has 11,058 people. 1,631 of those are under 18. There are only 9,423 voting age persons in the county, but an impressive 9,383 of them are registered voters. That is almost an impossible 99.59 percent voter registration rate. An incredible 4,167 of those voters made time in their day to cast a ballot in Tuesday’s runoff. 4,061 of those voted in the Wilcox County probate judge race, between Democrats Chris Stone and Britney Jones-Alexander. Alexander won the contest. The 44.41 percent voter turnout for the poor Black Belt county was three and a half times the state average.

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Perry County had a 36.35 percent turnout and they were followed by Dallas at 35.43 percent and Greene at 34.08 percent.

The Secretary of State’s office has some suspicions about the success of some of these rural community organizers ability to turn out their votes. Secretary of State John Merrill has launched an investigation into Wilcox and Perry Counties because the number of absentee ballots appears to be unbelievably high.

Sec. Merrill told the Alabama Media Group’s John Sharp that his office is “looking into to prospects of absentee broker operations, in which campaign workers or people with an unknown organization, exchange gifts or cash for absentee ballots.”

Secretary Merrill has said that he wants to make it easy to vote; but hard to cheat.

Below are voter participation rates for all 67 counties:
Wilcox – 44.41%
Perry – 36.35%
Dallas – 35.43%
Greene – 34.08%
Covington – 31.32%
Marion – 27.85%
Fayette – 27.71%
Lamar – 26.19%
Lowndes – 25.47%
Walker – 25.01%
Clay – 24.12%
Coosa – 23.8%
Macon – 21.95%
Crenshaw – 21.09%
Blount – 20.77%
Elmore – 18.92%
Geneva – 18.73%
Marshall – 18.72%
Chilton – 18.08%
Coffee – 18.07%
Autauga – 17.39%
Montgomery – 17.34%
Bibb – 17.02%
Pike – 16.61%
Tallapoosa – 16.42%
Henry – 16.4%
Dale – 15.67%
Baldwin – 15.57%
Houston – 15.03%
Jackson – 14.33%
Limestone – 13.16%
Jefferson – 12.6%
Winston – 12.27%
De Kalb – 11.68%
Chambers – 11.23%
Pickens – 11.18%
Cullman – 11.03%
Shelby – 10.99%
Colbert – 10.79%
Etowah – 10.77%
Franklin – 10.73%
Talladega – 10.3%
Calhoun – 10.22%
St. Clair – 10.08%
Butler – 9.97%
Cleburne – 9.72%
Mobile – 9.49%
Randolph – 9.44%
Lee – 9.41%
Morgan – 9.07%
Barbour – 8.45%
Cherokee – 8.45%
Marengo – 8.01%
Clarke – 7.79%
Madison – 7.66%
Lawrence – 7.43%
Escambia – 7.24%
Lauderdale – 6.88%
Washington – 6.7%
Monroe – 6.46%
Tuscaloosa – 5.94%
Russell – 4.95%
Conecuh – 3.68%
Bullock – 2.8%
Sumter – 1.6%
Hale – 1.53%
Choctaw – 0.59%

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Opinion | What in the world happened to Robert Bentley?

Josh Moon

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Being governor is hard.

It’s a tough, gruelling job that requires 24-hour attention and results in long, long days for the man or woman who holds the position. Such a job can wear on a person, grinding them down physically and mentally.

And if you doubt the negative effects that such a job can have on the mental stability of a person, consider former Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley.

Because somewhere between his first inauguration in 2011 and his stunning forced resignation in 2016, Bentley lost his mind.

And it’s still gone today.

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In a recent deposition in a wrongful termination civil suit filed by former Alabama Law Enforcement Agency Secretary Spencer Collier, Bentley provided some of the weirdest, most perplexing answers.

Like, for example, on the topic of his wife of 50 years, Dianne, discovering his relationship with his staffer, Rebekah Mason, Bentley was asked if Dianne found the relationship inappropriate.

“I’m sure that she did,” he responded.

“Do you consider the relationship inappropriate?” Bentley was asked by Collier’s attorney, Kenny Mendelsohn.

“No,” the former governor said flatly.

Um, say what?

That also seemed to be the general reaction in the deposition room to this answer. Because Mendelsohn immediately followed up with questions about Bentley’s multiple press conferences in 2016, during which he spoke of his “inappropriate relationship” with Mason.

I know this to be true because I attended all of those press conferences. I heard him say these things, express remorse for his actions, apologize to his family.

As a matter of fact, that he ONLY had an inappropriate relationship — and not a sexual relationship — with Mason was his entire defense at those press conferences.  

By the way, he’s held on to that “we didn’t have sexual intercourse” claim, too. Doubled and tripled down on it during this deposition, claiming there was a lot of touching and kissing but no sex.

No intercourse. No oral sex.

But really, I’m just not sure how much faith we can put in the former governor’s statements about his relationship with Mason. And I say that because of one specific exchange between Bentley and Mendelsohn. One exchange that is so unbelievable, so off-the-wall bonkers that you have to wonder if Bentley has wandered into space cadet territory.

That exchange comes after his astounding assertion that the relationship with Mason — who now works for him, making $5,000 per month at his dermatology practice — wasn’t inappropriate.

Mendelsohn asks Bentley why — if the relationship with Mason wasn’t inappropriate — did Bentley hold multiple press conferences to apologize.

Bentley says he doesn’t know.

No. Not that he doesn’t recall why he did it. But he literally doesn’t know why he was apologizing.

“At that time, I didn’t know what I was apologizing for, because I didn’t even know what I was talking about,” Bentley insists. “You know, I apologized for inappropriate things that I may have said, but at that time I didn’t know what those things were. If I had to do over again, I probably wouldn’t have had a press conference that day.”

Bentley insists repeatedly that when he apologized during a press conference — a press conference specifically called to refute claims made by Collier, who had held his own press conference a few hours earlier — he had no idea why he was talking. He had never heard the tapes, Bentley says, of him describing how he loves to walk up behind Mason and put his hands on her breasts.

According Bentley, he didn’t watch Collier’s press conference. No one told him what was said.

He just grabbed a prepared statement and started talking.

Ohhhhh, and if you think that’s some insanity, try this on: Bentley claims he wasn’t sure it was Mason who was on the other end of those calls Diane Bentley secretly recorded.

“I’m not denying it was her, I’m just saying there’s no concrete evidence that it was her,” Bentley said. “But most likely it was.”

Mendelsohn, obviously flabbergasted by this, asks the obvious: “As we sit here today, I’m asking you, was it her?”

Bentley: “I don’t remember doing that. I don’t remember the tapes.”

Mendelsohn: “Is there anybody else that you would have been talking to about holding their breasts and pulling them up close to you, like what’s in the tapes?”

Bentley: “I don’t remember the tapes. I don’t remember doing what it says on the tapes.”

Honestly, I don’t even know what to say about that.

But I can say this. When he was the upset winner in 2010 and became governor, Robert Bentley had a lot of people who believed in him, a lot of people who thought he was a good and decent guy who would try to do a good job.

Those same people have no idea what happened to that man.

And judging by this deposition, he’s still lost.

 

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Alabama House OKs juvenile justice reform

by Brandon Moseley Read Time: 7 min
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