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Billing records show Balch attorneys played substantial role in state superintendent search, alleged smear campaign

Josh Moon

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Billing records obtained by the Alabama Political Reporter show that attorneys from the law firm Balch & Bingham were heavily involved in the Alabama State Department’s flawed superintendent search that landed Michael Sentance and was paid thousands of dollars to counsel and coach department lawyers and a state school board member.

Those records, provided to APR by a source who agreed to share them on the condition of anonymity, show that three attorneys from Balch & Bingham — Dorman Walker, Lane Knight and John Naramore — charged ALSDE thousands to handle numerous tasks relating to the search, including establishing a search process and developing a “script” for ALSDE attorney Juliana Dean to use when she spoke to school board members about the search.

Balch & Bingham attorneys, the records show, also drove to Montgomery and to “coach” both Dean and school board member Mary Scott Hunter before they answered questions from a legislative committee that was investigating the superintendent search process.

Asked about the use of Balch & Bingham attorneys for tasks that appear to be either so mundane that the ALSDE counsel should handle them or that are of a personal nature and outside of the scope of their daily job duties, an ALSDE spokesman declined to answer the specific questions and instead focused on the fact that the information had become public.

“As I’m sure you know, although information related to a public entity’s attorney identity, rate/cost and time are public, details of the work performed by attorneys for their clients are not,” director of communications Michael Sibley wrote in an email response. “If you received an invoice detailing that work, that information is protected by attorney-client privilege. Because your questions encroach on that privilege, we will not be able to answer your specific questions, but in general, any work performed by Balch & Bingham for the State Board or its members or the State Department or its employees or officials would relate to their official duties.

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APR asked Sibley why such billing information, when covered by taxpayer dollars, wouldn’t be considered public information, but that question did not receive a response.

ALSDE is still being hampered by the flawed search, even two years later.

Jefferson County superintendent Craig Pouncey, who was considered the frontrunner for the job, has filed a lawsuit against Hunter and others at the state department for concocting and carrying out a scheme to prevent him from landing the job. A Montgomery judge last month dismissed all but Hunter and another ALSDE lawyer from the suit, including Dean.

Pouncey filed his lawsuit in Feb. 2016 and it was announced after that date that because of the legal action, ALSDE would be on the hook for private attorneys to represent Dean, Hunter and two other ALSDE attorneys, James Ward and Susan Crowther.

But the records obtained by APR show that Balch & Bingham attorneys had long been providing legal guidance to the four.

The detailed bills from Balch & Bingham include charges for things such as reviewing a WSFA news story about Pouncey’s “planned lawsuit,” reviewing emails that were requested from Dean by state school board members and planning for ways to combat an effort from an education advocacy group led by Larry Lee to rescind the superintendent selection.

The bills also include several charges related to legal guidance for Hunter, which is, at best, a gray area. School board members clamored for months about hiring an attorney that would represent the board, and ultimately last year moved forward with hiring Lewis Gillis. Prior to that hire, however, it was the policy of the board that it was represented in all legal matters, unless the board took specific action otherwise, by Dean.

But on Nov. 1, 2016, the billing records show a $146.25 charge for a “talk” between Dorman Walker and Hunter about “her prospective testimony before the (legislative) committee.” There was another talk with Hunter on Nov. 8., and a conference on Nov. 9. The related charges totaled $1,170.

The records also show that Balch & Bingham attorneys coached Ward and Crowther prior to their appearances before the legislative committee and that the firm reviewed Open Records Act requests from media outlets and determined which documents should be turned over and redacted.

 

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Elections

Opinion | Collier’s allegations are not about Ivey’s health — they’re about retaliation

Josh Moon

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It’s not the (alleged) stroke, it’s the coverup.

That was the message from Walt Maddox and his campaign on Thursday, as they took shots at Gov. Kay Ivey for allegedly directing her security detail to cover up a health scare in 2015. She’s also alleged to have demoted a state trooper from her security team after he refused to conceal from his superiors a trip to the hospital Ivey was forced to take while attending a conference in Colorado.

And the story could use a little refocusing.

After APR’s Bill Britt wrote a story Monday that quoted former Alabama Law Enforcement Agency head Spencer Collier confirming the hospital trip for “stroke-like symptoms” and providing details of his conversations with Ivey about demoting the trooper, the story from state media outlets veered off course.

Instead of the focus landing on Ivey’s mistreatment of a law enforcement officer who was simply doing his job correctly, it became all about her health.

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Was she sick? Did she have a stroke? How’s her health these days?

Those are all fair questions.

They’re just not THE question that should have come from Collier’s revelations.

Because if Ivey did what Collier alleges, she possibly broke the law. And maybe, more importantly, she took money out of the pocket of a trooper who was trying to support a family simply because he refused to conceal her trip to the hospital.

That sort of behavior … well, we’ve seen that before in this state.

Mike Hubbard and Robert Bentley both went after law enforcement when they were initially caught in lies and illegalities.

Hubbard tried to defund the entire Alabama Attorney General’s Office and squeeze the prosecutors on his trail. He later launched public attacks against the lead prosecutor, Matt Hart, in a failed attempt to get out from under his misdeeds.

Bentley asked Collier, who was then head of ALEA, to lie to AG’s office investigators. And when Collier, after being terminated by Bentley for refusing to lie, told the world of the then-governor’s affair, Bentley set out to ruin the man.

Both Bentley and Hubbard wound up in jail for brief periods. And Alabamians wound up with more black eyes from the nation’s most corrupt state government.

That’s why this deal with the trooper matters so much.

Because it speaks to the character of Kay Ivey.

I mean, would she really demote this poor guy — the same trooper who sat by her hospital bed for three days — force him to uproot his family and go from the Montgomery area to Houston County, cut his pay and stifle his career because he followed trooper regulations instead of her improper/illegal directives?

Would she?

Because I think that’s something we should know.

Ivey, in response to Maddox’s comments on Thursday, told reporters that they should “check” the facts on the trooper, Drew Brooks.

I’ve done that.

I have copies from his personnel file showing where he lost pay and was sent from the governor’s security detail — a sought-after position — to giving out drivers licenses in Dothan — a very much not-sought-after position.



If Ivey has records indicating these things didn’t happen, I’d love to see them. And I’d also love to see records of her trip to Colorado in 2015.

Because right now, this is looking like a very familiar road.

A candidate who won’t debate. A politician who plays a little loose with the rules and law. A career politician who would do anything to stay in the game. A desperate politician who will stoop to any level to conceal their flaws and errors.

It all rings a bell, doesn’t it?

Mike Hubbard.

Robert Bentley.

Kay Ivey?

 

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Elections

Ivey campaign calls Maddox a lying liberal

Brandon Moseley

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The Kay Ivey campaign pounced after Walt Maddox contradicted himself and Spencer Collier at his news conference in Tuscaloosa.

Spencer Collier is a former Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) head appointed by then Governor Robert Bentley (R). Collier thrust himself into the 2018 gubernatorial race by claiming that Ivey lied about an illness over three years ago back when she was Lieutenant Governor and then retaliated against a state trooper assigned to her security detail that allegedly was a source for an Alabama Political Reporter story about the hospital stay.

On Tuesday, Collier told Al.com “he has not been contacted by the campaign of Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox.”

On Wednesday, Maddox told the Associated Press that he was “shocked to learn” about the Collier allegations.

At his press conference on Thursday, Maddox told Al.com reporter that he had actually had a meeting with Spencer Collier several weeks back. Maddox admitted, “Spencer contacted me a few weeks ago and wanted to meet… He told me what he was going to do.”

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This embarrassing episode came on the heels of a Yellowhammer News report that Maddox’s struggling campaign has been bankrolled by far-left billionaire George Soros.

Maddox is running ads claiming that he will never lie.

The Ivey campaign wasted no time in taking advantage of Maddox’s gaffes.

“Apparently Walt Maddox isn’t just a liberal. He’s a lying liberal,” Ivey campaign spokesperson Debbee Hancock wrote in a statement. “The people of Alabama will see this for what it is – a desperate false attack from a shameless politician who will say or do anything to get elected.”

Hancock reiterated that the Governor and her doctor “have repeatedly disputed these lies and provided detailed accounts to back it up. As it relates to the officer, that’s another Maddox whopper. News outlets reported last year that the officer actually received a promotion and raise in late 2015.”

“Walt Maddox is pushing these last second lies because his half baked liberal ideas have him losing in a landslide,” Hancock stated. “With less than three weeks to go, not even $200,000 from George Soros can save him.”

Ivey took more than $100,000 from same Soros-backed PACs as Maddox

Collier was fired as head of ALEA by Bentley after a power struggle with alleged Bentley mistress Rebekah Caldwell Mason. Collier has been suing Bentley ever since. Collier became disenchanted with Ivey; because she has authorized using state funds to pay Bentley’s legal defense to fight Collier’s efforts to get a cash settlement from ex-Gov. Bentley. Collier is presently working as the police chief of Selma.

Walter “Walt” Maddox (D) is the Mayor of Tuscaloosa. He has never run a statewide campaign before and is struggling to find any issue that can cut into Ivey’s enormous 20 point lead in the polls. Maddox has run ads claiming that he is pro-life and pro-gun; but has conflicting statements on those positions. He has said that the Second Amendment has to be limited like the First Amendment. How that would work and what that means for gun owners is unclear. He has also said that he is pro-life; but opposes the pro-life Amendment Two, which is also on the general election ballot.

There are only eighteen days until the general election.

(Original reporting by the Yellowhammer News’ Sean Ross and the Alabama Media Group contributed to this report.)

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Elections

Zeigler: Change from Bentley to Ivey “removed a dark cloud over Montgomery”

Brandon Moseley

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State Auditor Jim Zeigler (R) told the Republican Women of Coffee County the resignation of former Gov. Robert Bentley “removed a dark cloud over Montgomery.”

Zeigler said he could see a real difference when Ivey took over in April 2017 after, “Bentley’s forced resignation.”

“During the two years I served with Gov. Bentley, I was never allowed inside the governor’s offices,” Zeigler said. “Once Kay Ivey took over, I was inside the governor’s offices six times in just the first two months, working with her staff on issues.”

Zeigler clashed frequently with the Bentley Administration even before his term began. Ultimately, Zeigler filed the first ethics complaint against Gov. Robert Bentley in March 2016. 13 months later the Alabama Ethics Commission found probable cause that Bentley was in-deed likely guilty of violation multiple counts of Alabama ethics and campaign finance law. Five days later, the House Judiciary Committee began historic impeachment hearings. On that same day, April 10, 2017, Bentley resigned and Ivey became governor.

As Governor Ivey has focused on: growing the economy. Unemployment has reached record lows and businesses are moving manufacturing to Alabama. The legislature has passed the second largest education budget in history. Kay has focused on increasing computer science classes, pre-K expansion, workforce development, and building new prisons.
Ivey is seeking a second term as governor in the November 6 general election. She faces Tuscaloosa Mayor Walter “Walt” Madox (D).

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While Zeigler had been a consistent critic of Bentley. Zeigler has not filed litigation against the Ivey administration but has been active on other issues, such as diversion of food funds by the outgoing Etowah County Sheriff.

While Ivey has led Maddox in every polls by large margins, Zeigler told the Republican group that some GOP voters “may be too confident. They think we Republicans have it made, so they don’t need to get involved and don’t need to vote. That is the quickest way to lose an election.”

Zeigler is seeking re-election in the Nov. 6 general election. He is opposed by Democratic nominee Miranda Karrine Joseph. This is the third time that Joseph has run for Auditor.

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Elections

St. Clair GOP urged to vote yes on Alabama Amendment Two

Brandon Moseley

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Rick Renshaw with the Alliance for a Pro-Life Alabama addressed the St. Clair County Republican Party at a meeting in Moody Thursday. Renshaw urged the gathered Republicans to vote Yes on Amendment two.

Amendment Two is a pro-life amendment that would clarify that nothing in the Alabama Constitution could be interpreted as guaranteeing a right to an abortion.

Renshaw said that the opposition is, “Sitting on $900,000. We have about a $1000. When I say they are going to outspend us a million to one, I mean that literally.”

We are not going to be able to run TV or radio advertising, Renshaw said. The opposition group is calling itself: “Alabama for Healthy Families. Can you be any more deceptive?”

We recently announced three co-chairs for our group, the Alliance for a Pro-Life Alabama: PSC President Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh, Republican Party Chairman Terry Lathan, and Mary Sue McClurkin. She shepherded a lot of legislation through the House during her four terms.

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We have a statement from the Attorney General supporting Amendment Two, Renshaw said. Any state candidate is welcome to submit a statement supporting Amendment Two.

AG Steve Marshall (R) has been supportive of the pro-life cause.

“When the Democrats controlled the legislature, we were kind of conditioned to vote no on Amendments,” Renshaw said. We need to get over that. Renshaw said that he was good with all four of the statewide Amendments; but particularly Amendment Two.

Renshaw warned that Planned Parenthood and the Amendment Two opposition would use scare tactics and misinformation to defeat Amendment Two.

“They are trying to scare people about the nature of the Amendment.” Renshaw said.

Renshaw told the Alabama Political Reporter that Planned Parenthood PACs in other state are transferring funds to the Alabama for Healthy Families PAC in violation of Alabama’s PAC to PAC transfer ban law.

“Thank you for letting me come up here and speak,” Renshaw told the St. Clair County Republicans.

The Chairman of the St. Clair County Republican Party is Lance Bell.

Chairman Bell said that Sheriff elect Billy Murray (R) did not run for another term as a member of the state Republican Executive Committee because he did not want to appear on the ballot twice. Emory Cox ran for that seat; but he got a job in the White House so had to resign.

The St. Clair County Executive Committee then accepted nominations for the vacancy. Judge Phil Seay (R), a former St. Clair Republican Party Chairman, was selected unanimously to fill that vacancy on the State Republican Executive Committee.

“Thank you very much I really appreciate it,” Judge Seay said.

The Treasurer reported that the St. Clair County Republican Party had over $45,000 in their main checking account. The bass tournament and scholarships accounts are separate from that main account.

Judge Seay made a motion that $10,000 of that be used to pay campaign debts for Judge-elect Bill Cole (R), Judge-elect Richard Minor (R), support the campaign of State Senator Jim McClendon (R), and state house candidate Craig Lipscomb (R). The St. Clair County Repubican Steering Committee would be able to spend up to $10,000 at their discretion.

The motion passed unanimously.

Chairman Bell announced that the Party will have officer elections in February.

St. Clair County School Board Member Bill Morris (R) is heading the St. Clair County for Kay Ivey Campaign.

Morris said that the governor needed donations to her campaign and volunteers to work the polls on election day.

Chairman Bell said that Kay Ivey was leading her Democratic opponent by 20 percentage points in the latest polling but that the biggest concern is that Republicans get complacent and not show up on election day. “Make sure you go vote and bring your friends and family too.”

Judge Robert Minor (R) thanked the party members who contributed to the local charity, Lighten the Load which raises money so that children in the foster care system can have hard sided luggage so that when they have to move to a new location they have something to put their stuff in. “Most of them have to put their stuff in garbage bags,” Judge Robert Minor said. “We raised $6500.”

On November 20, St Clair County will be 200 years old. There will be birthday parties with cake at both the Ashville and Pell City court houses.

The general election will be November 6.

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Billing records show Balch attorneys played substantial role in state superintendent search, alleged smear campaign

by Josh Moon Read Time: 4 min
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