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King asks, “Where is Steve Marshall?

Bill Britt

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Former Attorney General Troy King held a press conference at 8:30 Monday morning asking where is former disgraced Gov. Robert Bentley’s appointed Attorney General Steve Marshall? King and Marshall are facing each other in the Republican runoff for Attorney General on July 17.

As it turned out, Marshall was at an exclusive golf resort in North Carolina where attendees paid $25,000 for a weekend outing and where, at the same hours as King’s presser, a $5,000 a plate breakfast was being held to raise money for Marshall’s candidacy.

“My preacher always told me that if you want to know what’s important to a man – if you want to know where his priorities lie, you look at his calendar,” said King.

Recently, Marshall spent $190,000 on three days of television advertising where he highlighted a young girl whose attacker was prosecuted in state court. The ad makes it appear that Marshall himself had rescued the young woman single-handedly.

But as King makes clear, violent crime is at its highest level in two decades.

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“Today, with violent crime at a 20-year high, you might be wondering where is Steve Marshall,” asked King. “Is he with his staff writing new laws? Is he at a parole board hearing battling to protect justice that’s been hard fought for and hard won on behalf of victims’ families who are terrified of having justice snatched out of their hands? Is he in a grand jury room somewhere in Alabama? Is he in a courtroom somewhere in Alabama?”

The answer to all of the above is that Marshall was not even in the state, and as for Marshall working on new laws or attending parole board hearings, or conducting grand jury investigations, records show these activities are not high on Marshall’s to do list.

King said if he was going to ask the voters to judge Marshall by his calendar, then he also needed to account for some of his time since leaving the Attorney General’s office nearly eight years ago. King said that on his own time, he attended 52 parole hearings, without anyone asking or receiving payment. “I do it just because it’s the right thing to do, and I’ve only ever seen the Attorney General at two of those hearings, and trust me, I don’t go to parole hearings for jaywalkers,” said King.

He further excoriated Marshall saying, “Maybe Steve Marshall is not at any of those places in Alabama where justice is won and lost because no one there can afford to pay $5,000 a person for him to come.”

According to career officers in Marshall’s office, he spends a majority of his time campaigning or having his staff dictate press releases.

King was joined at the press conference by several individuals, including one family.

“I know the victims of crime, and the victims of crime have paid enough to be a priority for the Attorney General,” King said.

In Marshall’s latest video, he used a young, red-haired girl talking about how she was a victim no more after Marshall prosecuted her abuser. But Marshall has protected abusers when it was politically convenient. Which is what he did after then-Gov. Don Siegelman appointed him Marshall County District Attorney in 2001. Marshall served as a Democrat until 2012, when he switched parties after supporting President Barack Obama for reelection in 2010.

After woman’s “horrific” sexual assault, what did Steve Marshall do?

On Monday, while King was talking about prosecuting criminals and protecting victims’ rights, Marshall was enjoying a mega-donor breakfast in his honor, courtesy of the Republican Attorney Generals Association.

King ended the presser saying, “Yes, it’s true, justice in Alabama today is hard to find, but Attorney General Steve Marshall is even harder to find.”

 

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Alabama Supreme Court Candidate Donna Wesson Smalley talks Justice with APR

Brandon Moseley

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Thursday, the Alabama Political Reporter went to Jasper for an extended interview with Democratic candidate for Associate Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court Place 4.

Donna Wesson Smalley grew up on a cattle farm in Etowah County near Attalla. She is an attorney with four decades of experience with the law. She earned her law degree from the University of Alabama Law School. Smalley is 62 years old.

APR asked: Why are you running for Alabama Supreme Court?

“The real truth is that I feel a real calling for it,” Smalley said. “I have dedicated my whole life to the law, and this is a natural next step.”

APR asked: What are your qualifications to serve on the state Supreme Court?

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“I offer a lot with the breath of my experience. I have 40 years as a practicing attorney. I am a former adjust instructor at the University of Alabama School of Law. I am a former adjunct professor in writing in the English Department. I relocated to Walker County in 2005 after being in Tuscaloosa for 23 years. I have done a lot of different things in the practice of law, which I think is important.”

“That I am a woman brings another experience to the court and Alabama needs more women in leadership positions,” Smalley said.

APR asked if the Judicial Inquiry Commission  and the Court of the Judiciary should be tasked with disciplining judges, or should judges be treated like every other constitutional office and the legislature be the body tasked with impeaching judges (like in the federal system)?

“I think the JIC is much better equipped to handle disciplining judges with an eye of protecting the sanctity of judges and the courts than the legislators. They are not as well equipped by education and experience. There is a balance between popular opinion and a more studied reasoning. That is one of the aspects of our code that has been used as a model used around the world.”

Smalley credited Howell Heflin with modernizing that section and felt that it, “Should be kept.”

APR asked: Does the state of Alabama have an ethics problem?

“Yes, obviously we have an ethics problem when three of our top elected officials have had to be replaced,” Smalley replied. “One definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

“We have pretty good ethics laws, but we need better enforcement of them,” Smalley said. “For the few public officials that do break the public trust – they need to be punished.”

APR asked: The Business Council of Alabama (BCA) has been very active in endorsing and contributing towards judicial races. Is there a conflict of interest there in judicial candidates accepting contributions and donations from business interests that routinely have business before the court system?

“It is hard to avoid the appearance of impropriety when any one group contributes large amounts of money to the judges that settle disputes that often involves companies that are members of that group,” Smalley said. “This is a big problem and we need to figure out how to solve it.”

“We really need for the legislature to come up with a plan to deal with campaign finance laws in a fair and effective matter,” Smalley added.

APR asked: Should judicial races in Alabama be partisan political races?

“Not in my opinion,” Smalley said. “Politics really shouldn’t have any place in the review of elected races at all. I have practiced with judges who have been both Democrats and Republicans in different points in their careers; but they ruled the same way.”

Smalley said that running judicial races without the party affiliations would be very difficult; but there needs to be some campaign finance reform by the legislature. Our current system has no limits on dark money and allows unlimited donations from businesses and individuals. The appearance of impropriety should be avoided in judicial races.”

APR asked: There is a wide range in caseloads from circuit to circuit across the state. Should the legislature reallocate the judges from areas that have experienced population declines to areas that have experienced growth?

Smalley said no, that we should be adding judges to those areas of the state that are growing faster than other areas not taking judges away. “Getting more judges across the state would streamline how fast cases could come to trial. Justice delayed is justice denies.”

APR asked: Do the poor get treated fairly in our court system, or is there two sets of laws? One for people with money to have the best representation and another system for those who can’t afford the same defense.

“No, the poor are not treated fairly in our court system,” Smalley said. “I don’t know of anyone who can seriously argue otherwise. That is a problem we continue to struggle with, and that is not just a criminal court matter but also in the civil courts.”

APR asked: Do poor people get trapped in the court system being assigned penalties and court costs they can not afford and then additional fines and fees for not paying the previous fines?

“Absolutely, yes, people do get trapped in that system and in my opinion it is indefensible,” Smalley said. “Some agencies like the courts are not supposed to be self supporting. They are supposed to be supported by all of us so that everyone regardless of their station in life can seek justice for wrongs created by others. Justice for all is a basic tenant of our society. It is depressing how the poor are treated in our state and our country.”

APR asked: Republicans have dominated Alabama judicial races for well over a decade because there is a perception that Democrats are soft on crime. Are you strong enough to punish criminals and get justice for victims of crime?

“I don’t think that is why Republicans have dominated judicial races,” Smalley said. “That is a false premise. Republicans have dominated judicial races because they have spent more money to influence the voters. Democrats are like Republicans: they don’t want crime in their families or neighborhoods,” Smalley continued. “We need to do some of the things that we know will reduce crime. We need to be spending more money on early childhood education, job training, and mental health. They all dramatically reduce crime. That is where we need to be focusing instead of creating a cottage industry of private prisons. My hope is that everyone including Republicans will join in solving the problems. Republicans have had the House the Senate the executive branch, the courts, and their approach has not worked. People are still concerned about crime.”

APR asked: Alabama recently executed a man in his eighties. Is there something administratively the courts can do to expedite the appeals process so that death penalties can be performed in less than 20 years of sentencing?

“If there were enough judges and a better system for providing competent defense attorneys, that would streamline it some,” Smalley said. “I don’t think we should change the defendants’ protections.”

“Sometimes justice delayed is justice denied,” Smalley said. “We know it is less costly to have life without parole than the death penalty.”

APR asked: Does the state legislature need to find more funding for the Alabama Court System, particularly the circuit clerks offices?

“It is ridiculous,” Smalley said. “They lost manpower consistently. There is a third of the manpower that they had when I started practicing. ”

APR asked: There has been a popular perception, that in the past, some of the Justices on the Alabama Supreme Court have been a little lazy. If you are elected to the state’s highest court, can the public trust you to put in a full week’s work and not get behind on your work?

“Yes, and I pledge to write opinions,” Smalley said. “One of the things that I have heard across the state, particularly from lawyers, is that they don’t receive a reason written response on their filings. They deserve that much from the appellate courts.”

APR asked: There is a perception that whoever wins the GOP nomination for a statewide judicial race will win the office. Is that making it hard for you to fund raise in this race?

“I just don’t believe that paradigm is true anymore,” Smalley said. “The pendulum has begun to swing, and I don’t really need for somebody to give me hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy my vote. I intend to work my campaign at the grass roots level. That will win voters over.”

Smalley said, “I am confident that I am the most qualified candidate in this particular race. I am 62 years old, and I have been practicing law for 40 years. I have a breadth of experience that my opponent lacks. Most of his work has been with lobbying and governmental affairs. Most of my work has been with real people with real problems.”

“I don’t think either party should have every appellate judgeship, and that is what we have now.”

Donna Wesson Smalley (D) is running against James “Jay” Mitchell (R) for state Supreme Court Justice Place 4.

Jefferson County Circuit Judge Robert Vance Jr. (D) is running for Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court against Associate Justice Tom Parker (R).

Smalley and Vance are the only Democrats running for any of the statewide judicial offices.

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Former State Health Department employee pleads guilty to ethics violations

Brandon Moseley

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Tuesday, a former employee of the Alabama Department of Public Health pleaded guilty for using her official position for personal gain and felony ethics violation.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall (R) announced that Yoskio Denise Givner, age 32, of Montgomery, pleaded guilty in Montgomery County Circuit Court. The case was prosecuted by the Attorney General’s Special Prosecutions Division.

Givner admitted in her guilty plea to using her former position as an administrative assistant for the Alabama Department of Public Health to falsify travel vouchers, forging her supervisor’s name on documents requesting payment for per diem and mileage she did not earn because she did not travel. Between October 2013 and August 2016, Givner used this scheme to steal more than $15,000 from the State of Alabama.

“Public employees are entrusted to conduct themselves in the service of the people of Alabama with integrity and honor, and when that trust is violated as it was by this defendant, I am committed to prosecuting those who use their positions for illegal personal gain,” said Attorney General Marshall.

Marshall thanked the Alabama Department of Public Health for its vigilance in reviewing the illegal vouchers and its assistance in the investigation and prosecution of this case. The AG commended the Attorney General’s Special Prosecutions Division, noting in particular Assistant Attorney General Peggy Rossmanith and Special Agents for their outstanding work to achieve this conviction.

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Steve Marshall is a longtime district attorney in Marshall County. He was appointed as AG by then Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) after Bentley appointed then AG Luther Strange (R) to the U.S. Senate seat held by Jeff Sessions.  Sessions was appointed U.S. Attorney General by President Donald J Trump (R).

Marshall is running for his own term as AG in the Republican primary runoff election on July 17 against former AG Troy King (R).

The eventual winner of the Republican nomination will face Joseph Siegelman (D) in the general election on November 6.

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Ethics Commission clears Luther Strange

Josh Moon

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Luther Strange is off the hook.

The executive director of the Alabama Ethics Commission told APR on Wednesday that the commission determined a few sessions ago that allegations that Strange violated campaign finance laws were unfounded.

The two allegations, which were filed by Secretary of State John Merrill’s office during Strange’s special election campaign for U.S. Senate last year, were considered potential felonies and centered around Strange’s federal Senate campaign transferring funds to his state-level attorney general’s campaign account.

Ethics Commission executive director Tom Albritton said several factors went into determining that Strange had not violated the law. Most importantly: “The statute controlling the transfer from a federal campaign account to a state campaign account requires the candidate to be a state or local candidate. Luther Strange was not,” Albritton said.

Merrill disagreed with the commission’s decision, saying his staff’s understanding of the applicable laws forbids Strange from making the campaign account transfers in question.

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“We understand that the Ethics Commission can do whatever they want with the things we send them,” Merrill said. “We do not agree with their finding, but it’s not our job to rule. It’s our job to pass along the violations. We did our job.”

While the laws governing the issue are complicated, the transfers at the center of the debate are fairly easy to understand. In December of 2016, Strange’s federal campaign account, in a series of transfers, sent a little over $1,400 to his state-level campaign account. The money was being used to pay for an already-purchased website domain.

The problem was the $1,400 exceeded the $1,000 threshold allowable for the transfers and also fell outside of the 120-day window. Former Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley was forced to resign after accepting a donation outside of the 120-day window.

But according to Albritton, that’s where the mixing of federal and state laws make things murky. Because in addition to Strange, who was running for U.S. Senate, not being a state-level candidate, the law also requires the transfer to be a campaign contribution before it can be considered illegal.

“The transfer was made in order to reimburse the state campaign for an unintentional payment by the state campaign for the domain maintenance fee for the domain that the federal campaign had already purchased,” Albritton said. “It was not intended to influence the election of a state or local candidate.

“Federal law preempts state law in this circumstance. Federal campaign finance laws required the reimbursement for the state campaign. If they had not repaid it, it would have been a violation of federal campaign laws.”

Albritton said that Merrill and his office can forward their findings directly to the Alabama AG’s office if they feel a mistake has been made.

The Ethics Commission decision on the matter will likely add fuel to what is becoming a fiery feud between it and Merrill’s office. Just last week, Merrill was particularly critical of the Commission’s decision to pass on issuing fines to candidates, businesses and PACs that failed to file campaign finance reports on time.

During an interview with APR last week, Merrill was asked whether his allegations against Strange had been resolved by the Ethics Commission. At that time, he said he wasn’t sure, prompting APR to raise the question with Albritton. It doesn’t appear as if the decision on the Strange allegations has been previously reported in the media.

 

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King asks, “Where is Steve Marshall?

by Bill Britt Read Time: 3 min
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