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Bill Britt

OPINION | “Criminal” Court of Appeals does the Devil’s bidding

Bill Britt

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Astonishingly, the Court of Criminal Appeals was able to uphold 11 counts of former Speaker Mike Hubbard’s 12 count conviction while opening a door for the state’s ethics act to be gutted by the Legislature to make sure Hubbard is the last public official held criminally liable under existing laws.

That is the hard truth of what is found in the opinion handed down by the Court of Criminal Appeals nearly two years after Hubbard’s conviction and four years after his indictment.

Justice Samuel Welch wrote the opinion and confirmed by Judges J. Elizabeth Kellum, Liles C. Burke and J. Michael Joiner is a politically-motivated legal slight-of-hand that at once upholds 11 counts of Hubbard’s conviction while creating doubt on who is a principal, what constitutes a conflict of interest while making it legal for a lawmaker to vote on legislation while getting paid to do so by an outside interest.

Now it is clear why it took Welch, Kellum, Burke and Joiner nearly two years to render a verdict in Hubbard’s appeal; they needed time to get past the primary election season to make sure there would be no political blow-back on Republican elites and officeholders.

Welch, Kellum, Burke and Joiner show just how far they were willing to go to do the Devil’s bidding in their torturous augment to reverse count 5.

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In count 5, the Lee County Jury found that Hubbard voted for legislation with a conflict of interest because it benefited his paying client, American Pharmacy Cooperative Inc.

IN-DEPTH | Court of Appeals affirms all but one of Hubbard’s convictions

During the 2013 legislative session, Hubbard had language inserted in the Medicaid portion of the General Fund Budget that would have effectively given APCI a monopoly over the State’s Medicaid prescription contracts. APCI paid Hubbard $5,000.00 a month for “consulting,” while serving as Speaker of the House.

Hubbard voted for the General Fund Budget that contained the monopoly for APCI with full knowledge he was doing something wrong.

In their reversal, Welch, Kellum, Burke and Joiner mysteriously found that the ethics statute failed to define an employee clearly.

The judges found that since Hubbard derived less than 50 percent of his income from APCI, he must not be an employee.

Of course, Welch, Kellum, Burke and Joiner also failed to realize most of Hubbard’s income was from contracting work the jury found illegal.

The Lee County jurors understood the law, so did trial Judge Jacob Walker III when he instructed the jury before deliberations, and the Judge and jury understood the law after they found Hubbard guilty on count 5. That is why he was sentenced to 10 years – for violating that portion of the ethics code.

Hubbard’s cronies understand he was breaking the law just minutes before he cast the vote in 2013, and warned him not to do it.

Hubbard’s chief of staff, Josh Blades, lobbyists John Ross and Dax Swatek all testified they cautioned Hubbard not to vote for the bill. Blades swore under oath that Hubbard was aware at the time of the problems he faced but voted on the bill anyway, later saying he never thought it would pass.

As a result of the Court of Criminal Appeals’ actions, a lawmaker may now be paid by an outside interest to vote on legislation that benefits that group and not be in violation of the ethics act.

Welch, Kellum, Burke and Joiner should be ashamed.

Burke is in line for a federal judgeship. Hopefully, Alabama’s senior Senator Richard Shelby will show his good character by having Burke withdraw his name from nomination. The Trump Administration is reshaping the federal courts by placing conservatives at every level of the federal judiciary. There is no place on a conservative court for a man who would sign on to the opinion issued on Monday.

Another thing these jurists did was give the legislature cover to do away with existing ethics laws and replace it with the kind of weak statues being prepared by the Alabama Code of Ethics Clarification and Reform Commission.

Welch, Kellum, Burke and Joiner joined forces with other elites to abolish the state’s ethics laws and replace it with one that allows for lobbyists and gain-seekers to shower food, drinks and other perks on public officials without fear of consequence.

Since Hubbard’s indictment, lawyers have been busy trying to redefine who is a principal because some of the state’s most prominent executives were caught giving Hubbard things of value, which is not permitted under current law.

Here again, Welch, Kellum, Burke and Joiner come to the rescue. According to court’s opinion, “It could present a serious constitutional issue should a situation arise in which a public official is convicted for soliciting or receiving a thing of value from a person within an organization but outside its immediate leadership hierarchy, where it is not so clear that that individual is a principal.”

The jury in Lee County didn’t have a problem identifying a principal. Neither did Judge Walker. But Welch, Kellum, Burke and Joiner – they see a serious constitutional issue.

All this means is that no big-shot businessperson will ever appear in another courtroom because he bribed a public official.

But in reality, the entire purpose of the Court of Criminal Appeals’ ruling was to ensure that no powerful elected official or business mogul would ever be charged under the ethics act.

Even at their loftiest moments, Welch, Kellum, Burke and Joiner make clear that they are on board with doing away with the current ethics statues.

“[T]he Government violates [due process] by taking away someone’s life, liberty, or property under a criminal law so vague that it fails to give ordinary people fair notice of the conduct it punishes, or so standardless that it invites arbitrary enforcement,” they wrote. “For these reasons, we strongly encourage the legislature to consider amending the law to better circumscribe the class of persons defined as principals and to more clearly explain several of the other definitions embodied in § 36-25-1, Ala. Code 1975 that could present similar constitutional issues. The language of Alabama’s ethics law should be clear as to which persons, businesses, and acts fall within its reach.”

To simply restate their intention, “We had to find Hubbard guilty. We didn’t want to because he’s an elite like us. But we had no choice. But hey, you now have a green-light to gut these stupid ethics laws (Thank God). I mean, really, what were we thinking? Oh, and you guys that were about to be indicted for getting paid to pass legislation, you’re welcome.”

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Bill Britt

Jefferson County indictments raise serious questions about Ethics Commission’s actions

Bill Britt

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When indictments were reported by Al.com against Scott Phillips and Onis “Trey” Glenn III for multiple violations of the Alabama Ethics Act, the pair had not been arrested or served with the indictments.

However, Alabama Ethics Commission Executive Director Tom Albritton spoke in glowing terms about the hard work his office and the Jefferson County District Attorney’s office had done to bring a felony case against the men.

Albritton’s disclosure of the indictments before Phillips and Glenn were arrested and indicted may be a severe breach of state law.

Alabama Code Title 12. Courts § 12-16-210 reads: “Any judge, district attorney, clerk or other officer of court or grand juror who discloses the fact that an indictment has been found before the person indicted has been arrested or has given bail for his appearance to answer thereto shall, on conviction, be fined not less than $200.00, and may also be imprisoned in the county jail or sentenced to hard labor for the county for not more than six months.”

According to sources within Jefferson County, the Clerk’s office has raised the issue that the men were not arrested and served in accordance with the law. These actions have resulted in what one individual describes as a “Massive bureaucratic CYA in Jefferson County.”

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“Albritton and his people took the true bill from the grand jury and headed straight to the press,” said a person within the Jefferson County system.

Albritton’s conduct may have also violated the Alabama Rules of Professional Conduct as stated in Rule 3.6.(6), which reads, “the fact that a defendant has been charged with a crime, unless there is included therein a statement explaining that the charge is merely an accusation and that the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.” Nowhere in Albritton’s statements to Al.com does he add this disclaimer.

According to multiple sources, Albritton’s people gave Al.com’s Kyle Whitmire the story over the weekend so the news would break after Veterans Day. Al.com reported the men were indicted on Friday, Nov. 9.

Attorneys for Phillips and Glenn learned about the indictments early Tuesday morning. They asked for copies of the charges before noon on Tuesday but were informed that they could not receive the indictments until the pair turned themselves in to authorities. Their attorneys were then notified that the men could not turn themselves in until Friday.

But this is just part of the story which, according to an APR source, “looks more like a grab for relevance by an irrelevant ethics commission using a DA who’s on the way out the door.” Anderton, a Republican political appointee, is leaving the DA’s office having lost his bid for election to Democrat Danny Carr.

In Al.com’s report, Albritton says Jefferson County District Attorney Mike Anderton had requested the Ethics Commission help in indicting the two men. But it was the Ethics Commission who approached Anderton, sources within his office have confirmed.

Multiple sources tell APR that it was the Ethics Commission who approached Anderton in a hurry-up play to grab headlines before the Attorney General’s Special Prosecution Division could investigate the pair properly.

Albritton told APR that he couldn’t comment publicly on any specific conversations between the Ethics Commission and the JeffCo DA’s office. But in general terms, he said, the Commission routinely engages in conversations with DAs and other agencies. Albritton also said that Anderton’s request came in the form of a letter, and he said Anderton asked if the Commission “would be willing to” open the investigation because Anderton’s office lacked the personnel to effectively pursue the case.

According to state and Jefferson County insiders not authorized to speak publicly, Anderton was not even aware of an investigation into Phillips and Glenn until two weeks ago, and he was not pursuing the issue until he was asked to take the matter before a regularly impaneled grand jury by Albritton’s office.

“It’s a lie,” said one of APR‘s sources who monitored the process and knows what took place, “They ask Anderton.”

Albritton’s move was prompted at least in part by a letter reportedly sent from the environmental group GASP allegedly detailing Phillips and Glenn’s questionable activities.

Founded in 2009, as a 501(c)(3) health advocacy organization called “Alabama First,” the group changed its name to GASP in 2010, according to its website.

GASP attorney David A. Ludder told APR that he felt it best not to comment on the matter. Gasp’s Executive Director Michael Hansen agreed with Ludder that it was best not to comment on a pending case.

The GASP letter also is believed to have shown that the statute of limitations for an indictment was drawing near. Albritton told APR that timing is what prompted his office to move quickly without consulting Special Prosecution Division Chief Matt Hart.  However, the statute doesn’t seem to expire until around December 21.

Another significant question is why Albritton’s office went behind the attorney general’s back to present the case to a Jefferson County Grand Jury when the Special Prosecution Division already has a Special Grand Jury impaneled in Jefferson County.

There is little doubt that attorneys for Phillips and Glenn will pick apart the Ethics Commission’s actions involving these indictments.

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Opinion | Will Republicans bring change or status quo?

Bill Britt

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For eight years, Republicans have dominated state government in Alabama, but those years are not a fair representation of Republican leadership because, for most of that time, corrupt, crazy or compromised men were at the helms in the State House, the governor’s office and throughout the political infrastructure.

Already, Republicans are laying the groundwork for the next four years by determining who will staff the governor’s office and cabinet, the committee chairs in the House and Senate and key leadership roles within the caucus. Those choices will show whether there will be a change in character, conduct, and competence or status quo.

Beginning in 2008, then-Gov. Bob Riley, ALGOP Chair and minority leader Mike Hubbard, along with BCA’s Billy Canary, began to methodically execute a plan to take control of Alabama’s political structure. While they personally failed due to greed and incompetence, their plan succeeded and even today, after Hubbard’s felony conviction and Canary’s ouster at BCA, many of their handpicked legislators, cronies and co-conspirators still enjoy dominant positions in government and the accompanying political apparatus.

Reportedly, Riley is laying low but will seek a comeback in the run-up to the 2020 U.S. Senate election, positioning either himself or his son Rob to take on Democrat U.S. Senator Doug Jones.

A scan of Hubbard’s book, “Storming the State House,” offers a look at those candidates who Hubbard, Riley and Canary selected and groomed to do their bidding. Some of their staunchest allies have either quit government or have been indicted or convicted, but still many remain.

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Some have changed horses, but not everyone is happy that their former masters do not still hold the reins.

Some miss Hubbard’s whip hand, Riley’s conniving and Canary’s money and outsized influence.

The Republican House caucus will meet Tuesday to determine key leadership roles.

Current Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon will not face a challenge even though there are some among his ranks who would like to return to a Hubbard-style leadership.

Rep. David Standridge has put his name forward for House Pro Tem, a position presently held by Rep. Victor Gaston. Standridge, it is believed, wants to bring new life into the position, however, Gaston is a well-known fixture. What is unclear is why U.S. Congressman Mike Rogers is lobbying for Gaston’s return as Pro Tem?

It is not sure if House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter will face opposition or if he should.

Where the rubber wheel hits the road is with committee leadership assignments that will come later. Several committees are still chaired by Hubbard loyalists who, again, long for his dictatorial command. Even the House Ethics Committee is currently headed by a man who believes Hubbard’s conviction was a grave conspiracy involving prosecutorial misconduct.

Over at the Capitol, Gov. Ivey’s staff and cabinet have well placed Hubbard and Rileyites, but there are no signs that Gov. Ivey will replace them.

Most troublesome are rumors that Ivey’s Chief of Staff Steve Pelham is leaving to take a post at Auburn University. No one can blame Pelham given the enormous burden of guiding the office for nearly two years, but replacing him will be a difficult task.

As for the Senate, President Pro Tem Del Marsh will continue his business management approach with few surprises in store. There are rumors of some significant changes, especially among budget chair assignments, but even that is mere speculation at this point.

Republicans have an opportunity to show their governing abilities beginning with its choice of leadership. This is extremely important because Republicans overwhelmingly control every office in state government. Moral, effective leaders are always essential but never more so than when there is no opposition.

If Republicans do not put forward honest leaders, they will be forced at some point in time to look around and say, “We have seen the enemy, and it is us.”

As President Harry Truman noted, “Men make history and not the other way around. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.”

The people of Alabama have selected a Republican super-majority to lead the state. Let’s pray they are ready to prove the people were right.

 

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Bill Britt

Opinion | Once again, Godspeed Speaker McCutcheon

Bill Britt

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When Alabama’s Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon released a statement regarding the 2018 House election results in legislative districts across the state, he did more than take a victory lap, he actually laid out a list of priorities for the next four years.

McCutcheon wrote, “Our infrastructure is in decay, and our roads and bridges must be given much-needed attention. Our public schools are in need of further improvement, and we must invest in security measures that ensure children who are sent to school in the morning return home safely in the afternoon,” McCutcheon said. “And our ethics laws must continue to ensure that elected officials who violate the public’s trust feel the firm hand of justice and the sting of substantial punishment.”

McCutcheon didn’t merely grandstand but cooly and correctly identified most of the state’s immediate challenges, saying, “Our mission is clear and well-defined, and it’s now our job to accomplish it.”

With 90 words, McCutcheon issued a prime objective and a promise to address the needs of our state.

McCutcheon’s list: infrastructure, public schools, school safety and ethics laws are at the top of his agenda. Both Republicans and Democrats should agree that these are important considerations that the state has failed to address for decades fully.

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It is far past time for state leadership to take steps to improve our roads and bridges as well as our broadband and tech infrastructure. Without strong public schools and the security to attend them without fear, there is no hope for our state to rise above the low-education status that endangers generation after generation of our young. Lastly, hard sought ethics reform must not be cast aside for politics. Lack of clear ethics statures led to the kinds of corruption that have plagued the state for decades, allowing devious men and women to plunder our state’s riches and resources for personal gain.

Speaker McCutcheon has laid out the agenda saying, “it’s now our job to accomplish it.”

It is incumbent upon all of us who work in politics to come together to support his goals as long as he stays true to the mission.

He also speaks about the “great sacrifices” and “the often unpleasant criticism that comes with life in the public spotlight.”

Grueling work and harsh criticism are to be expected if anything great is ever accomplished.

As President Theodore Roosevelt said in a speech delivered at the Sorbonne in Paris, France on April 23, 1910, “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

With any worthy endeavor, the road forward is fought with trials and routs, but these are but little worries when the future is at stake.

Speaker McCutcheon has set-forth some very worthy goals. We will all be wise in joining together to see them accomplished.

Godspeed from Middle English literally means God give you a prosperous journey, something our state dearly needs.

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Bill Britt

Opinion | Comforting the afflicted, afflicting the comfortable

Bill Britt

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One of the fundamental goals of journalism is to see things as they are and to report them accurately.

Conversely, one of journalism’s greatest failures is to see a story through a particular ideological prism which renders the reporting inaccurate.

While point-of-view commentary can be part of an editorial’s framework, it should be based in fact and not wild supposition or outright deception. As for news reporting, it must never crossover into opinion.

When teaching someone to write a headline, I remind them that a headline has to contain a noun and a verb.

My go-to example of a perfect headline is “Jesus Wept,” from John 11:35, which records the account of Lazarus’ death and how Jesus raised him from the dead.

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However, in the wrong hands, “Jesus Wept” might be rendered, “Cultist Snaps,” which recounts how a cult leader was in love with a male member of his group and then faked his death and resurrection for publicity.

It should not be difficult to imagine that a reporter aligned with the political and religious elites who hated Jesus could have written such a heinous story.

With ever-increasing frequency, politicians rely on alternative facts to drive a wedge between voters and the truth.

As an example last week, two Montgomery attorneys Julian McPhillips and Melissa Isaak presented a letter to Montgomery District Attorney Daryl Bailey asking for him to investigate Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall’s acceptance of campaign donations that appear to violate state law. In their letter, McPhillips and Isaak outline for Bailey how $735,000 in donations to Marshall from the Republican Attorneys General Association violate the state’s ban on PAC-to-PAC transfers. They’ve asked Bailey to present the case to a grand jury.

In response to McPhillips and Isaak asking that he be investigated for violating campaign finance law, Marshall, in a statement, called it a “stunt” and blamed “paid bloggers” and “liberal activist lawyers,” as reported by APR‘s Josh Moon.

Montgomery attorneys ask DA to investigate AG Steve Marshall

Marshall should know a thing or two about liberal lawyers, having been an Obama Democrat until 2012. He also knows a lot about paid bloggers since he routinely pays to have flattering “news” stories published at an online outlet.

Rather than addressing the issue of whether he broke the law, Marshall attacks the messenger with code words, innuendo and lies. Of course, Marshall has been joined in his deception by the leaders of the state’s Republican Party, the Alabama Ethics Commission and radio and online talking heads who Marshall pays.

The irony of Marshall’s defense is sadly lost on those who would protect him, but what is worse are those who remain silent when they know the truth.

When APR reported on then-Speaker Mike Hubbard’s corruption, he, like Marshall, called us liars. When we pointed out Gov. Robert Bentley’s lunacy, he, too, denied our reports; the same is true of BCA’s Billy Canary and others who have found themselves the subject of tough but honest reporting. It is the same today with Marshall and other politicians running for office who, when confronted with unpleasant facts, name-call, duck the issue and lie.

Calling out a corrupt politico is not a “hit piece,” showing where an elected official may have broken the law or is lying is not “beating up on them.”

All the pitiful howls by these individuals who APR has confronted are merely muted cries of desperation compared to the madness happening on the national stage, but it is a  part of the same pattern of dangerous behavior so prevalent among today’s political class.

The news is not supposed to make us comfortable, it should disturb us and it should challenge us to think. The press exists to hold government and its fellow actors accountable, not to make them feel good about themselves.

At APR, we don’t hand out prizes or praise to curry favor with the powerful. We are driven to present facts that inform, educate and alert.

When Jesus Wept is reported as Cultist Snaps, it destabilizes society as a whole and undermines the foundation of truth that is the beating heart of journalism and a free nation.

As has been noted throughout history, a journalist’s job is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

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OPINION | “Criminal” Court of Appeals does the Devil’s bidding

by Bill Britt Read Time: 5 min
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