By Lee Hedgepeth
Alabama Political Reporter
A Federal district court judge has issued an order dismissing the Alabama Attorney General’s suit against the Poarch Creek Indians over gambling facilities in Atmore, Wetumpka, and Montgomery that the State of Alabama had alleged to be illegal.
The suit, which has been floating through the judiciary for quite a while, was brought by the Attorney General’s Office under public nuisance and gambling bans currently on the books in the state.
The Poarch Creek Band of Indians has maintained throughout, though, that not only are their facilities legal, but also that the tribe is protected from regulation by the state because of sovereign immunity laws surrounding Native Americans.
The order, written by the Chief Judge of the US District Court for the Middle District of Alabama Northern Division W. Keith Watkins agreed with nearly all of those arguments, leveling some of the harshest language at the State of Alabama as of yet on the issue of gambling and granting PCI’s motion to dismiss the law suit on several of those grounds.
Summarizing the overall outcome, Judge Watkins penned:
“At the heart of the motion to dismiss is the issue whether the State of Alabama has authority to bring this action… to halt allegedly illegal gaming at the Poarch Band’s Alabama casinos. The answer requires navigating a complicated jurisdictional and federal statutory maze… Ultimately, each pathway leads to a dead end for the State of Alabama.”
Among the “dead ends” in that maze, Watkins decided, were not only the merits of the Attorney General’s challenge, but the state’s authority and jurisdiction over the case in general.
“The bottom line is that even if Defendants are operating illegal… gaming at the Poarch Band casinos,” Watkins explained, “(Alabama law) does not provide the State authority to prohibit such gaming.”
Democratic candidate for Attorney General Joe Hubbard has notably pointed to another part of the court order to criticize.
Hubbard posted on social media:
“‘But [the State] cites no authority for its contention and devotes no analysis to the issue …’ (pg. 18 of opinion) If this were something more than political grandstanding, the AG would make legal arguments. Political agendas are difficult to brief, even for real lawyers.”
Hubbard, who is currently a Alabama House Representative, has already received $250,000 from the Poarch Creek Indians to fund his bid for Attorney General against Strange.
Democrats, however, are not the only ones to have received PCI money, though they may be the only ones to admit it.
The Alabama Political Reporter exclusively reported on then ALGOP finance director Del Marsh’s request for nearly half a million dollars in campaign funds from the Poarch Creek, money which they delivered and which helped fund the GOP takeover of the State House in 2010.
Though Marsh and PCI Governmental Affairs Director Robert McGhee have recently denied such reports – which have recently shown up in anti-Marsh direct mail pieces in the State – The Alabama Political Reporter has audio of McGhee confirming the facts here.
In addition, the New York Times confirmed the $350,000 from PCI as having helped in the 2010 takeover in a front page story they published about ethically questionable financial actions taken by the now Supermajority in the election season leading up to the Storming of the State House.
The Times wrote the following:
“After meeting with Mr. Marsh and other Republicans, said Robert R. McGhee, director of government affairs for the tribe, the tribe chose a different approach: It donated $350,000 to the leadership committee. When the contributions were later disclosed, critics accused Mr. Hubbard of using the Washington group to launder the money by exchanging it with other contributions.”
Regarding the court order dismissing the AG’s suit, McGhee has said PCI is “pleased with Judge Watkins’ well-reasoned decision.
The Attorney General, though, has said his office “respectfully disagrees” with the decision, and will promptly appeal it to the full Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals.
In the end, despite whatever claims GOP leadership may make about the PCI facilities’ illegality – and whatever court challenges and appeals are inevitably filed – the State of Alabama may inevitably be led back to the words of Judge Watkins regarding attempts to prosecute Indian gaming in the state:
“Ultimately, each pathway leads to a dead end for the State of Alabama.”