By Byron Shehee
Alabama Political Reporter
OPELIKA— On day three of the trial, and what some thought would be the last day of the State’s case vs. Rep. Barry Moore. R-Enterprise, the defendant testified and closing arguments were heard.
Early in the morning, Moore took the stand in an effort to defend himself from two counts of perjury and two counts of providing false statements.
The defense, led by Derek Yarbrough (Dothan), opened by asking Moore about his relationships with Jonathan Tullos (Enterprise) and his challenger in the Republican Primary, Josh Pipkin (Enterprise). Moore responded that they were good friends prior to Pipkin indicating that he was going to enter the race.
Specific to Pipkin’s and Tullos’ involvement with the economic development project to Enterprise Electronics Corporation, Moore said that Pipkin was not involved with the project and he first remembered discussing it with Tullos at Cutts (a local restaurant in Enterprise) during a meeting with Mayor Ken Boswell (Enterprise), Billy Cotter (Enterprise), a representative from Enterprise Electronics Corporation (EEC), and Hubbard. Moore said the group felt like they would get the deal completed.
Yarbrough asked Moore how he first learned the project may go bad and he said during a phone conversation with Pipkin.
During his testimony Moore said both he and Speaker of the House Hubbard, always supported the project and it “would be completed whether Pipkin got out of the race or not.”
Specific to the indictments against Moore, the defense asked Moore if he had any knowledge of Hubbard threatening to withhold any financial support from Moore’s district if his challenger, Pipkin, did not get out of the Republican Primary.
Moore’s response was a definitive, “No, sir.”
The defense continued by asking Moore what happened after his testimony was complete. The defendant said he was asked to wait until the prosecution had a chance to speak with him. Moore said after the Grand Jury was dismissed Matt Hart called him into “a small room,” pulled up his chair next to Moore’s and asked him, “is your political career worth this?”
Yarbrough said that he believed the State was trying to intimidate Moore, even condescendingly saying, “he got you didn’t he?”
Mr. Moore was not quite as definitive in his answers during cross-examination.
Hart seemed poised and prepared when he began questioning Moore.
The prosecution asked Moore if he ever attended any education classes on the ethics law for public officials.
Moore responded, “yes, sir. I think we went to a one day class or something.”
Hart then asked a couple of questions which quickly caught a couple of objections from the defense.
The State was about to move on to what might have been a more pertinent question, but before doing so Hart asked Moore if the room they had their discussion in was a really “a small room.”
Moore quipped with an honest, “it felt mighty small that day.” The room was actually the Lee County District Attorney’s office which Hart said was 16 by 20.
Hart then inquired about Moore being intimidated during their discussion. Moore replied, “I was intimidated because you played something I didn’t remember saying.”
The prosecution then got Moore to admit that some of his statement was not true.
During his Grand Jury testimony Moore said he never agreed to convey a message to Hubbard that Pipkin would get out of the race if the economic development project was completed.
However, a phone call between Moore and Pipkin indicated otherwise. Moore said, “OK, I’ll tell him if we get these jobs, you’re going to get out.”
Moore acknowledged the difference in his comments and said that he “just didn’t remember saying them.”
Hart tried to point out how unique it must have been for Moore to have a conversation with his opponent about getting out of the race without being able to remember it.
One might think that you’d remembered the conversation where you nearly talked your opponent out of running.
He even pointed out how odd it was that Moore could remember the details to the lunch meeting with Tullos, Cotter, EEC, Boswell, and Hubbard.
Hart then turned his attention to asking Moore about Pipkin.
During a conversation between Moore and Pipkin, Pipkin asked if the community would really lose the jobs if he stayed in the race. Moore responded, that he was having a meeting with Hubbard but there was a lot at stake for the community.
Moore said he first heard about it from Pipkin but according to phone conversations it was actually brought up during a discussion between Tullos and Moore, not Pipkin and Moore.
Referencing the meeting where EEC, Tullos, Cotter, Boswell, and Hubbard were in attendance, Hart asked Moore why they were all there. He responded that EEC was there because it was their business that would have benefited for an incentive package, Tullos was there because of his position, Cotter was there because he sits on the board of Wiregrass Economic Development Corporation.
Moore was having a difficult finding the appropriate way to describe why Hubbard was in attendance so Hart offered the option of, “because he’s Speaker of the House.”
Moore replied, that’s a good answer. Hubbard was there as a legislator.
Hart then asked Moore if he knew Hubbard was receiving money from his relationship with EEC and he said that he did not.
The State tried to inquire about the relationship between any contributions from PACs and Moore paying for his defense team, but the defense objected due to potentially causing prejudice from the jurors. The question was denied.
Hart asked Moore if he remembered Pipkin saying he would get out of the race during the Grand Jury testimony and Moore said that he only remembered certain parts of the conversation.
Moore seemed to be flustered by that point told the prosecution that he told Pipkin numerous times that he was for the deal.
Moore closed by saying the last thing he remembered saying was that he’d pray for Pipkin and asked that he do the same for him.
During closing, the State reminded the jury what is important when determining innocence from the charges and what is not.
Hart reminded the jury that the Hubbard and Moore’s support of the project was not important, only that there were threats about killing the economic development package conveyed.
Pipkin’s running for office was irrelevant.
The relationship between Tullos and Pipkin was not important.
It was especially not important that Moore was not told that recording existed before giving his Grand Jury testimony. As Hart pointed out, “grand juries are for trying to determine truthfulness” so their effectiveness might be impeded if they are required to share evidence before questioning.
The facts of the case were the only things important and the facts show that Moore provided false statements and perjured himself.
The defense’s closing statement would be led by Yarbrough and followed by Bill Baxley (Birmingham).
Yarbrough began his closing by telling the jury that it was their duty to come back with a not guilty verdict if there was a reasonable doubt. He went on to say the State had to satisfy all burdens of proof, which he seemed to think the State did not because they never proved that Moore knowingly lied.
When Baxley began he began by reminding the jury how important it is to have fair and impartial jurors. He said he believed they are and “we need fair and impartial jurors and we’ll be okay.” asked that they go back into deliberations with the understanding that Moore is innocent until the State satisfied all the necessary burdens.
Baxley also said the defense was “thankful.” They were thankful for the tapes because they showed that no crimes were committed.
He went on to call every phone call between Pipkin and Tullos from June 2013 reasonable doubt as well as every offer Tullos made to help Moore with his campaign.
He closed by calling Pipkin’s action a plot and that there was a flaw in it – Moore didn’t say or do anything wrong.
Van Davis had last word for the State’s case with a redirect to the defense’s closing.
Davis was to the point in his comments. He said this case is about someone who took an oath and lied and a legal team that is desperately trying to fog up the facts of the case.
Davis said, “the tapes don’t lie and the facts speak for themselves.”
Davis closed by saying Moore has been “protecting himself and protecting Speaker Hubbard.”
After Davis closed, the Judge read the jury their charges and the applicable case law.
The jury was sent into deliberations around 3:20 pm.
During the jury’s discussion there was some uncertainty concerning the burdens of proof for convicting someone of providing false statements and Judge Walker had to re-instruct them. The burdens for perjury were not needed by the jury.
The jury had not reached a verdict by the end of the day and would be reconvened at 9:00 am Thursday morning.
Opinion | Giving thanks and staying safe
“As we’ve learned to adjust our daily routines and activities throughout the course of this pandemic, we know this Thanksgiving will not look like those of the past.”
Thanksgiving is a special holiday because it provides us an entire day each year to pause and give thanks for the many blessings we have received. Particularly amid a global pandemic, the stress and craziness of life often make it easy to lose sight of just how much we have to be thankful for.
Although this holiday season will look different for us all due to the current health pandemic, we must remember the countless ways in which we are blessed.
Whether you are gathering with loved ones or remaining in the comfort of your own home, I hope we all take time to celebrate gratitude — something we may not do enough of these days.
This year, it is especially important we remember those who have been impacted by the coronavirus. This horrific virus we continue to battle has stolen the lives of over 250,000 Americans and 3,400 Alabamians.
During this season of Thanksgiving, I hope you will join me in prayerfully remembering those who have lost a loved one to this virus as well as those who are suffering from it. My prayers are with those who are missing a family member or friend this holiday season.
As we’ve learned to adjust our daily routines and activities throughout the course of this pandemic, we know this Thanksgiving will not look like those of the past. Please be mindful of any safety measures and precautions that have been put in place to help protect your family and those around you.
The Alabama Department of Public Health released guidance that includes a list of low, moderate and high-risk activities in order to help Alabamians have a safer holiday season. ADPH suggests a few lower-risk activities such as having a small dinner with members of your household, preparing and safely delivering meals to family and neighbors who are at high-risk or hosting a virtual dinner with friends.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends hosting an outdoor gathering and limiting the number of guests.
While the road to recovery is not always easy, I am confident that we will get through this health crisis together, and we will be better because of it. The American people are resilient, and we will not let this virus knock us down.
In the spirit of the holiday, I want to take this opportunity to tell you that I am thankful for the responsibility to serve our state and country in the United States Congress.
I am honored to be in a position to make a difference on behalf of Alabama’s 2nd District, so thank you for allowing me to serve you. From the Roby family to yours, we hope you have a happy and healthy Thanksgiving.
Opinion | 400 years later, the Pilgrim story is more relevant than ever
“I think that giving thanks for the land that we call home is especially important this year.”
This Thanksgiving will be different from any other we have had in our lifetimes. This past year has been a struggle, as every single one of us has had their normal lives disrupted. Many of us have also lost friends and family as the Coronavirus has swept through our communities. To say 2020 has been a trying time would be an understatement.
This year has not been unlike that first year the Pilgrims spent after landing at Plymouth Rock; their crossing of the Atlantic, their year of loss and struggle and their ultimate triumph.
Four hundred years ago, a group of 102 passengers set sail from England on a ship known as the Mayflower. They left their homeland with eyes set on the New World, where hopes of religious freedom and entrepreneurial opportunities awaited. Today, four centuries later, the New World that these pilgrims found is now the greatest country in the world, the United States of America.
As we look forward to celebrating Thanksgiving in a few days with our loved ones, (as best we can under the current situation) I think that giving thanks for the land that we call home is especially important this year. With the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower landing, we can look back and admire those brave men and women who embarked on a dangerous journey across the Atlantic Ocean. Many of the passengers aboard that ship sought religious freedom that would only be possible here in the New World. That religious freedom they risked their lives for remains a value we treasure and must continue to defend today. Sadly, it’s a freedom we too often take for granted each and every day.
And when rough weather forced the Mayflower to land in Massachusetts rather than Virginia, the seeds of democracy were sewn. It was the Mayflower Compact that gave way to the Pilgrims establishing a colony that created its own laws and abided by them. This incredible feat of getting consensus among a diverse group is what led to the first self-governing document in the New World. The Mayflower Compact established something that had never been done before but was soon to be replicated on a larger scale when the nation’s Founding Father’s put pen to parchment and drafted the Constitution.
It was the brave passengers of the Mayflower who started the tradition of a day of giving thanks in the year 1621. That first year, especially the winter of 1620-21 was harsh and deadly. Of the 102 original passengers, 45 died the first year. Many died from exposure to the cold, from diseases and from malnutrition. Four entire Mayflower families also died that first winter in Massachusetts.
But those who survived persevered. While it wasn’t called Thanksgiving back then, it was a joyous celebration of the Pilgrims’ first corn harvest that they invited nearby Native Americans to join. Some two hundred and forty years later, President Abraham Lincoln established Thanksgiving as a national holiday to be observed on the final Thursday of each November.
While we are still struggling through the season of COVID, we can look to those 102 brave souls from four centuries ago who also struggled. But they trusted that brighter days and the prospect of freedom were on the horizon. Not only that, but they looked to God for their guidance and thank him for bringing them to the place we are today.
So, on this Thanksgiving, while we still struggle, we can take comfort from those who came before us. We owe so much to the Pilgrims, as God put it in their hearts to travel to the New World. Furthermore, they set before us a spirit of Thanksgiving to the all-knowing God. And that is an example for us today, perhaps even more so than ever.
Opinion | Record voter turnout in Alabama shows need for voting legislation
“When Alabamians had reasonable and secure options to access the ballot, they exercised their right to vote in the highest numbers in state history.”
More than 140 million voters took part in the historic 2020 election. Alabamians cast 2.3 million ballots, and cast absentee ballots in record numbers. More than 300,000 absentee votes were requested in-person or by mail.
Headlines have lauded the level of participation; however, we must be careful in allowing a narrative to capture a moment while erasing the history and evolution of voter suppression in this state and across the Deep South.
That is why now more than ever, we must expand voting in Alabama.
The full enfranchisement of voters based on race has only been in place for 55 years since the passing of the Voting Rights Act, but that has since been undermined with the Supreme Court’s Shelby v. Holder decision, which removed federal oversight from state voting regulations and allowed for burdensome requirements like voter ID to become the standard.
Alabama, the very battleground for voting rights in this country, once again backslid and since then has remained even behind many of our neighbors as far as options for voting.
However, this year, when Alabama emerged as a hotspot for COVID-19, state leaders ensured voters would have more choices when casting their ballot this year by permitting use of the absentee and in-person absentee voting for all registered voters.
This opportunity energized voters, as we saw long lines outside of courthouses across Alabama, from Mobile and Montgomery to Birmingham and Tuscaloosa. Voter turnout exceeded 66 percent nationwide and 61 percent in the state.
When Alabamians had reasonable and secure options to access the ballot, they exercised their right to vote in the highest numbers in state history.
These numbers show that Alabama voters want more voting options prior to Election Day, and it is now up to lawmakers in this state to take a stance for the citizens of Alabama. In the upcoming legislative session, the Alabama legislature must ensure we make voting expansion a priority.
The right to the ballot box should not depend on signatory requirements or excuses to be able to vote safely by mail, as millions of Americans did this past election. Passing legislation can give working parents, caregivers, people with disabilities, and all voters more choices so that voting is made simple and accessible for all Alabamians.
This historic fight of Civil Rights activists in this very state sent a message to not only the rest of the U.S., but to the world, that democracy and the right to vote is one of our most powerful tools to make our voices heard.
This year, our collective voices have been resounding, and despite our circumstances — a global pandemic, an international social movement, and major political shifts that have impacted our families and our communities for decades to come — we ensured that our voices were heard at the ballot box.
Today, we must aim to be a shining example once again of democracy’s promise and demonstrate that free, fair and accessible elections drive civic engagement at every level and give the people of Alabama the voice in our government that we deserve.
Opinion | Warning: Your blood may boil
“One truth can not be denied. Someone was up to no good. And their empty proclamations to put our children first were lies.”
OK. It is not unusual for me to lose my cool in this very weird and very crazy political turmoil swirling around us. And why not when we are engulfed in adults acting like children?
However, none of these get me stirred up like the saga I am about to relate.
The reason being I know too much about what happened and heard many of the lies and attempts at deception in person. And certainly, because at the end of the day, it was the public school students of Alabama who paid the costs incurred because certain “public officials” betrayed the public trust.
This all unfolded in 2016, when the State Board of Education made one of the most boneheaded moves I’ve ever witnessed by hiring Mike Sentance of Massachusetts to be our state superintendent of education. He was a disaster. Not an educator, never a teacher, principal or local superintendent. Had applied for the Alabama job in 2011 and didn’t even get an interview.
State educators were almost solidly committed to wanting Jefferson County superintendent Craig Pouncey to get the job. They considered giving the job to Sentance a slap in the face (The fact that Sentance lasted one year before packing his bags removed any doubt that he was a very bad choice).
Sentance was announced as the choice on Aug. 11, 2016. But even then, rumors of misdoing were afoot and then-State Sen. Gerald Dial called for an investigation into the hiring process within a week.
Someone orchestrated a smear campaign against Pouncey, obviously to hurt his chances of being selected by the State Board of Education. A packet of info was distributed to each board member alleging wrongdoing by Pouncey. All board members discounted the info — except Mary Scott Hunter of Huntsville.
Let’s fast forward a moment. When the dust finally settled, Pouncey filed suit against Hunter and others. And just last week, Bill Britt, the editor of the Alabama Political Reporter filed the following:
[You can read all of APR’s story here.]
I spent hours and hours tracking this story. What I learned was disgusting and sickening. It was obvious that the trust citizens had placed in elected officials to protect the interest of public school students was ignored. This was not about helping kids and teachers and administrators and trying to find the best state superintendent possible, it was about political agendas and adults trying to cover their ass.
I am no kid. The first-ever real life political campaign I was part of was in 1972. Which is to say that I’ve seen my share of political shenanigans. But none more repulsive than what happened in 2016.
Dial asked the attorney general to investigate what took place. Then he and his colleague, Democratic Sen. Quinton Ross, passed a resolution creating a legislative committee to investigate. I went to each of these sessions. They were standing room only. All kinds of folks showed up, including some of Alabama’s most recognized lobbyists.
One of the more amazing things that happened was when Mary Scott Hunter, an attorney herself, told Dial that “she did not know the rules” about how the state ethics commission was supposed to handle anonymous complaints.
So Pouncey filed suit in an effort to clear his name. I don’t blame him. I would have as well.
Among the things about all this that never made sense is why the state of Alabama footed the legal bill for defending those in the suit, especially Hunter.
Her actions were of her own choosing. She became a rogue state board member. She did not consult with other members before she began making sure the Ethics Commission had a copy of the bogus complaint. No other board members did this.
For whatever reason, she took matters into her own hands in an effort to harm Pouncey. She was outside the bounds of her duties and responsibilities as a state board member.
But as is common, this legal action moved at the speed of paint drying. Then COVID-19 got in the way and civil suits got shoved to the end of the line. The best, most recent guess as to when the case would show up on a court docket was at least two years from now.
The state offered to settle for $100,000. After careful consideration with his attorney, Pouncey reluctantly decided to settle. I know Pouncey well. He has told me repeatedly that this was never about money. Instead, it was about his reputation and how certain people were willing to put politics above the interest of students. But the expectations of such ever happening grew dimmer with each day and the suit was settled.
The truth will never be known. A court will never render a verdict pointing out guilty parties. We are only left with our assumptions, based on pieced together facts gleaned from discussions and paperwork.
But one truth can not be denied. Someone was up to no good. And their empty proclamations to put our children first were lies.