By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
When Gov. Kay Ivey announced that Lyn Stuart would lead Alabama’s Judicial system as Supreme Court Chief Justice, she said, “To ensure a continuity of leadership and a smooth transition that keeps the ship of State steady, I have appointed Justice Lyn Stuart as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court.”
Stuart was appointed as Acting Chief Justice by then Gov. Robert Bentley after the Judicial Inquiry Commission suspiciously found probable cause to charge Chief Justice Moore with ethics violations that led to his removal from office. Stuart’s actions during the period in which she served as Acting Chief Justice would seem to cast a large shadow over the Ivey Administration’s campaign for transparency and honesty while righting the ship of State.
It appears the Ivey administration once again failed to vet their appointee leaving it vulnerable to embarrassing revelations about Stuart as it has with the appointment on Bryan Taylor as legal counsel.
Many questions remain concerning Stuart’s role in the removal of Chief Justice Roy Moore. But, what is clear, as Acting Chief Justice in October 2016, she called for a statewide pay freeze on Judicial Merit employees while giving her staff substantial pay increases (Stuart verbally issued the pay freeze in October, but waited until December to send a memo).
At the end of October 2016, Stuart’s staff attorney, Renee Michael received a two-step increase of 5 percent, raising her salary from $48,44.90 per pay period to $5093.00. In January 2017 Michael was given an additional 2.5 percent bump in pay to $5,221.50 each pay period. Stuart’s Secretary Holly Clarke received a 5 percent increase in October and a 19 percent increase in January. Stuart also arranged a 9.5 percent raise in October from $4,174.90 to $4,391.80 per pay period for staff attorney, Lars Longnecker.
In February, Stuart appeared before the Legislative Joint Budget hearing to plead for more money from lawmakers, including $1.5 million for merit raises for court employees. Bemoaning the fate of underpaid court employees, Justice Stuart failed to mention the massive pay increases to those who served her wishes.
But, such sly maneuvers shouldn’t surprise anyone who observed Stuart’s actions during her tenure as Acting Chief Justice. In December, APR reported on how Stuart pushed for backpay from 2004 for herself, a feat she accomplished on September 7, 2016 (Stuart received $17,651 in a complicated legal arrangement that involved Stuart, Associate Justice Mike Bolin, and former Attorney General Luther Strange).
None of this is shocking, given her role in the prosecution of Chief Justice Moore. Stuart, along with Justices Bolin, and Jim Main, have yet to explain why they failed to recuse in Moore’s sealed case, hiding their actions from public view, in violation of the Open Courts provision of the Alabama Constitution. Stuart also conspired with Bolin and Main demanding Moore remove all his personal items from his office. They also fired Moore’s staff while his case was still under appeal.
Coming soon, APR will have a full report on their failure to recuse themselves.
Perhaps more telling than the pay raises for her people, or the fight to get money from 2004, or even the mysterious actions she took in the Moore case, is the fact that Stuart is a creature of the Business Council of Alabama (BCA). In her 2006 campaign, Stuart raised a total of $1,799,235. General Business contributed $1,315,250, or 73.10 percent of the total. Transportation was the second largest industry to back her campaign with $130,100, or 7.23 percent. And Lawyers and Lobbyists were the third largest industry Stuart relied upon for campaign funds, receiving $113,983, or 6.34 percent from those special interests, according to Ballotpedia.
On her appointment as Chief Justice BCA, chieftain Bill Canary said, “Chief Justice Stuart has a proven track record of being fair and impartial in her 16 years of service on the high court.” Adding. “No individual has served as Chief Justice with such outstanding credentials. Clearly, she is ready to serve on day one. Her commitment to the rule of law and conservative judicial philosophy is second to none, and I applaud Governor Ivey for making this appointment.”
Such a glowing commendation from a man who was joined at the hip with former Speaker and convicted felon, Mike Hubbard, as he swindled, cheated, and sold his office to the highest bidder is certainly not shocking to those who know Stuart’s record. She, like so many others in Montgomery demonstrate this truth: The most reliable politicians are those who are bought, and stay bought.
The promise of the Ivey Administration is to “right the ship of State,” but it now seems to be listing badly. Well, at least with Stuart, they got the best “Justice” money could buy.