By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter
Something stinks in Birmingham, and for once the smell isn’t coming from the Water Works Board.
This time, it’s coming from the Jefferson County District Attorney’s office. Which is quite the trick since there’s no DA working in there.
Charles Todd Henderson, the county’s first Democratic DA in decades, was indicted by the Alabama Attorney General’s Office four days before taking office and blocked from becoming the new DA.
His alleged crime: Perjury.
Well, it gets even weirder. And a whole lot more complicated.
But let’s lay this thing out so you have all the facts.
Henderson served as the guardian ad litem for a child in a divorce case. He landed that role, which basically involves making sure the craziness of the parents’ divorce doesn’t harm the child, after being asked by the mother of the child.
That woman, Yareima Akl, and Henderson knew one another – she had done work on his campaign for DA – and she requested that Henderson serve as guardian ad litem. He accepted and ended up working for approximately five months, January 2016 through May 2016.
He was removed by the judge following complaints from Akl’s soon-to-be-former husband. Those complaints centered mainly on Akl’s work on Henderson’s campaign – a fact that Henderson never denied – and what the former husband felt was a lack of therapy progress.
In July of 2016, Henderson, who is single, struck up a relationship with Akl, who was on her way to being single.
In hindsight, it wasn’t the best move. But it’s also not illegal or improper.
Henderson hadn’t served as the GAL in nearly two months. He wasn’t representing anyone in the case.
And yet, this perfectly legal, no-issues-at-all act is supposed to be what Henderson lied about.
This insignificant thing is keeping a duly elected district attorney from taking office.
And it gets worse.
At a hearing that was held to determine primary custody of the Akls’ child, Henderson was called to the stand. Virginia Meigs, the attorney for Paul Akl, spent several minutes grilling Henderson about his relationship with Yareima Akl.
Those questions focused primarily on Henderson’s representation of the Akls’ daughter and what, if any, relationship he had with Yareima Akl in the months in which he served as GAL.
And then, after several interjections from Judge Patricia Stephens asking Meigs why she continued to press the issue, Meigs asked Henderson if he had spent the night at Yareima Akl’s apartment while she was campaigning for him.
Henderson said no.
His attorneys have argued that Henderson was confused by the question, believing that Meigs was asking if he stayed with Akl during the time when he served as GAL – a reasonable explanation if you consider the flow of questions leading up to that point.
Maybe such confusion could have been cleared up by a follow-up question from Meigs, but as she was asking a specific follow-up, Stephens instructed Henderson not to answer and ordered all parties back to her chambers for an off-the-record discussion.
When they returned, the questioning shifted. There was never any other mention of Henderson-Akl sleepovers.
That was primarily because Stephens told Meigs that the purpose of the hearing was to determine parental custody, and she instructed Meigs to keep her questions to matters involving the child.
That’s important for another reason – a big reason.
You don’t commit perjury by simply lying under oath in court. The lies you tell have to be material to the issue at hand.
In other words, in a murder case, you lies have to be told in an effort to wrongly influence the court about whether the murder took place.
And in a child custody hearing, if Henderson lied, those lies would have to be aimed at intentionally swaying the court on the custody issue.
Meigs never asked if the child was present when Henderson stayed the night. And Stephens even said she didn’t care about the relationship between Akl and Henderson if the child wasn’t involved.
So, why is the AG’s office all wrapped up in a petty divorce case – the sort of case in which law enforcement never intervenes?
Why is an elected county DA sitting on the sidelines over what appears to be, at worst, a misunderstanding?
This doesn’t seem like protecting the people from crooked politicians. It doesn’t seem like rooting out crime and punishing real criminals.
It smells like politics within the AG’s office.
And it stinks.