By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
Currently, the state is searching for a new director of the state forensic science department. Director Michael Sparks is retiring, and his replacement will be selected by Attorney General Steve Marshall. Applications for the position were required by Oct. 31, 2017.
But larger questions loom as ties to disgraced former Gov. Robert Bentley interplay with the search – not only with Marshall’s appointment as attorney general but the on-going lawsuits surrounding Bentley’s campaign to smear former ALEA chief, Spencer Collier.
According to a job posting at the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, Alabama is hiring a new Director of the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences who will oversee the “Agency that provides scientific results in support of Alabama’s criminal justice system statewide, while receiving physical evidence from over 450 different law enforcement agencies in Alabama.”
State law prescribes that the state’s attorney general has sole discretion over the hiring. The director position is permanent until the individual retires or commits a crime which makes it tantamount to a lifetime appointment.
Under 2006 Alabama Code – Section 36-18-1 on appointment and removal: “The director may be removed by the Governor only upon such proof as would authorize the impeachment of a district attorney under the laws of this state.”
Only the governor can remove the director if there is proof of an impeachable offense. There is no other provision to terminate the director’s tenure. The salary for the position is determined by state statute Section 36-6-6. The current director, \Sparks, receives $156,126.40 annually with benefits.
According to its website, “ADFS offers analytical services in Forensic Pathology, Drug Chemistry, Forensic Biology/DNA, Firearms…Forensic Toxicology, Death Investigation, and a host of other vital services to the criminal justice system.”
A 2016 report by the Montgomery Advertiser found a 1,604-case backlog of drug-related cases in Montgomery County with up to a two-year delay. Some reports estimate forensics is behind on some 30,000 cases statewide.
However, recently it took only 22 days for the forensics lab to return a complete tox-screen after former ALEA secretary, and current Selma police chief, Collier, was involved in a car accident. Speculation in legal circles is that someone “juiced” the process because of Collier’s lawsuit against former Gov. Robert Bentley. Collier sued Bentley who publicly accused Collier of crimes. A grand jury found Collier had not committed any wrongdoing, making Bentley’s statements a lie. However, Bentley’s attorney, John Neiman, who is being paid by the state, was hoping to find something incriminating against Collier to end his lawsuit against Bentley, according to sources with knowledge of the case. After Collier’s accident, Neiman stopped court-ordered mediation and is moving to have the case dismissed by Montgomery Circuit Judge Greg Griffin.
Sparks, who is retiring as director of forensics, is running for state Senate to fill the seat being vacated by Sen. Gerald Dial.
When APR asked Sparks about the speed in which Collier’s toxicology report was finalized, he denied there was anything unusual. As one law enforcement official said on background, “Tell that to the guy who’s in county for six months.”
Montgomery County District Attorney Daryl Bailey, in the Advertiser’s report, projected that anyone arrested on drug-related charges would languish in jail for more than two years under forensic scheduling at the time.
According to Sparks “The mission of ADFS is the application of science and medicine to the purposes of justice.” Also, Sparks said the department “is uniquely positioned in the justice system of Alabama. This Agency is neither prosecutorial nor defense-oriented.” He further states, “The pursuit of justice is our only objective and we are limited in these pursuits only by the laws of science and medicine.”
Sparks will soon retire to run for Senate, Neiman and other attorneys will continue receiving taxpayer funds, and Marshall will have a new forensics chief of his choosing.
What do these things have in common?