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Steve Marshall is slowly dismantling the Special Prosecutions Division

Gov. Robert Bentley shakes hands with new Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, after signing his appointment letter at the state Capitol in Montgomery, Friday, Feb. 10, 2017. Marshall has served as the district attorney in Marshall County in north Alabama, appointed to the post in 2001 and re-elected three times. He is a past president of the Alabama District Attorney's Association and currently serves as commission chairman of the Alabama Criminal Justice Information Center.(Governor's Office, Jamie Martin)

Since his appointment by disgraced former Gov. Robert Bentley, Attorney General Steve Marshall has slowly and deliberately undermined the Attorney General’s Special Prosecutions Division established by his predecessor, Luther Strange. By withholding funds and not replacing staff, he has destroyed morale, fostered discontent and generally worked to disrupt the efforts of the elite public corruption unit to further his political career.

Perhaps most shockingly, according to some who have left his office, Marshall has gone so far as to hinder investigations to protect certain politicos from indictments. Marshall is said to be especially angry about the “campaign finance” investigation, which promises to insnare prominent lawmakers who he hoped to court as political allies.

Attrition is one tool Marshall has efficiently used to dismantle the unit led by Division Chief Matt Hart, according to former staffers. It is not only his unwillingness to ruffle political feathers that has led to Marshall’s actions but also his jealousy over Hart’s success, according to veterans of the office.

Marshall earned his appointment as Attorney General by offering to investigate Hart and the team that prosecuted convicted felon and former Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard. The bargain to investigate the Hubbard prosecution team was brokered with Marshall under direction from Bentley’s paramour, Rebekah Caldwell Mason, according to former Bentley insiders.

Sources: Marshall appointed AG after agreeing to investigate “rogue” prosecutors

In the months since Marshall took office, the numbers of staff prosecutors and investigators at the Special Prosecutions Division has been reduced to a dwindling few.

Most recently, Deputy Attorney General Mike Duffy announced he is leaving the Attorney General’s office to take a position with a U.S. Attorney’s Office in Nebraska in Nebraska. Duffy proved himself a stellar prosecutor during the Hubbard trial. Duffy led the jury through a precise litany of Hubbard’s crimes, tying Hubbard’s actions to his play-for-play scheme that resulted in a conviction on 12 felony counts of public corruption and a four-year prison sentence in a state prison.

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Assistant Attorney General Megan Kirkpatrick will also be leaving in May to take a federal assignment.

Investigator Kevin Blackburn took a job at Pardons and Paroles because he was offered a raise that Marshall refused to match. Likewise, Investigators Chris Clark and Byron Butler accepted positions at the State Ethics Commission.

“They were all loyal to Hart and loved the unit,” said a former staffer. “But Marshall was intent on tearing the unit apart from the beginning and nothing has changed.” Another said, “Working for Hart is a master’s class in how to prosecute white collar crime, so, it’s a fertile field for federal agencies to pluck the best candidates.”

Along the way, Marshall has disparaged Hart to defense attorneys, and, according to several Business Council of Alabama members, he assured CEO Billy Canary that Hart’s days are numbered should he win the Attorney General’s race.

“It has been a mystery as to why BCA would make the state’s attorney general’s race it number one priority,” said a BCA member. “But Marshall’s promise to eliminate Hart explains why Billy is personally backing Marshall with our money.”

Canary’s career suffered a deviating blow after his role in Hubbard’s schemes were revealed during his criminal trial. Now, it appears Canary’s $125,000 donation to Marshall from Progress PAC is payback for the embarrassment he endured on the witness stand.

Meanwhile, would-be criminals and criminal defense attorneys are jubilant that Marshall is gutting the Special Prosecutions Division, leaving Hart with only a barebones crew to fight public corruption.

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Jon Barganier was incorrectly identified earlier in this article. We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused him.

 

Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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