Attorney Paula Cobia was succinct in describing disgraced former Chief Justice Roy Moore’s defamation and conspiracy lawsuit filed this week against four women who accused him of molesting or harassing them and a man Moore claims has a vendetta against him.
“It’s a garbage complaint,” Cobia said in a telephone interview.
Cobia represents one of the women being sued, Tina Johnson. Others named in the lawsuit are Leigh Corfman, Debbie Gibson, Beverly Nelson, and Richard Hagedorn. There were also 1-19 “fictitious defendants.” That’s bizarre; if they’re “fictitious,” they don’t exist.
After reading the suit, it’s easy to understand how Cobia came to her conclusion. I’m no lawyer, but I can read. There’s just nothing there.
No smoking gun. No gun, period. Not even decent bullets lying around.
Alabama Political Reporter’s Josh Moon got it right, too, in his Tuesday column: “Roy Moore filed a conspiracy theorist’s manifesto dressed up like a lawsuit.”
Another attorney, Michael J. Evans, agrees, calling the suit “frivolous” in a Facebook posting. “Roy and his wife, Kayla, claim they are the victims of a conspiracy,” writes Evans. “I believe they were actually reaping the consequences of their own actions. If there was a conspiracy, in my opinion, it was not on the part of the women. Moore might want to consider things done on his own behalf by the political operatives he brought in from out of state.”
For her part, Cobia, who is representing Johnson gratis, said the lawsuit “really doesn’t set out any facts that would prove any type of conspiracy.” Moore’s lawyer for the suit, Melissa Isaak, even admitted, Cobia said, that “she’s not well-versed on the facts.”
Oddly, Moore’s suit does not include The Washington Post, which won a Pulitzer Prize for reporting on the accusations of the women, who Post reporters sought out. The women didn’t come forward as a group. The Post went to them as individuals.
The women “didn’t know each other,” Cobia said, which makes the conspiracy pretty difficult to sustain.
“Honestly, I think he (Moore) wanted to try to look relevant,” Cobia said. “I think it’s a money grab, or an attempt at a money grab, and an attempt for him to stay relevant in the public eye. … I think the well was running dry from his other emails.”
Moore has been raising money from supporters for a defense fund in a lawsuit filed against him by Corfman. Moore probably thinks the lawsuit he filed this week gives him another platform on which to hit-up his supporters for donations.
“He wants his followers to give him money, but he’s also asking for compensatory and punitive damages to enrich himself,” Cobia said. “There’s nothing in that complaint that sets for any type of conspiracy.”
The sexual misconduct and molesting accusations against Moore were published by the Post not long before December’s special election for the U.S. Senate, which was won by Democrat Doug Jones.
The Post reporting was thorough and credible, and underscored now by the Pulitzer Prize the newspaper won in April.
“He’s (Moore) kind of carrying sore loser to the extreme here,” Cobia said. “The powerful conspirators who would have the money to fund this big conspiracy, they’re not named.
And Cobia believes Moore will find a way never to be deposed, because he would then be under oath.
The worst result of the lawsuit, Cobia believes, is that it once again opens these women up to harassment and threats. Cobia’s client Johnson lost her house in a mysterious fire. Others involved in the case have been threatened, she said.
This is a big ol’ mess, for sure. But one created not by the women Moore molested or stalked, but, rather, by Moore himself. Until this “Christian” comes to that understanding, we likely can expect more of the same from Moore.
Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column every week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected]
Opinion | Somebody, please, take the lead
Just like Donald Trump on the national level, Gov. Kay Ivey has bungled containing the novel coronavirus COVID-19. Alabama is showing record cases and hospitalization levels.
But while Ivey extended the Safer-at-Home order though July 31, she didn’t add any new restrictions. The governor says requiring masks is simply too difficult to manage and enforce.
Nobody said fighting the virus would be easy. The problem is neither Ivey nor many other governors, along with the White House, didn’t really make containment much of a priority.
Testing is still inadequate, nearly a half-year after the pandemic started. Alabama’s first diagnosed case was March 13. Since then – as of Wednesday – Alabama has racked up more than 30,000 cases with more than 900 deaths. Nationally, there have been more than 2.6 million cases and nearly 130,000 deaths.
When the pandemic was young, Ivey responded well, ordering everybody to stay home except for essential workers. She did much better than the governors in the state’s surrounding Alabama. But just as with most states across the Southeast, after a few weeks Ivey’s resolve cracked. Like the governors of states like Georgia and Florida, which are also seeing a spike in infections and are setting records.
Ivey should tighten up the restrictions, including closing the state’s beaches over the July 4th weekend. Bars, gyms, and other places where large crowds gather, usually not social distancing and many without masks, should be restricted.
Yes, such measure will continue to cause economic pain, but such restrictions would slow the spread of the virus. We’ve already seen that not just in the United States, but across many parts of the world.
Ivey and health officials also need to increase testing and contact tracing.
Yes, all of that is difficult, but what are the consequences? More deaths. Just how many deaths are acceptable? Is it 1,000 (we’re almost there), or 2,000, or 5,000? Is any number unacceptable. It doesn’t suffice for elected officials to claim even one death is too many when, through their own actions, thousands and thousands have died in Alabama and across the nation.
And those numbers don’t include infected and once hospitalized patients who are left with permanent organ and lung damage.
Cities like Birmingham and Montgomery have mandatory mask laws, and they need to be enforced because a lot of people are going out without their masks. Still, there are many laws on the books that are difficult to enforce; that doesn’t mean those laws don’t have value. A statewide mandatory mask order if, nothing else, would lead more people to wear masks, plus it would give support to businesses who refuse to allow people inside without masks.
UAB is planning to bring students back on campus when the fall semester begins in late August, but there will be strict safety measures to follow, including wearing masks, social distancing, handwashing, and regular health checks.
Ivey says if the rate of cases and hospitalizations doesn’t slow, she’ll enact more stringent measures. But when she finally gets around to making those decisions, it could very well be too late.
Indeed, it may be too late already.
We’ve seen what indecisive leadership does during a pandemic. What we need to see – in Alabama and nationally – is a more determined response that helps put the virus in check. That includes mask wearing, increased testing, and contact tracing.
Every day that doesn’t happen, more people will get sick and die when they didn’t have to.
Opinion | The heavy weight of racist words
Oops! He did it again. Donald Trump just can’t pass up a chance to demonstrate how racist he is. We’ve known all along that Trump has a history of racism. This racism didn’t just show up when he decided to run for president in 2015.
Remember the Central Park 5, five young Black and Latino men who were charged with raping a woman in Central Park. Trump ran newspaper ads calling for them to get the death penalty. After the five spent some years in prison, they were exonerated when the real rapist confessed and his DNA matched that found at the crime scene.
To this day, Trump maintains that some in the group are guilty, and he refuses to apologize for the ads. Because he’s a racist.
Then there’s the birther movement, where Trump led conspiracy nuts to believe President Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States. Obama was, of course, born in Hawaii. Still, Trump continues to denigrate Obama, and many of his followers still believe Obama is not a U.S. citizen. Because Trump is a racist.
And, of course, Trump has defended America’s racist heritage, arguing that statues of slave owners and Confederate monuments be preserved and not removed, as is happening more and more. Because Trump is a racist.
Trump isn’t reading the room very well. The majority of Americans, white and Black and brown and everything in between, want the racist monuments and statues removed. They do not want the Confederate battle flag — as much a symbol of hate as the Nazi Swastika — to be displayed.
Trump does, though. Because he’s a racist.
That’s just a few specific examples. But there are many others, including the language he uses, even today, at his rallies and in day-to-day exchanges with the media. Terms like “thugs” and “bad hombres” are never far from his lips.
Trump has no qualms about using racist language as an appeal to his base who, no doubt, appreciate the permission to show their own inbred racism as well.
Since the novel coronavirus outbreak (COVID-19), he’s added racist code words to his limited vocabulary to bash Asians. Attacks on Asian-Americans have increased says the Anti-Defamation League. U.S. Rep Judy Chu, D-California, said racism and xenophobia “against Asian Americans has surged as the coronavirus sweeps the U.S., with reports of hate crimes averaging approximately 100 per day,” according to Changing America.
This is not a little problem, especially in Birmingham, which has a small but thriving Asian population working both in research and medicine at UAB, as entrepreneurs and businesspeople, and as students at UAB. Birmingham has two sister cities in both China and Japan.
Still, Trump proudly displays his profound white supremacist character flaws by calling COVID-19 everything from the “China virus” and “Wuhan virus” to the really awful “Kung flu.” The Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus denounces this terminology as dangerous to Asian Americans, Changing America reports.
But we don’t have to rely on caucuses and anti-hate organizations to see what’s up. I teach a large percentage of Asian students at UAB. They’ve seen the changes themselves.
“A lot of Asians felt the indirect consequences that were due to Trump’s word choices, especially when he called the coronavirus, ‘Chinese Virus,’” one student told me. “This label caused many non-Asians to see Asians – not just Chinese people – in a negative light, which led to Asians getting harassed, cursed at, and beat up in public places.”
Words have consequences, even the few words that Trump knows.
“Trump deliberately made the problem worse by blatantly attributing the coronavirus to China AND its people — ‘Chinese,’” the UAB student said. “Also, this became a greater issue for me because when Trump uses the word ‘Chinese,’ it doesn’t just affect the Chinese people but also Koreans like me. When the public sees the word ‘Chinese’ being used, they tend to overgeneralize to include other Asians, such as Koreans, Vietnamese, Japanese, Filipinos, and many more, because from what I have been told by many people in the past, all Asians look alike.”
In my years of teaching at UAB, my students have included Asians from all of these countries, and more. They are fine students and good souls.
“For me, it is truly disheartening to see someone with such great influence to carelessly speak before thinking about how using the word ‘Chinese’ could potentially affect other Asians, as well,” the UAB student said. “It hindered my living conditions because now I am more fearful of other people’s judgments when I am in public. Now, a carefree trip to the supermarket has turned into one where I have to willingly look out for my own safety and withstand potentially opposing perceptions of me, which Trump had a role in causing.”
My student should not have these worries when he goes out into the community. Neither should my African-American students. Nor my Latinx students. Nor any student. Nor any person. But they do.
Any national leader should work to bring us together, not split us into different factions or tribes, creating tensions between each of them.
Trump is definitely not that leader. Instead, he sanctions racism, tries to normalize it, but it’s not working, except within his racist base.
The trend now, since the Memorial Day murder of George Floyd and continued police violence against African-American men and people of color and, yes, even white protesters, is we may have reached a critical mass.
A milquetoast police reform bill like that proposed by overwhelmingly old, white Republicans in the U.S. Senate isn’t going to cut it anymore. The trite phrase “thoughts and prayers” isn’t even a beginning.
People want genuine reform: End the use of choke holds and such police violence, revise completely police department use-of-force policies, do away with no-knock warrants, redirect resources to agencies better equipped to deal with mental health issues that police have to respond to all the time. Demilitarize the police, and hold police officers accountable for their actions.
E.J. Bradford and his family certainly didn’t get justice when the police officer who shot him three times in the back at the Galleria on Thanksgiving night 2018 was never held accountable.
Systemic racism is real, and it permeates many institutions and police departments. When Trump demonizes Asian, Black and Latino people on a regular basis, it’s not going to get better. Those in our population who believe their whiteness alone makes them smarter and better than others are fooling themselves, and, frankly, they’re Donald Trump’s fools, too.
Opinion | A tunnel too far?
My colleague Josh Moon last week wrote a truthful (if scathing) column about the legacy of former governor George C. Wallace. After laying out his case about how Wallace used racism as a political prop, Moon ended the column this way: “And that is why George Wallace’s name shouldn’t be on any public building.”
I agree. I always wondered why Alabama, in 2020, still revered Wallace, who did more to hold back this state than anything worthwhile to move it forward.
Still, what are the chances that Wallace’s name ever will come off any building or street or road? A gazillion community colleges are named after him. There’s even a gym at UAB named after him. There’s probably a tree named after him in the Talladega National Forest. A weeping willow, perhaps.
During this time of social unrest in the wake of police officers murdering George Floyd, many of the old racist symbols of the South, specifically Confederate monuments, are coming down. There doesn’t seem to be a surge of activists trying to get Wallace’s name off buildings, though.
However, there is a married couple who live near Mobile who are working tirelessly to get Wallace’s name off the tunnel under the Mobile River that connects Baldwin and Mobile counties.
Elizabeth and Patrick Callaghan, who live in Daphne, recently started a petition to have the tunnel’s name changed. It’s already gained more than 5,500 signatures, including mine.
Now before you go off stereotyping the Callaghans, understand that they are lifelong Alabama natives. Elizabeth was born in Fairhope; Patrick was born in Mobile. They both earned their college degrees in Alabama universities. Their three children attend Alabama schools.
And they want Wallace’s name off that tunnel, which they drive through regularly. Why the tunnel?
“It will at least remove the name of one more racist from daily view,” says Patrick via email. He has been talking with his wife about trying to have the tunnel’s name changed for years, but was spurred to action after Lafayette Park in Washington, D.C., recently was violently cleared of peaceful protesters so Donald Trump could do a photo op awkwardly holding a Bible. “The people (who) participated in this belief that they are better than another human being simply because of the color of their skin should not be commemorated, glorified, or honored in any way.”
Elizabeth, who describes herself as an empath, has a more personal answer: “I try to put myself in the shoes … of my African–American brothers and sisters. I cannot imagine being a mother and having my 8-year-old child ask me who George Wallace was and why he has a tunnel named after him. While it can be a story of overcoming racism and how someone as deeply flawed as Wallace could change, that history is better left for the books and to be taught in school. It is not a history that should be glorified when unarmed people were brutalized, including children, treated like less than animals, simply for trying to peacefully protest their federally given right to vote. This occurred for no other reason than the color of their skin. The tunnel named for him is a constant reminder of those painful, traumatic times and his staunchly communicated desire to have ‘segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.’”
Both the Callaghans have been politically active, especially after the election of Trump. Patrick describes himself as a lifelong Democrat. Elizabeth says she has been a Republican, but now identifies as Independent. And they both would like to see Confederate monuments and the names of buildings honoring Wallace and other Confederate leaders and sympathizers changed.
No “history” is being erased, the Callaghans argue.
“No,” Elizabeth says. “History is still taught in schools, written down in books, and found all over the Internet. It is not possible to erase history just because we take down a statue or rename a tunnel or a street. History is erased when it is forced into the conversation of those who are not ready to talk about it and is,therefore, distorted (so) as to not relive the traumatic times.”
Patrick has a logical example to counter the “history” argument:
“Most women change their last names upon marriage, so does that mean her life before marriage is erased? Does she forget all her memories made under her maiden name? This is simply an easy excuse for those who do not want to admit that they themselves are racist and they have a sense of pride when they see the names/statues of abhorrent racists. Everybody knows who Hitler was, but they don’t have to see the statues or see buildings, streets, etc., named after him.”
So will the petition make a difference?
“I believe that if Black Lives Matter continues and the push is there, that it will eventually be changed if we can get enough signatures to make the legislature pay attention,” Elizabeth says.
The Callaghans are parents to two teens and an 8-year-old. These can be scary times to be raising children, they say.
“It is absolutely a scary time to be alive,” Patrick says. “It simply baffles me that we are living in a time that seems to have gone back 60 years in just three-plus years in terms of hate. An imbecile is celebrated showing just how far down the education scale the U.S. is falling. We are one of the richest countries on the planet and yet have poverty at an obscene rate. The character of a nation should be judged by the way that it treats its most helpless citizens.”
Adds Elizabeth: “These are unprecedented times. I do worry for my children. I also feel an energy and excitement that I have never felt before. These are scary, exciting times. I always think of the quote ‘all great change is preceded by chaos.’ This chaos is the only thing that will bring about change, and regardless of how scary it is, change is necessary.”
Patrick Callaghan doesn’t miss the irony, either: “We also have a president and his complicit cronies who dismissed a global pandemic and called it a Democratic hoax. He failed to act for months after knowing how prevalent it was to act NOW. He is the most corrupt, criminal president we have ever had, and those who continue to support him are complicit in his crime spree. He has committed the biggest negligent homicide the world has seen since Hitler.”
And, he says: “Who would’ve thought that George Wallace would FINALLY win his presidential campaign almost 20 years after he died!”
Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column every week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected]
Opinion | Voting shouldn’t be so difficult
I may trigger Secretary of State John Merrill, so this is the warning.
We must not repeat what happened in Georgia Tuesday. In-person voting was a mess. Millions of dollars in brand new voting machines malfunctioned. Some voters had to wait in line for hours to cast a ballot in the Georgia primaries, and some voters just gave up.
That’s what some Republicans in Georgia wanted: Make it as difficult for certain groups to cast a ballot so they don’t vote. Like Georgia, Alabama is a voter-suppression state. Our Legislature puts up legal roadblocks, and our secretary of state doesn’t campaign for meaningful reforms.
This is the year 2020. There is no valid reason we cannot follow other progressive and conservative states that use mail-in ballots. But just as in Georgia, where state election officials and even the governor (the former Secretary of State), oppose mail-in ballots, so does Merrill in Alabama. Indeed, Merrill opposes just about every voting plan in existence across the nation that includes mail-in ballots, early voting, or whatever plan thatallows voters a way to not cast their ballots in person.
We have absentee ballots, of course, but for many people, even negotiating the absentee ballot request form for could be a challenge. It can be intimidating.
Yet, that’s what Merrill has encouraged voters to do if they don’t want to vote in person for the July 14 primary runoff because of the fears of being infected by the novel coronavirus COVID-19.I saw plenty of photos from those lines in Georgia where people were not wearing masks.
Let’s be realistic. It’s about halfway through June, and the virus didn’t go away when the weather warmed. It didn’t magically disappear like Donald Trump said it would. Indeed, there are still 800 to 1,000 people dying every day from the virus in this country. It’s still spreading in various hot spots around the nation and world. Montgomery now has the second largest number of infections, after Mobile. Jefferson County, the state’s largest county, is third.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, all states will mail an absentee ballot to certain voters who request one. “But in two-thirds of the states, any qualified voter may vote absentee without offering an excuse,” the NCSL writes. In one-third of the states, an excuse is required. Of course, Alabama is in that one-third. Because institutionally, Alabama leaders generally want to discourage certain voters from being able to cast their ballots.
That is simply a fact, one that Merrill will not accept, but an objective person can look at the voting barriers that exist, and there lies the truth.
Some states automatically mail a ballot to every eligible voter, without a request or application. Some states have early voting. In about four-fifths of the states, any qualified voter may cast a ballot in person during a designated period prior to election day, the NCSL reports. Alabama, of course, does not offer early voting.
This is the system that Merrill, as the state’s top election official, inherited. But he hasn’t done a whole lot to deconstruct the system and remake it to provide voters more opportunities and methods to cast in a legitimate ballot.
If nothing else, allow voters to cast ballots on the weekend, when most are not working. Allow a qualified voter to request an absentee ballot without all of the hurdles. For goodness’ sake, mail us a ballot because you know we’re registered, and let us return it through the mail.
No way that system could be in place by the November election. What we have to hope for, and let’s do, is that Merrill will allow anybody who is qualified to vote to cast their ballot absentee, without all the excuses.
The Georgia fiasco is right over there, to the right. Let’s not bring it to Alabama, please.
There is a deadly disease out there, one that will likely kill my wife if she gets it. I’m guessing just about everybody has somebody in their family whose health is compromised in some way. Why should I have to choose between voting in person or risking infecting my wife or another loved one?
I shouldn’t, and neither should you.
Make it so, Secretary Merrill.
Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column each week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected]