A field director working for Democratic hopeful and former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb resigned from Cobb’s campaign Friday after being arrested Thursday and charged with violating the state’s sex offender law.
Paul Littlejohn III, 55, was convicted in 1985 of the rape and sodomy of a 30-year-old woman, according to Alabama Law Enforcement Agency records. He was released in 2014 and was placed on Alabama’s sex offender registry.
Littlejohn had been serving as Cobb’s Jefferson County field director before his arrest, which stemmed from his employment at a church that both operates a day care and sits across from an elementary school — two violations of sex offender employment restrictions.
Cobb told AL.com on Saturday that she “accepted” Littlejohn’s resignation but continued to defend him while alleging that his arrest by Jefferson County’s Republican sheriff was “politically motivated.”
“It’s as politically motivated of a charge as I’ve seen,” Cobb told AL.com, noting Sheriff Mike Hale’s party affiliation. “Why? The Republicans don’t want to run against Sue Bell Cobb. Governor Ivey doesn’t want to run against Sue Bell Cobb. They found that as an opportunity to take advantage of information that had been sent out into the public forum.”
Cobb’s campaign did not respond to APR‘s request for comment over the weekend.
The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office denied the arrest was politically motivated. Randy Christian, chief deputy for the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, said sheriff’s investigators arrested the former Cobb campaign field director only for “breaking the law.”
“He [the investigator] was doing his job, plain and simple, and doing it well,” Christian said in a statement to AL.com. “How sad that a candidate for governor supports a convicted sex offender over sexual assault victims.”
Christian said Cobb doesn’t support law enforcement doing the difficult job of ensuring through compliance of the sex offender registration law that no other victim comes in harm’s way.
“It’s not just shameful, it’s disgusting desperation on her part,” he said in the statement. “If I’m reading this right, she wanted us to just look the other way. If she has any integrity left, she will apologize to law enforcement, sexual assault victims and ask for forgiveness.”
Alabama’s sex offender laws prohibit sex offenders from working or living near an elementary school or a day care, and a violation of the law is a felony.
The Sheriff’s Office said Littlejohn did not report his employment at the church. After the office’s Sex Offender Unit verified his employment at the church, officers issued a warrant for his arrest, alleging he violated the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act’s employment restrictions.
Littlejohn, who has maintained his innocence in the 1985 case, later turned himself into the Jefferson County Jail in Birmingham, where he was booked at 6:41 p.m. Thursday and was held on an $11,000 bond.
Though he has said he did not rape and sodomize the victim, Littlejohn said he was waiting in his car in the parking lot and did not stop the incident when it happened.
Cobb’s campaign has repeatedly said that recent reports about Littlejohn’s sex offender status and his employment on her team are political attacks aimed at derailing her campaign for governor.
“There is so much we still don’t know and like any good judge would tell you: it would be unethical to make a decision without having all the facts of the case,” Cobb’s campaign manager Landon Nichols said Thursday before Cobb accepted Littlejohn’s resignation. “When we have the facts, we will make a decision. What I can tell you is that it’s an absolute shame for Paul and his family to be victims of targeted political attack. Our thoughts and prayers are with them.”
News of Littlejohn’s arrest Thursday came just hours after Cobb called a press conference in Birmingham during which she defended Littlejohn as a victim of political antics and accused APR of violating journalist ethics.
The former Alabama chief justice said Littlejohn does not knock on doors and has instead managed a team charged with organizing outreach and get-out-the-vote operations for her campaign.
Cobb said everyone on her campaign was made aware of Littlejohn’s sex offender status.
“It’s about redemption, guys. I’ve been a judge for 30 years. I’ve seen people do horrendous things. Paul was convicted of a horrendous crime, but that was 35 years ago,” Cobb said. “Since then, he is literally the picture of redemption. He has truly reformed his life.”
Cobb said she personally made the decision to keep Littlejohn on her campaign staff knowing that other campaigns could use his sex offender status against her campaign, calling its surfacing in recent reports an effort to appeal to “fear mongering.”
“Paul actually offered his resignation, and I wouldn’t take it because he’s done an amazing job. He’s done an amazing job,” she said. “I couldn’t be more pleased with the job that he’s done, I’m just saddened that his reputation has had to be — you know, he’s been defamed.”
Cobb’s campaign has paid Unity Group Solution, a company in which Littlejohn is a partner, about $40,000 over the last two months for “cultivating and delivering the African-American vote in the Birmingham region,” according to an AL.com piece.
Littlejohn, who in recent years has made a name for himself in Alabama Democratic politics, also worked on Sen. Doug Jones’ campaign and Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin’s campaign.