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Ivey Administration continues to fund Bentley’s legal defense in new motion

Bill Britt

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Former Alabama Law Enforcement Agency Secretary Spencer Collier in August asked a Montgomery Circuit Court to compel disgraced former Gov. Robert Bentley to disclose his personal knowledge about donations made to the non-profit, ACEGOV.

Motion seeks donors info from Bentley’s “girlfriend fund”

Bentley’s state-funded legal team replied to Collier’s motion saying it is part of a, “new, unfounded conspiracy theory,” in its Friday filing asking to court to deny Collier’s request.

Known in political circles as the ‘Girlfriend Fund,” because it paid money to Bentley’s alleged girlfriend, Rebekah Caldwell Mason, ACEGOV is a 501(c)(4) set-up in Feb. 2015, by Bentley’s then-General Counsel Cooper Shattuck to promote Bentley’s political agenda.

Gov. Kay Ivey’s administration continues to pay tens of thousands in legal fees to protect Bentley in his lawsuit with Collier.

A team of lawyers from Maynard Cooper & Gale, led by Harvard educated attorney, John C. Neiman Jr., represent Bentley with the state footing the ever-growing legal bill.

Neiman, who was part of the legal team that worked to overturn portions of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County V. Holder. Neiman is one of Bentley’s staunch defenders telling those close to the case that he will spend every dollar in the state’s legal fund before he sees Collier receive any payment for his wrongful termination.

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It has also been reported that Neiman threatened to ruin Collier personally if he continued his lawsuit against Bentley. This type of hardball defense was not always Ivey’s posture.

Over a year ago, when it became clear that Ivey would replace Bentley as governor, a member of Ivey’s inner-circle approached Collier with a suggested promise of a resolution. However, since taking office, Ivey’s administration has spent hundreds of thousands to defend Bentley.

The administration is not forthcoming with exact figures paid to Birmingham-based Maynard Cooper & Gale for Bentley’s defense, and the money is difficult to track as some of the funds seem to be coded under unusual classifications. According to a former administration official, Ivey’s team ignores or slow-walks “inconvenient” press requests hoping that a reporter will become distracted or move on to another job.

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Why Ivey changed her position on a resolution with Collier is unknown, but those close to the lawsuit believe certain individuals and companies that supported ACEGOV don’t want to suffer the humiliating blowback from their names being exposed by Collier’s lawsuit.

Collier was fired from his position at ALEA after he refused to follow Bentley’s order to lie to prosecutors in the Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard criminal case.

Neiman in his most recent filing implies that Bentley’s order for Collier to lie to the prosecution was not improper. “It is undisputed that Collier ignored that [Bentley’s] request and thereby injected the Governor’s office into the Attorney General’s prosecution of the Speaker of the House.”

Neiman also claims, “Collier had conducted an inadequate investigation of the allegations Collier had proposed to discuss in his affidavit.”

Collier’s firing grew out of actions taken by Hubbard’s attorney Lance Bell, who in January 2016, contacted ALEA to arrange for attorney and radio host Baron Coleman to issue a complaint accusing prosecutor Matt Hart of leaking grand jury information. Bell’s actions are recounted in an affidavit by Hal Taylor, current ALEA Secretary.

Lee County Circuit Court Judge Jacob Walker III, who presided over Hubbard’s trial, and the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals have both rejected Neiman’s argument.

Not only does Collier’s lawsuit raise questions about the state’s choice of representation; it also unearths a long suspected question as to why Gov. Ivey would go to such great lengths to protect Bentley.

Collier is asking the court to compel Bentley to identify donors he solicited to fund ACEGOV or those who contributed to the fund of which he has personal knowledge. It is widely suspected that a who’s who of business owners and corporate entities funded the non-profit to curry favor with Mason, who was Bentley’s close advisor.

Suggested payoffs to news outlets and radio talk show hosts for favorable coverage of the Bentley administration is also believed to have been part of ACEGOV’s secret mission.

According to Bentley’s state-funded legal team, “Collier’s motion makes baseless assertions that are not supported by the evidence.”

Perhaps the bigger question being asked in Montgomery is why is the Ivey administration so doggedly defending Bentley instead of putting the matter to rest?

 

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Judge dismisses lawsuit, settling ownership of Alabama Democratic party

Eddie Burkhalter

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Montgomery County Circuit Judge Greg Griffin on Thursday dismissed a lawsuit over who was in control of the Alabama Democratic party, meaning the so-called reform group championed by U.S. Sen. Doug Jones has won out. 

Griffin in his order filed Thursday morning wrote that his court lacked jurisdiction “over what appears to be an intra-political-party dispute regarding the officer elections and governance of the Alabama Democratic party.” 

Griffin’s ruling means that state Rep. Chris England, who was picked to lead the state Democratic party by the reform group, is the party’s chair. 

The ruling puts an end to the lawsuit filed by former ADP chairwoman Nancy Worley, after the Democratic National Committee ruled that her re-election as chair was invalid. 

England was elected ADP chair after the DNC ordered new elections and the adoption of new bylaws.

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Bill would make owning pre-1960 slot machines legal for personal use

Eddie Burkhalter

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Vintage slot machines are highly sought-after by collectors, but owning one for personal use is a crime in Alabama. That could change this year. 

Rep. Chip Brown, R-Mobile, told APR by phone on Wednesday that he was approached by a group of antiques collectors who asked that he write a bill that would allow a person to own the vintage slot machines for personal use. 

Mention of legislation around gaming machines of any kind raises caution in Montgomery, where legislators and special interests have for decades fought over gambling and whether to establish a state lottery. Brown said he was well aware of the sensitivity of the subject matter when crafting the bill, which makes clear it won’t allow any of the old machines to be used for commercial purposes. 

“All this does is it just allows individuals to collect pre-1960 slot machines for their own home collection,” Brown said.  “I was very careful when we drafted the bill to make sure that it wouldn’t open the door to any bigger issues.” 

House Bill 260 reads that “The crime of possession of a gambling device does not apply to a slot machine manufactured before 1960, with the intention that the slot machine be used only for the personal and private use of the owner or for public display as a historical artifact in a manner that the slot machine is not accessible to the public.”

Alabama is one of eight states that do not allow ownership of slot machines made in any year. Other state laws vary, allowing residents to own machines made before certain years. 

Pre-electric slot machines are highly sought-after, and can fetch many thousands of dollars. Brown said those who want to own one for personal use ought to be be able to do so. 

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“I’m hoping I can get it in debate in committee next week,” Brown said of his bill.

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Bill strengthening foster parents’ rights in child custody cases clears senate committee

Brandon Moseley

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Wednesday, a bill that would require a juvenile court to consider a child’s relationship with his or her current foster parents and the child’s best interests when making a determination of whether to terminate parental rights received a favorable report in the Senate Committee on Children and Senior Advocacy.

House Bill 157 is sponsored by State Representative Paul Lee (R-Dothan).

Lee said that when we talk about our education system, nothing is more destructive than a lack of home life. A lot of these children are in foster care for two or three years. Then when parental rights are about to be terminated relatives show up at court even though they have been AWOL in the life of the child. Presently the judge can not take into account the role that the foster parents have played. This bill allows him to use the three years weight in making his decision.

HB157 passed the full House on Tuesday where it passed 94 to 1.

24 hours later the Senate Committee on Children and Senior Advocacy, chaired by State Senator Larry Stutts (R-Sheffield) gave the bill a favorable report. There was no opposition to the bill thus there was no public hearing.

The bill was cosponsored by Rep. Terri Collins (R-Decatur).

Collins said, “Some of these children, these babies, have been in foster care for years. This gives foster care families some say in permanent decisions with the child.”

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Collins said that she met with a group of foster parents from her district and this bill was a priority for them.

According to the synopsis: “Existing law provides factors for a juvenile court to consider in making a determination of whether to terminate parental rights. This bill would require a juvenile court to consider a child’s relationship with his or her current foster parents and the child’s best interests when making a determination of whether to terminate parental rights. This bill would provide that a juvenile court is not required to consider a relative for candidacy to be a child’s legal guardian if the relative has not met certain requirements. This bill would also provide that service on an individual whose parental rights have been terminated are not entitled to receive notice of pendency regarding an adoption proceeding involving a child for whom the individual’s parental rights have been terminated.”

The bill states that: “If the juvenile court finds from clear and convincing evidence, competent, material, and relevant in nature, that the parents of a child are unable or unwilling to discharge their responsibilities to and for the child, or that the conduct or condition of the parents renders them unable to properly care for the child and that the conduct or condition is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future, it may terminate the parental rights of the parents. In a hearing on a petition for termination of parental rights, the court shall consider the best interests of the child.”

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According to the bill the judge should award custody to the foster parents over a relative, “In a proceeding for termination of parental rights if both of the following circumstances exist: “(1) The relative did not attempt to care for the child or obtain custody of the child within four months of the child being removed from the custody of the parents or placed in foster care, if the removal was known to the relative. “(2) The goal of the current permanency plan formulated by the Department of Human Resources is adoption by the current foster parents.”

The bill now goes to the full Senate for their consideration.

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State leaders unveil a major mental health legislative initiative

Brandon Moseley

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Wednesday, House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter (R – Rainsville), Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth (R), Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon (R – Monrovia), Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R – Anniston), Alabama Department of Mental Health Commissioner Lynn Beshear, State Education Superintendent Eric Mackey, House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels (D-Huntsville), as well as the legislators carrying the bills held a press conference to announce a major mental health legislative initiative at a State House news conference.

“47,000 Americans lost their lives to suicide last year,” Rep. Ledbetter said. “It is the second leading cause of deaths for teenagers.”

“We are failing with mental health,” Ledbetter said. “I told the Governor that we are failing mental health. She asked us to lead an initiative to address mental health.”

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) tasked Ledbetter with leading an effort to improve and expand the mental health services that state government offers the citizens of Alabama. Ivey discussed the importance of the issue during her 2020 State of the State Address.

“The Speaker and the Pro Tem, either them or their staff, have been at every meeting we had,” Ledbetter added. “A member of the Governor’s staff also attended

Ledbetter proposed five pieces of legislation:

A School Service Coordinator Bill sponsored by Ledbetter and Sen. Rodger Smitherman (D – Birmingham) requires each school system within the state to employ a mental health service coordinator subject to legislative appropriation.

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A 72-Hour Hold Bill sponsored by Rep. Wes Allen (R – Troy) and Sen. Donnie Chesteen (R – Geneva) authorizes law enforcement officers to place individuals who are believed to have mental illness and pose a threat to themselves or others under 72-hour protective custody, which includes transportation to a hospital for evaluation and treatment.

A CIT Training Bill sponsored by Rep. Rex Reynolds (R – Huntsville) and Sen. Andrew Jones (R – Centre) requires the Alabama Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission to provide mandatory crisis intervention training and continuing education to law enforcement officers.

A Crisis Care Center joint resolution by Rep. Randall Shedd (R – Fairview) and Sen. Garlan Gudger (R – Cullman) calls for the immediate creation and funding of three 24-hour crisis care centers, which serve as an alternative to costly hospital and emergency room visits by providing suicide prevention and other mental health services on an immediate, walk-in basis.

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A Stepping Up joint resolution by Rep. Anthony Daniels (D – Huntsville) and Sen. Steve Livingston (R – Scottsboro) encourages Alabama’s 67 counties to implement and embrace the Stepping Up initiative, which seeks to reduce the number of individuals in jail with mental illness.

Ledbetter said that several of these items come with a price tag. The three crisis centers will costs $18 million. This is, “One of the major priorities of our 2020 legislative session.”

“Thank you for you and your committee’s work,” You have put a lot of time and effort in it.” Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth said. “Alabama, we hear you. We can do a better job. We will do a better job in addressing mental health.”

“This has been an ongoing experience for our legislature to stop and take a look at what we do with mental health in our state,” Speaker McCutcheon said. It is time that we step up. The last time Alabama stepped up on mental health without a court order was in the 1960s with Lurleen Wallace’s $47 million bond issue.”

“It is time to quit kicking the can down the road,” McCutcheon said. “The House will commit a full day to these bills’ passage.”

“What I have found in my time in Montgomery is if somebody does not take a lead on a particular topic nothing gets done we just keep talking about it,” Marsh said thanking Ledbetter and the task force.

“You either have a family member, a friend, or a community member who is affected by mental illness,” Marsh said. “Mental health is not a Republican issue or a Democrat issue. It’s a simple issue of providing needed services that will help reduce recidivism in our prisons, improve performance in our schools, and enhance the quality of life for all Alabamians.”

Sept. Mackey said that, “This is an ongoing effort. Everybody has been wanting to work together to address mental helaht in this state.”

Mackey said that they “Are hearing from teachers that there are students coming into their classrooms with mental health issues as early as kindergarten and even as early as Pre-K.”

“We want to see that families have the mental health support that they need so that those kids come to school capable of learning,” Mackey said.

Alabama Department of Mental Health Commissioner Lynn Beshear expressed thanks that the legislative and executive branches of government are uniting their powers to address a growing problem.

“The fact that the governor and the Legislature are working so closely and cooperatively on this issues demonstrates its importance to Alabama and its citizens,” Beshear said. “The Alabama Department of Mental Health works hard to provide the best services possible with the dollars we are given, but this legislative initiative and intense emphasis will help us to literally save lives and provide hope where it does not currently exist.”

“The stepping up initiative is the foundational piece,” Beshear said. “This is an initiative that began in 2015 in the White House.” “The goal is to reduce the number of individuals with mental illness in jail.”

“The Montgoemry area was one of the first fifty to sign on to this,” Beshear explained. “They sent teams to receive training. At this time we have 21 county commissions that have signed the stepping up resolution.”

“When a person is discharged from the hospital, the hospital sends them home with a care plan,” Beshear added. “When a person is discharged from jail they need a care plan. If we can reach people early or at a crisis point in their disease process we can prevent it from progressing further.”

Commissioner Beshear said that, “Law enforcement, healthcare, government and the business community come together to create a plan at the regional level.”

The mental health reform bills could be in House and Senate bills as early as next week.

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