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Limestone County sheriff indicted on 13 counts of theft, ethics charges.

Eddie Burkhalter

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via Limestone County Sheriff's Office

Limestone County Sheriff Michael Blakely was arrested on Wednesday after being indicted on 13 theft and ethics charges. 

Blakely is charged with four separate counts of theft from his campaign account that total $11,000. Additionally, he’s charged with five counts of theft or ethics charges for stealing money from Limestone County funds, including from the Sheriff’s Law Enforcement Fund. 

The 10-term sheriff is also charged with soliciting a $1,000 wire transfer, two counts of using his official position to get interest-free loans in the form of a $50,000 cashier’s check and/or a $22,189.68 credit. He’s also charged with the theft of money from Limestone County inmates’ personal funds. 

Blakely was booked into his own jail and released Wednesday on a $49,000 bond. 

Despite the indictments, one of Blakely’s three attorneys, Robert Tuten, told APR on Wednesday that the sheriff will remain in office while the court case proceeds. 

“He will plead not guilty,”  Tuten said, adding that Blakely’s arraignment might take some time as it’s likely all the local judges will recuse themselves from the case. “He is an elected official, and being an elected official he’ll continue to do the work that he was elected to do while the case works its way through the court system.” 

“Public officials are entrusted to perform their duties honestly and above reproach,” said Attorney General Steve Marshall in a press release Wednesday. “When that bond of trust is broken, our society suffers undue harm. My office—working with our federal and state partners—is committed to ensuring that the violators of the public trust be held accountable under the law.” 

“I would like to thank the Federal Bureau of Investigation for its investigative assistance in this case. Anyone with information regarding corrupt practices by public officials is encouraged to contact the Alabama Attorney General’s Office at [email protected].” Marshall continued. 

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FBI Birmingham Special Agent Johnnie Sharp, Jr. said in a press release that while the overwhelming majority of public officials serve honorably, those that do not rob their communities of the fundamental right to honest government. 

“I want the citizens of north Alabama to know that if they have information about potential wrongdoing by a public official or law enforcement officer, the FBI wants to hear from you. If you have information, call my office’s Public Corruption Tip Line at (844) 404-TIPS, share what you know, and join in the fight against corruption,” Sharp said. 

In a tweet Wednesday the Limestone Sheriff’s Office quoted Blakely as once saying “You can indict a ham sandwich.” 

“We will continue to serve the great people of Limestone County with the same level of professionalism and vigor as always,” according to the sheriff office’s tweet.

 

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Alabama Parole and Probation Officers supervising nearly 9,000 violent criminals

Brandon Moseley

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The Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles released a report Thursday that was shared with state legislators and the media this week that shows Alabama’s 300 parole and probation officers are tasked with supervising 8,993 people convicted of violent crimes.

The officers are tasked with supervising more than 27,000 Alabama offenders as well as more than 3,600 offenders from other states who chose to move to Alabama following their incarceration in other states. Those are just the active cases.

There are an additional 22,947 inactive offenders for a total caseload of 50,055.

“The supervision of all these offenders that our officers provide daily is crucial to the safety of Alabamians and we are thankful for the selfless and dedicated work of these law enforcement officers,” said Bureau Director Charlie Graddick in a statement.

Graddick said that the Bureau put nine new officers into the field last week to begin supervising parolees and probationers and hopes to hire up to 138 more officers over the next three years — if the budget allows.

In the session that recently ended, the Legislature cut the bureau’s budget nearly in half.

“We are in need of more officers as we work to reduce caseloads,” Graddick said.

The report shows that 79 percent of the Alabama clients the bureau supervises were granted probation by judges throughout the state.

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Sixteen percent of the Alabama offenders are parolees who were granted release from prison by the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles.

Of the 6,078 Alabama parolees being supervised, 58 percent are violent offenders, some requiring much more intensive supervision.

Alabama has historically underfunded and understaffed the aging prison facilities managed by the Alabama Department of Corrections.

The Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles is tasked with attempting to safely reintegrate parolees into society as well as to rehabilitate offenders sentenced to probation so that they do not re-offend and have to join the state’s prison population again.

A recent Department of Justice report claimed that Alabama’s prisons are among the most dangerous in the country.

The state has a critical need to increase prison capacity to reduce prison overcrowding and protect the public from crime and violence.

 

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DOJ’s dropping of charges against Flynn may raise question in Siegelman case

Brandon Moseley

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Defenders of former Gov. Don Siegelman suggested that U.S. Attorney General William Barr’s dropping of federal charges against General Michael Flynn raises questions of the prosecution of Siegelman.

Flynn, a retired Lt. General, was President Donald Trump’s first national security adviser. He was investigated under the Logan Act as part of the wider Russian collusion investigation into the 2016 election, when Trump defeated former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

A preeminent scholar in prosecutorial misconduct, Professor Bennett Gershman, has now proclaimed the prosecutors of former governor Siegelman are the ones who should have been charged with a federal crime.

“Yes, the prosecutors should be in jail,” Gershman said. “Of the thousands of prosecutorial misconduct cases I’ve written about, the government’s bad faith described in Stealing our Democracy stands out and may be without parallel.”

“Stealing our Democracy” is Siegelman’s new book. The new book raised more questions of prosecutorial misconduct.

David C. Iglesias is a former Republican U.S. Attorney for New Mexico. He is now an associate professor of Politics and Law at Wheaton College in Illinois.

“If you doubt that politics are the mortal enemy of justice, read Stealing Our Democracy,” Iglesias said. “This is a sobering reminder of the vast powers the federal government has wrongfully used as a sledgehammer to achieve a conviction at any cost. Terrible things happen when you mix politics with prosecutions.”

The White House maintains that the prosecution of Flynn was a political exercise. White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany blasted the effort to prosecute Flynn.

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“The FBI exists to investigate crimes. But in the case of Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, it appears that they might have existed to manufacture one,” McEnany said at the White House press briefing. “As the motion filed by the Department of Justice yesterday explained, the FBI set out to interview General Michael Flynn, when they had no predigate [sic] — predicate for any investigation of any crime.”

“Over the past week, we learned, from a handwritten note, the true intent behind the FBI’s investigation of Lieutenant General Michael Flynn,” McEnany explained. “The very day that then-FBI Director Jim Comey sent agents to the White House to interview Flynn, the FBI discussed what their intent was beforehand. This is what they said: “What is our goal? Truth, admission? Or to get him to lie so we can prosecute him or get him fired?” These notes, in addition to other evidence, raise serious questions about the handling of the — of the FBI’s handling of Michael Flynn’s case.”

Siegelman’s supporters maintain that is what happened to the former Governor.

Law Professor John Farmer is the former Dean of Rutgers Law School and seems to agree with Professor Gerhman.

“Don Siegelman’s story is nothing less than an American tragedy,” Farmer wrote. “Understanding the abuses he experienced may well be the first step to ending them and to healing our broken politics.”

Siegelman is the only Democrat to be elected as the Governor of Alabama since 1982’s election of George C. Wallace (D). Siegelman served as Governor from 1999 to 2003. He was narrowly defeated by then-Congressman Bob Riley, R-Ashland, in the 2002 election after just one term as Governor. Siegelman was mulling a run for the Democratic nomination for president of the United States in 2004.

Siegelman claims that he was then targeted by President George W. Bush’s Department of Justice and claims that he was prosecuted on the orders of GOP strategist and top Bush White House political strategist Karl Rove.

Flynn’s guilty plea was overturned and the case against him lifted with the aid of AG William Barr and the Trump Department of Justice after being investigated and prosecuted by Barack H. Obama’s holdovers at the DOJ, whom some Republicans accuse of attempting a legal coup against the incoming Trump officials. Siegelman on the other hand was prosecuted during the 2006 election when he was running to regain the Governor’s mansion. Siegelman, then under a legal cloud, lost the Democratic primary to then Lt. Governor Lucy Baxley (D). Baxley was then trounced by Gov. Riley. Siegelman was convicted by a jury of his peers and his convictions were upheld by the federal court system, spending years in prison until 2017.

Siegelman claims that his new book raises more questions of prosecutorial misconduct in his case.

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Gov. Kay Ivey extends public health emergency, issues COVID-19 lawsuit protections

Eddie Burkhalter

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Gov. Kay Ivey on Friday extended the formal “public health emergency” for 60 days, beginning May 13. 

Ivey also issued another proclamation that provides liability protection for businesses and health care providers from being sued over COVID-19 matters if those businesses and health care providers “comply with or reasonably attempt to comply with applicable public health guidance.”

Ivey’s order also states that the emergency liability protections would cover businesses and health care providers unless they show “wanton, reckless, willful or intentional misconduct.” 

“I want to do everything within my authority to protect businesses as Alabama’s economy gets up and running again,” Ivey said in a statement. “As we resume operations, the very last thing a business owner needs to worry about is a frivolous lawsuit from responding to COVID-19. Let me be clear, this in no way shields them from serious misconduct. If someone knowingly abuses the public during a time of crisis, they should be held accountable and prosecuted as such.”

Ivey is to hold a press conference at 11 a.m. to discuss possible changes to her “safer-at-home” order. The new proclamations issued Friday morning are separate from the state’s public health orders.

The existence of the states of emergency simply allows the governor to take extraordinary steps to deal with an emergency situation.

Eighth proclamation summary:

  • The order provides safe harbor to health care providers, businesses, and other entities to encourage “reopening our state.”
  • The order protects health care providers from a frivolous lawsuit based on actions they took or failed to take as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The order protects businesses from frivolous lawsuits when they conduct COVID-19 testing or distribute PPE to help protect people from COVID-19.
  • The order “in no way shields these groups from claims of egregious misconduct. Claims based on egregious misconduct would be allowed to proceed,” according to the governor’s office.

Ninth proclamation summary:

  • One provision allows for probate judges to improve procedures for administering the July 14 primary runoff election.
  • Probate judges would be allowed to reduce the number of poll workers, if necessary. They would also be allowed to conduct poll-worker training remotely.
  • Another provision “cuts red tape for electric co-ops seeking to obtain emergency loans.” This will “help ensure that electrical cops are still able to provide electricity to their members during this public health emergency.”
  • A final provision will extend the formal “public health emergency” for 60 days, beginning May 13.

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Appeals court refuses to lift injunction prohibiting Alabama from banning abortions

Chip Brownlee

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A federal appeals court Thursday refused to lift a preliminary injunction prohibiting Alabama from banning abortions during the COVID-19 epidemic.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday issued a ruling that denied the state of Alabama’s request to stay a preliminary injunction issued by federal district court Judge Myron Thompson.

The decision ensures that the injunction prohibiting the state from banning abortions as part of its COVID-19 response will remain in effect throughout the appeal. Abortion care will continue to be available.

“Today, the court refused to allow Alabama to use the COVID-19 crisis as a pretext to prevent patients from accessing abortion care,” said Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, senior staff attorney at the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. “This is a critical victory that recognizes that government response to the pandemic must be grounded in public health, not politics.”

The decision comes after Attorney General Steve Marshall appealed Thompson’s partial blocking of the state’s temporary ban on abortions amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

In his order, Thompson said of Alabama’s temporary ban on elective procedures, “for some group of women, a mandatory postponement will make a lawful abortion literally impossible. Under Alabama law, a woman’s window for seeking a lawful abortion is limited: abortion becomes illegal when the probable post fertilization age of the fetus is at least 20 weeks.”

Marshall and the state of Alabama have argued that State Health Officer Scott Harris’s order “covers all elective medical procedures, including abortions.  The purposes of the order are to promote social distancing and ensure that scarce healthcare resources—including personal protective equipment for medical providers—are available for the fight against COVID-19.”

“This ruling ensures that everyone in Alabama can continue to make the decision about whether to have an abortion for themselves,” said Randall Marshall, executive director of the ACLU of Alabama. “We will keep fighting to hold our politicians accountable to protecting the needs of our communities, rather than using the pandemic to further an anti-abortion agenda.”

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