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Did a Montgomery judge try to singlehandedly kill the Democrats’ reform meeting?

Josh Moon

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There was much celebrating among most Alabama Democrats on Saturday, following the election of a new party chairman and the seating of dozens of new minority State Democratic Executive Committee members. 

There also was quite of bit of anger and angst among other Alabama Democrats, as they saw their chairwoman, Nancy Worley, pushed aside and a new ADP take shape. 

But amidst all of the change, and the glee and anger, there was one thing that went largely forgotten by most in the state: The actions on Friday of Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Greg Griffin. 

And Griffin’s actions should never be forgotten. 

Because those actions represent the worst of the Alabama judicial system. 

Now, I know what you’re thinking — that it’s impossible for a decision on a temporary restraining order in a political fight to qualify as “the worst” of this state’s judicial system when we’re locking up innocent people and holding poor people in prison because they can’t pay their fines. 

Fair points. But those sorts of injustices don’t occur without a court system, and without judges, who are willing to overlook the rules and precedent, to shirk responsibility and reason, and to allow politics and friendships to override the law. 

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That seems to be what happened in Griffin’s courtroom on Thursday and Friday of last week. 

And I’m not even talking about the decision he made — to grant a temporary restraining order that prevented a group of law abiding citizens from taking an action that hadn’t been determined to be illegal. That’s called “prior restraint,” and it is almost never OK. 

But that’s beside the point. 

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Here’s what you should care about: On Thursday, as the two warring factions of Alabama Democrats argued in front of Griffin about a scheduled meeting called by the reform caucus to elect new party leadership, Griffin made a promise to both sides.
“I’ll try to work fairly quickly to get to you a resolution keeping in mind that the meeting is supposed to take place on Saturday,” Griffin told the attorneys on Thursday. “Whichever way I rule, I would love for the other side to have a chance to take it up (to the Alabama Supreme Court on appeal).”

Griffin made that promise after an attorney in the case told the judge that if he were to rule against the reform caucus, who had the meeting scheduled for Saturday at 8 a.m., the timeframe for an appeal to the ALSC would be tiny. 

To speed along the process, Griffin asked each side to present him with proposed orders, which would allow him to simply sign his name and file them. 

Both sides left the courtroom in Montgomery early on Thursday afternoon. 

And they waited. 

And waited. 

And waited more. 

Finally, at 4:59 p.m. on Friday — one minute before the close of business — Griffin filed his decision, granting the TRO and halting the meeting on Saturday. 

Two sources at the Montgomery courthouse told me that Griffin never set foot in the building on Friday. Griffin disputed this in a phone call early Tuesday, saying he was briefly in the courthouse on Friday.

The order he filed that granted the TRO was the pre-written order supplied to him by attorneys for Nancy Worley. Only the heading at the top of the page had been changed. 

So, what was he doing all day? 

It sure seems as if he was playing politics instead of simply applying the law. 

And it didn’t take long for the Democrats angered by his decision to come up with theories on why. Within minutes, an old YouTube video of Griffin talking about his 2016 election to the bench surfaced and started to spread among Democrats. 

In that video, Griffin speaks of his family forming a new church with Joe Reed, the vice-chairman of minority affairs for the ADP and Worley’s closest ally. That lawsuit, for all intents and purposes, was filed by Reed and argued by attorneys working for Reed. 

That previous friendship combined with Reed’s interest in the case probably should have prompted Griffin to recuse from the case.

But Griffin didn’t recuse.

And so, in the end, here’s what we’re left with: A judge who got a case that was originally assigned to a different judge; a ruling that doesn’t quite square with past precedent and the law; a decision that was held until the absolute last minute in an apparent attempt to prevent a speedy appeal. 

It stinks. Like week-old fish. 

Luckily, attorneys for the reform caucus were able to push through an emergency appeal and the ALSC was able to issue a speedy ruling overturning Griffin’s order. And just as luckily, Griffin’s late-in-the-day ruling didn’t create so much chaos that Democrats were left without a quorum at their meeting. 

It all worked out fine in the end. 

But what Greg Griffin did shouldn’t be forgotten anytime soon.

 

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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Alabama Forestry Association endorses Tuberville

Brandon Moseley

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Republican U.S. Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville.

The Alabama Forestry Association announced Wednesday that the group is endorsing Republican Senate nominee Tommy Tuberville in the upcoming general election.

“We are proud to endorse Tommy Tuberville in the United States Senate race,” said AFA Executive Vice President Chris Isaacson. “He is a conservative with an impressive list of accomplishments, and we know that he will continue that record in his role as U.S. Senator. Tommy knows that decisions made in Washington impact families and businesses and will be an effective voice for the people of Alabama.”

“I am honored to have the endorsement of the Alabama Forestry Association,” Tuberville said. “The AFA is an excellent organization that stands for pro-business policies. Protecting Alabama industry is a key to our state’s success.”

Tuberville recently won the Republican nomination after a primary season that was extended because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Tuberville is a native of Arkansas and a graduate of Southern Arkansas University. He held a number of assistant coaching positions, including defensive coordinator at Texas A&M and the University of Miami where he won a national championship.

Tuberville has been a head coach at Mississippi, Auburn, Texas Tech and Cincinnati. In his nine years at Auburn University, the team appeared in eight consecutive bowl games. His 2004 team won the SEC Championship and the Sugar Bowl.

Tuberville coached that team to a perfect 13 to 0 season.

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Tuberville has been married to his wife Suzanne since 1991. They have two sons and live in Auburn.

Tuberville is challenging incumbent Democratic Sen. Doug Jones in the Nov. 3 general election.

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Jones campaign says Tuberville is not taking the pandemic seriously

Brandon Moseley

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Incumbent Sen. Doug Jones, left, and Republican challenger Tommy Tubberville, right.

Incumbent Democratic Sen. Doug Jones’ re-election campaign released a statement critical of Republican Senate nominee Tommy Tuberville, suggesting that he is not taking the COVID-19 pandemic seriously enough.

“The Washington Post reported today that the stock market plummeted after jobless claims climbed last week by 1.4 million and the economy shrank by 9.5 percent — the biggest decline in most of our lifetimes,” the Jones campaign wrote. “While economists are worried about the permanent damage COVID-19 will do to the economy, and public health experts are pleading for people to abide by state and local mask orders, Tommy Tuberville ‘snickers’ in response to questions about flouting public health orders while in DC to raise campaign cash. The people of Alabama need to know that Tuberville is not taking the pandemic seriously, raising serious questions about how he would handle this crisis if elected.”

The Washington Post reported that “Tuberville is fundraising and holding ­in-person meetings in Washington this week, defying orders from D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) that visitors from Alabama and other coronavirus hot spots quarantine for 14 days upon arrival.”

“Tuberville spent at least some of his time at the Trump International Hotel, according to a photo posted to Facebook by Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) showing the two men in the hotel lobby on Tuesday night,” the media reports stated. “Neither man was masked.”

Tuberville told AL.com that he has been called “everything in the world” so the last week is nothing new.

The Washington Post reported Wednesday the former Auburn coach broke Washington D.C. policy requiring “non-essential” visitors from states with high coronavirus case counts to self-quarantine for 14 days when he attended fundraising meetings in the city this week. In addition, a photo of Tuberville with Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Arkansas, at the Trump International Hotel in Washington showed neither man wearing a face covering.

Tuberville addressed the controversy in comments to the Alabama Republican Executive Committee on Saturday. Tuberville said that he followed all the rules and wore his mask everywhere he went. When he was at events he would take his mask off to dine and people would come over to his table to shake his hand and get their picture taken. The press has seized on those moments to attack him, he claimed.

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The COVID-19 global pandemic has killed 707,158 people worldwide including 160,833 Americans since it first was discovered in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China in late 2019. Absent an effective treatment or a vaccine, social distancing and masks are the only tools that we have to slow the spread of the virus.

The Tuberville-Jones race for U.S. Senate is going to have an important role in whether or not Republicans are able to hold on to their narrow Senate majority.

Tuberville is an Arkansas native. He is best known for his tenure as Auburn University’s head football coach, which includes an undefeated and untied team that won the SEC Championship and the Sugar Bowl. He also coached at Texas Tech, Cincinnati and Mississippi.

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The general election is Nov. 3. Tuberville has been endorsed by President Donald Trump.

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Jones campaign director blasts Tuberville for saying $600 “too much” for out-of-work Alabamians

Eddie Burkhalter

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Incumbent Sen. Doug Jones, left, and Republican challenger Tommy Tubberville, right.

The communications director for U.S. Sen. Doug Jones’s re-election campaign on Wednesday called out Tommy Tuberville for saying that $600 in emergency unemployment aid was too much for Alabamians. 

“Tommy Tuberville once again proves he’s out of touch with Alabama. When he ‘resigned’ from his job as a football coach he took a $5.1 million payout for himself. To this day, he receives $800 a week in State Retirement funds for a coaching job he ‘quit’ in 2008,” said Owen Kilmer, communications Director for Jones’s Senate campaign, in a statement Wednesday. 

“But he says $600 in emergency benefits is ‘way too much’ for people in Alabama who lost their jobs in this crisis through no fault of their own. Tuberville says $600 is ‘way too much’ to help people put food on the table and pay utilities,” Kilmer continued. “No wonder, when asked about how to handle this crisis, he said ‘I wouldn’t have a clue.’ It’s true. He doesn’t.”

Tuberville, the Republican Senate nominee, is trying to unseat Jones in the November general election. Jones has called the former Auburn football coach and first-time political candidate an unprepared hyper-partisan.

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Mimi Penhale, Russell Bedsole advance to GOP runoff in HD49

Brandon Moseley

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Miriam "Mimi" Penhale, left, and Russell Bedsole, right, are vying for the vacant Alabama House District 49 seat.

Republican voters in House District 49 went to the polls Tuesday to nominate their next representative. Miriam “Mimi” Penhale and Russell Bedsole received the most votes and will advance on to the special Republican primary runoff scheduled for Sept. 1.

“What an incredible day!” Bedsole said. “Thank you friends and family for your love, support, and prayers. We had a great showing today and we are on to a runoff. Looking forward to getting back out and winning this thing on September 1st.”

“THANK YOU Bibb, Chilton and Shelby County!” Penhale said on social media. “I’m looking forward to earning your vote, again, on September 1 in the runoff.”

The election was very tight between the two. Mimi Penhale received 829 votes, or 31.4 percent of the votes. Russell Bedsole received 919 votes, or 34.8 percent.

The rest of the votes was split among the other four candidates. James Dean received less than 1 percent, Chuck Martin received 24.3 percent, Jackson McNeely received 2.16 percent and Donna Strong received 6.71 percent.

There were 2,639 votes cast on Tuesday. Voter turnout was 8.88 percent.

Bedsole serves on the Alabaster City Council, Pemhale is the director of the Shelby County Legislative office.

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The eventual winner of the Republican nomination will face Democrat Cheryl Patton in the special general election on Tuesday, Nov. 17.

The vacancy in House District 49 was created when State Rep. April Weaver, R-Briarfield, announced her resignation to accept an appointment as a regional director of the Department of Health and Human Services.

House District 49 consists of portions of Bibb, Shelby and Chilton Counties. The winner will serve the remainder of Weaver’s term, which ends in late 2022.

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