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Parole hearings in Alabama will resume today after a two month suspension of hearings

Brandon Moseley

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Monday, State Pardons and Paroles director Judge Charlie Graddick said at a news conference that he speaks for the public by encouraging that actions taken regarding violent offenders be reviewed very carefully.

“Foremost, inmates do not have an innate right to be paroled, they must earn such a privilege,” Graddick told reporters. “Parole consideration dates legally are determined by calculations based on various factors. I will follow the law as I know will board. Our first priority must be the safety of every man, woman and child in Alabama.”

The Pardons and Paroles board made a serious of early releases, some of which ended in violence and death for Alabama citizens, forcing Governor Kay Ivey (R) and Attorney General Steve Marshall (R) to step in in the interests of public safety in 2018. Reforms were put in place this Spring by the legislature. Graddick, who was appointed by Gov. Ivey, said that “The innocent shouldn’t be put in harm’s way. Let us not gamble with innocent lives.”

“Parole decisions will be made by the three-member board,” he said. “I am not a member of the board and I have no vote in its decisions, but my opinion is an educated one, as I have served two terms as district attorney in Mobile, two terms as Alabama Attorney General and almost 20 years as judge and presiding judge of the Mobile’s 13th Judicial Circuit.”

The inmates who are up for parole today include:

Antonio Jackson was sentenced in 2009 to life in prison for two first-degree robberies in St. Clair County. Jackson has been convicted of robbery four times in Jefferson and St Clair counties, and was previously convicted of murder in Georgia. He is serving his fourth prison term. He was granted probation in 1995 and has already been paroled twice only to wind up back in prison.

Steven Wade Hamilton was sentenced in 2010 to 20 years in prison for a first-degree robbery in Calera in Shelby County in which he robbed a convenience store clerk at knifepoint. His other convictions include theft, three burglaries and domestic violence assault. He has been incarcerated five times.

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The Demopolis Times reported in 2012 that Akeem Benison was charged with seven counts of first-degree armed robbery. The Demopolis Police Department said the robberies all took place at the same BP service station over a period, and that each time, Benison would flee after the robbery back to Greene County. Police called him a serial robber. He was sentenced in 2013 to 20 years in prison for robbery.

Charleston George was sentenced in 2009 to 25 years in prison for first-degree robbery in Lee County. He was an employee of Momma Goldberg’s Deli in Auburn and was involved in a robbery in which two masked gunmen held up the restaurant at closing time. George is serving his third prison term. He was sentenced in 2000 to three years in prison and 12 years of probation for two first-degree robberies in Tuskegee.

Alonzo John Goines has committed multiple robberies. WSFA Television in Montgomery reported in 2007 his arrest by Lee County sheriff’s deputies and Phenix City police as a suspect in a string of armed robberies in Smiths and Phenix City. Goines was sentenced in 2013 to 20 years in prison for two counts of first-degree robbery in Russell County after he and an accomplice robbed a store at gunpoint. Goines had already been sentenced to three years in prison in Lee County back in 2008 for another first-degree robbery.

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Donte Lamar Harris was sentenced in 2014 to six years, eight months in prison for first-degree robbery in Millbrook, Elmore County. He robbed at gunpoint three different Dollar General stores over a three-week period.

Antron Marquez Jackson was sentenced in 2003 to 30 years in prison for first-degree robbery in Pike County, his third incarceration. Jackson robbed Ward’s Grocery Store at gunpoint.

William Cameron Cliatt was sentenced in 2006 to 25 years in prison for the first-degree robbery of Crum’s Deli in Henry County during which he brandished a rifle. He is serving his third prison term.

Benjamin James Bradley of Covington County was sentenced in 2008 to 21 years, three months in prison for first-degree robbery. He used a gun to rob the A.W. Herndon store in Andalusia. He has escaped from prison twice during his criminal career.

Richardo Eason of Foley in Baldwin County was sentenced in 2009 to 20 years in prison for the first-degree armed robbery of a gas station clerk. He entered a Bebos gas station armed with a gun and demanded money from the clerk.

Omar Wilik McQueen was sentenced in 1990 to 30 years in prison for first-degree robbery and theft of property in Montgomery County. He robbed a store at gunpoint. McQueen has already been paroled once – back in 2003 – but he wound up right back in prison.

James Leo Williams was convicted of four armed robberies in Jefferson County in 1996-97 and sentenced to 25 years in prison. In each of the robberies, Williams and two accomplices threatened and held guns to the heads of store employees. Williams was paroled once before, in 2006, but wound up right back in prison. His parole was opposed by the attorney general in 2015, 2013 and 2011.

Thomas Edward Howard was sentenced in 2008 to 21 years in prison for first-degree robbery after he robbed a Chevron store in Auburn, Lee County, with a gun on March 3, 2008.

Lonnie Painter is a violent, multi-state offender who was sentenced in 2005 to 20 years in prison for first-degree robbery and two counts of illegal possession/fraudulent use of a credit card in Gardendale, Jefferson County. He lured the robbery victim by asking for a battery jump and then used a knife and threatened to kill the victim. He has been released from prison on parole three times and each time he violated parole.

The state has historically under funded the Alabama Department of Corrections so has very overcrowded aging prisons that are filled with violent and repeat offenders. Gov. Ivey has prioritized building new prisons; but is still working on formulating a plan to pay for the new facilities.
The group Alabamians for Fair Justice coalition objected to Judge Graddick’s insistence that violent offenders not be given paroles.

“As coalition members working for a safer, more just Alabama, we are dismayed by Charlie Graddick’s statements earlier today suggesting that people with a violent offense should not be considered for parole,” the group said in a statement. “Alabama prisons are horrifically overcrowded and unconstitutionally violent. For Graddick to convey the message that the state should keep as many people locked up for as long as possible demonstrates a fundamental disregard of not only Alabama’s current prison crisis, but also the long legacy of racial and geographic disparity in our criminal sentences.”

“The majority of people in Alabama prisons are considered violent by statutory definition,” the Coalition added. “Many crimes not defined as violent by federal law or in other states, including burglary, drug trafficking, extortion and witness intimidation, are considered violent by Alabama’s overly broad definition.”

“We hope the members of Alabama’s parole board will continue using evidence-based practices to evaluate parole eligibility and are able to shut out the political noise aimed to further a chilling effect on parole grants,” the Coalition added. “Reducing paroles means more people will end their sentences and return to communities with no supervision and often no reentry services. This is not smart public safety policy. Given the traumatic and violent conditions in Alabama prisons, reentry assistance is more crucial than ever.”

The Coalition includes the ACLU of Alabama’s Campaign for Smart Justice, Alabama Appleseed, Alabama Arise, Alabama Civic Engagement Coalition, Alabama CURE, Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program, Alabama Justice Initiative, Faith in Action Alabama, Greater Birmingham Ministries, Offender Alumni Association, SPLC Action Fund, and The Ordinary People Society.

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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Roy Moore sues state challenging COVID orders

Moore is arguing that the state has exceeded its authority by issuing COVID-19 restrictions and the statewide mask mandate.

Brandon Moseley

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Former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore

The Foundation for Moral Law and former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore last week filed a lawsuit against Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey and State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris, challenging the constitutionality of their public health orders intended to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

The foundation’s lawsuit was filed in the Federal District Court for the Northern District of Alabama. Moore is seeking damages, a temporary restraining order and a permanent injunction against Ivey and Harris from issuing more mandates.

Moore is arguing that Ivey and Harris have exceeded their authority.

“The Governor and State Health Officer of this State have clearly and repeatedly exceeded their authority under both the Constitution of the United States and the Alabama Constitution over the last six months,” Moore said. “Unconstitutional restriction of church assembly and worship, discriminatory closing of businesses, stay at home orders, social distancing, wearing of masks, and restriction on travel are simply against our rights secured by the Constitution of the United States.”

“We live in a Constitutional Republic and in a State whose motto is ‘We dare defend our rights,’ yet nothing has been done to stop the tyrannical abuse of power,” Moore said. “Our economy has been decimated, jobs lost, schools closed, church doors shut, and we have been told we must stay home and wear mask in public places. People are tired of such abuse!”

“Our Country was formed in crisis and we have withstood disease, pestilence, natural disaster, and wars without being told we must remain in our home and wear mask in public,” Moore said. “The Legislature of Alabama needs to stand up to and tell the Governor that she and the State Health Officer do not have the power to do things that even the Legislature can’t do. Nor can the Legislature give the Governor powers to take away our Constitutional rights when even the Legislature cannot.”

Some former legislators have privately told APR that if Ivey wanted more power to extend the public health emergency past July that legally she should have called a special session and asked the legislature for that authority.

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But some have also suggested that the Legislature does not want to go on the record as either favoring or opposing measures such as the eight-month-long public health emergency, the mask mandate, the closing of businesses and restrictions on capacity in businesses. As such, they are content to say or do nothing on the issue rather than alienating voters on either side.

“For over 200 years, men and women of every race, creed, and color have fought and died to preserve our rights; we don’t need to give them up without a fight,” Moore said.

The Montgomery-based Foundation for Moral Law is a nonprofit corporation dedicated to a strict interpretation of the United States Constitution. The foundation, founded by Moore, is often involved in freedom of religion issues.

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The governor’s statewide mask order expires on Friday if the governor does not extend it.

At least 208,843 Americans, including 2,501 Alabamians, have died from COVID-19 since February. Over 32.8 million people globally have been diagnosed as infected with the novel strain of the coronavirus.

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Lilly Ledbetter speaks about her friendship with Ginsburg

Micah Danney

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Lilly Ledbetter spoke during a virtual campaign event with Sen. Doug Jones on Sept. 21.

When anti-pay-discrimination icon and activist Lilly Ledbetter started receiving mail from late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Ledbetter’s attorney told her to save the envelopes. That’s how unusual it is to get personal mail from a member of the nation’s highest court.

Ledbetter, 82, of Jacksonville, Alabama, shared her memories of her contact with Ginsburg over the last decade during a Facebook live event hosted by Sen. Doug Jones on Monday.

Ginsburg famously read her dissent from the bench, a rare occurrence, in the Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. decision in 2007. The court ruled 5-4 to affirm a lower court’s decision that Ledbetter was not owed damages for pay discrimination because her suit was not filed within 180 days of the setting of the policy that led to her paychecks being less than those of her male colleagues. 

Ledbetter said that Ginsburg “gave me the dignity” of publicly affirming the righteousness of Ledbetter’s case, demonstrating an attention to the details of the suit.

Ginsburg challenged Congress to take action to prevent similar plaintiffs from being denied compensation due to a statute of limitations that can run out before an employee discovers they are being discriminated against. 

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 was passed by Congress with broad bipartisan support and signed into law by President Barack Obama. It resets the statute of limitation’s clock with each paycheck that is reduced by a discriminatory policy.

Ledbetter said that her heart was heavy when she learned of Ginsburg’s death on Friday. The women kept in touch after they met in 2010. That was shortly after the death of Ginsburg’s husband, tax attorney Marty Ginsburg. She spoke about her pain to Ledbetter, whose husband Charles had died two years before.

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“So we both shared that, and we shared a tear,” said Ledbetter.

Ginsburg invited her to her Supreme Court chambers to see a framed copy of the act, next to which hung a pen that Obama used to sign it.

Ginsburg later sent Ledbetter a signed copy of a cookbook honoring her husband that was published by the Supreme Court Historical Society. Included with it was a personal note, as was the case with other pieces of correspondence from the justice that Ledbetter received at her home in Alabama. They were often brochures and other written materials that Ginsburg received that featured photos of both women.

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Ledbetter expressed her support for Jones in his race against GOP challenger Tommy Tuberville. The filling of Ginsburg’s seat is a major factor in that, she said.

“I do have to talk from my heart, because I am scared to death for the few years that I have yet to live because this country is not headed in the right direction,” she said.

She noted that Ginsburg was 60 when she was appointed to the court. Ledbetter said that she opposes any nominee who is younger than 55 because they would not have the experience and breadth of legal knowledge required to properly serve on the Supreme Court.

She said that issues like hers have long-term consequences that are made even more evident by the financial strains resulting from the pandemic, as she would have more retirement savings had she been paid what her male colleagues were.

Jones called Ledbetter a friend and hero of his.

“I’ve been saying to folks lately, if those folks at Goodyear had only done the right thing by Lilly Ledbetter and the women that worked there, maybe they’d still be operating in Gadsden these days,” he said.

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Justice Ginsburg’s death will supercharge a heated 2020 campaign

The passing of one of the court’s most liberal justices so close to the Nov. 3 general election has set off a political firestorm as to what president should pick the next justice — President Donald Trump or Joe Biden, should he defeat Trump in November.

Brandon Moseley

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President Donald Trump, left, and former Vice President Joe Biden, right, are running for president in 2020. (STAFF SGT. TONY HARP/AIR NATIONAL GUARD AND GAGE SKIDMORE/FLIKR)

Just hours after the death of 87-year-old Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Friday, conservatives, including the Alabama-based Foundation for Moral Law, said Ginsburg’s passing is an opportunity to reverse the ideological trend of the nation’s highest court.

The passing of one of the court’s most liberal justices so close to the Nov. 3 general election has set off a political firestorm as to what president should pick the next justice — President Donald Trump or Joe Biden, should he defeat Trump in November.

The controversy over when and how to confirm a new justice will likely supercharge an already heated 2020 election campaign. Trump was at a campaign rally on Friday night when he learned about the justice’s death from reporters.

“Just died? Wow, I did not know that,” Trump said. “She was an amazing woman. Whether you agreed or not she led an amazing life. She was an amazing woman. I am sad to hear that.”

Ginsburg, since her appointment by President Bill Clinton, has been bastion of the court’s more liberal wing. The court was divided with four “liberal” justices led by Ginsburg and four “conservative” justices led by Samuel Alito.

Chief Justice John Roberts, though appointed by President George W. Bush, has been the swing vote on a number of major issues since the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy in 2018. Her death gives Trump the opportunity to appoint her replacement and potentially shape the direction of the court for decades to come.

Conservatives want Trump to select the nominee and the current GOP-controlled Senate to confirm the Trump appointee.

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The Foundation for Moral Law — a conservative legal group founded by former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore — released a statement saying that Ginsburg’s passing is an opportunity to move the court in a more conservative direction.

“For many years United States Supreme Court has been a bastion for liberal anti-God ideology,” Moore said. “The passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg will be an opportunity to reverse this trend. I’m hopeful that President Trump will immediately nominate a true conservative who understands that our rights come from God and no authority in this country can take those rights from us.”

“This is a very critical time for our country and our future and the future of our posterity depends upon our vigilance and direction,” Moore said.

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Judicial Watch, another conservative legal group, echoed Moore’s statement.

“Judicial Watch sends it condolences to the family of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She had a wonderful judicial temperament that will always be remembered,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “President Trump now has a historic opportunity to nominate yet another constitutional conservative who will honor the Constitution and the rule of law across the full spectrum of constitutional issues.”

“And the U.S. Senate should move quickly to work with President Trump to consider and approve a new justice who will faithfully apply the U.S. Constitution,” Fitton said. “There is no reason we cannot have a new justice by Election Day.”

Trump is expected to put forth a nominee to fill Ginsburg’s seat in the coming days, according to ABC News.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, wrote in a statement that, “President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate.”

But Democratic senators and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, disagree.

“The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice,” Schumer wrote on social media Friday, parroting a similar quote McConnell used in 2016 when he refused to give then-President Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, hearings and a vote for confirmation to the court. “Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.”

Republicans in the Senate blocked Obama from selecting Justice Antonin Scalia’s replacement. Scalia was the most conservative jurist on the court.

Ginsburg was a staunch supporter of abortion rights and voter protections, and she played a major role in upholding Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision protecting abortion rights. She also voted in favor of same-sex marriage and to uphold the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act.

Most political observers expect Trump to appoint a woman to fill Ginsburg’s spot. Political insiders have suggested that Trump believes that appointing a woman to the court could help him with woman, a key swing demographic that will likely decide the next election.

Will the Senate confirm Trump’s appointment before the election or wait until after the public votes? If Republicans lose control of the Senate, could a lame duck GOP majority select the direction of the court on their way out?

Alabama Sen. Doug Jones has been widely criticized for his vote against the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh. If the vote comes before the Nov. 3 election, Jones’s decision on whether to confirm Trump’s appointee will be heavily scrutinized.

The questions about the Supreme Court is likely to only further inflame passions on both sides this election cycle.

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Judge dismisses former Drummond exec’s lawsuit against Balch and Bingham

Josh Moon

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(STOCK PHOTO)

A Jefferson County Circuit Court judge has dismissed a lawsuit against the Balch & Bingham law firm filed by a former coal executive who claimed the law firm’s poor legal advice resulted in his conviction on federal bribery charges. 

Judge Tamara Harris Johnson ruled that the statute of limitations had expired on former Drummond Coal vice president David Roberson’s $50 million lawsuit against Balch and his former employer, Drummond.

The suit claimed that Balch attorneys, primarily Joel Gilbert, who was also convicted of federal bribery charges, assured Roberson that a plan to recruit then-State Rep. Oliver Robinson to use his office to thwart efforts by the EPA to clean up toxic soil in the 35th Avenue Superfund site in North Birmingham was legal.

Johnson’s ruling dismissing the lawsuit against Balch didn’t dispute Roberson’s claims but said that under the Alabama Legal Service Liability Action statute, Roberson should have filed his claim no later than November 2018. He filed it in March 2019. 

“All claims against defendant Balch & Bingham are barred by the statute of limitations,” Johnson wrote. 

Johnson said a motion to dismiss filed by Drummond will be addressed separately at a later date. 

Roberson and Gilbert were the only two executives found guilty by a jury in October 2018 in the well-publicized federal case that saw Robinson plead guilty and go to prison for accepting bribes. 

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Roberson maintained his innocence throughout, saying he relied on the advice and counsel of Gilbert and others at Balch. During the sentencing phase, U.S. District Court Judge Abdul Kallon said he was moved by Roberson’s history and the character witnesses who testified on his behalf, and the judge said he found Roberson to be less culpable than Gilbert because he relied on Gilbert’s legal advice. 

Gilbert was sentenced to five years in federal prison. Robinson was sentenced to two and a half years.

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