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Judge tosses case against Clarke County sheriff

A judge ruled Wednesday that former Sheriff Ray Norris had entered into a plea agreement with the AG’s office.

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Former Clarke County Sheriff Ray Norris had a valid deal with the Alabama Attorney General’s Office, preventing him from being prosecuted by that office for alleged crimes, a circuit court judge ruled on Wednesday. 

According to the Clarke County Democrat, Norris had been indicted by a Clarke County grand jury on charges of misusing campaign funds, failing to report campaign donations and failing to report income from businesses with which he was involved. However, Norris said he entered a plea agreement with the AG’s office that would see him resign as sheriff and in exchange the AG’s office would not pursue criminal charges against him. Norris resigned last June. 

On Wednesday, retired Judge Braxton Kittrell, who was appointed to hear the case, ruled that Norris’s deal with the AG’s office was valid. As such, the charges against him were due to be dismissed. 

“(Norris and his attorney) relied to their detriment on what they believed to be a plea offer and the sheriff resigned as a result of their understanding,” the judge’s order read. “

It was a strange end to a strange set of legal proceedings, which saw a high profile Montgomery attorney and an assistant attorney general take the stand and testify under oath about the behind-the-scenes deal making that goes on in public corruption cases. 

Attorney Joe Espy, who represented Norris and worked out the deal between the state and Norris, testified for Norris during a hearing last week. Assistant AG Clark Morris testified on behalf of the state. 

Both recounted essentially the same story up to a point – that Norris was facing impeachment charges last spring brought by the AG’s office, which was seeking to have him removed from office. Impeachment proceedings are not criminal charges. 

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Espy and Morris held a few conversations, during which they worked out a deal that would see Norris resign, sparing the AG’s office the expense and time of a trial, and in return the AG’s office would agree not to pursue criminal charges. 

However, Morris testified, according to the Clarke County Democrat, that she was in contact with federal prosecutors and believed they would bring charges against Norris during the summer. When those charges hadn’t been brought by December, she decided to change the deal. 

Both Espy and Morris said the plea deal wasn’t in writing, but Alabama case law has long established that such deals do not necessarily need to be in writing. 

Espy said when he saw the criminal indictment against Norris, he immediately called Morris to remind her of the deal they made. According to the Clarke County Democrat, Espy said Morris told him that “circumstances had changed,” and that she would “make it up to me.”

It’s unclear why federal authorities failed to pursue criminal charges against Norris, or if any attempt might be made in the future to do so.  

Written By

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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