Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall has stripped the entire Department of Corrections legal staff of its assistant AG/deputy AG designations – a move that appears to be unprecedented and that leaves the ADOC attorneys unable to represent the department in most legal matters.
The removal of the ADOC attorneys’ DAG/AAG designations appears to have occurred within the last two weeks and came without warning, according to several sources who spoke with APR on condition of anonymity. Even ADOC’s executive leadership team was not notified prior to the decision being made and has not been provided with a reason for the move, according to sources outside the department.
A spokeswoman for Marshall’s office confirmed to APR on Monday that Marshall has removed the DAG/AAG designations for the ADOC legal staff, but she declined to offer an explanation.
“Some things we are just not at liberty to disclose. Unfortunately, this is one of those,” said Amanda Priest, communications director for the AG’s Office.
According to a source familiar with the way DAG/AAG designations work, the decision by Marshall to pull those designations “essentially neuters” the ADOC staff. The attorneys — there are seven staff attorneys currently employed by ADOC, according to personnel information — would be able to perform some job functions without the designations, but they “can’t perform pretty much any job that really matters,” the source said.
That’s because the DAG/AAG designations are what allow attorneys to represent the state in litigation.
Technically speaking, the Alabama AG and the attorneys who work for the AG are the only attorneys who can represent the state in litigation. But the AAG/DAG designations allow the AG to pass that authority onto attorneys hired by other agencies, such ADOC or the Revenue Department, and to outside attorneys who are contracted to work on specific litigation.
For example, attorney Bill Lunsford, who has been paid millions by the state of Alabama to represent ADOC in its ongoing litigation with the Department of Justice, has a deputy AG status, granted each year by Marshall. He is an outside attorney who doesn’t have merit status within the state’s personnel hierarchy, but the DAG status grants him authority to represent the state in a specific legal matter.
Most staff attorneys, who are also merit system employees, are designated as assistant attorneys general, granting them the authority to handle various litigation matters for their departments. That is particularly important for ADOC, which faces a litany of lawsuits from disgruntled prisoners in addition to the more complicated legal issues being handled by contract attorneys.
Much of that work will apparently fall to other contract attorneys now. In the meantime, the staff attorneys will remain employed, meaning taxpayers could be on the hook for thousands of dollars in additional legal expenses each month – and with no clear explanation as to why.
The ADOC legal staff has experienced some issues of late, however, that could have prompted the decision by Marshall. A few weeks ago, the legal staff was put through the ringer by the legislature’s contract review committee after it was discovered that ADOC allowed a prison health care contract to be signed with a company despite a clear conflict of interest.
That came on the heels of ADOC being forced to scrap a mass prisoner release because the department failed to notify victims and law enforcement officials, as required by law.
ADOC has yet to respond to a request for comment.