Three months after Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall stripped all Alabama Department of Corrections attorneys of deputy AG/assistant AG status – effectively preventing the entire department of working on lawsuits – there has still been no official reason provided either to the public or the ADOC, and tensions between the two agencies remain strained.
Following a rather contentious pair of presentations before the legislature’s Contract Review Committee two weeks ago, APR asked both the AG’s office and ADOC to address what is, at best, an odd relationship. At that meeting, for example, ADOC requested that the AG’s office present 20 legal services contracts to the Committee, while ADOC handled presenting just one large contract.
When pressed repeatedly by the Committee members for why the contracts were being handled in such a manner, AG’s office chief counsel Katherine Robertson said she was unsure and that the ADOC representatives might be better equipped to answer.
However, ADOC assistant general counsel Mandy Speirs also didn’t specifically answer the question, instead noting that she and other ADOC attorneys had been stripped of the authority to handle all legal matters.
In responses to APR’s questions, neither agency provided more clarity on the situation. ADOC said it has never received an explanation for Marshall’s actions. The AG’s office said it wouldn’t comment on issues because they are related to attorney-client privilege. The two agencies also declined to address what appears to be obvious bad blood between them and how it might affect their working relationship.
Two sources familiar with the decision to strip the ADOC attorney of DAG/AAG statuses told APR that the AG’s office made the move in order to take control of outside legal contracts, believing that ADOC was overspending on attorneys to handle several legal matters.
During her presentation to the Committee, Robertson made comments that also seemed to support that view. She noted that the AG’s office has taken over Corrections’ legal services contracts and that many of the contracts pre-dated Marshall’s tenure. She also specifically said that there are no new contracts for attorney Bill Lunsford – the recipient of all 21 ADOC legal services contracts during the Contract Review hearing – and that “maybe that’s something we’re moving away from.”
However, a separate source told APR that the move by Marshall was an attempt to avoid blame for a swelling legal services bill for both the AG’s office and ADOC. Those contracts are now costing the state and taxpayers tens of millions of dollars annually, and the costs continue to rise. ADOC’s costly legal services contracts have drawn particular public scrutiny.
In response to a question from APR, an ADOC spokesperson confirmed that despite the AG’s office public comments regarding a change in approach when it comes to handling ADOC lawsuits with outside counsel, every contract that ADOC entered for legal services was approved by the AG’s office.
A source also provided APR with a number of contracts between Lunsford and ADOC. With each of those contracts were documents showing that Lunsford’s contracts and status as a Deputy AG – a requirement in Alabama for an attorney to represent the state in legal matters – had been approved and signed off on by Marshall.
However, Robertson said during her presentation to the Committee that while Marshall did sign off on the contracts, it was ADOC which recommended Lunsford as part of a broad strategy to have one attorney handle multiple, overlapping legal matters.
A source told APR that unless the request is particularly egregious or problematic, the AG’s office typically doesn’t second guess another agency’s legal strategy.
Regardless of the true intentions of the move to strip ADOC attorneys of DAG/AAG statuses, the situation seems less than ideal for taxpayers. Currently, ADOC employs six attorneys, none of whom are allowed to handle legal matters for the agency. Instead, that work is being handled by the AG’s office, which is also apparently trying to simultaneously cut down the number of outside counsel contracts, adding more work to that agency.
And there remains no public explanation for any of it.