The already strained relationship between the Alabama Attorney General’s Office and the Alabama Department of Corrections somehow became more acrimonious on Wednesday, with an AG’s office official essentially accusing an ADOC attorney of misrepresenting the status of negotiations between the state and the Department of Justice.
AG’s office chief legal counsel Katherine Robertson wrote in a letter to the chairman of the Legislative Contract Review Committee that “a representative of the Department of Corrections,” which was assistant legal counsel Mandy Speirs, “asserted that ‘the attorney general has prohibited [ADOC] from settling the [the DOJ lawsuits] multiple times.’ This statement was false yet appears to have not yet been corrected by [ADOC].”
Speirs made the comments during the Contract Review hearing on July 6, in response to pointed questions from committee members about the ever-rising costs of ADOC legal services contracts. The ongoing DOJ lawsuits over Alabama’s mistreatment of prisoners, poor facilities and inadequate physical and mental health care for inmates have been particularly costly, and the facts of the case seem insurmountable for the state.
At the July 6 hearing, ADOC and the AG’s office were in front of the committee to request nearly $15 million more in legal services contracts for private attorney Bill Lunsford. Rep. Chris England, a committee member, noted that by the end of the prison litigation with DOJ, it’s possible that Lunsford could earn more than $100 million.
In response, Speirs seemed to indicate that ADOC had desires to settle the DOJ lawsuits but had been prevented from doing so by AG Steve Marshall.
In a response to questions from APR afterward, an ADOC spokesperson said that Speirs was referring to Marshall’s public position on the state entering into a consent decree with the federal government. At this point, a consent decree that establishes a period of shared governance between the state and DOJ of Alabama’s prisons, along with certain concrete benchmarks, is the only option for settling the cases.
“In short, a consent decree is unacceptable and nonnegotiable,” Marshall said in July 2020. “The State of Alabama shall retain her sovereignty.”
But Robertson said in her letter that that isn’t Marshall’s position today.
“The individual who made this statement has had no discussions with this Office about this case and inexplicably misrepresented the State’s current and historical position,” Robertson wrote. “As our attorney of record informed the Court months ago, the State is willing to return to settlement negotiations with DOJ as soon as DOJ accepts our invitation.”
ADOC did not respond late Wednesday to a request for comment from APR.
This is not the only point of contention between the two agencies, and it doesn’t appear as if it will be the last. In April, without warning and with no notice to ADOC attorneys, Marshall stripped ADOC attorneys of deputy AG/assistant AG statuses – statuses that are required in Alabama for attorneys to represent the state in any legal proceeding.
That has led to almost all ADOC legal work being shifted to the AG’s office, and it has led to confusing scenes like the one that played out before the Contract Review Committee, where ADOC and AG’s office reps each presented ADOC legal services contracts.
During that hearing, both Speirs and Robertson took thinly-veiled shots at the other agency. Robertson noted the high costs of ADOC’s outside legal contracts and said that appears to be something that the AG’s office is getting away from. Speirs and ADOC noted that the AG’s office signed off on all of ADOC’s legal services contracts. That includes the tens of millions in contracts to Lunsford for his work on the DOJ lawsuits.
To wrap up her letter to Contract Review, Robertson emphasized that the AG’s office wants to put the DOJ lawsuits behind it.
“Though the Rules of Professional Conduct restrict us from saying much more on this topic, we felt that it was imperative to correct this error, which serves only to complicate and undermine our efforts to resolve this matter,” she wrote. “Rest assured, we look very forward to the concluding this case in a manner that best serves the people of Alabama.”