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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Could Sonny Reagan And His Associates Face Obstruction Of Justice And Other Criminal Charges?


In announcing that his colleague Sonny Reagan had been placed on administrative leave, Alabama Acting Attorney General Van Davis used some curious language, the kind that points to criminal activity.

Davis said Reagan had "undisclosed communications with individuals affiliated with people indicted or under investigation by a Lee County Special Grand Jury."

As if that language weren't strong enough, Davis then dropped this bomb: "Reagan also took other action to impede or obstruct the investigation.”

That is the kind of language often seen in criminal statutes. And it raises this question: Will Reagan, and perhaps the individuals with whom he communicated, eventually face obstruction of justice and related charges?

Like more than half of the states, Alabama has a broad criminal statute that covers obstruction of justice. The crime in Alabama is called "Obstructing Governmental Operations," and it can be found at Code of Alabama 13A-10-2. Here is how it reads:

Section 13A-10-2
Obstructing governmental operations.

(a) A person commits the crime of obstructing governmental operations if, by means of intimidation, physical force or interference or by any other independently unlawful act, he:

(1) Intentionally obstructs, impairs or hinders the administration of law or other governmental function; or

(2) Intentionally prevents a public servant from performing a governmental function.

(b) This section does not apply to the obstruction, impairment or hindrance of the making of an arrest.

(c) Obstructing governmental operations is a Class A misdemeanor.

Obstruction of justice, in the sense normally considered by the public, is a federal offense covered under 18 U.S. Code 1501-1508. The most broad form of the offense is found in the omnibus statute at 18 U.S. Code 1503.

Our research indicates obstruction charges often are brought along with related charges, such as perjury, subornation of perjury, conspiracy, and racketeering.

Those last two charges might be the most worrisome ones for Reagan and the individuals with whom he communicated. By definition, conspiracy and racketeering can involve multiple defendants and possible federal jurisdiction.

Racketeering generally is covered under the federal RICO statutes, and violation of a state statute can be a predicate offense for launching a RICO case. For now, it is too early to say that the Reagan case might get that serious. It probably will depend on what Davis meant when he said, "Reagan also took other action to impede or obstruct the investigation.”

At a minimum, the Reagan case is an embarrassment for the AG's office and it calls into question Reagan's fitness for practicing law. At a maximum, it could lead to a wide-ranging criminal investigation, threatening powerful conservative figures with federal charges and possible prison time.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Will The Unmasking Of Sonny Reagan Help Alabama Climb Slowly Out Of The Corruption Muck?

Sonny Reagan

A high-profile member of the Alabama Attorney General's Office faces disciplinary action for allegedly leaking information to suspects under investigation by the Lee County grand jury. At first glance, the story might seem like a ho-hummer to many citizens. But we think it has the potential to be one of the most important stories in modern Alabama history, perhaps with national implications. It even could represent a watershed moment, when a state that long has ranked among the top 10 for corruption slowly starts climbing out of the muck.

We will call the story "The Unmasking of Sonny Reagan." It could be historically important because of its potential to unmask some of Alabama's most powerful political figures, bad actors who have brought a virulent strain of conservative corruption to the state over the past 20 years or so.

We are quick to acknowledge that the white elites who control Alabama--attorney Donald Watkins calls them a conservative oligarchy--are a slippery bunch. They are capable of making payoffs or concocting cover ups that limit their damages--or make their problems go away altogether.

That certainly could happen with the case of Henry T. "Sonny" Reagan. But we think it might be hard for key players to wriggle out of this mud hole. For one, the charges against Reagan strongly hint at criminal activity. Two, Reagan is unusually well connected, serving now under Attorney General Luther Strange and previously as chief legal advisor to former GOP Governor Bob Riley.

In both of those roles, Reagan has been point man on efforts to close non-Indian gaming facilities, such as Milton McGregor's VictoryLand in Macon County. That means Reagan likely is deeply knowledgeable about the flow of Indian gaming money--both from Mississippi (thanks largely to Jack Abramoff and the Mississippi Choctaw tribe) and from inside Alabama via the Poarch Creek Indians--that has helped turn Alabama's political landscape into a cesspool.

Given the ugliness that Indian gaming cash has wrought around the country . . . well, you can see how the Reagan story could become national in scope if the deputy AG is forced to answer tough questions under oath.

The Lee County grand jury reportedly is focusing on House Speaker Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn), a longtime Riley ally. The plot thickened last week when court documents showed that Special Prosecutor Matt Hart has stated he expects the case to take down both Hubbard and "the Riley machine."

Ironically, those documents involved Reagan's efforts to avoid testifying before the grand jury. The irony deepens when you consider that one of Reagan's attorneys was Rob Riley, the former governor's son.

How ugly could all of this get? Bill Britt, of Alabama Political Reporter, provides clues with a piece out today titled "Unmasking the Jackals: Inside the AG Conspiracy." Writes Britt:

Last week, Hubbard’s criminal defense attorney J. Mark White tried to insulate his client from the Reagan scandal by saying, “...there has been no communication between the two men [Hubbard and Reagan] in person, by phone, letter, email, carrier pigeon, or smoke signal. For anyone to suggest otherwise would warrant a diagnosis of 'factual deficit disorder.'”

White is juggling like a circus clown attempting to distract everyone away from the main attraction in the center ring. Reagan’s actions are linked to his relationship with former Gov. Bob Riley, not Hubbard. The Reagan affair cuts to the heart of the matter: it is the Riley Machine at work to save itself.

This is family business for this pack of jackals.

Britt makes special note of Rob Riley's presence--and his connections to a man who now stands accused of trying to subvert justice:

The former governor’s son is Reagan’s attorney, which clearly shows a bright-line connection to the Riley Machine. And if the Reagan/Riley connection is not bright enough, the fact that Rob Riley has been Hubbard’s attorney of record since the late 90's should start to illuminate the truth.

So it is that Reagan, owes his career to Gov. Riley.

Hubbard is Riley’s second son and Rob represents them all.

This dark alliance should come as no surprise, but the fact that Rob Riley is the shadow attorney for Hubbard and Reagan, is definitely an unholy Communion.

Acting Attorney General Van Davis announced Friday that Reagan had been placed on administrative leave. In so doing, Davis clearly hinted at the possibility of criminal charges. From Mike Cason of al.com:


Davis said he informed Strange on Wednesday that Reagan has had "undisclosed communications with individuals affiliated with people indicted or under investigation by the Lee County Special Grand Jury."

"Reagan also took other action to impede the investigation," Davis said in a statement released by Strange's office.

Where could this be heading on the criminal front? We will examine that question in an upcoming post.

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Republican "Riley Machine" Apparently Is Among The Targets In Alabama Criminal Investigation


Bob Riley
Former Governor Bob Riley and his associates are among the targets in an ongoing Alabama grand-jury investigation, according to documents released this week.

The Lee County grand jury has been known to be focusing on House Speaker Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn). But documents in an article at Alabama Political Reporter indicate that Bob Riley, his family members, and political associates also are targets.

The documents surfaced from an effort to prevent Deputy Attorney General, and longtime Riley ally Sonny Reagan, from testifying before the grand jury. A judge denied Reagan's request, presented by Birmingham attorneys Bill Baxley and Rob Riley (Bob's son).

Reagan has been point man, under both Bob Riley and current Attorney General Luther Strange, in efforts to shut down non-Indian casinos that feature electronic bingo.

In a July 22, 2014, memo to a chief administrator in the AG's office (marked as Exhibit C), Reagan provided details about his contentious relationship with Matt Hart, head of the Special Prosecutions Division and a key figure in the Lee County case.

Reagan writes the following about Hart:

On Monday, March 31, 2014, Matt arrived at his office and I was sitting at my desk with the door open. When Matt saw me at my desk, he stepped into my office to tell me that he was about to announce an arrest resulting from his investigation. He then asked me when I was going to "drop Mike Hubbard as a friend." He told me that Hubbard was going down along with *the Riley machine" and I should prepare myself for that fact. He then walked back into his office.

Later in the same memo, Reagan writes the following in reference to Hart:

In addition to the above events. Matt has had numerous conversations with me about his investigation into House Speaker Mike Hubbard. These conversations took place last year either in my office or in Matt's office, which is located next door to my office. Every discussion that I have had with Matt was initiated by Matt. Matt has told me repeatedly how he plans to take down Hubbard and dismantle '*the Riley machine" and has revealed to me grand jury information, or information described to me as grand jury information.

Who might be considered part of "the Riley machine"? In addition to the former governor, it almost certainly includes his son, Rob Riley; his daughter, Minda Riley Campbell; and Minda's husband, Rob Campbell, an attorney at the Birmingham firm Bradley Arant. According to published reports, the governor's office sent more than $10 million in taxpayer funds to Bradley Arant during the final two years of Riley's term, a period when a crusade against non-Indian gaming took center stage.

Reagan's memo shines light on recent reports that Chief of Staff Kevin Turner is holding a "secret" over Luther Strange's head in an effort to get Matt Hart removed from the Lee County case. Turner was a lawyer at Bradley Arant before joining the AG's staff. Is it possible that Hart's interest in Team Riley could lead to unwanted scrutiny for Bradley Arant--and Turner wants to make sure that doesn't happen?

Rob Riley
In his memo, Reagan states that his problems with Hart began with a dispute over office space. But the memo, taken as a whole, indicates Reagan's real concern is Hart's interest in the "Riley machine" and its extensive money trail, which appears to run into and out of the Bradley Arant law firm.

Who is Matt Hart? Well, we have written about him before, and it has not been in a flattering way. In fact, we gave two thumbs down to reports that Hart would join the attorney general's office under Luther Strange.

But we are reconsidering our stance on Matt Hart. We have written many times that Bob Riley and his associates have brought an extraordinarily ugly form of corruption to Alabama--and given our state's history with slippery politicians, that is saying something.

If Matt Hart can, in fact, dismantle "the Riley machine," he would be performing a massive public service--and it might actually change Alabama from a glorified banana republic to a state that could eventually capitalize on its untapped potential.

I know personally what it is like to be a victim of the corrupt Riley machine. I would love to help Matt Hart bring them down--and I have information that might be relevant to the task.

Whether I'm a factor in the investigation or not, I will be watching Matt Hart's actions with great interest. If he is successful in taking apart Team Riley, and holding individuals accountable, he will have my eternal gratitude.


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Beer Company Has Higher Ethical Standards Than Judiciary When It Comes To Domestic Violence


Anheuser-Busch has threatened to pull more than $1 billion in advertising if the National Football League does not start taking a tougher stance against players who engage in domestic violence.

Sounds like America's judiciary should take a lesson from the beer company.

Federal Judge Mark Fuller (Middle District of Alabama) stands accused of beating his wife in an Atlanta hotel room--and it looks like he will keep his job upon completing a 24-week treatment program for alcohol, drug, and domestic-violence issues. U.S. Senator Richard Shelby called on Fuller to resign yesterday, and that's big news, but Shelby supported Fuller for the position--and the senator's words at this point seem to be a case of too little, too late.

According to Facebook reports from Alabama attorney Donald Watkins, some of Fuller's judicial brethren have asked him to step down from his lifetime perch on the bench. But Fuller, it appears, has refused, and we see no signs that the judicial establishment is going to put any bite behind its mild bark.

The folks who make Budweiser are not so timid. From USA Today:

Now the NFL has real trouble on its hands.

Fed up with the league's woeful inconsistencies on domestic violence and its belligerent insistence on protecting misbehaving players, Anheuser-Busch took the NFL to task on Tuesday. No, it didn't say it was pulling its $1.2 billion, six-year contract – yet.

But it doesn't take a marketing genius to see what's down the road if the NFL doesn't get its act together. And fast.


Meanwhile, Judge Mark Fuller does not have to work quickly. He can go into rehab for 24 weeks and hope the public largely forgets about the 911 call that provides evidence of him savagely beating his wife.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Judge Mark Fuller Was A Crook In His Professional Life Before Becoming A Thug In His Personal Life


Don Siegelman
Another Alabama newspaper has called on wife-beating federal judge Mark Fuller to be removed from the bench. We know of at least four state newspapers who have called on Fuller to resign, but the Dothan Eagle took it a step further: It called for Fuller's impeachment.

But like the other editorials, there is something missing from the Eagle's piece. It ignores Fuller's unethical conduct on the bench, while focusing only on his shortcomings as a husband and private citizen.

Those who paid close attention to Fuller's most famous case--the prosecution of former Governor Don Siegelman and former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy--know Fuller was a public crook long before he became known as a private thug.

Fuller has been a bad judge for years, and he should be removed from the bench for that reason. But judges are pretty much untouchable for their corrupt acts from the bench, except on those rare occasions when the U.S. Department of Justice pursues criminal charges against them. The legal community usually binds together to protect corrupt judges, while the mainstream press ignores them, and the public is clueless about them.

That is a fact of American life that needs to change immediately. But for now, let's look at just one example of Fuller's professional crookedness, which resulted in two innocent citizens going to federal prison.

First, we have written several dozen posts showing that Siegelman and Scrushy were innocent of the corruption charges against them. They were convicted, in large part, because Fuller gave improper jury instructions, meaning the defendants were convicted of a "crime" that does not exist under the actual law.

But that is not nearly the worst of Fuller's unethical acts in the Siegelman/Scrushy trial. The worst one came near the beginning of the trial--and if Fuller had ruled correctly, the case would have been over before it had hardly begun.

That's because the alleged illegal acts involving the defendants took place almost a full year outside the five-year statute of limitations. We've already shown that Siegelman and Scrushy were innocent of the charges against them. But without Fuller's unlawful rulings at the outset, they never would have had to defend themselves at all.

How do two defendants go to trial on charges that are so old they are way outside the statute of limitations--and should have been dismissed as a matter of law? It happens when a corrupt judge allows the prosecution to get away with most anything.

In this case, Fuller let prosecutors get away with an indictment that was hopelessly vague. The normal solution for such a problem is for the judge to order a bill of particulars, forcing the prosecution to lay out its case with sufficient specificity. Without that, defendants don't know what wrongful acts they are alleged to have committed, and when they allegedly committed them. They are left to defend against what might be called "ghost charges."

As we showed in a previous post, even former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, now convicted as a child rapist, was given the benefit of a bill of particulars. Fuller denied that request for Siegelman and Scrushy. It only became apparent after days of testimony that the alleged wrongful acts had taken place in summer 1999. Given that the original indictment was issued in May 2005, that meant the charges were brought almost six years after the fact--well beyond the five-year statute of limitations.

Defense lawyers properly raised the statute of limitations defense again at the close of testimony, and Fuller cheated them a second time, on the same issue. Here is how we summed it up in a previous post:

If Fuller had ruled according to law, Siegelman and Scrushy never would have faced a trial. But Fuller didn't stop there; he cheated the defendants again after the trial was over. Defense lawyers filed a Rule 29 motion, asking for a judgment of acquittal because testimony had shown the key bribery charge was brought too late. Fuller wrongfully denied the motion, and the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, misreading simple procedural law and butchering its own precedent, found that defense lawyers had waived the statute of limitations defense by failing to properly raise it at trial.

A clear reading of Rule 29 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure--plus a pertinent case styled Phillips v. U.S., 843 F. 2d 438 (11th Cir., 1988)--shows that the Siegelman/Scrushy defense team raised the issue in a proper fashion and did not waive it.


The public, and Alabama newspapers, are understandably outraged that Fuller stands charged of beating his wife--and faces a 24-month treatment program for alcohol, drug, and domestic-violence issues? But where is the outrage about his unethical conduct as a judge? Why does no one seem interested in holding him accountable for sending innocent individuals to prison?


Monday, September 15, 2014

Even Luther Strange's Lawyers Seem To Admit That Games At VictoryLand Casino Constitute Bingo


Joe Espy and Milton McGregor

The VictoryLand forfeiture trial concluded on Friday, with even lawyers for Attorney General Luther Strange seeming to admit that the machines at the VictoryLand casino play bingo.

We certainly did not see that one coming.

The trial portion of the proceedings ended on Friday, with Judge William Shashy instructing both sides to submit briefs, which he will consider before making a final ruling. That process is expected to take about 45 days.

How did Strange's lawyers, at least in our eyes, admit that the VictoryLand machines play bingo? They seemed to focus heavily on whether the constitutional amendment allowing bingo in Macon County allowed "electronic" forms of the game. In fact, Deputy Attorney General Sonny Reagan repeatedly asked Tuskegee Mayor Johnny Ford why the word "electronic" was not in the constitutional amendment.

In the past, Strange's office had focused on the notion that the VictoryLand machines did not constitute the game commonly known as bingo, that they are slot machines or gambling devices that are illegal under Alabama statute. Perhaps I missed it, but I don't recall seeing in court documents where the Strange team argued in previous proceedings about the word "electronic" being absent from the amendment.

Is that because Strange this time did not have an expert witness to counter VictoryLand's contentions that the machines do, in fact, play bingo? Perhaps.

But by focusing on the "electronic" issue, Reagan seemed to admit that the machines play bingo. His argument this time, more or less, was: The machines are illegal because they are electronic, not because they don't play bingo.

We already have cited three grounds, under the law, that require Shashy to rule in VictoryLand's favor and force the AG's office to return machines and cash to the casino.

Reagan's argument seems to create a fourth reason that Shashy must rule in VictoryLand's favor. Perhaps that's why the Montgomery Advertiser quoted casino lawyer Joe Espy sounding confident about the outcome:

"In all my years of practicing, that was quite honestly the weakest case I've ever argued against," attorney Joe Espy said. "I don't see how the state can survive what's happened here these last four days."



Friday, September 12, 2014

How Can Luther Strange Win VictoryLand Case Without An Expert Witness on E-Bingo Machines?


Joe Espy and Milton McGregor
We already have outlined two reasons Attorney General Luther Strange cannot win, under the law, at the VictoryLand forfeiture trial this week in Montgomery. (See here and here.) The trial itself has given us a third reason, with the state announcing it will not call its gambling-machine expert.

That means any testimony presented by gambling experts for VictoryLand owner Milton McGregor will go uncontroverted. McGregor has a powerful legal team, led by Joe Espy and Charlanna Spencer, and they are expected to present expert witnesses to show that the electronic-bingo machines at VictoryLand casino are legal under Macon County's 2003 constitutional amendment.

If VictoryLand's experts show Montgomery County Circuit Judge William Shashy that the machines are legal, and the AG's office presents no expert to counter that, the controversy should be settled. Law, it seems, doesn't get much simpler than that.

Montgomery Advertiser reporter Josh Moon picked up on that point in this blog post from the courtroom, referring to the testimony of a VictoryLand expert:

Josh Moon @Josh_Moon Here's what I don't get: if this guy w/his background says these games are bingo and state has no expert saying otherwise, isn't that a wrap?

That's an excellent question from Mr. Moon, and the answer is, "Yes, that should be a wrap"--not even counting the points we raised in our two previous posts that also should have made the case a wrap.

We're not sure what the AG's office is up to with its trial "plan," but its decision to pull expert witness William Holmes (age 81) did provide some comic relief. From the Montgomery Advertiser:


The state also told the court that it wouldn’t be calling its expert witness, William Holmes, to testify. The AG’s office entered into a two-year, $15,000-per-year contract with Holmes after its previous expert, Bob Sertell, died in May.

Lawyers for VictoryLand and owner Milton McGregor had filed a motion to exclude Holmes as an expert, because the 81-year-old former FBI agent, who retired 26 years ago, had never examined or played an electronic bingo machine.

The AG's trial strategy seems to be farcical. It replaced a dead expert witness with one who is 81 years old, has been retired for 26 years, and admittedly (it seems) has never examined an electronic-bingo machine.

Deputy AG Sonny Reagan bragged in court that his office has twice won favorable rulings in bingo trials without calling an expert gaming witness. That can only lead one to conclude that Reagan must have been facing incompetent opposing counsel (Espy, Spencer & Co. could hardly be described as incompetent) or he was the beneficiary of a crooked/incompetent judge.

Is this all a joke to Luther Strange? Is he unconcerned about Shashy's ruling because he knows the Alabama Supreme Court consistently has ruled in his favor, contrary to all kinds of law? Was Strange's goal simply to damage McGregor financially, and that's been accomplished, so the AG doesn't care about the outcome of this forfeiture trial. According to several reports, Strange's agents so badly damaged VictoryLand's machines that they might now be worthless anyway. Perhaps that's why "Big Luther" doesn't seem to be putting much effort into this trial.

That leaves us with this question: Does VictoryLand have grounds to seek civil remedies for the huge damages it has suffered from being closed some 19 months, especially if the AG's raid is proven to have been unlawful? Our guess is that such damages probably range in the hundreds of millions of dollars--at least.

Strange likely is protected by prosecutorial immunity, and it often is difficult to sue the state under Eleventh Amendment immunity. Perhaps Espy and Spencer have a plan for seeking monetary justice on their client's behalf--from somewhere--but our guess is that any legal avenues will be slim and narrow.

Will the Alabama Supreme Court once again, in spite of all evidence and law to the contrary, give Strange a favorable ruling on his inevitable appeal? If that happens, it will be time for the U.S. Justice Department to enter the picture and start measuring all nine justices for orange jumpsuits.

That's the kind of action it might ultimately take to restore any sense of justice in perhaps the nation's most corrupt state court system.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

VictoryLand Forfeiture Case Will Determine If Alabama Courts Have Any Integrity Left At All

Milton McGregor

The VictoryLand forfeiture case, going on this week in the courtroom of Montgomery Circuit Judge William Shashy, will determine if the Alabama court system has a shred of integrity left.

On the surface, the case is about electronic-bingo equipment. VictoryLand maintains that its machines, equipment and cash were unlawfully seized in a February 2013 raid conducted by Attorney General Luther Strange. The AG's office maintains the equipment represents illegal gambling devices and should be destroyed.

The real entity on trial, however, is the Alabama court system--and the judges who rule over it.

That's because the facts and law in the VictoryLand case are stunningly straightforward--and they have been since Strange's operatives stormed the Macon County facility roughly 19 months ago.

As we showed in a post yesterday, the law clearly shows that VictoryLand and owner Milton McGregor have the correct position here. According to the Montgomery Advertiser, Strange's office does not even have a certified electronic-gaming expert to counter VictoryLand's testimony.

The e-bingo machines in question were operating lawfully, under a constitutional amendment approved in 2003 by Macon County voters, and never should have been seized. In fact, no one even questioned their legality for seven years. That happened only after former governor Bob Riley decided to launch a crusade against non-Indian gaming during his last two years in office.

Riley had been the beneficiary of millions of campaign dollars from Indian gaming interests, much of it funneled through GOP felon Jack Abramoff, so his raids apparently were based on politics and not the law. If the law accounts for anything in Alabama, the machines will be returned to VictoryLand as soon as possible.

Moreover, it's clear that Macon County Circuit Judge Thomas Young was correct in 2013 to deny Strange's request for a search warrant--and the Alabama Supreme Court was wrong to force Young to sign the search warrant and then step down from the case.

The key facts and law on this case can be examined in a series of posts we wrote last year about the VictoryLand case. Nothing about the fundamental law and facts has changed since then, and the only questions are: (1) Will Shashy rule according to law and order VictoryLand's equipment returned? and (2) Will the Alabama Supreme Court correctly deny Strange's inevitable appeal?

The high court has consistently violated its own precedent to side with Strange and Riley in their crusade against non-Indian gaming facilities--which appears driven by the huge sums of money both have received from Indian gaming interests.

Does that mean the all-Republican Alabama Supreme Court is tainted by Indian gaming cash? Is it possible something has caused the high court to change, and it now will rule lawfully for VictoryLand?

How easy is the law in the VictoryLand case? Here are the two overriding issues:

(1) Strange claims that the casino's machines violate state statues that outlaw slot machines and illegal gambling devices. But e-bingo in Macon County was approved by a constitutional amendment, and the Alabama Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly that a constitutional amendment overrides a state statute. To use gaming lingo, the constitutional nature of the Macon County law "trumps" anything Strange can come up with of a statutory nature.

(2) Strange claims the game played on the machines does not match what commonly is defined as bingo. But again, Amendment 744 ("Bingo Games in Macon County) takes care of that issue. The amendment states:

The sheriff shall promulgate rules and regulations for the licensing and operation of bingo games within the county. The sheriff shall insure compliance pursuant to any rule or regulation and the following requirements . . .


Judge Young, in denying Strange's application for a search warrant, addressed this issue:

In the instant case, given the fact that the Constitutional Amendment which provides for bingo being played at Victoryland allows the Sheriff to make a determination as to the nature of the bingo, and further, given the fact that he has publicly declared the machines presently located at that location to comply with the Supreme Court guidance in Cornerstone, there is clearly a lack of sufficient probable cause to warrant such an extraordinary writ.

In other words, it's up to the sheriff to decide if a certain game meets the definition of bingo. And the Macon County sheriff has ruled in the affirmative.

That, plus the fact that a constitutional amendment trumps a state statute, means Strange never had any lawful grounds to seize VictoryLand's equipment--and he certainly has no grounds to keep it.

This is a high-profile case that is being closely watched both in Alabama and beyond. Will Alabama courts finally get it right on such an easy case? If they don't, will it be time for the U.S. Department of Justice to launch an investigation, perhaps of Luther Strange, his associates, and the Alabama Supreme Court?

We don't know the answer to the first question. But the answer to the second question definitely is yes.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Alabama Taxpayers Continue To See Money Wasted To Fight "Illegal" Gambling That Is, In Fact, Legal


The fight against "illegal" gambling has cost Alabama taxpayers almost $895,000 since 2011, according to a report last week. That figure will rise considerably this week because of a forfeiture trial in which the VictoryLand Casino seeks the return of equipment the attorney general's office seized in February 2013.

The trial began yesterday before Montgomery County Circuit Judge William Shashy. Why is the trial in Montgomery when VictoryLand is in Macon County? That's because Macon County Judge Thomas Young correctly denied Attorney General Luther Strange a search warrant, so Strange asked the Alabama Supreme Court to force Young off the case.

The All-Republican Supreme Court, which has routinely violated its own precedent to allow raids of non-Indian gaming facilities, granted Strange's request. That's why Shashy, who was appointed to the bench by former Republican Governor Fob James, is hearing the case. Strange wants Shashy to allow his office to destroy some 1,615 machines and $223,000 in cash that was seized from Victoryland, the facility that long has been run by Milton McGregor.

By the way, the recent report about the cost of the anti-gambling crusade since 2011 doesn't come close to the actual figure. As we reported here, the Birmingham law firm Bradley Arant sucked up $10 million of state dollars during the final two years of Governor Bob Riley's tenure, when the administration largely was fighting non-Indian gaming. Associated Press reported that Riley paid Bradley Arant more than $536,000 for work related to the anti-gambling task force. (Riley's son-in-law, Rob Campbell just happens to be a partner at Bradley Arant.) The true cost to Alabama taxpayers numbers way into the millions.

Why do we say in our headline that money spent on the bingo battle is being "wasted." Why do we put quotation marks around the term "illegal"? The basic answer is simple; anyone with minimal reading-comprehension skills can figure it out.

Voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2003, allowing electronic bingo in Macon County, and the VictoryLand Casino operated lawfully for seven years. That changed when former Bob Riley decided to spend most of his final two years in office conducting a crusade against non-Indian gaming facilities in Alabama. When Riley's term ended in January 2011, Strange stepped in as attorney general to keep the crusade rolling.

Is it a coincidence that Riley opposes non-Indian gaming, considering that he benefited from $20 million of Indian gaming funds, much of it funneled through GOP felon Jack Abramoff? Is it coincidence that Riley's son, Birmingham lawyer Rob Riley, helped funnel $100,000 of Poarch Creek Indian funds to an organization supposedly designed to fight gaming on all fronts? Is it a coincidence that Luther Strange received $100,000 in campaign funds from the Poarch Creek Indians?

The answer to all of these questions likely is no. And a reasonable person could conclude that all of these transactions involved a "quid pro quo," meaning the politicos agreed to shut down the tribes' gaming competitors in exchange for campaign cash. If proven, that is the kind of illegal deal that can send a public figure to federal prison for years. If proven that the Alabama Supreme Court made it happen via a string of unlawful rulings . . . well, one can only imagine how Chief Justice Roy Moore and his colleagues might look in orange jump suits.

We're not sure what will happen in Judge Shashy's courtroom this week (and perhaps into next week). But it doesn't really matter because we've already proven in a lengthy series of posts that electronic bingo is legal in Macon County. (For the record, our research shows electronic bingo also is legal in Houston County; we have not studied the constitutional amendments for Greene and Lowndes counties, but our guess is that e-bingo is legal there, too.)

By the way, you can check out our series of posts on the Macon County issue here.

Why do we say the issue is simple? Well, the gist of the matter is this: Strange's main argument is that the VictoryLand machines violate state statutes that outlaw slot machines and illegal gambling devices. A simple concept of state law, however, is this: A constitutional amendment trumps a state statute.

Chorba-Lee Scholarship Fund v. Sheriff Mike Hale, et al, 60 So. 3d 269 (2010) is just one of many cases in which the Alabama Supreme Court has spelled this out.

'Undeniably, the legislature cannot enact a statute that conflicts with the Constitution, that is, that prohibits that which is permitted by the Constitution or that permits that which is prohibited by the Constitution.'" Opinion of the Justices No. 373, 795 So.2d 630, 632 (Ala.2001) (quoting City of Birmingham v. Graffeo, 551 So.2d 357, 361-62 (Ala. 1989)).

We will provide more details in an upcoming post. But you can see why we say this involves a simple matter of law. You can also see why we say the Alabama Supreme Court has repeatedly violated its own precedent.

Who will be the winner in the Montgomery courtroom? Our first guess is that Judge Shashy already has received instructions to rule against VictoryLand--and he will do just that. If Shasy proves to be competent and honest, Strange will appeal to the Alabama Supreme Court--and it will rule in the AG's favor.

The winner might be in doubt, but Alabama taxpayers are the clear losers. Millions of their dollars are being wasted on a legal battle that never should have started in the first place.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Football Star Ray Rice Gets Cut For Domestic Abuse, While Federal Judge Mark Fuller Still Has His Job


Mark Fuller

Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was cut from the team yesterday after new video revealed details about the violence involved in his domestic-abuse case. Meanwhile, Alabama federal judge Mark Fuller has been sentenced to 24 weeks of treatment for drug, alcohol and domestic-violence issues--but it appears he will keep his job and escape criminal prosecution.

A number of online news outlets picked up on the discrepancy. Perhaps my favorite was from Esquire, with the title "A Tale of Two Thugs."

You might think Fuller's hearing last Friday in Atlanta would have been a somber occasion. But the judge and his lawyer issued two of the most outrageous quotes I've heard in a while. Either Fuller and his lawyer think the public consists of dolts--or they are trying out for the comedy-club circuit, or both.

Here are a few of the disturbing questions raised by the Rice and Fuller cases:

* Do Americans hold professional football players to a higher standard than they have for federal judges?

* Is Rice getting rougher treatment because he is black, and Fuller is white?

* Do we need protests like the one that followed the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri?

Yes, video evidence played a key role in sealing Ray Rice's fate. But there is powerful audio evidence in the Fuller case--where it sounds like a serious beating is being administered to Fuller's wife in an Atlanta hotel room. She is heard to scream, "He's beating on me! Please help me!"

What about those quotes that came out of the Fuller hearing? Let's try this one, as reported by al.com, from attorney Barry Ragsdale, referring to Fuller:

"He doesn't have a drug or alcohol problem and never has," Ragsdale said.

Right, that's why Fuller accepted a 24-week diversion program administered by a Georgia court that, according to the Montgomery Advertiser, includes drug and alcohol evaluation. My research shows that 90 days is standard for drug rehab. Fuller is getting twice that long, but we are to believe he has no drug or alcohol problems? Sheesh!

Here's the outrageous Fuller quote:

"I reached this difficult decision after consulting with my family, and deciding that it was in every one's best interests to put this incident behind us," Fuller stated. "While I regret that my decision means that the full and complete facts regarding this incident will likely not come out, I have no doubt that it is what is best for all involved."

Mark Fuller wants "the full and complete facts" to come out? This is the same guy who, during a divorce from his first wife, asked that the case file be sealed so that revelations about extramarital affairs, alcohol abuse, prescription-drug abuse, and child abuse would not come out. (Alabama attorney Donald Watkins states on his Facebook page that he has all the brutal details about the beating Kelli Gregg Fuller sustained, and he intends to publish them.)

Ray Rice
Hey Judge, if you want the full facts out there, why don't you identify the law clerk with whom you allegedly have been carrying on an extramarital affair? Why don't you turn over all of your travel records to show whether or not your mistress ever has traveled with you on the public dime?

During Fuller's 2012 divorce, Montgomery Independent Editor Bob Martin addressed some of the ethical issues that appeared to be present. And Martin showed they appeared to involve violations of the public trust and possible misuse of public funds. Wrote Martin:

Those in a position to know, report that the affair by Judge Fuller, conducted with his former Courtroom Deputy Clerk and bailiff, Kelli Gregg, has been ongoing for four or five years and is basically an “open secret” in the building. Ms. Gregg, who has two children, was divorced by her husband about six months ago.
Sources in a position to know tell the newspaper that Fuller and Gregg have traveled together extensively, including trips to Dothan, New York, Tallahassee and perhaps Las Vegas.

To borrow a phrase from Esquire, Ray Rice seems to be a thug who got what he deserved. But Judge Mark Fuller also seems to be a thug, and he has received mostly protective treatment from his judicial brethren.

The public should not rest until Mark Fuller has been held accountable. And clear signs of racial favoritism in these two cases should not be ignored.