The story might raise again questions about Riley's ties to Mississippi gaming interests and disgraced Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
In a story published online yesterday, the Independent reports that Riley contacted one or more members of the Alabama Supreme Court in an effort to overturn a recent decision by Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb in a case involving bingo at White Hall in Lowndes County. Reports the Independent:
The matter involved a judge assignment in a case brought by the governor and his task force on gambling against a bingo operation at White Hall in Lowndes County. The operation uses electronic machines for customers to play bingo permitted under a special constitutional amendment for White Hall.
Cobb, a Democrat who defeated Riley appointee Drayton Nabers in 2006, assigned the case to Jefferson County Circuit Judge Robert Vance, who already was hearing a similar case in Walker County. Vance, a Democrat, was appointed to his current position by former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman.
The Independent reports that Riley went "ballistic" upon learning of Cobb's decision and vowed to overturn it. He might have stepped over a number of ethical boundaries in his efforts, the Independent reports:
Last week this newspaper received information that on or about July 29, 2009, the governor, a party to the lawsuit, placed a telephone call to one or more of the justices, urging them to overrule Cobb and remove Vance from the case. The information we received was that the phone call was while the governor was in Washington and that one of the lawyers hired to advise his gambling task force, may have been with the governor at the time. A communication with a judge in a case by a party or a lawyer for one side without the lawyers representing other parties being present violates all kinds of judicial ethics rules and laws.
The Independent apparently smells a potentially explosive story:
We have not seen the governor's telephone logs, but we do know that the governor was in Washington on July 29 because of his Twitter messages. For example at 6:51 a.m. on July 29, he twitted the following message: "Headed to Washington to discuss Water Wars strategy with the congressional delegation."
Since neither the governor nor his office has returned our call, we do not know who, if anyone, was with him in Washington, but we will be watching for the next post of those traveling on state planes.
Several justices denied receiving such a call or refused to answer questions about it. They voted 9-0 to uphold Cobb's appointment of Vance. But the Independent is urging an investigation:
If there was any attempt to improperly influence the court, the vote demonstrates such was rejected by the justices and that is to their credit.
However, we believe this is not a trivial matter and urge the Judicial Inquiry Commission, Attorney General Troy King or Montgomery DA Ellen Brooks to obtain the phone records and determine whether or not the governor made these calls and, if so, were any laws or ethics rules violated?
This is not the first report about Riley's possible attempts to interfere with the justice system. Scott Horton, of Harper's, reported that Riley urged U.S. Attorney Leura Canary to bring a prosecution against insurance executive John Goff--after Goff had filed a lawsuit against Riley and several Republican operatives. Canary did, in fact, bring a case against Goff in a matter that already had been settled in an administrative-law court.
It raises anew questions about Riley's ties to the gaming industry in Mississippi and disgraced GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff. It also is another example of Riley's stunning hypocrisy on gambling.
A U.S. Senate committee reported that Riley was elected governor in 2002 with the help of $13 million in Mississippi Choctaw funds, laundered through Abramoff. Throughout his term as governor, Riley has opposed gambling initiatives in Alabama, in an apparent effort to protect the interests of his Mississippi gaming supporters.
Have Riley's efforts to protect the Choctaws' business interests finally caused him to step in some serious ethical doo-doo?
The Montgomery Independent apparently intends to find out.