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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Obama Should Be Listening to Message from Alabama Democrats

Elisabeth French
Democrats in Alabama sent a resounding message last week with their surprising resolution to a dispute over the nominee for a judicial seat in Jefferson County. We would suggest that President Barack Obama pay attention.

By choosing Elisabeth French over Nicole Gordon Still for the judicial nomination in Birmingham, the Alabama Democratic Executive Committee (ADEC) revealed a distaste for anyone with connections to the state's political and corporate elite. Because the decision involved a judgeship, the ADEC also seemed to be expressing its concern about the justice system--in Alabama and beyond.

The message, in our view, boils down to this: "We've seen our federal justice system used as a political weapon. We've seen corporate interests buy up our state justice system. Too many Democrats have stood by silently while this happened--and we are sick of it. We support judges who are not beholden to the business or legal establishment. We support judges who apply the law equally to all."

If Obama and other national Democrats ignore this message, they will do so at their peril. And we suspect they will pay a heavy price at the ballot box in November.

Alabama's mainstream press has tended to portray ADEC's decision as based on race. French is black and Still is white--and the nomination came open when Kenya Lavender Marshall, who is black and won the Democratic primary, had her law license suspended over allegations from the Alabama State Bar that she had misappropriated some $30,000 from a client account.

But this is not the first time recently that Alabama Democrats have rejected a candidate who seemed too cozy with the state's elites. Just a few weeks back, Artur Davis was beaten soundly in the party's primary for governor. Davis, who is black, had sought support from the Business Council of Alabama and other corporate types. Still had been appointed to the judicial seat last June by GOP Governor Bob Riley, and we suspect that helped sink her chances with the Democratic committee.

Also, an extraordinary speech by Montgomery attorney Joe Morgan Reed seemed to set the stage for the ADEC's decision. (See video below.) In nominating French, Reed did something that lawyers almost never do--he admitted that our justice system is badly broken. After introducing himself as a member of the "brass knuckles wing of the Democratic Party"--and that fighting spirit seemed to resonate--Reed got down to the painful truth:

"For a lot of you who do not have a law license, I can tell you that one of the worst places you will go is a courtroom. You think you might be treated fairly, but you probably in all likelihood will not be. It is a different kind of justice--one that is Republican and one that is Democrat.

"We have Democrats who act like Republicans. We have Republicans who are definitely Republicans. We now have an opportunity to put a Democrat . . . a Democrat . . . a Democrat in office. . . .  We need a judge who will be a Democrat 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year."

With his brief speech, Joe Morgan Reed seemed to seize the day. And his nominee, Elisabeth French, went on to win handily.

No Republican qualified for the race, so French is expected to take her place on the court in January 2011.  Many questions remain, including this one: Did the Alabama State Bar treat Kenya Lavender Marshall fairly--or did it have political motives in acting only after Marshall had beaten Still in the Democratic primary?

The Alabama State Bar tends to act in a secretive fashion, so it is hard to answer such questions. The public knows little about the evidence against Marshall, and knows even less about whether she had a valid explanation for the problems with her trust accounts.

We can, however, attempt to compare her case to similar cases that have been before the State Bar. We know of one case in particular from the 1990s that involved three Birmingham lawyers and allegations that they mishandled client funds.

We have been looking back at that earlier case and will write about it shortly. What are our conclusions? Well, we are still working on that. But we know this: The 1990s case involved three white males, and the State Bar's handling of that matter raises serious questions about whether Kenya Lavender Marshall was treated fairly.

For those who have concerns about equal protection and due process in postmodern America, a comparison of how the Alabama State Bar handled the two cases seems to add to the sense that our justice system is corrupt and tainted.

President Obama, so far, has chosen to do virtually nothing about justice issues, choosing to "look forward, not backwards." Progressives in Alabama seem to be saying that they are unhappy with that approach. We suspect the president will continue to ignore such concerns, and his party will pay a price.

Why did Joe Morgan Reed's words resonate in Montgomery, Alabama, last week? Thanks to the folks at Left in Alabama, we can see for ourselves. Here is a video from the event, with Reed's comments starting at about the 2:10 mark. Elisabeth French speaks at about 4:50, and a clearly agitated Nichole Gordon Still speaks at about 6:08.


Redeye said...

Something or someone won't let Obama listen to this message from Alabama democrats because they want him to fail. We have to find a way to make him hear us.

lawbabe said...

I don't know Joe Morgan Reed but am guessing he is the son of Joe Reed of the ADC. He is a lawyer from Montgomery and to my knowledge has never practiced in Jefferson County.

There is an imbalance of justice in Alabama at the time, but it has to do with the statewide election of appellate judges. The appellate courts are swamped with judges who were elected not for their legal experience and abilities but because they spent millions on ads paid for by Big Business, via the secretive PAC-to-PAC transfer of money. This has little to do with local races, where the citizens and lawyers know the candidates personally. It is like saying Obama is not a natural-born American citizen to claim Nikki Still is a Republican just because she was appointed by a Republican Governor, when the Judicial Nominating Commission sent a list of three Democrats to the Governor and he had no choice but to pick a Democrat. If you can point to a single case in which she treated litigants unfairly based on race or political party, or where she favored Big Business over an individual litigant, let's hear it. I don't know her personally, but I know many of the Democratic judges, black and white, in our courthouse who supported her and are outraged at this decision. She had a wide range of endorsements from Democratic groups, who would never have supported her if she had not been a fair judge. I believe they and the citizens of Jefferson County know her better than Joe Morgan Reed of Montgomery, or anyone on the state committee for that matter.

So it appears that this WAS about race. As Mr. Reed says, if French is elected "we will have a sistah."

And if Alabama Democrats don't like Obama's message of "look forward, not backward" we have definitely succeeded in looking backward.

However, facts and truth cannot persuade those too busy grinding their axes, so I will back off and let my black jurist friends take up the cause from here.

legalschnauzer said...

Lawbabe: Thanks for your insights. I would guess that Joe M. Reed is THE Joe Reed's son. I certainly agree with your sentiments about the appellate courts. Seems it would be hard to have a solid justice system when your appellate courts are infested with hacks. I can only speak for myself, but I never have said I thought Nikki Still was a Republican. But with the committee on Friday, I think her connections to Riley hurt her. I don't doubt that race played a factor in the decision. But I think the appearance that Still was connected to the corporate and legal establishment really hurt her. My guess is that Riley's heavy-handedness and hypocrisy on the gambling issue has angered a lot of people who were in that room last Thursday. Still paid a price for that--in my view, anyway.

By the way, I have no evidence that Nikki Still ever ruled unfairly or unlawfully in a case. I've never suggested I did. I think she went down because of perceptions about her ties to Riley--not the color of her skin.

I feel certain Still had to be a huge improvement on her predecessor, Allwin Horn. I have personal experience with him, and he's dreadful. That he's still lording over the HealthSouth matter is an abomination.

MaxShelby said...

"I have been supported by, mine workers, steel workers, the Bham News, the Bar Association...etc."

That's part of your problem Ms. Still as LS as has pointed out--you are too close to the establishment.

But the bigger problem is the invasion of the "Big Mules aka New Mules" into the democratic party.

Lobbying firms such as the minority owned Jones Group in Montgomery are helping with this collusion by lobbying for "clients" who have anything but progressive and minority interests in mind. Take a look at their client list in the state database and compare that to their website mantra--the two do not match.
(e: Stephen Bradley & Associates, Perry County Ventures)

If there is a race element to this, it is the simple fact that minority citizens are overwhelmingly democratic. The establishment is well aware of this, realizes it can no longer ignore it and now seeks to influence elements of the democratic party to carry their water. But in the end it is the republican machine that takes home the "big prizes."

Makes me mad as hell.

The establishment mules are bound and determined to get their way, come hell or high-water, and I hope people are paying very close attention to this.

legalschnauzer said...

Max: Excellent points. I've written previously about Dax Swatek, one of Riley's buddies, working for Jones Group and representing Greenetrack--even though Riley is supposed to be against gambling. More coming on this subject soon:


Redeye said...

The democratic party has been infiltrated by people who are democratic when it's convenient (election time) and republican when it's governing time. I call them Strom Thurmond democrats. Today's republicans are yesterday's democrats and some of today's democrats are yesterday's dixiecrats.

It's about race. It's about some wanting to replace the African American female candidate who won the election with the white female candidate who lost the election.

Anonymous said...

I hope you will comment about this situation:

Appreciate your insights!

Barren George said...

The simple fact remains that somehow being a Democrat is not about loyalty, it is about choosing the path that is best for the constituency represented.
For the Democratic powers to perpetrate this just polarizes the party, because no matter how eloquently Joe M. Reed articulates the need for a Democrat to be "...a Democrat 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and 365 day a year.", the fact remains, whoever holds office needs be fair, honest and impartial.

I am not a big fan of John Rodgers, but I have to admit he seems to be able to see the 'political future'with regard to this debacle.

This goes to show everyone that even though the Republicans seem to be the party of 'Do nothing...', there seems to be overwhelming proof that the Democrats in Alabama don't collectively have the where-with-all to realize that fair is fair and crony-ism is not much better than 'Do nothing...' and the country and the state of Alabama will suffer for it.

Joe said...

Roger, the average voter in Jefferson County looks at this as an afront to their right to pick their candidate. Obviously both young Joe Reed and Alvin Holmes used the race of the candidates to push for Elisabeth French. Even if race wasn't an issue, the SDEC in the past has not cared about connections or Republican ties, just look at the candidacy of Charlie Grimsley. See http://bessemeropinions.blogspot.com/2010/08/sdec-unbelievable.html

legalschnauzer said...

Joe: Interesting points. Thanks for your insights. I agree that it's unfair to call Nicole Gordon Still a Republican. I see no indication that is true. But I suspect her ties to Riley hurt her in two ways: (1) Many Dems probably smelled a political rat in the treatment of Kenya Lavender Marshall, and that strengthened their resistance to a candidate with Riley ties; (2) Riley's heavy-handed and hypocritical actions on gambling in recent months have angered a lot of folks--and my guess is that Ms. Still paid a price for that.

Redeye said...

Barren George said;
The simple fact remains that somehow being a Democrat is not about loyalty, it is about choosing the path that is best for the constituency represented.

I disagree, being a Democrat is about loyalty to the party and it's ideals/agenda/platform. Why be a member of party but against the party agenda? The party platform represents the interest of the constituency.

Why is everyone choosing to overlook the will of the voters was over turned in this case and that it reeks of the republican culture of corruption and cronyism? This is setting a chilling precedent and will promote voter apathy. Voters will ask why vote if the person they electe is removed and replaced by committee or appointment?

The voters are the victim. Kendra Lavender Marshall is the symbol.

BorisBadenov said...

Regardless of who endorsed or supported Nikki Still or who wanted her to remain there, the voters did not want her in the position of judge anymore. That is all that matters. How could the SDEC "re-appoint" a judge to the same positon that she had just been fired from by the voters not 2months earlier? That would be stupid. Oh, and Riley appointing her did not help.