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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Lawyers Regulating Lawyers Helps Breed Corruption

Gorman Houston

In the wake of the bingo indictments in Alabama, many citizens probably have forgotten what led to the arrests: a series of highly questionable decisions by the Alabama Supreme Court.

In fact, the decisions were so questionable that they prompted an investigation into allegations that outside forces influenced the court's bingo-related rulings. Many Alabamians probably believe that a real inquiry ensued. After all, former Supreme Court justice Gorman Houston said recently that he spent more than 100 hours investigating the issue and found no evidence of wrongdoing.

But we would suggest that Houston almost certainly was not looking for anything, at least not in a serious fashion.

This was a classic case of a lawyer overseeing other lawyers, and the truth almost always is obscured when that takes place. In fact, the law is the only truly self-regulating profession in America, and that's the No. 1 reason our justice system is such a wreck.

Anyone who wants to believe that Gorman Houston conducted a real inquiry is free to cling to those thoughts. But you might as well also believe in Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, and Lindsay Lohan's sobriety.

The legal profession has snookered Americans now for decades, giving the appearance that it is capable of monitoring itself. But in truth, it has failed miserably. And Gorman Houston's handiwork probably is just the latest example of that.

How absurd is this whole scenario? Consider the setup: The central question was, "Did Governor Bob Riley, or someone close to him, attempt to influence the Supreme Court's finding that the governor's anti-gambling task force could raid the Victoryland casino near Shorter?" Tuscaloosa businessman Stan Pate alleged that someone connected to the governor had tried to move the case from one justice to another.

Houston did find some apparent wrongdoing, but not on the central question. Reports Associated Press:

Houston said in his report that he was "reasonably convinced" that confidential information about the case was "leaked" to the public before the court's ruling was formally released. But he said he could not determine the source of that release and he would be unable to determine the source if he investigated further.

Houston seems to be admitting that a cover up was going on regarding the leak. But we are supposed to believe his overall finding was based on legitimate information?

Want more evidence that Houston's findings probably were bogus? The Birmingham News agreed with it. In fact, our sorry excuse for a local newspaper called the allegations against Riley "outlandish." This is the same newspaper that seems to automatically buy into any allegations against a Democrat, especially one with dark skin. Wrote our august journal:

Only the folks obsessed with black helicopters and grassy knolls put a whole lot of stock into stories starring Riley as the puppeteer who got the court to issue a decision that put VictoryLand's casino out of business. Why, according to the conspiracy theorists, Riley's control even extended to deciding which justice would write the opinion.

What is outlandish about that theory? Absolutely nothing, when you consider that the Alabama Supreme Court repeatedly ruled in Riley's favor and overturned longstanding precedent while doing it.

How loony have the Supreme Court's actions been on bingo? Consider this report from WSFA in Montgomery:

In an unusual and rare move, the state Supreme Court overruled itself when it decided that Governor Riley and his task force can continue to pursue an electronic bingo case against the White Hall gaming center. Some are even calling the decision historic.

Since the 1980's, the state has been operating under a state Supreme Court ruling that said it's the Attorney General who has the final say-so regarding legal matters in the state. However, as a result of Friday's ruling, that's not true anymore. The state Supreme Court ruled in the "Weaver" case back in the 1980's, when Don Siegelman was Attorney General, that it was the Attorney General who has the ultimate power to settle legal disputes in the state.

But now, the Supreme Court has overruled itself saying "Attorney General King (and others) argue that this court's decision in Weaver supports their position. Because that decision is inconsistent with the reasoning and conclusions we express today, we hereby overrule Weaver."

Who authored Ex parte State of Alabama v. Cornerstone Community Outreach, the decision that overturned Weaver? Why, Justice Glenn Murdock, a longtime Riley ally who is under investigation for failing to reveal possible conflicts in bingo cases. For good measure, Murdock and Riley have shared a campaign manager, Montgomery GOP henchman Dax Swatek.

Get this: The Alabama Supreme Court overturned roughly 25 years' worth of precedent to essentially rule that Gov. Bob Riley also is the attorney general of our state. Does that have a foul odor?

Such dubious actions have repercussions. Eleven Alabama citizens--legislators, lobbyists, casino personnel--now are under indictment, partly because the Alabama Supreme Court found that Bob Riley could more or less masquerade as attorney general.

We are supposed to believe, it appears, that Gorman Houston was an objective, disinterested party in this affair. And I've read numerous articles over the years extolling Houston's extraordinary virtues as a lawyer and judge. But who appointed Houston to conduct the investigation of the Alabama Supreme Court? Why, the Alabama Supreme Court itself. And what organization did Houston used to be a part of? Uh, the Alabama Supreme Court.

How many other institutions in America would we allow to appoint the person who is to investigate it. And then allow that institution to pick one of its former members.

Undoubtedly, we have some outstanding lawyers out there, the kind who make justice a high priority. Heck, I even know a handful of them. But the vast majority of lawyers--and this insight comes from hard-earned experience--operate with two priorities in mind:

* What is best for their personal financial situation?

* What is best for the "tribe," their fellow members of the self-regulating legal profession?

For huge numbers of lawyers, matters of justice and "right and wrong" come way down the list, long after those first two priorities have been considered. For quite a few lawyers, matters of justice aren't even on their personal radar screens.

If Houston's report had unearthed the probable truth--that the governor's office did successfully influence the bingo rulings--it would have raised serious questions about the entire Alabama justice system. After all, if the state's highest court cannot be trusted, why should we trust the courts below it?

The answer is, "We shouldn't--they are cesspools of corruption."

But Gorman Houston could not let that happen. He is a member of the legal fraternity, and he has a vested interest in perpetuating the myth that our courts are "citadels of honor."

Alabamians who have been paying attention know that is a joke. And so, probably, is Houston's report.


Redeye said...

A joke that is so NOT funny.

David said...

Gormand Houston's probe was limited to employees of the court. He didn't find anyng because he looking in the wrong place. Glenn Murdock and one other,as yet,un-named member orf the court have been having laite nite exparte phoneconversations with Bingo Bob. He calls them every time a circuit judge overules his so called taskforce and the next day the SC issues an order overturning the ruling.

legalschnauzer said...


Thanks for an interesting comment. Do you think there is any chance the unnamed judge might find himself in the spotlight at some point? I know Murdock had Dax Swatek as a campaign manager, as did Riley. I wonder if this other judge could be a Swatek guy.

mikkrikk said...

It is too bad that Don Siegelman did not know that he was the Supreme Attorney General back in 2002 when the votes mysteriously disappeared in the middle of the night. He could have over-ruled Bill Pryor and had the votes recounted. We would have avoided every bit of the political mess in Amabala since then.

legalschnauzer said...


You make a profound observation. I had never thought of it in those terms. Does this void all eight years of the Riley administration?

KCC said...

Hmmm...wonder what the repercussions would be if Riley's 8 years was found to be invalid terms of service.