The attorney representing Country Crossing developer Ronnie Gilley in the Alabama bingo trial has a federal drug-trafficking conviction on his record.
David J. Harrison, of Geneva, was convicted in March 1997 of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and sentenced to 30 months in federal prison. Veteran investigative journalist John Caylor, editor of insider-magazine.com, has provided documents and other evidence to Legal Schnauzer, showing that a federal jury in Dothan found Harrison guilty and his appeal was unsuccessful. (See court documents at the end of this post.)
Harrison entered an appearance as one of Gilley's attorneys in the bingo case on April 21, 2011. Gilley entered a guilty plea the next day, and he has been testifying this week--although he did not take the stand yesterday because of an illness.
Before Harrison made an appearance, Gilley's lawyers were G. Douglas Jones, Thomas J. Butler, Anil A. Mujumdar, and Jeremy S. Walker, of the Birmingham firm Haskell Slaughter. The Haskell Slaughter lawyers withdrew from the case on May 17, leaving Harrison as Gilley's attorney.
Doug Jones refused to comment about Harrison's background when contacted this morning.
How was a lawyer with a federal drug-trafficking conviction on his record reinstated to the Alabama State Bar? How did said lawyer come to represent Ronnie Gilley in a high-profile federal prosecution? Did Harrison's criminal record put him and his client in a compromised position? Is Gilley's guilty plea legitimate or was he somehow coerced because of his lawyer's history? What role did Doug Jones and the other Haskell Slaughter lawyers play in Harrison's appearance as Gilley's lawyer? How much did lead prosecutor Louis Franklin know about Harrison's background and did he use such knowledge to help ensure that at least some convictions were obtained in the bingo case?
The answers to all of those questions are not clear. But Harrison's presence raises serious concerns about the validity of the bingo prosecution. It perhaps raises even more serious concerns about disciplinary procedures employed by the Alabama State Bar.
According to evidence from John Caylor, multiple law-enforcement officials in Geneva County have acknowledged knowing about Harrison's past. When asked how Harrison managed to be reinstated by the Alabama State Bar, one official said he understood that several lawyers in the Geneva area had written letters of support for Harrison.
We have "officers of the court" take a stand for an individual who has been convicted of helping to distribute methamphetamine? And the Alabama State Bar goes along with it? Has our justice system come to that? Is the public supposed to trust anything that takes place in an Alabama courtroom, at either the federal or state level?
Court documents indicate that the Harrison drug conviction hardly is a secret in the legal community. The prosecutor in the case was Artur Davis, who went on to become a U.S. Congressman before losing in a 2010 run for governor. Joseph Van Heest and Stephen Glassroth, two well-known Montgomery lawyers, provided Harrison's defense. Van Heest's name was floated as a possible Obama appointee to be U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Alabama before that nomination went to George Beck.
Will news about Harrison's past have an impact on the bingo trial? It is too early to say, but let's consider this issue: Gilley's lawyers had a duty to defend him zealously, to represent his best interests. Given that Gilley wound up represented by a convicted drug trafficker, did the Haskell Slaughter lawyers fulfill their duty? Were the Haskell Slaughter lawyers concerned with Ronnie Gilley's best interests or the best interests of the prosecution team, led by Louis Franklin?
Doug Jones is a former prosecutor himself and worked on a federal HealthSouth lawsuit with Rob Riley, the son of former Governor Bob Riley. It was Bob Riley, of course, whose effort to stamp out gaming in Alabama led to the bingo prosecution in the first place. Exactly where did Jones' loyalties lie while he was supposed to be representing Ronnie Gilley?
We attempted to put those questions to Doug Jones this morning, and he refused to answer. We are seeking coment from the Alabama State Bar.
David J. Harrison Docket