Life in postmodern Alabama is filled with irony. For proof, consider two major news stories that broke last week.
On Wednesday, allies of former Governor Bob Riley protested a liquor-license application for the VictoryLand casino in Macon County. The protest, led by Attorney General Luther Strange, is a continuation of Riley's crusade against non-Indian gaming in Alabama, an issue that dominated the last two years of his administration. Strange essentially argued against the license on moral grounds, claiming that VictoryLand is a disreptuable organization because it uses electronic-bingo machines that the AG considers to be illegal slot machines.
On Thursday, we broke a story here at Legal Schnauzer about a messy extramarital affair involving Homewood attorney Rob Riley and Alabama lobbyist Liberty Duke. Rob Riley, of course, is Bob Riley's son and has played a central role in his father's rise to political power. In fact, it could be argued that Bob Riley never would have made it into public office without his son's behind-the-scenes machinations as a campaign manager, fund-raiser, and adviser.
On one day, we have long-time associates of the Riley family arguing that VictoryLand is not the sort of "reputable" organization that merits a license under the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board (ABC). In his protest letter, Strange claims that VictoryLand's "reputation is clouded" and then alleges that the facility and its owner, Milton McGregor, have a "sordid past."
The next day, we learn that Rob Riley, a married father of four who is a deacon and Sunday school teacher at Dawson Memorial Baptist Church, had an affair that led to a number of personal and political complications. Does that mean Rob Riley's reputation is "clouded"? Does it mean he has a "sordid past"? A reasonable person could conclude that the answer is yes.
A reasonable person also could conclude that last week's ABC hearing was a farce. Bill Britt, of the Alabama Political Reporter, apparently came to that conclusion in a piece titled "Fair Hearing Or Show Trial For VictoryLand ABC License?" Reports Britt:
The hearing came down to a few simple questions, “Are the machines legal? Can bingo played on anything other than paper cards to be considered bingo according to Alabama law?” The argument present by the AG’s office, said that anything other than paper was not legal. An argument, that would seem to suggest, that the world of bingo had stopped turning in the 1950s, that eBook, eMail and that the universe of smart phones, computers and a software based society did not exist.
ABC hearings are supposed to follow the standard rules of civil procedure. But Britt reports that the proceeding veered wildly off course:
During testimony before the commission, . . . the AG’s office presented pictures of machines that were nothing like the ones at VictoryLand, and still the ABC Chairman allow the evidence to be placed into the record. One former member of the judiciary, who would not comment with attribution said, “It was the worse case of evidentiary admission I have ever seen.”
Britt also noted that the ABC panel did not seem impartial, peppering VictoryLand attorney Joe Espy with questions while giving the AG's representatives mostly a free pass. When the full-day hearing was completed, Britt writes, it seemed a final decision--expected in about two weeks--would have little to do with ABC rules and regulations:
Both sides put on brave faces concerning the case they had presented, but it would be difficult, if not impossible, to guess what was on the minds of the hearing commission. One thing seemed to be clear for most of the standing room only crowd gathered at the ABC hearing, this trial was about Milton McGregor and not necessarily about the law.
Britt was not the only reporter who seemed to notice the one-sided nature of the proceeding. Wrote Sebastian Kitchen, of the Montgomery Advertiser:
Espy and state Sen. Billy Beasley have questioned why the attorney general is fighting the liquor license at VictoryLand, but is not questioning those at the three casinos operated by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. Espy also questioned why Strange’s office has not contested the liquor license for Greenetrack in west Alabama, which he said unlike VictoryLand is not competition for the Poarch Creek casinos.
Kitchen also spotlighted Espy's contentions that VictoryLand, contrary to Strange's protest letter, has a history of operating within the law. (Strange's protest letter, and Victoryland's response, can be read at the end of this post.)
Espy said the casino had a license for years before closing in 2010 and that there were never any issues, and said the attorney general protesting a liquor license is unprecedented. He said the attorney general does not have the legal authority to contest the license and is usurping the ABC Board and local elected officials, who have argued the establishment is legal.
What has changed to bring VictoryLand's liquor license into question? Nothing of substance, it appears. It's just that a faction of the Alabama Republican Party seems hell-bent on following Bob Riley's wishes, even though he no longer is in power. Those same Republicans also seem determined to ignore the sordid activities that have been going on right under their noses.
A quick check of Rob Riley's extramarital affair with Liberty Duke will bring those activities to light. It also might teach the self-righteous Riley crowd that perhaps, to borrow a phrase from the New Testament, they should deal with the logs in their own eyes before pointing fingers at specks in the eyes of others.
Protest letter from Attorney General Luther Strange
VictoryLand's response to Strange's protest
(To be continued)