|The February raid at VictoryLand|
Agents of the Alabama Attorney General's Office damaged or destroyed property in a February raid at the VictoryLand casino, according to a federal lawsuit filed by Tuskegee Mayor Johnny Ford and other residents of Macon County.
The lawsuit also contends the Alabama Supreme Court wildly misinterpreted an 1899 case that was central to its order that forced Macon County Circuit Judge Thomas Young to approve a search-warrant application from Attorney General Luther Strange.
Lawyers for the Macon County residents make a compelling case that Strange's agents violated the terms of a search warrant that they never should have been granted in the first place.
According to the federal complaint--prepared by attorneys Donald LaRoach, of Brockton, Massachusetts, and Christopher Ford, of Tuskegee--Strange's agents seized 1,600 electronic-bingo machines and more than $220,000 in cash during a February 19 raid. (The full lawsuit can be viewed at the end of this post.) In the process, the complaint states, agents went beyond the boundaries of the search warrant. From page 24 of the lawsuit:
During the raid, agents destroyed VictoryLand property and closed its pari-mutuel wagering operation and its restaurant, even though those businesses were not the subject of the search warrant and Defendants have never questioned the legality of those operations.
Pursuant to the terms of the search warrant and an order entered by the Macon County Circuit Judges, the Attorney General's agents were supposed to preserve the integrity of the machines for later testing and take care not to damage any of the equipment.
Instead, agents under the direction and control of the Attorney General cut the wires from a number of machines and damaged and destroyed others.
While representatives of the AG's office were acting like thugs during the VictoryLand raid, they were acting like con men in courtroom proceedings, according to the federal lawsuit. As an example, Ford's lawyers point to the AG's reliance on a case styled Benners v. State ex. rel. Heflin, 124 Ala. 97 (1899).
Attorneys for the AG's office cited Benners for the proposition that it authorized the Alabama Supreme Court to issue a writ of mandamus, forcing Judge Young to approve a search warrant in Macon County. But lawyers for Ford point out that Benners dealt with an arrest warrant, not a search warrant, and the heart of the Benners finding was overturned 10 years later. On top of that, the adoption of subsequent federal and state laws appear to make Benners a non-factor in the modern-day courtroom.
In summary, Benners apparently has not been good law in Alabama for more than 100 years--but the state's highest court used it to justify giving Luther Strange a search warrant. Here is how the Ford lawyers explain it:
The Benners case dealt with arrest warrants, not search warrants. And the Benners case forced a local justice of the peace to issue an arrest warrant, something the Supreme Court subsequently described as "a purely ministerial act" and only appropriate there because the justice of the peace "had no judicial discretion in the matter." Ten years later, the Alabama Supreme Court recognized that Benners does not apply when judicial discretion is at issue. The subsequent case limiting the Benners decision is not mentioned in the Attorney General's brief, apparently because he did not want them to read it. Moreover, the Benners case pre-dates the application of the Fourth Amendment to the states, the Alabama search warrant statutes, and the Alabama Rules of Criminal Procedure.
The actions of Luther Strange, his surrogates, and the Alabama Supreme Court have been highly questionable in the VictoryLand matter for quite some time. They become even more so when you read the complaint in Mayor Johnny Ford's federal lawsuit.