A reasonable Alabamian might pose that question, especially in the wake of reports that Strange is asking the high court to force Macon County Circuit Judge Thomas Young to step down from the VictoryLand seizure case. Strange's request seems goofy, coming on the heels of his petition to ensure that Houston County Circuit Judge did NOT recuse himself from a similar case involving the Center Stage casino near Dothan.
To the casual observer, this might seem like nonsense, with neither Strange nor the Supreme Court showing any common sense or consistency. But Alabamians should remember that justices on the state's high court have been issuing questionable rulings on gambling-related issues for almost five years now. It dates to the last two years of the Bob Riley administration, and our research points to evidence of dark activity that cuts at the heart of the state's justice apparatus.
We are talking about unlawful communications with the court regarding pending cases. If proven, this probably would amount to federal crimes--the kind that might earn prison sentences for some of the state's most powerful officials.
First, we know that Luther Strange and Bob Riley are allies, thanks partly to their mutual connections with the Birmingham right-wing law firm Bradley Arant. In his last days as governor, Riley cut a deal with Strange in which he would help raise $2 million for the AG's possible gubernatorial run in 2014. In return, Riley wanted "protection" and the procurement of business for his children.
That, of course, is the kind of "something for something" deal (quid pro quo) that amounts to bribery under federal law. But the story gets uglier from there.
In February 2010, less than a month after Riley had left office, the Montgomery Independent reported on evidence that the administration had engaged in unlawful communications with the Supreme Court on gambling-related cases. We covered the story, based on the reporting of Independent publisher Bob Martin, in a post titled "Was Monkey Business Involved In Supreme Court's Bingo Ruling?" From that post:
Lawyers for VictoryLand were surprised by a citation in a motion to vacate an injunction that had halted raids by the governor's task force at the Macon County facility. The citation was to a case styled Surles v. Ashland, and that was curious because the decision in Surles had not been released at the time the task force's motion was filed.
The episode suggests that someone at the Alabama Supreme Court was working in conjunction with the governor's office. This would not be the first time we've seen reports about possible improper communications between Riley's office and the Supreme Court. It also is not the first time we've seen signs that Alabama's highest court is fully capable of acting in a corrupt fashion.
Is Luther Strange now using an unlawful pipeline that Bob Riley put in place? If so, how profound is all of this? It means we have a court system that cannot be trusted, that is infested with unlawful political machinations. More from our earlier post:
Bob Martin, editor and publisher of the Independent, says the task force's motion was time stamped at 1:55:15 on January 29. The Surles decision was not released until 2:04 on January 29. Writes Martin:
According to Supreme Court Rules and policies no one, including attorneys in a case, are permitted to see or be told the details of a decision other than the justices and the court staff. Although attorneys for both sides are notified the result of a case two hours prior to its release, they are not told the details and lawyers with whom I talked said it would take clairvoyant skills for a lawyer to be confident enough to cite a case by only having knowledge about which side won or lost.
This conduct might go way beyond violations of Supreme Court rules. If the U.S. mails or wires were used, it likely would constitute obstruction of justice under federal law. Obstruction might be just the beginning of federal charges that could be brought in such a case.
Of course, that would require a U.S. Justice Department that is attentive and competent--and the Obama DOJ, under Eric Holder, has proven so far that it is neither.
How far are Luther Strange and the Alabama Supreme Court willing to push it with Bob Riley's "underground railroad" of judicial and political chicanery?
If the high court forces Judge Young off the VictoryLand case, we probably will have our answer.