|Judge Thomas Young|
Will the state's high court grant the petition? Well, that probably depends on how the justices answer the following questions:
* Do they care about retaining what is left of their tattered credibility?
* Are they concerned about signs that they are engaging in a criminal conspiracy?
In other words, do the justices of the Alabama Supreme Court have any shame? We already know the answer to that question regarding Luther Strange. He is one of the most shameless judge shoppers in the history of the American justice system.
Strange proved that last week when he filed a petition for a writ of mandamus that would force Judge Young off the VictoryLand case. That comes on the heels of Young's denial of a search warrant application from Strange's office, a Supreme Court writ forcing Young to approve the search warrant on VictoryLand property, and Young's refusal to recuse himself from the case.
How ironic is all of this? Strange's office, in a similar case involving the Center Stage facility in Houston County, has been fighting to make sure Circuit Judge Mike Conaway does NOT recuse himself. What's the difference between Judge Conaway and Judge Young? Former Governor Bob Riley, one of Strange's close Republican allies and an avowed gaming opponent, appointed Conaway to the bench. Sonny Reagan, who now is Strange's chief lieutenant in the attorney general's office, interviewed Conaway for the judicial position while serving in the Riley administration.
Translation: Mike Conaway is a friendly judge for Luther Strange; in fact, a reasonable observer could find plenty of grounds to question Conaway's impartiality in the Center Stage case. But the Supreme Court has allowed him to stay on board.
Meanwhile, we've seen no sign that Judge Young is biased toward one party or another, but he did refuse to rubber stamp a search warrant for the attorney general's office, on the grounds that he could find no probable cause that criminal acts were being committed at VictoryLand. Still, Luther Strange wants Young off the case, and few observers will be surprised of the high court sides with the AG.
The irony of all this has not gone unnoticed in Houston County, even in the mainstream media. In a piece titled "Tables turned in Macon County judge bingo battle," Dothan Eagle reporter Lance Griffin writes:
According to court documents, the Attorney General argues that Young’s refusal to sign a search warrant for the VictoryLand raid, his initial reluctance to sign the warrant after being ordered to do so by the Alabama Supreme Court, and written comments placed on the warrant itself indicate a bias against the state.
“On the face of the search warrant, Judge Young wrote that he was signing with ‘the greatest judicial reluctance’ and ‘did not believe that (the) application for search warrant provides sufficient probable cause.’ He ended his note by declaring the State’s case and the Supreme Court’s order was ‘improper according to the law,’” the Attorney General states in his motion for Young’s recusal.
The motion goes on to allege Young made statements to investigators that questioned the Attorney General’s motives for obtaining the warrant.
None of that, of course, proves bias or "the appearance of impropriety" on Young's part. The judge's comments only show that (a) He disagrees with the AG's contentions that probable cause exists in the VictoryLand matter--a reasonable finding given that no court has found the facility's electronic-bingo machines to be illegal; (b) He believes the state's high court is setting a dangerous precedent by issuing an "extraordinary writ" to override the ruling of a local judge.
If the Alabama Supreme Court's actions in the Center Stage case mean anything, its ruling on the VictoryLand matter should be a no-brainer. Last December, the high court denied a petition from the Houston Economic Development Association (HEDA) to have Conaway removed from the Center Stage case; in fact, Conaway is expected to rule soon on motions involving the seizure of cash and machines at the casino near Dothan.
How did the Supreme Court deal with efforts to get Conaway off the case in Houston County? It simply declined to hear the appeal, with no explanation.
For the sake of consistency, we should expect to see the high court act the same way in the Macon County matter, right? A reasonable person should expect a decision stating that the court declines to hear the appeal, offering no explanation and leaving Young on the case, right?
Well, yes . . . if the court cares about maintaining some semblance of credibility with the public. But we've signs that court doesn't care one iota what the public thinks. It's main interest seems to be serving the interests of its political soul mates, such as Luther Strange and Bob Riley.
As for the possibility, however slim, that the court might get nabbed in a criminal conspiracy . . . we doubt the justices are concerned about that, either. But the public should be concerned about it--and a ruling that forces Judge Young off the Macon County case will add to the mounting evidence that something smells mighty foul with the Alabama Supreme Court.
We will address that issue in an upcoming post.
(To be continued)