The VictoryLand forfeiture case, going on this week in the courtroom of Montgomery Circuit Judge William Shashy, will determine if the Alabama court system has a shred of integrity left.
On the surface, the case is about electronic-bingo equipment. VictoryLand maintains that its machines, equipment and cash were unlawfully seized in a February 2013 raid conducted by Attorney General Luther Strange. The AG's office maintains the equipment represents illegal gambling devices and should be destroyed.
The real entity on trial, however, is the Alabama court system--and the judges who rule over it.
That's because the facts and law in the VictoryLand case are stunningly straightforward--and they have been since Strange's operatives stormed the Macon County facility roughly 19 months ago.
As we showed in a post yesterday, the law clearly shows that VictoryLand and owner Milton McGregor have the correct position here. According to the Montgomery Advertiser, Strange's office does not even have a certified electronic-gaming expert to counter VictoryLand's testimony.
The e-bingo machines in question were operating lawfully, under a constitutional amendment approved in 2003 by Macon County voters, and never should have been seized. In fact, no one even questioned their legality for seven years. That happened only after former governor Bob Riley decided to launch a crusade against non-Indian gaming during his last two years in office.
Riley had been the beneficiary of millions of campaign dollars from Indian gaming interests, much of it funneled through GOP felon Jack Abramoff, so his raids apparently were based on politics and not the law. If the law accounts for anything in Alabama, the machines will be returned to VictoryLand as soon as possible.
Moreover, it's clear that Macon County Circuit Judge Thomas Young was correct in 2013 to deny Strange's request for a search warrant--and the Alabama Supreme Court was wrong to force Young to sign the search warrant and then step down from the case.
The key facts and law on this case can be examined in a series of posts we wrote last year about the VictoryLand case. Nothing about the fundamental law and facts has changed since then, and the only questions are: (1) Will Shashy rule according to law and order VictoryLand's equipment returned? and (2) Will the Alabama Supreme Court correctly deny Strange's inevitable appeal?
The high court has consistently violated its own precedent to side with Strange and Riley in their crusade against non-Indian gaming facilities--which appears driven by the huge sums of money both have received from Indian gaming interests.
Does that mean the all-Republican Alabama Supreme Court is tainted by Indian gaming cash? Is it possible something has caused the high court to change, and it now will rule lawfully for VictoryLand?
How easy is the law in the VictoryLand case? Here are the two overriding issues:
(1) Strange claims that the casino's machines violate state statues that outlaw slot machines and illegal gambling devices. But e-bingo in Macon County was approved by a constitutional amendment, and the Alabama Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly that a constitutional amendment overrides a state statute. To use gaming lingo, the constitutional nature of the Macon County law "trumps" anything Strange can come up with of a statutory nature.
(2) Strange claims the game played on the machines does not match what commonly is defined as bingo. But again, Amendment 744 ("Bingo Games in Macon County) takes care of that issue. The amendment states:
The sheriff shall promulgate rules and regulations for the licensing and operation of bingo games within the county. The sheriff shall insure compliance pursuant to any rule or regulation and the following requirements . . .
Judge Young, in denying Strange's application for a search warrant, addressed this issue:
In the instant case, given the fact that the Constitutional Amendment which provides for bingo being played at Victoryland allows the Sheriff to make a determination as to the nature of the bingo, and further, given the fact that he has publicly declared the machines presently located at that location to comply with the Supreme Court guidance in Cornerstone, there is clearly a lack of sufficient probable cause to warrant such an extraordinary writ.
In other words, it's up to the sheriff to decide if a certain game meets the definition of bingo. And the Macon County sheriff has ruled in the affirmative.
That, plus the fact that a constitutional amendment trumps a state statute, means Strange never had any lawful grounds to seize VictoryLand's equipment--and he certainly has no grounds to keep it.
This is a high-profile case that is being closely watched both in Alabama and beyond. Will Alabama courts finally get it right on such an easy case? If they don't, will it be time for the U.S. Department of Justice to launch an investigation, perhaps of Luther Strange, his associates, and the Alabama Supreme Court?
We don't know the answer to the first question. But the answer to the second question definitely is yes.