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Showing posts with label Johnny Ford. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Johnny Ford. Show all posts

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Luther Strange's Statements On Voting Rights Act Offer A Glimpse Into His "Sordid" Lack Of Values


Luther Strange
Of all the public statements about the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the Voting Rights Act (VRA), perhaps the most ironic belongs to Alabama Attorney General  Luther Strange.

That's because Strange praised the high court's decision to gut VRA at the same time he was being sued under VRA.


It's hard to imagine a more flagrant display of hypocrisy from a public official. But given what we are learning about Strange's personal life, perhaps we should not be surprised at anything he might say or do.


This is the same Luther Strange who argued back in January that the VictoryLand casino should not be granted a liquor license because the facility and its owner, Milton McGregor, have "a sordid past." 

Based on our roughly three-month investigation of Strange's personal affairs, we can safely say that Strange knows a thing or two about sordid activities. We will be providing details in a multi-part series of posts that begins tomorrow.


The public already has plenty of evidence about Strange's tendency to make deceptive public statements that are hypocritical and, at times, downright dishonest. Consider his words on the Supreme Court's ruling on the VRA in Shelby County v. Holder. This is from an NPR report titled "In Alabama, Voting Decision Seen As A Sign of Progress, Setback":



The 5-4 decision declared unconstitutional a section of the law that established a formula to identify state and local governments that were required to get approval from the federal government before they made changes to their voting laws. The Supreme Court said Congress can change that part of the law — Section 4 — to reflect "current conditions" if it wants to continue to enforce it.
Luther Strange, Alabama's Republican attorney general, calls the ruling historic.
"What I'm most pleased about [is] it's a recognition of the tremendous amount of progress that we've made in Alabama over the last 50 years," he says.

Strange did not stop there. From NPR:


Strange says there's no doubt that federal oversight was needed in the 1960s. But times have changed.
"To treat Alabama the way all the other states are treated is a huge victory — symbolically, I think, and practically," he says.

"Big Luther" apparently neglected to mention one tiny detail: At the time he spoke those words, he was the defendant in a federal lawsuit under the Voting Rights Act.


In a case styled Johnny Ford, et al v. Luther Strange, et al, the mayor of Tuskegee and other residents of Macon County allege that Strange and Governor Robert Bentley violated the Voting Rights Act by usurping the authority of the county sheriff when Strange's office raided and closed the VictoryLand casino in February. 


Plaintiffs' lawyer Donald LaRoche, of Brockton, Massachusetts, alleges that racism and thuggish Republican Party politics drove the VictoryLand raid, which heaped "economic devastation" upon residents of majority-black Macon County. From the complaint:



Beginning in 2003, white political leaders of the Alabama and National Republican Party . . . , including but not limited to Governor Bob Riley, initiated plans to elect white Republicans to the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches of government in the State of Alabama, allegedly referred to as "Operation 2010."
In order to raise funds to accomplish their goal, Alabama Republican leaders and elected officials entered into a scheme with the Mississippi Choctaw Indians Casino Operators . . . and later the Alabama Poarch Band of Creek Indian Casino Operators. . . .
This scheme included eliminating competition to Indian Gaming from non-Indian Gaming, including "VictoryLand" located in Macon County, Alabama. Eliminating VictoryLand served the dual goals of both by providing Indian Gaming a monopoly in Alabama and shutting off potential non-Indian Gaming . . . contributions that Republican political leaders feared could be used to thwart their political plans.

Strange, of course, is a card-carrying member of the Bob Riley machine, via mutual ties to the Birmingham law firm Bradley Arant. Machine members consistently have claimed they oppose gambling, in all forms, on a moral basis. We already have shown that one machine member, the former governor's son Rob Riley, has feet of clay when it comes to issues of private morals.

We are about to show the same thing regarding Luther Strange.


(To be continued)

Thursday, June 20, 2013

AG Strange Resorts To Tortured Statements Of Law In Seeking Sanctions Against Macon Co. Residents


Johnny Ford
Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange repeatedly misstates law in seeking sanctions against Macon County residents for filing a federal lawsuit against him.

That is the heart of the residents' response to Strange's motion for sanctions, filed June 5. 


Strange says the lawsuit against him and Governor Robert Bentley is frivolous, has no support in the law, and was filed for purposes of harassment--and he claims the plaintiffs and their attorneys should be sanctioned under Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP). But Macon County residents, led by Tuskegee Mayor Johnny Ford, argue in a reply that Strange tramples relevant law in an effort to intimidate them and avoid discovery that could shine light on his financial ties to Indian gaming interests.


Massachusetts attorney Donald LaRoche responded for the plaintiffs in an opposition to sanctions dated July 19, 2013. (See the full opposition at the end of this post.) From the LaRoche filing:



The legal claims in this lawsuit are not barred by clear and on point Supreme Court precedent. On the contrary, the actions of the Defendants in this matter are a blatant violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. 
Defendant Strange’s Rule 11 letter, dated 4/15/2013, was designed to intimidate the plaintiffs and their counsel. This letter contained a deadline that was not cited anywhere in the rules, demonstrating Attorney General’s Strange propensity to go to any length to strong arm the plaintiffs into submission to his misinterpretation of the law.

How off target is Strange on the law? LaRoche provides plenty of answers to that question. Here are a few of them:


The plaintiffs in the instant case have filed a complaint that has more than a reasonable factual basis. As argued in both the complaint and in the opposition to the defendants’ motion to dismiss, there are no general laws in Alabama which relate to bingo because it can only be authorized in a particular county by constitutional amendment. . . . Attorney General Strange repeatedly states that the plaintiffs’ complaint makes claims that are not “warranted by existing law or by a non-frivolous argument extending, modifying or reversing existing law or for establishing new law.” However, the Attorney General fails to cite any existing law or conclusive precedent to support this contention.

Strange, former Governor Bob Riley, and their allies have repeatedly cited a case styled Barber v. Cornerstone Cmty. Outreach, Inc., 42 So. 3d 65, 86 (Ala. 2009) in their attacks on non-Indian gaming facilities, such as VictoryLand in Macon County. LaRoche takes an intellectual machete to that argument and leaves it in shreds:


The Attorney General cites Barber v. Cornerstone Cmty. Outreach, Inc., 42 So. 3d 65, 86 (Ala. 2009) and Ex parte State of Alabama, _ So.3d _, 20143 WL 765747 (Ala. Mar. 1, 2013) as support for this position that “the Alabama Supreme Court has addressed these ‘bingo’ amendments in multiple counties and these decisions apply statewide.” Barber v. Cornerstone only addressed the bingo constitutional amendment for Lowndes County, Amendment No. 674. . . . The bingo constitutional amendment for Lowndes County is significantly different from the Macon County bingo constitutional amendment. Most importantly, Lowndes County’s sheriff is not constitutionally delegated the authority to promulgate rules and regulations for the operation of bingo in the county as this Court recognized in Hope for Families v Macon County Greyhound Park, Inc., 721 F. Supp. 2d 1079 (M.D. Ala. 2010). The State Supreme Court also recognized in Cornerstone that they “did not adhere to the boundary lines long established in [their] precedent.” Tyson v. Macon County Greyhound Park, 43 So. 3d 587 (Ala. 2010). As such, Cornerstone is inapplicable.

Ex parte State of Alabama is the 2013 case where the Alabama Supreme Court forced Macon County Circuit Judge Thomas Young to approve Strange's petition for a search warrant at VictoryLand. LaRoche shows that Strange's reliance on that case is misguided:


Ex parte State of Alabama is also inapplicable here because it involved a mandamus petition related to the refusal of a circuit judge to issue a search warrant when the circuit judge determined that probable cause did not exist. . . .  A determination of the existence of probable cause does not end the inquiry, it only begins it.

Finally, LaRoche shows that the plaintiffs have a firm foundation for their case, and Strange does not meet the standard required for Rule 11 sanctions:


This complaint is not replete with scandalous allegations that have no relevance to the legal claims that plaintiffs are actually trying to make, but puts forth sufficient factual matters with exhibits that are plausible on its face. The plaintiffs’ contentions are that when Defendant General Strange decided what bingo must be and issued his May 2011 memorandum, he usurped the authority which had been vested solely in the Macon County Sheriff. So while General Strange may have the authority to ‘enforce’ bingo regulations or general criminal laws, he does not have the authority to ‘create’ or ‘promulgate’ the rules anymore than he has the authority to ‘create’ or ‘promulgate’ general criminal laws (such authority being vested in the legislature).


Thursday, June 13, 2013

Strange Seeks Sanctions Against Macon Co. Residents For Bringing Lawsuit Under U.S. Voting Rights Act


Luther Strange
Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange is seeking sanctions against Macon County plaintiffs and attorneys who filed a federal lawsuit claiming his raids on the VictoryLand casino constitute a violation of the U.S. Voting Rights Act.

In a motion filed June 5, Strange says the lawsuit against him and Governor Robert Bentley is frivolous, has no support in the law, and was filed for purposes of harassment. Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP) gives courts the authority to impose sanctions on parties, lawyers, or both under certain circumstances. (See motion for sanctions at the end of this post.)


Tuskegee Mayor Johnny Ford and other plaintiffs say their case is solidly grounded in fact and law. They claim Strange has caused "economic devastation" in Macon County by closing the VictoryLand casino during a February raid, seizing 1,600 electronic-bingo machines and more than $220,000 in cash. Plaintiffs also claim that Bentley's executive order, appointing Strange to enforce gambling laws in all 67 counties, usurped the authority of the Macon County sheriff and violated residents' voting rights.


Donald LaRoche, plaintiff's' attorney from Brockton, Massachusetts, said the motion for sanctions is a continuation of intimidation tactics that Strange has employed since the lawsuit was filed. Strange contends that a U.S. Supreme Court case styled Presley v. Etowah County Commission, 502 U.S. 491 (1992) precludes the plaintiffs' claims. But LaRoche argues otherwise, and in a response to the Rule 11 motion, he states:



On behalf of the plaintiffs, I have previously responded to your Rule 11 letter and our position has not changed: Presley is inapplicable here and the Attorney General's actions are a violation of federal law, which we intend to prove at trial after engaging in wide-ranging discovery permitted by the federal rules of civil procedure.

Are the words in bold above driving Luther Strange's motion for sanctions? Is he pulling out some questionable ethical stops in an effort to avoid the kind of "wide-ranging discovery" that could reveal the real reasons he and former GOP Governor Bob Riley launched a crusade against non-Indian gaming that now has lasted five years . . . and counting?


This much seems clear: Strange has been much more antagonistic than Bentley in attacking the lawsuit; we've seen nothing in the record that indicates Bentley has joined in the motion for sanctions. Is that because Bentley has no record of taking campaign cash from Indian gaming interests, such as the Alabama Poarch Creeks (Strange) and the Mississippi Choctaws (Riley)? Is that because Bentley has made no overt efforts to protect market share for Indian gaming by raiding and trying to close non-Indian facilities?


Here perhaps is the gist of Strange's argument for sanctions:



Plaintiffs are . . . without legal basis when they allege that the Defendants have effected a “de facto” replacement of the Macon County Sheriff.  . . . Plaintiffs do not and cannot allege that the sheriff is no longer in office or has been deprived of all the powers of a sheriff. All Plaintiffs allege is that other executive-branch officials, and the Justices of a unanimous Alabama Supreme Court, have determined that the sheriff misinterpreted Alabama’s gambling laws when he publicly announced that the machines at issue were legal. . . . That was not even a “transfer of decision-making power” between state officials for the purposes of the Voting Rights Act. . . .  But in any event, Presley holds that even when a State transfers power between officials, the State will not be deemed to have engaged in a de facto replacement of the official who lost power so long as that official “retains substantial authority. . . ." Plaintiffs do not allege that the Macon County sheriff no longer has substantial authority. Plaintiffs’ Voting Rights Act claims are thus frivolous as a matter of law.

Is it possible that Strange will prevail on the voting-rights argument? Yes, it is. Does that mean that plaintiffs' claims are frivolous? No, it does not--and Strange's motion makes no citation to law that supports its contention that the lawsuit is frivolous.

The Macon County plaintiffs do not rely on the Voting Rights Act alone. They also raise civil-rights claims of purposeful discrimination and fundamental unfairness. 


Is Strange, in his motion for sanctions, playing loose with the facts? Consider the first section in bold above. It states that the Alabama Supreme Court has determined that the sheriff of Macon County "misinterpreted Alabama's gambling laws when he publicly announced that the machines at issue were legal."


When did the Alabama Supreme Court make such a determination? What was the case, and when was it decided? If our state's highest court actually has made such a determination, it has escaped my attention--and apparently that of the Macon County plaintiffs.


Is Strange playing loose with the relevant law here? Consider the second section in bold above. Strange argues that Presley holds there is no de facto replacement of a public official as long as the official retains substantial authority. But that's not what Presley says. Here is what it does say:


We need not consider here whether an otherwise uncovered enactment of a jurisdiction subject to the Voting Rights Act might under some circumstances rise to the level of a de facto replacement of an elective office with an appointive one, within the rule of Bunton v. Patterson. For present purposes it suffices to note that the Russell County Commission retains substantial authority, including the power to appoint the county engineer and to set his or her budget. The change at issue in Russell County is not a covered change.

The Supreme Court issued a limited ruling in Presley. It said that the changes in Presley were not covered by the Voting Rights Act, but it said circumstances in future cases might rise to the level that would require preclearance under the act. The court declined to offer a "bright line rule" that would guide public officials in future cases. It simply said that the circumstances in Presley did not amount to a covered change.

In other words, Strange is hanging his legal hat on pretty weak stuff when he relies on Presley because it offers little in the way of precedent. The Supreme Court did in Presley pretty much what it would do eight years later in Bush v. Gore, which decided the 2000 presidential election. On that occasion, the court said (in so many words), "Here is our finding in this case, under these circumstances, but it is not to be used as guidance in future cases."

The Macon County plaintiffs claim that the usurpation of their sheriff's powers goes way beyond that described in Presley. And they claim discovery will prove that Strange and Bentley violated federal law.


Strange clearly disagrees with the plaintiffs' claims, but that does not mean they are frivolous--and Strange cites no authority to support his contention that they are frivolous.


That could cause a reasonable observer to conclude that Luther Strange wants no part of a discovery process in the Macon County lawsuit.



Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Residents of Majority-Black Macon County, Alabama, Claim White GOPers Usurped Their Voting Rights


Johnny Ford
Alabama Governor Robert Bentley signed an executive order on his first full day in office that violated the rights of voters in majority-black Macon County.

That is the primary claim in a federal lawsuit that states Bentley and Attorney General Luther Strange were part of a white, Republican effort to heap "economic devastation" on Macon County residents by unlawfully closing the VictoryLand casino.

How is this for irony? The Macon County lawsuit is unfolding as the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling any day in Shelby County v. Holder, a case that originated in Alabama and challenges Section 5 of the U.S. Voting Rights Act.

As for the case in Macon County, lawyers for Bentley and Strange have filed Motions to Dismiss, characterizing the lawsuit as "frivolous," "baseless," and "insulting." They also claim the Voting Rights Act does not apply to facts alleged in the complaint. (See Strange and Bentley motions at the end of this post.)

But Tuskegee Mayor Johnny Ford and other Macon County plaintiffs argue in a response that Bentley's executive order, appointing Strange to enforce gambling laws in all 67 counties, effectively usurped the authority of the Macon County sheriff. In approving Constitutional Amendment 744, plaintiffs state, voters authorized the sheriff "to promulgate and enforce the rules and regulations related to bingo in Macon County." (See plaintiffs' response to motions to dismiss at the end of this post.)

The actions of Bentley and Strange amount to an "abolition of an elective office" that is covered under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, per a U.S. Supreme Court case styled Presley v. Etowah County Commission, 502 U.S. 491 (1992), writes Massachusetts-based plaintiffs' lawyer Donald LaRoche.

Plaintiffs also raise civil-rights claims of purposeful discrimination and fundamental unfairness. But given the Deep South's ugly history of obstructing minorities at the ballot box, voting-rights claims likely will resonate loudly with the public--especially with the nation's high court about to issue a major opinion on a voting-rights case that originated here in Alabama. Writes attorney LaRoche for the Macon County plaintiffs:


Where the Alabama State Courts have repeatedly served as a rubber stamp to the recalcitrant majority officials and have ignored federal requirements, the plaintiffs' only recourse is to seek refuge in federal court and pray for an equitable relief. The defendants now move this Court to dismiss the plaintiffs' complaint in yet another attempt to deny Black Americans the enjoyment of their right to participate in the voting process and experience the sustainability of their choice. 
The defendants fasten their discriminatory stratagem to a feeble distinction between bingo and electronic bingo, declaring the latter to be criminal without the benefit of legislation or final judicial determination. This impuissant attempt to argue that the electronic form of bingo is criminal and any use of these devices is a violation of the gambling laws of Alabama is simply another clandestine attempt to suppress and nullify the lawful passage of Amendment 744 and deflate the voting power of the people of Macon County. 

At the heart of the controversy is a memorandum that Strange issued in May 2011, claiming Bentley's executive order gave the attorney general's office authority to determine what games amount to legal bingo in Alabama. Plaintiffs, however, state that Strange's memorandum is at odds with the Alabama Constitution, as outlined in Amendment 744. Writes LaRoche:


The Sheriff of Macon County, under his constitutional authority, approved the use of electronic bingo games. While the Attorney General may be authorized to 'enforce' the gambling laws in Alabama, as he is all other laws, the Alabama Constitution says that only the Sheriff of Macon County can devise regulations for the conduct and operation of bingo within Macon County. There are no general laws in Alabama which relate to bingo because it can only be authorized in a particular county by constitutional amendment. When Defendant Strange decided what bingo must be and issued his May 2011 memorandum, he usurped the authority which had been vested solely in the Macon County Sheriff. So while General Strange may have the authority to 'enforce' bingo regulations or general criminal laws, he does not have the authority to 'create' or 'promulgate' the rules anymore than he has the authority to 'create' or 'promulgate' general criminal laws (such authority being vested in the legislature).

All sides seem to agree that the U.S. Supreme Court's finding in Presley is central to the current dispute. All sides also reference Bunton v. Patterson, 393 U.S. 544 (1969), which was one of four cases--three from Mississippi, one from Virginia--that were consolidated on appeal. 

The sides disagree how Presley and Bunton should apply to the situation unfolding in Macon County. The key question appears to be this: Do the actions of Bentley and Strange "rise to the level of a de facto replacement of an elective office with an appointive one"? Plaintiffs answer that question in the affirmative:


Defendant Bentley's Executive Order No. 1, repealing former Governor [Bob] Riley's Executive Order No. 44 and essentially appointing Defendant Strange as the new "anti-gambling czar," was clearly a usurpation of the authority constitutionally given to the Macon County Sheriff, as related to bingo rules and regulations. This action constituted changes affecting voting, and as such, was subjected to the preclearance requirement pursuant to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

On the surface, Presley might not bode well for the Macon County plaintiffs. After all, the nation's high court found that the Voting Rights Act did not cover the facts in that case. But LaRoche makes a powerful argument that alleged wrongdoing in Macon County goes way beyond that found in Presley:


The Governor's executive order appointed the Attorney General, who in turn, replaced the officer designated by the constitutional amendments. This diminished the authority of the official whom the electorates of Macon County voted for by de facto replacing the elected office they solely entrusted with the promulgation and regulation of bingo rules by constitutional amendment with an appointed office. This goes way beyond merely changing the internal operations of an elected body, such as the Etowah County Commission in Presley.









Thursday, May 2, 2013

Office of Luther Strange Violated Civil Procedure When It Sent Threatening Letter To Attorney


Tuskegee Mayor Johnny Ford
The Alabama Attorney General's office acted outside of lawful procedure when it sent a threatening letter to a lawyer who filed a civil-rights lawsuit against AG Luther Strange over raids at the VictoryLand casino, according to a new filing in the case.

Attorney Donald LaRoche, of Brockton, Massachusetts, also states that Strange's office twice refused to accept service of the summons, complaint, and other documents. Service was completed, LaRoche states, only after it became clear that the process server was prepared to contact federal-court officials about the refusal.

LaRoche sued Strange and Governor Robert Bentley on behalf of Tuskegee Mayor Johnny Ford and five other residents of Macon County, which is home to VictoryLand. The suit alleges that Strange and Bentley caused "economic devastation" by closing the casino, even though Macon County residents had voted to allow electronic-bingo at the facility.

Bentley and Strange both timely filed responses to the lawsuit on April 30. But Strange's office, before filing its response, fired off a letter to LaRoche. Dated April 11, the letter is signed by Alabama Solicitor General John C. Nieman Jr. and threatens to seek sanctions if LaRoche and his clients do not voluntarily dismiss their case within seven days. (The letter can be viewed at the end of this post.) In the letter, Nieman states:

Dear Mr. LaRoche:

Attorney General Strange was served with a summons and complaint in the above referenced case on April 9. Your signature on the complaint, and your clients' filing of it, violates Rule 11(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. As you are well aware, your claims and legal contentions are not warranted by existing law or a nonfrivolous argument for extending, modifying, or reversing existing law. see Presley v. Etowah County Commission, 502 U.S. 491, 501-08 (1992). Your clients appear to be presenting their complaint for harassment purposes. Please voluntarily dismiss your complaint within 7 days of this letter. If you do not do so, the Attorney General intends to seek sanctions against you and your clients, including but not limited to attorney's fees and costs associated with preparing a response and a motion for sanctions.

Sincerely,

John C. Nieman Jr.
Solicitor General

LaRoche responded by filing a Motion for Order to Cease Attempts to Intimidate and Delay, dated April 17, which correctly notes that Nieman acted outside Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP). (LaRoche's memorandum in support of the motion can be viewed at the end of this post.)

Rule 11 states that any effort to seek sanctions must be in the form of a motion to the court, not a letter to opposing counsel. From the LaRoche supporting memorandum:

The Attorney General’s letter to plaintiff’s counsel does not fall within the requirements of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. F.R.C.P., Rule 11 (c)(2) states that “a motion for sanctions must be made separately from any other motion and must describe the conduct that allegedly violates Rule 11(b).” The Attorney General’s threatening letter does not comport with Rule 11(c)’s motion requirement because it does not “describe the specific conduct that allegedly violates Rule 11(b)” nor is it in a motion form. This letter is just a feeble attempt to delay the process and silence the plaintiffs from pursuing their rights by threatening to seek sanctions.

That's not the only way Strange's office seeks to trample civil procedure. Writes LaRoche:

It should also be noted that in the letter from Solicitor General Neiman, a time period is specified for the plaintiffs to withdraw their complaint. . . . This randomly asserted deadline is not delineated anywhere in Rule 11 and further demonstrates that the purpose of this letter is to intimidate and chill the plaintiffs and not adhere to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

William Boyd, process server for the plaintiffs, apparently was able to serve Gov. Bentley without incident. But his efforts to serve Luther Strange met an almost comical wall of resistance. A receptionist first told Boyd that service was improper because it was not done by mail. Then things really got interesting. From the LaRoche memorandum:

After discussion with counsel for the plaintiffs on the morning of April 9, 2013, Mr. Boyd returned to the Attorney General’s Office to make another attempt at service. Again the front office receptionist refused to accept service. At this point, Mr. Boyd contacted plaintiffs’ counsel to explain the basis for the refusal. Counsel instructed Mr. Boyd to obtain the name of the person refusing to accept service and return to the federal court’s clerk’s office to notify the court that the Attorney General refused service in this matter. Hearing this, the receptionist placed a phone call and subsequently accepted a copy of the complaint, exhibits, and summons. Mr. Boyd then proceeded to the Governor’s Office, and upon arrival, he was able to effectuate service without any delay.

The bottom line? Bentley seemed to have no problem accepting service and responding to the complaint. Strange tried his darnedest to avoid doing either. LaRoche nicely summarizes what appears to be going on:

It is well established in this country that the right to petition is one of the most precious of the liberties safeguarded by the Bill of Rights and the right is implied by the very idea of a republican form of government. BE&K Constr. Co. v. NLRB, 536 U.S. 516 (2002), Eastern Railroad Presidents Conference Et Al. v. Noerr Motor Freight, Inc, Et al, 365 U.S. 127 (1961). . . .

The plaintiffs in this matter have exercised their right to petition the court because their voting rights have been violated by the actions of the defendants. California Motor Transport Co. v. Trucking Unlimited, 404 U.S. 508, 510 (1972) (“’the right of access to the courts is an aspect of the First Amendment right to petition the Government for redress of grievances.”)

Attorney General Strange’s letter, dated April 11, 2013, calling for the plaintiffs to dismiss their complaint or suffer the consequences of sanctions is designed to silence the plaintiffs’ meritorious lawsuit. . . . The intent of this letter is to have a chilling effect on the plaintiffs’ efforts to prove their case of voting rights violations. The effect of this letter is more evidence of the extent to which this defendant will go to violate the rights of the people of Macon County. The plaintiffs have properly filed and served the defendants in this case and are proceeding under the laws of this country governing federal lawsuits. The plaintiffs’ lawsuit should not be construed to be anything less than seeking a judicial determination for the concerns that they have raised and a rightful remedy. Rather than responding in the manner provided by the rules, with an answer and/or motion, the Attorney General chooses to send a threatening letter after initially delaying service.




Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Luther Strange Threatens Sanctions Against Attorney Who Filed Federal Lawsuit Over VictoryLand Raids


Luther Strange
Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange is threatening to seek sanctions against the Massachusetts lawyer who helped file a federal lawsuit against him over the February electronic-bingo raids at VictoryLand casino.

Donald LaRoche, of Brockton, Massachusetts, filed the lawsuit April 5 on behalf of Tuskegee Mayor Johnny Ford and other residents of Macon County who claim the VictoryLand raids have caused "economic devastation" in their area.

Governor Robert Bentley, codefendant in the case, already has filed an answer to the complaint, according to a report at oanow.com, the Web site of the Opelika-Auburn News. Strange's answer is due this week, but the AG already has engaged in the not-so-subtle art of intimidation. From the oanow.com report:

Donald LaRoche, who is representing Ford and others named as plaintiffs in the case, said that as of [last] Friday, attorneys representing Bentley were the only ones he was aware of who had responded to summonses. LaRoche said defendants typically have at least 21 days to respond after receiving a summons. When contacted by the Opelika-Auburn News, a spokesperson with Strange’s office said the attorney general had until [this] week to respond to the suit.

Is Strange looking forward to filing a response in the case? It doesn't sound like it:

According to court documents, LaRoche filed a motion to cease attempts to intimidate and delay on April 17 after receiving a letter from Solicitor General John C. Neiman Jr. on behalf of Strange threatening sanctions against him and Ford if the suit was not dropped within seven days of receiving the letter.

“He (Strange) is named throughout the lawsuit and we are looking forward to his being summoned into court and under oath having to testify,” Ford said.

Let's consider this scenario: Luther Strange having to testify under oath about what is driving his effort to close the VictoryLand casino, even though no court of law has declared its bingo machines to be illegal;   the attorney general possibly being forced to turn over documents--e-mails, internal memos, phone records--related to the VictoryLand raids.

Would that prove to be an interesting turn of events? Is it any wonder Luther Strange is resorting to intimidation tactics?

Monday, April 29, 2013

Federal Lawsuit Alleges Agents For Luther Strange Unlawfully Destroyed Property in VictoryLand Raid


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.



Thursday, April 25, 2013

Federal Lawsuit Alleges Racism and GOP Politics Drove Bingo Raids in Historic Macon County, AL


Johnny Ford
Tuskegee Mayor Johnny Ford and five other residents of Macon County have filed a federal lawsuit alleging Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange has caused "economic devastation" by unlawfully closing the VictoryLand casino.

Plaintiffs claim they and other Macon County voters have been the victims of a Republican Party plan that involves the use of Indian gaming funds to help take over all three branches of the Alabama government. The scheme, plaintiffs state, essentially nullifies their lawful votes to allow electronic bingo at VictoryLand.

Macon County is home to historic Tuskegee Institute, which was founded by Booker T. Washington and featured George Washington Carver as perhaps its most noted teacher.

The lawsuit, which names Strange and Governor Robert Bentley as defendants, alleges multiple violations of the U.S. Voting Rights Act, resulting in discrimination against residents of a county that is almost 82 percent black. Plaintiffs seek a declaration that Strange's actions constitute voting-rights violations, an injunction against future law-enforcement raids in Macon County, and a return of property seized at VictoryLand. (The full complaint can be viewed at the end of this post.)

Ford held a press conference on April 5 to announce filing of the lawsuit, but the mainstream Alabama press largely has ignored the story. We found reports at The Tuskegee News, the Opelika-Auburn News, and Courthouse News Service. But we found no coverage in newspapers serving Alabama's four largest cities--the Montgomery Advertiser, plus al.com newspapers in Birmingham, Mobile, and Huntsville.

How can so-called news organizations ignore a story that raises weighty, constitutional matters? It's hard to fathom an answer, but it certainly is not because the lawsuit deals only with bingo. At its heart, the lawsuit alleges a conspiracy between Indian tribes and white Republicans to deprive black Alabamians of constitutional protections.

Donald LaRoche, of Brockton, Massachusetts, and Christopher Ford, of Tuskegee, serve as co-counsel for plaintiffs. The lawsuit is supported by exhibits that are about 10 inches thick, sources tell Legal Schnauzer. From the complaint:

Beginning in 2003, white political leaders of the Alabama and National Republican Party . . . , including but not limited to Governor Bob Riley, initiated plans to elect white Republicans to the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches of government in the State of Alabama, allegedly referred to as "Operation 2010." 
In order to raise funds to accomplish their goal, Alabama Republican leaders and elected officials entered into a scheme with the Mississippi Choctaw Indians Casino Operators . . . and later the Alabama Poarch Band of Creek Indian Casino Operators. . . .  
This scheme included eliminating competition to Indian Gaming from non-Indian Gaming, including "VictoryLand" located in Macon County, Alabama. Eliminating VictoryLand served the dual goals of both by providing Indian Gaming a monopoly in Alabama and shutting off potential non-Indian Gaming . . . contributions that Republican political leaders feared could be used to thwart their political plans.

Plaintiffs go on to describe what amounts to a massive money-laundering operation at the national level:

The Choctaws, and later the Poarch Creeks, were able to disguise millions of dollars of contributions through Republican-based nonprofit organizations, including but not limited to, the National Christian Coalition, the Alabama Christian Coalition, the Alabama-based Republican Governors' Association and other Republican-based Political Action Committees ("PACs"). 
Indian Gaming funds were disguised in this manner to hide from the Alabama electorate that Republican candidates, whom they believed were opposed to all forms of gambling, were in fact taking millions of dollars from Indian Gaming.

Why has the mainstream Alabama press refused to cover this story? Perhaps the answer can be found in the complaint, which offers a brief recitation of our state's sad history with politics and racism. Such ugliness, the complaint suggests, continues today--based on evidence presented at the Alabama bingo prosecution of 2011. Once again, it seems, federal intervention is required to enforce basic constitutional rights in the Deep South:

The State of Alabama has a long history of utilizing the state constitution and the power of central state government to deny African Americans in Black Belt counties, such as Macon County, the ability to govern themselves and to make and to enforce laws of their choice. . . .  
This Court uncovered more recent attempts to deny African Americans in Black Belt counties the ability to govern themselves and to make and to enforce laws of their choice when it found "clear evidence of political manipulation motivated by racism." Two white Republican Senators and other white "influential Republican legislative allies" were recorded discussing their political strategy to keep a proposed constitutional amendment off the ballot because: "Every black, every illiterate would be bused on HUD financed buses." The recordings took place in the office of a white Republican state legislator in the Alabama Statehouse. This Court determined that: "The [white Republican Senators'] recordings present compelling evidence that political exclusion through racism remains a real and enduring problem in this State. Today, while racist sentiments may have been relegated to private discourse rather than on the floor of the state legislature . . . it is still clear that such sentiments remain regrettably entrenched in the high echelons of state government."

The Macon County lawsuit shines new light on racism in high places--and the Alabama mainstream press clearly wants no part of telling that story.





Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Press Release From Aide Jessica Medeiros Garrison Reveals Luther Strange's Hypocrisy On Gambling


Luther Strange and
 Jessica Medeiros Garrison 
Many of us probably thought no one could top former Alabama Governor Bob Riley when it comes to political hypocrisy. After all, Riley is the guy who spent the last two years of his administration conducting a crusade against gambling, even though GOP felon Jack Abramoff revealed in a 2011 book that he helped funnel some $20 million in Indian gaming cash into Alabama to boost Riley in the 2002 governor's race.

Luther Strange, Alabama's current attorney general and one of Riley's closest allies, is making a serious run for the title of "World's Biggest Political Hypocrite." Since Luther stands 6-8, he is a big hypocrite in every sense of the term.

At the heart of the storm is Jessica Medeiros Garrison, who was campaign manager for Strange's 2010 attorney general race and remains one of the AG's closest confidants.

All of this comes to mind because of a recent report from Montgomery Independent publisher Bob Martin, whose work appears in the Atmore News and a number of newspapers around the state. Martin reports that the Alabama Ethics Commission recently ruled that Strange can keep a $100,000 campaign contribution from the Poarch Creek casinos. Writes Martin:

Shortly after The Montgomery Independent reported last October that Mr. Strange accepted the money, an ethics complaint challenging the contribution was filed by Tuskegee Mayor Johnny Ford. 
Ford accused Mr. Strange of threatening raids on the VictoryLand in order to seize its electronic bingo machines, an event that occurred a few months later. 
The commission’s general counsel, Hugh R. Evans, has written Mayor Ford that the commission has now closed the case, telling Mr. Ford the commission has carefully reviewed the notebook of information he provided.

How closely did the commission examine the material that Ford submitted? Probably not all that closely. In fact, Martin writes that evidence suggests only Evans, and not the entire commission, reviewed the material.

What grounds did Evans give for rejecting Ford's complaint? He says there is "no nexus between the Poarch Creek Indians' contribution and General Strange." No nexus? Here is an online definition of the word "nexus":

A means of connection; a link or tie

Evans admits in his letter that both Luther Strange and the Alabama Republican Party received money from the Poarch Creeks. In other words, money went from Point A to Point B--and from Point A to Point C. I would call that a pretty serious nexus.

How does Jessica Medeiros Garrison enter the picture? It comes from a press release she produced on March 11, 2010, in the midst of Strange's primary contest against incumbent Troy King. (See full release at the end of this post.)

Garrison takes King to task for accepting gambling money in his campaign. From the press release:

Public records show that at least $190 thousand in campaign contributions from gambling operators, slot machine manufactures and their lobbyists were funneled to the Troy King campaign through a series of PAC to PAC transfers.

On February 18, 2010, Mr. King told radio listeners that he would return contributions made to his campaign if it were shown those funds came directly or indirectly from gambling interests. Research of public records clearly shows the trail of money from gambling interests to political action committees to King.

Garrison goes on to call for King to return the gambling funds, which she claims add up to at least $190,000. She says King might need to return as much as $400,000.

Let's see if we have this straight: In March 2010, Jessica Medeiros Garrison was exorcised over the fact that public records showed Troy King accepted campaign funds from gambling interests. But we now know that just a few months later--between July 15 and August 4, 2010, to be precise--Luther Strange accepted at least $100,000 from gambling interests, specifically the Poarch Creek Indians.

Is Jessica Medeiros Garrison calling on Luther Strange to return funds that he received from gambling interests? We haven't heard a peep out of her. As for Big Luther himself, it appears he intends to keep every dime that the Alabama Ethics Commission says has no "nexus" to the Poarch Creeks.

Jessica and Big Luther have some serious "splainin" to do. They also should be proud that their hypocrisy rivals that of Bob Riley. That, indeed, is quite an achievement.





Thursday, November 8, 2012

Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange Should Be Investigated for Bribery, Tuskegee Mayor Says

Johnny Ford

Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange should be the target of a federal bribery investigation, according to a letter sent this week to the U.S. Department of Justice by the mayor of a central Alabama city. Individuals connected to the administration of former Governor Bob Riley also should be investigated, the letter states.

Johnny Ford, who was sworn in Monday to his eighth term as mayor of Tuskegee, said in a letter dated November 5, 2012, that Strange's actions on gambling-related issues represent possible federal crimes. In his letter to George Beck, U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Alabama, Ford points to a $100,000 campaign contribution that Strange received from the Poarch Creek Indians, who operate casinos in Montgomery and Wetumpka. Ford notes that Strange has initiated raids against non-Indian gaming facilities that would be competitors for the Creeks and threatened similar action if VictoryLand reopens in Macon County, just a few miles from Tuskegee.

Public records show that Strange accepted a major campaign contribution and then took official action that would benefit the donor. That is almost identical to the allegations that were at the heart of a federal prosecution against former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman and former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy. Siegelman currently is housed in a Louisiana federal prison, and Scrushy recently was released from custody after serving his term.

The irony of Strange's actions, in light of the Siegelman case, is not lost on Johnny Ford. In his letter to George Beck (see full letter at the end of this post), Ford writes:

Attorney General Strange continues to threaten the economic viability of Macon County by his threats and predatory actions with regard to the reopening of our county's largest employer, VictoryLand. Yet, at the same time, he has received at least $100,000 in campaign donations from the owners of other Indian establishments in this state with whom VictoryLand would be a vibrant competitor. Is this bribery? If not, is is so close akin to it that I cannot see the difference. Is it not the same type of quid pro quo proposition for which former Governor Siegelman was convicted and now sits in federal prison.

Ford filed an ethics complaint against Strange in late October, and several news outlets have described this week's letter as another ethics complaint. But Ford now is clearly going beyond ethics matters; his letter raises the specter of a criminal investigation:

Is it not clear that if Attorney General Strange takes money from a competitor of another gaming operation like the Poarch Creek Casinos in Montgomery and Wetumpka (only a few miles on the interstate from Macon County's VictoryLand) and subsequently threatens to shut the other competitor (VictoryLand) down if it reopens, that it is illegal? Is it not illegal to hide this payoff by laundering the funds through various Republican PACs.

Ford's call for an investigation does not stop with Strange. It also includes a number of individuals who, like Strange, are politically aligned with former Governor Bob Riley. It was Riley, of course, who launched a series of raids against non-Indian gaming facilities in 2010. To Beck, Ford wrote:

I hereby request that you investigate and empanel a grand jury to investigate this matter. Also, as you can see from the attached media reports, the main persons participating in this illegal and money laundering scheme are the following: Former Gov. Bob Riley, his son Rob Riley, Attorney General Luther Strange, Birmingham Attorney Eric Johnston, and Republican State Senator Brian Taylor.
No one would expect Attorney General Strange to investigate himself and any of his Republican cohorts. The federal courts have recently ruled that you have jurisdiction over this matter and that the quid pro quo payoffs are illegal in the Siegelman case. As soon as you contact me, I will provide you with documents that will clearly show the above-mentioned parties' guilt.

Will George Beck take this seriously? We see reasons to doubt it. One of Beck's prime supporters for the U.S. attorney appointment was Birmingham lawyer G. Douglas Jones, now with the firm Haskell Slaughter and once a U.S. attorney under the Clinton administration.

Doug Jones, while ostensibly a Democrat, is tightly aligned with Rob Riley via their work on a federal lawsuit against individuals and entities connected to HealthSouth. Jones and Riley received a sizable chunk of some $50 million in legal fees awarded in the HealthSouth case, so it's unlikely that one of George Beck's supporters would welcome an inquiry into the Riley family.

If the precedent in the Siegelman case is applied, however, Johnny Ford has a powerful legal point. The trial court in the Siegelman case found, and the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, that an explicit "something for something" agreement (quid pro quo) is not necessary to prove a bribery case. The new law, which the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review, states that a jury is free to "infer" that an unlawful agreement existed from circumstantial evidence. And such evidence can include signs that the parties took steps to hide the nature of the transaction.

Ford hints that he has documentation to prove that the campaign contribution to Luther Strange was hidden via several Republican PACs. If the U.S. Department of Justice takes this seriously--and based on the Siegelman case, it should--Big Luther Strange might be in big trouble. The same applies to his allies connected to the Riley administration.

  Johnny Ford Letter Re: Luther Strange