The strange case of Charlie McNichol appears to be over. And it raises more questions than it answers.
McNichol, the former law enforcement coordinator and spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Mobile, pleaded guilty yesterday to a misdemeanor charge of leaking information about a grand jury probe into Orange Beach corruption.
McNichol is on paid leave from his job and faces no more than a year in prison. Sentencing is set for Oct. 18. The investigation involved former Orange Beach mayor Steve Russo and three others, who were convicted or pleaded guilty.
A few questions come quickly to mind:
* Who was the "personal friend" to whom McNichol leaked information? Was McNichol's plea designed to ensure that this information did not come out in court? I assume McNichol didn't leak the information to his dry cleaner or his garbage man. Did he leak the information to a reporter? Was a reporter from the Mobile Press-Register? If so, who? And does this indicate something about the way the Mobile paper goes about collecting news?
* If the Mobile Press-Register was involved, shouldn't the paper reveal that? After all, the paper makes it a point to air other people's "dirty laundry" (at least in some instances).
* Why did the Justice Department bring this case and ignore evidence of leaking by the office of Leura Canary, U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Alabama in Montgomery?
* Will Russo and the others be entitled to new trials?
* McNichol was charged with misdemeanor theft of property. Is that truly the proper charge here? Should an act that so seriously undermines the process of justice be deemed a misdemeanor and is there a more serious charge with which McNichol could have been charged?
* How did this case come to light? The Justice Department seems to have no problem ignoring possible leaking in Montgomery. Why investigate and prosecute this at all? Did a Democrat, or a Republican with a conscience (a south Alabama version of Jill Simpson), get wind of this and press for something to be done?