Thursday, January 31, 2008

Is a Legislative Purge Afoot?

State Rep. Sue Schmitz (D-Toney) was indicted today in federal court and accused of receiving $177,000 for work she did not perform. Schmitz, a former high-school government teacher, is accused of fraud in a nine-count indictment announced by U.S. Attorney Alice Martin in Birmingham.

What is going on here? Is this part of a noble federal effort to clean up Alabama's two-year college system? Is it part of a plan to help Republicans take over the state legislature by 2010? Is it a bit of both?

Given what we've learned about the highly partisan nature of U.S. Attorney offices in Alabama--remember it was Martin who first went after former Democratic Governor Don Siegelman--one must wonder about the motivations behind this investigation.

I particularly wonder because I have first-hand experience with Alice Martin's approach to handling allegations of wrongdoing by Republican public officials. I sent her reams of information about federal crimes (honest-services mail fraud, conspiracy) I had witnessed by Republican judges in Alabama state courts.

Martin assured me that if I sent her detailed information, she would send it to the appropriate investigative agency. When I did just that, what did she do with the information? She sent it to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, which does not even have jurisdiction to investigate the primary alleged crime--honest-services mail fraud under 18 U.S. Code 1346.

In other words, Alice Martin sent my allegations of Republican wrongdoing off to an obscure place where they could quietly die. Doesn't sound like she took that approach to allegations of wrongdoing by Rep. Schmitz. Wonder why.

And that makes me think all of this is another example of the Bush Justice Department playing politics with our courts.

I know very little about Rep. Schmitz and her work as an educator and a legislator. I have read this unflattering portrayal of her in The Birmingham News. But I also have first-hand experience with the News' partisan coverage of justice-related matters. I've notified more than a half dozen editors and reporters at the paper about the wrongdoing I've witnessed in Alabama courts, and they've all ignored it.

So excuse me if I don't take the News as the last word on Rep. Schmitz' integrity.

Based on what we know at this point, the two-year colleges story does not look good for Democrats in Alabama. It looked particularly bad last week when former Chancellor Roy Johnson pled guilty to various corruption charges and agreed to cooperate with the government's investigation.

Upon learning that, you knew more bad news was coming for Democrats. And it came today with the Schmitz story, one day after the high of James Fields' historic special-election victory for a legislative seat representing Cullman County.

As I try to digest the two-year colleges story, I can't help but balance it with what we've learned over the past six to eight months about the behavior of the Bush Justice Department in the Siegelman case.

And I can't help but ask this question: Is Sue Schmitz really a crook or is she just the latest victim of a politically motivated prosecution in Alabama?

I don't know the answer to that question. But I do know this: Alice Martin will definitely play politics with her office. When she ran for public office in 2000, her campaign manager was Dax Swatek, who later would serve as manager of Bob Riley's campaign for governor in 2006. Now Riley is leading a fundraising effort to help Republicans gain control of the state legislature in 2010. And having Sue Schmitz in federal prison would be a nice step toward achieving that goal.

Is Alice Martin playing politics with the Schmitz case? I don't know. But there is no doubt that she is suppressing an investigation of wrongdoing by Republican judges in Alabama state courts, and I've got the conclusive evidence to prove it.

We will be reporting that story in the weeks ahead. We also will be following the Schmitz case with great interest.


Anonymous said...

I have nothing good to say about Leura Canary, but that doesn't that others in her office are not doing their jobs. They have on any given day multiple investigations under way that nothing to do with the Rove/Canary/Riley Axis of Injustice.

Haing said that, I have 42 years of relationships of various sorts with the 3 year systems, especially with three campuses. Corruption has been present at leastt since George Wallace took the oath of office.

I do not know lady in question. I do knoww that she and every other lehgislator on the 2 year payroll are doing so illegally. They in violation of the Constitution and the Code of Alabama.

However that has nothing to do with the crime she was indited for under federal law.

Here are the the relevant citions of state law.

Constitution of Alabama Section 59
Appointment of legislators to other offices during terms for which elected.
No senator or representative shall, during the term for which he shall have been elected, be appointed to any office of profit under this state, which shall have been created, or the emoluments of which shall have been increased during such term, except such offices as may be filled by election by the people.
Code of Alabama Section 36-2-1
Persons not eligible to hold state office; holding of state and federal offices of profit or two state offices of profit.
(a) The following persons shall be ineligible to and disqualified from holding office under the authority of this state… No person holding an office of profit under the United States shall, during his continuance in such office, hold any office of profit under this state, nor shall any person hold two offices of profit at one and the same time under this state, except constables, notaries public and commissioners of deeds.

legalschnauzer said...

You raise some interesting points.

I'm not sure it's true that legislators who serve on the state payroll are doing so illegally. For example, I live in Birmingham, and I'm aware of state legislators who work or have worked at UAB. I suspect there are many similar situations at campuses around the state. It's hard to imagine that those could have gone on all these years if they were illegal.

From the law that you cited, it appears to me that the key phrase is "office of profit." I'm not sure how that is defined under the law.

If merely holding a job at a state institution is considered an "office of profit," then indeed these people might be acting illegally. But I'm not sure that's what the term "office of profit" means.

Perhaps someone else will know.