Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Alabama's GOP Governor Has a Kissing Cousin on the Federal Court

Alabama Governor Bob Riley went into crowing mode when a federal judge recently made a ruling that appears to be contrary to gambling interests in Alabama.

But Riley failed to mention a couple of items for public consumption: (1) The ruling was not nearly as unfavorable toward gambling interests as Riley would have you believe; and (2) The judge who issued the ruling, U.S. District Judge Lynwood Smith, is Riley's cousin.

Yes, you heard that right. A federal judge, who ruled on a case in which the governor had a clear interest, is the governor's cousin. You can't get more Alabama than that.

This is just the latest evidence that Riley's hypocrisy knows no bounds. The Republican "anti-gambling governor" is the same guy who cruised into office in 2002 with the help of $13 million in Mississippi gambling money, freshly laundered by disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Riley continues to serve his Mississippi gambling supporters by trying to ensure that they do not have competition next door in Alabama.

After Smith's ruling that bingo machines at a Huntsville facility were "akin" to illegal slot machines, Riley's office pounced with a quick press release. It quoted Riley as saying, "The federal judge's ruling could not be clearer about the illegality of these so-called bingo machines in Alabama."

Bob Martin, of the Montgomery Independent, reports that the governor is essentially full of it. Writes Martin:

The case, involving gaming in the town of Triana in Madison County, only relates to Constitutional Amendment No. 387; one of 16 constitutional amendments which permit bingo across Alabama. "The opinion addressed itself solely to the constitutional amendment permitting bingo in Madison County," said Madison County attorney Julian Butler, who represented the county's sheriff.

The opinion also did not rule on the legality of the machines in question. Here's what U. S. District Judge Lynwood Smith wrote about the machines: "Although this court finds that the electronic bingo gaming machines at issue in this case are more akin to slot machines than the game commonly known as bingo, this court does not decide in this ruling the question of whether the electronic machines constitute bingo."

For good measure, Martin provides more information about the limitations of Smith's rulings--and includes a little dig about the judge's "family ties" to Riley:

The judge made the ruling to shut down the gaming operations on violations of other provisions in Amendment 387; it has absolutely no bearing on any other constitutional amendment authorizing bingo in Alabama. It would have been impossible for Smith, who is the governor's cousin, to make a lawful ruling on the machines without an evidentiary hearing on whether or not the machines were electronic bingo machines or slot machines.

Supporters of the planned Country Crossing development near Dothan joined Martin in jumping on Riley's misstatements--and his ties to Judge Smith. Attorneys for Country Crossing Developer Ronnie Gilley issued a statement to the Dothan Eagle:

Before one delves into the details of the Houston County amendment, it should be recognized that, despite what Governor Riley says, the opinion does not hold that electronic bingo machines are slot machines. Instead, it opines that the machines resemble slot machines, and then says that the court does not need to reach that question, because the operations of the Texas VFW in Triana were not conducted in compliance with Amendment 387.

Country Crossing, by contrast, will be conducted in strict compliance with Amendment 569, as well as with all applicable resolutions of the Houston County Commission. For example, unlike the Madison County Amendment, the Houston County Amendment has a provision that allows “special permits,” and the Houston County Commission has specifically granted the Houston Economic Development Association a special permit to operate electronic bingo games in Houston County. Moreover, these games will be actually conducted by the Houston Economic Development Association, which is an Alabama nonprofit corporation."

Jay Walker, a spokesman for Country Crossing, addressed the larger issue: Why was Riley's cousin hearing the case in Huntsville?

“I commend the court for acting justly in regards to illegal bingo operations in our state,” says Jay Walker, spokesman for Country Crossing. “However, the governor totally misrepresented the judge’s order.”

Walker asks the question, “Since the governor and Judge Smith are related, did Riley and his cousin speak before the ruling, and should Judge Smith have recused himself because they are related? As we all know, blood is thicker than water.”

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