|John Merrill (from steveflowers.us)
Kyle Whitmire, a reporter for al.com, admitted in a column on Tuesday that, prior to the 2014 general election, he had court documents that provided details about an unnamed public official's affair. The quality of the information was not in question because it involved sworn testimony in a deposition. Whitmire said it was "as close as it comes" to having a "story cold," but he "stuck it away," apparently not even consulting an editor about it. Whitmire hinted that other reporters in the mainstream press had received the information and ignored it.
Merrill, a Republican ally of former governor Bob Riley and a friend of Riley's son Rob, went on to handily win the secretary of state race over Democrat Lula Albert-Kaigler. Would Merrill have won if Whitmire had revealed the contents of court documents in his possession? That's hard to say. But multiple sources told Legal Schnauzer yesterday that the documents in question are from a divorce case in Tuscaloosa Circuit Court styled Bryan Scott Brinyark v. Mildred Murphree Brinyark.
Sources sent us copies of Millie Brinyark's deposition in the case, dated September 22, 2010, and Merrill's name is front and center. Ms. Brinyark, a former teacher, admits to allowing the married Merrill to touch her "private parts" and that she performed oral sex on him. A portion of the deposition, with key parts highlighted in yellow, is embedded at the end of this post.
Whitmire's column came in the wake of a vow from State Rep. Patricia Todd (D-Birmingham), Alabama's first openly gay lawmaker, to expose the affairs of her political colleagues if they continued to criticize a recent federal-court ruling in Mobile that declared the state's ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. Todd especially mentioned House Speaker Mike Hubbard, Attorney General Luther Strange, and unnamed others who might stand against gay marriage on "family values" grounds.
Todd appeared on MSNBC's All In with Chris Hayes show on Tuesday night and reportedly has heard from Jon Stewart's highly rated The Daily Show on Comedy Central. So far, Todd has not exposed any of her colleagues, but you might say that our readers helped us beat her to it.
We're not aware of any stance that Merrill has taken on gay marriage, but he has the kind of conservative "credentials" that Todd had in mind. During the 2014 campaign, Merrill was a favorite of the pro-business and religious communities, picking up endorsements from the Business Council of Alabama (led by Bill Canary), Alabama Conservative Christians, the National Rifle Association, Alabama Farmers Federation, and the Alabama Association of Realtors.
Even former Crimson Tide basketball coach Wimp Sanderson (who had extramarital issues of his own.) endorsed Merrill. "I know what he believes in, and what principles guide him," Sanderson said. That certainly appears to be true.
Merrill's official biography at the Secretary of State Web site says he is a deacon at Calvary Baptist Church and has served as a Sunday School teacher. The "pro family" bases seem to be covered:
John has been married to the former Cindy Benford of Phil Campbell for twenty-nine years. She is the principal at Westwood Elementary School in Coker. The couple has two children, Brooks (24), a graduate of The University of Alabama and graduate student at The University of South Florida, and Allie Grace (21), a senior at The University
The official bio says Merrill has been "very active in his community." Millie Brinyark's deposition shows just how active he has been.
First, Ms. Brinyark admits that she and a teacher/coach named Mike Evans, were "groping each other" behind closed doors during school hours. Then the questions turn to another married man with whom Ms. Brinyark was chummy, and to some extent, that apparently was also on school property:
Q: Have you gotten yourself involved with any other married man?
A: John Merrill.
Then the deposition turns to specifics:
Q: Did you consider the fact that when another man touches what I will call your body, particularly your private parts, that's being unfaithful to your husband?
Q: And Mike Evans did that, didn't he?
Q: And John Merrill did that too, didn't he?
Q: And you allowed them to do that?
The relationships, it seems, were of a reciprocal nature:
Q: And when you were touching their body, and putting your hand in their crotch, and touching their penis, did they tell you they didn't like that?
Men often are the aggressors in these situations, and that appears to be the case with Merrill. The deposition mentions that he is a politician, running for office:
A: John came to talk to me, and he came again and talked to me, and then I met with him that Sunday afternoon, and he had--he had been very sexual in his conversations and --
Q: Toward you?
Q: In an inappropriate manner?
Q: In what way?
A: Just he talked about he had to have sex all the time and --
Q: He wanted to have it with you?
How physical did things get?
Q: Did he touch, caress, and/or kiss your breasts?
Q: Did you do the same for him?
Q: So you touched his unexposed penis?
Q. And did either one of y'all have oral sex with the other?
Q: How many times?
A: Just once.
Q: Both for each other?
Q: Him for you--did he commit or perform oral sex on you?
Q: You performed oral sex on him?
The deposition indicates Ms. Brinyark had to resign from her teaching job, and she eventually went to work for an organization run by . . . John Merrill:
Q: So you had to actually resign?
Q: And then it was two or three years later that you began to work with the after school program?
Q: And that's the after school program that was run by John Merrill?
This apparently refers to the years when Merrill worked for the Tuscaloosa County Board of Education. From his bio:
From 1994 until 2010, John was the Director of Community Relations and Community Education for the Tuscaloosa County Board of Education. In this capacity, he served as the spokesperson for the Tuscaloosa County School System and coordinated twenty after school programs.
The Merrill story involves numerous unanswered questions, but this might be the most troubling one: Did John Merrill use taxpayer dollars to hire his mistress, perhaps in hopes that she would stay quiet about their affair?
Would that question have been of interest to voters who went to the polls in November 2014 to vote for secretary of state?
I would say the answer is yes. But Kyle Whitmire, and apparently other mainstream news reporters, made sure that voters didn't know enough to ask that question.