Merrill, a Republican with solid backing from business and religious organizations, also admitted to recommending the woman, Millie Brinyark, for a school-related job. But Merrill denied making the hiring decision, even though the job apparently was in a program he once managed.
An Al.com reporter recently wrote that he had court documents about a politician's affair and chose not to write about the matter. We learned Merrill was the politician in question and broke the story with a pair of posts (see here and here) in the past eight days. Our reporting came after State Rep. Patricia Todd (D-Birmingham), Alabama's first openly gay lawmaker, threatened to expose the extramarital activities of colleagues who oppose a recent federal-court ruling that struck down Alabama's gay-marriage ban.
What is Merrill's version of the sexual encounter? Here is how al.com describes it:
Merrill said the woman called him and asked to meet on Sunday, Sept. 12 (2010), at a condo owned by her brother. (In her deposition, the woman said Merrill asked her about getting together that Sunday, but acknowledged that she suggested the location, saying she had to go there anyway to return a parking pass.). That is where the encounter happened that Merrill and the woman describe differently.
Merrill told reporters: "Basically, when I walked in, we started talking. She kissed me, I kissed her back. Then she started unbuttoning my shirt, and after that, she started to become more aggressive, and she actually did some other things in trying to engage me in some physical activity with her, which I declined, and I indicated to her that I was not going to do that.
"I stopped, and I said, 'I need to go, I'm not going to be here anymore'."
The court documents are from a Tuscaloosa County divorce case styled Brinyark v. Brinyark. The case file has been sealed, although divorce proceedings generally are considered public documents under Alabama law, even in cases that involve a wife-beating federal judge. Ironically, al.com successfully moved to have the divorce case of U.S. Judge Mark Fuller unsealed, but it does not seem to question the sealing of a file involving John Merrill.
In a sworn deposition, defendant Millie Brinyark provided graphic details about a sexually charged relationship with the married Merrill. In an interview with four al.com journalists on Tuesday (Feb. 3), Merrill supported much of Brinyark's testimony, primarily denying that he received oral sex and that he was the sexual aggressor.
According to al.com, Merrill claims to be the victim of a "smear campaign" by unnamed individuals who widely circulated portions of the deposition to the press, politicians, members of his church, and others. How can it be a smear campaign when it involves public documents, about testimony that Merrill largely admits is true? The al.com journalists apparently did not ask Merrill that question.
Copies of the divorce documents that have been made public do not include the full deposition and do not make it clear who hired Brinyark in an after-school program. But they do indicate that Merrill's department hired her after she apparently was forced to resign as a teacher.
The al.com article raises numerous questions, but perhaps the most staggering one is this: Why would a woman admit--under oath and penalty of perjury--to providing a man with oral sex, when she really didn't? Even Merrill can't seem to explain that one, especially considering that Brinyark's deposition reportedly was taken less than two weeks after the sexual encounter. From the al.com article:
Asked why the discrepancy exists between his version and what the woman testified to 10 days after the incident, Merrill said:
"I don't know, I don't know that I ever will know. But I do know this - I'd know if that (oral sex) had happened. I would know that, and I know it didn't."
The al.com article indicates that Merrill had an opportunity to testify under oath in the Brinyark case, but successfully opposed a motion to take his deposition.
Merrill denies Brinyark's claim that they shared sexually charged text messages and phone conversations over a period of time. Did Merrill provide copies of any texts or phone records that support his version of events? We don't know, although Merrill admits the communication was inappropriate:
The woman's testimony supports that Merrill met her saying he wanted to try to help with her failing marriage. She also said that the two exchanged sexually-toned text messages and "very sexual" phone conversations in the weeks leading to the condo encounter.
She said that Merrill often mentioned that he "always needed sex" and several times they discussed use of condoms. She also discussed her suspicion that Merrill had "set her up" on behalf of her then husband, by becoming close to her. She testified that the day before her deposition she called Merrill to ask if he had set her up, and Merrill responded no. She also testified that she loved Merrill, loved the man she was having an affair with, and loved her husband, but differently as the father of her children.
Merrill acknowledged text messaging with her but said it was not sexual.
"Anytime a married person has a communication with someone they're not married to that contains personal information, it's inappropriate, it doesn't matter what it is," Merrill told AL.com. "I know I was not ever sexually explicit in any kind of communication with her, written or verbal."