Alabama Scene

New Bingo trial start date clashes with BCS Championship Game

Bob Martin is editor and publisher of The Montgomery Independent. Email him at: bob@montgomeryindependent.com.

Bob Martin is editor and publisher of The Montgomery Independent. Email him at: bob@montgomeryindependent.com.

Former Lt. Governor and Attorney General Bill Baxley must be the most optimistic Crimson Tide fan in the state.

Last Thursday after both defense lawyers and prosecutors suggested that U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson postpone the proposed Oct. 3 start of the second trial of VictoryLand owner Milton McGregor and six other defendants, Thompson moved the trial date to January 9, 2012. Baxley, who represents Montgomery lobbyist Tom Coker, quickly pointed out a problem with the new date Thompson set.

Baxley alerted the judge that the date conflicts with the BCS Championship game in New Orleans. “Hope springs eternal” he told the court. Not impressed, Judge Thompson is also not a graduate of the universities of Alabama or Auburn, the past two BCS football champions, but did indicate he might be sympathetic toward a day off if his alma mater, Yale, was being considered for the game.

Although he tentatively set the retrial date for Jan. 9, he did not rule on whether he would separate the defendants into multiple trials. He also did not rule on a prosecution motion to allow attorneys to question jurors about the decisions they reached in the first trial, which ended earlier this month. Those decisions will come later.

Thompson wasn’t asked by the attorneys to release information as to why the lead FBI agent in the case was removed from the trial on the first day and not allowed back into the courtroom. There was some information during the trial that the agent, Keith Baker, had lost his notes and several hearings about the Baker matter were called by Thompson and discussed with the lawyers in the case outside the presence of the jury and the public.

Baker was one of the agents who arrested McGregor and a person who had conflicts with the VictoryLand owner in the past. He was expected to be the lead FBI witness in the case, but was never called after his ejection from the courtroom.

The jury in the first trial acquitted of all charges two of the nine defendants and acquitted all the defendants of a total of 91 charges. A mistrial was declared against seven defendants because the jury could not reach a unanimous decision on the remaining charges against them.

There were no convictions on any of the more than 120 counts, which charged Mc- Gregor and the other eight defendants with offering or soliciting bribes to pass a bill which would have allowed a statewide election on bingo gambling. National columnist weighs in on trial

Scott Horton, an Alabama native and columnist at Harper’s Magazine, weighed in on the bingo trial verdict last week.

“The Justice Department’s public-integrity section,” he wrote, “was hit with another embarrassing setback, this time from the jury in the bizarre Alabama bingo case – Department of Justice’s (DOJ) highest-profile political litigation since its botched prosecution of former Senator Ted Stevens, R-Alaska.

“The prosecution showed DOJ to be firmly aligned with Alabama’s then-governor, Republican Bob Riley, who had leveled the initial vote-buying accusations during a heated election-time political debate over gambling issues. Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer touted the case against the Alabama politicians as “astonishing” when he announced the arrests. The jury, however, turned out to be quite unimpressed with the evidence offered.

“Riley initially launched the politicallycharged bingo investigation; it was then picked up by a U.S. Attorney’s office headed by Leura Canary, the wife of Riley’s campaign adviser Billy Canary.

“Local political figures ‘cried foul’ but Breuer insisted that the matter was being handled entirely by the main branch of the Justice Department. He then assigned Brenda Morris, one of the lawyers now under investigation for the mishandling of the Stevens file, to a lead position in the case. Many of the same problems that afflicted the Stevens file occurred in Alabama, too: the judge described the prosecution’s conduct in the latter as “ridiculous,” dismissed many of the charges himself, and threatened to sanction prosecutors over their misconduct.” I believe the same may happen in Montgomery after all the information about prosecutorial misconduct is revealed.