Alabama Scene

Strange maneuvers at the AG’s office

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.

I reported several months back that former Gov. Bob Riley transferred $7.9 million in BP cleanup funds to the attorney general’s office three days before he exited as governor.

The new attorney general, Luther Strange, did not comment about the transfer but publically agreed to give the money back after the new governor, Robert Bentley, asked last February for the funds to be returned.

It has been reported that Dave Stewart, who was Riley’s chief of staff, engineered the suspicious transfer. Stewart has joined Bradley Arant, the Birmingham law firm that received millions in taxpayer dollars during the Riley era. Strange is a former partner at Bradley Arant.

After the news reports this past February, it was thought the funds would be returned ASAP. That hasn’t happened, according to sources at the State House. Instead, it is said by those sources that Strange has used the money to hire additional lawyers. Paperwork shows that Riley had actually earmarked the BP money to “fight gambling.”

Former Attorney General Troy King stated he knew nothing about the transfer but said the BP money should be used for what it was intended. “The state of Alabama represented to BP that any money we received from them was going to mitigate and pay for damages done by them on Alabama’s gulf coast,” King said.

I like Gov. Bentley and believe he will continue to protect our scarce state resources from unwise use. However, his first order of business next week should be to get these funds returned so they can be used in the way they were intended…to repair damage along the coast. And now, more lawyer fees to pay

An action by our state attorney general this past week will cost the state more unnecessary legal fees. For years Alabama has done like most other states affected by the Voting Rights Act and has submitted, as required by law, requests for preclearance of state laws affecting voting rights.

Although these matters can be filed in the federal court located in the District of Columbia, more than 99 percent are sent to the Department of Justice (DOJ) for administrative review and approval rather than going to court.

The redrawing of political lines is one of those changes, and the Alabama Legislature has approved new maps for the state’s congressional and board of education districts.

Earlier this month Atty. Gen. Strange, instead of sending the preclearance request to DOJ, filed a lawsuit in the D.C. courts asking for approval of the new districts.

Besides the millions it will likely cost Alabama taxpayers for the filing of this lawsuit, what really doesn’t make sense about this is that such cost is unnecessary. If, for some reason, Justice fails to approve the changes, a rarity I believe, the AG could surely go to court to contest the action at that time.

And you can bet your last dime that after the AG has retained one of his favorite firms in Alabama, it will then be necessary to find expensive voting-rights lawyers in Washington to do the actual work.

So far this year, six states have opted to take their cases to court according to DOJ. “Those six are a fraction of the filings so far, but they are more than usual and an unprecedented trend”, Justin Levitt, a law professor with expertise in election laws and redistricting, told The Birmingham News.

“And it doesn’t make a huge amount of sense to me,” said Levitt, who is on the faculty at Loyola Law School. “The DOJ process is somewhere between much, much faster and much, much, much faster.”

If this is an “Obama Justice Department thing” for our AG, he needs to revisit his thinking. Two state redistricting plans from the South, Virginia and Louisiana, have already been approved by DOJ this year.

If the DOJ objects to Alabama’s redistricting plans, the attorney general could still go to court.

There is a word other than “strange” for this costly adventure. It’s “grandstanding.”