Alabama Scene

An intramural blood bath on Goat Hill


Bob Martin is editor and publisher of The Montgomery Independent E-mail: bob@montgomery independent.com

Bob Martin is editor and publisher of The Montgomery Independent E-mail: bob@montgomery independent.com

Some around the capitol call it an intramural fight. I call it an intra-party blood bath. It started several months back when, according to talk circulating around Montgomery, sources believed to be connected to Gov. Bob Riley began circulating certain rumors about Atty. Gen. Troy King, a man appointed by the governor.

The rumors came out as Birmingham lawyer Luther Strange announced that he would oppose King for the AG post in 2010. Strange was defeated in his quest to become lieutenant governor by Jim Folsom Jr. in 2006. Sources have told me that the King rumors, if not originated by people close to Riley, were fostered by those around him including the governor’s son, Rob Riley, a Birmingham lawyer, and persons affiliated with Strange. The rumor buzz traveled like a blitzkrieg across the state.

Now the governor and his minions are trying to pin King against the wall on the issues surrounding electronic bingo in Alabama. King has investigated the various laws permitting bingo operations in the state and determined those operations which are legal and those which are not. To counter that, Riley has pulled a retired district attorney, David Barber of Birmingham, out of his hat to investigate gambling in Alabama. The question many around the capitol are asking is why the governor is trying to override King’s investigation.

Some capitol sources believe this is a part of a continuing payback by Riley to the Mississippi gambling interests who funneled over $2 million into his 2002 election campaign via contributions through the Republican Governor’s Conference. Those same observers believe the quid pro quo was for Riley to do everything he could to keep any type of gambling in Alabama to a minimum so that the casinos in Mississippi could flourish.

Using state officers under the control of the governor, Barber conducted a raid on the bingo games at White Hall in Dallas County last week, a gaming operation that has been declared legal under Alabama law by a circuit court. Over a half million in cash and 101 machines were seized.

Barber said he would try the case when it came to court, and this would be the first of possibly more raids depending on current investigation. That may or may not be the case. Barber has the authority to conduct the investigation at the behest of the governor, but his authority is trumped by the attorney general, who can take over and supervise any criminal investigation in the state.

Here is the statutory language: “The Attorney General, either in person or by one of his assistants, may at any time he sees proper, either before or after indictment, superintend and direct the prosecution of any criminal case in any of the courts of this state. The district attorney prosecuting in such court shall assist and act in connection with the Attorney General or his assistant in such case.”

I vividly recall a time when former Atty. Gen. Bill Baxley stripped away the authority of the local district attorney in Colbert County and took over the investigation and prosecution of a murder case. To Baxley’s chagrin, the jury rejected his arguments and found the defendant innocent. The governor and Mr. Barber should review that case before swooping into any more local counties in an attempt to usurp the authority of local law enforcement. The question remains whether King will use his authority to step in and return the investigation to local Dallas County authorities. Some of his advisors are saying that is what he should do.

So what kind of game is the governor really playing with the fellow he named attorney general of the state? Some capitol observers with whom I have talked believe the game, in addition to helping the Mississippi casinos, is to get King embroiled in the gambling argument in order to aid Strange in his bid to replace the current attorney general.

I doubt if the attorney general will stand still and permit the governor and Strange to run over him. There’s likely to be more interesting developments in this family feud, perhaps as soon as this week.

Stay tuned.