The Wire

  • Man accused of trying to run over police officer, charged with attempted murder

    Excerpt from ABC 33/40:

    A man accused of trying to run over a police officer was charged with attempted murder Friday, Shelby County authorities confirm.

    Chief Assistant District Attorney Roger Hepburn says Issai Serrano is the suspect connected with a Wednesday afternoon shooting involving an Alabaster Police officer. The shooting occurred at Morgan Road and South Shades Crest Road, said Hoover Police officers, who were the first to respond to the scene.

  • Former Pisgah clerk indicted on theft, ethics charges

    Excerpt from AL.com:

    A former clerk of the Town of Pisgah has been indicted on charges of theft and an ethics law violation, the Attorney General’s Office announced Friday.

    Jennifer Lynne Hall, 43, was charged with one count of first-degree theft and one count of intentional use of official position or office for personal gain, an Ethics Law violation, officials said.

    Hall surrendered to the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office Thursday and was later released on an $11,000 bond.

  • Mother and her 2 children injured in possible tornado strike in Cullman County

    Excerpt from WVTM:

    Two children, including a newborn, and their mother were injured in a possible tornado strike in Cullman County Friday evening.

    A mother was with her children inside her mobile home near Jones Chapel when it was “completely leveled” by a storm around 7 p.m. The children suffered cuts to the face and body. Their mom also suffered minor injures. All three were taken to the hospital for treatment. They are expected to make a full recovery following their release Saturday. They are being kept overnight for observation.

    A large group of volunteers were seen combing through the debris late into the night.

2 years ago

BREAKING: SCOTUS orders Alabama to recognize lesbian adoptions from other states

A gay pride flag flies in San Francisco, California.
A gay pride flag flies in San Francisco, California.
A gay pride flag flies in San Francisco, California.

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday ruled that Alabama’s Supreme Court was wrong to allow the birth mother of three children to deny visitation rights to her former lesbian partner, who had adopted the children while the couple lived together in Georgia.

Alabama’s high court had ruled last year that the state did not have to legally recognize the adoption and compel the birth mother to allow the adoptive mother to visit the children.

The two women involved in the case are identified as E.L. and V.L in order to protect their privacy.

The three children were conceived and born through artificial insemination during a long term relationship between the two women, who never married and have since separated.

Because Alabama at the time would not approve adoptions by same-sex couples, the two women moved to Fulton County Georgia, where a judge was “receptive to same-sex parents seeking such.”

V.L., the non-biological mother, adopted the three children with the Georgia court’s approval. After the two women ended their relationship in 2011, the biological mother, E.L, refused to allow V.L. to see the children. With the family once again living in Alabama, E.L. argued that the 2007 Georgia adoption was invalid in the state.

In 2014 the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals ruled that a lower court had erred by allowing V.L. visitation rights to the children. That ruling was later reversed, thus taking the case to the Alabama Supreme Court.

The court found that Alabama did not recognize the Georgia adoption, arguing that the Georgia court did not properly apply its own state laws.

According to Alabama Justice Tom Parker, adoption is not a fundamental right, but a privilege.

“Alabama has unequivocally held that adoption is a purely statutory right; an Alabamian’s right to adopt does not exist apart from Alabama’s positive law,” wrote Parker. “Thus, adoption is a privilege, not a right.”

The lone dissenter, Alabama Justice Greg Shaw, argued the Alabama Supreme Court did not have the right to determine whether or not Georgia applied its own laws correctly.

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that “the Alabama Supreme Court erred in refusing to grant (the Georgia court’s) judgment full faith and credit.”

According to the Williams Institute at UCLA, roughly 65,000 adopted children currently live with a gay parent.

1
2 years ago

Alabama Speaker strips rival of committee chairmanship in move that could hurt North Alabama

State Rep. Phil Williams (Left) was removed from his committee chairmanship by Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard (right)
State Rep. Phil Williams (Left) was removed from his committee chairmanship by Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard (right)
State Rep. Phil Williams (Left) was removed from his committee chairmanship by Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard (right)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — When Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn) last week announced committee assignments for the upcoming legislative session, one lawmaker’s name was conspicuously missing from the chairmanship he has held since Republicans took over the legislature in 2010.

State Rep. Phil Williams (R-Huntsville) has been the only Republican to ever chair the Technology and Research Committee, but after questioning Hubbard’s ability to govern while facing trial on public corruption charges and challenging him for the Speaker’s gavel, Hubbard moved swiftly to strip him of his post.

Williams has now been replaced by Rep. Donnie Chesteen (R-Geneva).

Hubbard’s office released a statement saying “committee assignments are chosen based upon the skills and talents each member possesses,” but declined to comment on Williams’ removal specifically.

In a phone interview with Yellowhammer Monday morning, Williams said his background in technology and startups had made him a good fit for the Technology and Research Committee chairmanship.

“I started my career long ago when President Reagan called for a strategic defense initiative, which became Star Wars,” he explained. “I applied and got in and that was my entrance into the world contracting and testing. It was cutting edge stuff. After that I started a business doing test engineering work. It was very successful and we ended up selling it.

“Then I started another company doing wireless sensor networks and later sold it. Now I spend time mentoring small business startups. So I’ve been around startups and technology for 30-something years.”

The committee chairmanship was also important to Williams’ legislative district, which is home to many of the state’s tech firms, ranging from multi-billion dollar companies to bootstrapping startups. Williams’ successor, Rep. Chesteen, represents a rural Wiregrass-area district, but Williams says he is also qualified for the post.

“A lot of Huntsville people have contacted me with some concerns, saying things like, ‘Since when was Geneva a hub of technology?'” Said Williams. “There is certainly some disappointment. But I am very supportive of Donnie. I’ll do anything I can to help him. He’s a great guy and a good friend and I’ll go the extra mile for him.

“In fact, he is actually an expert on the technology we’ll be dealing with on the Committee in the coming months. It’s a bill called the Alabama Ahead Act. It will allow local school districts to spend money on the technology they need, whether it be wireless infrastructure, or iPads, or teacher training. Donnie’s been in the middle of that issue for several years now and he’ll have a lot of people, especially me, supporting him as we work through it this session.”

Yellowhammer spoke to several North Alabama technology executives and entrepreneurs Monday morning, each of whom had varying degrees of concern about Williams being removed from his post. They spoke freely on condition of anonymity.

“I can’t imagine it will hurt us that bad,” one said. “It is in our DNA up here to do innovative things up here and most of us could not care less who is on what legislative committee. The main thing we need is for the government to stay out of our way. That being said, it is always helpful to have a guy like Phil who actually has first-hand experience with what we’re doing and it is somewhat unseemly that politics would get in the way of that.”

Another tech leader said Williams’ removal reminded him of former U.S. House Speaker John Boehner removing Republicans from certain committees if they did not vote the way he wanted, or challenged his leadership.

“We were all worried there for a little while because (Congressman) Mo (Brooks) (R-AL5) is part of the Freedom Caucus and was giving Boehner fits,” he said. Brooks serves on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.

“But he hung in there, didn’t get the ax like some of the others. (Senator) Shelby (R-Ala.) would have been able to make sure North Alabama was not completely left out in the cold, but it would have been tougher without an ally in the House. The state level is not as big of a deal, mainly because the NASA and Redstone and contractor money is coming out of D.C., not Montgomery.”

A third North Alabama resident Yellowhammer interviewed said for him it was less about Williams’ committee post, and more about North Alabama being singled out.

“I just can’t think of anything more asinine than taking out a petty political beef on the people,” he said. “That’s who stuff like this hurts. Not Representative Williams, his people.”

There is a small but vocal effort in the Alabama House to seek clarification on whether the state constitution calls for the Speaker to be elected every year, or only once every four years.

Section 51 of the Constitution says, in part, “the House of Representatives, at the beginning of each Regular Session, and at such other times as may be necessary, shall elect one of its members as Speaker.”

Amendment 57 of the Alabama Constitution discusses organizational sessions, which take place once every four years. It also says that during the organizational session “the House of Representatives shall elect one of its members as Speaker, to preside over its deliberations.” Although Amendment 57 does not strike anything from Section 51, it has created enough ambiguity that recent tradition has held that the Speaker is only elected once every four years.

Williams says this has allowed Hubbard and Speakers before him to amass a great deal of power.

“I would fully support getting some clarification on this issue,” he said. “Part 51 of the Constitution clearly says we should elect a Speaker every time we organize in a Regular Sessions. This week we should be electing a new Speaker. I’m not going to hold my breath because a lot of people don’t want the clarification. I haven’t met anybody yet who can tell me when the Legislature adopted a four-year program. It allows the Speaker, whoever it is, to accumulate a lot of power and money. It’ll take a Supreme Court decision to work it all out.

The legislature convenes for the 2016 Regular Legislative Session on Tuesday.

1
3 years ago

NOT SO FAST: Alabama Supreme Court blocks order to return bingo machines, cash to casino

slot machines

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The Alabama Supreme Court on Monday blocked a lower court’s order for the state of Alabama to return to VictoryLand Casino cash and gambling machines that were seized during a raid in 2013.

The stay was granted at the request of the Alabama attorney general’s office.

“I am pleased with the Alabama Supreme Court’s stay of the Circuit Court’s order concerning VictoryLand,” said Alabama Attorney General Strange. “The high court’s decision will prevent the release of all illegal electronic bingo machines seized at VictoryLand until the Supreme Court is able to rule on the state’s appeal. It is important that the case be allowed to progress through the entire judicial process so the legality of electronic bingo at VictoryLand can be settled once and for all.”

This is the second consecutive week of significant gambling-related news in Alabama.

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) last Thursday signed an executive order stripping the attorney general’s office of the authority to enforce gaming laws, paving the way for gambling to take place in local areas under the supervision of sheriffs and district attorneys.

The move was a reversal of the first official act Bentley made as governor in 2011, when he renewed the AG’s authority to enforce the gambling laws.

Last month, Circuit Judge William Shashy ruled the executive order unconstitutional because he said it led to unequal enforcement of the laws in different areas of the state.

The rub revolved around Victoryland, which had been repeatedly shut down by state authorities, while other similar casinos in Greene and Lowndes Counties remained open.

“The State did not deny the existence of these casinos or the electronic bingo machines,” Shashy wrote in his ruling. “Thus, the Court reiterates its ruling that the State of Alabama is cherry picking which facilities should remain open or closed, and this Court will not be used as an instrument to perpetuate this unfair treatment.”

Shashy went on to instruct the state to return the 1,615 electronic bingo machines and $260,000 in cash that had been seized from VictoryLand over two years ago. The State’s appeal of that order now awaits a final ruling by the Supreme Court.

1
3 years ago

American College of Pediatricians urges Alabama Supreme Court to protect children

Flickr user Kamaljith K V
Flickr user Kamaljith K V
Flickr user Kamaljith K V

MONTGOMERY — The American College of Pediatricians (ACPeds) filed a brief Friday urging the Alabama Supreme Court to consider the well-being of children before deciding the legal ramifications and impact of Obergefell v. Hodges in the Yellowhammer State. The historic 2015 U.S. Supreme Court case which, in a 5-4 decision, declared that there is a federal constitutional right to same-sex marriage for all Americans.

Dr. Den Trumbull, College Past President and Alabama pediatrician said that the Alabama Supreme Court’s decision will have a major impact on children and families for generations to come.

“Every child needs a mother and a father. Same-sex marriage directly disenfranchises children of this right.”

ACPeds argued in its brief that if the Alabama Supreme Court accepts the Obergefell v. Hodges decision as legitimate and upholds it, this would deprive child of the “mother and father so essential – not only to their conception – but to their well-being.”

“This Court should take care,” the brief reads, “that innocent and helpless Alabama children are not sacrificed on the altar of adult passions, judicial will, or politically correct opinion. Children are not playthings, that state or federal courts can force upon them a novel social experiment that only promises them higher chances of failure, confusion, and harm.”

In the briefing, ACPeds argued that national studies point out that children raised by same-sex parents, do not fare as well as those with opposite-sex parents and many experience substantial harm. There is evidence, according to the group of pediatric doctors, of the fundamental value of the married, father-mother family unit to the optimal development of the child.

ACPeds states that, “there is legal, constitutional, and historical recourse to address the social injustice and constitutional travesty outlined in Obergefell.”

The ACPeds is urging the Alabama Supreme Court to reaffirm its acknowledgement that traditional husband/wife marriage is the law of the State and argues that it cannot be altered by judicial decree.

The entire brief can be read here.


1
3 years ago

Senator Albritton: Don’t punish rural Alabama because of waste in Montgomery (Opinion)

Montgomery Bubble
The Montgomery Bubble

By State Senator Greg Albritton

All too often, the professional bureaucrats in Montgomery ignore the people in rural Alabama. The recent closure of driver’s license offices in our rural counties across the state is just another example of these Montgomery bureaucrats sticking it to rural folks.  

On October 1st, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) – an agency the Legislature created several years ago to consolidate the Department of Public Safety and other law enforcement functions – announced the closure of thirty-one driver’s license offices, many of which are in our rural counties such as Washington and Escambia. ALEA has said the closures were necessary because its funding was cut by $11 million.

It is true that the state budget passed a couple of weeks ago cut ALEA’s funding. In fact, this compromise budget required most state agencies to trim costs by 1% to 5%. These small cuts were necessary to keep government growth under control.

However, in ALEA’s case there are no reductions in available funds for 2016.

In February of this year, ALEA, on its own claimed authority, initiated an increase of $12.75 on each and every driver’s license renewal in the state. This fee increase results in an estimated annual take from the citizens of Alabama of $12.7 million in additional funds.  This increase goes directly to ALEA, not to the General Fund budget.  Hence, the Legislature’s General Fund budget reduced funding to ALEA by $11 million, on the principle that the taxpayers were now burdened with an additional tax by this (independent) bureaucracy.

So ALEA will have $1.7 million available in additional funds for 2016. But even if this were not the case, the budget passed by the Legislature required that all reductions due to funding cuts were to occur first in the bloated bureaucracies of Montgomery.

Why did the Legislature put this restraining language in the budget? Because Governor Bentley and others have repeatedly used fear-mongering rhetoric to describe the effect cuts would have on state services as they tried to build support for a $541 million (or whatever the chosen figure) tax hike.

After the Legislature passed the General Fund budget, Governor Bentley actually praised the budget and promptly signed it into law.  Soon after signing though, the Governor reversed himself and argued that the restraining language in the budget was unconstitutional. He asked Alabama’s Supreme Court to weigh in on the matter, but the Court declined.

I am disappointed that Governor Bentley has used, and continues to use, state agencies as part of his political push for higher taxes on the people of Alabama.

I am frustrated that ALEA has chosen to close thirty-one driver’s license offices in rural counties across the state, even though ALEA has a net increase of $1.7 million.

To solve an artificial problem that Governor Bentley has created and ALEA has exacerbated, I have written and will submit a bill in the 2016 legislative session that requires ALEA to provide driver’s license testing in every county in Alabama on a monthly basis. But my real hope is that ALEA will reverse its decision in the intervening time and reopen the thirty-one crucial, rural driver’s license’s offices.

The citizens of rural Alabama deserve the same state services as people living in Mobile, Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, or Montgomery. I hope that Governor Bentley will stop using state agencies to advance his political agenda and will work with the Legislature for the good of the entire state.


Senator Greg Albritton represents Senate District 22, which is comprised of all or parts of Choctaw, Clarke, Washington, Monroe, Mobile, Conecuh, Escambia, and Baldwin counties, in the Alabama Senate. You may reach him at greg.albritton@alsenate.gov or at (334) 242-7843.

1
3 years ago

Alabama Supreme Court should act immediately to protect religious liberty (Opinion)

Alabama Supreme Court building, Montgomery, Ala.
Alabama Supreme Court building, Montgomery, Ala.


By Eunie Smith, President, Eagle Forum of Alabama and Dr. John H. Killian, Sr., former President of the Alabama Baptist State Convention

It has been three months since the Supreme Court of the United States rocked the nation with their landmark opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges, which purported to redefine marriage to include two adults of the same-sex and force that redefinition on “320 million Americans” as Justice Antonin Scalia disparaged in his dissent.

Five “unelected judges” – as Chief Justice Roberts called them in his criticism of Obergefell – dealt an arrogant blow to God, the family, nature, the rule of law, the Constitution of the United States, and the democratic process.  Simply because their opinion has been accepted as the “law of the land” by the media and the left, doesn’t mean that the rest of us have to close our eyes to the truth or pretend that the Constitution allows the judicial branch to legislate a new right to same-sex marriage.

Confusion has reigned in the wake of Obergefell.  A Christian clerk was jailed for refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses. A physician was found guilty of warning patients about the dangers of homosexuality. Leading LGBT activist groups rallied for the legalization of prostitution.  The Browns, of “Sister Wives,” cited Obergefell in their fight to legalize polygamy.  Protests are erupting over transgender boys being allowed in the girls’ bathroom.  The Southern Poverty Law Center is pumping funds into their “Teaching Tolerance” curriculum – aimed at brainwashing children to accept perversion in our public schools. Alabama probate judges who uphold what Alabama’s law demands when it comes to marriage, receive frequent hate mail and threats designed to intimidate them into violating their religious beliefs about marriage.

This is only the beginning. Obergefell will be a catalyst for the further deterioration of the family, religious liberty, and the values and principles that have made America great.  Massive litigation fees will be incurred as Christians in Alabama stand firm on their convictions in businesses, churches, and in the public square.  Judicial activism following Obergefell will only intensify as the sentiments of men and women – no matter how “supreme” – are allowed to trump the rule of law found in the plain text of the Constitution and the “law of Nature and of Nature’s God.”

In March, the Alabama Supreme Court exhibited a remarkable understanding of these issues when they issued a permanent injunction that halted same-sex marriage in this state.  Liberty Counsel – with a brief filed on behalf of Alabama Policy Institute and Alabama Citizens Action Program – has asked the Alabama Supreme Court to affirm its injunction and disregard the Obergefell opinion which four members of the United States Supreme Court said was completely unconstitutional.

That request has been pending in the Alabama Supreme Court for nearly three months.

Washington County Probate Judge Nick Williams and Probate Judge John Enslen of Elmore County, have asked for an “Emergency” Petition and a “Protective Order” to protect their sincerely held beliefs in light of the prosecution of Kentucky Clerk Kim Davis.

So far those petitions also remain unanswered.

Alabamians elected justices to the Alabama Supreme Court with confidence that they would judge rightly in the fear of God, in step with the Constitution of the United States and the Alabama Constitution, and representative of the traditional values that Alabamians cherish.  We anxiously await their decision.

Duty to God, the preservation of our constitutional republic, and the future of families and children require no less than a prompt and resolute decision in this case.  The Alabama Supreme Court should act immediately to protect the sincerely held religious beliefs of our citizens and the sanctity of the institution of marriage – as adopted by 81% of Alabama voters.  They should not leave the citizens of Alabama to wonder, “Where is the Supreme Court of Alabama?”

1
3 years ago

Alabama Supreme Court rejects lesbian couple’s adoption granted in Georgia

Alabama Supreme Court
Alabama Supreme Court

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The Alabama Supreme Court Friday ruled the state does not have to legally recognize the adoption of three children by a lesbian woman which was granted by a Georgia court in 2007.

The two women involved in the case are identified as E.L. v. V.L in order to protect privacy.

The three children were conceived and born through artificial insemination during a long term relationship between  the two women.

Because Alabama at the time would not approve adoptions by same-sex couples, the two women moved to Fulton County Georgia, where a judge was “receptive to same-sex parents seeking such.”

V.L., the non-biological mother, adopted the three children with the Georgia court’s approval. After the two women ended their relationship in 2011, the biological mother, E.L, refused to allow V.L. to see the children. With the family living once again in Alabama, E.L. refused V.L.’s request to visit the children, arguing that 2007 Georgia adoption was invalid in Alabama.

Having first been appealed to the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals in October 2014, it was ruled that the Jefferson County judge had erred when allowing V.L. visitation rights to the children. Earlier this year the appeals court ruling was reversed thus taking the case to the Alabama Supreme Court.

The Court found that Alabama did not recognize the Georgia adoption by the non-biological mother, V.L., because the court found the Georgia court didn’t properly apply contemporary Georgia law.

According to Alabama Justice Tom Parker, adoption is not a fundamental right, but a privilege.

“Alabama has unequivocally held that adoption is a purely statutory right; an Alabamian’s right to adopt does not exist apart from Alabama’s positive law,” wrote Parker. “Thus, adoption is a privilege, not a right.”

The lone dissenter, Alabama Justice Greg Shaw, argued the Alabama Supreme Court doesn’t have the right to determine whether or not Georgia applied its own law in this case of legal adoption.

To view the entire Alabama Supreme Court ruling of E.L v. V.L. is available on the Court’s website.


1
3 years ago

Recent Alabama Supreme Court ruling is a huge win for gun rights

Alabama Supreme Court building, Montgomery, Ala.
Alabama Supreme Court building, Montgomery, Ala.

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The Alabama Supreme Court Friday shot down as unconstitutionally vague a state law banning the open carrying of a firearm on someone else’s property due to it lacking a punishment clause.

The ruling centered around the case of Jason Dean Tulley, a 38-year-old Jacksonville, Alabama resident who open carried his pistol in the First Educators Credit Union on March 31, 2011. An off-duty law enforcement officer acting as a security guard ordered Tulley to leave the premises and put the gun in his car. Tulley at first argued he was within his rights, but ultimately complied.

The charges came days later.

“This is definitely a victory for gun rights advocates,” said J.D. Lloyd, one of Tulley’s appellate lawyers. “More importantly, it’s a victory for folks who believe in Due Process and don’t want to see the Legislature passing vague criminal statutes.”

Tulley’s initial trial was in the City of Jacksonville Municipal Court, where he was convicted of violating Alabama state law 13A-11-52, which prohibits “carrying a pistol on premises not one’s own or under his control.”

In 2013 the Alabama Legislature updated the law to continue, “unless the person possesses a valid concealed weapon permit or the person has the consent of the owner or legal possessor of the premises.”

This revisions, as well as some in the 1940s, omitted any punishment to the crime it described, so Tulley’s lawyers argued it was therefore unconstitutionally vague, and in a 5-3 decision, the Alabama Supreme Court agreed.

“A person facing criminal prosecution has a fundamental right to know what the consequences are of their criminal conduct,” another of Tulley’s attorneys, Joe Basgier told AL.com in an email. “In this case, my client was convicted of what the trial court called a violation, but which was based on a state criminal statute lacking even a mention of the criminal penalties. The end result is that 13A-11-52 is not a ‘crime,’ and can not be prosecuted as such.”

Lloyd added that in order to criminalize violation of the law, the Alabama Legislature would have to go back and “fix” it.

Tulley told supporters in the Facebook group “BamaCarry” that the City of Jacksonville’s “attack” on his family has cost him $20,000 in court fees and lawyers.


1
3 years ago

One Alabama probate judge declares his county is no longer in the ‘marriage business’

Probate Judge Allen (Web)
Pike County Probate Judge Wes Allen

TROY, Ala. — The US Supreme Court’s decision last Thursday to strike down state bans on same-sex marriage has left Alabama probate judges with few legal options, and some big decisions to make.

With an order released by the Alabama Supreme Court Monday morning, probate judges now have a 25-day delay before they must legally start issuing marriage licenses to gay and straight couples.

Probate Judge Wes Allen of Pike County has other plans. Instead of granting or denying same-sex couples marriage licenses, he has taken his county out of the marriage business altogether. Since February of this year, Pike County has not issued marriage licenses to any couples: straight or gay.

“My office discontinued issuing marriage licenses in February, and I have no plans to put Pike County back into the marriage business,” Probate Judge Allen said in a statement Friday. “The policy of my office regarding marriage is no different today than it was yesterday.”

Since his statement Friday, Judge Allen has been featured in the New York Times, and even referenced by 2016 presidential hopeful Rand Paul in the candidate’s op-ed on the decision published by TIME Magazine.

In an interview with Yellowhammer News Monday afternoon, Judge Allen affirmed his stance and is “confident in his legal position.”

“The decision allows me to operate under the law while adhering to my deeply held Christian values,” Allen said. “I’m not in violation of the Supreme Court.”

Allen specifically highlighted Alabama Code Section 30-1-9, which states “Marriage licenses may be issued by the judges of probate of the several counties.” According to Allen, the legal meaning of the word ‘may’, unlike the more commanding ‘shall’, gives probate judges the option to issue licenses or not. “The Supreme Court ruling does not invalidate the Alabama Code,” he said.

Under Alabama law, a couple can receive a marriage license in any county and it does not have to be the one that they live in. Probate Judge Allen’s decision means that Pike County’s roughly 33,000 residents will have to obtain marriage licenses from probate offices elsewhere in the state, but many do not seem too upset about it.

On the contrary, several Pike County constituents have responded positively towards Allen’s move. “I’ve talked to several couples and most are supportive of my decision,” he said.

The evidence of support is also clearly depicted on Allen’s Facebook page. One resident thanked the probate judge for “holding strong with your Christian faith and being a true leader,” while another wrote “Thank you for standing by the majority of the community, and what is truly morally right!”

1
3 years ago

Alabama Senator receives Business Champion Award for ‘restoring common sense to the law’

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PELHAM, Ala. — The Business Council of Alabama President and CEO William J. Canary on Wednesday presented state Sen. Cam Ward with the organization’s inaugural Business Champion Award for sponsoring legislation that seeks to prevent harm to Alabama businesses due to dual Supreme Court rulings.

Canary presented the award to Ward at the Greater Shelby County Chamber of Commerce’s Community Luncheon at the Pelham Civic Complex and Ice Arena. Chamber of Commerce Association of Alabama President and CEO Jeremy Arthur and Lisa McMahon, 2015 chair of the Greater Shelby County Chamber of Commerce, joined Canary in presenting the award.

Ward, R-Alabaster, is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Ward sponsored SB 80, legislation that overturns the Alabama Supreme Court’s adoption of a novel legal theory that could have harmed Alabama’s businesses and the state’s business climate. This legislation was a priority of the BCA for the 2015 regular legislative session. It was signed into law by Governor Bentley (R) in May.

“Sen. Ward led the charge in the Alabama Legislature to right this wrong,” Canary told Yellowhammer. “He understood the negative ramifications this Supreme Court ruling would have had on Alabama’s business climate, and his unwavering leadership helped garner wide bipartisan support in the Legislature.”

The legislation became necessary after the Supreme Court set the legal community on notice in 2013 in the Weeks v. Wyeth case and then again on rehearing the same case in 2014. The court held that a brand-name drug manufacturer can be liable—on a “fraud” theory—for physical injuries caused by a generic drug product that it neither made nor sold.

The BCA filed an amicus brief in the Weeks case along with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, urging the Supreme Court to reverse itself and warning that adoption of the aberrant “innovator-liability” theory would once again make Alabama a magnet for frivolous lawsuits.

After the Supreme Court refused to right its own wrong in the 2014 rehearing, Senator Ward sponsored legislation to “restore common sense to the law.”

Ward served two terms in the House, before being elected to the Senate in 2010, and reelected in 2014. He earned a law degree from Cumberland School of Law in Birmingham in 1996 and is Executive Director of the Industrial Development Board of Alabaster. Ward also serves as president of the Alabama Law Institute.


1
3 years ago

Alabama Supreme Court rules only dentists can perform teeth whitening services

Image c/o Flickr user Cory Doctorow

Image c/o Flickr user Cory Doctorow
Image c/o Flickr user Cory Doctorow

MONTGOMERY,Ala.– The Alabama Supreme Court on Friday upheld a lower-court’s ruling that limits teeth whitening procedures in Alabama to dentists only. The ruling comes after a series of legal changes to the teeth whitening industry in the past few years. Opponents of these changes say they are not in the interest of public health but exist to protect dentists from competition.

In 2011, the court amended the Alabama Dental Code to include teeth whitening in the official definition of dentistry. Alabama is one of only fourteen states that bans anyone other than dentists from performing teeth whitening services.

In February of this year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on a case similar to Alabama’s. The high court upheld a case against the North Carolina board of dentistry, where the law was found to be in violation of anti trust statutes by unlawfully discouraging competition.

In Westphal v. Northcutt, Keith Westphal and Joyce Osborn Wilson were banned from performing or selling teeth whitening services because they were not licensed dentists. Westphal, a North Carolina native, wanted to bring his teeth whitening business to Alabama but could not. Wilson was sent a cease and desist letter from the Alabama state board of dentists. Westphal and Wilson said that the 2011 amendment to the law was unlawful because it protects dentists from competition.

“I was eager to expand my business into Alabama, to offer new services and help create new jobs,” said Westphal. “It makes no sense that the government would prevent me from doing that, especially in light of the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling.”

The Alabama Supreme Court upheld the October 2014 Jefferson County Circuit Court ruling, which stated that teeth whitening products that contain 16 or more percent of hydrogen peroxide are harmful to consumers.

The Alabama Supreme court’s opinion states, “The evidence in the record indicated that the procedure is relatively safe but that it is not potential adverse effects.”

To compare, Crest Whitestrips Supreme are sold over the counter and have a 14 percent concentration of hydrogen peroxide. Westphal and Wilson’s teeth whitening products contained a 16 and 12 percent concentration of hydrogen peroxide, respectively. There is only a two percent difference between the over the counter teeth whitening products that are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration and the products Westphal and Wilson sold.

“Literally millions of people have safely whitened their teeth at home using products bought online or in stores that are identical to those sold by our clients,” said Paul Sherman senior attorney for the Institute of Justice.

Sherman represented Westphal and and Wilson in the case.

“The Alabama Supreme Court has allowed dentists to regulate their competitors out of existence for no good reason.” Sherman said.

Dentists mentioned in the court’s opinion charge from a minimum of $450 for teeth whitening services. Westphal charges from $79.

1
3 years ago

Alabama legislature passes bill avoiding ‘looming disaster’ for state’s business climate

YH Prescription Drugs

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The Alabama Legislature on Tuesday gave final passage to legislation that overturns the Alabama Supreme Court’s adoption of a novel legal theory that many considered to be a looming disaster for Alabama businesses and the state’s overall business climate.

In 2013, the Alabama Supreme Court in the Weeks v. Wyeth case — and then again on rehearing the same case in 2014 — held that a brand-name manufacturer can be held liable for physical injuries caused by a generic product made and sold by a different company.

The Business Council of Alabama filed a brief in the case along with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce urging the Supreme Court to reverse itself and warning that adoption of the “innovator-liability” theory would once again make Alabama a magnet for frivolous lawsuits.

After the Supreme Court refused to reconsider its initial ruling in the 2014 rehearing, Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, sponsored SB 80, which garnered wide bipartisan legislative support and is headed to the governor for consideration.

The House on Tuesday voting 86-14 passed SB 80. The Senate previously passed SB80 by a bi-partisan 32-0 vote.

Rep. Jack Williams (R-Vestavia Hills), introduced the House companion bill, HB110, and handled Ward’s SB80 during Tuesday’s House floor debate. The House previously passed HB 110 by a vote of 88-7.

“People are being sued for products they did not make,” Williams said. “That was a departure from case-product law in Alabama. Basically what we are doing is restating what the law is prior to that and clarifying to the courts what the intention is.

“We’re not offering immunity, we’re just saying you can’t be sued if you didn’t make it,” Williams said. “There is a fear out there this could be expanded.”

Rep. David Faulkner, R-Birmingham, praised the bill. “We passed it overwhelmingly before, it’s a tremendous bill,” Faulkner said. “A lot of lawyers looked at this bill, business interest and plaintiff’s lawyers, the defense side. The language is needed.”

BCA President and CEO William J. Canary thanked the Alabama Legislature for righting a wrong.

“By passing this important legislation, the Alabama Legislature has stood with Alabama’s businesses by reversing the Alabama Supreme Court’s adoption of a novel tort theory, which could have had chilling effects on Alabama’s business climate,” Canary told Yellowhammer. “Had this not been corrected swiftly by the Legislature, Alabama would have been at a great disadvantage in attracting new business investment, which is key to bringing economic growth and jobs to our state.”

Preventing potential damage from the innovator-liability rulings was a priority in the BCA’s 2015 State Legislative Agenda.

Despite the Alabama Supreme Court’s attempt to limit the “innovator liability” theory to the pharmaceutical industry, the Wall Street Journal and legal scholars have observed that “[p]harmaceuticals aren’t the only industry that would feel the pain if [Weeks] stands,” because the innovator liability theory could apply “in any market served by brand-name companies that actively promote their wares but face competition from largely identical but lower-priced store brands.”

“Alabama manufacturers are fortunate that this legislation will now be law,” said Tommy Lee, President and CEO of Vulcan, Inc., a manufacturer in Foley. “To think that a company could be held liable for injuries allegedly caused by a product it neither manufactured nor distributed is alarming.”

Before the Alabama Supreme Court’s decision, courts nationwide, now 100 in all, applying the law of 30 different states, and including all seven U.S. Courts of Appeals to consider the question, had soundly rejected the “innovator liability” theory.

Only three other courts nationwide have adopted innovator liability under other states’ laws, an intermediate appellate court in California, and federal trial courts in Illinois and Vermont.


1
3 years ago

Alabama Supreme Court halts same-sex marriages

gay marriage alabama
MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The Alabama Supreme Court issued a writ of mandamus ordering the state’s county probate judges to stop issuing gay marriage licenses Tuesday evening.

The 148-page ruling will allow 5 days for probate judges to submit arguments for why they should be allowed to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The writ of mandamus was requested by the Alabama Policy Institute (API). According to API vice president Katherine Robertson, the Institute had standing to file the request for the writ because they are a public policy institute that has studied and analyzed the importance of traditional marriage on a family and the children involved.

“As it has done for approximately two centuries, Alabama law allows for ‘marriage’ between only one man and one woman,” the order said. “Alabama probate judges have a ministerial duty not to issue any marriage license contrary to this law. Nothing in the United States Constitution alters or overrides this duty.”

Vocal gay marriage opponent Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore appears to have recused himself from the case, as he is not listed as a concurring or dissenting judge on the order.

The order also gives Mobile County probate judge Don Davis until Thursday to argue why he should not be bound by the order. Davis had previously asked to be excluded from the lawsuit because he had been specifically been ordered to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples by Mobile federal district judge Callie Granade.

The Alabama Policy Institute issued a statement Tuesday night celebrating the order.

“Today, the Alabama Supreme Court granted our request for a writ of mandamus directing Alabama’s probate judges not to issue same-sex marriage licenses in violation of Alabama’s Constitution,” API said. “The ongoing confusion caused by the federal court’s action in January needed to be clarified in a formal opinion by the State’s highest court and the Alabama Policy Institute was well-suited to pursue such a remedy. This decision by the Alabama Supreme Court finally, in the words of Justice Scalia, gives the people of Alabama the respect that they deserve by preserving our law until the U.S. Supreme Court resolves the issue. The sanctity of marriage—an institute that has always been reserved for the states—is a cause worth fighting for, for as long as the States still have their rightful say in the matter.”

This story is breaking and will be updated as more details emerge


1
3 years ago

Alabama Supreme Court upholds historic school choice bill

Alabama Supreme Court building, Montgomery, Ala.
Alabama Supreme Court building, Montgomery, Ala.

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The Alabama Supreme Court has upheld the Alabama Accountability Act (AAA), the state’s first school choice legislation.

In May, Montgomery Circuit Judge Eugene W. Reese ruled the law unconstitutional in response to a suit filed by the AEA, Democrat state Sen. Quinton Ross, and the Lowndes County School Superintendent.

The plaintiffs argument in that case was that the AAA violated Alabama’s Constitution by, among other things, including more than one subject in the bill. The original bill allowed local school districts to apply to receive flexibility from certain state regulations, but was ultimately expanded to include the school choice provisions as well.

The law provides tax credits for parents of students in failing school districts who transfer to non-failing public or private schools, and allows the creation of scholarship granting organizations (SGOs). Donations to the SGOs are able to be credited against personal and corporate state tax liabilities up to a certain amount.

At the time of the Montgomery court’s ruling, legal experts predicted that it would not withstand appeal. It is extremely rare for a law to be struck down for violating the “single-subject rule.” Courts tend to show a great deal of deference to the Legislature as long as different parts of a bill are conceivably connected.

And as predicted, Monday evening’s ruling overturned each of Judge Reese’s rulings.

The Accountability Act was passed and signed into law under some controversy in 2013, when it emerged as a “substitute” bill for another piece of legislation under a different name. Though the substitute contained much of the original legislation, the addition of the school choice program was the root of the several lawsuits that led to Monday’s ruling.

Alabama Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard celebrated the ruling in a press release Monday evening.

“The Supreme Court Ruling on the Alabama Accountability Act is a win for parents, a win for students, and a win for school choice in the state of Alabama,” the speaker said in the release. “I look forward to hearing even more success stories as this law continues to work in our state. We are committed to expanding school choice in Alabama until every child has the chance at a quality education regardless of their income or zip code.”

“We are very pleased, yet not surprised, that the Alabama Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Alabama Accountability Act,” Katherine Robertson, Vice President of the Alabama Policy Institute which submitted an amicus brief with the Supreme Court on the Alabama Accountability Act told Yellowhammer Wednesday evening. “The Court wisely rebuffed the politically-driven attempt to do away with a law that has delivered hope to so many Alabama families in the form of school choice. This decision should be of great encouragement, not only to the beneficiaries of the Act, but to the many individuals and businesses who have supported it through donations to scholarship programs.”

Newly-elected ALGOP chairwoman Terry Lathan had this to say about the ruling.

“The Alabama Republican Party has been supportive of school choice for families and is pleased to see the Alabama Supreme Court has ruled that the Alabama Accountability Act did not violate our state constitution or any of our state laws. Giving parents the choice to choose a good school for their children that are zoned in failing school districts was a historic and monumental move in the right direction for education in Alabama.”

“The Alabama Supreme Court’s decision today is a loss for activist judges and status quo union bosses, but a major win for parents and children trapped in failing schools across the state,” Alabama Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh said in a press release. “I am glad that all children will be able to continue to receive the quality education they deserve.

“I look forward to working with my colleagues as we continue to improve education in Alabama and allow parents to make decisions about what is best for their child’s education.”

Chad Mathis, former 6th Congressional district candidate, orthopedic surgeon, and chairman of the Alabama Federation for Children, a pro-school choice group in the state, said in a release Monday evening that, “We are thrilled for the nearly 3,000 low-income, mostly minority students who are currently exercising educational choice through programs created by the Accountability Act and the many students that will continue to have that option in the future.”

This story is still developing and will be updated as more details emerge.


1
3 years ago

Ala. Supreme Court ruling will keep small towns dry, locals contend alcohol sales boost economy

Flickr user Justin Kern

Flickr user Justin Kern
Flickr user Justin Kern

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — In a ruling Friday afternoon, the Alabama Supreme Court overturned a 2009 law allowing small cities in “dry” counties to vote to sell alcohol.

The law allowed dry county cities with populations of more than 1,000 to vote themselves wet, with the exception of cities in Blount, Clay, and Randolph counties. The previous threshold was 7,000. The state Supreme Court ruled the law unconstitutional because it violated the Equal Protection Clause by excluding cities in those three counties.

In its ruling, the Supreme Court said it could not simply remove the three counties from the statute, because doing so would “undermine the clear intent of the legislature.”

The suit was brought by two Blount County pastors who have fought for years to keep cities in the county from being able to vote for alcohol sales. Blount County Judge Steven King had previously ruled that the law was unconstitutional, and cities within the county could vote to “go wet.”

Last year three Blount county cities, Oneonta (population 6,674), Blountsville (population 1,707), and Cleveland (population 1,320) voted to sell alcohol within their cities’ limits.

The ruling did not make clear whether the dozens of cities in dry counties that have voted to allow beer, wine, and liquor sales over the last six years would have to completely stop immediately, or if it would only apply to cities looking to vote in the future.

The state Supreme Court’s ruling remands the case back to Judge King in Blount County for further proceedings consistent with the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Edward Lowe, city manager for Oneonta, told Yellowhammer Friday that city officials have informed retailers they may continue selling while the city files a motion to reconsider with Judge King.

According to Yellowhammer sources familiar with the inner workings of the Alabama Beverage Control (ABC) Board, the ABC is not compelled to act to end sales in Blount County until 18 days after the ruling, possibly giving time for state legislators to act or for other motions to go before the Supreme Court.

Like many cities with populations between 1,000 and 7,000 that have voted to go wet since 2009, Oneonta has become accustomed to the revenue streams from alcohol sales.

“Our sales tax since we started selling alcohol is up 14.5%, so obviously there’s a financial consideration,” Mr. Lowe told Yellowhammer. “We earmark 25% of the beer excise tax for education, and 25% of it to public safety. The remainder of it goes in the general fund for the city.”

Mr. Lowe is concerned that ending alcohol sales in the city would also be detrimental to the economic development of the area.

“In the last 45 days, I’ve talked to 6 either realtors or developers that have inquired about retail property here in the city. From a retail development standpoint, selling alcohol is imperative to growth.”

Being able to purchase a drink in the city limits is so important to attracting business, Lowe said, that Oneonta missed out on development opportunities when the city was dry, simply because companies wanted their employees to be able to get a beer after work.

“I personally was at a meeting where a group out of Chicago came and looked at some industrial property and they realized that they could not buy a drink at a restaurant after work, they said ‘my guys won’t want to live here,'” Lowe told Yellowhammer.

Eric Johnston, the lawyer for the two Blount County pastors who appealed Judge King’s decision to the Supreme Court said that cities shouldn’t complain. “[The towns] did it knowing this law was defective,” Johnston said.
“They should not complain now about losing money, spending money.”

To reinstate those smaller cities’ ability to vote again, the Alabama Legislature would need to pass, and the Governor sign, a completely new law that does not exclude any counties.


1
3 years ago

Liberal SPLC files complaint against Roy Moore for ‘thumbing his nose at the federal courts’

Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala.
Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala.

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The Montgomery-based Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) filed an ethics complaint against Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore with the Judicial Inquiry Commission of Alabama Wednesday following Chief Justice Moore’s comments and letter to Alabama Governor Robert Bentley regarding federal judge Callie Granade’s gay marriage ruling.

“We write to lodge a complaint against Chief Justice Roy S. Moore relating to the January 27, 2015, letter he sent to Governor Robert Bentley and his related public statements,” the SPLC wrote in the filed complaint.

The Judicial Inquiry Commission of Alabama is the same body that removed Chief Justice Moore from office in 2003 following his refusal to remove a 10 commandments monument from the Alabama Supreme Court building—a lawsuit initiated by the SPLC.

In the complaint, the SPLC asserts that Chief Justice Moore’s letter to Gov. Bentley, “violate[s] Alabama’s Canons of Judicial Ethics in numerous and significant regards.”

The SPLC levied three main complaints, citing the violations of ethics rules they believe apply.

— “Canon 3(A)(6) – Improper Public Comment on Pending and Impending Proceedings,” for his letter to the governor, comments to the press, and intention to instruct Alabama’s probate judges not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
— “Canon 3(A)(1) – Lack of Faithfulness to the Law and Failure of Professional Competence” for stating that Alabama and Biblical law trump federal law.

— “Canon 1 – Disrespect for the Dignity of the Judiciary; and Canon 2(A) – Undermining Public Confidence in the Integrity of the Judiciary” for what they view an “assault [on] the authority
and integrity of the federal judiciary.”

“Moore is once again wrapping himself in the Bible and thumbing his nose at the federal courts and federal law,” said SPLC President Richard Cohen in a statement released Wednesday. “As a private citizen, Moore is entitled to his views. But as the chief justice of Alabama, he has a responsibility to recognize the supremacy of federal law and to conform his conduct to the canons of judicial ethics.”

Chief Justice Moore’s office has not yet commented on the complaints.


1
3 years ago

Moore defiant again: ‘Nothing grants federal government authority to redefine marriage’

YH Roy Moore

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, who was famously booted from office in 2003 for defying a federal judge’s order to remove a 10 commandments monument from the Alabama Supreme Court building, suggested in a letter Tuesday that he would also defy a recent federal court ruling overturning Alabama’s constitutional ban on gay marriage.

In the letter, which was sent to Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, Moore condemns the ruling and states that the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama does not have jurisdiction over the Alabama Supreme Court.

“The recent ruling of Judge Callie Granade of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Alabama has raised serious, legitimate concerns about the propriety of federal court jurisdiction over the Alabama Sanctity of Marriage Amendment,” Moore wrote. The Amendment was passed with 81 percent of Alabamian’s voting in favor.

“As you know,” Moore continued, “nothing in the US Constitution grants the federal government the authority to redefine the institution of marriage.”

“As Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, I will continue to recognize the Alabama Constitution and the will of the people overwhelmingly expressed in the Sanctity of Marriage Amendment.”

Chief Justice Moore also applauded the Alabama Probate Judge Association’s decision to advise probate judges around the state against issuing same-sex marriage certificates in favor of state law.

In a statement released Monday, Gov. Bentley echoed Chief Justice Moore’s sentiments.

“The people of Alabama elected me to uphold our state Constitution, and when I took the oath of office last week, that is what I promised to do,” Gov. Bentley said.

“The people of Alabama voted in a constitutional amendment to define marriage as being between man and woman. As governor, I must uphold the Constitution. I am disappointed in Friday’s ruling, and I will continue to oppose this ruling. The Federal government must not infringe on the rights of states.”

The rulings are currently on hold while they are being considered by the 11th circuit court of appeals. If the 11th Circuit does not extend the holds, the original rulings will go into effect on Feb. 9th.


1
4 years ago

Alabama Supreme Court sends state legislator’s perjury case to trial

Rep. Barry Moore (R-Enterprise)
Rep. Barry Moore (R-Enterprise)

Alabama state representative Barry Moore’s effort to have his perjury case dismissed came up short Friday in a final ruling by the state supreme court.

Moore pleaded not guilty to a charge of giving false testimony to a grand jury in January.

However, his attorneys also attempted to have the case dismissed. They claimed that Attorney General Luther Strange did not follow the proper procedures after recusing himself and appointing former St. Clair County District Attorney Van Davis to handle the investigation.

A letter from Strange to Davis in early 2013 indicated that Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard was the target of the investigation. Strange has not given an official reason for why he recused himself from the case, although he seemed to indicate on Dale Jackson’s north Alabama talk radio program that he did not want to get in the middle of an intra-Party squabble between two GOP factions.

Both Moore and Hubbard have said they believe the investigation is a coordinated political attack.

The trial judge in Moore’s case initially declined the dismissal request, at which point Moore’s team appealed to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals. In a somewhat unusual move, the Alabama Supreme Court intervened and took the case before the Criminal Appeals court had even ruled.

On Friday, the nine-member panel ruled 8-0 that the case should go to trial. Justice Greg Shaw recused himself from the ruling.

Moore’s trial is scheduled to begin Sept. 15 in Lee County.


Follow Cliff on Twitter @Cliff_Sims

1
4 years ago

Republicans blast group of school supers for joining lawsuit against Ala. school choice law

Alabama Supreme Court building, Montgomery, Ala.
Alabama Supreme Court building, Montgomery, Ala.

30 local school superintendents from around Alabama have joined a lawsuit claiming the Alabama Accountability Act (AAA), a school choice bill passed by the Alabama Legislature in 2013, is unconstitutional, according to a report by al.com.

The group of superintendents, who represent about 22 percent of Alabama’s 136 school districts, filed a brief asking the Alabama Supreme Court to uphold a Montgomery Circuit Court ruling that the law violates Alabama’s constitution.

Judges on the Montgomery Circuit Court, which is typically friendly territory for the Alabama Education Association (AEA), previously sought to block the law in two separate cases arguing that the Legislature violated open meetings laws in the way the bill was passed. The Alabama Supreme Court dismissed both of those cases after the rulings were appealed.

The court’s third attempt to block the law, which the superintendents are asking the Supreme Court to uphold, took a different legal approach, arguing that the AAA violated Alabama’s Constitution by, among other things, including more than one subject in the bill. The original bill allowed local school districts to apply to receive flexibility from certain state regulations, but was ultimately expanded to include the school choice provisions as well. The suit was filed by the AEA, Democratic state senator Quinton Ross, and the Lowndes County School Superintendent.


RELATED: Liberal judge strikes down Alabama’s school choice law, ruling unlikely to withstand appeal


Here’s an excerpt from Yellowhammer’s analysis of the Montgomery Circuit Court’s ruling the day it was released:

Only in extremely rare occasions are laws struck down for violating the single-subject rule. Responsible courts show a great deal of deference to the Legislature as long as different parts of a bill are conceivably connected. Several legal experts Yellowhammer spoke with today said it is extremely unlikely that today’s ruling will withstand appeal.

In spite of that, the superintendents filed a 20-page brief on Aug. 20 urging the Supreme Court to uphold the lower court’s ruling this time.

“It is without dispute that the vast and overwhelming majority of students and parents in Alabama will suffer adverse consequences if this unconstitutional legislation is allowed to stand,” the superintendents wrote in their brief.

But Republican lawmakers who pushed the school choice bill through the Legislature do, indeed, dispute that claim.

“It’s unfortunate that these superintendents do not believe that parents who have children trapped in a failing school should have the choice to move them to a non-failing school,” Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh said in a statement to Yellowhammer.

And Sen. Trip Pittman (R-Montrose), who chairs the Senate’s education budget committee, had an even stronger response.

“What they need to focus on is making their schools non-failing instead of filing lawsuits,” Pittman said of the school superintendents who filed the brief.

The Montgomery Circuit court’s ruling blocked implementation of the law prospectively, meaning it has had no impact on the school choice tax credits awarded to families during the 2013-2014 school year.

Almost 800 students took advantage of the Accountability Act in its first semester by transferring out of their chronically failing school and into a better situation. And in spite of the claims that it would decimate public education, only 52 students transferred to a private school.


Follow Cliff on Twitter @Cliff_Sims

1
4 years ago

Wall St. Journal warns Alabama becoming ‘Sweet Home Lawsuit’

Alabama Supreme Court building, Montgomery, Ala.
Alabama Supreme Court building, Montgomery, Ala.

Prior to the mid-90s, Alabama was known as “tort hell,” a place National Review judicial writer Jack Park says was “marked by outlandish punitive-damage awards, dodgy procedures, and plaintiff-friendly legal doctrines.”

The most notorious example of the Alabama Supreme Court’s apparently severe anti-business bias during that time period took place in BMW v. Gore. In that case, the state’s highest court affirmed a lower court’s decision to award $2 million to the plaintiff on the grounds that BMW had reduced his car’s value by $4,000 by touching up its paint job. That’s an unheard of ratio of 500:1.

Things began to change in 1994 when Republicans took control of the court’s majority, ushering in a period during which the rule-of-law was the court’s top priority. The state quickly left behind its reputation for judicial activism, and businesses and entrepreneurs around the country began taking notice. Major manufacturers like Mercedes-Benz, Airbus, Honda, Hyundai, Thyssen-Krupp and Remington have expanded into the state, often citing Alabama’s reliably fair courts as one of their main reasons for moving in.

But last week, the Alabama Supreme Court — now 100 percent Republican-controlled — bucked the conservative trend of the last couple of decades and ruled that drug companies could be held liable for not warning doctors about side effects from drugs they did not even produce.

The Wall St. Journal explains what happened in Wyeth v. Weeks:

Danny Weeks claims Wyeth (a pharmaceutical company) failed to warn his doctor of the side effects of the acid-reflux drug Reglan — except that he took a generic version of the drug known as metoclopramide. By the time Mr. Weeks used the drug, Wyeth no longer even controlled the brand-name product, which it sold in 2001.

In January 2013 the Alabama Supreme Court shrugged off those details and found for Mr. Weeks. Pfizer asked for a rehearing and last week the court wrote in a 145-page opinion that the brand-name manufacturers could be held liable. The 6-3 majority ruled that a patient can only get a prescription for a drug through a health-care provider and the health-care provider relies on warnings provided by the brand-name drug makers.

This “dubious legal concept,” as the Wall St. Journal refers to it, is known as “innovator liability.” In short, it means that “innovators” — companies that create new and original products — can be held liable for damages caused by other companies who create knockoff versions of their products.

Only two lower courts in the entire country have previously adopted this approach. Those courts were in California and Vermont, which are not exactly two states whose lead you would expect Alabama to follow.

Justice Michael Bolin, who authored the majority ruling, said that he does not believe the court is turning the state’s tort law “on its head.”

“Nor are we creating a new tort of ‘innovator liability,’ as has been suggested,” he continued. “Instead, we are answering a question of law involving a product that, unlike any other product on the market, has unprecedented federal regulation… Nothing in this opinion suggests that a plaintiff can sue Black & Decker for injuries caused by a power tool manufactured by Skil based on labeling or otherwise.”

Bolin was joined in his opinion by justices Tommy Bryan, James Allen Main, Lyn Stuart and Alisa Kelli Wise. Justice Greg Shaw separately issued a concurring opinion, and only Chief Justice Roy Moore and justices Glenn Murdock and Tom Parker dissented.

“The Alabama court’s reasoning contradicts the overwhelming trend in federal and state courts on innovator liability,” The Wall St. Journal editorial board wrote in response to the decision. “Seven different federal courts of appeal, including the Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, Ninth, Tenth and Eleventh Circuits, have said that innovators cannot be tagged for suits that are product liability complaints on drugs they did not manufacture.

“That won’t do much good in Tuscaloosa because the Alabama case can’t be appealed,” they concluded. “Watch the trial lawyers swoop in now.”


Follow Cliff on Twitter @Cliff_Sims

1
4 years ago

Robertson: Alabama’s school choice law halted by another politically-driven attack

SchoolChoice2

The Circuit Court for Montgomery County ruled on Wednesday that the state’s year-old school choice law, the Alabama Accountability Act, is unconstitutional and that the state is enjoined from taking any measures to further implement the law. This is the third lawsuit filed in an effort to halt the Act—the previous two were unsuccessful. While the court order is a hurdle to the immense progress toward educational choice in the state, proponents of the law and the families who have experienced the hope that it offers will fight this ruling through every available channel until it is overturned.

This politically-driven lawsuit, the second by the Alabama Education Association, alleged that the Act violates the Alabama Constitution by way of the procedure through which it was enacted and the means through which it is funded. The legal reasoning of the decision is shaky on a number of fronts, rendering the case fertile ground for an appeal.

This is the second suit to put forth several procedural violations as a foundation for having the law struck down. Similar arguments in a previous suit against the Act failed at the Alabama Supreme Court, where the Court held that it was not the function of the judiciary to require the Legislature to follow its own rules. Rather than alleging a violation of the legislative rules, the plaintiffs here claim that the passage of the Act violated the Alabama Constitution as to the single subject rule, the original purpose doctrine, and the three readings requirements. Alabama Supreme Court precedent shows a pattern of deference to the Legislature on issues of this nature, presuming compliance in instances where it is questioned.


The aim of the plaintiffs in this case was to permanently do away with the Alabama Accountability Act, by way of an assortment of questionable legal arguments, to ensure that Alabama preserves the status quo and remains stuck in a cycle of poor educational results.

The decision cites a constitutional prohibition of appropriating funds to a non-state entity “without a vote of two-thirds of all members elected to each house.” The drafters of the Accountability Act were well aware of lawsuits in several states filed by teachers unions offering a similar argument and thus, carefully crafted the legislation to negate the claim that government money was going straight to non-public schools by sending the refundable tax credit directly to the parents instead. Nevertheless, the Court found that the “intent” of the appropriation is for tax refunds to pay the tuition for students in failing schools to attend private schools; therefore, it should be considered the same as a direct appropriation to a private charitable and educational institution.

The Court further opined that donations to scholarship granting organizations (SGOs), which are entirely the prerogative of the individual taxpayer, are really just appropriations to these entities. In reality, every taxpayer in Alabama has the ability to choose whether or not to direct a portion of his or her tax dollars to an SGO. It is hard to understand how an individual who does so can seriously be viewed by a court as a mere pass-through entity of the state.

The decision also relies on Amendment 61 to the Alabama Constitution which requires that income tax revenue deposited into the ETF “be used for the payment of public school teacher salaries only.” The Court held that because Section 9 of the Act uses funds that otherwise would have been deposited into the ETF ($25 million per year), the Act is in conflict with this Amendment.  Strangely, it seems that this same argument could apply to any one of Alabama’s tax credits. Surely the Court does not mean to suggest that the Historic Structure tax credit is similarly unconstitutional?

The aim of the plaintiffs in this case was to permanently do away with the Alabama Accountability Act, by way of an assortment of questionable legal arguments, to ensure that Alabama preserves the status quo and remains stuck in a cycle of poor educational results.  The numerous technical arguments and the far reaching claims that taxpayer dollars were used impermissibly reflect an irrational desire to destroy a law that has given children stuck in failing schools first-time access to a higher quality education.

Shortly after the ruling, it was reported that a spokesperson for the AEA said that the organization was “pleased with the ruling” while House Minority Leader Craig Ford (D-Gadsden) called the ruling a “victory for children and educators.”  It is unclear exactly which children will perceive this order as a victory – certainly not the thousands whose parents have filled out scholarship applications for the upcoming school year hoping to give their children an immediate chance at a better education and ultimately, a brighter future.


 Katherine Green Robertson is senior policy counsel for the Alabama Policy Institute (API), an independent non-partisan, non-profit research and education organization dedicated to the preservation of free markets, limited government and strong families. If you would like to speak with the author, please call (205) 870-9900 or email her at katheriner@alabamapolicy.org.

1
4 years ago

Is Alabama’s most powerful liberal political organization in trouble?

AEA Head Dr. Henry Mabry
AEA Head Dr. Henry Mabry

On Wednesday, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Alabama Education Association (AEA), the state’s teachers’ union and most powerful liberal political organization, can no longer receive dues from their members by automatic payroll deduction.

When Republicans came into power in 2010, they passed a bill stopping government employees from arranging for a salary deduction to pay dues that would go to fund partisan political activity. Alabama’s state government was essentially saying, in an effort to purify the governing process, we — the state government of Alabama — are going to separate ourselves from partisan political activity and stop collecting money for organizations who use that money to influence elections.

The law applied equally to all organizations, not just the AEA, but the teachers’ union felt like the law would be particularly damaging to their ability to fund their political operation. They also felt like they were being targeted by Republicans, who they had fought tooth and nail for decades. As a result, AEA sued in state court to preserve its ability to collect dues by payroll deductions.

The past three years have been filled with a complicated sequence of court rulings and legal maneuvers.

A federal judge blocked enforcement of the new law in 2010, allowing the AEA to continue on business as usual. Then a federal appeals court gave the green light for the state to enforce the law in 2011. But when the Alabama state comptroller initiated the process to stop salary deductions, AEA sued again, this time in state court. A Montgomery Circuit judge at that point issued a ruling preventing the comptroller from halting the payroll deductions. Once again, the AEA was allowed to continue on business as usual.

At that point, the Alabama Supreme Court was given two questions to answer with regard to interpreting the law:

1. Does the law prohibit private giving by state employees, in addition to halting the salary deductions?

And 2. Does it apply only to organizations who use their dues to influence elections, or does it also apply to influencing ballot referenda?

The answers to those two questions about how the Alabama Supreme Court interpreted the law were very important to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals on the federal level. For instance, if the highest court in Alabama interpreted the law to mean that private giving by government employees was not allowed, there would be potential First Amendment issues with the law.

About four months ago, the Alabama Supreme Court finally answered those two questions. They said the law still allowed private giving by state employees, but there was some ambiguity as to whether or not it applied to organizations who seek to influence ballot referenda, in addition to elections.

After reviewing the state Supreme Court’s answers, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals this week gave the full green light for the law to fully go into effect.

Alabama Supreme Court
Alabama Supreme Court

But in spite of all that, the Montgomery Court’s injunction blocking enforcement of the law is still in place. And for the past 3 years, the AEA has been fillings its coffers with money from salary deductions for the 2014 election cycle.

However, the federal court’s ruling likely signals the beginning of the end of business as usual for the AEA. The law still needs to work its way through the painfully slow Alabama judicial branch. But the AEA’s complicated and effective legal strategy is probably doomed to fail in the end.

There will soon be a day in Alabama when the state government no longer collects dues for any organization who uses those dues for electioneering.

So what does that mean for the Alabama Education Association?

For years, the AEA’s tens of thousands of members have had a few dollars each month extracted from their paychecks without even having to pay any attention to it. Once the new law goes into effect and they have to actually “opt in,” will many of them simply never get around to doing it? Or even worse for AEA, will many of the conservative teachers around the state realize they don’t want their money going toward advancing the AEA’s leftwing political agenda and purposefully stop paying?

Many conservative teachers have said for years that the only reason they maintained their membership was for the liability insurance. But that’s no longer necessary since the State of Alabama recently began providing public school employees the same liability coverage they had been giving other state workers for years.

When Republicans first passed the law prohibiting the AEA’s payroll deductions in 2010, then-AEA head Paul Hubbert orchestrated a massive mobilization of grassroots workers to flood teachers’ lounges around the state and implore educators to sign up with AEA on a bank draft. The National Education Association, the AEA’s national partner, helped fund and staff the operation. Over the course of a couple of months with hundreds of field staffers, the AEA was able to sign up somewhere around 90 percent of their members to maintain their affiliation with the group.

That suggests that the AEA could potentially survive with only minimal financial damage after the new law goes into effect. But even a 10-25% decrease in dues could cost the AEA’s political arm millions of dollars.

On top of that, many political observers question whether Hubbert’s successor, Dr. Henry Mabry, could field such a well organized grassroots effort. The staff turnover at the AEA has been significant since Mabry took over, and many of the experienced field operatives have moved on after growing frustrated with their new leadership.

But even if the AEA can successfully get many of their members to once again opt in to having their union does extracted each month via bank draft, that is still a far less stable stream of income than AEA’s current system of relying on payroll deductions.

Rather than signing up for an entire year, public school employees will be paying their dues on a month to month basis and could drop out at any point. If their account briefly has insufficient funds, the bank draft stops. If they get upset with something the AEA does, they immediately stop paying each month.

AEA’s income could suddenly become a roller coaster that rises and falls with the political tide.

So even if the new law doesn’t ultimately decimate their bottom line overnight, it will almost certainly force them to be more responsive to their members. And that alone could force the AEA to rethink their political strategy. And maybe, just maybe, the state’s most powerful liberal force would have to finally begin moving to the right, or face irrelevance.


Follow Cliff on Twitter @Cliff_Sims

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4 years ago

Should Alabama grandparents have a legal right to visit their grandkids over a parent’s objections?

GP

Several years ago, a business dispute led an Alabama mother and father to stop allowing their children’s grandparents to visit. The grandparents sued for access to the children under Alabama’s Grandparent Visitation Act. The judge ruled for the grandparents and granted them unsupervised visitation rights for a few hours one day a week and allowed them to have daily telephone communication.

However, the parents appealed the judge’s decision and the ruling was reversed.

The case ultimately made its way to the Alabama Supreme Court, which not only sided with the parents, it also struck down Grandparent Visitation Act altogether, calling it a violation of the parents’ due process rights.

The grandparents continued fighting and petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to hear their appeal. But the nation’s highest court declined to hear the case in early 2012, leaving the Alabama Supreme Court decision as the final word.

Today, Sen. Gerald Allen, R-Tuscaloosa, brought the issue back up by introducing a new Grandparents Visitation Act (Senate Bill 190) in the Alabama Senate.

The bill would allow a grandparent to petition the court for visitation rights if the marital relationship between the parents of the grandchild has been severed by divorce, death or separation.

“Most families in circumstances of divorce or separation can work out favorable circumstances and visits for grandparents to continue to enjoy the company of their grandchildren,” Sen. Allen said. “This legislation addresses grandparents rights in those unusual circumstances where a grandchild is denied a visit to their grandparents. Our bill does not take anything away from parents and provides stability and emotional well-being for children.”

To obtain visitation rights over the objection of a parent, the grandparent would have to prove that the lack of visitation has caused harm to the grandchild, and that it would be in the best interest of the child for them to resume contact.

All 50 states have some form of “grandparent visitation” laws granting a judge the authority to require regular access to grandchildren.

The question is, does a parent’s right to decide how to best raise her child include the authority to not allow grandparents to visit?

“I am very committed to ensuring that every grandparent is allowed to visit their grandchild and should not be denied because of an unforeseen circumstance like a divorce,” Allen said. “The safety of the child is of the utmost importance and is emphasized throughout our bill.”

Senate Bill 190 is pending before the Senate Judiciary Committee.


Follow Cliff on Twitter @Cliff_Sims

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5 years ago

FactCheck.org calls Byrne attack ad on Young ‘nonsense’


(Above: Bradley Byrne’s “Profit” ad targeted at Dean Young)

The Annenberg Public Policy Center’s FactCheck.org website yesterday took a look at a recent TV ad released by the Bradley Byrne campaign suggesting his First Congressional District opponent, Dean Young, had profited personally by taking advantage of “good Christian people” who donated to one of his PACs.

The post by FactCheck’s Eugene Kiely argues that the Christian Family Association PAC created by Young, which the Byrne ad asserts was a major source of income for Young, wasn’t created to “promote Christian values” as the Byrne ad claimed. Instead, Kiely writes it was created to get Roy Moore elected to the Alabama Supreme Court.

Kiely also contends that the profiteering allegations by the Byrne campaign are disingenuous. He maintains that although Young’s company took money from that PAC, that doesn’t necessarily mean it was “profit.”

“It’s true that Young’s company, PMM Consulting, received $168,000 from the PAC — which is, as the ad says, 95 percent of the PAC’s contributions. But not all of it, if any of it, was ‘profit,’ as the ad claimed,” Kiely wrote. “For example, records show that most of it — about $129,000 — went for advertising and that would include the cost of placing TV and radio ads in addition to any production costs that were incurred by PMM.”

Byrne’s campaign responded to Kiely’s queries about their ad’s claims with a statement saying the ad is “100 percent accurate.”

This is not the first time FactCheck.org has dealt with political ads related to Bradley Byrne. During the 2010 Alabama gubernatorial race, the site defended Byrne against a “largely bogus 11th-hour attack … by a shadowy front group that refused to disclose its donors or leaders.”


Follow Jeff on Twitter @Jeff_PoorYH Dean Young

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