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Montiel seeks to dethrone King

By Chip Drago
Mobile Bay Times
Montgomery attorney and Mobile native Mark Montiel, a veteran of Republican politics in Alabama, said Friday he would seek to unseat incumbent GOP Attorney General Troy King in the June 6 party primary election.

“I’m in my car driving to Birmingham, I’ve got my papers filled out and I’m taking them to the party headquarters,” Montiel said Friday mid-morning. “I might get hit by a truck (before the papers are filed) but my plan is to qualify to run for attorney general.”

Montiel, 48, said he has been involved legally, on one side or the other, with every Alabama attorney general or their close allies, dating back to ex-Attorney General Bill Baxley and former Attorney General Charlie Graddick who is now the presiding circuit judge in Mobile County and whom Montiel regards as his mentor.

“The candid answer to all this is that I started work 25 years ago in May,” Montiel said. “I’ve either worked for or against every attorney general in those years. I was (former Gov. Guy) Hunt’s legal advisor when (Don) Siegelman was attorney general. I was involved in litigation against (onetime AG Bill) Pryor. I’ve watched them all. Troy is a decent, nice person. How could you not like him personally? He’s just in a job he is not qualified for. I’ve pulled for him. I’ve hoped for him. He’s been involved in suits that were absolute softballs and he’s just not getting it done. I firmly believe that (likely Democratic nominee and incumbent Mobile County District Attorney) John Tyson (Jr.) could well beat Troy, given his prosecutorial background.”

Montiel, who acknowledged that he was known as “maximum Montiel” for his sentencing practices while a circuit judge in Montgomery, has run statewide before. In 1994, he lost a bid for state Supreme Court by one-half of one percent to former Justice Ralph Cook. He served as a judge on the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals under an appointment by Hunt.

“It was a tough decision (to leave private practice to run for attorney general),” said Montiel. “If you really just want to be in public office (for its own sake), then you don’t need to be there. If it is not a hard decision or a sacrifice (to run), then you’re probably not the right person for the job. It’s very much a change in your life and you have to truly believe you have something to offer.”

While King has been somewhat at odds with some GOP leaders over a reapportionment lawsuit, with Montiel serving as legal counsel to those dissatisfied with King's stance on the issue, Montiel said there was no single case or issue that prompted his candidacy.

Montiel represents Republican plaintiffs who filed suit last June, challenging the constitutionality of the current district boundaries for the Alabama Legislature.

“There was not any one case,” Montiel said. “Probably at the top of the list is Troy’s absolute lack of effort in prosecuting public corruption. In Charlie’s day, we never waited on the Ethics Commission. Remember the State Docks’ case back in the ‘80’s. We opened that file and pursued it. Bid rigging. Such a mess. Those are tough cases, but that’s an example.”

Montiel said King’s lack of trial experience hobbles the office.

“Baxley was a trial lawyer; (former AG) Jeff (Sessions) was a prosecutor; even Siegelman had experience in government,” Montiel said. “Troy, before he took office, I don’t know that he had ever tried a case, civil, criminal or otherwise. It’s tough to sit beside a bunch of lawyers and be taken seriously if you’ve never tried a case. It was not unusual for Charlie to prosecute a case along with us. Or sometimes (assistant AG Don) Valeska would try it with you.”
  
“It (dissatisfaction with King) is broader than just redistricting,” Montiel said. “I don’t think he (King) understands a lot of the cases he should be making.”

Even relatively small public corruption cases should be addressed, according to Montiel, because of the deterrent effect.

“I don’t care if it’s a $5,000 case or a $2,000 case,” he said. “It deters others (from stealing). There are no checks and balances in Montgomery anymore. Legislators are finding ways to pass laws that ultimately end up benefiting them personally and there are no consequences. They should be prosecuted. They’ll come after you. They’ll try to cut your budget. But those cases should be prosecuted.”

With only a brief two-month campaign ahead, Montiel said he doesn’t intend to hire a large professional campaign staff.

“It won’t be some super organized team,” he said. “I know enough politics to maybe serve that (campaign manager) role myself. We won’t be spending some great sum on consultants and managers. I’ll try to get my message out through the media.”

Montiel said he expects his message to resonate well with GOP voters.

“I believe Troy is in trouble with all facets throughout the Republican Party,” Montiel said. “In fact, even though he is Gov. (Bob) Riley’s appointee, I don’t think they are particularly satisfied. I think they see it (King’s appointment) as an experiment that didn’t work out.”

Montiel is a 1975 graduate of UMS in Mobile. He earned his undergraduate degree in three years from the University of South Alabama. He graduated from the University of Alabama Law School in 1981. He then joined the Attorney General’s office under Graddick.

Montiel and his wife, Joi, have a seven-year-old daughter, MacKenzie, who is a first grader in Montgomery. Montiel has two children from a prior marriage, a 21-year-old daughter, Frazier, who attends Auburn University and Mark Jr., a junior at Montgomery Academy.