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The Political Round-Up

Drug theft shadows Nodine prosecution;
Alabama, what's going wrong? asks Carson;
What's driving Bentley; Crime time

By Chip Drago
Mobile Bay Times
An attorney for accused murderer and former Mobile County Commissioner Steve Nodine is demanding an examination of information that may link evidence in the case to the firing of an employee in the office of the Baldwin County coroner.

On June 17, then coroner's office administration secretary Donna Taylor pled guilty to Unlawful Possession of a Controlled Substance after she was arrested while leaving work and charged with stealing drugs/prescriptions marked as evidence from death investigations.

Nodine is accused of killing his paramour Angel Downs, 45, in Gulf Shores 15 months ago. Miss Downs died from a gunshot wound to the head in the driveway of her residence off Fort Morgan Road in Gulf Shores. Nodine reportedly was seen driving away shortly after neighbors heard gunfire.

Prosecuted late last year by former Baldwin County District Attorney Judy Newcomb, the case ended with a hung jury. The task of retrying Nodine has fallen to newly-elected county prosecutor Hallie Dixon. Dixon has recently indicated she would take the matter back before a Baldwin County grand jury in light of new evidence. Presumably, a superseding indictment will be returned in which a petit jury would have a broader range of options and greater flexibility to find Nodine guilty of some "lesser included crime" short of murder in Downs' death. The defense hopes the "new evidence" will exculpate Nodine and result in dismissal of the charges.  

The Baldwin County District Attorney's Office, through its spokesperson Martha Simmons, had no comment on the defense motion.

Nodine lawyer Pascal Bruijn's motion notes that authorities acknowledge that the drugs/prescriptions found in Ms. Taylor’s possession on the day of her arrest had been sent to the Coroner’s Office as part of an undercover investigation. Drug Task Force officers who arrested Taylor found the prescription pills and a small amount of crystal meth-amphetamine in her purse, according to authorities. The investigation reportedly came at the request of Taylor's boss, Coroner Stan Vinson. She was fired the day after her arrest.

Bruijn argues that the defense is "entitled to know whether ... Vinson, and particularly his staff, had, at any time, possession of Ms. Downs’ prescription medications and what the investigation into Ms. Taylor’s actions revealed in terms of the possible theft or other misuse of Ms. Downs’ prescription medications, prior to trial."

Downs, according to testimony, was prescribed numerous medications. At trial, her prescription drug and alcohol use was characterized as a "misuse of the drugs," indeed reflected "a person who is not caring for their health or even a person who is self destructive."

Vinson, Taylor’s employer, was the coroner in the present case and, according to trial testimony, was the one who recovered Ms. Downs’ body from the scene along with “her belongings.”

No date has yet been set for a retrial of Nodine in the alleged murder of Downs.

Alabama, what's going wrong?
You got the rest of the nation to help you along
Carson, CA city leaders have adopted a resolution calling for a boycott of Alabama in protest of the state's tough new law to arrest illegal immigation.

Carson city fathers criticize the new Alabama law as, among other things, "un-American."

Other flaws in the law, they found, were "racial profiling," discrimination based on race, violations to the 14th Amendment to the Constitution and a usurpation of the federal government's prerogatives.

The resolution, which includes eight "whereas's" and three "now, therefore's" and three "be it further resolved's," declares Carson's opposition to Senate Bill 256, calls for its repeal and expresses the municipality's intent to refrain from conducting business with Alabama, including attendance at any conventions or other business requiring city resources.

Officials directed city staff to "analyze contracts to determine where a boycott would be fiscally appropriate and effective in influencing" Alabama to repeal the law.

No specific instances were cited where measures might be taken to pressure Alabama.

However, the city manager was instructed to suspend "official travel" to Alabama and to review "all current and likely future contracts with Alabama based businesses in order to examine the feasibility" of obtaining the products or services from some non-Alabama related supplier.  

The resolution concluded with a pledge to continue monitoring anti-immigration tactics in Alabama and the effectiveness of Carson's actions in reversing Alabama's course.
The resolution was adopted unanimously by Mayor Jim Dear and Council members Ruiz-Raber, Santarina, Gipson and Davis-Holmes.

Carson is located in Los Angeles County in southern California between Compton and the Port of Los Angeles. Its population is about 100,000.

Just 43 years old as an incorporated city, Carson has a history dating back some 200 years prior to incorporation, to the 1760's, when the first European explorers set foot on Southern California soil. A Spanish soldier, Juan Jose Dominguez, was part of that "fabled Portola expedition." A few years later, when Franciscan missionaries began their journey on foot to establish the chain of California Missions, Juan Dominguez accompanied Father Junipero Serra as part of the small band of military men who helped to protect the padres.

Later, Dominguez was rewarded in retirement with a gift from the Spanish governor of California: the very first land grant in the history of California - a vast expanse of 75,000 acres of land, which he named Rancho San Pedro. It stretched from the Los Angeles river all the way west to the Pacific Ocean, encompassing what today would be the cities of Carson, Torrance, Redondo Beach, Lomita, Wilmington, and parts of San Pedro.

In fact, Carson narrowly edged Dominguez when the city was named in the 1960's.

State Rep. Mickey Hammon, R-Decatur, the bill's sponsor, wasn't immediately available for comment.
Bentley taps ally
As expected, Gov. Robert Bentley tapped his chief of staff, former Tuscaloosa County Circuit Judge Chuck Malone, to replace retiring Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb who leaves office.

Cobb resigned recently with just a little more than a year left on her term of office.

Malone will have to run next year to win a full term as leader of the state's highest court. 

Mobile County Circuit Judge Charlie Graddick has announced his 2012 campaign for chief justice. Current Supreme Court Justice Lyn Stuart, formerly of Baldwin County, is also reportedly eyeing a run for the office. Unlike Graddick and Stuart, Malone has only county political campaign experience as a candidate. That wouldn't give Malone much time to gear up and put together a statewide team. He could lean on Bentley supporters. Still, both Graddick, who has has he will run for the judgeship regardless of Bentley's decision, and Stuart have run and won statewide political campaigns. Stuart is a favorite of the GOP powerhouse lobby Business Council of Alabama. Graddick, 66, as a younger political candidate acquitted himself admirably in some of the most pitched political campaigns of the era when he won election as attorney general and later was poised on the brink of election as governor until political machinations deprived him of the office.           

Montgomery political observers note that Bentley has set himself up for possible embarrassment with his pick of friend and ally Malone. If Stuart runs and claims much of the BCA financial backing, minus what Graddick snags as a proven warhorse, Malone has to fall back on the Bentley machine for his statewide campaign presence. A desultory showing in which Malone failed to even make the runoff as the sitting Chief Justice would not bode well for Bentley's 2014 re-election prospects. On the other hand, a successful run by Malone would certainly show that Bentley's win in 2010 wasn't a political fluke or, if it was, that he has perhaps established his political chops as the incumbent governor.

Escape the heat, escape the taxes
The Mobile County Commission will again participate in a sales tax holiday from 12:01 a.m. Friday until midnight Sunday. The purchase of the following back-to-school items will be exempt from county sales and use taxes:

Municipalities participating in the sales tax holiday in District 2 are the City of Semmes and the City of Mobile. For a list of other counties and cities participating in the sales tax holiday, click here.  

Crime time
"Counties in Crisis, Assessing Quality of Life in Alabama," an 80-page Alabama State University study ranking Alabama counties, was mailed recently to 1,500 elected officials across the state. It ranks Alabama's 67 counties based on four indicators: economy, health care, public safety and education.

Mobile County is listed as having the highest number of juvenile arrests at 2,883 in 2009. Jefferson, Madison, Montgomery, Calhoun and Mobile counties had the highest number of reported rapes.

The best counties overall? Shelby, Madison, Baldwin, Jefferson and Limestone scored highest.

Another study was released Monday by the Alabama Criminal Justice Information Center. It examines crime reports between 2006 and 2010. According to the report, 12 percent of all violent offenses involve relatives harming each other. Thirty percent of all simple assaults involve family violence. Although victims and their attackers may be related, statistics show that police solve just half of those cases.

Courts crippled
Funding cuts to Alabama's courts system will force more than 250 new layoffs of personnel in circuit clerk's offices at courthouses across the state, according to circuit clerks.

Some smaller counties will be left with only two employees in their clerk's offices, said the president of the Alabama Circuit Clerk's Association, Chambers County clerk Charles Story.

Story said the cuts will cause delays of trials and long lines for citizens coming to clerk's offices to take care of business such as paying fines or filing court documents.

Former Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb authorized clerks to cut office hours by as much as 10 hours a week. But Story said that was not to save money, but to allow clerks to leave offices unattended so staff could assist judges.
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