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The Political Round-Up

From murder to misdemeanor;
Should mayor's pay match mayor's job?;
Saraland, Creola play footsie;
Graddick, Stuart have history & herstory;
Insurance reform body to meet here;
At Nodine's Beck & Pascal;
Counts out, Wilhelm will take helm

By Chip Drago
Mobile Bay Times
From murder to mere misdemeanor, the matter of ex-Mobile County Commissioner Stephen Nodine and the death of his attractive paramour Angel Downs from a gunshot to the head in May, 2010 has been tabloid fodder for the masses and a political tarbaby for the Baldwin County District Attorney, first Judy Newcomb and now her rival and successor Hallie Dixon.

The latest statement from Dixon in the wake of Monday's bombshell in which Nodine's alleged responsibility in Downs' death is criminal negligence and not outright murder, although a felony perjury count also hangs over his head for financial disclosures in connection with the paperwork to qualify for a court-appointed lawyer:

"I appreciate that a case involving a public figure is newsworthy. However, I do not intend to try this case in the media, nor engage in a back-and-forth with Mr. Nodine’s attorneys in the newspapers or on television. The defense attorneys’ job is different than mine: Their job is to do what they can to get him off; my job is to seek justice based on truthful evidence and to do so in a manner complying with the law and rules of ethics for prosecutors.

While I understand the family's grief and that they have great difficulty accepting the evidence, we will continue to honor our duty and do as we said.  We gathered and presented all evidence and all possible charges to a grand jury.  It is now our job to vigorously prosecute the charges as indicted.  In doing so, we will address any motions appropriately by filing timely responses with the court.

This case is one of many death cases on which we are working and is no more or less important than they are. We must move forward on all of them with due diligence."

Nodine's defense team, attorneys Pascal Bruijn and John Beck, have said the two counts now lodged against Nodine are so distinct that they call for separate trials.

According to a number of sources with past and existing ties to the criminal justice system and law enforcement in Baldwin County, the new evidence that led to the remarkable reduction in Nodine's alleged liability connected with Downs' death stems almost certainly from Downs' Blackberry.

Bruijn concurs. 

"I imagine the new evidence was the content of her Blackberry which showed there was no stalking -- they were friendly and in love up until her death -- and the state forensic expert agreeing with defense expert saying Angel killed herself which knocked out the murder, manslaughter, etc.," said Bruijn.

Whatever Nodine's offenses, murder is not among them, his defense asserts, and the tragedy of Downs' suicide is only compounded by the state's efforts to pursue political exploitation rather than justice.

Nodine is in federal custody in a Miami, Fla. prison on his conviction for possessing a firearm while illegally abusing drugs. The Republican county commissioner resigned his office amid impeachment proceedings initiated by former District Attorney John Tyson Jr

Beck, who only recently came on board in Nodine's defense, suggested that the entire episode, beginning with Downs' death on Mother's Day of 2010, has been one unfortunate event after another.

"Mr. Nodine has profoundly paid for any of his misdeeds and then some," said Beck. "The sad and tragic fact of Ms. Downs' suicide is not Mr. Nodine's responsibility. For the sake of all involved it's time to move on." 

Newcomb called the new indictment "very confusing."

"However, based upon what I have heard I am very disappointed that personal bias is going to prevent justice for Angel Downs," stated Newcomb.

According to Newcomb, she is interested to learn what the "new evidence is and if it has been as well tested as the evidence presented at trial."

Dixon did not immediately respond to an opportunity to offer follow-up remarks.

Baldwin County Circuit Judge Charles Partin is presiding over the case. No trial date has been scheduled.

In the mayor's grill
Last week three city councilors met with Mayor Sam Jones to discuss his crime package, including a youth curfew and an epidemic of saggy pants a/k/a "All this city needs is a good belt or 2,000 of them" ordinance. 

City Councilman William Carroll detailed the concerns of he and his colleagues, Councilwomen Bess Rich and Gina Gregory in a letter to Jones, citing:


Please provide statistics that show juvenile crime versus adult crime for a one year period, including the types of crimes, where they were committed, and the time they were committed. The map the Police Department has shown us is only of juvenile crime and locations during the proposed daytime curfew hours.

Of the crimes committed by juveniles, please provide information on how many of those crimes were committed by the same person. Please provide the area(s) where crimes were committed.

How will officers determine whether violators should simply be "detained" on the street and sent home or transported home versus being transported to the Curfew Center for parental contact or for adjudication? What are the guidelines?

When a child is released after being detained with a verbal warning, do police then keep a watch on the teens to make sure they go home?

What of the teens who can ask to be released after three hours when there is no criminal violation and no parent or guardian shows up?  How will this be handled, and if something happens to the minor after release, what responsibility does the City have?

Is Municipal Court staffed for petitions, hearings due to violations of curfew? Are they prepared to handle what may seem as an increase in hearings due to enforcement?

Are police ready to use manpower to transport juveniles to the Curfew Center?

What is the agreement with Department of Social Services to work with parents/children, the City and SYC? Please provide the details.

Do both child and parent get citations? What about fines?  How can the city enforce the law when minors cannot be fined? 

When you use the word "discretion" exactly how/what do you mean?
 
Do police already use discretion when writing tickets, making arrests - or not? How is it used with juveniles today?

Verbal warnings - "detainment" - does that mean only on the street and then minors are allowed to go home? Or, do officers drive the minors to their homes? Do they use discretion and if so, how?

Who is liable if a police officer transports a minor to his home and later there is a problem with the juvenile at the home?

Please explain the process and agreements with DHR and SYC if no parents/guardians can be found after three hours.

Is SYC ready to accept the minors? And where/how do they keep the kids? Are they staffed to handle?

Have police received word from AOC on Juvenile Court assignment for the Curfew Center to adjudicate the cases?

Why is there only one Curfew Center if kids are picked up throughout the city?

Why hasn't the Downtown Entertainment District curfew been enforced? What has changed that it now can be enforced and broadened city-wide?

How does the City plan to pay for the additional resources that will be necessary to operate and enforce the curfew?

Please provide detailed information about the process and procedures for the ordinance.

Questions of proof regarding daytime curfew:

Please provide more information about your responses to the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) and the Southeast Law Institute (questions):

That the proposed ordinance is deficient under virtually every judicial test?

Is overbroad, vague and unconstitutional and violates a minor's fundamental rights? That it makes no distinctions?

What is the compelling reason for the daytime curfew that a court would accept - based on prior court cases?

That Alabama law doesn't permit municipal regulation of church schools?

America doesn't require people to carry their "papers"?

Compulsory attendance age raised to 18?

No provisions in Alabama law for homeschooled children to receive a certificate of exemption from anyone? 

Harassment issues?

If a police officer suspects a teenager (or group of teenagers) is truant, do they stop them to ask what they're doing? If it is determined the teens are not truant, but on suspension from school, would not the officer still watch the teens?

Why do you exempt a minor who is emancipated? And what proof do they show that they are?

How do minors show proof in the below circumstances? 

They are enrolled in home or church school;
They have permission of a parent;
They are on an errand, emergency, at a civic or etc. event, is married or has been married (and why does that matter?) is on a Work Study Program, is enrolled in college, receiving health care services, on lunch break from a school that allows off campus lunches, or has a High School Equivalency.


What is the Constitutionality of this?

Why not go further and include women's specific undergarments or short running shorts that men wear without shirts and women wear with jog bras out in the public?

Penalties for violation of this ordinance include fines.  Since minors, by law, cannot be fined, how will this ordinance be enforced?

Which brings us to ....

Odds and ends, jetsam and flotsam.

Look for a Mobile city councilor to propose a pay hike for the city's mayor from its current $89,000 annually to $200,000 a year. The reasoning? In the private sector, any chief executive officer worthy of the title draws a salary of at least $200,000 a year. If Mobile wants genuine competence in its executive leader, it should also expect to pay the going market rate. If adopted, the pay hike would not take effect until after municipal elections in two years.

Preliminary talks have begun discreetly among municipal leaders in Creola and Saraland aimed at merging the former into the latter. While economies of scale in providing services figures in the discussion, the primary benefit, for Saraland, is greater access to commercial property along I-65 and, for Creola, safe harbor for public education within the Saraland city school system. With a population of just 2,000, some Creola families consider themselves unhappy hostages of the Mobile County Public School System.

More than 30 years ago when he was Alabama's attorney general, Mobile County Presiding Judge Charlie Graddick hired Lyn Stuart fresh out of law school. The Atmore native is now a justice on the state Supreme Court. Although Gov. Robert Bentley appointed his chief of staff Chuck Malone as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court to fill out the unexpired term of Sue Bell Cobb who stepped down earlier this month, some state pundits and politicos regard Graddick and Atmore native Stuart as potential frontrunners to win a full term on the high court in elections next year.

Mobile Young Republicans' first golf tourney
The Mobile Young Republicans will stage its first annual golf tournament Saturday from 7-10 a.m. at the Spring Hill College Golf Course.

A $50 per individual/$175 per team of four entry fee includes 18 holes, lunch with a special speaker and a chance to win door prizes.

For more information, including sponsorship opportunities, email info@mobileyoungrepublicans.org or stuartsaulters@gmail.com.

Insurance reform commission
to meet here Aug. 29
The Alabama Affordable Homeowners Insurance Commission (AHIC) will host a public forum here Monday, Aug. 29 from 5:30-8 p.m. at the Mobile Convention Center downtown, according to AHIC member and state Sen. Ben Brooks.

Coincidentally, the forum will take place on the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

Appointed by Gov. Robert Bentley, the 30-member AHIC is charged with developing innovative solutions to tumultuous times in the insurance market stemming from recent hurricanes and tornadoes. Bentley has said, perhaps ill-advisedly, that he will call a special session of the Legislature this fall if AHIC has produced proposals that are guaranteed to win passage. Critics have grumbled that such a pre-condition serves to give an upper hand in negotiations to industry interests that prefer the status quo.

The session will take place on the second floor of the Arthur R. Outlaw Convention Center on Water Street in the West Ballroom. Free parking beneath the convention center will be available.

Former Foley Mayor and current Baldwin County Probate Judge Tim Russell is chairman of AHIC. Russell tapped Brooks to serve as the Baldwin/Mobile regional chairman for AHIC. Brooks will moderate the forum. According to Brooks, the program will be allowed to run past the allotted 2.5 hours if participation warrants. He said guests would be allowed to sign up to speak up until 5:30 p.m. The program calls for two hours of citizen input with a five-minute break in-between. A final hour or so of "brainstorming" among commission members will conclude the session and the public is welcome and encourage to remain for AHIC's discussion.  

Speakers will be chosen randomly.

Brooks emphasized the importance of a healthy turnout by Alabama's coastal communities. A paltry showing would send a message of Mobile/Baldwin apathy to other areas of the state and possibly dampen enthusiasm for action as AHIC members from throughout the state carry their observations home, said Brooks.

Counts out
Longtime member of the Ladd Stadium Board of Directors Braxton Counts has exited. Appointed more than 20 years ago by then Mobile City Councilman John Peavy, Counts' term has expired and he has not requested reappointment to the unpaid position. Counts served as chairman of the board for about two years. 

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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