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The Political Round-Up

Curran joins capital murder defense team; Williams to announce county commission race; Graddick campaign fete slated;
Foster case in for media treatment; 
High Court backs AltaPointe in clash with judge;
One city's pain, another city's pleasure?
Republican Executive Committee raises Cain; LWV-Mobile to offer course on local politics;
SBA officials in Fairhope; Jetsom and flotsom

By Chip Drago
Mobile Bay Times
Accomplished ex-investigative journalist Eddie Curran has joined the legal defense team for Michael Jerome Lee, accused of murder in the shocking midtown slaying of young engineer Kyser Miree in the spring of 2010.

Curran previously worked for the Press-Register where he broke many stories about government scandals. More recently, he opened Curran Research Services aimed at assisting attorneys in civil and criminal matters.

Alleged accomplices point the finger at Lee in Miree's killing at the 23-year-old Chevron employee's Macy Place home. Jamal Breon Lang, now 21, Bo Taylor, now 19, and  Ernest Wiggins, now 20, were also charged in the case.

Appointed to represent Lee are criminal defense attorneys Art Powell and Glenn Davidson.

Curran said he wasn't looking for the assignment but, because of his respect for Davidson, he agreed to work on the case after Davidson asked him to consider it. Curran has never worked as a researcher on a criminal case. He said he hoped to do well in developing credible information about the case.

"There's alot more than meets the eye in this one," said Powell.

If convicted, Lee could be sentenced to death.

Williams launches county commission bid
Mobile City Councilman John Williams will formally announce his candidacy for the District 3 seat on the Mobile County Commission during a press conference today.

The announcement is set for 3:30 p.m. at the 605 Bel Air Boulevard of Timbes and Yeager, a media and public relations concern. For more information call 471-8433 or visit Williams' campaign website.

Williams will join a GOP field in the election next March that includes longtime incumbent Commissioner Mike Dean and other challengers including John Graham, Jerry Carl and Nick Matranga.

In other District 3 developments, the Rev. Fred Wolfe, the very well-known former pastor at very large Cottage Hill Baptist Church, will captain the Carl campaign. Also, Carl has reportedly engaged GOP political consultant Chris Brown to advise his campaign. 

Coleman to address GOP women
Frances Coleman, editorial page editor for the Press-Register, will top the card at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 19 when the Eastern Shore Republican Women meet for the club's monthly luncheon at the Fairhope Yacht Club.

Lunch is $16. Guests and prospective members are welcome.

Donated items for the 1165th Military Police will be collected. Reservations should be made no later than Monday, Oct. 17 to lhsundbeck@aol.com.

Graddick fundraiser scheduled
A reception to raise money to fuel Mobile County Presiding Circuit Judge Charlie Graddick's campaign for Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court is scheduled at the Fort Conde Inn in downtown Mobile Thursday, Nov. 3 from 5-7 p.m.

There are about 150 hosts and hostesses for the event. Among them are:


Incumbent Chief Justice Charles Malone is running for a full term after drawing an appointment to the court from Gov. Robert Bentley this summer after Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb retired.

Both Graddick and Malone are Republicans.

The Fort Conde Inn is located at 165 St. Emanuel St.

A documentary look at the murder of University of South Alabama coed Katherine Foster more than 30 years ago will be hightlighted in an all new episode on the hit series UNUSUAL SUSPECTS airing Sunday, Oct. 16 at 10 p.m. on Investigation Discovery.

In this episode, an 18-year-old freshman is found shot to death in the woods behind the University of South Alabama campus in Mobile, Ala. Detectives take a hard look at several suspects, but 30 years go by before a stunning confession cracks the case.

This episode includes interviews with the victim’s mother Joanna Foster, her sister Jennifer Foster-Brimm, as well as:


Common Sense Campaign, Semmes Tea Party 
The Common Sense Campaign will have a "Restoring Common Sense" Tea Party in Semmes Saturday, Oct. 22 from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. at the Semmes Community Center,
10141 Moffett Road.

The event will feature hot dogs, chips, drinks (water), speakers, games and live music.

For more information visit CommonSenseCampaign.org or call 251-626-7808.

Council Economic, Cultural & Civic
Development/Cruise Committee to Meet
The Economic, Cultural & Civic Development/Cruise Committee of the Mobile City Council will meet Tuesday, Oct. 25 at 1:30 p.m. in the Council Office Conference Room. For more information call call Councilwoman Bess Rich at (251) 208-7441.

Obama for America Mobile doings
Democratic phone banks in Mobile County are underway and more than 500 calls were made on a recent Thursday evening, according to Obama worker Ty Burden. She reported that locally the re-elect Obama effort was "on target." Phone banks will continue each Thursday from 6-8 p.m. at local Democratic Headquarters, 918 Government St. next to Compass Bank near Broad St.

Burden also announced that a general Obama for America meeting to "briefly discuss the direction that we are taking for the fall" will be held Friday at Democratic Headquarters from 6-8 p.m. Interested volunteers are encouraged to attend. The Mobile County Democratic Executive Committee will have a fish fry for $7 a plate.a

On Saturday, Oct. 29 OFA will have a Spooktacular Halloween Costume Ball from 7-10 p.m. There will be prizes for best male and female costume. OFA will also provide food, music, fun and adult beverages.

Court backs AltaPointe in probate beef
Upholding a lower court ruling that invalidated a general order by Mobile County Probate Judge Don Davis, the Alabama Supreme Court agreed that Davis overstepped his authority in attempting to control the clinical treatment of people undergoing the involuntary commitment process.

In an order entered without opinion by Justice Kelli Wise with the concurrence of Chief Justice Chuck Malone and Justices Lynn Stuart, Tom Parker and Greg Shaw, the court affirmed Monroe County Circuit Judge Dawn Hare’s June 23, 2010 order.

Probate officials and mental health care contractor Altapointe have been embroiled for years in a contentious dispute over their proper roles in the delivery of court-ordered outpatient mental health treatment. Davis contends that the court is entitled to ensure that its directives are followed in the interests of public safety. AltaPointe counters that Davis had usurped their standing as the medical professionals best situated to make decisions about clinical treatment and burdened the organization with excessive and counter-productive red tape.

In January 2008, AltaPointe filed a petition for a “writ of mandamus” in Mobile County Circuit Court seeking relief from the general order that Davis issued in December 2007. In challenging the general order, AltaPointe maintained that the judge was exercising powers beyond his authority, that the Alabama State Legislature vested authority with the Alabama Department of Mental Health and that the general order violated consumers’ rights. AltaPointe argued that adherence to the general order effectively reordered “the allocation of clinical resources in such a way as to remove clinical discretion from mental health professionals.”

According to Davis, AltaPointe hindered his ability to do his duty in ensuring both individual and public safety by failing to notify the court when outpatients under court order did not comply with the clinical treatment program set out by the mental health professionals. The judge said probate officials received countless reports of AltaPointe omissions over the years, forcing him against his desires to create a status docket for cases of court-ordered involuntary commitment cases. Davis said he had no interest in invading the physicians' realm but merely wanted to follow the law so that both the outpatient and the public were properly safeguarded from potential harm.

In part and not because he sought to dictate treatment, said Davis, he cited state law governing involuntary commitments in calling on AltaPointe to advise the court when outpatients strayed from prescribed treatment:

Section 22-52-10.3 - Order for outpatient treatment.

(c) If outpatient treatment is ordered, the order of the probate court may state the specific conditions to be followed and shall include the general condition that the respondent follow the directives and treatment plan established by the designated mental health facility.

(e) The designated mental health facility shall immediately report to the probate court any material noncompliance with the outpatient treatment order. The report shall set forth the need for revocation of the outpatient treatment order and shall be verified and filed with the probate court.

(f) The probate court shall set a hearing to consider the motion for revocation of the outpatient treatment order. The hearing procedures and safeguards set forth in this article, applicable to a petition for involuntary commitment, shall be followed. If at the hearing, the probate court finds, based upon clear and convincing evidence, that the conditions of outpatient treatment have not been met, and that the respondent meets inpatient criteria, the probate court may enter an order for commitment to inpatient treatment.        

“… our organization is extremely happy and our medical staff is very satisfied that the Supeme Court upheld the ruling by Judge Hare in terms of the separation of the legal and medical parameters around treating people with mental health problems,” said Tuerk Schlesinger, AltaPointe chief executive officer. “It gives great clarity to the way we provide psychiatric treatment to our patients and in our involvement with probate court in dealing with individuals who are under outpatient commitment. Also, this ruling gives clarity not only in Mobile County, but gives clarity throughout the entire state of Alabama. We are very pleased. We were confident that the Supreme Court would uphold Judge Hare’s ruling based on our understanding of the issue and the law.”

Mobile attorney Bo Perry represented AltaPointe in the case.

Had the general order been restored, the system again would “have been entirely too cumbersome,” said Schlesinger, with the court straying “too far into medical issues and into medical records” so that it hampered AltaPointe’s ability to treat patients.

This will “let us spend our time doing what we’re supposed to be doing: trying to improve the lives of people with mental health problems,” he said.
 
Typically about 650 people a year go through the probate court evaluation process. About 300 are placed under outpatient treatment and some court oversight to ensure they comply with directives for treatment, Schlesinger estimated.

AltaPointe is audited by the Alabama Department of Mental Health to ensure that it meets the required standards of care, Schlesinger noted.

Without the weight of the general order, AltaPointe can devote its resources, time and energy “doing what we are supposed to be doing, helping patients receive the treatment they need,” said Schlesinger. “It was really a drain on our operational expenses. If we had lost, we’d have to go back to an incredible administrative structure that would’ve cost us a lot of money. For years, we were spending in excess of what we should have, to satisfy the court -- $800,000-$1.2 million that we didn’t need to be spending; nothing but responding to complaints and special audits. We had 11 audits one year.”

Schlesinger has been the organization’s CEO for 13-1/2 years. Founded in 1957 as Mobile Mental Health Center, it was renamed AltaPointe in 2007. 

Dr. Sandra Parker, AltaPointe’s chief medical officer for 18 years, called the ruling “a big relief.” The general order was a physician’s nightmare, putting the judge in control of “what treatment our patients needed, rather than leaving it up to the doctors.”

“We’ve been to medical school for four years and had four years or more residency and we’re in the best position to know best the treatment that a patient needs,” she said. “It’s his prerogative to decide whether or not the person should be committed, but it’s ours to decide the treatment that’s needed.” 

Had Davis’s general order been allowed to prevail, it would set “a dangerous precedent allowing a judge to make decisions about patients and what kind of treatment they receive,” said Parker.

“We feel like now with the Supreme Court’s cleqr decision indeed it is up to the physicians to decide what treatment a patient needs working with the patient and the family, rather than a judge,” she added.

According to Parker, AltaPointe had to bring on additional employees solely to satisfy the demands of the probate court. She said that the productivity of the Adult Evaluation Unit was probably cut in half or more by the court’s requirements.

“It was just an incredible burden,” she said.

It was especially frustrating, she added, because the doctors were distracted from “patient care. What all of us love is working with this population of patients in mental health care. Trying to meet the expectations of the judge wore on us.”

According to Parker, no other county in the state had such onerous rules imposed on mental health care professionals as Mobile County.

“I certainly sympathize with the fact that he (Davis) feels very responsible that if anything happened to a patient or the patient did anything to hurt someone that that is a burden to him,” said Parker. “But the federal courts have decided that patients have the right to the least restrictive treatment and we have to stick to that federal court guideline.”

Almost 16 months ago, Hare found in favor of AltaPointe, declaring that the Mobile County Probate Court had “exceeded its statutory and limited jurisdiction” and may not “exercise clinical judgment.” T Probate Court does not have the legal jurisdiction to “dictate, set, monitor, or enforce treatment, clinical standards, or standards of care or treatment,” Hare continued.

Hare also found that the Alabama Department of Mental Health, and not the Probate Court, “provides the oversight of providers [of outpatient treatment] such as AltaPointe . . . .”

AltaPointe is Mobile County’s mental health authority as mandated by Act 310 of the Alabama State Legislature. Mental health professionals at AltaPointe’s BayPointe Hospital and Adult Outpatient Services assess the mental capacity of individuals admitted involuntarily under legal petition of commitment filed with the Mobile County Probate Court. Alabama law gives jurisdiction over commitment proceedings to the county probate courts.

Davis’s general order applied to all persons ordered to outpatient treatment and applied to AltaPointe Health Systems, as the treatment provider.

The Alabama Department of Mental Health and Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program supported AltaPointe throughout its’ disagreement with the local probate court, said AltaPointe spokeswoman Carol Mann.

“… hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees that could have been better spent” were consumed in the legal battle, Mann added.

On the campaign trail
Mobile attorney and judicial candidate Eaton Barnard has launched a campaign video on YouTube. In an email to his contacts, Barnard acknowledged the high cost of commercial television advertising and the liklihood that his GOP opponent, fellow attorney and state Sen. Ben Brooks will "will outraise me in funds by a long shot." Barnard pledged to outwork Brooks.

Retired Navy commander Pete Riehm has updated his congressional campaign website in his Tea Party-fueled bid for Congress. Riehm is challenging incumbent U.S. Rep. Jo Bonner in the Republican primary for the First Congressional District nomination.

One city's pain another city's pleasure?
The World Monuments Fund last week announced its 2012 Watch list -- 67 "threatened cultural-heritage sites across the globe" -- including Charleston, SC, where an expanding cruise industry is undermining "the very character that entices visitors to come to the town in the first place."

Like Mobile, Charleston was founded more than 300 years ago. Unlike Mobile, Charleston has more cruise ships calling it home than is good for a city, according to the WMF.

Just this month, Carnival Cruise Lines abandoned Mobile, leaving the city with the prospect of an empty and unpaid for cruise terminal/parking deck. 

"... often considered a birthplace of the preservation movement in the United States," Charleston's "meticulous planning and strong preservation values" have made it a charm spot of the South, attracting both visitors and permanent residents, said WMF President Bonnie Burnham. However, the number and size of the cruise ships in the harbor obstruct views of both the harbor and the town and clog the city's heart with pedestrian and vehicular traffic that is beginning to upset "the balance between commercial development and the residential areas" that make Charleston so livable.

"It is hoped that inclusion of Charleston on the 2012
Watch will support implementation of a balanced and sustainable plan that will enable both tourism — including by cruise ship — and the Historic District to thrive," the WMF press release concludes.

For 15 years, the WMF has focused attention on cultural-heritage sites in jeopardy, helping to save "some of the world's most treasured places," said Burnham.
 
Today's Charleston and the other 66 sites on the list underscore the need to strike a "balance between heritage concerns and the social, economic, and environmental interests of communities around the world," Burnham continued.

"Moreover," she added, "in addition to promoting community cohesion and pride, heritage preservation can have an especially positive impact on local populations in times of economic distress, for example through employment and the development of well-managed
tourism."

Burnham announced that American Express, a founding sponsor of the World Monuments Watch, has made a new grant of $5 million to support the WMF mission over the next five years.

Highlights of the 2012 Watch Sites range from prehistoric to modern, and include religious structures, cemeteries, houses, palaces, bridges, cultural landscapes, archaeological remains, gardens, train stations, and entire villages and neighborhoods. In some cases, the Watch supports an existing plan to address challenges, in others it advocates for the development of one. More detailed descriptions of all 67 sites may be found at www.wmf.org/watch.

Poorly managed tourism threatens many of the places on the 2012 Watch, said Burnham.

Statewide web seminars on Alabama’s
new immigration law set Oct. 14
State Agriculture Commissioner John McMillan announced a statewide web seminar series on the state’s new immigration law to be held Friday, Oct. 14.

“Now that there is a ruling from the federal district court, we are moving forward to help farmers and agribusinesses understand their role and responsibilities in complying with the immigration law,” McMillan said. “This law contains many provisions with stiff fines and penalties. It is critical for farmers and agribusinesses to understand fully how this law applies to them.”

Working with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES), the Alabama Department of Agriculture & Industries has advised agriculture stakeholder groups to invite their members to the three-part web seminar series, which begins at 10 a.m. and concludes at 1 p.m.

Labor law expert Thomas M. Eden of the Capell & Howard law firm will conduct the seminars, which include: an overview of the law, complying with key provisions, and record-keeping.


ACES has offices in all 67 Alabama counties where people can attend the live seminars, which also will be available online for those who are unable to travel. The seminars will be recorded and archived for access via the Internet.

For more information, contact the Alabama Department of Agriculture & Industries at 334-240-7100. For a listing of ACES office locations, go to http://www.aces.edu/counties/.

League of Women Voters offers course in local politics
The League of Women Voters will a new course -- Civics 101:  Your Government Today -- A Venture into Local Politics -- beginning Thursday, Sept. 29 from 11 a.m-12 noon at Dauphin Way Methodist Church, Room E205, 1507 Dauphin St. (corner of Catherine St.), according to LWV of Mobile spokeswoman Mary McGinnis.

The public is invited to attend the entire course or come to the classes that fit an individual's schedule. Each class is taught by a different guest speaker knowledgeable about the topic, according to McGinnis.

The lecture topics and schedule are:


The course is open to all. For more information call 251-378-8378 or email mmcginnis2008@yahoo.com.

No pay pledge still strong
Don't take the money and run was an unofficial motto of Dr. Robert Bentley's campaign for governor last year and he's is sticking to his promise to go without pay as long as high unemployment plagues Alabama.  

Bentley's pledge to forego his salary until Alabama reaches "full employment," generally defined as unemployment at or below 5.2-5.5 percent, remains in force, despite rumors to the contrary, according to the governor's press secretary Jennifer Ardis. His commitment continues to be a solid as it was on the campaign trail, she said.

SBA officials in Fairhope Oct. 27
Dr. Winslow Sargeant, Chief Counsel of the Office of Advocacy for the Small Business Administration and Mark Berson, regional SBA advocate, will speak to merchants in the Fairhope area Thursday, Oct. 27 at 8:30 a.m.

Fairhope City Councilor Debbie Quinn, Vice Chair of the National League of Cities Advisory Council, recruited the SBA representatives to address Fairhope businesses.

"... creating and retaining jobs in this economic climate is something the city can reach out and enlist support from those who know it best (and that's) the Small
Business Administration," said Quinn.

"New businesses have historically been the backbone to getting a stalled economy off the ground," she added. "This time around the problem seems to be capital to get those businesses created or encouraging their expansion."

The initiative is intended, said Quinn, to "create an open conversation on retention and growth of small business" among the city of Fairhope staff, Fairhope merchants, the Chamber of Commerce and others.

For more information contact Quinn at debbiequinn@bellsouth.net.

Dauphin Island Art Trail
On Saturday, Oct. 15, from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m., beautiful and historic Dauphin Island will be home to an Art Trail featuring numerous local and regional artists, such as David and Linda Miller, Dena McKee, and Mary Anderson Pickard and Chris Stebly – both related to famed artist Walter Anderson – exhibiting and selling their work at nine retail locations across the Island.

Bellingrath Gardens and Home in Theodore will join in the celebration of art by featuring various regional artists in conjunction with the Dauphin Island Art Trail.

Whether you’re an avid arts aficionado, casual collector, or a weekend beach vacationer, the inaugural Dauphin Island Art Trail will prove to be an ideal and laid back environment from which you will be inspired to take in the beauties of life, art and nature at your own leisurely pace.

In addition to the opportunity to engage first hand with some of the region’s most prominent artists and purchase their art at this inaugural event, each Art Trail patron will be given a card to be stamped at each of the nine Art Trail locations on Dauphin Island. Cards which receive stamps from all nine of the island locations will be entered into a drawing and eligible for numerous prizes.

Participating artists include:


The Dauphin Island Art Trail is being made possible by the West Bay and Gulf Coast Tourism Development Council and Dauphin Island community artist volunteers.

To learn more about this event, please visit www.AlabamaCoast.org, or contact Kathryn Carver, Executive Director of the West Bay and Gulf Coast Tourism Development Council at (251) 490-0294.
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Need help with legal research or, for that matter, any type of research? Public records and other research? Witness interviews? Consider contacting former Press-Register investigative reporter Eddie Curran. For more information, call Eddie at 251-454-1911, or visit Curran Research Services.
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