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Chip Drago
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The Political Round-Up

Thomas/JIC slated; Picking up the slack in circuit court; Don't let George do it; Tangled up in blue/red politics;
In this corner, wearing the red trunks ...    
By Chip Drago
Mobile Bay Times
Suspended Mobile County Circuit Judge Herman Thomas later this month will likely appear for a second time before the Judicial Inquiry Commission considering ethics charges against him.

The JIC, which met June 15 in a conference call, scheduled a special meeting for June 29 in Montgomery. According to sources close to the proceedings, Thomas is expected to address the body which is considering a second round of allegations against the judge.

In March, Thomas was named in a 15-count complaint that accused him of violating the Alabama Canon of Judicial Ethics.

About six weeks ago, virtually every circuit judge in Mobile County signed a letter to JIC accusing Thomas of transferring hundreds of cases from their dockets to his, unbeknownst to the active judges.

Deputy Attorney General Bill Lisenby Jr. and Assistant Attorney General W. Brent Woodall earlier this week asked the Court of the Judiciary to to allow them until July 6 to amend the complaint against Thomas.

Criminal Appeals Judge Greg Shaw, the COJ's chief judge, set the matter for trial on July 25.

However, mediation remains a possibility and the JIC is set to meet Friday, July 13.

Rule 10 in JIC's rule and procedures provides for "alternate dispute resolution" as follows:

Thomas has chosen not to comment on the charges. The judge's legal counsel includes Dave Boyd of Balch and Bingham and Mobile attorney Billy Kimbrough.

Picking up the slack
Retired Circuit Judge Teddy McDermott has been handling Thomas' docket while the incumbent judge's status remains cloudy.

However, in August, former Circuit Judge Braxton Kittrell will spell McDermott for about three weeks, assuming Thomas' situation hasn't been resolved and the jurist restored to his seat on the bench.

A circuit judge for more than 22 years, Kittrell was the presiding judge over Mobile County circuit court for 10 years until he retired in April 1999.

As supernumerary judges in Mobile County, Kittrell and McDermott are not compensated for serving in their home base.

"(There will be) no compensation for either Teddy or I," said Kittrell. "We just try to help out when the need arises. I have seven other cases I'm handling around the state. For that I get paid ... $75 per diem if I spend the night ... (plus) mileage."

Send him a message
The day will be hot and the welcome mostly warm for President and Mrs. George Bush when they arrive in Mobile Thursday to help U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions raise money for his re-election campaign.

However, opponents of the president's immigration reform bill plan to picket outside the Arthur R. Outlaw Convention Center to protest the proposed legislation and attract the attention of the national media.

In an e-mail to "all conservatives in Alabama, south Mississippi and the Florida panhandle," Mobile attorney Jim Ziegler states:

"Your help is needed to get a message to President Bush, his advisers and the national media. That message is: We are against the so-called immigration reform bill that will allow illegals to purchase legal status but do little to control the invasion at our borders.

Our strategy is to have dozens of sign-holders outside the event to be seen by the President's entourage and the national media. Since some of the sign-holders will be interviewed by reporters, it is important to have our positive, ten-second talking points.

This is an ironic opportunity to show the nation where we stand in a positive way because Sen. Sessions is the leading opponent of the immigration sell-out and President Bush is its leading supporter. We can tell the nation that we support Sen. Sessions and oppose the President on this vital issue.

We need your help.  Please prayerfully consider taking these actions:

The timing of this event is critical. The Senate schedule could put the final debate on June 21 and the final vote on Friday, June 22.

Suggested wording for homemade signs:

Mr. President, please listen to Jeff Sessions
BACK OFF on immigration sell-out
Support Sessions
STOP immigration sell-out
YES to Sessions
NO to amnesty
Thanks, Jeff Sessions
for opposing amnesty
Our strong voice against amnesty

For instructions on what time and where to show up, talking points, and updates, visit website"

Tangled up in blue/red politics
For all the sound and fury over gill net fishing in Alabama waters, pro and con, the controversy was settled, then stalled and remained as it all began when the legislative session ended recently.

A minor and unobjectionable amendment to legislation resolving the noisy squabble over commercial gill net fishing in Alabama waters nevertheless scuttled the bill. The amendment was tacked on in the Senate and then sent to House for a routine seconding, but the House had already adjourned and the bill died on the last day of the session.

The warring sides had reached an accord which included a voluntary buyout of the 110 or so commercially licensed gill net fishermen and a five-year study to determine the impact of gill net fishing on local fish stocks. 

State Rep. Jamie Ison sponsored the legislation to bring an end to commercial gill net fishing here, much as it as been eliminated or dramatically restricted in every other state along the Gulf Coast. She remained optimistic that the compromise would be revived and passed either in a special session this fall or next spring when the Legislature reconvenes for its 2008 session.

“Everybody had come to an agreement and it is my hope that we will get it done in a special session,” she said. “A lot of the fishermen honestly want the buyout. I’ve been getting phone calls and they are concerned about it. We compromised on a couple of fine-tuning things and everybody had come to an agreement. I don’t see why we couldn’t request that the governor put it in his call for a special session. My understanding is that there will be a special session in September or October.” 

Her chief adversary on the issue, state Rep. Spencer Collier of Bayou La Batre, was also hopeful that the bill, as it existed when the session expired, would be revived and adopted. However, he expressed some concern that an effort to trim concessions to the fishermen and impose harsher terms was already in the works. He cautioned the anti-gill net forces to proceed thoughtfully with such plans, adding that the commercial fishing interests held the upper hand in the House, yet allowed the compromise bill to move to the upper chamber to honor a commitment.

Will the compromise be resuscitated and win passage?

“It’s possible if it (the bill) came back with the exact, agreed-upon version,” Collier said.

Rumblings have him concerned, said Collier.

“I’m already hearing they are coming back with a stricter version," said Collier.

"The message from the House was fairly clear: 'A total ban cannot and will not pass,'" he said.

"This was partly filibustered by others, not me," Collier continued."The message was continually ‘Don’t try for a total ban.’''

"If they come back with the agreed-upon version, we can probably get it worked out," said Collier. "If it is a stricter version or a total ban, I don’t think there is a prayer of passing that. In fact, we could’ve killed the bill in the House this time, but we agreed to honor our word. I believe the votes were there to kill it."

"Bottom line is the compromise was fair," Collier said. "We’re not getting everything we want and they’re not getting everything they want and that’s how the process should work.”

Manning McPhillips headed the Alabama Coastal Conservation Association's legislative efforts to bring an end to commercial gill net fishing in Alabama waters. He was assigned to the task by the CCA's governmental relations Chairman Owen Drey III. The CCA is the leading proponent of banning commercial gill net fishing in Alabama waters.

"We will deal with things one at a time," said McPhillips. "If the governor puts it in the call for a special session, he is looking for non-controversial bills. We would be glad to see it in the call for a special session. We would look to have a  good discussion. It would be one more potential opportunity (to resolve the issue)."

McPhillips suggested the legislative battle over gill net fishing turned more on emotion than fact.

"Lost in all the hype over the 'rich man, poor man' and 'putting people out-of-work' was that the netters want to be bought out," McPhillips said. "They have been in touch with us and they absolutely want to be bought out. The money to fund this (opposition) campaign is not coming from the fishermen themselves. The money appears to come from the (seafood) processors locally and nationally." 

According to McPhillips, the opposing camps are "supposed to visit in the next several weeks."

The legislative session and the battle were a learning experience, according to McPhillips.

"We learned who our friends were and learned who our adversaries were and their resources," he said.

Much of the debate over commercial gill net fishing during the session was merely misleading, a distraction from the issue, said McPhillips.

"The issue is the resource and managing it properly," he said.  

And in this corner, wearing the red trunks ...
According to one GOP legislator, talk among lawmakers throughout the session was which would come first: the gong sounding the end of the session or state Sen. Charles Bishop, R-Jasper, punching someone out? Bishop, 69, came within a whisker of getting through the session fight-free. Instead, with the clock winding down, a quick right to Lowell Barron's face and the aging Jasper welterweight became a "U-Tube" celebrity.    
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