Ethics panel wants Alabama chief justice removed from office

AP News
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Posted: Jul 15, 2016 9:22 PM

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore should be swiftly removed from office for a second time because he urged the state's probate judges to defy federal courts on gay marriage, a state ethics commission argued Friday.

The Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission wrote in the court filing that Moore — who was ousted from the bench in 2003 for refusing to remove a boulder-sized Ten Commandments monument at a state building — was again flouting the rule of law, but this time he was urging 68 probate judges to do so with him.

"Because the chief justice has proven — and promised — that he will not change his behavior, he has left this Court with no choice but to remove him from office to preserve the integrity, independence, impartiality of Alabama's judiciary and the citizens who depend on it for justice," lawyers for the commission wrote in the filing with the Alabama Court of the Judiciary.

The commission said Moore disrespected the judiciary when he told probate judges in January that a state injunction against same-sex marriage remained in "full force and effect" even though the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled six months prior that gays and lesbians had a fundamental right to marry and a federal judge had ordered the judges not to enforce the ban.

The ethics accusations against Moore are part of a series of scandals engulfing Republicans at the helm of Alabama's three branches of government. House Speaker Mike Hubbard was removed from office in June after being convicted on corruption charges. The House Judiciary Committee is investigating whether grounds exist to impeach Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley.

The Alabama Court of the Judiciary, a panel of judges, lawyers and citizens who hear misconduct complaints against judges, will decide if Moore violated the standards of judicial ethics. Moore urged the court to dismiss the case; arguments on his motion are set for Aug. 8.

In the response filed Friday, the commission argued there were sufficient grounds to remove Moore from office instead of hashing out the matter in a trial-like proceeding.

Moore had argued the complaint is baseless and he never ordered state probate judges to refuse wedding licenses to gay couples. His attorneys have said that Moore was correctly summarizing the status of a state injunction in answer to questions from probate judges.

"The Administrative Order of Chief Justice Moore expressly said he could not provide guidance to the probate judges because the matter was pending before the Alabama Supreme Court," Moore's attorney Mat Staver said in a statement last month.

The commission responded that Moore was playing "semantic gamesmanship."

Although the commission urged swift action against Moore, the impeachment probe against Bentley moved incrementally.

High-profile lawyers were named to both lead the impeachment investigation and to represent Bentley during the probe.

Bentley's office announced Friday that it is hiring Ross Garber, who represented the governors of South Carolina and Connecticut during impeachment proceedings.

"It is my intention to fully work with the House Judiciary Committee during this procedure as it pertains to the Alabama Constitution and the U.S. Constitution," Bentley said in a statement.

Alabama's House Judiciary Committee named Birmingham attorney Jackson Sharman as its special counsel. Sharman, who specializes in white-collar criminal cases and corporate investigations, had served as special counsel to the U.S. House Banking Committee for the Whitewater investigation during the Clinton administration.

"We come to this with absolutely no preconceptions, and we intend to have a process that is as prompt and as fair as possible," Sharman told reporters Friday. He said his first task is to determine what witnesses and documents are needed.

The attorneys will be paid $195 per hour from state funds.

Twenty-three House members signed impeachment articles accusing the governor of corruption and neglect of duty after Bentley's former law enforcement secretary accused Bentley of having an affair with a staffer and of interfering with law enforcement business. Bentley admitting making "inappropriate remarks" to the staffer but denied the other claims.

The governor testified this week at a state grand jury, but another lawyer representing Bentley said Friday that he did not believe Bentley was the target of the investigation.

"I do not believe that grand jury is investigating Governor Bentley.. .. I think it's meeting on a number of things," Joe Espy said. The governor's office in March asked the attorney general's office to review possible misuse of state funds at the state law enforcement agency.