Commentary on Alabama Law and Society

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Location: Birmingham, Alabama

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Another Reason Not To Vote For Troy King

Here is the case in a nutshell. The Board that oversees the Department of Environmental Management consists of seven people. According to Section 22-22A-6(b)(6) of the Alabama Code, on of those people must:

be a biologist or an ecologist possessing as a minimum a bachelor's degree from an accredited university and shall have training in environmental matters.

Pat Byington is the current ‘ecologist’ on the commission. Don Siegelman appointed him, and the state senate unanimously affirmed him. Byington has a degree from Alabama in environmental studies. He is an environmental consultant and the publisher of the Bama Environmental News.

For some reason or another, a couple of folks don’t like Byington, and so they went to court to try to get him removed from the commission. The rationale? Byington does not meet the Code’s requirements for the ecologist’s position.

Well, the only degree required by the statute is a generic bachelor’s degree, which Byington has. As for being a ‘biologist or ecologist’ and having ‘training in environmental matters’ former Governor Siegelman thought Byington was qualified, and so did the Senate. His c.v. also indicates Byington meets these requirement. So the suit was meritless, right?

Wrong. The plaintiff’s asked Troy King for an opinion on the statute’s meaning. King responded that the statute requires a degree in biology or ecology.

Now, not only does the statute say no such thing, but at the time it was written no college in Alabama, and few elsewhere, even offered a degree in ecology. So, King’s reading not only contradicted the plain language of the statute, but as the judge who tossed the suit stated:

It appears that the Attorney General completely failed to consider the fact that his overly restrictive interpretation of the statute means that the Legislature would have created a position that was virtually impossible to fill at the time.

Why did King interpret the statute in such a ridiculous manner? Maybe he wanted a particular outcome. Maybe he lacks interpretive skills. Biased or incompetent; either way, his error was a major factor in this wasteful lawsuit. Either way, his performance in this case does not inspire confidence in him for future cases.