Commentary on Alabama Law and Society

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Location: Birmingham, Alabama

Monday, June 05, 2006

My Thoughts On Attorney General

I have offered many opinions on the State Supreme Court races. However, I have been silent on the other legal office up for grabs this fall: Attorney General. That is because I am unimpressed with the A.G. candidates.

Because Larry Darby is Larry Darby, I’ll just compare his Democratic opponent John Tyson with the two Republicans – incumbent Troy King and challenger Mark Montiel.

The A.G. is the state’s lawyer. Her job is to offer legal advice to all the other state agents. She should point out constitutional problems with statutes and explain how current laws apply to new situations. The A.G. represents the state when the state gets sued. The A.G. also represents the state in appeals from criminal convictions. The A.G. has a wide range of legal responsibilities.

Which is why I do not like John Tyson or Troy King. All they have done so far is tell us how many people they are going to put in jail. Tyson’s website says he is “running for Attorney General because we can't wait any longer to save lives and property. We must fight back against crime and we must do it where it happens--in our local communities.” King’s site also contains nothing but get tough on crime rhetoric.

Law enforcement is not the A.G.’s job, it is the job of the District Attorneys. An A.G. needs to be a very competent general practitioner. Nothing these guys have said thus far convinces me they have that general competency. They’ve assured me they will be tough on crime, but that is a small part of the job.

I don’t think Tyson or King have even proposed a solution to the state’s overcrowded prisons. If your claim to fame is throwing people into jail, shouldn’t you at least tell us how you are going to do that without compounding the prison problem? I’m sure prison commissioner Richard Allen, who is facing contempt charges because of the overcrowding, would like to know. This is a legal problem, the A.G. needs to help solve it, not make it worse.

There are more problems with King. First you need to read the editorials he wrote while a law student at Alabama in the early nineties. Here are some quotes:

“The existence of the Gay/Lesbian alliance on this campus is an affront to the state of Alabama, its citizenry, this diversity and its students. However, it is also an outrage to compel those students with both moral and religious objections to the activities and ideas espoused by this organization to contribute money, via student fees, to subsidize these activities. One has but to look at the forces which the controversy has united--from the American Civil Liberties Union to the National Organization of Women to the Queer Nation just to name a few--to clearly see how corrupt a cause this truly is.”

“I often hear the argument that homosexuals who live together create a loving, caring family environment, perhaps an environment which is even superior to that which can be provided by a heterosexual couple. In this day of rampant decadence, many homosexuals would mislead society into believing that three men, an armadillo and a houseplant create a functional family. This is clearly flawed reasoning, which will wilt under scrutiny and should be dismissed as such.”

"Currently, AIDS is the most behavior-oriented disease known to mankind. If this nation's current purveyors of perversion would refrain from committing sodomy they would unquestioningly be spared the ravages of the disease.”

His views in 2004?

"If I were writing editorials about these issues today, I would probably use different words, more judicious words."

This editorial, written after King vowed to wear an electronic tracking device until the legislature passed a law requiring sex offenders to do so, sums up the problem with King:

Like George Wallace and Alabama's current uber-demagogue, Roy Moore, King's grandiloquence is meant to appeal to the "Praise Jesus, but get off my property, boy" values the atypical Alabama voter is perceived to stroke, along with their gun, while sitting on their front porch. . . .

His demagoguery always runs on high and he rarely turns it off - and that's the problem: his stint as Alabama attorney general has pretty much been more of a big Old South campaign for attorney general than about being attorney general.

When King put on the tracking device last week, he completely overshadowed the important legislation he was pushing with his own self-promotion. He debased the image and standards of his office by trying so hard to be ‘that crazy conservative guy.’

(A big H/T to Poser for all of this material on King.)

But a lack of decorum is not King's only failing. His zealotry is bad for his 'client' - the State of Alabama. I’ve said before you should never hire an attorney who thinks they are doing God’s work because if the choice comes down to your interests or God’s, you are going to lose. Troy King thinks he is doing God’s work, and we all lose as a result.

For example, he decided to appeal the Adams case. That was a cut and dry case. The defendant was under eighteen at the time of the crime. Last year Scotus prohibited executing people who were under eighteen at the time of the crime. Hence, the Alabama Supreme Court reversed the death penalty. At this point, a responsible attorney would have balanced the costs of the appeal - high - against its chances of success – none - and dropped the issue. Nevertheless, King decided to appeal. In the private sector, sometimes you file stupid appeals because your client insists on jousting with windmills. King, however, is using OUR resources to carry out his joust. He is letting his personal views negatively impact the rest of us.

What about Mark Montiel? That he was a judge tells me he is familiar with a wide section of the law. It also tells me he knows how to consider all sides of an issue before making a decision. Other than that, though, I don’t know much about him.

In sum, I can’t really endorse anyone. I can reject King and Darby. As for the remaining two, Montiel seems like the better choice.