The eight associate justices of the Alabama Supreme Court have been taking a lot of heat lately, rightly so in my opinion, for their controversial ruling a few weeks ago that found all documents, recordings, etc, related to any investigation by an Alabama law enforcement agency to be exempt from public disclosure. This is not only in conflict with how our state law reads on open records, it reverses decades of lower court rulings and attorney general opinions about this very issue. There will be no accountability for law enforcement officers who misconduct themselves in their official capacity any longer unless the Alabama Legislature remedies this problem with a new robust open records law that favors disclosure. Don’t hold your breath.
This grievous manhandling of jurisprudence could be good news for one of the most egregious criminal enterprises that operates under the legitimacy of official sanction, the drug and weapons trade by corrections staff in Alabama prisons. After last week’s ‘special’ session to ‘solve the prison problem’ Governor Kay Ivey and the legislature can pat themselves on the back all they would like, but there is no amount of prison construction schemes that will alleviate the assaults and drug trafficking carried out against prisoners by corrections staff in our beleaguered state prison system.
Keep in mind what Michael Bolin, Greg Shaw, Kelli Wise, Tommy Bryan, Will Sellers, Brad Mendheim, Jr. Sarah Stewart, and Jay Mitchell have done is to keep you from even seeing evidence, that your tax dollars support.
As Chief Justice Tom Parker, the lone dissent in the case, wrote, “(T)he Open Records Act favors disclosure, and exemptions to that Act, including those created by statute, must be narrowly construed...Material that merely documents an incident – whether mundane or serious – is not included. And material that is merely part of a process of observation and information collection, even if that process ultimately leads to an investigative report, is not included.
Now this is all very bad news in my opinion, but on the other hand I hope it serves to remind my fellow Alabamians that you do in fact live in a police state, a police state that takes seemingly every opportunity to arrest, prosecute, and imprison, or failing that, to bully its citizens. Meanwhile many law enforcers, legislators, and judges in Alabama have been found behaving in a manner that suggests they think they are above conforming to the same statutes they are charged with legislating, adjudicating and enforcing.
If the legislature wanted to hide their actions they might find safe harbor in declaring the session a crime scene after gaveling in and shielding any unsavory truths that might emerge or be used against them. If it hasn’t been made clear thus far let me make it so now, I have no faith that the right to disclosure, such as it was before this ruling, will ever be returned to Alabama’s citizens. I also have little faith that the Alabama Legislature will craft and pass a law that properly holds law enforcement, and certainly not themselves, accountable to oversight by the citizens. I further have no faith that Alabama citizens, a great many of whom do not understand the gravity of this miscarriage of justice, will even have the desire to hold these associate justices to account at the ballot box.
Each of these Justices have been elected, except Brad Mendheim who has been appointed to the high court twice but in fact has never been elected to it, to uphold the rule of law and when they don’t it is our job to hold them accountable.
Keep in mind this is the same court that ruled the Open Meetings Act doesn’t apply to the Alabama Legislature and that Alabama citizens do not have inherent legal standing to sue for violations of the act, despite the fact that the law itself says just the opposite.
Ultimately this comes down to the Alabama Legislature to fix and frankly that body tends to make problems worse before, and if, they make them better.
My concern is that the 2020 non-sense of “defund the police” has led to an overreaction in deference to the police that harms, and will continue to harm, personal liberty and hides police misconduct.