Alabama Bar President Seeks Probe of State Supreme Court Race

By Phillip Rawls | November 19, 2008

The president of the Alabama State Bar has asked the state attorney general to investigate the conduct of politically active groups that got involved in the race for the state Supreme Court.

In a letter to Attorney General Troy King, Bar President Mark White of Birmingham said he wants to know if any laws were broken by the Center for Individual Freedom, Alabama Voters Against Lawsuit Abuse or Americans in Contact Political Action Committee.

“As President of the Bar, I am making a formal request and demand that you investigate these matters to determine whether the laws of Alabama have been violated,” White wrote.

Attorney General Troy King received and reviewed the letter last Friday, spokesman Chris Bence said. He said King assigned it to the appropriate lawyers in his office “for a thorough review.”

Skip Tucker, executive director of Alabama Voters Against Lawsuit Abuse, said his group’s ad in the Supreme Court race was factual and he expects nothing from the attorney general’s office.

“AVALA and I would be astounded should Attorney General King join this blatant, pathetic attempt to stifle freedom of speech,” Tucker said.

Republican Greg Shaw narrowly defeated Democrat Deborah Bell Paseur in the election Nov. 4. Paseur conceded the race Friday after county election officials finished counting provisional ballots.

During the campaign, the Center for Individual Freedom ran extensive TV ads praising Shaw’s work on the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals.

AVALA ran radio ads criticizing Paseur’s performance as a district judge in Florence and her support from trial lawyers.

White said Americans in Contact PAC appeared to be behind automated phone calls that incorrectly told voters that Paseur had received an “F” rating from the State Bar. White said the legal group does not rate judges.

Neither the ads nor the phone calls asked people to vote a certain way in the election. Traditionally in Alabama, groups have filed campaign finance reports showing where they raised their money if they encouraged voters to elect or defeat a candidate. Groups have often kept their sources of money secret when they have run ads that praise or criticize a candidate without mentioning the upcoming election.

White said he has received many complaints that the ads amounted to political endorsements, which would require the sponsors to file campaign finance reports.

The Center for the Individual Freedom and Americans in Contact PAC did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Tucker said AVALA’s ads followed free speech law.

“I suspected some of these legal hoodlums would come after AVALA, and sure enough, here they are. There is no bottom to their hypocrisy, and they apparently have no sense of shame,” Tucker said Friday.

White said that if the attorney general can take no action, the State Bar won’t let the issue of “secretive groups” drop.

“If our current laws don’t apply and offer some relief, then everybody ought to sit down and find a way to do that,” he said.

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