Sunday, June 26, 2011

Judge Warner’s fall from the bench could be major milestone

image Last week, the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission filed a complaint against Montgomery County Family Court Judge Patricia Warner, who had suddenly resigned just months into her second term. The complaint alleges 74 instances of judicial misconduct in a broad array of cases, including at least one involving people that casino owner Milton McGregor would like to keep quiet.

McGregor, along with his team of lobbyists and legislators, are currently standing trial in US Federal District Court on charges of conspiracy, bribery, money laundering and fraud. The trial enters its third week of testimony tomorrow and is expected to last throughout the summer.

What’s notable about Warner’s resignation and indictment by the Judicial Inquiry Commission is that as McGregor’s political influence wanes, he is becoming increasingly unable to wield his power and keep people silent. You may want to note that June 22—the date the Warner story became public—as a potential turning point in the cause of ridding this state of influences that have corrupted its political processes, its financial institutions and possibly even one of its great institutions of higher learning.

Alabamians got a windfall victory earlier this year when long-standing Auburn University Board of Trustees member Bobby Lowder decided not to seek another term on the school’s governing body. The controversial, polarizing control freak had been accused of micromanaging affairs at Auburn, leading the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) to place the university on Academic probation—one step away from yanking the school’s accreditation and throwing the state and the higher education system into economic, political and educational turmoil. Two years ago, Lowder saw his financial empire collapse when the once-mighty Colonial BancGroup was thrown into receivership by banking regulators. With the end of his term on the AU Board, the Shakespearean figure’s fall from grace will be nearly complete. Lowder can harm this state’s financial industry no more, and no longer will he operate the levers of power at Auburn University.

McGregor’s case continues to move forward, with the best outcome for all Alabamians becoming all the more likely—his conviction on charges of attempting to corrupt the political process and deny Alabamians the governmental integrity they deserve and expect. Goat Hill will never be completely rid of sleaze and corruption, but having it rid of McGregor’s influence is in the interest of all Alabamians.

Regular readers of this blog will recall that during the legal wrangling over the defense attorneys attempts to compel the government to release certain evidence they planned to use at trial, it became obvious that the Department of Justice had expanded its probe beyond the scope of the original October 2010 indictments in the bingo case. To this day, we still have no idea who or what was the target of that probe, but it was important enough for the government and the Court to keep bookshelves of legal filings, motions and arguments under seal. However, since it was McGregor’s side of the alleged conspiracy that made the most noise over the release of the evidence, it’s no stretch to conclude that he was involved in the expanded probe.

As his and others’ influence wanes, those with knowledge of further shady dealings should feel empowered to speak out; to tell their stories of control, greed and corruption. Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum; regardless of where you live; regardless of which school carries your allegiance, the need has never been greater to clean this place up and leave our descendants with a better place. One of the most enduring qualities of a free society is that we believe in the rule of law, not the rule of men. When the system is corrupted and too much power is wielded by too few people, we have an innate desire to speak out; to do something about it. To tell the truth.

Removing Warner from the bench has removed yet another means of influence from a once too powerful man. He can’t keep people quiet anymore, and his ability to retaliate against those who do speak out wanes by the day.

As the story of this struggle unfolds, we may one day point to Warner’s resignation and indictment as a key milestone.

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