“Luckily, legislatures make laws, not courthouse lackeys on the fly.” –Kyle Whitmire, AL.com
Where are the open courts of Alabama?
During the Newsome Conspiracy Case, we observed that Judge Carole Smitherman created a secretive “Star Chamber” where alleged criminal acts, perjury, and unsavory conduct were hidden from public view; and all hearings, pleadings, and oral arguments were held in secret with no public notice.
For 500 days, no one knew what was happening, except when appeals were filed and we learned about the counterfeit court order used to trample the due process of law, civil rights, and civil liberties of Burt Newsome.
Now the media are in an uproar over a Star Chamber in Limestone County where Sheriff Mike Blakely, one of the longest-serving sheriffs in Alabama, is facing a criminal trial on five felony charges of using his position for personal gain, five felony counts of theft and one misdemeanor theft charge.
Kyle Whitmire of Al.com writes:
This week, state and local news reporters arrived at the courthouse in Athens to cover jury selection in Blakely’s trial, only to be turned away by the bailiffs.
The reasons they were given have, shall we say, evolved.
At first, a court bailiff told AL.com’s Ashley Remkus that it was against the law for them to observe jury selection.
That was flat-out not true.
I personally have covered trials in state and federal courts where I sat through jury selection, as have many of the reporters there this week in Limestone County. Were all those other judges in all those other cases too dumb to notice the lawbreakers in the back of the courtrooms? If the staff’s understanding of the law were correct, then any number of media folks should be in jail already.
But it’s not against the law. They were just making that part up. Luckily, legislatures make laws, not courthouse lackeys on the fly. So that excuse didn’t last very long.
Next, court staff told the reporters there wasn’t room. Reporters offered to stand. Also, courts are required to accommodate the public, so if there wasn’t room, that’s on them.
Next, they said the judge had ordered jury selection closed to the public. Only there was no written order in the online court file and, when asked, the court staff couldn’t produce one.
Finally, they said the judge had decided that having media in the room might make jurors uncomfortable.
“She would want to make certain that jurors felt comfortable,” her bailiff said. “That there wasn’t people asking them — taking their names and so on and so forth. And so for that reason, she’s not having access.”
Or in fewer words, because she didn’t want to.
Finally, the Three Stooges (Alabama Power, Balch and Bingham, and Drummond Company) successfully sealed the entire $75 million civil lawsuit filed by ex-Drummond executive David Roberson in part due to scrutiny from media including BanBalch.com.
What are they hiding and who in heaven’s name is sitting in on these secretive hearings?
In Smitherman’s court it was her husband State Senator Rodger Smitherman, a non-party, who sat it on the hearings and received over $30,000 in questionable “contributions” from Balch-related allies and entities.
The Drummond case is so tightly sealed that our sources at theJefferson County courthouse cannot obtain any information and believe an alleged miscarriage of justice could be occurring.
The smoke and mirrors in Jefferson County could soon come crashing down if investigators find a pattern of hiding or obscuring criminal acts and trampling the due process of law in obviously bias and one-sided Star Chambers.
As far as Limestone County, media filed a motion to open proceedings and the judge reversed herself, letting the media in.
Sadly, Balch and Bingham and their cronies have a grip on Jefferson County’s judicial branch that is unprecedented.
And even public corruption investigators acknowledge the problem, which is a bold and needed step forward.