It came as no real surprise that there was not a single guilty verdict in the State House Bingo Trial that ended last month in Alabama. In fact, each of the six remaining Defendants was found not guilty by a jury. This was the second trial in the costly and highly political ordeal which lasted for over two years. Sadly, the cost to taxpayers was at least $35 million to prosecute this case. Based on the testimony presented by the government during each of the two trials, it’s quite evident that the charges against the defendants were baseless and ill-advised.
Everything that surfaced during the two trials dealt, directly or indirectly, with conduct that certainly appeared, under existing law, to have been legitimate campaign contributions. Many observers believe the criminal charges were politically inspired and that the investigation and prosecution were designed and timed in a manner to help the Indian gambling facilities gain a total hold on their territory in Alabama. Some even say the prosecutions helped the Indians in Mississippi, but that is purely speculation at this point.
Joe Espy and his team of Defense lawyers whipped the federal prosecutors at every turn and in every way imaginable. In fact, I don’t believe I have ever seen a worse courthouse and public relations whipping. Joe’s performance, in and out of the courtroom, was as good as it gets. All of the lawyers for the Defense did extremely well according to folks who sat in on the trials. The word around the Capitol is that at least one person is already writing a book about the trials and all that led up to them. That should be most interesting.
All Alabamians should hope that something good will come as a result of the bingo battles. Perhaps, the situation that led to the wire-taps, the indictments and two lengthy trials could have been avoided had the leaders in state government at the time pushed harder for real campaign finance reform. While it’s quite obvious that there was never a basis for any criminal charges, there certainly is a need to clean up our campaign finance laws.
Hopefully, those now in charge of the Alabama Legislature will see fit to pass some meaningful campaign finance reform. A good place to start would be to limit the amounts any person or political action committee can donate to a candidate for statewide office or to a person running for legislative office. Also, restricting the expenditures by third-party groups in state elections would help clean up a broken system. Regardless of what the Republican-controlled Alabama Legislature does, or fails to do, you can rest assured that most Alabamians are glad the criminal trials are finally over. Lots of folks, including the families of the Defendants, were unjustly hurt by the events surrounding the prosecutions. That’s the shameful part of the debacle.
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