District attorney opposes state Senate bill

Published 2:53 pm Friday, February 26, 2010

Shelby County’s district attorney recently made a trip to Montgomery to publicly declare his opposition to a bill that would take away the governor’s authority to initiate any civil or criminal court proceeding or investigation.

Shelby County District Attorney Robby Owens said he opposed the bill because it could cause a breakdown in making sure criminal cases are handled fairly.

“The bill in itself changes a long-existing statute in practice in law that allows the governor to make appointments under a wide array of circumstances, which includes any time the attorney general’s office has a conflict of interest in any case,” Owens said. “To change that statute leaves virtually no one to make an appointment in all those circumstances.”

If the governor were not allowed to make such appointments, the attorney general and the state’s chief justice would be the only two allowed to do so. If the chief justice were to appoint a special prosecutor in court cases, it could open him or her up to a conflict of interest if such cases came before the state Supreme Court.

Owens said the bill, Senate Bill 375, was introduced as a response to Gov. Bob Riley’s gambling task force, which has been working to shut down what the governor sees as illegal electronic bingo operations.

Riley and state Attorney General Troy King have been locked in a heated battle over the gambling task force, which King characterized as an “ill-advised and reckless approach to a legal issue” in a Feb. 17 statement.

“However, (the bill) is much broader than just that issue,” Owens said. “Therefore, the district attorneys believe it is unadvisable.”

When it comes to Shelby County, however, gambling is a non-issue, Owens said.

“Regarding the issue of gambling, the Constitution of Alabama forbids lotteries-slash-gambling of any kind. There are 16 or 17 counties that have had constitutional amendments passed to allow charitable lotteries, almost always known as bingo,” he said. “In these counties, the argument exists regarding whether or not these purposes are legal as being charitable in nature.

“However, that is only to be determined in these 16 or 17 counties. Shelby County has no statute or constitutional amendment of this kind. Therefore, gambling is illegal in Shelby County,” he added.

Senate Bill 375 is out of committee but has not been brought up on the floor.

Owens joined a group of more than 10 district attorneys in opposing the bill.