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Former GOP Governor Is Not Out of the Woods on Abramoff Case

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Message Roger Shuler

Cross Posted at Legal Schnauzer

In a decision that should surprise no one, a federal magistrate ruled yesterday that former Alabama Governor Bob Riley will not have to testify in the federal bingo trial that heats up today with the calling of the first witness in Montgomery. Could this be another step in a high-level effort to make sure the public never knows the full extent of the Jack Abramoff scandal? We will examine that question in a bit, but what about the specifics of the subpoena ruling?

At first glance, Sunday's ruling smells of the usual political maneuvering and judicial corruption that has come to mark federal courts in Alabama. But upon further review, the finding from U.S. Magistrate Judge Terry Moorer might not be a complete victory for Riley. (You can view Moorer's order at the end of this post.)

The bingo trial is a national story because it grew largely from $13 million that Mississippi Choctaw gaming interests spent to help get Riley elected in 2002. Those funds reportedly were laundered through Republican felons Jack Abramoff and Michael Scanlon, meaning the bingo trial touches heavily on perhaps the worst political scandal in American history.

Moorer quashed a subpoena from gambling magnate Milton McGregor, seeking to have Riley and three other current or former state officials called as witnesses. Moorer's finding, however, was "without prejudice," meaning the issue can be raised again later in the trial. And Moorer indicates that McGregor might indeed have a strong case for seeking testimony from Riley and the other state officials at some point in the proceedings.

The decision to quash the subpoena was based largely on a U.S. Supreme Court case styled United States v. Nixon, 418 U.S. 683, 698, 94 S.Ct. 3090, 41 L.Ed.2d 1039 (1974).  That case states that decisions to allow such subpoenas must be based on three factors: (1) relevancy; (2) admissibility; (3) specificity.

For the purposes of his analysis, Moorer states that he assumes McGregor has met the standards for relevancy and admissibility. Moorer goes on to state that a final ruling on admissibility must rest with Myron Thompson, the U.S. district judge in charge of the case. But for current purposes, Moorer states, he is finding that the testimony could be both relevant and admissible. (An Associated Press story states that McGregor's attorneys "failed to show the relevancy of Riley's testimony." That is incorrect. Moorer, in fact, states that the testimony could be relevant.)

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I live in Birmingham, Alabama, and work in higher education. I became interested in justice-related issues after experiencing gross judicial corruption in Alabama state courts. This corruption has a strong political component. The corrupt judges are (more...)
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