Montgomery, Ala., November 14, 2008 – The Alabama State Bar has taken the extraordinary step of requesting that state Attorney General Troy King investigate the conduct of third parties in the recent Supreme Court election.
Referring to numerous complaints from voters and members of the state bar, ASB President J. Mark White of Birmingham (White Arnold & Dowd P.C.) informed King that the false identification of the state bar as a "rating agency" for judicial candidates by the campaigns and third-party interests spurred his request.
The Attorney General has the sole authority to prosecute violations of the Fair Campaign Practices Act and therefore White urged the Attorney General to investigate whether such third-party interests have violated the laws of the State of Alabama, including the Fair Campaign Practices Act.
"A number of people, including members of the state bar, were subjected to telephone calls of the type commonly known as 'push polls,' in which the state bar was identified as having given a grade or rating to a particular judicial candidate," said White. "Despite an immediate response from both the ASB and the Administrative Office of Courts that made the campaigns aware of the falsity of that information, paid advertising continued running throughout the campaigns, up to and including election day, exploiting the name of the Alabama State Bar."
White said that he heard a radio ad on Election Day that gave the impression that the state bar rated candidates and disclosed its source as the Alabama Voters Against Lawsuit Abuse ("AVALA"). In addition, White added that he had received similar complaints regarding the conduct of the Center for Individual Freedom, Inc. (CFIF), which made a large television buy in the recent election cycle.
"Much like AVALA, this group contends that they are not a political organization and that they do not endorse candidates," he said The complaints White received indicated that the Center for Individual Freedom did in fact endorse a candidate in the Alabama Supreme Court race, yet neither organization appears to have filed a campaign financial disclosure in Alabama.
The state bar has been working to eliminate judicial campaign activities that undermine public trust and confidence in the judiciary and are contrary to the ultimate goal of a fair, impartial and independent judiciary. During the last two state Supreme Court races, the ASB took a strong stand against negative attack ads. "The problem has not been with the candidates and their authorized committees," said White, "but with the independent committees who do not disclose their contributors."
American Bar Association President H. Thomas Wells, Jr., who practices law in Birmingham, said enormously expensive judicial races are a threat to the public's confidence in the judicial system.
The 16,000-member Alabama State Bar is dedicated to promoting the professional responsibility, competence and satisfaction of its members; improving the administration of justice and increasing public understanding and respect for the law.