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WBRC EXCLUSIVE: AG: Ethics Commission staff mishandled investigation

Alabama Ethics Commission staff investigate complaints filed against public officials.
Alabama Ethics Commission staff investigate complaints filed against public officials.(WBRC)
Published: Jan. 12, 2022 at 2:10 PM CST|Updated: Jan. 12, 2022 at 2:50 PM CST
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - The Ethics Commission, charged with checking unchecked power, is under scrutiny by Attorney General Steve Marshall.

It involves the 2021 ethics case of former Montgomery Police Chief Ernest Finley and then-Chief of Operations, Jennifer Reaves. In August, the Ethics Commission found both officials violated the Ethics Act and referred the case to the AG for administrative resolution, a penalty handled outside of court. The vote was 4-0, and now-former commissioner Beverly Brady recused.

Instead of approving the resolution, Marshall cleared both of any wrongdoing.

Marshall notified the Ethics Commission of his decision in November.

“To the extent you found probable cause to believe that the above-referenced respondents violated the Alabama Ethics Act, I believe you did so based on incomplete or misleading information,” the letter stated.

According to the letter, Marshall’s office conducted its own investigation into the case and found what he calls “demonstratively false evidence” and “material misrepresentations of fact” in ethics investigative reports, case files and transcripts from that hearing.

“The transcript of the hearing before the Commission indicates that material misrepresentations of fact were made to the Commissioners both by the general counsel and the case agent,” referring to then-general counsel Cynthia Raulston and senior investigator Byron Butler.

Marshall went a step further, stating the general counsel violated ethical obligations under the Alabama Rules of Professional Conduct and stripped Raulston of the ability to represent the state in legal matters.

“In light of these findings, and based on my supervisory duties under the Alabama Rules of Processional Conduct, I have also withdrawn my certification of the Commission’s general counsel as a deputy attorney general and must object to her serving the Commission in any legal capacity,” he stated.

A month later, the AG wrote what’s known as a Giglio letter to be shared with prosecutors across the state.

The Supreme Court decision Giglio v United States requires prosecutors to share information with the defense that may question the credibility of government witnesses. Marshall’s letter cites prosecutors are to disclose this information if they call Raulston or Butler to testify. The letter notes this could impact prosecutions and verdicts they were involved in over the last four months.

“Thus, if Ms. Raulston or Mr. Butler testified in a trial resulting in a guilty verdict between August 10, 2021, and the date of his letter [December 6, 2021], I would ask that the district attorney responsible for that prosecution contact [Clark Morris, Special Prosecutions Division] to determine any appropriate steps necessary to protect the State’s verdict,” Marshall wrote.

It’s unclear whether the AG’s Office has heard from district attorneys on this matter or whether verdicts may be in jeopardy. The AG’s Office has not responded to our questions.

Both Raulston and Butler are still employed by the Ethics Commission, according to the agency’s website, Raulston is listed as special assistant to the director.

We attempted to speak with Ethics about these allegations, however both agencies declined to comment on this investigation.

Role of Ethics Commission

Ethics Commission staff investigate complaints filed against public officials and employees. The findings are presented to the commission during a meeting. If the five-panel commission believes there is probable cause an official violated the Alabama Ethics Act, that case is referred to a prosecutor. The Ethics Commission does not formally charge officials. Minor ethics violations are often handled through administrative resolutions, as recommended by the commission. Evidence generated over the course of an ethics investigation falls under the state’s grand jury secrecy law. While Commission meetings and votes are public, the cases are presented to the Commission in executive session for this reason. Even if a case if referred for prosecution, the commission does not publicly release the complaint or nature of the alleged violation.

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