Let me show my age again. Some of us recall in a faraway time of black and white TV when John Cameron Swayze touted the durability of Timex watches. He put them on the blade of a motor boat engine, spun them underwater at 4,500 RPM and then showed us that the watch was still running.
“It takes a lickin’ and keeps on tickin’,” we were told.
So when I read Josh Moon’s report on The Alabama Political Reporter site about how taxpayers paid thousands of dollars to the Balch & Bingham law firm for their involvement in the “Sentence case,” I thought back to John Cameron Swayze and the fact that the most dreadful hire of a state school chief Alabama has ever had just “keeps on tickin’.”
You can see the entire article here.
Here are excerpts that caught my attention:
“Balch & Bingham attorneys, the records show, also drove to Montgomery and to “coach” both Dean and school board member Mary Scott Hunter before they answered questions from a legislative committee that was investigating the superintendent search process.
Asked about the use of Balch & Bingham attorneys for tasks that appear to be either so mundane that the ALSDE counsel should handle them or that are of a personal nature and outside of the scope of their daily job duties, an ALSDE spokesman declined to answer the specific questions and instead focused on the fact that the information had become public.
Jefferson County superintendent Craig Pouncey, who was considered the frontrunner for the job, has filed a lawsuit against Hunter and others at the state department for concocting and carrying out a scheme to prevent him from landing the job. A Montgomery judge last month dismissed all but Hunter and another ALSDE lawyer from the suit, including Dean.
Pouncey filed his lawsuit in Feb. 2016 and it was announced after that date that because of the legal action, ALSDE would be on the hook for private attorneys to represent Dean, Hunter and two other ALSDE attorneys, James Ward and Susan Crowther.
But the records obtained by APR show that Balch & Bingham attorneys had long been providing legal guidance to the four.
The bills also include several charges related to legal guidance for Hunter, which is, at best, a gray area. School board members clamored for months about hiring an attorney that would represent the board, and ultimately last year moved forward with hiring Lewis Gillis. Prior to that hire, however, it was the policy of the board that it was represented in all legal matters, unless the board took specific action otherwise, by Dean.
But on Nov. 1, 2016, the billing records show a $146.25 charge for a “talk” between Dorman Walker and Hunter about “her prospective testimony before the (legislative) committee.” There was another talk with Hunter on Nov. 8., and a conference on Nov. 9. The related charges totaled $1,170.”
Balch & Bingham is an excellent law firm. I know a number of attorneys who work for them. But to me, the real issue is not so much about the firm involved, as it is about why taxpayers had to foot the bill to “coach” people to go before a legislative committee to answer questions? Both Hunter and Dean are attorneys themselves. Why did they have to be prepped?
There are eight elected members of the state board of education, including Hunter. All eight testified before the legislative committee. Why was Hunter the only board member who got special treatment in this instance?
And remember, this was months before Pouncey filed his lawsuit naming both Hunter and Dean.
As pointed out above, while Dean has been dismissed from the legal action, Hunter has not. Which brings us to a very sticky issue. The state board of education is now conducting a search for a new superintendent. They hope to have someone within the next two months.
One of the applicants is Craig Pouncey. If he is a finalist, Hunter will once again sit in judgment, just as she did in 2016 when she voted for four of the six finalists–but never for Pouncey. How “fair and impartial” will she be with the law suit hanging over her head?
The honorable thing for her to do is to recuse herself from the search process. We know the process in 2016 was tainted. The last thing we need is to give the appearance of doing it again.