In terms of sheer political theater, watching Baldwin County Commissioner Chris “I Have Sinned” Elliott trying to fool voters into believing he hasn’t attempted to use political clout to keep his license after a May 2016 DUI is Tony Award worthy.
Elliott took it up a notch last Thursday when he spoke at a luncheon hosted by the Eastern Shore Republican Women’s group, giving them a Swaggart-like apology while at the same time letting them know what a stand-up guy he is. But, as has been the case since this saga began, little of what the commissioner says adds up.
Elliott spoke publicly for the first time about his DUI arrest last May in Fairhope after he ran a red light and refused a Breathalyzer. The first-term commissioner wanted to let everyone know he was “owning” his punishment.
Well, almost everyone. The first tip-off that the whole thing was nothing more than an orchestrated attempt to fleece the public was that Elliott directly contacted the local media he wanted to hear his little speech, but excluded Lagniappe.
That’s not too surprising, I suppose, since we’re the only ones who have asked for an explanation of what actually happened May 14 after his original story fell apart. He’s been avoiding our questions for three months, so it makes sense he wouldn’t want to answer them while flim-flamming the Republican ladies.
A little history might be in order here.
When Elliott was arrested, he sent out a press release apologizing and saying, “there are consequences for my decisions and I will face these consequences.” His story was that he’d had a couple of drinks at a charity event, ran a light and then refused the breath test, but he’d be taking his lumps and not trying to fight the consequences.
At the time I thought it was pretty forthright for a county commissioner to admit such an error without trying to use any sleazy backdoor connection to beat the wrap.
But last October there was some rumbling about Elliott still driving around when he was supposed to get a mandatory 90-day license suspension for refusing the Breathalyzer. Our crack research team quickly located a lawsuit in which Elliott was seeking injunctive relief in order to keep his license.
Suddenly it didn’t sound like Elliott was “owning it” at all. It sounded a whole lot more like Elliott said all the right things to get everyone off his back and then, when he figured nobody was looking, had his lawyer try to get him out of it.
So I made some calls. Elliott wouldn’t return them — never has and probably never will — but his lawyer, Rob Stankoski, did and explained Chris was just availing himself of his right to petition the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency for a hearing on the suspension of his license, but they didn’t get a hearing in time, so he filed a suit on the commissioner’s behalf.
Elliott’s suit argued he would suffer, “irreparable harm and damage by the suspension of his driving privileges. He will be unable to work and serve in his elected capacity as a Baldwin County commissioner.” In layman’s terms Elliott said his elected position is too important for him to lose his license when he breaks the law. Hard to see that as anything more than a textbook example of trying to get “special treatment.”
Things kept getting stranger. After we published that story, people emailed telling me Elliott’s claim he’d just had a couple of beers at a charity event before he was pulled over was also a load of bull poop. They claimed he’d been drinking at a Fairhope bar after the steak cook-off, which ended at 10 p.m. It did seem odd Elliott ran that red light more than two hours after the cook-off was over.
So I asked his lawyer whether Elliott had been at a bar. He wouldn’t answer the question directly, saying they were sticking with their original story.
After former Baldwin County Circuit Court Judge Lang Floyd gave Elliott his injunction, a date was set for Jan. 9 in order for ALEA and Elliott to duke it out in court.
But guess what? Floyd retired this past summer and the judge who replaced him happens to be the brother of Elliott’s lawyer. So Judge Clark Stankoski recused himself just before the trial last week, despite this being on his docket for months. A couple of days later we found out all the other Baldwin judges had recused themselves as well. Strange stuff.
Then came Thursday’s ridiculousness.
As the links to newspaper articles and TV interviews came in, we were surprised to discover Elliott had told the Republican ladies all his legal issues were settled and he’d lost his license for 45 days and was “bumming” rides from friends. Chris had the Republican ladies hugging him and talking about what a great guy he is … after he TOLD them what a great guy he is.
“I have always thought the measure of a person is not whether or not you make a mistake, but how you handle that mistake,” Elliot was quoted as saying. “We all make mistakes. I made a mistake. It’s how you handle that mistake, it’s about whether or not you ask forgiveness.”
It was all so confusing. When were his legal problems settled and where? Why a 45-day suspension when 90 days is the norm? AND he said his 45 days would be up at the end of January, so he theoretically hasn’t been driving since mid December, if my basic math skills work. But all of those judges recused themselves last week. Why?
So we wrote to ALEA to get their take. Their lawyer, who refuses to offer any more info, simply says their case against Elliott is ongoing. Elliott and his lawyer won’t return emails, or calls either.
Just before deadline, Fairhope’s assistant city prosecutor, Marcus McDowell, told a Lagniappe reporter Elliott plead guilty in city court two or three months ago, although he couldn’t remember when. But he also said the city court has nothing to do with license suspension, so it’s still unclear who set the license suspension or when it happened.
It’s too bad Elliott is completely unwilling to explain what legal machinations have taken place to this point. But there are some things we know for sure.
First of all, Chris Elliott didn’t “own” this. He has tried to weasel out of his punishment and has offered his elected position as a reason he shouldn’t lose his driver’s license like everyone else. He copped the guilty plea in city court after he was exposed. We also know for a fact he is unwilling to answer a simple yes or no question about whether or not he was in a bar that night.
Elliott obviously takes the voters of Baldwin County for complete rubes. Word is he’s going to run for probate court judge, but why would anyone want such an obviously manipulative judge — or commissioner for that matter? It’s one thing to get a DUI, but it’s entirely another to make people think you’re a stand-up guy when you’re actually trying to game the system behind the scenes.
If Chris Elliott wants to be measured by his actions, he still looks to be about a mile short of the truth.