UPDATE: Sheriff Hoss Mack restored attorney Harry Still’s security pass on June 4.
For the second time in less than a year, a Baldwin County attorney has had his security pass suspended at the Baldwin County Courthouse, prohibiting him from bypassing courthouse screening without passing through a metal detector and a search of his belongings. This time, the suspension also prevents him from carrying his business-related laptop and cell phone beyond the front door.
According to attorney Harry Still, upon arrival at the courthouse in Bay Minette for a scheduled hearing last week, he was detained by courthouse security and informed that Sheriff Huey “Hoss” Mack had revoked his security pass. Still was told he exhibited “suspicious activity” inside the courthouse May 22 by taking pictures with his cell phone.
A subsequent letter from Mack to Still did not elaborate, but stated the attorney would be allowed to enter the courthouse for “legal business, hearings and proceedings, but may not possess any recording devices or other items prohibited by the Presiding Judge’s standing order.” Mack told Still he would be contacted by the Courthouse Security Committee upon completion of an inquiry.
The court’s standing order prohibits electronic devices but provides exemptions for attorneys and the media.
In an appeal to the Baldwin County Courthouse Security Committee, Still argued it wasn’t anybody’s business of what he was taking pictures. But he voluntarily disclosed the images were of social distancing measures taken by the court, historical artworks he wished to research later, and a stick-figure caricature of State Sen. Chris Elliott in place of an official portrait because “I thought it was funny.”
The courthouse security committee includes Presiding Circuit Judge Scott Taylor, Presiding District Judge Michelle Thomason, Probate Judge Harry D’Olive, Circuit Clerk Jody Wise, District Attorney Robert Wilters and County Commissioner Jeb Ball.
The reason Still took the photos of the social distancing measures, he explained, was because the week before, he represented a plaintiff in a writ of mandamus against Mack, after the sheriff announced he would not enforce Gov. Kay Ivey’s restrictions against businesses during the latter days of the governor’s “safer at home” order. The writ was denied by Circuit Judge Clark Stankoski and Ivey relaxed the order the next day.
“My reason for taking these two pictures inside the courthouse was to demonstrate how ridiculous it was that the sheriff refused to enforce the order,” Still said in a video message to the committee. “The photos demonstrate [Mack] must have completely reversed his position, because you can’t get inside the courthouse without an appointment and social distancing is taken very seriously indeed inside the courthouse.
“Let me be clear, I do not work for the sheriff of Baldwin County. He works for me,” Still told the committee. “The courthouse is where I make my living. Huey Mack is playing politics with that.”
A letter from Judge Taylor later informed Still the courthouse security committee only sets rules related to courthouse security, but does not have any authority over the sheriff’s enforcement of those rules.
“In my reading of Rule 37 of the Alabama Rules of Judicial Administration … I do not find a procedure for a hearing by the committee,” Taylor wrote. “I do not believe it’s the court’s place or the committee’s to provide anyone, especially an attorney, with legal advice and therefore I will not do so. The request for hearing with the committee is denied.”
But in a message to Lagniappe, Mack said he could not comment “while [the case is] under consideration by the Courthouse Security Committee.” Mack did suggest the committee “is still considering” the case.
Still’s security pass was also suspended for several months last September after Mack claimed he acted “erratically or aggressively” toward city officials in Bay Minette when requesting records related to North Baldwin Utilities’ purchase of property in the Steelwood subdivision. At the time, Still had just introduced a weekly podcast and in the second episode, criticized the sheriff’s transparency in a death investigation involving an alleged undercover informant.
He addressed the latest suspension on episode 38 last week, explaining that his law practice is jeopardized by the inability to carry a cell phone or laptop into the courthouse.
“This is a law library. It’s not an electronic device,” Still said. “It’s how I communicate, it’s everything about my practice. I don’t know how [Mack] expects me to practice law and I guess he really doesn’t give a shit.”
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