There’s a line where “tenacious” turns to “stubborn,” and there’s another line where “stubborn” turns to “foolish.” I think we just crossed that second line, along with a big sign reading, “Welcome to Foolish — Population 2.”
When the Alabama Supreme Court refused last week to go back over a case it had just ruled on 8-1 five months ago, it might have seemed like the end of the four-year legal UFC match between the Mobile County Commission and the District Attorney’s Office. It might have seemed that way, but there’s a strong likelihood it’s not.
Despite losing the case at the Circuit Court level and the Supreme Court level twice, it looks like two Mobile County Commissioners are determined to keep fighting on and spending more and more of the taxpayers’ money on a lawsuit they appear to have no way of winning. The meat and potatoes of the issue is District Attorney Ashley Rich’s contention that the County Commission has been skimping on its legal funding obligations to her office for many years.
Rich argued her point several times to the commission before finally getting fed up enough to sue in 2012. An initial Circuit Court ruling went the county’s way, but in March the Supreme Court decided the law requires the county to fund the DA at a much higher level than it does currently. The county appealed again, but the Supreme Court denied it. But, like a punch-drunk fighter who’s too battered to have the sense to throw in the towel, the commission is ready to jump back in the ring for another round.
In particular it is Commissioners Connie Hudson and Merceria Ludgood who continue to believe they can score a knockout blow in the final round when they’re behind on all the cards and have both eyes swollen shut. Commissioner Jerry Carl has distanced himself from this bloody mess and publicly said the county needs to find a way to work with Rich.
And Rich, too, has tried to work with the county. Since the beginning of this matter she has offered a compromise that would allow the county to pay out far less than the courts have said they should. But Hudson and Ludgood eschew any settlement for a plan that is either foolhardy in its expected outcome or diabolical in its efforts to simply keep kicking the proverbial can down the road in hopes something might change or that perhaps they’ll both be in different offices by the time the end is reached.
When the Supreme Court delivered what essentially was a fatal blow to the county’s hopes of winning, Hudson and Ludgood threw the taxpayers’ checkbooks to the wind and immediately asked for another review by the same body that just ruled against them 8-1. It’s a lot like asking the same question and hoping for a different answer.
But think about it. These two were willing to keep paying their expensive attorney in hopes of getting four justices to change their minds just weeks after issuing a ruling. Was anyone remotely surprised that approach was rejected?
So now the case goes back to the original Circuit Court judge who will affirm the Supreme Court’s ruling. But Hudson and Ludgood are ready to appeal that affirmation back to — you guessed it! — the Alabama Supreme Court.
I understand having to fund the DA’s office is going to be expensive, but since she’s been running the show Rich has maintained that the underfunding creates a situation in which she can’t hire enough assistant district attorneys to prosecute all the crime. The result has certainly been a low level of white-collar crime prosecution. It’s also made Mobile County a much more comfortable place for political corruption, in my estimation. Almost all of that burden has been carried by the feds for many years now.
So far this legal battle has cost taxpayers more than $400,000, with roughly $250,000 of that going to the county’s private Birmingham-based attorney. Why Hudson and Ludgood are intent on pouring more money into their attorney’s pocket makes little sense, except that it seems to be a pattern.
These two were the ones behind wasting more than $500,000 on study after study for Hudson’s big dream of a soccer/aquatic complex. They kept pouring more and more money into it without Connie ever really answering the question of how it would be funded. Of course she thought the BP Fairy would swoop down and deliver $40 million in magic non-tax money, but it didn’t happen. When she finally revealed a funding plan — at the very last moment before the land had to be purchased, in an obvious ploy to keep dissention to a minimum — even Ludgood bailed on her.
At this point it just seems like some basic personality issues are leading to the waste of lots of money and a toxic atmosphere on the commission. The biggest problem is stubbornness bordering on foolishness.
Hudson’s blinding determination to get her soccer complex not only alienated her from Carl, but it led her to spend amazing amounts of political goodwill trying to get State Rep. Margie Wilcox elected in his place. Perhaps Hudson hoped having Margie on the commission would be a card she could play once she had to finally reveal her funding plan, but it backfired. Trying to get Wilcox in was a bad idea in the first place and a political long shot.
This fight with Rich seems to have also become a personal quest for Hudson and Ludgood. They’ve been told they’re wrong, but only want to listen to the advice of people who get paid to keep litigating.
It’s been a bad year for Connie, losing the soccer complex crusade, wearing out her shoes campaigning for Wilcox’s failed campaign and having this legal battle shoved back in her face. Even her desperate trip to Montgomery to have the law changed so the county wouldn’t have to pay Rich was another loser. And Ludgood has at least been an enabler in most of Connie’s battles.
I doubt much can be done to stop all of the foolishness right now, but Hudson and Ludgood need to learn when they’ve lost and figure out a way to move forward that doesn’t involve simply wasting tax dollars.
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