In 1998, Jim Woodward, the incumbent sheriff of Jefferson County, AL, was running for election -- his first time at bat, since he had been appointed to fill the position left vacant by the retirement and death of long-time sheriff Mel Bailey. After the votes were counted, Woodward had lost by 37 votes to Mike Hale, the Democratic candidate. Woodward believed that there had been voter fraud in the absentee balloting (a favorite pastime in Alabama) and launched an investigation using the sheriff's office link to the NCIC (National Crime Information Center) to find absentee voters who might have committed felonies (which would make them ineligible to vote in Alabama). Woodward hired Bert Jordan to represent him in an election contest. He eventually won the contest.
Using the NCIC records for anything other than law enforcement is a violation of federal law. So the feds indicted Woodward and Jordan for using the NCIC records. The indictment claimed that Woodward had turned over the NCIC information to Jordan who used it in preparing his case.
During the trial of the case, Judge Inge Johnson kept stopping the trial to let the defense lawyers (David Cromwell Johnson for Woodward and William Clark for Jordan) review material that she ruled should have been turned over by the prosecution earlier. Finally, she dismissed the case on the grounds of prosecutorial misconduct.
The government appealed and the 11th Circuit yesterday reversed and sent the case back for trial. It is a long opinion and I don't pretend to understand most of it, since I don't handle criminal law. The 11th Circuit opinion is, as usual, in a zip file on the court's site. Go here
and click on the "Day of the Month" link, choose 6, and download the zip file (this is the only case in the file).
The Birmingham News
story has some background.
Disclosure: Jordan and I have known each other for years. We go to the same church. And we have always been on opposite sides of political/legal questions. Read the opinion, and I think you will agree with me that if Bill Clark can prove what he said in his opening argument, Bert will be acquitted.
Moral of the story: election lawyers can get in a heap of trouble trying to get their clients out of trouble. As the sergeant on Hill Street Blues used to say, "Hey, be careful out there."