MONTGOMERY, Ala., July 9, 2007 -- Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Truman Hobbs Jr. told lawyers on Monday "I have real issues." What Hobbs takes issue with is the argument made by the Attorney General's Office that Worley's alleged actions of soliciting campaign contributions from her employees be charged as both a misdemeanor and a felony. Hobbs made his comments to attorneys during discussion of pre-trial issues Monday morning.
Worley has been charged with five misdemeanor and five felony counts. According to a press release earlier in the year from the Office of the Attorney General the indictment "contains five counts charging that Worley used her position as Secretary of State for the purpose of influencing the vote or political action of five individuals, by soliciting financial contributions, placement of bumper stickers on vehicles, door-to-door and telephone bank activities, letter writing, fundraising, obtaining of a yard sign and/or the providing of other clerical assistance...The indictment also contains five counts, charging that Worley, being an officer of the State in her position as Secretary of State, solicited political contributions from the same five individuals who were her subordinate employees."
But Judge Hobbs had some difficulty with the felony charges. "The statute says it is a misdemeanor for her to solicit her employees for a contribution of any type...Then you've got the other statute..." The other statute, according to Hobbs talks about "influencing votes. Seems to me that is what politicians do every day. I have a problem."
"Specifically, what she is alleged to have done here is a misdemeanor - you can't solicit. You're taking this and charging her with a felony. That's a major problem to me."
Deputy Attorney General Bill Lisenby told Judge Hobbs that there was more to it than "just soliciting a contribution...It's activity influencing the vote for political action..."
But Hobbs told Lisenby, "It's a misdemeanor. The statute says misdemeanor, any type of contribution - putting a sing in your yard." Lisenby then cited Hobbs a case related to charges be made as both a felony and a misdemeanor. Hobbs asks Lisenby, "So it's your position that asking for money is a misdemeanor and a felony? Is asking a major felony?"
Lisenby responded to the judge, "Soliciting a political contribution is a misdemeanor. Soliciting can be included in political action. Other activities are the crux. In the felony charges if you you think it would be appropriate, we would agree to strike the financial contribution...It's the political action that is wrong..."
Judge Hobbs responded again, "I have a hard time....If I ask you for $50,000 that is a misdemeanor, but if I ask you to put up a sign, that's a felony - of course it could be a big sign."
Lisenby told Hobbs the basis is to "avoid undue influence on the employees." Hobbs says he doesn't have a problem with that, but he thought the government was trying to take what "is a misdemeanor and y'all are trying to bootstrap it to a felony that doesn't involve employees...That is illogical to this poor judge..." Lisenby again told the judge, "It's one are of political action, but not all areas of political action. It's actually more the financial contribution with regard to her employees...to prevent employees from being in this situation..."
The judge still wasn't convinced, "I'm struggling...It seems to me that is clearly set out as a misdemeanor."
Worley's attorney James Anderson finally chimed in, "I want to say Amen...They keep missing part of the statute. The felony applies to any person. It says you have to use your authority or position..." Anderson then brings up a letter from Kay Ivey asking for money for Mitt Romney and says he likewise does not believe that is a felony.
Anderson said what the government was alleging against Worley and the letter she sent to some of her employees was "deficient...the only allegation is that she solicited...She did not use her office. This was posted on campaign stationary..."
Anderson told Hobbs the way the government wanted to use the law, "If you have a campaign ad that says 'Vote for Judge Hobbs," you're in violation..."
Hobbs told Anderson, "I'm nervous about that..."
Mr. Lisenby chimed in again that the issue was "more than the letter. It is the entire mailing - the pledge envelope, the bumper sticker....But the fact that it is this defendant sending the mailing to her employees is whether she is attempting to use her official authority or position to influence their vote or political action..."
Hobbs again reiterated to Lisenby, "There is a specific law that deals with officials soliciting from their employees." Lisenby goes into more depth on the government's right to apply both a felony and misdemeanor statute to the alleged violations.
But Mr. Jones, for Worley argues, "I don't think it is a fair reading of the statute....that this could be anything other than a misdemeanor. If his interpretation is applied...then no one can do anything to affect the vote of any person...No incumbent can ask anybody to put a bumper sticker on the car or put up a yard sign...The statute is designed to prevent abuse of office to gain votes. It's interesting to note none of the employees did anything."
Assistant Attorney General Ben Baxley told the judge "It could be the legislature placed the emphasis on the vote (over the contributions)."
Judge Hobbs took another chance to talk about politicians, "Telling politicians they can't influence someone's vote is like telling someone you can't go out and breathe...Clearly there's influence...When the president sits on an aircraft carrier and says "Mission Accomplished" It's done to influence...It could potentially criminalize everyday conduct that happens all over this country..."
Judge Hobbs finishes by telling the attorneys that the murder case ahead of them should take 1.5 to two days. He tells the government, "Take the delay and give me your best shot. I'm very bothered by this (the whole felony issue)."
Hobbs told the government's attorneys he would carefully consider what they put in front of him to read on the issue.
He then told the lawyers he would give them 12 hours notice concerning when they have to be in court.
Following their time in court, Mr. Lisenby and Mr. Baxley declined to comment on what took place in front of the judge. Mr. Anderson said he and Mr. Jones had felt all along "there was absolutely nothing to be tried on a felony count. If the attorney general's interpretation of the law is if you write a letter to somebody and you are in office and you ask them to help you out in your political campaign to any person, not just employees but to anybody, that you've committed a felony then we're going to have people lining up going to jail or they're going to indict folks..."