Local officials want Gov. Bentley to stop Strange from appealing Victory Land ruling

By GUY RHODES Editor/Publisher

The Tuskegee News of Tuskegee, Alabama

Local elected officials and non-profit organizations gathered in Tuskegee Tuesday (June 30) afternoon to discuss strategy related to a favorable ruling concerning Victory Land and the threat of Attorney General Luther Strange appealing that decision.

On Thursday, June 25, Montgomery Circuit Judge William Shashy dismissed the State of Alabama's 2013 case against Victory Land that had 1,615 electronic bingo machines and $260,000 in cash confiscated in a 2013 raid led by the Attorney General's Office.

Shashy, a Republican judge, was appointed to hear the case by the Alabama Supreme Court after one Fifth Circuit Judge in Macon County was ordered by the Supreme Court to recuse himself from hearing the case and three other judges opted to recuse themselves.

In a scathing opinion, Shashy said Victory Land was singled out to be closed when other operations similar to the Macon County entertainment facility were allowed to remain open while using the same machines as Victory Land that the Attorney General's Office believed to be in violation of state law.

While the state argued that the machines and cash at Victory Land were seized during the February 2013 raid were illegal, Shashy focused on how Victory Land was treated and not the legality of the machines.

The ruling noted that at least three other electronic bingo operations and three Indian-owned facilities operated by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians have been open in Alabama while VictoryLand was closed.

In his ruling, Shashy narrowed in on the equal protection under the U.S. Constitution. "This court is not free to disregard an opinion of the highest court of the United States of America or the State of Alabama, nor is the State of Alabama free to apply the law in an unequal manner," Shashy wrote in his order. "Allowing unequal treatment places the court in an untenable position. The court cannot condone or perpetuate unequal treatment. "Victory Land attorney Joe Espy and other attorneys for Milton McGregor's business pointed out that electronic bingo operations in Greene and Houston Counties were in business.

"The state could not and did not offer any substantive reason why it permitted this state of affairs to continue at other facilities, while taking its present stance against the same operations at Victory- Land," Shashy wrote in his order. "The propriety of the State of Alabama electing to currently pursue action against only one facility is of great concern. It is apparent at the present time that the State of Alabama is cherry picking which facilities should remain open or closed."

Strange said he was "surprised" Thursday after the case was dismissed. He said the judge's ruling "fails to address the key question posed by both parties."

Prior to Strange's filing in the Macon County Circuit Clerk's office on Friday, Victory Land owner Milton McGregor said, "The decision paves the way for electronic bingo to resume at Victory Land and people in Macon Co. to go back to work and provide for their families."

More than 2,000 jobs and millions of dollars in taxes were lost as a result of the closing of Victory Land. The hope of a quick reopening has been dampened with Strange's intention to appeal.

The AG's decision was met with "extreme disappointment" from Victory Land attorney Joe Espy. "I'm disappointed and I think it's extremely premature to do this," said Espy. "Without reviewing the decision for even 24 hours, and without talking to us, they filed this appeal. I think there were some things we could've worked out to see that taxpayer money wasn't wasted and the best thing was done for all involved."

The Supreme Court has consistently ruled that the machines fail to meet Alabama's definition of bingo — and Shashy noted the Supreme Court's six-prong test that it laid out in a previous ruling — and ordered several facilities closed.

However, Victory Land's attor neys and McGregor have maintained it has a different standing, since the debate over the constitutional amendment that was passed by Macon County in 2003 was dominated by talk of electronic bingo. Fliers and newspaper ads presented during the hearing showed that the backers of the amendment were pushing "casino-style gaming" and electronic bingo.

Tuskegee Mayor Johnny Ford was the sponsor of legislation that called for a referendum by Macon County voters on the issue of bingo in any format. The refer endum was approved by 76 per cent of those who voted.

Ford said he sees "racism" in Strange's actions and the fact the Gov. Robert Bentley won't halt Strange's appeal action is a problem.

In the meeting with elected officials on Tuesday (June 30), Ford said the consensus was to first ask Gov. Bentley to order the appeal from Strange dropped. The next step would be to go into federal court to challenge any ruling by the Alabama Supreme Court to overturn Shashy's dismissal of the case in the event Bentley doesn't halt the appeal.

Strange has 28 days from Friday, June 26 to file his appeal.

Copyright 2015 The Tuskegee News, Tuskegee, Alabama. All Rights Reserved. This content, including derivations, may not be stored or distributed in any manner, disseminated, published, broadcast, rewritten or reproduced without express, written consent from SmallTownPapers, Inc.
Read Full Article at Tuskegee News&pid=16&catid=4&catname=Local Government