The ethics commission will not reconsider its decision on the exculpatory information

The Alabama Ethics Commission will not reconsider a decision that it is not required to disclose potentially exculpatory information to investigation targets.

The Alabama attorney general’s office asked the commission to reconsider the decision in late July. In an Aug. 8 email obtained by the advertiser via an open registration request, Alabama Ethics Commission Executive Director Tom Albritton said the office had presented “no information or argument which had not previously been presented and considered by the commissioners”.

The exchange reflects a deep disagreement between the ethics commission and the attorney general’s office over the interpretation and application of the state’s ethics law.

Albritton declined to comment on Tuesday. A message seeking comment was sent to the Alabama attorney general’s office on Tuesday.

Under state law, the Ethics Commission investigates complaints against public officials. The commission functions as a sort of grand jury. It does not prosecute individuals for breaches of ethics. If the commission finds probable cause that ethics violations have occurred, it refers the matter to the attorney general’s office or a district attorney for possible prosecution.

RelatedIn Alabama Ethics Commission decision, dispute over rights and responsibilities

Previous coverAlabama Ethics Commission says it doesn’t have to share exculpatory information with defendant

At a commission meeting in July, Alana Cammack, an assistant attorney general, argued that the Brady Rule, a requirement for prosecutors to disclose information that would prove a client’s innocence or implicate the credibility of a prosecution witness, applied to the ethics commission as well.

But the commission was uncomfortable with the request, saying such disclosures went beyond the text of the state ethics law. The commission raised concerns that turning over such evidence violated grand jury secrecy and could be used to identify whistleblowers, creating a chilling effect on legitimate complaints. The commission voted to adopt an opinion saying it did not have to hand over this information to the accused persons.

In a July 28 letter, Cammack argued that the commission’s decision violated due process laws and that the commission’s rules allowed a defendant to answer the charges.

“Because the commission offers the accused the opportunity to present a case for his defense in a process that may lead to a public decision that the accused is probably guilty of a crime, it must ensure a process constitutional due process to the accused in doing so,” Cammack wrote. “He cannot proceed arbitrarily.”

The commission relied in part on an opinion from Covington County District Attorney Walt Merrell, who wrote in a July email that the Brady Rule applied to prosecutors and that only prosecutors had responsibility to submit any exculpatory evidence.

“It is the responsibility of the prosecuting authorities to comply with Brady, not the investigating authority,” he wrote. “While I recognize that the Ethics Commission has a function beyond mere investigations, it still does not act as a prosecuting authority.”

Albritton wrote in his Aug. 8 response to Cammack that the commission would only reconsider its decision for a “good cause” and that the commission had already considered arguments made by the attorney general’s office.

“Your letter did not address the opposition of some prosecutors to your position and did not provide anything new regarding the disclosure’s interaction with the protections afforded by the (grand jury) secrecy law as referenced. in our law,” Albritton wrote. “Therefore, because you presented no new arguments or evidence on these issues, they saw no reason to revisit the opinion.”

Commission Chairman John Plunk said last month that the dispute arose out of a local ethics investigation, although he did not provide further details.

Contact Montgomery Advertiser reporter Brian Lyman at 334-240-0185 or blyman@gannett.com.