The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

April 24, 2014

Former Alabama senator responds to AG's appeal

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — A former Alabama state lawmaker being prosecuted on charges he misused campaign donations asked a state appeals court Wednesday to let the decisions of the trial judge remain in place for his trial.

Former state Sen. Lowell Barron and aide Jill Johnson were indicted last year on charges of misusing $58,000 in campaign donations during Barron's unsuccessful re-election campaign in 2010. Prosecutors say Barron gave Johnson money out of his campaign kitty so she could repay him for a loan.

Barron accused Attorney General Luther Strange, who is pursuing the case, of deliberately trying to delay the trial.

"I have waited long enough for my day in court and I am still waiting because Luther Strange apparently does not have a case or he has something to hide," said the Democrat from Fyffe.

Earlier this month, Strange asked the Court of Criminal Appeals to overturn a number of decisions made by Circuit Court Judge Randall Cole. Lawyers for Barron and Johnson responded Wednesday, accusing the prosecution of launching a "baseless" attack.

Barron served 28 years in the Senate and held top leadership posts. He and Johnson, a former member of his Senate staff and campaign staff, were set to go on trial April 14 in Fort Payne. However, the trial was delayed when Strange appealed a pre-trial decision by Cole that in effect bans prosecutors from presenting evidence of a romantic relationship between the defendants.

The attorney general's office says that ruling would be fatal to its case. Strange also contends that the judge overstepped his authority by ruling that Barron could present evidence on how other candidates, including the attorney general himself, spend campaign money.

The attorney general told the appeals court last week that it objects to other candidates' expenditures being brought into the trial because none of them have been accused of doing what Barron is charged with doing: giving campaign money to Johnson after his defeat so she could pay off an interest-free loan he gave her to buy a house.

Three of the five judges on the appeals court have recused themselves in the case. Alabama's chief justice will have to appoint one or more fill-in judges before the appeals court can make a decision.

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