A request that an indictment against Limestone County Sheriff Mike Blakely be dropped was met this week with a pointed response from the Alabama Attorney General's Office.
The state's response, filed Monday, notes Blakely's attorneys asked that the 13-count indictment be thrown out based on what Blakely's attorneys describe as “vagueness” in the state's ethics law. But, only six of the 13 counts are related to alleged ethics violations. The remaining seven counts allege Blakely stole from his campaign fund and the Sheriff's Office pistol permit fund.
“Given this fact," the AG's office response states, "this Court should not read Blakely's motion as challenging the seven counts he faces for stealing from his campaign, from the Sheriff's Office he leads, and from the people of Limestone County."
The state went on to say, “ … Such motions have not worked before, and Blakely offers no reason for this Court to go along with his self-serving proposal now.”
The response also says that not only have courts upheld the state's ethics law before, but Blakely's attorneys have offered no “discussions” or “ramifications” of the court striking down the ethics law.
The state said only two provisions of the ethics law apply to the charges Blakely current faces — public officials or employees using their office for personal gain and public officials or employees soliciting a thing of value from a subordinate. Five counts of the indictment charge Blakely with with the former, while another charge accuses him of violating the latter.
In a motion filed last month, Blakely's attorneys argued the law does not specify what conduct is prohibited under the ethics law nor does it explain the terms “using” or “personal gain.” The AG's office argues that even when a statute has “some inherent vagueness,” it can pass constitutional muster.
In referencing Count 7 of the indictment, the AG's office questions how Blakely's legal team can claim vagueness about “personal gain,” when the indictment specifically claims Blakely cashed a $2,000 check from the pistol permit fund.
“ … The manner in which Blakely uses his office and the money he gained were not specifically authorized by law,” the response states. “The source of Blakely's confusion is a mystery to the State.”
The vagueness assertion regarding the allegation that Blakely solicited a thing of value from a subordinate was also called into question by the state. Count 11 of the indictment claims an employee of Blakely's wired him $1,000 on Aug. 17, 2016.
Also attacked in the response is Blakely's “alternative overbreadth argument.” Blakely's attorneys argued parts of the ethics law prohibit constitutionally protected conduct.
“ … Blakely offers precisely zero examples of what legal conduct the Ethics Act prohibits, let alone what constitutionally protected conduct it proscribes,” the response states. “With only the indictment to go by, Blakely may be arguing that using his official position to steal money or soliciting money from subordinates is constitutionally protected conduct. If so, the State asks that Blakely provide supporting authority because it is not aware of any decision holding as much.”
Finally, the state argues Blakely could not invoke the Rule of Lenity, which would require the court to rule in his favor based on the ambiguity of the ethics law. The response argues because the ethics provisions under which Blakely is charged are not “value, ambiguous, or overbroad,” the Rule of Lenity would not apply.
The charges against Blakely
A Limestone County grand jury returned the 13-count indictment Aug. 21 against Blakely. Twelve counts are felonies, and one is a misdemeanor. The first four counts charge Blakely with four separate thefts from his campaign account totaling $11,000. Counts five through 10 charge him with theft or ethics charges stemming from him illegally taking money from Limestone County funds, including from the pistol permit fund.
Counts 12 and 13 charge the sheriff with using his official position or office to acquire interest-free loans. Specifically, count 12 charges Blakely with using his official position or office to obtain interest-free loans in the form of a $50,000 cashier’s check or a $22,189.68 credit, or both.
Count 13 charges Blakely with using his official position or office to obtain interest-free loans by taking money from a safe that was used to store the Limestone County inmates’ personal funds.
The charges stem from an investigation conducted by the Alabama Attorney General's Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The Alabama Ethics Commission voted 4-0 last October to refer an ethics complaint against Blakely to the AG's office for investigation. Athens attorney and developer John Plunk, a member of the commission, recused.
In August, the Alabama Supreme Court appointed retired Colbert County Judge Pride Tompkins to hear the case. Blakely is set to be arraigned 1:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Blakely is represented by attorney Mark McDaniel, who previously represented former Gov. Guy Hunt after he was indicted on ethics charges, and attorneys Robert Tuten and Marcus J. Helstowski. All attorneys work out of McDaniel's Huntsville-based firm, McDaniel and McDaniel LLC.