Nation - Alabama Court justice criticized on gambling role Judge was once lawyer for owner of gambling complex

By Phillip Rawls

Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) -- Representatives of two closed casinos are complaining that Alabama Supreme Court Justice Glenn Murdock joined in key decisions about electronic bingo without disclosing that he once represented an owner of Greenetrack, home to one of Alabama's closed casinos.

The president of Greenetrack and a lawyer for VictoryLand say Murdock's role raises serious ethical questions, but Murdock says no one ever asked him to step aside from any case.

Murdock was a lawyer in the late 1990s for the Greene County Commission, which is one of the owners of the Greenetrack gambling complex in Eutaw. Murdock's wide-ranging duties included advising the commission on gambling-related issues that could affect the county's revenue from Greenetrack.

The commission decided to change lawyers in 1999, and Greene County voters approved bingo for the county in 2003. Electronic bingo machines appeared at the track after that, but they have been shut down since the Supreme Court cleared the way for a raid July 1.

Murdock said Tuesday none of the legal matters he worked on for the county "have been at issue in any case in which I have participated as a member of this court."

Murdock's role was first reported by the Press-Register in Mobile.

Greenetrack President Nat Winn said Murdock has sided against gambling interests in Supreme Court rulings because he is seeking revenge for losing a client.

"Greenetrack and Greene County will do everything possible to make certain our rights are fully protected and Glenn Murdock is held accountable for his unprofessional and unethical behavior," Winn said.

Mark White, attorney for VictoryLand casino in Shorter, said he had not known about Murdock's past legal work.

"All Alabamians should wonder why any member of our highest court can be allowed to follow such seemingly low standards," said White, a former president of the Alabama State Bar.

Murdock said Tuesday his representation of the County Commission was public record for anyone to see. He said he has no personal bias stemming from his past legal work.

Murdock's critics released a letter he sent the County Commission that talks about his legal projects for the county, including "our work on video gambling legislation."

Murdock said the commission asked him to review a bill in the Legislature in 1999 that would have allowed electronic gambling machines in Alabama, but he had no role in writing it or any other bill involving video gambling. The bill died.

John Tyson, commander of the Governor's Task Force on Illegal Gambling, said Winn and others involved with Greenetrack have known about Murdock's role for 12 years, but only raised it after the Supreme Court ruled against them on July 1. He said Tuesday they waited too long and waived any right to pursue it.

Winn said no one recalled Murdock's legal work until recently.

"To those who say we should have remembered sooner that lawyer Murdock played a central role establishing legal electronic gaming at Greenetrack, I say, shame on Justice Murdock for not being open and honest," Winn said Sunday.

The state's ethical rules for judges say they should step aside from cases where their impartiality might be reasonably questioned.

Tyson and Gov. Bob Riley view electronic bingo machines as illegal slots. The task force and court rulings have succeeded in closing all electronic bingo casinos in Alabama except the three operated by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. Those are regulated by the federal government rather than the state government.

Murdock was elected to the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals in 2000 and the Supreme Court in 2006. At the Supreme Court, he has participated in several rulings that the governor's task force has won. In May, he wrote an unanimous decision that said Attorney General Troy King could not take over the task force.

On Friday, Murdock participated in an order that cleared the way for the task force to try to raid the closed VictoryLand casino. No raid has occurred so far.

Published: Thu, Sep 9, 2010