National Roundup

Justice Dept. files statement of interest in prisoner’s lawsuit

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The U.S. Department of Justice, which sued Alabama over prison conditions, filed a statement of interest in a lawsuit by prisoners who said they are subjected to unconstitutional levels of violence and excessive force.

The Justice Department officials filed the statement last week in a 2014 lawsuit filed by inmates at St. Clair Correctional Facility. Justice Department officials said Alabama’s request for summary judgment should be rejected if there if is a genuine dispute over the accusations because, “these allegations, if proven, establish Eighth Amendment violations.”

“The Constitution requires prison officials to take reasonable steps to protect the people in their custody,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said in a press release. “We must not allow violence and sexual abuse to run rampant in our prisons and jails. We are committed to securing the constitutional rights of all people, including those who are incarcerated.”

The Alabama Department of Corrections will file a response later this month.

A group of inmates housed at St. Clair Correctional Facility filed a federal lawsuit in 2014 alleging the Alabama Department of Corrections has failed to address a pattern of excessive force, prisoner-on-prisoner violence and sexual assault at the prison. The maximum-security prison houses about 1,000 male inmates

The Justice Department filed a civil lawsuit in 2020 against the state of Alabama accusing state officials of failing to protect male prisoners across the state from inmate-on-inmate violence and excessive force at the hands of prison staff.

The Alabama Department of Corrections has disputed the allegations in both cases.

Brett Favre is asking an appeals court to reinstate his defamation lawsuit against Shannon Sharpe

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Lawyers for retired NFL quarterback Brett Favre will ask a federal appeals court Tuesday to revive a defamation lawsuit Favre filed against a fellow Pro Football Hall of Fame member, former tight end Shannon Sharpe, amid the backdrop of a Mississippi welfare scandal that is one of the state’s largest public corruption cases.

A federal judge in Mississippi threw out the lawsuit in October, saying Sharpe used constitutionally protected speech on a sports broadcast when he criticized Favre’s connection to the welfare misspending case.
Favre hopes the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will reinstate the lawsuit.

Sharpe said during a September 2022 broadcast of the Fox Sports show “Skip and Shannon: Undisputed” that Favre was “taking from the underserved,” that he “stole money from people that really needed that money” and that someone would have to be a sorry person “to steal from the lowest of the low.”

Mississippi State Auditor Shad White has said that from 2016 to 2019, the Mississippi Department of Human Services misspent more than $77 million from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program — funds intended to help some of the poorest people in the U.S.

Among White’s findings was that Favre improperly received $1.1 million in speaking fees from a nonprofit organization that spent TANF money with approval from the Department of Human Services. The money was to go toward a $5 million volleyball arena at The University of Southern Mississippi, which he attended and where his daughter was playing the sport.

Favre has paid back $1.1 million, but White said in a February court filing that the former quarterback still owes $729,790 because interest caused growth in the original amount he owed.

Favre, who lives in Mississippi, has denied wrongdoing and is not facing criminal charges. He is among more than three dozen people or companies being sued by the state Department of Human Services.

U.S. District Judge Keith Starrett’s October ruling said Sharpe’s remarks about the case were constitutionally protected “rhetorical hyperbole.”

“Here, no reasonable person listening to the Broadcast would think that Favre actually went into the homes of poor people and took their money — that he committed the crime of theft/larceny against any particular poor person in Mississippi,” Starrett wrote.

Favre’s attorneys said in a brief that the ruling mischaracterized Sharpe’s remarks. “Here, a reasonable listener could and would have interpreted Sharpe’s repeated statements to the effect that Favre ‘stole money’ from ‘the underserved’ as factual assertions about Favre,” they said.

Sharpe’s attorneys argued in briefs that Starrett got it right, referring to Sharpe’s remarks as “loose, figurative language between media commentators about a significant public controversy important to the discourse of our nation.”

State lawmaker arrested on forgery charges

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama state Rep. Kelvin Lawrence was arrested Tuesday on felony forgery charges, the attorney general’s office announced.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall’s office said that Lawrence, 50, is charged with second-degree forgery and second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument. The attorney general said the indictment alleges that Lawrence, with the “intent to defraud, falsely made, completed, or altered a builder’s license.”

Lawrence, reached by text message Tuesday, declined to immediately comment. The Democrat from Hayneville was first elected to the Alabama House of Representatives in 2014.

The attorney general’s office did not release additional details about the allegation. Court records were not immediately available on the offense.

Both offenses are Class C felonies and punishable by one year and one day to 10 years in prison. The case is being handled by the attorney general’s special prosecutions division, which mainly prosecutes public corruption and economic crimes.

The charge is the latest accusation against a state lawmaker. Three members of the House of Representatives resigned after pleading guilty to criminal charges during this four-year term.

John Rogers, a Democrat from Birmingham, resigned from the Legislature after agreeing to plead guilty to federal conspiracy and obstruction of justice charges related to a grant program. At the time of his resignation, Rogers was the longest serving member of the Alabama House of Representatives. State Rep. Fred L. Plump, Jr., a Democrat from Fairfield, pleaded guilty to related charges.

Rep. David Cole, a Republican from Huntsville, last year pleaded guilty to a voter fraud charge that he rented a closet-size space in a home to fraudulently run for office in a district where he did not live.