This commentary was the best description of the injustice that has taken place in Birmingham, Alabama in connection with politicians’ receiving bribes for various deals that left Jefferson County, Alabama with the largest municipal debt in U.S. history. Possibly to make up for this will be a lesser sentence for former Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford, who was recently convicted of bribery.
Archibald: A dark day for justice in Alabama
By John Archibald — The Birmingham News
November 15, 2009, 5:35AM
Thursday was a dark day for Alabama.
It was a dark day for the pursuit of corruption across the state. It was a dark day for the South, even, where the perception of a Jim Crow judicial system continues to resonate.
It was a dark day for justice.
**Former Jefferson County Commissioner Mary Buckelew leaves the Hugo Black Federal Courthouse on Thursday, Nov. 12, 2009, after being sentenced to 3 years probation, 200 hours community service, and a $20,000 fine for her perjury conviction tied to a federal probe into Jefferson County’s sewer bonds financing practices. (Joe Songer/Birmingham News)**
Mary Buckelew, former Jefferson County Commission president and felon, will spend no time in prison, even though she admitted taking expensive gifts from bond dealer Bill Blount that she knew he meant as bribes. She will serve no time, even though she acknowledged lying to a grand jury about her crimes.
It was a dark day.
Julian W. Jenkins, the Anniston architect and felon who gave away the house to two-year college officials in exchange for $5 million-plus in college business, will do no prison time.
U.S. District Karon Bowdre sentenced the old man to three years probation and six months home vacation. I mean detention. She fined him $1,000 and ordered him to pay $300,000 restitution.
Not a bad trade for $5 million in business.
It was a dark day.
The Buckelew case was a travesty unto itself. U.S. District Judge Inge Johnson, in sentencing the former commissioner on an obstruction of justice charge, actually said from the bench she wasn’t so worried about the expensive gifts Buckelew took. It was an absurd statement in a county tainted by bribery.
It was the lies, the judge said, that she really hated.
Which was apparently a lie. Because she didn’t hate them too much, as it turned out.
Buckelew, a white woman and a Republican, will pay for her crimes with three years probation, community service at the comfy Jefferson County Schools — felons in schools is an issue I won’t even address now — and a measly $20,000 fine.
And we will pay for her crimes — the bad bond deals and the stain — for generations.
If the Buckelew case was a judicial disaster, the Jenkins case may represent a darker cloud on our horizon, a shift in the way our corruption is prosecuted.
**Julian Jenkins originally was accused of bribing former system Chancellor Roy Johnson. (Birmingham News file)**
Jenkins originally was charged with bribery and conspiracy, and some close to the case were shocked that prosecutors let him plead guilty to the lesser charge of aiding and abetting the obstruction of justice.
I thought we were making progress, both in the way we root out wrongdoing, and the fairness with which we punish the crimes.
But there is nothing fair about this.
How do we continue to fight corruption at all when we slap our criminal leaders on the wrist and bargain down their punishment?
How, in a county where commissioners are convicted like clockwork, do we continue to say justice is blind when a black man like Jeff Germany spends 32 months in prison, and a white woman like Buckelew goes home?
Not that their crimes — their pleas or their cases — were in any way similar.
But crime is still out there. It happened Thursday in the federal courts.
The offense was aiding and abetting the obstruction of all that is just in the world. It was committed by the U.S. government. Against the people of Alabama.
John Archibald’s column appears Sunday’s, Wednesdays and Fridays. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.