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From the archives: Roy Moore’s 1982 campaign was subject of ethics complaints

Roy Moore 1982

Roy Moore chops wood at his home in Etowah County, Alabama, in 1982. Copyright The Anniston Star.

This story was originally published Dec. 5, 1982, in The Anniston Star.

Defeated, but not forgotten by his critics

Former Etowah County deputy district attorney and unsuccessful Circuit Court candidate Roy Moore is jobless and under fire from the Etowah judicial system he criticized sharply in his campaign.

ATTALLA — Stack of scrapbooks document his five years as Etowah County’s deputy district attorney and his unsuccessful race for Circuit Court judge of the 16th Judicial Circuit.

They tell stories of loyalty and hatred, guilt and innocence, victory and disappointment …

They offer proof that a lot of people don’t like Roy Moore, a 35-year-old Vietnam veteran and West Point graduate. But they also show that a lot do.

Those who support him now don’t like to be quoted. They say it’s unpopular to support Moore because his enemies are in high places.

They might have been more vocal if he had been elected Etowah County circuit judge, but he wasn’t, and they’re not.

He’s unemployed now, having quit his job to run for office — a campaign that sapped him of his savings, the retirement money he had accumulated in his job, and his enthusiasm. He’s in debt, he says.

And his problems don’t end there. He is also fighting a paper battle with several Etowah County judges.

Four circuit judges filed a complaint about Moore’s campaign advertisements with the disciplinary commission of the Alabama State Bar Association. John Yung, assistant general counsel for the association, says he thinks it is the first time any judge has filed a complaint with the Alabama commission.

The complaint, signed by judges Julius S. Swann Jr., Cyril L. Smith, Hobdy G. Rains and William W. Cardwell, calls Moore’s ads “personally offensive … slanderous and beyond all ethical standards of a member of the bar and an officer of the court.”

In their first letter to the commission, dated Sept. 7, they focused on one of Moore’s ads which said: “If you are tired of a court system controlled by a certain few lawyers where money and political influence control many decisions, elect a man who has stood firmly against favoritism and corruption in public office.”

As is customary with letters of complaint, the commission asked Moore to respond. He wrote an Oct. 13 letter saying he had not violated any rule established for attorneys under the Code of Professional Responsibility of the Alabama State Bar. He wrote that his attacks were not specific enough to be personally offensive.

“I never said that all judges are dishonest, or that any judge was dishonest … If the judges of Etowah County are personally offended, that is their problem, not mine. The guilty flee when no man pursueth.”

On Oct. 30, the judges responded to Moore’s response: “We find Moore’s letter of Oct. 13 an indictment in and of itself — it crystalizes his utter contempt for the legal profession, its institutions, its courts. His reply to our complaint is to affirm his slander that our courts, our judges, our lawyers are corrupt,” the judges say in their letter.

“Gentleman, the decision rests with you. If we are to condone this type of puerile behavior, this irresponsibility, this dishonesty — your commission, the Judicial Inquiry Commission, our code of professional responsibility, our judicial canons stand for nothing,” the judges’ response continues.

“To allow a ‘member’ of our profession to publicly charge that lawyers and judges are corrupt and defend himself by blatantly asserting that such conduct is proper because he did not mention anyone in particular, rather everyone in general, is inconceivable. Suffice it to say that locally we will long bear the scars inflicted by Moore’s scurrilous campaign — his public vilification of honest, dedicated men and of a supposedly honored profession.”

On Nov. 15, Moore responded again in a letter that says, “I do not wish to carry on a war of words with Circuit Judge Julius Swann; therefore, I do not intend to reply to any future letters concerning this complaint …”

In this letter, he outlined some of the criticisms he had of the court system while he was deputy district attorney.

“Probation hearings were delayed for years on very serious cases permitting criminals to remain free on bond. Youthful offender petitions were often never heard by the circuit judges, allowing criminal cases to go unresolved altogether. Lawyers have been permitted, directly and indirectly, to act as bondsmen which is clearly an ethical violation; nevertheless our judges have allowed this to continue. Joking has often been heard between lawyer and judge in open court at docket calls. For many years continuances in criminal cases have been granted because lawyers have not yet received their fees from their clients.

“I could continue, but to do so would be meaningless, for the question is not whether I can prove such charges, but whether or not I have violated ethical standards by asserting that such a court system is corrupt and needs changing.

“As I have stated, I made no statements concerning any certain individual, office or position and if these judges choose to take personal offense at my remarks, it may well be a reflection of their own guilty consciences. I do request that this matter be made public … and that I have the right to subpoena the individuals necessary to prove my charges in a public hearing.”

Swann would not say whether the judges would respond to Moore’s latest letter, and he said he would make no comment about Moore or the complaints.

He also would not comment on another complaint he wrote Oct. 26 and sent to the commission. That letter mentions a lawsuit Moore filed against the Etowah County Commission and Jack Floyd, county attorney, about a pay dispute which has still not been settled.

The four Circuit Court judges and two District Court judges, Wayne Miller and Robert Lewis, also wrote Chief Justice C.C. Torbert Jr. of the Alabama Supreme Court to complain about Moore’s campaign ads in September.

But the clincher, according to Moore, appeared Aug. 29 in The Gadsden Times. It is a story that focuses on plea bargaining and a complaint by Swann that “97 percent of all felony drug cases were either dismissed, withdrawn or plea bargained by the district attorney’s office” during Moore’s last year as deputy district attorney.

Moore says that to lump dismissed, withdrawn and plea-bargained cases together is to confuse and mislead the public. He says Swann’s comments made it appear he was light on drug offenders, which he wasn’t, he says.

“Of the last six cases I tried, five were drug or alcohol related, and all resulted in convictions,” he says. He adds that he considers alcohol a drug, and said he was angered to see advertisements against him paid by “Parents Against Drug Dealers.”

The Gadsden Times also quoted District Attorney Bill Rayburn that the judge’s concern was part of a backlash to criticism made by Moore about the court system. “He (Swann) blames this office still for attacks upon the judicial system Roy Moore made in the past and is still making,” Rayburn, who now declines to comment on the controversy, told the Times.

Moore also believes that is the case. He traces all his problems to December 1979, when his criticisms of the courts were spelled out in a story by M.D. Garmon of The Gadsden Times.

“It all goes back to that article — that, and the fact that I never backed off of them,” he says, pointing to the clipping in one of his scrapbooks. After the article, “no one talked to me for two weeks,” he says.

Apparently, the same fate befell the reporter, who told a Birmingham newspaper he had been in “hot water” with courthouse officials ever since the story appeared.

The story quoting Garmon was in the June 6, 1981, edition of The Birmingham News. It is about Garmon’s refusal to reveal the name of a source who told him a grand jury had indicted Glencoe Mayor Ronnie Rampey on felony charges. The newspaper containing Garmon’s story about the indictment allegedly came out 30 minutes before Rampey was arrested. Alabama law prohibits officials from releasing any information concerning a grand jury case until the person indicted has been arrested.

Moore says court officials pointed fingers at him. The article quotes Garmon and other courthouse observers as saying the probe of the leak was “politically motivated by some Etowah County officials who are ‘out to get’ Assistant District Attorney Roy Moore.”

Garmon told The Birmingham News reporter that “I’ve been accused of being Moore’s press agent. But it looks like to me that Moore has bucked the system and some people around here don’t like it.”

Other problems Moore encountered involved his fight to have Rampey convicted on an ethics violation charge and forced from his office as mayor of Glencoe. Moore won that long court battle.

Moore, though, says he’s growing weary of the controversy.

“I really believed that if things were wrong I could do something about it. I could change it,” he says.

“I have fought fairly and lost. I won’t fight unfairly.”

But he says he is frustrated that the fight didn’t end in the polls, that it is continuing in letters to the ethics commission and the Alabama Supreme Court.

“After I lost the judgeship, I thought it would end, but they don’t want to stop with that. They want my license. They want to do anything they can to keep me from practicing law.

“Either I’ve got to be the worst son of a gun there ever was or there’s something wrong.”

He is discouraged about the legal and political system, and says he has no plans at present to practice law. He says he does not want to place himself and a client in the court of one of Etowah County’s judges.

He says he does have job prospects, but he won’t discuss them. Until he accepts a job, he is completing work on his house, splitting wood, visiting friends and trying not to spend money.

He is also trying not to be bitter. “I’m tired,” he says. “I put everything into this. I lost all my retirement and all the money I had saved. I obtained loans from my stepfather.”

“You don’t need anything but health and principles,” he says.

This story was originally published Dec. 5, 1982, in The Anniston Star.