A judge approved requests from a prosecutor Monday that will narrow the focus of Anniston City Councilman Ben Little’s criminal trial on ethics charges, according to court documents.
Jefferson county Circuit Judge Clyde Jones approved three motions from Scott Lloyd, who is prosecuting Little’s alleged violation of state ethics laws. The motions restrict the defense from discussing some topics, on grounds they are inadmissible in court. Those topics include allegations by Little that other City Council members have violated ethics laws, the severity of punishment Little may face if found guilty and arguments that suggest no public nuisances existed on property owned by Little.
The councilman voted in 2017 against declaring property he owned to be a public nuisance, which would save him the cost of the city cleaning the property if he didn’t do so himself. The state Ethics Commission found last year that Little had abused his office for personal gain, and he was indicted by a Calhoun County grand jury in January. Little pleaded not guilty in March.
John Carroll, a professor at Birmingham’s Cumberland School of Law at Samford University, said that the request to restrict certain kinds of evidence in criminal trials, called a “motion in limine,” is common.
“It’s very often used for pre-trial evidentiary rulings. If you’ve got a piece of evidence you want in or to keep out, you ask the judge in advance of a trial,” Carroll said. “It attempts to narrow the issues to make sure everybody understands it.”
Carroll said that both the prosecution and defense can make such requests before a trial. In the event the defense loses in a case like Little’s, Carroll explained, an appeal could be made to the Court of Criminal Appeals arguing that the restrictions may have hurt the defendant’s case.
Lloyd declined to comment Monday, but his reasoning is explained in the requests he filed.
Evidence or argument “regarding actions by other persons who are not defendants in this case” to show that they are “the ‘real’ wrongdoers,’” he wrote, is inadmissible because it’s irrelevant.
Little has made frequent allegations that council members Jay Jenkins and Millie Harris illegally made money by abusing their positions. In October 2017 a proposal to hold an inquiry into the allegations failed to pass the council; Jenkins received prior clearance from the Ethics Commission for work his architecture firm did for the city; local officials have said there was no basis to Little’s complaints against Harris. Little still often refers to the allegations in council meetings.
Lloyd also argued that the severity of Little’s potential punishment is irrelevant.
“Such information would serve no legitimate purpose related to the actual issues in the trial, would constitute a waste of time, and would risk leading the jury to believe that such was an issue appropriate for its consideration,” Lloyd wrote in the request.
Little said Monday that he also believes the documents speak for themselves.
“That request speaks volumes,” Little said. “The public knows what’s going on. Anyone who has been watching anything in Anniston knows what this is about.”
If convicted of intentionally violating state ethics laws, Little could face between two and 20 years in prison, a fine of up to $30,000 and removal from office.