BIRMINGHAM — Anniston Councilman Ben Little’s trial for an alleged 2017 violation of Alabama ethics law likely won’t start before August, after a judge Wednesday set two important pre-trial deadlines.
Jefferson County Circuit Judge Clyde Jones set a deadline for the defense and prosecutors to file motions in the case by July 3. A hearing on those motions is set for Aug. 5 at 9 a.m. in Jones’ courtroom in Birmingham.
Little’s attorney, Donald Stewart, briefly met with Jones on Wednesday morning in Jones’ office behind the courtroom, just a few minutes after arriving for a scheduled pretrial hearing in Little’s case.
Men in striped prison uniforms with their hands and feet chained sat in the courtroom jury box awaiting their hearings, while family members waited in the audience.
Little arrived about 10 minutes later, and Stewart soon returned to the courtroom. The two left immediately. Little confirmed in the hall that his hearing had ended. Stewart and Little BOTH declined to comment.
Little pleaded not guilty in January to two counts of voting on city legislation in which he knew he had a conflict of interest, a felony charge. The May 2017 vote was about vehicles Little owned that were declared nuisances by the city’s code enforcement office, at a house he owned and at the church where he pastors. Little voted against the declaration, which the City Council still passed.
“I don’t see it as an ethics violation, because there’s nothing to it,” Little said. “I’m not profiting from it. If there was a monetary gain for me I would not vote on it.”
The final state of nuisance proceedings is abatement, in which a property is cleaned by the city and the work billed to the property owner, money that Little may have had to pay if the vehicles weren’t moved.
Every judge in Calhoun County who presides over criminal matters recused themselves from Little’s case by mid-April. Each judge cited the possible appearance of impropriety as a factor in their recusal. The Alabama Supreme Court selected Jones to hear the case instead.
If convicted of intentionally violating ethics law, Little could face between two and 20 years in prison, a fine of up to $30,000 and removal from office.