An attorney for a group that oversees bingo games at Center Stage Alabama has filed a second motion asking Houston County Circuit Judge Mike Conaway to remove himself as presiding judge over a court case involving the entertainment center.
Ernie Hornsby, a partner in the law firm Farmer, Price, Hornsby, and Weatherford brings into question business relationships and other potential issues involving Conaway. Among those is the process which led to Conaway's appointment to the bench. Attorney Ashton Ott is also named as attorney for the Houston Economic Authority (HEDA), an appointed panel that administers bingo games at the gaming facility formerly known as County Crossing.
The case stems from the July raid at Center Stage during which over 600 electronic bingo machines and $283,000 cash were confiscated. The raid was instigated by Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange. Separately, Strange is presenting evidence to a grand jury though specifics of that investigation are not known at this time.
"Judge Conaway was recommended to former Governor Bob Riley for appointment as a Circuit Judge by local businessmen John Watson and John Downs, close associates of former Governor Riley and major contributors to anti-bingo causes and candidates," the filing states. It further says, "Judge Conaway is also a business partner of Mr. Watson from which the judge generates over $78,000 annually in personal income." The property in question is a real estate development known as Eight-Four West.
The filing additionally states that "Judge Conaway was recommended to Governor Riley for appointment by (the two businessmen). It is believed that Judge Conaway had not previously expressed interest in the position and had not submitted a resume prior to being approached by Mr. Watson and/or Mr. Downs. Furthermore, upon information and belief, Sonny Reagan, who now represents the State on behalf (of the attorney general's office), participated in the interview and selection process as legal advisor to Governor Riley when Judge Conaway was appointed to his position."
The filing alleges that Conaway was selected in the midst of a charged atmosphere surrounding bingo in Houston County and shortly after Country Crossing was the target of a raid by the task force created by Riley. It also alleges that representatives of the attorney general's office traveled over 200 miles to seek out Conaway at an out-of-town conference to sign a search warrant clearing the way for the July raid at Center Stage.
Upon an order from the Alabama Judicial Commission, Houston County judges in office when Country Crossing was raided January 29, 2010 have recused themselves from hearing evidence regarding HEDA. Conaway, in response to a previous request from Hornsby, ruled September 7 there is no legal basis to recuse from the case.
Motions regarding the Center Stage raid and seizure of machines and cash are scheduled for late September. It's not immediately clear if Conaway will rule on the second motion for him to recuse before that date.
You can read the lawsuit in its entirety by opening the PDF file below.