Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange contends there is no need for a Houston County judge to remove himself from presiding over a case involving Center Stage Alabama. Attorneys for the Houston Economic Development Authority have asked, for a second time, that Circuit Judge Mike Conaway recuse himself. Conaway refused the first request but has not ruled on the second.
Attorneys for HEDA claim Conaway has business and political relationships with two influential Dothan businessmen, John Watson and John Downs. Among things alleged by HEDA are joint business ventures and a shared disdain for gambling. However, the AG's office said, even if that is true, there is no legal basis for Conaway to recuse.
"Even if HEDA did have evidence to create a link between the Court and Watson and Downs, and even if there was evidence to show that Downs and Watson held certain views about public policy, those circumstances still would not justify recusal," the filing stated. "Courts around the country recognize that even a judge's own overt statements regarding his own views of a particular type of crime do not disqualify that judge from presiding in cases involving that crime." The objection to HEDA's motion was filed by Sonny Reagan, a top aide to the attorney general.
A hearing is set for September 26 concerning motions on the state's attempt to destroy the machines taken during the raid and confiscate the money seized. It's not immediately clear whether Conaway will rule before then on the motion to recuse.
Meanwhile, Strange is presenting evidence to a Houston County Grand Jury regarding Center Stage. The criminal investigation, according to well-placed sources, may continue a few months. Among subpoenaed items are records regarding the relationship between the Houston County Commission and HEDA. Chairman Mark Culver said earlier this month the commission has until October to turn over the documents.
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