The Alabama Supreme Court ruled Friday a judge assigned to hear the case involving seizure of bingo machines and cash from Center Stage Alabama can preside over the case.
Attorneys for the Houston Economic Development Authority sought to remove Circuit Judge Michael Conaway. They cited, among other things, his relationship with two Dothan businessmen who vehemently oppose gambling.
"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," a filing by HEDA attorney Ernie Hornsby claimed. It further said, "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.
Conaway was asked twice asked by HEDA to remove himself from the case but refused. Other judges Houston County judges had previously recused themselves from presiding. A September 26 hearing was stopped minutes before it began so the Supreme Court could consider whether Conaway should be removed. Without comment, it ruled Friday he should not.
HEDA is challenging the seizure of about 600 electronic bingo machines and $283,000 in cash from Center Stage. They were taken in July during the execution of a search warrant obtained by Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange. The development reduced its hours of operation drastically after the raid, offering only paper bingo.
A forfeiture hearing concerning those matters will be set now that the high court has ruled. It will likely not be scheduled until 2013.