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Alabama Sheriff Loses Appeal to Theft and Ethics Conviction

On May 22, 2023, the Circuit Court in Alabama’s Limestone County rejected an appeal by former Sheriff Mike Blakely to his conviction on charges of first-degree theft and using his public office for personal gain. After 38 years in office, Blakely was the state’s longest-serving Sheriff when he was sentenced and removed in August 2021.

Blakely was indicted in August 2019 on charges he stole $11,000 from the campaign fund for his 10th election, in addition to violating state ethics laws by soliciting donations from his employees. He was also accused of misappropriating sheriff’s office funds – collected from prisoners at the county jail – for his own use. While under investigation in 2018, he submitted amended ethics disclosures revealing at least $350,000 in previously unreported gambling winnings. [See: PLN, May 2021, p.62.]

In November 2019, his attorneys asked the state Supreme Court to declare the ethics laws unconstitutionally vague. But that request was denied, and Blakely proceeded to trial. After his conviction, he was sentenced to three years of incarceration, which he appealed. The state Court of Criminal Appeals rejected his case, as did the state Supreme Court in February 2023.

That left the former Sheriff to report to the jail he ran for nearly four decades. But he tossed one last legal Hail Mary, arguing that Judge Pamela Baschab had failed to pay her dues to the state bar and let her law license lapse at the time of this trial – meaning she had no right to preside over it, he said. In a seven-page ruling, Judge Tim Tolley disagreed, saying Baschab had, “at a minimum, de facto authority” by virtue of her appointment by the state’s chief justice, who is allowed to appoint a judge “irrespective of whether that judge maintains an active license.”

Tolley also pointed out that Blakely waited to object almost a year after his sentencing, saying “[t]his is not a situation where there is some evidence that the judge’s status was somehow concealed from the parties.”

Blakely began his career as a State Trooper in 1972. He was elected to the first of 11 terms in 1983. His three-year sentence is a fraction of the 20-year maximum term each of his convictions carried. See: Ala. V. Blakely, Ala. 39th Jud. Cir. (Limestone Cty.), Case No. CC-2019-0476.

Gov. Kay Ivey (R) appointed Josh McLaughlin to complete Blakely’s 11th term in 2021 before his successful election campaign to succeed the disgraced former sheriff in 2022.  

Additional sources: Alabama Political Reporter, Birmingham News, WAFF

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