By: Donald V. Watkins
Copyrighted and Published on January 20, 2024
An Editorial Opinion
Criminal cases involving high-profile politicians are fraught with danger for prosecutors and investigative reporters.
During the course of my legal career, I worked with the Alabama Attorney General and Montgomery County District Attorney to attack public corruption in several high-profile cases.
In 1992, I worked with Montgomery County District Attorney Jimmy Evans on the investigation and prosecution of Governor Guy Hunt on theft, conspiracy, and public corruption charges. In 1993, Hunt was convicted on all charges and was forced from office by virtue of his conviction.
In 1974, Attorney General Bill Baxley appointed me to represent the state of Alabama in the criminal appeals of Talladega, Alabama Police Lieutenant Jimmy Ray Hurst, who murdered Charles “Cooter” Mann. We won every round in the appellate process and Hurst remains in prison today.
From 1975 to 1977, I collaborated with Jimmy Evans in a criminal investigation that forced the resignations of Montgomery, Alabama’s mayor, police commissioner, and eight police officers who covered up the police murder of an unarmed and innocent man named Bernard Whitehurst.
In April 2013, the city of Montgomery finally acknowledged the police coverup in Whitehurst’s case.
As an investigative journalist, I exposed sex scandals that resulted in the forced resignations of Chief U.S. District Court Judge Mark E. Fuller (Montgomery, Alabama) in August 2015 and Gov. Robert Bentley in April 2017.
Gov. Robert Bentley, who viewed himself as the “Chief Magistrate of the State,” had a history of abusing the power of his office to unlawfully harass and retaliate against individuals who reported fraud, waste, and abuse to regulatory and law enforcement agencies. See, Report of the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee on Articles of Impeachment Against Governor Robert Bentley Pursuant to House Rule 79.1, dated April 25, 2017, Attachment titled, Pre-Hearing Submission of Special Counsel regarding Governor Bentley’s “Special Investigations,” at pp. 86-92.
I was a target of Gov. Bentley’s “Special Investigations.” (Id. at p.87). Robert Bentley caused numerous state and federal agencies to investigate me for everything possible.
Law enforcement agencies based in Alabama gleefully accommodated Bentley's many acts of retaliation against me. No state or federal law enforcement agency protected me from Bentley's vengeance.
I literally survived a law enforcement lynching. In the process, I learned who my true friends were.
Key Obstacles for Anti-Corruption Fighters
The first technique corrupt politicians use against anti-corruption fighters is to jail them on phony criminal charges. I have faced a steady stream of such threats since 1975.
Efforts to jail me started with the Whitehurst case and ended in Birmingham, Alabama with the successful fabrication of phony federal criminal charges against me in 2018 by Lloyd Peeples, a failed pizza store operator who was appointed as the First Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama in 2017 despite his documented history of hostility toward successful blacks.
The same business transactions that were used by Birmingham federal prosecutors to fabricate criminal charges against me had been reviewed two years earlier by top federal prosecutors in New Jersey, who cleared me of all wrongdoing.
The second technique corrupt politicians use to derail investigation into corruption is to smear the name of the anti-corruption fighter. The art of “smearing” flourished during the FBI’s official COINTELPRO program (1956 to 1971). “Smearing” is in continuous use by law enforcement agencies across the South. In fact, it has become a staple of the state and federal criminal justice system.
The third technique is frequently used by corrupt politicians (as aided and abetted by their corporate allies) and involves the coordinated use of government and corporate resources to shut down law enforcement and journalistic investigations into their misconduct. The North Birmingham Bribery Case is a classic example of this technique.
The Quagmire for Fulton County District Attorney Fani T. Willis
Fulton County District Attorney Fan T. Willis is prosecuting the biggest state RICO case in America.
Every prosecutor who attacks corruption of any kind at the highest levels of government will be scrutinized for weaknesses, mistakes, and ethical lapses. It goes with the turf.
Montgomery County District Attorney Jimmy Evans was crucified for prosecuting Gov. Guy Hunt on theft, conspiracy and ethics violation charges and for indicting three Montgomery police officers for perjury in the Bernard Whitehurst case.
Alabama Attorney General Bill Baxley was ostracized for appointing me, a black attorney, to represent the state in opposing Lt. Jimmy Ray Hurst’ criminal appeals from his murder conviction in a case where all of the parties were white.
High-profile criminal prosecutions require an “A-Team” approach. Every action the prosecutor undertakes in his/her personal and professional life is scrutinized.
Every member of Fani Willis’ “A-Team” is subject to heightened scrutiny.
In Willis’ RICO case against Donald Trump, it is clear that special prosecutor Nathan J. Wade does not qualify as an “A-Team” member. In fact, Wade is Willis’ “Archilles heel.”
Through Wade and his ongoing divorce case, the public is getting a front row seat to a nasty “love triangle” between Fani Willis, Nathan Wade, and Wade’s estranged wife, Jocelyn.
Based on credit card receipts that were released Friday in the Wade divorce case, we now know that payments to Nathan Wade that were approved by Fani Willis paid for airfare, cruises, and vacations to exotic ports of call for Willis and Wade.
What is worse, Willis is directly attacking Jocelyn Wade. This is a huge strategic and tactical mistake. It is also unprofessional.
Nathan Wade’s lack of objective qualifications as a RICO prosecutor, his messy divorce situation, and Fani Willis’ entanglement in all of this threatens to destroy her career as a prosecutor.
At some point, Fani Willis’ staunchest allies will not be able to ignore the continuous flow of damning information about Nathan J. Wade. When this point is reached, Fani Willis will be doomed.