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Faulk and Williamson cleared, Pryor cautioned

In step one of two involving charges against Crenshaw County Probate Judge Dwight Faulk and County Administrator Linda Williamson, state indictments against them have been overturned.

Faulk said the case was nothing more than a "witch hunt."

In a nine-page court order signed by Perry O. Hooper Sr., special judge sitting as Circuit Judge for Etowah County, the case, as it proceeded was outlined.

The defendants, Brian McKee, Jennifer McKee, Dwight Faulk and Linda West-Williamson were all named in the case presented by the State of Alabama, via the office of the Alabama Attorney General.

The state had alleged that McKee, defined by them as a "public employee" had taken something of value, in his former position as Etowah County Waste Disposal Authority director, from Big Wheel Recycling, Inc., owned by Faulk and Williamson, in the form of "favors."

It further alleged that Big Wheel was given improper discounts on tipping fees from the Etowah Solid Waste Disposal Authority in return for those favors.

In a statement issued by the Attorney General's office in June, it was alleged that Faulk and Williamson offered or gave a thing of value to a public official or member of the household of a public official for the purpose of influencing official action.

The McKees were represented by the law firm of Floyd, Floyd and Floyd, and Faulk and Williamson, represented by Terry Butts, with the George Beck law firm, presented expert testimony to disprove to the court concerning any connection between McKee and the statutory definition of a "public official."

The defense next offered testimony by David Akins, CEO of the Etowah County Commission, and also an accountant.

Akins, who is also the chief financial officer for the Etowah County Commission, was serving in his capacity at the time the Etowah Solid Waste Authority was formed, in 1992.

Akins testified that from the time the Authority was formed as a public corporation until the present date, the Etowah County Commission had never contributed any monies to the operation of the Solid Waste Authority, nor has it paid in whole or in part, any of the employees of the Solid Waste Authority.

His testimony also confirmed that the Etowah County Commission had never floated any bond issues, or loaned, or borrowed any money to or for the Solid Waste Authority, and

had no control of any kind whatsoever over its operation. He testified that the Solid Waste Authority is funded by users.

Having the opportunity to produce evidence contrary to the testimony of the defense's witnesses, the State indicated it did not choose to call any witnesses and that it would rest on the evidence produced by the defendants.

In his ruling on the motion to dismiss the indictments, Former Chief Justice Hooper said, "The court finds that under the definition of public employee as contained in the Alabama Ethics Act in Title 36 of the Code of Alabama, Brian McKee was not an employee of a governmental instrumentality paid in whole or in part from state, county or municipal funds."

In conclusion, Hooper said the State could not support an essential element of the offense against Brian McKee, namely that he is a public employee under the State Ethics Act.

"Since each and every remaining indictment against defendants Jennifer McKee, Dwight Faulk and Linda West-Williamson depends upon McKee's status as a public employee as an essential element of each of those corresponding indictments, they likewise must fall," Hooper said. "Accordingly, the motion to dismiss, filed by the remaining defendants, are also granted, and their indictments are dismissed."

In a second part of the defendants' motions to dismiss, questions were raised on the authority of the Attorney General to bring an indictment without first submitting the complaint to the Ethics Commission for investigation and hearing.

In the same ruling, although the court declined to address the due process argument raised by the defendants as it related to the Ethics Act, as it felt there was no need, since the indictments were dismissed, a stern caution was given by the court to the Attorney General's office.

"The Court cautions the State to carefully evaluate the propriety of the prosecution's bypassing the complaint, inquiry and hearing provisions as prescribed by our legislature in the Alabama Ethics Act in any future proceedings," Hooper said.

"I thought it was a witch hunt," said Faulk last week. "I knew that justice would prove out the truth, and it did."

Step two in the allegations involves the federal charges facing the defendants.

Faulk, still a defendant in the federal charges, feels confident.

"We feel like the system will continue to prove that the defense have done nothing wrong," Faulk said.

"Obviously Judge Faulk and Linda Williamson are good folks," said their attorney, Terry Butts. "The ruling throwing out the indictment was by Former Chief Justice Perry Hooper Sr., whom we all respect greatly, and we think his ruling is absolutely correct."

Beck said although he could not discuss the specifics of the federal charges, he too was confident.

"The federal charges were predicated by the state charges, and the hearings are still to come, but we are confident they too will be dismissed," Butts said.