Judge takes up State Auditor Jim Zeigler’s case against AG Luther Strange

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After a Thursday morning hearing where all six defendants filed motions to dismiss, Judge Greg Griffin took under advisement the state auditor’s lawsuit against elected officials he contends misused public money.

State Auditor Jim Zeigler, in a complaint that names Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange and five Baldwin County school board members as defendants, says Baldwin officials acted improperly when they used about $250,000 in taxpayer money to campaign for a tax hike  this year.

The “Build Baldwin Now” campaign, as it was called by supporters, sought to increase tax revenue for new school construction by persuading voters to approve higher tax rates on local property owners during March municipal elections.

After the initiative was soundly defeated in almost every locality where it sought the increased rates — 68 percent to 32 percent overall — Zeigler brought forth his case, arguing that the public funds were appropriated to the Baldwin school system to operate schools, not pay for political campaigns.

For their part, Strange and the defendants argued Thursday before  Montgomery County Circuit Court that Zeigler and two local taxpayers who enjoined his complaint have no legal standing to bring the suit in the first place. They contend the complaint provides no legal “cause of action,” and that the attorney general — in issuing an opinion earlier this summer that the Baldwin school board’s actions were lawful — caused no material damage.

Zeigler said in a news release Thursday afternoon the motions “totally missed the point – the plain meaning of the law.”

As ever during the proceedings, Zeigler pointed to the Code of Alabama section 17-17-5, which reads “… no person in the employment of the State of Alabama, a county, a city, a local school board, or any other governmental agency, whether classified or unclassified, shall use any state, county, city, local school board, or other governmental agency funds, property, or time, for any political activities.”

“The attorney general is throwing legal technicalities against us trying to justify a wrong,” Zeigler said in the statement. “It is illegal and grossly unfair to use taxpayer’s money to campaign in a vote for a tax increase.”

The judge did not give a time frame for issuing a decision.

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