Monday, January 23, 2012

Alabama's Need for a New Constitution

The following article is from Karlos Finley who currently serves on the Board for Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform

(News from the Constitution Revision Commission)
It's hard to find any reasonable person who'll make a serious defense of Alabama's decrepit Constitution. It's the longest in the world, it has been amended more than 850 times, it centers most all the power in the state in special-interest-controlled Montgomery and binds local governments.

For some time, The Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform has lobbied for some action, any action, to bring the state’s complex, cumbersome Constitution under control. Their preferred method to do so is a popularly elected constitutional convention. This was how the 1901 Constitution was created in the first place. Opponents of this plan claimed an election would lead to special interests taking over the convention and, thus, writing the new constitution. But it should be noted that it was not so much fear that special interests would dominate the convention. Instead, it was fear by some special interests that interests other than their own would prevail. That gets us to the first fundamental point about constitutional reform that we must understand. The state Constitution protects a wide range of special interests, so it stands to reason that special interests from agriculture to education would be wary of changes they could not control. Those changes would be in the state’s antiquated, inadequate and regressive system of raising revenue. Propertied interests would not want changes in the way the state taxes property. Education interests would not want changes in the way revenue is divided.
Enter the state Legislature and the 16-member Constitutional Revision (not reform) Commission.

And, to make sure the commission does not tamper with what is really wrong with the Constitution, tax reform is off the table. So, why bother? Because there is more wrong with the Constitution than taxes. Although business groups, like other special interests, opposed a constitutional convention, they also understood that matters such as local control and decentralization needed to be addressed. So they threw their support behind the commission plan that is in place today. Despite the limitations placed on it, the Constitutional Revision Commission is a step in the right direction. The commission will rewrite 11 of the constitution's 18 articles to put before the Legislature and voters. It leaves untouched the taxation article, which includes limits born of the 1901 convention that keeps a lid on property taxes. Those provisions contribute mightily to Alabama having one of the nation's most unjust tax systems.
Federal Judge Lynwood Smith wrote in his 854-page ruling that Alabama's property tax system does not violate the U.S. Constitution, however Smith practically begs for a federal lawsuit that challenges the validity of the Alabama Constitution because, as has been well-documented, supporters stole the referendum that approved it. The 1901 Constitution is the state's fundamental charter, "only through fraud, ballot theft, economic and physical intimidation and unmitigated corruption," Smith wrote.

In an October Revision Commission meeting Mobile Republican Sen. Ben Brooks, a commission member, wondered whether Jefferson County could have avoided its crisis with "more liberal home rules," the ability of Alabama cities and counties to have limited autonomy to pass laws without needing the approval of the Legislature. Sonny Brasfield, Executive Director of the Association of County Commissions of Alabama, told him the fight over the county's occupational tax showed how hard it is for counties to solve problems on their own. "I think that if the Jefferson County Commission had more authority, they wouldn't have to be up here seeking an answer to the problem," Brasfield said. Some, including lawmakers, have portrayed Jefferson County as a poster child for why counties don't need any more power. The way the constitution reads currently, we can't amend local laws once they get advertised.. We can't debate a bill, find a middle ground, and can't improve it as the legislative process goes along. Brasfield said the system fosters horrible local laws. Jefferson County found out the hard way what happens when the Legislature bucks the process. In 2009, lawmakers passed a new county occupational tax to replace one that courts had ruled invalid. But it, too, was struck down because lawmakers changed the bill from what had been advertised. Finding a better way for local elected officials to make local decisions... not arguing over taxing authority, should be the focus of the revision commission's work, Brasfield said. "I don't want us to get distracted from reaching the conclusion we need, which is change," he said. The local government and its voters would decide which option for change they prefer. What shouldn't be an option is the current silliness. Argue, if you will, that Jefferson County having mucked up so badly makes it the perfect case against home rule. But fixing that mess is the perfect case for it. As Commissioner Brasfield points out, "Does it make sense that the Alabama Legislature has to be called into special session to deal with Jefferson County's financial problems? Should senators have to come from Mobile and Huntsville to Montgomery to work on a solution for Jefferson County?

Alabama's Constitution Revision Commission met Wednesday, January 18, 2012 for the last time before the 2012 legislative session to discuss home rule; while proposals were discussed to give local governments new powers. Brasfield presented the commission with five recommendations for county government. Craig Baab, a senior fellow with Alabama Appleseed, proposed giving counties limited home rule, with an option for counties to opt out or to repeal it. Baab said the centralized government created by the 1901 constitution "doesn't serve the people well." Any changes proposed by the commission would be submitted to the Legislature in the form of constitutional amendments. Should the Legislature approve the changes, the amendments would be submitted to voters for approval.

The proposals, however, drew strong criticism from several people who spoke at the meeting. Supporters of home rule were equally adamant that zoning power would allow counties to guide their development and protect property owners from potentially ruinous neighbors. The commission is reviewing 11 of the 16 articles of Alabama's 1901 Constitution. The commission will not address Article XI, which addresses taxation. The commission late last year approved changes to remove the racist language and changes to the banking and corporations articles. The Legislature should consider those proposals during the next regular session.

Saturday, January 21, 2012 is the Best Online Attorney Directory

The cyber geeks at NetNews have rated as the best online attorney locating service. (See article below.) All three attorneys at BF&W have the highest rating possible from It's a great site for legal consumers.

AVVO.COM: Best Online Attorney Locating Service
NetNews.Net - December 1, 2011
-NetNews.Net © In the fast paced world of internet searching, one of the most congested search areas for internet users is in the area of locating a lawyer. The world wide web has done a wonderful job of bringing lawyers and lawyer locating services to our finger tips, but maybe, just maybe it’s brought consumers too much information.

A simple non-scientific review of internet searches for attorney locating services brings forth listings of well over 1,000 such services not to mention hundreds of paid ads flopped and pixelated throughout the pages. Add to this confusion the fact that many of the attorney directories on the internet and/or attorney locating services require the attorney to "buy-in" to receive a favorable listing or ranking and you begin to see the internet consumers dilemma when searching for an attorney.

But fear not, your friends at NetNews.Net have searched, reviewed and analyzed these digital repositories of legal service providers, a/k/a shark holding pens, and found that one of these services rises above the rest and warrants our designation as: The Best Online Attorney Locating Service. Obviously if you read the headline you know we are giving this distinguished designation to Before making the points that led to this conclusion, readers should know two important facts: One, our research is non-scientific but all attempts have been made to analyze and review the online attorney locating services from the perspective of the reasonable internet user who brings forth his or her common sense when searching the internet for information. Two, has paid us to write this review. Not true but it was too easy of a joke to drop in. We have not been paid for this review and as with all reviews, we are simply trying to aid and assist our cyber-peers.

OK, with all joking and tongue-in-cheek commentary aside, why is the best online attorney locating service currently on the internet? Simple, besides offering an ability to "locate" an attorney it combines what we consider the three best qualities of these type services into one web site. These three quality factors are 1) Ratings, 2) Reviews and 3) Q&A Forum. Too many of the online directories we reviewed had none of these quality features. Many others were obviously "buy-in" sites with limited listings and information and featuring only those attorneys who paid for their exclusive listing. We liken these type buy-in sites to your late night sleazy Personal Injury TV ads .... we give these type sites high marks under the "ambulance chasing" category. Several of the other sites we reviewed had one or two of what we considered as the quality factors and they make our "Honorable Mention" roll below., nor any of the other "Honorable Mention" services, require an attorney to pay to be listed. The listing is free; however, many offer upgraded listings or services for the attorney for a price. However, very important for us in our review was the fact that the listing, and in the case of, the rating, is free. So let’s now review all three quality factors offered by in a little more detail.

Ratings: Attorneys are assigned a rating by on a scale of 1-10. Ten being the "Superb" and the highest level. Their web site does not disclose specifically how it calculates the attorney ratings that are assigned but it does indicate career accomplishments by the lawyer such as legal publications, speaking engagements and affiliations with professional organizations are factors in the rating process. The other factor in the ratings that we like, is that tells you if the lawyer has ever had any disciplinary action brought against him or her by a Bar Association. Not only do we think this is important information for consumers, but we applaud as being the only online directory we reviewed that had the guts to post this information. Very big kudos and big khonies. Finally, reports that peer endorsements (see discussion below) do not factor into the rating they assign an attorney. Quite honestly, we have a hard time buying this since we all know about the "good-ol’ boy network in the legal fraternity. I.e, "you say I’m a great lawyer and I’ll say you’re a great lawyer even though were both really worthless piles of cow dung and the public will never be the wiser." Despite our suspicions on this point, we’ll take their word on this point and give them credit for not allowing an attorney to up his or her rating by having all of his or her peers provide glowing endorsements.

Peer & Client Reviews: As mentioned the site allows for clients and peers to review and comment on the lawyers skills and services. Client reviews through out the various attorney profiles we reviewed often appeared forced or fake, maybe we’re just cynical but the fact that the site allows former clients a place to comment on the attorney’s services is a plus. The peer endorsements from other attorneys is a nice feature but we are skeptical about compliments about legal skills published by other attorneys. It’s akin to a conversation among sharks: "Hey your teeth look extra sharp and dangerous today. Why thank you. Your teeth are looking exceptionally vicious as well." Again a few other online attorney locating services allow for these type peer and client reviews and these features are certainly a positive However, within this category we also include reviews and comments made in response to an attorneys participation in the Questions and Answers forum of the web site. When an attorney responds to a posted question it becomes part of the attorney’s profile. The person who submitted the question has an opportunity to review and rate the response and add commentary. By reviewing the attorney’s responses to questions, you are able to glean more insight into the attorney. You can also see if others thought the attorney offered helpful or meaningful information in his or her response. If you’re going to have to hire an attorney, don’t you want one that is going to help fix whatever legal mess you’ve found yourself in? We think being able to access and review the attorneys responses to questions may be more beneficial than the client and peer reviews.

Questions & Answers: As just mentioned besides offering a process to locate an attorney in your area for a specific type legal question or problem and offering a rating service for the attorney, the site also has a very easy functioning Q&A Forum. To use the forum you have to register as a user and establish a password but it is free. Once you’ve done this then just fire away with your legal question. Questions stay open for about a week and you get an e-mail notification when an attorney has responded to your question. It’s free. The site has parameters and warnings about reliance on free legal advice but it also offers tips on how to ask or word questions.

In our opinion, this third feature is what makes the overall best online attorney locating service.

In conclusion if you want to use the internet to help address a legal issue and/or locate an attorney, we recommend In our opinion it is by far the best and most comprehensive and user friendly online attorney directory on the internet.