A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit Monday that alleged that Alabama elected officials violated the voting rights of Macon County residents by raiding and shutting down Victoryland, an electronic gambling facility in Shorter. The judge also issued sanctions against the plaintiffs' attorney.
"This is a violation of the Voting Rights Act," said Tuskegee Mayor Johnny Ford in the past. He and several others were plaintiffs in the suit.
Judge Keith Watkins wrote in a 50-page decision that the lawsuit had no legal merit and was "frivolous."
"The complaint… has nothing to do with the infringement of voting rights," Judge Watkins wrote. "The Complaint attempts to revive a private business offering electronic bingo that has been deemed illegal by the highest court in Alabama, the highest law enforcement official in Alabama, and the chief executive officer of Alabama, its Governor."
Ford filed the lawsuit in April alleging that because the state put an end to a practice that the people of Macon County approved through the voting process their voting rights were violated.
Macon County residents approved a local constitutional amendment in 2003 that authorized certain types of charitable bingo within the county.
Judge Watkins' ruling directly refuted any claims of discrimination and basically informed both parties that the actions of the state have nothing to do with the Voting Rights Act.
"No facts plausibly suggest that Defendants have affected Plaintiffs' voting rights," Watkins wrote.
"On the surface, Plaintiffs say this case is about vindicating minority voting rights conferred by federal statutes and the United States Constitution. But just below that surface emerges a different purpose – saving electronic bingo operations at Quincy's 777 Casino at VictoryLand ("VictoryLand"), a now-defunct Macon County gambling business," he also included in the order filed Monday.
The judge also remarked that the plaintiffs' attorney, Donald LaRoche, should have known that the lawsuit was frivolous. LaRoche was ordered to pay for the legal fees incurred by the Alabama Attorney General's Office in preparing responses to Ford and other plaintiffs' claims.
Mayor Johnny Ford could not be reached for comment Monday. His attorney, Donald LaRoche, out of Massachusetts, said that he was "disappointed" over the dismissal but needed time to review the 54-page court document before he could issue any response.
Attorney General Luther Strange said in a statement: "I have always said that Mayor Ford's lawsuit was a legally frivolous publicity stunt, and now the federal court has agreed. I am especially grateful that Mr. Ford's attorney will be required to reimburse the State for the time it took our attorneys to respond to his frivolous allegations."
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