You know things are getting real when the big guns come out.
And they’re blazing now.
So things are real.
After Alabama Ethics Commission member Stewart Hill Tankersley unloaded on fellow commissioners last week, describing how his peers have too often been a barrier to ethical behavior rather than standard-bearers for it, the safeties came off.
Jim Pratt, a Birmingham lawyer representing Ethics Commission Chairman Jerry Fielding, wrote a fiery letter to Tankersley demanding that he “cease and desist from making false, defamatory, and reckless statements and allegations that impugn Judge Fielding’s character and integrity in violation of the laws of the State of Alabama.”
He wrote of interviews Tankersley gave with “two different journalists,” but did not cite them by name. Tankersley spoke at length with Bill Britt of the Alabama Political Reporter, and later with me.
I asked Tankersley, as I wrote in the column, if other commissioners had been “corrupted by the machine that corrupts the politicians?”
“No!” Tankersley said. “They haven’t been corrupted by it. They’re a part of it.”
Pratt demanded Tankersley retract the statements, particularly those that called commissioners corrupt.
“Because you were quoted by two different journalists, immediate demand is made that you advise them that you withdraw the statements and apologize for having made them.”
He threatened Tankersley with punitive damages. He told him to put his insurance carrier on notice of the claim. He rattled the saber, pounded the drum and fired the warning shots.
And on Wednesday, Tankersley’s lawyer, James Pewitt, wrote back. His response was – and I paraphrase freely here – get bent, Jim.
The actual words were far more subtle, couched in the kind and icy language of the law.
“As an accomplished lawyer, I am sure you can recognize the difference between statements…