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Another hearing set

Dismissal motions consolidated in ‘grand jury secrets’ cases

Talking on the courthouse steps after the hearing, from left, Sherry Digmon, Charles and Cindy Jackson, attorney Cierra White

Atmore News Staff

Just four days after retired 19th Judicial Circuit Judge Ben Fuller rejected a motion from the Alabama Attorney General’s Office to continue the case against Atmore News Publisher and co-owner Sherry Digmon, who also holds the District 6 seat on the county school board, and reporter Don Fletcher, the judge did just that.
Fuller was appointed last year by Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Tom Parker to hear the case after local judges Jeff White, Todd Stearns and Eric Coale each recused himself due to having been assistant district attorneys under DA Steve Billy, who brought the charges against the journalists and others, before ascending to the bench.
Fuller gave Assistant Attorney General (AAG) Thomas Govan 30 days to prepare for a hearing at which a consolidated motion will be considered to dismiss charges of revealing grand jury secrets against all four people arrested in connection to a story published October 25 in the weekly newspaper.
Fuller ruled that attorneys Earnest White and Cierra White, who are representing Digmon, Fletcher and District 4 BOE representative Cindy Jackson, and attorney Danny White, who is legal counsel for Escambia County Schools bookkeeper Ashley Fore, should file a joint motion to dismiss in order to speed up the legal proceedings, which have drug on for nearly six months.
Govan, who is chief of the AG’s Criminal Trials division, and his second chair, fellow AAG Alana Cammack, sat at the prosecution table of the Escambia County Courthouse’s main courtroom during the April 10 hearing, which was the first time the defendants had been in a courtroom since their respective bond hearings. Rob Stuart, an investigator and special agent with the AG’s office, sat in a nearby pew.
“We need additional time to file a response,” said Govan, who was recently assigned the case after the local DA recused himself. “If you could reset it for 30 days, that would be beneficial to the state.”
The judge granted that request, setting a hearing for 9 a.m. on Thursday, May 16.
However, he warned that he wasn’t going to allow the proceedings against the journalists and their alleged accomplices to linger much longer.
“This case has something of an unusual history,” Fuller said. “The DA (Steve Billy) recused himself, just recently recused himself. This has been delayed so many times already, we need to start moving it forward. It needs to be disposed of by acquittal, dismissal or conviction.
“So, in the absence of any major catastrophe, all of you be here and be ready to argue the motions and set a trial date on May 16.”
Cierra White said the upcoming hearing would be “only to argue the motions,” that no witnesses would be called, and no testimony would be given.
Earnest White, who along with his daughter is defending the firm’s initial case based upon First Amendment issues, said he was “not surprised” by the outcome of today’s hearing.
“We think the First Amendment charges should be dismissed,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of cases in 44 years, so I can’t say this is the most unusual. But it is the first, First Amendment case I’ve ever had.”