Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Hank Sanders: Senate Sketches #1424: What do you do when you are attacked?

  What do you do when you are attacked? Do you fight back? Do you just stand back? What do you do when you are attacked under circumstances that just will not allow you to fight back at the moment? Do you fight back anyway? Do you just take it? What do you do? I had to answer these questions again last week.

  I have been attacked many times over the 31 years I have been in public office, 43 years I have practiced law and the 50-plus years I have worked in the community. Answers to these questions are never easy because it is hard to deal with attacks under any circumstances.

  As the attorney, I was sitting on the board platform with members of the Greene County Board of Education and the Superintendent. The central office auditorium had a much larger than usual crowd. The Board’s business was completed except for the public comment period at the very end of the agenda. During the previous meeting, as the attorney for the Board, I had publicly explained to the audience why Board members should not respond to comments made during public comment. (The board can only act as a body and comments by individual members may be mistaken as board positions).

  Mr. Luther Winn, a bingo businessman in Greene County, rose to speak. He is widely known as “Nat Winn.” He launched broadside attacks on me as a state senator, as a lawyer and as a human being. I was also attacked as an incompetent lawyer even though Mr. Winn tried to hire our law firm for his bingo business but we declined. He stated that the two lawsuits that were recently filed against his bingo business, known as Greenetrack, had nothing to do with what he was saying about me. I knew his attacks had everything to do with these lawsuits. I simply sat there until he completed his verbal assault. What do you do when you are attacked?

  When Nat Winn finished, I wanted so badly to stand up and respond to the attacks. I wanted to go against the very advice I had given the Board members and the public during the previous meeting where Mr. Winn was also present. I held myself back. What do you do in such a situation?

  This was not the first time Nat Winn had attacked me. He had attacked me viciously in 2010 when I would not vote the way he wanted me to vote on a gaming issue. He wanted me to vote to set up a gaming commission in Greene County that he could control. Pursuant to a constitutional amendment adopted by a referendum of the people of Greene County, the Greene County Sheriff controls bingo. What do you do when you are attacked?

  Nat Winn had strongly supported the incumbent sheriff for re-election in 2006 who lost badly in the Democratic Primary. Isom Thomas won the Democratic Primary by a large margin but his victory was snatched from him by a political party committee. Thomas then ran as a write-in candidate and won by a big margin. Then, Nat Winn wanted me to help him to take the power from the sheriff who had been twice elected under difficult circumstances and put it in a bingo commission that he would end up controlling. When I refused, he attacked me in the media and in writings widely circulated and in other ways. What do you do when you are attacked?

  It is my understanding that Nat Winn has repeatedly tried to get me fired as the attorney for the Board of Education and County Commission in spite of the fact our law firm has represented these entities for decades. It is my understanding that he has repeatedly run or supported candidates for that purpose. What do you do when you are attacked?

  These attacks were reignited by two recently filed lawsuits against Nat Winn’s bingo business. The first lawsuit was filed by the Greene County Commission for breach of contract. The second lawsuit was filed by the Greene County Board of Education for breach of contract. Nat Winn blamed me for both lawsuits. Although I am the lawyer for the Greene County Commission, I knew nothing about Commission members wanting to sue Nat Winn’s bingo business until a motion was passed in the regular Commission meeting directing me to file a lawsuit within ten days. Of course, I did as my client directed. What do you do when you are attacked under circumstances you cannot defend yourself?

  I did know about the second lawsuit. I had known for some time. In a May 16, 2011 Board meeting, the Greene County Board of Education approved a motion “to authorize Attorney Sanders to take whatever steps are necessary to retrieve the Board’s money from Greenetrack.” Because of attacks on bingo in Greene County by the Alabama Attorney General among other things, the filing of the lawsuit was delayed. When the County Commission filed its lawsuit, it seemed a good time to proceed with the Board of Education lawsuit. Now, I was being publicly attacked.

  What do you do when you are attacked? I don’t know what you would do. I could not fight back, but I can share with you the circumstances of the attacks.

EPILOGUE – We will always be attacked. Therefore, we have to deal with attacks one way or another. How we deal with attacks says something about our attackers, but it says a lot more about us. I try very hard not to move in the same spirit as those attacking me.

  About the author: Hank Sanders represents Senate District 23 in the Alabama Legislature.

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