Alabama attorney general turns to Supreme Court in case of former Senate leader Barron

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MONTGOMERY, Alabama — The state attorney general's office says its prosecution of former state Senate leader Lowell Barron will be over if an appellate court upholds all three rulings issued by the judge in Barron's case.

The attorney general's office made the argument in papers filed with the Alabama Supreme Court. It is asking the court to review rulings by a DeKalb County judge that it said "were fatal to the state's case."

Attorney General Luther Strange's staff got a DeKalb County grand jury to indict Barron and former aide Jill Johnson last year on charges accusing them of misusing campaign funds to help Johnson pay off a home loan from Barron. The two have pleaded not guilty. Their trial, scheduled for April, got postponed when the attorney general's office appealed three decisions by Circuit Judge Randall Cole.

Cole ruled that Barron could present evidence about how other candidates used campaign funds and that the attorney general's office couldn't present evidence about whether the defendants had a romantic relationship. The judge also declined to decide before trial whether prosecutors could use during the trial statements that Johnson made to law enforcement. Prosecutors said the judge's rulings would prevent them from showing motive.

They appealed to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, which turned them down June 9. Now they have taken the case to the Supreme Court. In papers filed Monday, they argued that the judge "exceeded his discretion and prejudiced the state with his rulings."

Attorneys for Barron and Johnson say the attorney general's office can't appeal the judge's rulings. "So, the prosecution is dead," defense attorneys wrote.

"The prosecution is not over unless and until an appellate court rules against the state on the merits on all three issues raised and upholds Judge Cole's rulings," the attorney general told the court.

Barron, a Democrat from Fyffe, served 28 years in the Senate before losing in 2010 when Republicans took control of the Legislature from Democrats. He held key leadership positions, including president pro tem and Rules Committee chairman. Johnson worked for him in the Senate and then in his campaign. Prosecutors say Barron's campaign provided her with $58,000 in campaign funds to pay off her $100,000 home loan from Barron and to pay credit card bills. They say the campaign also gave her a 2007 Toyota Camry in 2010, and she sold it in 2012 for $12,500, which she kept.

Barron's attorneys say Barron gave Johnson a bonus for her hard work, and they want to show how other politicians have used campaign funds to give bonuses to employees.

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