Senator challenges ticket’s legality

Published 8:40 pm Monday, October 13, 2008

A powerful state senator, Lowell Barron of Fyffe, may reach a settlement on two traffic tickets rather than go to trial Tuesday.

Barron, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, is scheduled for trial at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday in Andalusia on tickets for reckless driving and running a stop sign.

Andalusia Police Chief Wilbur Williams said Barron’s lawyer is challenging the legality of the tickets, and a settlement may be reached between Barron’s lawyer, Walt Merrell, and the district attorney rather than having a trial.

“There is some legal problem,” Williams said in a phone interview Monday.

Barron confirmed the private talks Monday, but declined any public comment.

District Attorney Greg Gambril could not be reached for comment — his office was closed for Monday’s Columbus Day holiday.

Barron, who is serving his seventh term, leads the Senate committee that recommends which bills the Senate will consider each day. In that role, he can help kill a bill by never recommending it for the Senate’s agenda.

The influential lawmaker got two tickets July 27 while traveling home from a family vacation in Destin, Fla. After getting the tickets, Barron acknowledged he was speeding, but said he did it because he was concerned about his safety.

In an interview with The Associated Press in August, Barron said he passed a motorcycle while traveling on a rural road at night near Baker, Fla., a town close to the Alabama line.

Barron said the motorcycle driver got up on his bumper, following him for 30 miles at increasing speeds and flashing his bright lights while they traveled through the Conecuh National Forest. Barron got pulled over by police upon reaching Andalusia.

The senator said he wouldn’t stop on the isolated two-lane road because he had no idea who was on the motorcycle.

It turned out the motorcycle was driven by former Andalusia police officer Blaine Wilson, who contacted officers about Barron’s driving. Barron’s tickets were signed by Wilson rather than an active police officer.

The police chief said Wilson left the police department late last year to buy a radio station. Williams said he had planned to keep Wilson on the payroll as a part-time officer, but never completed the paperwork.

Williams said Wilson signed the tickets because he saw Barron’s driving, and the Andalusia officers didn’t. But Wilson was a private citizen, rather than a part-time officer, when he signed the tickets.

The police chief said Barron’s attorney is arguing that state law requires a private citizen to go to a court magistrate first and swear to what happened before a ticket can be issued.

“The screw-up is on my part,” the police chief said.

In 1996, Barron got the Legislature to pass a law that banned police in towns with fewer than 19,000 people from ticketing speeders on interstate highways. Barron had been clocked, but not ticketed, by Clanton and Argo police department for driving more than 90 mph while commuting on interstate highways between his northeast Alabama district and the capital.