A bill that would require the Alabama Ethics Commission to provide exonerating evidence to individuals accused of violating state law passed the State Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously on Wednesday.

The legislation by State Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) says the commission shall "provide to the person alleged to have violated the law any fact, statement, document, or other exculpatory evidence that supports the innocence of the person or that may exonerate or tends to exonerate the person which the state ethics commission has in its possession." Exculpatory evidence is any information that may prove or point to an accused person's innocence.

"I'm trying to require the Ethics Commission if they have exonerating evidence that they found out in the course of their investigation, they produce that to the defendant or the accused," Orr said. "Right now, they're not required to do that."

State Sen. Lance Bell (R-Pell City) said, "If you have a schoolteacher that a parent gets mad at and files a complaint … the Ethics Commission does an investigation (and) finds exculpatory material … they don't have to turn it over."

"If it gets referred out, that teacher is on the front page of the local newspaper, and she's convicted (in the court of public opinion) before either the AG or DA gets the information, and they get the information and say, 'Whoa, well here's that information that says you didn't do it.' This stops that," Bell said. "This puts a stop to that."

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall filed a lawsuit in Montgomery County Circuit Court in November 2022 against the Alabama Ethics Commission, stating their advisory opinion No. 2022-03 on exculpatory evidence "directly interferes with and impairs his duties." An attorney for the ethics commission filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit in December.

The opinion from July 2022 states that the "Ethics Commission is not required or permitted to disclose exculpatory information or Brady material to respondents of complaints filed with the Ethics Commission."

Brian Hall Patterson, Jr., attorney for the Alabama Ethics Commission, said in a motion to dismiss in December that "revocation of Advisory Opinion 2022-03 would cause a chilling effect for both potential complainants and witnesses if they knew that their statements could be produced to the respondent" and the "nullification of Advisory Opinion 2022-03 could also result in the public disclosure of evidence that may be incomplete and damaging to complainants or third parties."

To connect with the author of this story or to comment, email caleb.taylor@1819News.com.

Don't miss out! Subscribe to our newsletter and get our top stories every weekday morning.