State prosecutors say they have collected more than 20,000 documents in their investigation of Limestone County Sheriff Mike Blakely, who was indicted last month on 13 theft and ethics counts.

"It is kind of daunting to to think we're going to have to sift through all that and figure out how it applies to the case," Robert Tuten, one of Blakely's lawyers, said Wednesday. "Obviously it's all very complicated."

The state Attorney General's Office revealed the existence of its cache of documents in a motion for a protective order it filed jointly with Blakely's attorneys Tuesday.

If granted by the judge, the protective order would prohibit either party from releasing information that identifies people other than Blakely.

"The state's discovery includes bank records, loan applications, and pistol permit applications of third parties — among other documents — that contain personally identifying information," according to the motion. "While the State would normally make the necessary redactions before producing discovery, such an undertaking is not feasible in this case because the State would need to redact more than 20,000 items."

Still unresolved is what judge will hear the case. Limestone County Circuit Judge Robert Baker on Sept. 10 recused himself and filed a request to Chief Justice Tom Parker of the state Supreme Court that the case be assigned to a judge outside this circuit. 

Mike Lewis, a spokesman for state Attorney General Steve Marshall, said Blakely is not required to step down while he is under indictment.

"Under Alabama law the sheriff is not required to leave office while under indictment, nor is he precluded from continuing with his official duties," Lewis said.

Tuten said Blakely has not been pressured by the attorney general to step down, and the sheriff has no reason to do so.

"The indictment has no impact on the day-to-day operations of the sheriff's department. Obviously if he were ever to be convicted — I hope he won't be and I don't think he will be — but if he were to be convicted of something, depending on what it is, it may impact his qualifications to be an elected official. If that's the situation, he may have to step down," Tuten said.

"But as of right now, he was elected by the citizens of Limestone County to do a job, and he's going to keep on doing it."

The indictment includes 12 felony counts and one misdemeanor count. The felony counts include two for first-degree theft, five for use of official position or office for personal gain, two for second-degree theft, two for third-degree theft and two for soliciting a thing of value from a subordinate. The misdemeanor is for fourth-degree theft.

Four of the counts in the indictment charge Blakely with $11,000 in thefts from his campaign account.

Five other counts charge him with theft and ethics crimes stemming from his alleged appropriation of money from the Sheriff’s Law Enforcement Fund.

Two counts in the indictment charge him with using his official position to acquire interest-free loans. 

In the other felony count he is charged with using his official position to obtain interest-free loans by taking funds "from a safe that held money belonging to the Limestone County inmates."

Lewis and Tuten both said obtaining a protective order to prevent disclosure of discovery in a criminal case in not unusual.

"While information gathered during the discovery process is usually not made public, this office took the extra step of filing a protective order to ensure that personal identifying information of other individuals is safeguarded," Lewis said.

Tuten said he is not sure who the protective order is designed to protect, but that it's a common step.

"Those things are pretty typical when you have somebody else other than the defendant involved. I don't know who exactly that could be, but it's not uncommon when there are other private citizens mixed up in an investigation," Tuten said.

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Gaming income

On May 31, 2018, Blakely amended his 2016 Alabama Ethics Commission Statement of Economic Interests to report "more than $250,000" in household income from "TN Lottery and gaming establishments."

On the same day, he amended his 2017 Statement of Economic Interests to report $50,000 to $150,000 in household earnings from "gaming establishments."

His 2018 ethics disclosure, filed in May of this year, reported $50,000 to $150,000 in winnings from "gaming institute," and $1,000 to $10,000 from "LA. Racing Commission," with the income described as "race horse."

Tuten said he has no reason to believe the reported income has any connection to the charges against Blakely.

"I don't think so, but I haven't seen the discovery. All we've seen is the indictment, and the indictment doesn't say anything about any of that. But I won't be sure until I see the discovery," he said.

eric@decaturdaily.com or 256-340-2435. Twitter @DD_Fleischauer.

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