However, it looks like the entire state suffers from corruption.
Jefferson County judge could put kibosh on corruption probe
Hear that gasp?
It's fear. From Jefferson County residents who dared hope that suspected corruption in Birmingham government and its water works can be rooted out and punished.
And it's hope. From corrupt officials and contractors, who pray for a reprieve from prying investigative eyes.
Judge Joseph Boohaker, presiding judge of Jefferson County, said today he must seek information to figure out whether the state grand jury investigating the Birmingham Water Works Board and other city agencies should be allowed to continue.
The grand jury is six months old.
Boohaker said he will ask prosecutor Matt Hart for an update in the next few days. Hart, head of the attorney general's special prosecutions division, asked Boohaker to open the grand jury in September.
"They do need to check in with me to see if I need to renew their mandate," Boohaker said of the grand jury. "I need to check the temperature. What do you have?"
It's unclear what effect Boohaker's demand could have on the investigation, which has kept Birmingham politicians on pins and needles for months. The grand jury began to meet in October, and indicted Charles Todd Henderson, the elected district attorney of Jefferson County, the following month.
The grand jury, which appears to be looking into complex and wide-ranging issues, has not met for two months, as one scheduled session was canceled. It is believed the cancellation was related to the involvement of the attorney general's office and its corruption unit in negotiating a guilty plea from former Gov. Robert Bentley.
Boohaker resisted the notion that his interference was a "put up or shut up" demand of the grand jury. But it was clear he wanted assurances of what was transpiring.
"I don't know what they're digging into," he said. "A grand jury sitting there without any reason to exist does not need to exist. It needs to make progress."
A parade of witnesses has come before the grand jury this year, and reams of documents dating back to 2011 have been subpoenaed from the water works' engineering firm, Arcadis. It's unclear if all of the documents have been delivered, much less digested.
It is believed, based on accounts from lawyers and those who have received subpoenas, that dozens if not hundreds of subpoenas have been issued.
Asked if he had reason to believe the grand jury was not making progress, Boohaker acknowledged the opposite was true.
"They have subpoenaed a lot of people," he said.
Water Works Board Chair Sherry Lewis was called to testify, as was Chris Woods, now a mayoral candidate, who in November accused the Birmingham Construction Industry Authority of demanding pay for play.
If Boohaker determines there is reason to continue the grand jury, he will extend the time, he said.
If he chooses to disband this grand jury, the attorney general's office could ask to open a new grand jury, but that would require it to begin again.
Boohaker said he expects to talk to Hart by May 1.
Hart today declined to comment, saying "we don't talk about ongoing grand jury matters."
Hart has used the special grand jury often over the course of his career, both as a federal and state prosecutor. It was most recently used to secure the indictment of former House Speaker Mike Hubbard in Lee County. Hubbard was convicted on a dozen ethics charges.
The Hubbard grand jury was empaneled about 14 months before he was indicted.
The federal special grand jury that charged former Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford operated for about a year-and-a-half before indicting him, and the federal special grand jury working the notorious two-year-college corruption scandal took three years.
Boohaker may not want to describe it as put up or shut up, but that's exactly what it is.
The nagging question is why.