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No charges in Alabama Senate fight - for now

By Phillip Rawls
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — The Democratic senator struck in the head by a Republican colleague on the Senate floor said Wednesday he doesn't plan to file charges or a lawsuit over the blow, a widely seen swing that Alabama's GOP governor said was maybe understandable.

In an interview at his statehouse office, Sen. Lowell Barron, D-Fyffe, said he would not take the matter to court, provided the Senate properly punishes his attacker, Sen. Charles Bishop, R-Jasper.

Barron said Bishop, whose swing was captured on video by Alabama Public Television and replayed around the world on Web sites and YouTube, has brought so much international embarrassment to Alabama that he ought to consider resigning, a step Bishop said he would not take.

"It's not going to happen. They can forget that," Bishop said later Wednesday.

Barron said it wouldn't be appropriate for him to recommend a Senate punishment for Bishop, but he said, "If he'd done this on the job, he'd be fired."

Barron said the blow didn't cause any permanent damage, but it did leave a visible red scrape on his neck and bottom of his jaw.

Barron, chairman of the agenda-setting Senate Rules Committee, has been a key player for the Democratic majority that reworked Senate rules to limit the power of Bishop and other Republicans.

Bishop also said he was infuriated when Barron called him a "son of a bitch," a claim Barron denies.

Republican Gov. Bob Riley, who had major proposals die in the Senate, weighed in on the blow Monday while in Albertville.

Riley weighs in

"You know I think Senator Bishop said it best. He said he's sorry that it happened, wish it hadn't happened there, but on the other hand, I doubt if the senator that called him that will ever do it again," Riley said in remarks reported by WAFF-TV.

Riley also said: "I think everyone reaches a point to where you can just take
so much, and there's certain things that most Alabamians don't want said to them or in front of them."

Barron and Riley have had highly visible political squabbles, including Riley trying to prevent Barron from becoming the Senate's president pro tem in 2003. But Barron said he never expected to hear words like that from Riley.

"If I were the governor, I wouldn't make a statement condoning violence," Barron said.

The blow was struck June 7 as the Senate became tense in a squabble on which bills to consider on their final meeting day for this year. At the start of an afternoon recess, Bishop went to Barron's desk, where a heated exchange started and Bishop hit Barron on the side of the head with his right fist.

"It is not my desire to file charges against Mr. Bishop at this time simply because I think that would continue the embarrassment and the damage to the state of Alabama's reputation. We've had more than enough," Barron said.

Barron has filed a complaint against Bishop with the Senate Ethics Committee. The five-member committee can issue a warning with three votes, but taking any stronger action, such as recommending expulsion, would take four votes. Then two-thirds of the Senate would have to vote to remove Bishop.

The Senate Ethics Committee has not yet begun to consider Barron's complaint.

"I trust the process will work, but should this process not work, I reserve my options civilly and criminally," Barron said.

Bishop said Wednesday that he has hired an attorney, Jim Ward of Birmingham, and plans to file a complaint against Barron, accusing him of using provocative language against senators, including calling Bishop a "son of a bitch" before the blow.

"He's cussed out more people in the Alabama Legislature, including calling women 'bitches,' " Bishop said.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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