GADSDEN, Ala. ― There were stories told around the courthouse, lawyer gossip about Roy Moore. All word-of-mouth, with nothing ever in writing.
There was small stuff that maybe doesn’t seem as small now. Like the story about Moore supposedly getting thrown out of a Pizitz department store for hanging around the undergarments section. Three people in legal circles said they’d heard that one. This would’ve been in the late 1970s, when Pizitz was still a going concern; a few years later, the Gadsden Mall reportedly banned Moore for chasing teenage girls.
There wasn’t much anyone could do, one longtime criminal defense lawyer in town said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. Certainly there was nothing to be done about the alleged Pizitz ejection. “You’ve got to have some sort of written document that says” what happened, the lawyer said. “Everybody kinda knows that. Him getting kicked out was verbal — it was never in writing.”
And of course there were the bigger things, of the kind the rest of the country is learning about now. The defense attorney had heard about Moore’s prowling for teenagers. But in that case, too, nothing could’ve been done, the attorney said.
“Well, for one, you couldn’t do anything to help these girls, unless a girl comes forward,” he said. “If I [as an attorney] wanted to say something in 1980, I would have made him a hero because I could not have proved anything. The only way you can prove what was going on with the girls, is that they have to come forward.”
Everyone knew. That’s been the mantra over the past few weeks. Lifelong residents knew. Mall employees knew. Area reporters knew. And most distressing of all, even the lawyers and law enforcement types working in and around the courthouse — the people responsible for bringing sexual predators to justice — knew.
A retired officer knew that Moore had a thing for young cheerleaders. One of Moore’s own colleagues told CNN it was “common knowledge” he dated high school girls. A Gadsden cop previously told The New York Times: “It was treated like a joke. That’s just the way it was.”
For its part, the Moore campaign has repeatedly denied the multiple sexual misconduct allegations against the judge. His office didn’t immediately return calls for comment on this story.
Moore was untouchable during his time as a prosecutor in Gadsden, from 1977 to 1982. Even if someone wanted to take him on legally, there was no tangible, actionable evidence against him. Three local lawyers HuffPost spoke to characterized Moore as invincible back in the day.
“You cannot stop him,” the defense attorney said. “He honestly thinks he is doing God’s work. He has no shame, no embarrassment. He will not stop until he dies.”
How shameless and unembarrassed? A lifelong resident, who asked not to be named for fear of retaliation, recalled the judge signing copies of the Bible for fans. This was in the early 2000s, when he was chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court and proudly and defiantly displaying a monument of the Ten Commandments in the Alabama Judicial Building. Some would even come to the courthouse to bow and pray in front of the monument, the resident said, first commandment be damned.
“I was like, are we worshiping God, or are we worshiping Roy Moore?” said the resident.
There were still whispers amid all this idolatry. A Montgomery Advertiser story from 2002 reported:
If you ask about Roy Moore in Gadsden these days, you’ll find he’s not as universally admired and respected as he is in his little hometown of Gallant.
At the Etowah County Courthouse, some of those who worked with Moore roll their eyes when asked about him but keep their mouths shut. There are plenty of stories to tell, the longtime secretaries, parole officials and lawyers said, but not on the record and not now, while Moore sits atop the state court system and controls its purse strings.
To this day, those stories are hard to tease out for the same reasons. Moore’s reputation still makes him powerful in Alabama, and Gadsden residents who knew about his behavior don’t want to go on the record for fear of retaliation. Others who have been close to the story, like the reporter who wrote the above paragraphs, have since died.
Moore got his reputation after he’d come back from West Point to work as a prosecutor in the late 1970s. It was in 1979 that he started taking 14-year-old Leigh Corfman out on dates, she told The Washington Post.
For three years he was known to locals as the larger-than-life law man who was standoffish and relatively introverted, except when it came to hanging out at the Gadsden Mall and, according to some, approaching younger women. The New York Times and Washington Post have each published exhaustive accounts of those stories.
But for years the whispers never became anything more than that in large part thanks to Moore’s stature. Nothing could be done unless a girl came forward.
“At the time, he’s with the district attorney’s office, which prosecutes these cases. They work real closely with the police department. So why would I as a young girl, at 14 or 16, say anything about this? I for one would be terrified to go to the police, much less tell my parents,” said Laura Payne, a former Trump delegate in the state, speaking about the difficulty a young girl would have faced.
Payne told HuffPost that she decided to vote against Moore in the Dec. 12 Senate special election ― likely with a “Republican” write-in candidate ― after she saw the first Washington Post story detailing the allegations against him.
She said she believes the accusers, and scoffs at those who say women like Corfman could easily have come forward back then. They were victims, and in Gadsden, they didn’t have many people to turn to.
“You’re ashamed,” she said. “And you think, ‘I probably shouldn’t have done this, I probably shouldn’t have smiled or said hello, I shouldn’t have gotten in that car.’ You’re just embarrassed. And Roy Moore runs everything. You’re not going to the police.”
It’s hard for anyone to come out against Moore. Conservative Christians in Gadsden said it would be career suicide to speak publicly about the man who’s been celebrated for his God-and-country politics over the years. Almost all of the local Republicans HuffPost spoke to refused to give their identity for fear of retaliation.
But many of them have also gotten fed up with the leeway Moore has been given statewide. Female supporters of Moore have attacked his accusers rather than believing the victims. Men question the “timing” or shrug off the allegations altogether. Outside of town, you’ll hear any number of excuses for Moore’s alleged behavior, including that he came “from a different time” and that a lot of men chased women half their age back then.
One resident, a Republican, shook her head when asked about it.
“It was just Roy Moore,” she said. “Alabamians are not like that. But everybody knew about Roy. And he was just so powerful. He was invincible.”