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Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Investment group points to lavish spending on sports cars and private jets under Ted Rollins' leadership

Ted Rollins
A group of activist investors seeks to take Campus Crest Communities in a more professional direction following the ouster of founding CEO Ted Rollins amid allegations of profligate spending. News reports indicate New York-based Clinton Group Inc. might engage in a proxy fight to take over the company

A letter dated February 16, 2015, from a portfolio manager for Clinton Group, states that executives under Rollins made extensive use of luxury sports cars and private aircraft. Clinton Group has developed a partnership with Campus Evolution Villages (CEV) in an effort to reshuffle the management team and get Campus Crest on a profitable path.

The wild spending under Rollins came as his ex wife, Sherry Carroll Rollins, and their two daughters were forced to periodically live off food stamps in Birmingham. That's because of a grossly unlawful divorce decree issued in Shelby County by Circuit Judge Al Crowson. The judgment was wildly one-sided in Ted Rollins' favor, especially when you consider that Sherry Rollins initiated divorce proceedings in Greenville, South Carolina, where the family lived--meaning jurisdiction was established there, and the case could not lawfully be heard in Alabama.

On top of his personal ties to Alabama, Rollins has strong business connections to the state. His corporate law firm is Birmingham-based Bradley Arant, and Campus Crest developed student-housing properties at four state universities (South Alabama, Troy, Auburn, and Jacksonville State). A project at the University of Alabama was canceled when Rollins was ousted last November.

Recent articles in the business press use terms like "blunders" and "loss of credibility" to describe Rollins' performance. But the issues were much uglier than that.

As Rollins convinced Wall Street to heap more than $800 million on his company, we were reporting about his conviction for assault in the brutal 1995 beating of his stepson in Franklin County, North Carolina. (See documents at the end of this post.) We also reported that Rollins had been the subject of a social-services investigation, based on a citizen complaint in North Carolina about possible sexual abuse of the same stepson.

Wall Street was well aware of the messiness in Rollins' personal life. Paula Poskon, an analyst with Robert W. Baird and Company, learned in October 2012 about Rollins' criminal record and the child sexual-abuse allegations. Poskon's reaction to this news? "Oh, my God, I was not aware of any of that. . . . It certainly sounds like I need to do a lot more digging."

Did Poskon do more digging? Apparently not. A few months later, she tried to strong arm me into retracting her statements about Ted Rollins.

Wall Street did not get alarmed, it seems, until Campus Crest Communities took a financial nosedive under Ted Rollins' leadership.

It's unclear if Clinton Group knows, or cares, about the ugliness in Ted Rollins' past. But the investment group clearly is unhappy with the way Rollins conducted his business affairs. From the aforementioned letter, written by senior portfolio manager Joseph A. De Perio:

In forthcoming proxy materials, we will expound in great detail on all the missteps of the Company overseen by the Board of Directors. And we will expose what we see as a lack of leadership and strategy both in the executive suite and at the Board of Directors itself, severely lacking management and board governance and approval processes (as evidenced by questionable site selection and construction practices), weak operating procedures, all of which (and much more) has led to operating results that fall well behind the Company's peers.
The Board of Directors, the majority of which has been in place since the IPO in October 2010 has overseen shareholder value destruction of 43% since the IPO. All the while, the Board has lavished the Company's executives with luxury sports cars (the Maserati and the Tesla are the ones we know about) and excessive use of private aircraft from a related party. In addition, we will raise questions about the other related party insurance transactions between Fortegra and CCG, the low stock ownership of the Board, and lavish corporate spending.

That's tough talk, and De Perio was just getting warmed up. He and his partners clearly plan to take the company in a new direction, one way or another:

We are sending this letter to the incumbent Board of Directors now as we believe a costly and distracting proxy contest should be avoided for the benefit of Campus Crest's shareholders. In our last two proxy contests in which we sought and prevailed in replacing a majority of directors, Stillwater Mining, Inc. and EVINE Live, Inc. (fka ValueVision Media, Inc.), management and incumbent directors spent $4.3 million and $3.5 million, respectively, on defensive and entrenchment endeavors. Our expenditures were a fraction of those amounts, as we were spending our own money and not the shareholders', and the proxy contests ended in decisive votes in favor of Clinton Group's nominees.

We are available if the incumbent Board of Directors would like to have a meaningful discussion, but we continue to ready our proxy materials and shareholder communications. We plan to encourage other shareholders to contact us to find out more about the details of our plans and the expertise of the players involved and will further encourage them to speak their minds to the Company's existing leadership.

We've shown that Ted Rollins tends to create messes in his personal life--the documents below are proof of that. Now we know that he also creates messes in his business life.

It looks like Clinton Group is determined to clean this mess up.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The level of violence that was inflicted on Sureshbhai Patel also was used on me--inside my own home

Sureshbhai Patel
By now, millions of readers around the globe have seen the photo of Sureshbhai Patel in a Huntsville hospital bed, with a spinal injury that an Alabama police officer inflicted.

Like many people, I view the picture with a mixture of anger and disgust. I also look at it and think, "That could have been me."

I've viewed the video of Officer Eric Parker body slamming Patel probably two dozen times, and each time I feel like wincing. That's because law enforcement has used a similar level of violence against me.

According to the words of Shelby County deputy Chris Blevins (see incident report at the end of this post), he threw me to the concrete floor of my garage on October 23, 2013. A more accurate description would be to say that Blevins shoved me as hard as he could--I weigh about 90 pounds more than Patel, but Blevins is significantly bigger than Officer Parker.

Patel was thrown down one time, and I went down three times. He went down on grass, and I went down on concrete. Like Patel, my hands were in a position (trying to protect my face) where I could not use them to break my fall. (Ironically, Patel has been described in several accounts as "elderly," but he's a year younger than I am.)

I did not escape injury--I had cuts, bruises and abrasions up and down my legs, back, and arms. In some cases, I still have the scars--and they probably will always be with me. I now have chronic shoulder pain, which probably started the night of my arrest and got worse from sleeping on metal/iron beds, with almost no cushioning, for five months in jail. (Deputies twisted my arms behind me to apply handcuffs, and Officer Jason Valenti can be heard threatening to break my arms on the video of my arrest. My shoulders are so sore and stiff right now that I struggle to put on a coat.)

How did I manage to not wind up in a hospital bed like Sureshbhai Patel? At the time, I was in fairly good shape for my age, and that probably helped. But mainly, I got lucky because several objects in our garage broke my falls.

First, was a heavy dog pen that belonged to our late miniature schnauzer, Murphy, for whom this blog is named. The pen is solid, to the point that you need to use your shoulder and grunt to move it. Blevins shoved me into it hard enough to move it about three feet. The force left a nasty welt on my back.

On two other occasions, Blevins shoved me into a stack of boxes, which I long had been planning to throw away. This was a case of procrastination paying off because the boxes probably kept my head from hitting the concrete with significant force. Just behind the boxes were a set of free weights, made of solid metal. Had my head hit those . . . well, I might not have survived long enough to make it to a hospital--or to jail.

The video from Huntsville shows that Officer Parker had utter disregard for the well-being of Patel, even though there was zero evidence that the grandfather from India had been involved in a crime. Officer Blevins showed the same disregard for me--and he knew for sure I hadn't committed a crime. Blevins supposedly was acting on a warrant for contempt of court in a civil case, but video of my arrest shows he never told me he had a warrant and never showed a warrant.

Based on courtroom evidence in my "resisting arrest" trial, there was no warrant. And that means my arrest and five-month incarceration essentially were a state-sanctioned kidnapping.

I'm sure Mr. Patel is able to see only a limited number of visitors right now, but I would love to meet him someday. First, I would like to apologize on behalf of my country. I would like to let him know that Alabama has long been a deeply troubled state, even though it has many positive qualities to recommend it. But mostly, I would like to let him know that he isn't alone, that something similar happened to me--and if he and I have the will to stand up against law-enforcement abuse, maybe it will cease someday in the USA.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Are the criminal investigation of Mike Hubbard and my unlawful incarceration somehow connected?

Rob Riley
Many Alabamians probably are still trying to pick their jaws off the floor following reports Friday about evidence in the prosecution of House Speaker Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn). The material includes Hubbard e-mails--many of them to and from former Governor Bob Riley--that spotlight the speaker's financial woes, his whiny demeanor, and his utter disregard for the rights and feelings of others.

A report from John Archibald, of al.com, carried an appropriate headline: "Stunning e-mails paint Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard as desperate for money, favors." The conservative news outlet found Hubbard's words so embarrassing that it followed up with an editorial calling for his resignation. From the editorial: "His own emails show [Hubbard] to be venal and grasping and unconcerned with boundaries between public business and his private interests."

The worst for Hubbard might still be out there. According to the state's response to Hubbard's Motion for a More Definite Statement, it turned over more than 2.5 million pages of documents on February 17, 2015, outlining the case against the speaker. That apparently means the documents made public last Friday are a small sampling of the material gathered against Hubbard. What other embarrassing and illuminating documents might become known at trial?

All of this, plus another recent news article that received relatively little attention, raise the following question: Was my unlawful arrest and incarceration somehow connected to the grand-jury investigation of Hubbard and others in Lee County? Let's follow the evidence that we have so far:

Former Deputy Attorney General Sonny Reagan retained lawyers Rob Riley and Bill Baxley in fall 2013, according to a recent report at Alabama Political Reporter (APR). What else happened in fall 2013? I was arrested and spent five months in the Shelby County Jail on the heels of defamation lawsuits filed by . . . Rob Riley and Bill Baxley.

Is all of this somehow connected? Since I was released on March 26, 2014, several knowledgeable individuals have told me they believe my incarceration was connected to the ongoing grand-jury investigation in Lee County, Alabama. I've never been sure about that, but the new report from APR's Bill Britt shows that Riley, Baxley, and Reagan were joining forces at pretty much the same time of my arrest.

Was my incarceration designed to ensure I was not available to report on news that might come out of Lee County? Were Rob Riley, Bill Baxley, Mike Hubbard, and others concerned that my sources would provide damaging information about the Riley political machine? I'm starting to think the answer might be yes--although I doubt the Lee County probe was the only motivating factor.

We do know this for sure: Rob Riley's lawsuit led directly to my incarceration, and his case bears little or no resemblance to a normal defamation complaint--in fact, it repeatedly seeks remedies that are not sanctioned by law. That strongly suggests an ulterior motive was in play.

How might all of this fit together? Well, it's complicated. Hubbard, the primary target of the Lee County investigation, has been indicted on 23 criminal counts--and Britt reports that Riley long has represented Hubbard. Reagan testified before the grand jury and wound up being forced to resign from the Attorney General's Office following charges that he leaked information to possible targets of the investigation. To whom did he leak the information? We do not know.

But thanks to Britt's reporting, we know Reagan must have smelled trouble brewing for quite some time because he retained Baxley and Riley as far back as fall 2013. Let's follow this curious timeline:

Mike Hubbard
According to published reports, the Lee County grand jury convened in August 2013 and started calling witnesses in October of that year. When was I arrested? That came on October 23, 2013--supposedly because I violated a preliminary injunction in Riley's defamation lawsuit. Never mind that more than 200 years of First Amendment law says such an injunction in a case of alleged defamation represents an unlawful prior restraint. Never mind that even right-wing legal analysts, such as Ken White at the Popehat blog, have written that my arrest was wildly unlawful and contrary to long-settled First Amendment law. Never mind that none of my reporting ever has been found false or defamatory at trial, but I wound up in jail, with a judgment against me, anyway--thanks to retired judge and Riley sycophant Claud Neilson.

We already have pointed to evidence that Riley's lawsuit was not really about defamation. From a post dated October 7, 2014:

Let's consider a few elements of Riley's claim--and contrast them with actual defamation law:

* Riley immediately asked for a temporary restraining order (TRO), followed by a preliminary injunction--A long line of state and U.S. Supreme Court cases show that TRO's and preliminary injunctions are barred as unconstitutional prior restraints in defamation cases. One of the most recent examples is a Virginia case styled Dietz v. Perez, which involved a woman writing a negative review about a construction contractor on a couple of Web forums. The foundational case on the subject is a 1931 U.S. Supreme Court case styled Near v. Minnesota, which was built on roughly 200 years of First Amendment law.

* Riley did not ask for a trial--Longstanding law holds that an injunction in a defamation case is proper only after a full adjudication on the merits, at trial. This principle is spelled out in a 1973 U.S. Supreme Court case styled Pittsburgh Press Co. v. Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations, 413 U.S. 376. It is discussed in more full detail in a 2007 California case styled Balboa Island Village Inn v. Lemen, 156 P.3d 339 (Cal. 2007).

* Riley asked for a judge to rule on the case, not a jury--The law holds that the First Amendment enjoys an exalted place in our democracy, and such cases are to be decided by a jury. To allow bench trials on such matters is to invite censorship by a single judge. Juries are deemed necessary to protect the cherished right to free speech. This principle is perhaps best discussed in Bernard v. Gulf Oil Co., 619 F. 2d 459 (Fifth Circuit, 1980).

Rob Riley sought an unlawful TRO and preliminary injunction, he did not seek a trial, and he did not ask for a jury. All of this violates clear law, and indicates his lawsuit was really about something other than defamation. In fact, his case never even looked like a defamation claim.

The recent APR report tells us that Rob Riley's mind very much was on the Lee County investigation at the time he asked Judge Claud Neilson to order my arrest--a move that has zero support under the law. In essence, Rob Riley asked for me to be kidnapped--and he also asked for my wife to be kidnapped, even though she had nothing to do with my blog at the time.

Why would a major Republican political figure take such desperate and wildly unlawful steps? We don't have a definitive answer, but we do have other questions: Will Alabama Republicans start to drift away from Mike Hubbard in the wake of his embarrassing e-mails? Will Sonny Reagan face criminal charges and possible disbarment for leaking grand-jury information, along with those to whom he leaked?

If we get to that point, the Lee County story will really heat up--and the mask might get pulled off some of the bad actors who have turned Alabama into one of the nation's most corrupt states.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Is an Alabama cover-up under way to wrongly classify the Sureshbhai Patel assault as a misdemeanor?

Sureshbhai Patel
Who made the decision to charge Officer Eric Parker with a misdemeanor in the body-slamming assault on Sureshbhai Patel, a 57-year-old grandfather from India? We have yet to find anyone who wants to take "credit" for the decision--and maybe that's because the decision is wrong.

Under the facts and law of the case, Parker should be charged with a felony. That he isn't suggests someone in authority is trying to protect law enforcement in Madison, Alabama, from even more embarrassment than it's already received because of the Patel incident.

Who might be trying to cover up for Officer Parker? Well, news reports indicate Lt. Terrell Cook, of the Madison Police Department, had something to do with the charge of third-degree assault, a misdemeanor. We contacted Lt. Cook via e-mail to ask if he made the determination that the assault on Patel should be classified as a misdemeanor--and if he didn't, could he refer us to the individual who did? Lt. Cook has not responded to our query.

Meanwhile, al.com seems to be indirectly participating in a cover-up, with assistance from a University of Alabama law professor. That comes in a February 20 article titled "Why wasn't Madison police officer charged more harshly in Indian grandfather assault case? A former judge explains," by Anna Claire Vollers.

There is a slight problem with the article. Vollers chose as her "expert" a former circuit judge and current UA law professor named Joseph Colquitt--and he doesn't know what he's talking about, or he's intentionally trying to mislead the public.

Colquitt proves an adage I've known for some time--if you want to know the actual law in a particular situation, the last person to ask is a judge or former judge.

To be sure, Colquitt does a good job of sounding authoritative, as Vollers writes:

"We aren't dealing with what we think the law should be or ought to be, but what the law is," says Judge Joseph Colquitt, who spent 20 years as an Alabama circuit court judge and is now a law professor at the University of Alabama School of Law where he teaches criminal law, capital litigation, criminal procedure and criminal sentencing.
"You have to analyze the facts you have, and see where those facts could fit amongst the charges."

At this point, Colquitt is on solid footing, and his statement supports what I did in preparing my post (see link in first paragraph) that shows the misdemeanor charge is wrong--under the law, as it is.

Where does the al.com article go wrong? Well, the article is written in a peculiar manner, but it seems to go off track in two ways:

(1) The issue of "serious physical injury"-- Under Alabama law, misdemeanor assault (third degree) applies only in cases involving "physical injury," which can be as minor as a cut, bruise, or abrasion. Patel sustained a spinal injury that required surgery and caused partial paralysis. Based on the most recent reports, his condition is improving, but it's still not clear he will regain full use of all his limbs. Under Alabama law, that easily fits the definition of "serious physical injury"--and that means a third-degree, misdemeanor charge does not fit.

(2) The issue of "intent"-- Colquitt correctly states that a felony assault (second or first degree) requires a showing of intent--and, per Vollers, he states:

"The difference (between second- and third-degree assault) is in the nature of the injuries," said Colquitt. "Assault in the second degree is not only that a person suffered serious physical injury, but it has to be proved that the (perpetrator) intended serious physical injury. That's a little more difficult to prove."

Actually, it's not that difficult to prove in this case, or any other case, under Alabama law. And even if it were, that's not grounds for classifying the Patel case as a misdemeanor. In fact, a third-degree charge automatically is excluded because we are dealing here with a "serious physical injury." Colquitt seems to be violating his earlier statement about dealing with what the law is. At this point, he seems to say we should go with the charge that's easiest to prove, regardless of what the law says.

As for what the law says about intent, it is spelled out in a case styled Wells v. State, 768 So. 2d 412 (Ala. Crim. App., 1999). From the Wells decision:

Intent may be presumed from the use of a deadly weapon, the character of the assault, and other attendant circumstances surrounding the assault . . .

"Further, `"[i]ntent, we know, being a state or condition of the mind, is rarely, if ever, susceptible of direct or positive proof, and must usually be inferred from the facts testified to by witnesses and the circumstances as developed by the evidence."'

Under Alabama law, various body parts, such as hands and fists, can be classified as deadly weapons. (See Hollis v. State, 417 So. 2d 617 (Ala. Crim. App., 1982.) That would seem to be especially true in this case, where Officer Parker apparently was trained in self defense and martial arts.

Intent can be proved in two ways:

(1) Use of a deadly weapon--Parker's hands qualify under the law, and those are what he used to inflict "serious physical injury" upon Patel.

(2) The character of the assault--The video makes it clear that Parker said he was going to "put you on the ground" if any jerking action continued. The video does not show Patel jerking away, but Parker body slammed him head-first to the ground anyway. It can be inferred from those facts that Parker planned in advance to use a violent technique on Patel--and it resulted in "serious physical injury."

Back to our original question--who made the decision to classify the Patel assault as a misdemeanor? A February 17 article at al.com points toward Lt. Terrell Cook:

In the criminal complaint against Parker, Lt. Terrell Cook of the Madison Police Department states there is probable cause for believing that Parker "recklessly caused physical injury" to Patel by slamming him to the ground.

Based on that article, I sent the following e-mail to Lt. Cook

Lt. Cook:

I am a journalist with the Alabama-based blog Legal Schnauzer. Al.com yesterday (2/17/15) quoted you as stating there is "probable cause for believing Parker recklessly caused physical injury" to Mr. Sureshbhai Patel, from India.

Did you make the determination that Officer Parker should be charged with a misdemeanor, as opposed to a felony? If not, do you know who made that determination?

Thank you,

Roger Shuler

If Cook had responded and said he made the decision to charge a misdemeanor, I was going to ask if he was aware of the difference under Alabama law between "physical injury" and "serious physical injury." I also was going to ask if he seriously thought Patel's spinal injury was equivalent to a cut or bruise. Alas, I have not heard back from Lt. Cook.

As for the Anna Claire Vollers article, it's . . . well, it's strange. Prof. Colquitt never actually says the misdemeanor charge is correct; he performs a peculiar dance around the subject and more or less says, "Well, it would be easier to prove the misdemeanor, so that's the way to go."

But that's not what Alabama law says. It says that a misdemeanor charge is proper only in a case resulting in "physical injury." A case involving "serious physical injury," as both Vollers and Colquitt seem to admit is present in the Patel case, must be charged as a felony, either second- or first-degree assault.

On top of that, actual Alabama law makes it clear that intent is not particularly difficult to prove.

The Vollers/Colquitt article mainly serves to muddy the waters on an issue that is not all that complicated--Eric Parker cannot lawfully be charged with a misdemeanor; he left a man with "serious physical injuries," so the charge has to be a felony.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Legal Schnauzer Reaches Another Blogging Milestone By Passing 2 Million Page Views

Our blog recently passed 2 million page views, and that makes us pretty proud of the attention we've brought to a critically important subject--the corruption that permeates our "justice" system.

The system is so broken that even a right-wing news organization like al.com now recognizes it--roughly eight years after we started reporting on the issue.

According to the primary statistics service we use, our official page-view number is at almost 2.24 million, and our number of unique visitors is at almost 1.57 million.

I'm sure there are thousands of blogs with audiences that dwarf ours. Heck, some porn Web sites probably get that many page views in just a few days. But for a blog about a complex, unsexy topic, I would say our numbers are pretty good. This seems like a good time for a big thank you to the many readers who have made us a part of their regular reading habits.

I didn't start keeping track of our traffic for the first four to six months of the blog's existence, so our actual readership numbers are higher than those shown. A second stat service we use has our page views at almost 2.8 million, so maybe I should go with that one. I'm really not sure which is more accurate--but I'm thankful for the numbers, either way.

It's nice to be able to report that in spite of serious obstacles in the past year--including a stint in jail for, get this, practicing journalism--our readership continues to be on the rise. It took us roughly four years to reach one-million page views. The second million came in less than three years.

The blog is now almost 8 years old, and I didn't intend for it to last nearly this long. I thought it might be a side project to pursue for maybe six months to a year. Little did I know just how vast is corruption in U.S. courts, both at the state and federal level, in Alabama and beyond.

I like to think we have made a difference in the fight for justice on U.S. soil. We definitely have drawn attention to serious problems. It's pleasing to know that so many readers have joined us along the way.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Joey Kennedy's firing at al.com seems to signal that Alabama's right-wing media is spinning out of control

Joey Kennedy
(From yellowhammernews.com)
How often does a newspaper fire a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter? I've been a professional journalist for 35-plus years, and I've never heard of it happening. Heck, it would be like a major-league baseball team trading its MVP--and getting nothing in return.

As nonsensical as it sounds, al.com/The Birmingham News pulled off the unusual feat by ushering reporter Joey Kennedy out the door recently. Veronica Kennedy, Joey's wife, broke the news on her Facebook page and said he received no severance pay, just a final paycheck and notice that his insurance would end on February 28.

Joey Kennedy had come to focus his reporting on animal-welfare issues, and about a month ago, he reported on a change in the organization that would operate animal control for Jefferson County. The comments section on that article suggest the issue had become emotional and contentious, with major disagreement about the best way to approach animal control in the area. Did Joey Kennedy get caught in the crossfire? Did his age make him vulnerable at a company that is struggling to stay afloat in an ever-changing digital environment?

We do not have a clear answer to those questions, so we are left to ask, "What on earth did Joey Kennedy do, or not do, to merit termination?" The reasons given, according to Veronica, were that Joey was "too personally involved" in covering his beat and he had engaged in  "threatening" sources. Here is a portion of her Facebook message:

For those of you who haven't heard: My husband, Joey Kennedy, was fired by Alabama Media Group on Thursday for being "too personally involved" in covering his beat and for "threatening" sources. Up until then, the same bosses had been praising him for developing the animal beat so well. He had been with the Birmingham News/AMG almost 34 years. He won a Pulitzer Prize and was in the top three for a Pulitzer two other times. He was named best columnist in the state FIVE times, and he received numerous writing and community service awards, including the Incarnation Award from Beloved Community Church and the Abe Krawchek award from the Greater Birmingham Humane Society Auxiliary.
Yes, he was personally involved in his beat. Any good journalist is. No, he did not threaten anyone. He is a good man and a wonderful husband who loves his wife, animals, and people. I He received no severance. Our health insurance ends on Feb. 28, and he received his last full paycheck yesterday. What a way to reward loyalty.

I didn't know a reporter could be "too personally involved" with his beat. That kind of commitment is what makes great reporters. The line about "threatening" sources is even more curious, and it reminds me of some of the bogus charges UAB management concocted against me when I was "terminated" in May 2008.

Let's see if we have this straight: Joey Kennedy is roughly my age and has effectively interacted with thousands of sources for more than three decades. He has taught English at UAB, and as one of the most high-profile writers at the state's largest newspaper, I'm sure he has been invited to speak before groups all over the metro area, the state, and probably the region.

He successfully manages that terrain for years--but now, all of a sudden, he resorts to "threatening" sources? Why would Joey Kennedy need to "threaten" a source? Specifically, who did he threaten and what did he threaten them with?

Somewhere amid questions of that sort probably lies the real reason that Joey Kennedy got fired. He was known as a rare moderate/liberal voice (maybe the only such voice) at a news outfit dominated by right-wing sensibilities. That might have put a target on his back.

My guess is that Joey Kennedy didn't "threaten" anyone. In the new world of digital media, reporters are encouraged to interact with readers in comment sections, to voice opinions in addition to presenting the facts, to have followers on Facebook and Twitter, and to do it all with a sense of immediacy and urgency. It appears Joey Kennedy was not shy about sharing his opinions--his Pulitzer Prize was for editorial writing--and one would assume that al.com encouraged him to do that. After all, many journalists these days are judged by their number of "hits" and "page views," rather than the quality of their reporting.

Perhaps Kennedy made a statement with which some community figure didn't agree, and the person complained to higher ups about it. Like bad managers everywhere--such as the ones I encountered at UAB--they would rather stab an employee in the back than stand behind him.

Are office politics and age involved in this? I don't know, but I wouldn't be surprised; both definitely were present in my termination at UAB.

Was Joey Kennedy treated with anything that remotely approaches fairness? Well, we learned about three weeks ago that reporter Kyle Whitmire received court documents (from a divorce case styled Brinyark v. Brinyark) that pointed to an extramarital affair involving Republican political candidate John Merrill. Whitmire indicated in a column that he stuck the information in a drawer and never even consulted an editor about it.

Whitmire's actions blew up on al.com when we reported on the Merrill affair, and it became a statewide story. In fact, it became such a major story that Merrill gathered with four al.com journalists for an interview that proved to be a transparent attempt to sweep the controversy out of view--especially now that Merrill is Alabama secretary of state, with his eye on either the governor's office or Richard Shelby's U.S. Senate seat.

(Note: We have received several tips about other "zipper issues" involving John Merrill, beyond the Brinyark case. We are investigating those tips now.)

In his al.com interview, Merrill provided several "explanations" that his own mother probably would not believe. For example, Merrill admitted to having a sexual encounter with Millie Brinyark, as described in her sworn deposition, but claimed she lied about providing him with oral sex. This somehow passed the smell test of all journalists present and made it into print, generating guffaws that probably still haven't died down.

Which brings us back to Joey Kennedy. Four al.com journalists combined on the Merrill case to produce a story that was sophomoric (at best) and embarrassing (at worst). But it appears that all four of those journalists still work at al.com.

As for Kyle Whitmire, he committed an act of journalistic malpractice by hiding the Merrill story, but he still works at al.com. We're not certain of Whitmire's age, but our guess is that he's in his 30s.

Meanwhile, Joey Kennedy's record suggests he has firm opinions, but it's highly unlikely he would do anything to merit termination. He is, however, out the door-- and we're guessing that he's well into his 50s.

Perhaps that's the big story underlying all of this: Age discrimination is alive and well in America's workplaces--and Joey Kennedy might be its most recent victim.

Monday, February 23, 2015

John Archibald and al.com finally seem to understand that we have a problem with corrupt courts and cops

John Archibald
Alabama's largest news organization has become aware that we have a problem with our corrupt justice system. A columnist for al.com has acknowledged that cops and courts abuse everyday citizens on a fairly routine basis. It's taken a while, but perhaps scales are starting to fall from some eyeballs.

I'm pleased to learn that John Archibald is having an awakening on the subject, via a column titled "This country is about to have a throwdown over abusive cops and courts." The piece apparently was inspired by the case of Sureshbhai Patel, the grandfather from India who was body slammed by an Alabama police officer and suffered a spinal injury requiring surgery.

A video of the Patel incident apparently went viral and made international news, causing Archibald and others at the former Birmingham News to sit up and take notice. But they are slightly late to the party, and I know from personal experience they have a history of ignoring court-related corruption--no matter how blatant it might be.

My wife and I have been dealing with corrupt judges and lawyers in Shelby County for 15 years--and I've been reporting on court corruption since starting this blog almost eight years ago. Our experience reached absurd and frightening levels when I was arrested on October 23, 2013, based on a dubious defamation lawsuit filed by Republican political honcho Rob Riley. For good measure, Riley also sought the arrest of my wife, even though she had nothing to do with Legal Schnauzer at the time.

Along the way, we have not been alone. I've written about numerous Alabamians--Sherry Rollins, Mark Hayden, Linda Upton, Angela Drees, Joe Blackburn, Bonnie Cahalane, and others--who have been victimized in Alabama courtrooms.

Where was al.com during all of this? Somewhere around 2004 I visited former editor Tom Scarritt at his office and offered documents and other details about court corruption in Shelby County. Scarritt showed zero interest in the subject and almost laughed me out of his office.

A year or two later, I met with Archibald at a coffee shop in downtown Birmingham. Archibald did listen to what I had to say, he asked some questions, and took some notes--but he never wrote anything about it.

What does Archibald say now, in the wake of the Patel case? This is from his most recent column:

I've been asked a lot lately, in the wake of the gay marriage debate, what the next great civil or human rights battleground will be. And I think this is it.

Justice. And all that means.

It is the use of force by police. It is the fairness of justice for the rich and the poor alike. The battle is simmering now, in places like Ferguson and Madison, and more quietly in courts like those in Childersburg and Clanton, where the smallest of traffic offenses can lead to jail time for those who cannot pay immediately.

What does this mean for all of us? Archibald provides perspective:

It is shaping up to be our next big fight. Which is sad, because we shouldn't have to fight at all.

For this is--as it must be--a nation of laws. For rich and for poor, for black and white and brown, for those who set out to do society harm, and for those with badges and guns--and gavels--who harm it in the name of protection. And revenue.

And law and order.

Are Archibald and Co. serious about taking on injustice? Here is one way we can tell: We've shown that, beyond doubt, the charge against Officer Eric Parker in the Patel case is incorrect--it's a misdemeanor, but the law calls for it to be a felony. Will al.com look into that? We'll see.

That is just the beginning. I would be glad to get with Archibald or another reporter and provide details about Judge Al Crowson's corrupt actions in the Sherry Rollins case (Shelby County), Judge Robert Vance Jr.'s actions in the Mark Hayden case (Jefferson County), Judge Sibley Reynolds'  actions in the Bonnie Cahalane case (Chilton County), and Judge Gary Pate's actions in the Linda Upton case (Jefferson County). And that doesn't even count my own experience of being the only journalist to be arrested in the western hemisphere in 2013, contrary to more than 200 years of First Amendment law.

Are you serious about injustice, Mr. Archibald? If you are, dive right in with the rest of us. You might be amazed at the kind of historic difference you can make.

The water is murky, and the undertow is nasty, but we've been swimming against the tide for a long time--and we're still here. You are more than welcome to join us.

Susan Lindauer and I go deep beneath the surface on the political prosecution of Alabama's Don Siegelman

Susan Lindauer
I was the guest Saturday for a live discussion of the Don Siegelman case at Covert Report with Susan Lindauer on truthfrequencyradio.com.

We discussed the overwhelming evidence of corruption that led to the former Alabama governor's conviction, along with former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy. We also discussed Siegelman's pending appeal before the U.S. Eleventh Circuit in Atlanta, focusing on federal prosecutor Leura Canary and her apparent failure to step aside from a case in which she and husband Bill Canary (head of the Business Council of Alabama) stood to gain financially.

The two-hour interview probably is the most detailed examination of the Siegelman case to hit the airwaves in several years. It shines light on the role that compromised federal judges played in criminalizing standard political behavior.

First up is trial judge Mark Fuller, whose company (Colorado-based Doss Aviation) benefited from millions of taxpayer dollars during the U.S. government's case against Siegelman--and yet, Fuller never recused himself. Here is a portion of what we reported about Fuller's conflicts of interest in May 2009, based on a report by Andrew Kreig at Huffington Post:

Recent additional research by the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University found that Doss Aviation has been awarded more than $300 million in federal awards since Fuller began presiding over the Siegelman case in 2005. The scope of Doss Aviation's work is illustrated by the company's website, http://www.dossaviation.com/. Among other things, it displays a photo of Doss Aviation refueling the presidential plane Air Force One as part of its extensive refueling work for the Air Force. The website also describes the company's vital role in training Air Force pilots, and in manufacturing uniforms for federal military and civilian employees.

Kreig's reporting also shined light on the major role that Missouri attorney Paul Benton Weeks played in exposing Fuller's corrupt actions involving Doss Aviation:

Weeks put his evidence into a comprehensive filing to Fuller on July 25, 2003. The filing alleged "clear evidence of criminal misconduct" by Fuller both before and after he became a federal judge. Weeks wrote, "The evidence of criminal wrongdoing identified in this affidavit implicates lying and perjury; criminal conspiracy and criminal attempt to defraud the Retirement System of Alabama (RSA) of approximately $330,000; and, misuse of the office of district attorney and federal judge in furtherance of a criminal conspiracy and criminal attempt to defraud. . . . "
According to Weeks's statement, the problem was Fuller's cozy arrangement with his state staff that enabled him to lead Doss Aviation in Colorado Springs while also drawing a full-time salary as state district attorney in Alabama. Weeks suggested that the pay raise and pension fight for the investigator were, in effect, hush money.

We also discussed U.S. Judge Bill Pryor, who started the Siegelman investigation while serving as Alabama attorney general and apparently was rewarded by the George W. Bush administration with a plum, lifetime appointment on the Eleventh Circuit. Who was Pryor's campaign manager when he ran for statewide office in Alabama? Why, it was none other than Karl Rove, also known as "Bush's Brain." Jill Simpson, an Alabama lawyer and former GOP operative, provided sworn testimony before Congress that Rove had pushed the Public Integrity Section of the U.S. Department of Justice to prosecute Siegelman.

Bill Pryor
Despite our lengthy discussion, Lindauer and I did not get a chance to discuss Pryor's ties to 1990s gay pornography and its role in reportedly turning him into a fixer for Rovian interests on cases before the Eleventh Circuit, covering Alabama, Georgia, and Florida.

We will have more soon at Legal Schnauzer about the nude, gay-porn photos of Pryor, and their origins with a mysterious gentleman named Ernie. Several readers from the LGBT community have contacted us with background information about Ernie and the Pryor photos, and we are compiling posts on that subject now.

Meanwhile, you can listen to the Lindauer interview by clicking on the link below:

Roger Shuler interview about Don Siegelman case at Covert Report with Susan Lindauer

Friday, February 20, 2015

Will it "play in Peoria?" For Legal Schnauzer, mainstream sensibilities seem to say the answer is yes

Billy Dennis, "The Peoria Pundit"
Peoria, Illinois might be the most mainstream place in the U.S. Peoria long has been seen as the prototypical American city, with the kind of representative demographics and heartland sensibilities that make it an ideal test market for new products and ideas.

Some reports indicate other American cities have passed Peoria as a test-market site. But the phrase "Will it play in Peoria?" dates to the vaudeville era, and it remains well known today.

With that as a backdrop, we were pleased to learn recently that Legal Schnauzer apparently "plays in Peoria." A blog called The Peoria Pundit calls LS "the best citizen journalism site out there."

"And it’s good," the Pundit says, "even though they’ve done their best to silence him with jail. That’s right. If you blog about the legal system in Alabama, they will lock your ass up."

The Pundit is Billy Dennis, a veteran newspaperman who describes himself as "a liberal with some libertarian tendencies."

Dennis has the kind of feisty temperament that Schnauzer readers should find endearing. "If you don't like that, you can kiss (my) red, white and blue butt," Dennis writes. "This blog is the unedited voice of Billy Dennis and is owned entirely by him. Take it or leave it."

I appreciate The Pundit's kind words, and I like his attitude. I think his blog is one worth following, even if you don't know much about Peoria. Maybe that's because there is a little bit of Peoria in all of us.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Stupidity and dishonesty of Alabama cops is on full display for all the world to see--in multiple cases

The stupidity and dishonesty of Alabama police officers is on glaring display in the video that captures the body slamming of Sureshbhai Patel, a grandfather from India who was in the state to help his son and daughter-in-law take care of their newborn son. (See video above.)

Similar stupidity and dishonesty would be on display if a video of my arrest in Shelby County, Alabama, ever is made public. I saw the video during my bench trial for resisting arrest in January 2014. At the time, it was under the control of assistant district attorney Tonya Willingham (tonya.willingham@alabamada.gov or 205-669-3750), and as public property, it still should be in her possession.

Let's consider the Patel video first, and two mind-blowing elements of it jump out at me:

(1) Almost from the moment the officers confront Patel on a sidewalk in Madison, Alabama, it's clear the older gentleman does not speak English. The 10-minute video, from the first police cruiser, shows this. In the first 1:30 of the encounter, an officer says, "I can't understand you, sir," and Patel mentions India and appears to point toward his son's house, a seemingly clear sign that he is not from this country and does not speak English, but has legitimate reasons to be here. Despite that, officers keep badgering Patel and giving instructions in English--acting baffled when he doesn't respond well and tries to quietly walk away. The encounter should have ended there, with no sign of a crime on Patel's part, but that's not what happened.

(2) At about 2:10 on the longer video, Officer Eric Parker tells Patel: "Do not jerk away from me again, or I will put you on the ground. Do you understand?" About four seconds later, Patel does not appear to be moving and certainly is not jerking. But Parker grabs him by the back of the neck, trips him, and thrusts him forward to violently land on his head.

(3) After all of this, the cops still don't seem to get it. "He don't speak a lick of English," one cop says. "I don't know what the problem is," another says. (See 3:26 video at the top of this post.) After the officers have almost broken Patel's neck by jamming his head into the ground, they seem amazed that he can't walk. "Stand up, stand up," one of them says. "You can walk," says another.

Let's consider a few elements from my encounter with Shelby County officer Chris Blevins:

(1) In his incident report, Blevins states that he has two warrants for contempt of court in his vehicle. But the video shows that they stayed in his vehicle, and he never showed them to me or mentioned that he had them. (See incident report at the end of this post.) He reports walking inside our garage to tap on the trunk of our car--all without showing he had any legal authority to be there or verbally stating why he was there. Despite that, Blevins apparently was surprised when I got out of my vehicle and, in his words, "began yelling for me to get out of his house." Gee, can't imagine why I would do that. An armed stranger, who has shown he has no legal grounds to be there, is walking right into my house--even after being told to get out. Why would that concern me?

(2) Blevins admits he made the initial physical contact after I put my right hand in my right front pocket. Apparently, he thought I was reaching for an assault weapon. (News flash: I was putting my car keys in my pocket, where they always go when I get home.) Blevins also noted that I pushed a button to close the garage door behind us. I don't remember doing that, but I do remember thinking, "Don't close the door because you want this guy out of here." It's possible I reflexively pushed the button because I've been doing it that way when I've come home for 25 years.

(3) Blevins then writes, "I told Mr. Shuler that I had a warrant for his arrest," but this is a lie--and the video proves it. He never mentions an arrest, his apparent purpose for being there, until after I've been knocked to a concrete floor three times and maced in the face.

(4) On the video, Blevins can be heard repeatedly saying, "Don't fight me, don't fight me" as he is shoving me around. But according to Blevins own words, I wasn't fighting him--it was the other way around. The only physical act that Blevins describes of me is putting my arms in front of me--an effort to try to protect my face and glasses from his flailing arms.

(5) Blevins admits throwing me through boxes, to the floor, three times. Never does he say I took any offensive action against him, other than raising my arms in front of my face.

(6) At my resisting-arrest trial, before District Judge Ron Jackson, prosecutor Willingham was ordered to turn over copies of any warrants as evidence. Her reply? "Your Honor, we don't have any." And she didn't ask for a recess, so that she could go find the warrants in her office, which is in the same building. As of now, it's a matter of court record that no warrant existed for my arrest. And that raises a whole bunch of disturbing questions under a landmark U.S. Supreme Court that we will be discussing in upcoming posts.

My entire arrest was captured on video, although it has some flaws. Blevins' vehicle was parked at about a 45-degree angle to our garage, so when we go inside the garage and the door closes, the dash cam loses sight of us and mostly shows our backyard. Audio, however picks up the whole thing--and that shows that Blevins entered our home without showing, or saying he had, a warrant. Blevins' own words, show that he initiated physical contact, and I never lashed out at him; I never cursed or threatened him, and I never tried to run away. Also, after Blevins and I exit the garage, Officer Jason Valenti can be heard threatening to break my arms.

The video should be made public.

Meanwhile, how in the world did I get charged with resisting arrest from all of this? Even conservative legal analysts, such as Ken White at Popehat blog, have said the preliminary injunction against me was prohibited under the First Amendment, and that means my arrest for allegedly violating the injunction was unlawful. On top of that, I contested service in the lawsuit--I did not ignore the court's order, as has been widely reported--and I'm aware of no hearing at which proper service was established. Without that, the court did not even have jurisdiction over me.

Maybe that's why no warrant has turned up. Perhaps no one wanted to sign a warrant for a citizen over whom the court had no jurisdiction.

Popehat is based in Los Angeles, and over all that distance, attorney White smelled something funny about my conviction for resisting arrest. He wrote:

It's not clear from the reporting how the prosecution proved the elements of the offense. I'm not talking about my standard skepticism of police claims that a suspect improperly resisted. I'm talking about proving that the arrest was lawful in the first place.

Under Alabama law resisting arrest is an attempt to prevent a lawful arrest. Resisting an unlawful arrest is not, as I understand Alabama law, a violation of the resisting arrest statute. To make a lawful arrest under Alabama law, a peace officer must have an arrest warrant, or must have probable cause to believe the suspect committed a felony, or must observe the suspect commit a crime. Shuler apparently argued at trial that the arresting officer didn't have a warrant and didn't observe any crime, and that therefore the arrest was not lawful and Shuler could not have committed the crime of resisting arrest. . . . Regrettably the news coverage of the brief bench trial doesn't clarify how the prosecution proved (if it did) that the arrest was lawful in the first place.

Popehat raises a powerful question: Can you be charged with resisting an unlawful arrest?

We will address that question shortly.

(To be continued)

(Note: Below is Officer Chris Blevins' incident report on my arrest. I have not run this previously because I've seen an Alabama Attorney General's opinion that says only the front page of an incident report is public information; the back page, including the narrative, is considered officer work product and therefore is not public. However, as the subject of the arrest, I am entitled to have a copy of the report, so I believe that overrides any work-product privilege that Blevins might assert. Anyone who wants to challenge this is welcome to contact me, but under the circumstances, I believe the following document is public information, especially since it all took place inside my home.)