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Thursday, June 23, 2016

Rebekah Caldwell Mason's financial difficulties and Robert Bentley's boredom with an idyllic life led to an epic scandal, according to new report at GQ magazine

Robert Bentley and Rebekah Caldwell Mason
The scandal enveloping Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley started when one of his sons tried to help a family at his church that was going through rough financial times. File that under "No Good Deed Goes Unpunished."

A toxic psychological brew that helped touch off the scandal began when Gov. Bentley grew bored with a life that probably seemed idyllic to others. File that under "Idleness Is the Devil's Workshop."

Gov. Bentley was susceptible to sexual temptation because . . . well, he married young, was averaging looking (at best), and he was not used to receiving come-ons--especially from former beauty-queen types like Rebekah Caldwell Mason. File that under "You're Never Too Old to Become a Horndog."

Finally, a key moment in the scandal was touched off when Bentley's sons wisely realized that Mason, as their father's mistress, could take steps that would devastate their mother financially. File that under "No Scandal is Complete Without Courtroom Drama."

Those are four of many revelations in an article published yesterday by GQ about a man who has gone from being a mild-mannered dermatologist to being seen as our "horndog governor." That transformation has placed Bentley and Mason at the heart of a federal investigation that could see both of them serving lengthy prison sentences.

The article, by political reporter Jason Zengerle, is titled (appropriately enough) "The Love Song Of Robert Bentley: Alabama's Horndog Governor." Zengerle does not touch much on the legal problems hanging over Bentley and Mason. But he provides a compelling and incisive account of the human weaknesses and foibles that led the governor and his senior advisor into an "inappropriate relationship" of epic proportions.

In shades of the Mike Hubbard scandal, money problems -- or perhaps we should say perceived money problems -- led down a slippery slope. From Zengerle's GQ article:

As political temptresses go, Rebekah Mason was, in some ways, a familiar one. A onetime news anchor, she'd done a tour of minor Alabama media markets before leaving TV to raise her children. In the summer of 2010, she and her husband, a meteorologist, were facing financial difficulties. Their church, First Baptist of Tuscaloosa, had tried to help the young family, praying for God's assistance. When their fellow congregant Robert Bentley had an opening in his campaign press office, one of his sons suggested the nice young woman from church who was struggling to make ends meet, according to a person familiar with the circumstances behind Mason's hiring. After Bentley was elected, he appointed the former TV reporter the governor's communications director, and he even gave her husband, Jon, a $90,000-a-year job as the head of the governor's office of faith-based initiatives. It seemed that everyone's prayers had been answered.

None of this would have happened if Bentley had not decided, fairly late in life, to enter politics. And that would not have happened if he had not grown bored with his life as a respected dermatologist; (seemingly) devoted husband to Dianne; and attentive father to four sons. Writes Zengerle:

According to this friend, Mason was dismayed by how alone the governor felt. Bentley had gone into politics, he once told her, because he could no longer stand the tedium of his dermatology practice and the banality of those Lean Cuisine pizza lunches at home with Dianne. “He wanted more,” this Mason friend told me, “and his family didn't understand that.”

Mason was young, ambitious, and attractive and could present temptations that Bentley did not know how to handle, Mason's friends apparently saw her as the kind of "visionary" strategic planner the governor needed. Those close to Bentley saw Mason as . . . well, maybe the term is "political gold digger."

People close to Bentley, however, told me they viewed Mason's role in starkly different terms. They believe that Mason wormed her way into the governor's good graces through flattery and flirtation. To their minds, Bentley—an awkward man with a heart-rending comb-over who'd married young and come late to his lofty position—was unaccustomed to female attention. And foolishly susceptible to it. When his advisers would caution him about pushing for things the legislature wouldn't support, like a teacher pay raise, Mason would counter in a syrupy voice, “But you're the governor. People love you.”

The story of the Bentley/Mason affair finally became public in late August 2015 when Dianne Bentley filed for divorce to end a 50-year marriage. Legal Schnauzer was the first news outlet to report the affair and name Mason as the governor's mistress. At about the same time, attorney Donald Watkins presented a multi-part series on his Facebook page, describing many of the scandal's inner workings. The mainstream media (MSM) largely ignored the story, although MSM reporters offered a number of attacks on me.

Jason Zengerle
(From gq.com)
Their approach changed when audio tapes emerged of Bentley and Mason having discussions of a "sexual nature" -- proving that Watkins and I had been right all along.

What prompted Dianne Bentley to file for divorce when she did? GQ provides insight:

For the Bentley sons, according to people close to the family, anger now metastasized into a fear that Mason could bring further havoc. (Bentley family members have declined to comment.) Should things sour, they worried Mason could claim she was sexually harassed and file a devastating civil suit. They implored their mother—who they knew still loved their father—to divorce him so that she could at least lay claim to half his assets now. And so, last August, Dianne Bentley filed for divorce. She cited irreconcilable differences. She did not claim infidelity, nor did she make any mention of the incriminating tape.

Bentley might be a sorry excuse for a governor -- and a husband -- but he and Dianne did not raise dummies. The brothers provided shrewd advice that probably ensured their mother would live out a comfortable life. And yes, the possibility of Mason bringing a sexual harassment claim probably was very real.

How badly have the people of Alabama been served in all of this? That might be the most important question of all, and GQ provides insights:

Whatever Mason's motives—to buck up a governor who she felt needed to assert himself or to win the affections of a lovelorn old man—the ego-stroking worked so well that some people were shocked. “When she became his top political adviser, it was like the Hindenburg came down and fell on the Titanic as the Titanic hit the iceberg,” one person who was once close to Bentley told me. “I was watching a woman who didn't know how a bill becomes a law running the state of Alabama.”

Yep, those conservative, "Christian" Republicans sure know how to govern -- when they aren't busy figuring out ways to satisfy their inappropriate urges, on the public dime.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

What do the Mike Hubbard convictions mean? If Bob Riley, Bill Canary, and other kingpins of corruption don't go down, it probably won't mean much

Bob Riley, on the stand at Mike Hubbard trial
(From wiat.com)
The conviction of former Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard might seem like a huge first step toward cleaning up corruption in a Deep South state. But published reports indicate Hubbard is a relatively small fish in the toxic sewer of Alabama politics. In fact, these reports suggest, if the true kingpins of corruption don't go down -- we're talking about Bob Riley, Bill Canary, and their associates -- the Hubbard conviction might not mean a whole lot.

The first report comes from former lobbyist Jarrod Massey, who spent more than three years in prison after pleading guilty in the Alabama bingo trial -- which produced zero guilty verdicts. After Hubbard was found guilty on 12 of 23 counts on June 10, Massey wrote two Facebook posts (see here and here) that showed empathy for Hubbard and his family -- and disgust at a system that has been rigged by figures who are far more powerful (and dangerous) than Hubbard.

This is from Massey, the voice of experience:

First, politicos (especially elected officials) largely suffer from a false sense of entitlement which is fueled to a great degree by people catering to them over an extended period of time. . . . Over time this greatly clouds the somewhat rationale thinking of many politicos. Even though Mike Hubbard heard guilty verdicts yesterday and is dealing with that reality as I write this, his thinking is still likely very fouled up. The other thing is many successful people are very optimistic people....so, someone like Mike is likely still thinking of a better outcome and holding on to that which is likely clouding his judgement even now in the face of many years in a state prison facility.

What should Hubbard do now? Massey has ideas:

Mike should think long and hard about having his attorneys approach the government and see if he can work out an arrangement to come clean and take ownership of his actions at sentencing without the fear of a perjury charge. Mike, if you truly are innocent absolutely fight with your last breath and continue to state your innocence...BUT, if not, he should outright tell the Judge he has no plans to appeal the conviction and that he plans to accept his sentence whatever it may be (within the law and reason of course).

Mike should realize he faces the likelihood of other charges coming his way and as pressure will certainly be put on others to tell what they know about Mike that is a very real possibility. You've got to be pretty thick-headed to have spent the time listening to the testimony you did and not connect a few dots of what is to come for those who interacted with you in the matters brought up at trial alone. You AND YOUR FAMILY are not out of the fire. Right now those you may think of as friends mostly are not your friends. . . .

This is not about Mike "ratting" out others but rather facing the reality of the situation he is in, which he alone appears to have created . . . with a long list of co-conspirators it would pretty solidly appear. Yes, the process is really fouled up but that is not going to change any time soon. We often hear folks talking about keeping your mouth quiet and not implicating others and so forth....take your medicine per se (I've said it many times in the past). It is far from that simple. Once you are in the spot Mike is a lot of this is not even in your hands.

Massey then turns his attention to former governor Bob Riley--and the future of Alabama:

No question, I am not a fan of any sort of Mike Hubbard, nor Bob Riley. This has nothing to do about my previous guilt or innocence. I was guilty and deserved to go to prison. However, I know all too well the extent of time and energy both these men devoted to ensuring my downfall and that of others who were later proven innocent . . . and I know many of the tactics they used to not only ensure they snared me and others, but I know very well who benefited financially and otherwise from my fall . . . my top clients found their way overnight . . . in fact, they were headed in another direction before I was even indicted.....mostly into the firm of Hubbard's and Riley's closest lobbying and consulting ally at the time. It will not be by me, but one day a book or some true telling of the period between 2008-2010/2012 will come about. As with most things like this it will be years later when people are more secure in their stages of life. Much of Alabama changed in 2010 with Riley and Hubbard's prevention of a measure coming before the people of Alabama that would have allowed the people of Alabama to decide an issue. THERE WAS SO MUCH MORE THAN JUST BINGO occurring in 2010! It was not so much about the issue of electronic bingo but more so about how the door was about to be opened to a totally new source of political influence. Yes, I realize I am being a bit cryptic here, but this is all I am really comfortable saying at this point in my own effort to rebuild my life. . . .

Then, Massey gets to the heart of the matter -- Alabama will continue to be a cesspool as long as Riley Inc. remains intact:

[The Hubbard conviction] was a win for justice in our state. However, it will only be a token win unless Bob Riley is required to go before a similar process and have a jury of peers review his dealings in similar detail and whereby Riley has to decide whether to tell the truth or risk perjury himself. Motorcycle crash.....unbelievable that worked? If I had tried that one just imagine....they would have had the U.S. Marshalls hauling my supposedly mangled body to the nearest video camera for questioning.

Other than perhaps child molesters and animal abusers, I despise hypocrites most of all. . . . There are more rocks to turn over before enough have been turned over to find all the Hubbard and Riley accomplices. This said, those who typically go after Riley in particular don't usually fare well. It will take strong men of character to do just that. I am prayerful we have some who have the stomach and strength of character for the work.

The second report comes from Joe Miller, a faculty member at Columbus State University who wrote a five-part series on Alabama scandals for The New Republic. Miller's last installment is titled "Beyond Mike Hubbard: How Deep Does Corruption in Alabama Go?" In it, the author points a finger directly at Bill Canary, portraying him as a cowardly and slippery character who is ethically challenged to his core. Writes Miller:

Midway through former Alabama Speaker Mike Hubbard’s corruption trial, the state’s most powerful man was hiding in an empty corridor of the Lee County courthouse. Another long day of courtroom drama had come and gone, and the TV news crews had set up their cameras outside the main entrance to catch the defendant and his co-stars as they emerged. But tucked into a nook that used to house public phones stood Billy Canary, a former White House staffer for George H.W. Bush, a longtime friend of Karl Rove, and president and CEO of the mighty Business Council of Alabama (BCA). “I want to wait until the media is gone,” he said to his lawyer.

Bill Canary (right) and prosecutor Matt Hart
(From alreporter.com)
 Canary was named in one of the 23 felony counts against Hubbard, of which the former speaker was found guilty of twelve on June 10. The charge alleged that Canary, a registered lobbyist, had given Hubbard a thing of value, which according to Alabama law is illegal for both the receiver and the giver—a law that Hubbard spearheaded in his first move as speaker in 2010. In other words, though it was Hubbard who would ultimately stand up for the verdict, he wasn’t the only one on trial. With the grand jury still empaneled in Lee County, all of the people named in Hubbard’s indictments—nationally connected political operatives like Canary, and some of Alabama’s wealthiest men—are at risk of prosecution.

Canary, it seems, managed to neatly sidestep most of the fallout from the Hubbard trial -- as did Bob Riley. How long will their good fortune last? Writes Miller:

The members of the jury were in deliberations for a little less than seven hours. Their 12 guilty verdicts were for three different schemes: voting on legislation benefiting American Pharmacies Cooperative, Inc., a registered principal with which Hubbard had a consulting contract; using state resources to do work for, and lobbying state officials on behalf of, Bobby Abrams, owner of CV Holdings, who was paying the speaker $10,000 a month; and receiving contracts and investments from principals, including Canary’s boss, Will Brooke, and Hubbard’s longtime friend, Jimmy Rane.

As for Canary—who was instrumental in the schemes that took the speaker down and now threaten to ensnare four top leaders in the very business community for which the BCA advocates—the charge in which he was named came back not guilty. (Same for former Governor Riley.)

It was friendship and stinginess that came through for Alabama’s most powerful man. Unlike Rane and Brooke, Canary never gave Hubbard anything of real value. Under cross-examination, he said of the former speaker, “I love him like a brother.” The two pals had even gone to a ZZ Top concert together, Canary testified, adding sheepishly: “I’m embarrassed to admit that.”

Why would Canary be embarrassed to attend a ZZ Top concert? The concert undoubtedly was more wholesome than many of Canary's other activities. Writes Miller:

Now Canary, who didn’t have the courage to face the cameras after his day in court, is free to craft the BCA’s annual “Blueprint for Success,” and continue lobbying for the pro-business agenda that has made Alabama one of the worst-run states in the union. And his “brother” is out on $160,000 bond, awaiting his sentencing hearing scheduled for July 8.

This series began with a question: “Is Mike Hubbard the most corrupt politician in America?”

Three weeks of trial and twelve guilty verdicts later, the answer is no.

He’s not even the most corrupt figure in the state.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Are Birmingham law firms -- especially Maynard Cooper Gale -- angling to tackle Mike Hubbard's appeal on convictions related to Alabama ethics law?

Mike Hubbard
Of the many questions raised by the conviction of former Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard on ethics-law violations, this might be one of the most interesting: Who will handle Hubbard's appeal? (A related question: Will the matter go to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals or directly to the Alabama Supreme Court?)

The obvious answer to the primary question is Bill Baxley and his Birmingham-based law firm. After all, they represented Hubbard at trial and should be well acquainted with issues that might be raised on appeal. The Baxley firm, however, produced a poor result for Hubbard the first time around. According to one report, court insiders rated defense attorney Lance Bell's closing as the "most bizarre and amateurish" they had ever witnessed.

I can think of at least two other Birmingham firms who might want in on the Hubbard appellate action -- one is Bradley Arant and the other is Maynard Cooper Gale. In fact, one of those firms already has produced written material that indicates it's ready to jump into the game.

Bradley Arant might be a fairly obvious choice for Hubbard. It's a right-wing, pro-business firm with longstanding ties to former governor Bob Riley and his Riley Inc. political machine, of which Hubbard is a prominent member. Kevin C. Newsom, chair of the firm's appellate group, reportedly has an exceptionally close relationship with U.S. District Judge William Pryor. It was Pryor, of course, who largely ushered in the Riley governorship by refusing to allow a recount after votes for Democratic incumbent Don Siegelman had disappeared overnight in heavily Republican Baldwin County.

Kevin C. Newsom
(From bradley.com)
As for Maynard Cooper Gale (MCG) the firm already has produced a blog post titled "The Hubbard Verdict: Some Initial Thoughts on What Businesses Need to Know." What is the purpose of the blog post? The headline suggests it is designed to counsel MCG's business clients (and potential business clients) about possible lessons from the Hubbard verdict -- and that might be the post's one and only purpose.

But it also has a tone of, "We think the jury got it wrong, and here are key points we could use to get the verdict overturned and ensure Mike Hubbard's freedom." In fact, the post highlights five points, with brief explanations, that could form the foundation of Hubbard's appeal. Here they are:

(1) The prosecution and jury broadly interpreted the term "principal"

"In the Hubbard matter, two of the counts on which the Speaker was convicted (Counts 16 and 23) involved the receipt of a “thing of value” from an individual described in the indictment as a board member of a trade association. According to the prosecution, therefore, a board member of an association that employs lobbyists is a principal, and is therefore prohibited from providing a thing of value to a public official. Given the conviction on these counts, the jury seems to have agreed with this interpretation. If the verdict stands, the meaning of principal would apparently be much broader than many believed prior to the Hubbard trial and places many businesses and associations at unknown risk if they employ lobbyists."

(2) The prosecution and jury interpreted the phrase "thing of value" broadly, and included intangible items such as advice and introductions.

"In the Hubbard matter, Count 23 alleged that a board member of a trade association provided “assistance with obtaining new clients . . . and/or financial advice” to the Speaker. Essentially, the charge alleged that the board member assisted the Speaker with an analysis of the Speaker’s business, and advice as to how to revive that business. Further, the Count alleged that the board member helped find possible investors in the Speaker’s company and may have provided introductions to those potential investors. The “thing of value” provided in Count 23 was therefore intangible, and not a gift, a sum of money, a trip, or a junket. Instead, it was something that—at least arguably—had no resale or intrinsic value. From the perspective of interaction with public officials and public employees, this creates the risk that non-monetary assistance such as advice will be considered a “thing of value.” If it is provided by a principal or lobbyist, it may create criminal liability.

(3) Though a “friendship” exception exists in the Act, the jury did not always accept the defense’s arguments based on it.

Throughout the Hubbard trial, the defense elicited testimony from those alleged to have provided things of value to the Speaker that they were friends with the Speaker, and that this friendship was what had motivated them, rather than the Speaker’s role in Alabama government. The jury appears to have accepted that defense in certain instances, as it acquitted the Speaker on numerous counts involving the receipt of advice or assistance from some people. However, the jury rejected the defense on other counts, particularly on that [involving] a person who had known and considered the Speaker a friend for 14 years before Speaker Hubbard ever ran for office.

A fairly strong argument could—and likely will—be made on appeal that the standard set forth in the statute may be too vague to impose criminal liability.

(4) The definition of a legislative "conflict of interest" is broader than the language of the Act itself.

Drayton Nabers
(From maynardcooper.com)
"In Count 5 of the indictment, Speaker Hubbard was charged with having acted under a conflict of interest when he voted for a General Fund budget that included language that would have benefited a business for which he was acting as a consultant. Section 36-25-5(b) of the Act prohibits a legislator from taking action on a measure when he knows or should have known that he has a “conflict of interest”. A conflict for a legislator is defined in Section 36-25-5(f), which states that conflict of interest exists when a legislator “has a substantial financial interest by reason of ownership of, control of, or the exercise of power over any interest greater than five percent of the value of any . . . business entity of any kind”. This conflict language was adopted by the Legislature following an Alabama Supreme Court case which held the same, and has been in place since the 1990s. However, it is undisputed that Speaker Hubbard did not have a “substantial financial interest” in the company at issue as defined under section 5(f). Instead, he simply had a contract with that company, under which he was paid a monthly fee. In other words, he was not even an employee. Despite these facts, the jury returned a guilty verdict on this count."

(5) Written consultation with the Ethics Commission is more important than ever.

Speaker Hubbard was acquitted on several counts for activity about which he had specifically met with the Ethics Commission’s staff and had received a letter indicating he was permitted to undertake. In contrast, the Speaker was convicted for conducting very similar activity for other entities in situations that he did not have written pre-clearance. It appears that the different verdicts on these similar counts may have been based [on] the existence of the letter authorizing the Speaker’s employment and activities.

What does this sound like to you? To me, it sounds like the lawyers of Maynard Cooper Gale believe Hubbard has some substantial issues to raise on appeal--and they are just the lawyers to do it.

Will that prove to be true? It's too early to tell, but Drayton Nabers, former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, is "of counsel" at MCG. Who appointed Nabers as chief justice? Why, it was none other than then Governor Bob Riley, who had to fill the vacancy in 2003 when Roy Moore was removed from office for his insistence on keeping a Ten Commandments monument in the courthouse. Nabers served for three years, until Democrat Sue Bell Cobb beat him in a major 2006 upset.

Nabers clearly is a member of Riley Inc., and if Hubbard still is making the mistake of taking advice from the Riley clan, Nabers' law firm could wind up at the heart of Hubbard's appeal.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Amid reports that Gov. Robert Bentley's mental health is cracking, we have new evidence that he is out of touch with reality--as feds' hammer is about to fall

Robert Bentley
Gov. Robert Bentley's mental health appears to be cracking under the weight of a federal investigation into apparently rampant corruption in his administration. (See here and here.) Now, we have new evidence that Bentley, in fact, is out of touch with reality. And if an Alabama legal expert's account is correct about the deluge of criminal charges that likely will be leveled against the governor in the coming weeks, Bentley's mental health probably will not improve anytime soon.

The latest evidence of Bentley's thin grasp on reality comes in an al.com article last week titled "Gov. Robert Bentley: People of Alabama 'not interested in impeachment.' In case citizens failed to grasp that message the first time, Bentley repeated it at a ribbon-cutting this morning. To claim Alabamians don't care about the possible impeachment of their governor is nutty in itself. But Bentley does not stop there. Consider this from the al.com piece:

"We're going to be very cooperative with the legislature," Bentley said. "We have nothing to hide. We have no charges against us at all. We have nothing to hide. The truth always has a sound. And I can tell you, we tell the truth and we've done nothing wrong. We'll work with them and it's really not a problem. They are trying to feel their way through this process so we'll let them do that."

The truth always has a sound? Has the governor been listening to his collection of Grateful Dead records? More importantly, Bentley portrays himself as an honorable guy who tells the truth--when we have indisputable evidence that he and the truth have a fractured relationship, at best.

In December 2015, Bentley told al.com reporter Chuck Dean (has he gone into a witness-protection program?) that the two citizen journalists -- attorney Donald Watkins and yours truly -- who broke the story of the governor's affair with advisor Rebekah Caldwell Mason got it wrong. Bentley declared "the rumors were not true," that "people on blogs" had "crossed the line," that the bloggers were "just ridiculous," and he did not know "how anyone could believe them."

In March of this year, audiotapes surfaced of Bentley speaking rapturously about fondling Mason's breasts and exploring her nether regions. Hmmm . . . it seems the "bloggers" weren't so "ridiculous" after all. Mason promptly stepped down, and new reports suggest another batch of tapes are out there, much more graphic than the first ones.

So Bentley claims to be a truth teller, despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary. What would a truth teller have done when former First Lady Diane Bentley took a walk on the beach and set up a cell phone to capture Bentley and Mason engaged in "dirty talk?" Well, here's what a really truthful guy would have said when Mrs. Bentley returned from her walk: "Hey honey, guess what. I just got off the phone with my mistress, Rebekah--you know, the one who is young enough to be our daughter--and we had the best time talking about those special moments when I fondled her breasts and caressed her . . . well, you know, down there. I told her that no 50-year marriage to an old crone like you could compare to the thrill of taking in her lustrous young flesh. Just wanted to keep you posted because I am one truth-tellin' guy."

The Alabama House Judiciary Committee began impeachment proceedings against Bentley last week. But Watkins, who surely is one of the most skilled criminal-defense and civil-rights lawyers Alabama ever has produced, says impeachment is relatively minor compared to the roaring freight train that is bearing down on Bentley and his colleagues. Writes Watkins, in a Facebook post titled "Bentley's indictment more important than his impeachment":

I am not worried about Governor Robert Bentley's impeachment. His indictment on racketeering and public corruption charges is coming soon. The only real question is who will help him make his sky-high bail. I think Bentley is a flight risk and should be denied bail. He will be "perp walked" out of the governor's office since he will not leave on his own.

The number of criminal charges against Bentley is expected to establish a record for a federal racketeering case. I can't wait for Bentley's post-indictment press conference to see which public officials stand by Bentley's side to proclaim his innocence.

Ouch, it hurts just to read that.  But as you can tell from the video below, taken last week at a ceremonial groundbreaking in Huntsville, the guv seems to have no clue about what likely awaits him:

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Former Stanford University swimmer Brock Turner was convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman, but he's expected to spend less time behind bars in California than I did for blogging in Alabama

Brock Turner
(From theguardian.com)
A former Stanford University swimmer is expected to spend less time behind bars for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman in California than I did for blogging in Alabama.

If that paragraph sounds beyond belief to you . . . well, that's how it sounds to me, too. But every word of it is true. It might be the most blatant sign yet that our court system is a dysfunctional mess, one that will require citizen oversight--and perhaps a bunch of federal prosecutions--to clean up.

Brock Turner, 20, was convicted on three felony charges in March and sentenced earlier this month to six months in county jail. Turner was arrested on January 18, 2015, after two students saw him on top of a woman behind a dumpster at about 1 a.m., near the Kappa Alpha fraternity on the Stanford campus. How brazen were Turner's actions? According to news reports, he had to be forced off his victim, then chased down and detained by passers-by until police arrived.

Charges against Turner originally included rape, but he was convicted on three felony counts--(1) Assault with intent to commit rape of an intoxicated woman; (2) Sexually penetrating an intoxicated person with a foreign object; and (3) Sexually penetrating an unconscious person with a foreign object.

Here is how The Guardian described the incident:

Turner, who is from Dayton, Ohio, was arrested on the Palo Alto campus on 18 January 2015 after two Stanford graduate students spotted him lying on top of the victim outside of a Kappa Alpha party behind a dumpster. When officers arrived, the woman, who is not a Stanford student, was “completely unresponsive” and partially clothed, with a blood-alcohol level three times the legal limit, according to police.

The two witnesses who were biking past that evening said they saw Turner “thrusting” on top of the motionless woman and that they intervened and held him until police showed up.

Turner, who had a blood-alcohol level that was twice the legal limit, testified in court that he could walk and talk at the time and acknowledged that the victim was “very drunk”. He claimed that he did not intend to rape the woman and that the encounter was consensual.

The victim, who gave emotional testimony during the trial, regained consciousness at a hospital more than three hours after the assault and told police she had no memory of the attack.

 According to Alabama attorney Donald Watkins, writing on his Facebook page, California law calls for a minimum sentence of two years on each of the three counts. This apparently is why prosecutors asked for a sentence of six years. Judge Aaron Persky, of Santa Clara County Superior Court, ignored the request and the law, sentencing Turner to six months.

Multiple news outlets have reported that Turner is expected to spend only three months behind bars. US News reports that Turner is expected to be out of jail by September.

My mugshot after being arrested for blogging in Alabama.
The swollen eye is courtesy of Shelby County deputies, who
pummeled me inside my own home (including use of pepper
spray) without showing a warrant or stating
why they were there.
Now, let's consider what happened to me in fall of 2013, in Alabama. GOP operative Rob Riley and lobbyist Liberty Duke filed a lawsuit against me, claiming certain Legal Schnauzer posts about them were false and defamatory. They sought a preliminary injunction, which has been prohibited in defamation cases as a "prior restraint" by more than 200 years of First Amendment law. I was going to challenge the suit on that issue, but first, I moved to quash service because neither my wife, Carol (who was sued even though she had nothing to do with the blog at the time) nor I had ever been lawfully served. In fact, an attorney's review of the sealed filed showed that no summons had been issued in the case at the time Riley/Duke sought to have me held in civil contempt for failure to appear at a hearing. Never mind that people generally do not appear when they never have been summoned to appear.

I was waiting for a ruling on the Motion to Quash, when Shelby County deputy Chris Blevins entered our home (the basement/garage), beating me up and dousing me with pepper spray while never showing a warrant and only stating his reason for being there after I had already been brutalized. I was hauled to jail, where I stayed for five months, until Carol was able to remove certain posts--even though they never had been found at trial to be false or defamatory. In fact, there was no trial, and there was no jury trial, as required by long-held defamation law.

I still can remember having inmates ask me, "What are you in for?" and seeing them double over in laughter when I said, "I was arrested for blogging." After dabbing their eyes from laughter, they usually said, "So you're the blogging guy. I heard about you. I didn't think you looked like you belonged in here."

Was I kidding when I gave that answer to such queries? Absolutely not. Riley and Duke's own actions--seeking an unlawful preliminary injunction, never asking for a trial, never asking for a jury--indicate they knew they had no defamation case. And as a matter of law, even a kangaroo court's actions showed my reporting to be neither false nor defamatory.

But I was in jail from October 23, 2013 to March 26, 2014--becoming the only journalist in the Western Hemisphere to be incarcerated during that time period. In fact, I'm the first U.S. journalist to be jailed since 2006, and I'm apparently the only one in U.S. history to be jailed because of a preliminary injunction in a defamation case.

So Brock Turner likely gets three months for sexually assaulting a woman; Roger Shuler gets more than five months for writing a blog--one that has never proven to be anything but accurate.

Is it any wonder the public might be losing faith in a court system that wastes tax dollars in huge sums--and doesn't come close to dispensing justice?

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

More indictments expected from Mike Hubbard investigation, with former Deputy AG Sonny Reagan and "Yella Fella" Jimmy Rane among likely targets

Sonny Reagan (right) and former Gov. Bob Riley
More indictments from the Mike Hubbard investigation are expected, starting perhaps with former Deputy Attorney General Sonny Reagan, according to a new report from Bill Britt at the Alabama Political Reporter (APR). Other possible targets are several prominent businessmen, including "Yella Fella" Jimmy Rane, who were shown at trial to have given a "thing of value" to Hubbard.

Hubbard was convicted last Friday on 12 counts of ethics-law violations that largely involved such transactions. The same code section that forbids public officials or employees from taking such gifts, also prohibits "lobbyists, subordinates of lobbyists, or principals" from offering such gifts.

That could spell trouble for Tim Hamrick (American Pharmacy Cooperative Inc.), Michael Humphrey (Edgenuity), Will Brooke (Business Council of Alabama), Rob Burton (Hoar Construction), Jimmy Rane (Great Southern Wood), and James Holbrook (Sterne Agee), among others.

Perhaps the key unanswered question: How close will any future indictments get to key figures in Riley Inc., the political machine that seemingly is built around worship of former Gov. Bob Riley?

Why might the spotlight shine first on Reagan. He was forced to resign in December 2014 after Attorney General Luther Strange found he had leaked secret grand-jury information to political associates. Evidence released before the Hubbard trial started suggests Bob Riley, former first son Rob Riley, Hubbard attorney Bill Baxley, and Hubbard himself were among those who received Reagan's information.

Writes Britt:

There is a very real possibility, that former Deputy Attorney General, Henry T. “Sonny” Reagan, will be indicted, due to his alleged role in trying to hinder the investigation into the crimes of former Speaker of the House, Mike Hubbard. Hubbard has been found guilty of twelve felony counts of public corruption, Reagan has been accused of participating in a scheme to thwart the Attorney General’s Special Prosecution Unit, from ever bringing Hubbard to justice. . . .

It is believed Hubbard employed overlapping attorneys to gather information under attorney/client privilege. As this publication reported in April 2015, Hubbard used, “a matrix of overlapping attorneys seems to have allowed a free flow of secret information between Hubbard and individuals who have been named as material witnesses in the Hubbard indictments.” Court documents showed individuals who shared counsel with ties to Hubbard were Will Brooke, Jimmy Rane, Bob Riley and Minda Riley Campbell. Four of the seven individuals named in the Hubbard indictments shared attorneys.

According to court filings, when Brooke appeared before the Lee County Grand Jury he was accompanied by his attorney, “Mark White – the same attorney representing Hubbard. Similarly, Jim Pratt, another attorney representing Hubbard, accompanied Jimmy Rane during his appearance before the Grand Jury. Also, Hubbard’s attorney, Rob Riley, represents both Bob Riley and Minda Riley Campbell, and accompanied both of them to grand jury.”

Yella Fella Jimmy Rane
(From yellafella.com)
 In September 2014, the Alabama Political Reporter revealed that Reagan unsuccessfully tried to quash his subpoena to testify before the Lee County Grand Jury.

How far might new indictments reach? Britt provides clues:
Lead Prosecutor in the Hubbard case, Matt Hart, made it clear to former State Sen. Steve French during his testimony that he had broken his immunity with the Attorney General’s Office. . . .

Others who may be targeted could be APCI lobbyists Bill Ely and Ferrell Patrick. Former State Health Officer and current CEO of the Alabama Hospital Association, Dr. Don Williamson, could also face a perjury charge. Hart accused him of significantly changing his testimony during the Hubbard trial from what he had sworn to before the Lee County Special Grand Jury that indicted Hubbard.

The Lee County Special Grand Jury is still empaneled, which would seem to indicate more indictments are coming.

As for Riley Inc. (RI), it's hard to imagine that a serious inquiry into Sonny Reagan's misdeeds would not land close to the RI doorstep. Consider these words from our March 24, 2015, post titled "Mike Hubbard, and Bob and Rob Riley, received leaked grand-jury information as early as Dec. 2012":

Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard; former Governor Bob Riley; and Riley's son, Birmingham attorney Rob Riley, received leaked information related to the Lee County grand jury beginning in at least December 2012, according to court documents released yesterday.

E-mails between Hubbard and Bob Riley, included in the court documents, make it clear former Deputy Attorney General Sonny Reagan was the source of the leaks. Reagan was forced to resign from the AG's office in December 2014 amid allegations that he had shared secret grand-jury information with targets of the investigation.

Documents also show that the grand jury filed a subpoena seeking to question Rob Riley. His lawyer, William Athanas of the Birmingham firm Waller Landsen Dortch and Davis, threatened to file a motion to quash the subpoena, and Rob Riley apparently has managed to escape testifying so far.

We proceeded to raise the following question, which remains pertinent today, perhaps more than ever before:

The actions of Rob Riley, Bob Riley, Hubbard, and Reagan involve attempts to obstruct the Lee County grand jury. Could this lead to criminal charges--perhaps under the state statute for obstructing governmental operations? Since the federal wires were involved via e-mails, could that lead to federal obstruction of justice charges?

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Corrupt state judges helped create an environment where Mike Hubbard and his Riley Inc. comrades felt free to use public office for personal enrichment

Josh Moon
(From montgomeryadvertiser.com)
Corrupt state judges helped create the environment that led to the conviction of Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard on 12 counts of ethics-law violations, writes a columnist for one of the state's mainstream media (MSM) outlets.

As we showed yesterday, the state's Web press--especially Bill Britt at Alabama Political Reporter (APR)--did most of the heavy lifting on the journalism that helped lead to Hubbard's downfall. But members of the MSM also made significant contributions, especially Josh Moon of the Montgomery Advertiser. John Archibald, of al.com, raised substantive points about the dangers and fears Hubbard is likely to face in prison--assuming his convictions are not overturned on appeal. But Archibald did not go far enough, failing to show how false arrests, false imprisonment, dubious lawsuits, and threats against advertisers have been used in efforts to shut down reporting from the Web press.

Moon provided some of the most insightful post-conviction analysis, with a piece titled "Hubbard conviction not a dark day." Writes Moon:

Friday was an average day in Alabama.

Oh, I know you’ve heard that it was a “dark day,” that former House Speaker, former state Representative and former non-felon Mike Hubbard’s conviction on 12 felony charges in the county where he resides was somehow an additional black mark on a state that’s running out of space for additional black marks.

But the truth is, it wasn’t dark.

Friday was just another day in a state where our politicians continue to give us all the middle finger, as they pilfer taxpayer dollars to pay their friends, their businesses and themselves.

Most don’t do it as blatantly as Hubbard. But most do it. Republican, Democrat, Independent -- the label is unimportant.

Moon showed how compromised legislators "give us the middle finger." And he showed that corrupt state judges helped create the toxic political environment that produced a "leader" like Mike Hubbard. Writes Moon:

[Legislators] accept consulting contracts from businesses they later pass legislation to help. They draw up and push through legislation to help their own businesses and friends. They take dark money from sources so their conflicts and hypocrisy stay hidden from public view.

And it’s not just our legislators.

Our judges are sometimes just as bad, if not worse.

Multiple justices on the Alabama Supreme Court have taken campaign money from corporations and then presided over cases involving those companies. There are campaign functions for judges held at or hosted by law firms, some of which have numerous cases go before that judge.

Every Alabamian should read and remember those words. Much of the state's political corruption flows from back-room deals that are cut in county courthouses. Some of it flows from federal courthouses, populated by judges who are more loyal to their political benefactors than they are to the U.S. Constitution.

As for Archibald, his column titled "Why Hubbard conviction is a really big deal for Alabama," hit close to home for this reporter. Archibald touched on a number of issues, including the unpleasantness that likely awaits Hubbard in an Alabama prison:

So Mike Hubbard, the self-proclaimed architect of the GOP takeover of the Statehouse, the consensus most powerful man in Alabama politics, the standout with his hand out, was convicted on 12 of 23 counts of using his office to fatten his own substantial wallet.

He's to be sentenced in July, and could face two to 20 years in state prison for each count. A state prison, one that get-tough-on-crime legislators have crammed to twice capacity, a state prison where fights are routine and rage simmers. It ain't Club Fed. It's real. Real prison. Real consequence. Real reason to be afraid.

Why do Archibald's words have special resonance with me? I know what it's like to be falsely arrested and incarcerated in Alabama, thanks to Rob Riley and other Mike Hubbard comrades in Riley Inc. I know what it's like to spend five months in an environment "where fights are routine and rage simmers." Archibald leaves out a couple of elements of prison life--despair also simmers there; and theft by inmates (against other inmates) is common. While in the Shelby County Jail, I witnessed a fellow inmate commit suicide by climbing atop two levels of cells and jumping some 27 feet to a concrete floor below, landing head-first about 10 feet away from where I was resting on my bunk.

Steven Ray Dismuke
I doubt I ever will forget the sound of the man's skull cracking on the floor, or the sight of blood flowing from his ears and mouth as his fellow inmates were ushered outside to what passed as our "recreation area." This man was not a nameless inmate to me. His name was Steven Ray Dismuke, and I had spoken with him for roughly two hours the day before about the peculiar circumstances that caused him to land in the Shelby County Jail.

Only after his jump, did I learn he had told other inmates that he suffered from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia and was not receiving treatment for either while in jail. Also, he had been placed in the general inmate population, even though his serious mental-health conditions probably should have placed him in a medical unit that required observation and treatment.

Yes, Mr. Archibald, Mike Hubbard probably will encounter "real reasons to be afraid" in prison. But at least Hubbard was convicted of crimes, by a jury of his peers. While I think you could make a strong argument that Attorney General Luther Strange politically prosecuted Hubbard, the trial itself appears to have been conducted fairly and by the book.

I, on the other hand, wound up being arrested without ever being charged with a crime, much less convicted of one. I never went before a jury, and I still have never seen a warrant that provided any justification for my arrest. Officers on the scene never told me why they were inside my house until after I had been beaten and doused with pepper spray. My arrest has all the appearances of a state-sanctioned kidnapping,  featuring police brutality and gross Fourth Amendment violations.

It all was done, at least on the surface, because I dared to write about a relationship between lobbyist Liberty Duke and Rob Riley, a charter member of Riley Inc.--and apparently one of Mike Hubbard's strongest supporters. But Archibald and al.com never have seen fit to take a serious look at a blatant assault on a free press and the First Amendment. An al.com reporter sought comment from me at various stages in the "proceedings,"  but no one from the staff interviewed me or took a serious look at the flagrantly unlawful rulings of Judge Claud Neilson. Also, I'm not aware of any news outlet examining multiple requests from Riley, Duke, and their lawyers for remedies against me that are not allowed by law.

By the way, I'm not the only journalist to face such threats. Bill Britt, of Alabama Political Reporter (APR), saw his advertising base threatened, and he was hit with a dubious defamation lawsuit by Bryan Taylor, a Riley Inc. member.

Here is a little something I learned while incarcerated, and it might apply to Mike Hubbard. I came to know several inmates who had spent time in both county or municipal jails and in state prisons. Without fail, they all said they preferred to be in state prison. In fact, several inmates checked with jail personnel almost daily in hopes that papers had come for their transfer to state prison.

Why is this? The inmates said that most jails aren't designed to house inmates for a long time. Thus, the food, recreational, and educational opportunities are limited or nonexistent. Prison, however, generally is for those who have been sentenced to at least a year or more, so there tends to be real recreational and educational facilities and higher quality (and quantity) of food.

Several inmates told me the Shelby County Jail was the worst of all worlds. It was built to the specifications of a maximum-security federal prison (because the county wanted to house federal prisoners--and did so for several years). but it still was a jail with almost nothing positive to relieve inmate boredom, frustration, or despair.

So whatever awaits Mike Hubbard, it's likely to be more pleasant than what I've already faced.

Isn't it odd that this assault on a free press has received national and international coverage, but no Alabama mainstream news outlet has taken a serious look? As for Mr. Archibald, he seems concerned that Mike Hubbard might experience fear in prison as a consequence of being found guilty of crimes. Meanwhile, Mr. Archibald and al.com have shown no interest in shining light on the kidnapping of a journalist who had committed no crime--and whose reporting, as a matter of law, has never been shown to be false or defamatory.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Former Speaker Mike Hubbard is the latest political crook to learn the Alabama Web Press can take you down and leave your castle in smoldering ruins

Mike Hubbard, at the Lee County Jail
last Friday night.
(From oanow.com)
Does the Web press matter in Alabama? Ask Mike Hubbard, former Speaker of the House of Representatives. Ask former gubernatorial advisor Rebekah Caldwell Mason. Ask former federal judge Mark Fuller.

All three have been brought down in the past year by stories broken and largely driven by the non-traditional press. Hubbard, convicted last Friday night on 12 of 23 charges that he violated state ethics laws, might be the largest fish the Web press has hooked so far. After all, many considered him the most powerful political figure in the state, the one who led a Republican takeover of the Alabama Legislature for the first time in more than a century. But Hubbard probably will not be the last to take the fall. Governor Robert Bentley and a number of his associates already appear to be forming a line, one that has drawn orchestrated scrutiny from federal investigators.

Alabamians have many lessons to learn from the Hubbard episode, but the main one might be this: If you wait around for the mainstream media (MSM) to break, report, and analyze conservative corruption . . . well, you might have a long wait. Pro-business conservatives--like Hubbard and his friends at Riley Inc.--bought, neutered, or threatened the corporate press a long time ago. That has left it to a small band of intrepid journalists to take the lead via the Internet.

I'm pleased to know that Legal Schnauzer and I are counted among their number. So is attorney Donald Watkins, whose Facebook page should be must reading for all Alabamians who care about public affairs. Watkins and I largely are responsible for exposing and helping to bring down Fuller and Mason--and we are the ones who have caused Bentley to be teetering on the edge of a cliff, in a high wind.

But there is no doubt who did the heavy lifting on the Hubbard story. Watkins presented important reporting and analysis, especially as the case drew closer to trial; he provided an experienced lawyer's insights to the criminal-trial process, and that was an invaluable contribution for those who wished to understand the complex details surrounding a high-profile, white-collar case. You might call me a spear carrier in the Hubbard drama, taking certain key issues and trying to analyze them in a way that would enhance our readers' grasp of corruption that largely was funded on the taxpayers' time--and dime.

The journalistic ringleader of Hubbard's downfall, without question, was Bill Britt and his staff at Alabama Political Reporter (APR). How many Hubbard-related stories did APR produce, many of them containing critical, on-target details that received little or no attention in the MSM? I'm not sure, but it has to be at least several hundred. Would there have even been a Hubbard indictment without APR? I doubt it. Is there a prize for the kind of old-style investigative reporting that makes a difference in citizens' lives? I don't know, but if there is, APR should receive one--stat.

No one knows better than me the dangers that come with practicing real journalism that targets powerful figures who don't much care for being targeted. Riley Inc. thugs ruined my 20-year career as an editor at UAB. I was beaten up and doused with pepper spray inside my own home and then dragged for a five-month stay in the Shelby County Jail--all based on a supposed warrant (for alleged civil contempt, involving no crime) that I've never seen and is prohibited by more than 200 years of First Amendment law. My wife and I saw our home of 25 years stolen out from under us, in a foreclosure that almost certainly was unlawful. And I saw my wife's left arm shattered during an unlawful eviction in Springfield, Missouri, carried out by law-enforcement thugs here who probably have connections to political thugs in Alabama.

Bill Britt and his wife, Susan, know what that kind of thing is like. Hubbard and his associates reportedly went after APR's advertisers. Riley Inc. lackey Bryan Taylor filed a defamation lawsuit against the Britts that was so thin it should have cost Taylor his bar card. Britt has written several times about threats directed at him and his Web site.

But APR refused to be cowed into silence, and Bill Britt provided important insight in a column published today, titled "Guilty: The System Worked." A guilty verdict was not necessary to validate APR's top-notch reporting. But I'm sure it's nice to see all that work lead to a difference the public can see and feel. From Bill Britt's column:

Hubbard’s consuming quest for power, control and riches were his undoing. His wrong doing was on display for all to see, but he, with the aid of the Rileys, Billy Canary and others, wielded such power few dared stand against the machine they had constructed.

From the witness stand in the Lee County Justice Center, the constant refrain was that Hubbard was talented and intelligent. But, intelligence without conscience, and talent without morals, is a toxic elixir that induces the worst forms of arrogance and hubris. Of the hundreds of email exchanges between Hubbard and his enablers, there was never a mention of what would benefit the people of our State. In every instance, it was about how they could use their positions and privilege to reward themselves.

Hubbard said he was a disciple of Bob Riley, the former governor’s daughter, Minda Riley Campbell, said, “Aren’t we all.”

Let' all pause for a moment so we can vomit. Riley's children, Rob and Minda, tend to have that effect on people. That's why we call them Uday and Qusay, in honor of Sadam Hussein's diabolical, evil, and worthless sons. Here's more from Bill Britt:

The “Gospel of Greed” was the scripture most revered by Hubbard and his clan. Riley loved him like a son, but he never helped him, he only used him. Others claimed to love Hubbard like a brother, but it was an affection born out of politics, and politics is most simply explained as who gets what. For Hubbard’s adopted family, it was all about how they could use government for their own personal gain.

The villains in this most sordid of dramas were clearly identified one by one as they took the stand in Hubbard’s defense. The lies, half-truths and failed or altered memories, revealed each witness’s true complicity in Hubbard’s crimes. Will Brooke, and Rob Burton were his friends. That is why they gave him $150,000 for his failing printing business. Yet, Brooke confessed their real motive when he said he didn’t want Hubbard to have to work for a company that might compromise his position as Speaker. But that is exactly what they did. What Brooke should have admitted, at least to himself, was he and his followers at the Business Council of Alabama (BCA) were purchasing the Speaker, so no one else could. Jimmy Rane appeared to be Hubbard’s only true friend, but even his $150,000 was a crime.

And what are we to make of former State Health Officer, Dr. Don Williamson, who lied to protect Hubbard? Why would a man with his sterling reputation surrender it so shamelessly to help Hubbard? Whatever Williamson hoped to gain from his altered testimony, the damage to his reputation and credibility was far greater.

Many reputations have taken a hit in Alabama over recent months; Hubbard, Mason, and Fuller all have fallen since August 1, 2015. It looks like the next 12 months could provide more of the same--and the Web press likely will be leading the way.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Massacre at gay club in Orlando was carried out with an assault rifle and a handgun, reviving memories of our encounter with similar weaponry in Missouri

Assisting the wounded in Orlando.
(From patheos,com)
Last night's massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida--leaving 50 people dead, at least 53 wounded, and now standing as the worst mass shooting in U.S. history--has a roundabout connection to our Legal Schnauzer story. I'm not gay, and I've never lived in Florida, but an experience roughly a year ago gives me a long-distance connection to the victims at the Pulse club. I think I have at least a slight understanding of the terror they must have felt.

My experience of learning about the Pulse shooting probably was like that of many Americans. I saw a bulletin late last night  before turning into bed. I've come so conditioned to reading about mass shootings that I didn't think much about the ramifications. My main thought was something like this: "That's curious that a shooter would target a gay night club. I wonder if this was some kind of protest against U.S. federal-court decisions legalizing gay marriage. Let's hope someone was able to subdue the shooter before he could do too much damage."

Apparently, I was off on all counts. Suspect Omar Mateen had pledged allegiance to ISIS and apparently was disgusted at the sight of two men kissing in Miami recently. The incident is being investigated as an act of domestic terrorism. Unfortunately, I was way off about the damage the shooter was able to do. When I awoke this morning to read updated accounts, I was stunned at the number of casualties, that the shooting had become an act of historic and horrible proportions.

How could one shooter have inflicted so much damage? And then, this passage in a CNN report stopped me cold:

Mateen carried an assault rifle and a pistol into the packed Pulse club about 2 a.m. Friday and started shooting, killing 50 people and wounding at least 53, police said. After a standoff of about three hours, police crashed into the building with an armored vehicle and killed Mateen.

My mind immediately went back to September 9, 2015, when deputies here in Springfield, Missouri (Greene County) conducted an unlawful eviction that resulted in my wife, Carol, having her left arm broken so severely that it required trauma surgery. The eviction was unlawful because we had timely filed an appeal of a trial-court ruling, and under Missouri law, that places an automatic stay on execution of an eviction order.

I had provided notice to every attorney involved in the case--including my brother, David Shuler--and hoped they had the good sense to follow black-letter law. But I was dense to think that would happen.

A swarm of deputies--at least six to 10, including Greene County Sheriff Jim Arnott--burst through the front door of our apartment, and while I was sitting in a chair with my hands folded, I experienced a feeling I never thought would come my way. An officer--we now know his name is Scott Harrison--was pointing an assault rifle right between my eyes. Carol had been trying to look out the peephole in our door to see what the commotion was about, when officers threw open the door and slammed her face first against the wall. I suspect she suffered a concussion then, or later when the officer who broke her arm slammed her to the ground outside.

We've never been sure how many guns were on the scene that day. I was so fixated on the assault rifle pointed at me that I could not pay much attention to anything else, but I'm pretty sure five or six other officers were brandishing handguns. Carol thinks she saw an officer with a second assault weapon once she was handcuffed and taken outside.

Even though I've had an assault rifle pointed at me, I've never been able to imagine the destructive force such a weapon can unleash. That one man using the same kinds of weapons employed against us could kill or wound more than 100 people . . . well, it takes your breath away. It also makes you wonder about the management of a sheriff's office that would allow at least one, and maybe two, assault rifles to be used in an eviction that could not be lawfully carried out in the first place.

In the coming days, we will have the usual rhetoric that spews forth every time we have a mass shooting in this country. President Obama will try to comfort and talk sense to the American people. (See video at the end of this post.) Meanwhile, NRA types will claim the whole thing could have been avoided if several individuals in the gay nightclub had been armed. "Leaders" in our Republican-controlled Congress will do nothing. And within two or three months--maybe less time--we will have another mass shooting, perhaps one that will break Orlando's grisly record.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Schnauzer and I can only wonder what it would have been like if one or two of the deputies last September had an itchy finger--or mistakenly pulled a trigger that would have unleashed a hail of bullets in our direction. I guess we would have looked like Sonny Corleone (James Caan) in the famous toll-bridge scene from The Godfather. (See video below.)

That's a horrifying thought. But we know from first-hand experience that it's part of post-modern American life. We grieve for the victims in Orlando, knowing there will be many more victims to come.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Does the conviction of Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard indicate Southerners are starting to cast a critical eye at self-dealing, "conservative" politicians?

Mike Hubbard holds his head in despair
as he waits to pay bail at the Lee County
Jail last night in Opelika.
(From oanow.com)
For roughly the past 22 years, a disturbing number of conservative politicians in the Deep South have acted as if they could get away with anything. No one embodied that spirit more than Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard.

It's little wonder that Hubbard and others in the GOP took on such arrogance. Since Karl Rove, Bill Canary, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce joined hands to steal . . . I mean, buy . . . the 1994 Alabama chief justice race for Perry Hooper, pro-business forces have taken over state courts across the South--touting "tort reform" as a way to attack large verdicts for plaintiffs, which came to entail "jackpot justice." If you tried to seek justice in federal courts, you would find benches stuffed with Reagan, Bush I, and Bush II appointees.

In short, both state and federal courts were stacked in the GOP's favor. Republican politicos knew they could step way over the boundary into unlawful territory and likely never be investigated, much less prosecuted. If they did somehow get indicted, they probably could lie under oath enough to escape punishment. After all, they were likely to go before GOP judges and majority-white juries who reflexively tend to pull levers for Republicans at election time.

A jury in Lee County, Alabama--with the help of Judge Jakob Walker's stern hand--might have signaled last night that era is starting to crumble by convicting Hubbard on 12 of 23 charges that he violated state ethics laws. The convictions automatically remove Hubbard from office; he was convicted on counts 5-6, 10, 11-14, 16-19, and 23. (See indictment at the end of this post.)

Hubbard took the stand in his own defense, but if he thought he could get away with spinning an elaborate web of lies, the Lee County jury had other ideas. In fact, the last day of testimony might have been the most devastating for Hubbard.

In March 2014, Hubbard had signed a proffer, which is an agreement between prosecutors and an individual about his knowledge of possible crimes. The individual's words are not to be used against him at trial, but if his future testimony contradicts information in the proffer, the prosecution can use that to impeach him.

Hubbard made numerous statements on the stand that differed with what he had agreed to in the proffer. So prosecutor Matt Hart received permission from the court to use the proffer in an effort to impeach Hubbard. Here is how Bill Britt, of Alabama Political Reporter, described part of that process:

The trial began with Lead Prosecutor, Matt Hart, cross examining Hubbard, using a proffer Hubbard signed in March, 2014. The Prosecution was able to impeach Hubbard on several points in his testimony before the court. During the trial, evidence showed Josh Blades had initiated the calls to help Bobby Abrams’ company with a much needed patent, and it was Blades who did most of the work…on State time. However, in 2014, Hubbard told Hart and others in a sworn statement, that only he had made calls concerning the patent.

In his proffer, Hubbard stated that he knew about the language that was inserted in the Medicaid portion of the General Fund Budget, that benefited his client APCI. But, in court this week, he said he didn’t know anything about it.

In short, Hubbard got caught lying under oath about Robert Abrams and his company, CV Holdings, and about a deal that would have given APCI a monopoly on Medicaid prescriptions in Alabama. If you look at the jury verdict, Hubbard was found guilty on Counts 5-6 (regarding APCI) and Counts 11-14 (regarding CV Holdings).

We don't know what went on behind the closed doors of the jury room. But we do know that six of the 12 guilty verdicts came on counts where Hubbard was proven to have lied under oath--either in his proffer or in his testimony before the jury.

Many Republican politicians have risen to power in the South on giant truckloads of horse feces. They claim to be Christian, while their behavior suggests they have never opened a Bible. They claim to be "pro family" while cheating on their spouses. They claim to support the middle class, while their votes almost always favor the business class. They claim to be "strict constructionists," while their actions show zero respect for the rule of law.

Mike Hubbard dumped copious amounts of horse feces in the Lee County Courthouse--and there is little doubt his corporate and political "friends" did also--but jurors from Hubbard's home county were not falling for it.

In the end, Hubbard walked away smelling like manure--while the jurors and Judge Walker helped usher in a scent that smelled (at least a little) like justice might be coming to the South.