Friday, August 31, 2007
Well, that question has been around for a while. It didn't start with Idaho Senator Larry Craig, although the fact he's a "family values" Republican sure makes it fun to discuss the topic now.
Actually, the issue has been the subject of serious academic inquiry. Perhaps the most famous, or infamous, example is Tearoom Trade: Impersonal Sex in Public Sex, a study done in the mid 1960s by Laud Humphreys, a sociology doctoral student at Washington University in St. Louis. Humphreys initiated his research in restrooms at Forest Park, the huge public facility that includes the famous St. Louis Zoo. You can read about the study here, and background about Humphreys is available here.
Some academicians considered Humphreys' research techniques to be improper, and the study became highly controversial. But Humphreys' findings were significant, destroying many stereotypes about gay sex. Fifty-four percent of his subjects were married and living with their wives, self-identifying as heterosexual. Only 14 percent of his subjects corresponded to society's stereotype of homosexuality.
Humphreys' study is available in book form. Don't know that you will find it at Barnes & Noble. But it seems to be available at a number of academic libraries. It's pretty interesting reading and gives you the sense that Humphreys was ahead of his time. His work was done more than 40 years ago, and I'm not aware of any research of similar scope since. Perhaps the controversy scared researchers away.
But the issue is real and far more prevalent than I would have believed before looking into it.
Do you know how you can always tell that it's sweeps week in television land? Your local Action News teams starts doing stories on prostitution, adult movie houses, kiddie porn, etc., right? Americans just can't seem to get enough dirt. Just look at Dateline NBC's "To Catch a Predator" series. They can't churn the episodes out fast enough, and Chris Hansen has become a cultural icon. (Don't you just love that special moment: "I have something I have to tell you. I'm Chris Hansen from Dateline NBC, and we're doing a story on . . .")
I must confess, when Predator comes on, I sit in front of the tube, transfixed. It's better than football. (But not quite as good as basketball.)
Anyway, the issue of seemingly heterosexual men performing homosexual acts with strangers in public places is currently in the news, thanks to Senator Craig and his encounter with an undercover Minnesota policeman in a airport restroom. (By the way, here's an interesting story about the press and how it managed to miss the story of Senator Craig's arrest for three months. Ouch.)
As I noted in my earlier post on this subject, what me now might call the "Larry Craig Issue" actually has some relevance--in a roundabout way--to the legal nightmare we are describing here at Legal Schnauzer.
How, you might ask? Well let's just say that while researching some of the characters and events in our little morality play, I came across some information that led me to think, "Hmmm, maybe I need to check out this issue a little further."
And what did I discover? More on that coming up.
What magic dust does she possess that allowed her to beat Republican Drayton Nabers (a Bob Riley appointee) for the chief justice position in 2006? It's been apparent for a number of years that a hefty number of Alabamians (many of them, I suspect, white and middle to upper class) automatically vote Republican in court races. This trend started in the mid 1990s, with the help of Karl Rove and Bill Canary, and Democrats have been getting killed in judicial races ever since.
And it's a crying shame, because I think Democrats had a number of excellent candidates for appellate-court races in 2006, including Ray Vaughan, of Montgomery, and Jim McFerrin, of Homewood. Anyway, Democrats need to borrow some of Ms. Cobb's magic dust and sprinkle it around, so she can grow some sizable coat tails.
Now, back to my ideas for improving Alabama courts. Ms. Cobb has called for merit appointments for judicial vacancies, nonpartisan races for sitting appeals-court judges, and a ban on PAC money, with no contributions of more than $250. Ms. Cobb's ideas are a good start, but they don't go nearly far enough.
Here is the Legal Schnauzer platform for radical court reform:
* We should have nonpartisan races for all judges, not just appeals-court judges.
* Better still, judges should be appointed, using some type of bipartisan system; they work well in several states. Politics and elections should be taken out of the process all together. Here is a Web site with information about judicial selection processes in the states. Some of them have to be better than what we have in Alabama.
* There should be some level of verified competence that a lawyer has to meet in order to run for judge. Here's a huge myth: Judges are among the most competent and qualified lawyers available. That's not even remotely true. Just look at Shelby County. Judge G. Dan Reeves used to be the court clerk, for crying out loud. I don't know if the man has ever tried a case in his life. (Even if Reeves were honest, which he isn't, he'd be a sorry judge.) Babec, the lowland gorilla at the Birmingham Zoo, probably has stronger judicial credentials than Reeves. Check out this picture of Babec and tell me if you would want to be an evildoer who had to face this manly dude in court. Heck, Birmingham's crime rate would plummet with Babec on the bench. Under our current system, the judges themselves are criminals. Which brings me to my favorite Shelby County judge, J. Michael Joiner. How did this slimeball gain his lofty status? I've been told that Joiner was a mediocrity, at best, as a lawyer. But it seems that half of south Shelby County is related to him. Heck, there's even an area called Joinertown. No wonder he cheats people with impunity; he knows he'll be judge for life, no matter what he does. And from what I can tell, judges in Shelby County have an incredibly narrow world view. Joiner, for example, grew up in Shelby County, went to a private high school and private college (both local), and to my knowledge, has never accomplished a thing outside his own little cocoon. (For good measure, he and his wife, Cathy, send their daughter, Christy, to a private high school, Briarwood Christian, which just so happens to have strong connection to events that led to me being sued. Wonder if that had something to do with Joiner's criminal handling of the lawsuit filed against me? What kind of ethics do they teach at Briarwood Christian or at Joiner's church--The Church at Brook Hills.) Don't know much about Reeves' background, but I'd be shocked if he has any significant life experience outside Shelby County. For these guys, being a judge isn't about justice; it's about lording over the narrow little world they've known all their lives.
* Ms. Cobb should appoint a bipartisan commission, including major regular-citizen involvement, to scrutinize Alabama trial courts. Our trial courts are a cesspool, and too many judges knowingly make unlawful rulings without any fear of reprisal. There's really no need to even address problems with appellate courts until our trial courts are cleaned up.
* All judges, at both the trial and appellate levels, should be required to explain their rulings so that litigants have some idea why a judge ruled the way he did. Currently, at the trial level, a judge can deny or grant any motion--even an extremely important document such as a motion for summary judgment--and not offer any explanation. Doesn't have to cite law or fact or anything to justify the ruling. Zip. Appellate courts can do pretty much the same thing. They can issue a "no-opinion affirmance," which means they uphold the trial-court finding and offer no explanation. Throughout my ordeal in the Alabama court system, I've not had one judge explain a ruling, citing relevant law. They haven't done it because no law exists to support their rulings. Ray Vaughan made changing the "no-opinion affirmance" rule a central part of his campaign for a spot on the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals. Unfortunately, the issue gained no traction with the media or the public, and Mr. Vaughan lost.
Well, looks like we're getting on a roll here. Feels good to get some stuff off my chest, but I'm almost into rant mode. (Feeling a bit like Dr. Cox on Scrubs, but not nearly that funny.)
Let's take a break from this topic. But we will return with more Legal Schnauzer ideas for court reform in a bit.
Sue Bell Cobb, the only Democrat on either the Supreme Court or the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals, spoke to the Birmingham Rotary Club and said Alabama courts need serious reform.
She has called for merit appointments for judicial vacancies and nonpartisan races for sitting appeals-court judges. She also said contributions in some Alabama court campaigns, among the most expensive in the nation, should be limited to $250, and PAC money should be banned.
"People believe judges make their decisions based on campaign contributions," Cobb said. "This is not what we need in the justice system."
Kudos to Cobb for at least attempting to pull the mask off--a little bit--of Alabama's slimy state court system. Her recommendations do not go nearly far enough, but at least they are a start.
The article on Cobb's speech gave an idea of the uphill battle she faces in trying to reform Alabama courts. Reporter Eric Velasco noted that Cobb met a skeptical audience of mostly business leaders and that corporate contributions (at the prompting of Karl Rove and Bill Canary) have helped bankroll Republican control of the state's high court over the past 10 to 12 years.
When Cobb said high-court justices should not be pro-plaintiff, most everyone in the audience seemed to agree. But when she asked if justices should be pro-business, several responded, "Yes."
"I was told I would get that answer," Cobb said.
It's disheartening, but not surprising I guess, that the Birmingham Rotary Club includes a number of ignorant people. But I have a question for the ding dongs in the Rotary crowd? If corrupt Alabama judges cheat regular citizens out of thousands of dollars and send their personal finances into major disarray, how are said citizens supposed to purchase your goods and services? Is it good for your bottom line when law-abiding, middle-class citizens are forced to consider bankruptcy and other unpleasant financial options because of corrupt Alabama judges (and lawyers)? Do you like it when corrupt judges waste your tax dollars by allowing bogus lawsuits filed by political cronies to drag on for 5-6 years, even using our courtrooms for trials on cases that, by law, cannot go to trial?
All of that is going on in Alabama courtrooms, and we will reveal it in detail here at Legal Schnauzer? I hope a few Rotarians will pull their heads out of you-know-where and follow along.
Thursday, August 30, 2007
The story is about the grade-changing investigation at Hoover High School, which of course is famed for its powerhouse football team that was the subject of MTV's Two A Days. The investigation is being led by former U.S. District Judge Sam Pointer and three other lawyers from his firm.
Looks like the final bill for the investigation, including some discounts, will top $80,000.
Then we have this wonderfully naive quote from Andy Craig, superintendent of Hoover schools, who doesn't seem perturbed by the hefty bill. "I still think it's an investment in the integrity of our system."
Craig actually thinks he's likely to get integrity from an operation led by four lawyers? This man obviously hasn't seen lawyers perform up close.
To be fair, I'm sure there are honorable people in the law, and Pointer and his team might be among them. But I'm convinced, from painfully close personal observation, that many lawyers are not trained in getting at the truth--or justice. They are trained to be advocates, and that often means obscuring the truth and grandstanding. Most of all, they are trained to bill. Man, can they bill.
My guess? Nothing of substance will come out of the investigation, and Hoover High will go on happily winning football games. What will Hoover taxpayers get for their money? An expensive whitewash.
First, Horton writes about yesterday's sentencing hearing for former Don Siegelman aide Nick Bailey. The hearing included a statement from Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Feaga, saying that Siegelman and former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy are "reaching out from their jail cells" in an attempt to sway events linked to their case. Feaga told U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller that the activities of Siegelman and Scrushy could constitute obstruction of justice.
Feaga gave no specifics regarding possible obstruction. But Horton has a theory about what might have the prosecutor in a lather. "Might they (Siegelman and Scrushy) actually be cooperating with the House Judiciary Committee and its investigation (into selective prosecution by the Bush justice department)?" Horton writes. "I think the answer to that question is yes, though that's just conjecture. And that must be provoking a severe anxiety attack among Mrs. William Canary (Feaga's boss) and her loyal team."
Horton goes on to note that we are now one month past the deadline for Canary's office to comply with the Judiciary Committee's request for documents. The office has produced nothing evidently. "These are classic acts of obstruction," Horton writes. "So if Mr. Feaga wants to start an obstruction inquiry, he won't have very far to go."
Still on the subject of anxiety, Horton addresses the bizarre editorial in today's Mobile Press-Register. The newspaper actually comes close to praising the performance of disgraced Bush Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, who has drawn heavy doses of bipartisan criticism. The editorial is alternately laughable and frightening, and it gives considerable insight into the "thinking" that goes on at the newspaper (at least among its leaders) that is credited with launching the Siegelman investigation.
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Some of us from the left-of-center world might be having just a little too much fun with this whole issue, raised most recently by the case of U.S. Senator Larry Craig (R-Idaho). But hey, here at Legal Schnauzer, we need a break every now and then from our topic of judicial corruption. And it's hard to beat the fun that can be had from pointing fingers at flaming GOP hypocrites.
Which reminds me: It might seem hard to believe, but my tale of legal woe actually has a connection (in a roundabout way) to the issue of seemingly heterosexual guys playing "Mr. Microphone" with strangers in public places. We'll touch on that next.
This comes in the wake of revelations that U.S. Senator Larry Craig (R-Idaho) has pled guilty to disorderly conduct charges stemming from an incident with an undercover police officer in a restroom at a Minnesota airport.
Wilson hints that future stories could focus on Jeff Gannon and relationships that evidently led him to spend nights at the White House. Gannon, of course, is the gay escort who was planted in the press corps to lob softball questions at President Bush.
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
It appears that Davis and his colleagues will be taking a hard look at the overall issue of selective prosecution by the Bush DOJ. I hope they keep in mind that selective prosecution comes in two varieties.
The first variety, featured in the Don Siegelman case, involves who the DOJ goes after for political reasons. The second variety, featured in the case we will outline here at Legal Schnauzer, involves who the DOJ does not go after for political reasons.
Recall that Siegelman is a former Democratic governor who was prosecuted by a Republican-led Justice Department. What happens when the alleged wrongdoers are Republicans, as the judges in my situation are?
We will address that question, in detail, shortly.
Deceit is one of the key ingredients in hypocrisy. While the Republican Party does not have the market cornered on deceit and hypocrisy, it certainly seems adept at offering up ripe examples of both.
Consider our topic here at Legal Schnauzer--the justice system. Republicans tend to tout their reverence for the rule of law. We will show that the rule of law doesn't mean a thing to certain members of the GOP.
And consider Republicans' claims to be the "values" party. We've had a number of interesting examples of GOP values from the news lately:
* Republican consultant Ralph Gonzalez is part of an apparent double murder-suicide in Florida. Gonzalez had worked in Alabama and listed Attorney General Troy King and state senator Scott Beason as clients. The Alabama GOP had hired Gonzalez to print a flier that accused a Democratic candidate of supporting gay marriage. Initial news reports indicate that a "lover's quarrel" might have been at the heart of the double murder-suicide that left Gonzalez and two other men dead.
* U.S. Senator Larry Craig (R-Idaho) pleads guilty to misdemeanor disorderly conduct charges stemming from his June arrest by an undercover police officer in a men's restroom at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
* Florida State Representative Robert Allen is arrested for soliciting an undercover officer for a sexual act. Earlier this year, Allen cosponsored a public lewdness bill in the Florida House of Representatives. The bill would increase penalties for public "lewdness and indecent exposure."
Makes you wonder how Democrats ever allowed these folks to claim the "values" mantel. And we will go out of our way here at Legal Schnauzer to make you wonder how the GOP ever managed to claim the "rule of law" mantel.
Monday, August 27, 2007
Several journalists have reported on a paper by Auburn University professor James H. Gundlach, analyzing possible electronic manipulation of vote totals in Baldwin County during Alabama's 2002 governor's race. Scott Horton, of Harper's referenced Gundlach's analysis here.
Steve McConnell, a reporter for Gulf Coast Newspapers, included an interview with Gundlach in a recent in-depth article about the Riley-Don Siegelman race of '02.
While Gundlach's work is fairly well known, I'm not sure it is well known that his paper can be read on the Web. The paper is available in PDF format here.
Some highlights of Gundlach's work:
* He says three factors raise suspicions about the returns: (1) An unusually large increase for the 2002 Republican candidate (Riley) over the 1998 GOP candidate (Fob James); (2) The one-third reduction in Siegelman's vote total from the first to the second report; (3) Computerized vote tabulation, which provides no method for producing two different results, save human intervention.
* Gundlach states: "When Baldwin County reported two sets of results, it was clear to me that someone had manipulated the results. There is simply no way that electronic vote counting can produce two sets of results without someone using computer programs in ways that were not intended. In other words, the fact that two sets of results were reported is sufficient evidence in and of itself that the vote tabulation process was compromised."
* Gundlach has a theory as to what happened. "My hypothesis is that someone was moving a little more than 3,000 Baldwin County votes from Siegelman to Riley by calculating a fifth of Siegelman's votes in each voting district, rounding it to a whole number, adding the resulting value to Riley's votes in that district and then subtracting that number from Siegelman's vote. However, instead of subtracting the calculated number, they added it to the vote for Siegelman. This is a common error created by using copy and paste to produce the invisible formulas for cells of spreadsheets. The result was a first report of county vote totals that had percentage distributions close to what was expected but a total vote that was much higher than expected. Once they went back and fixed the procedure so that it performed as they desired, a reasonable total vote and Riley winning the election, the difference between the first and second reporting of Siegelman's vote was twice the number of electronically shifted votes. If what I hypothesized happened, then the total votes for Baldwin County was 27,866 for Riley and 15,283 votes for Siegelman. This would have produced state totals of 669,039 for Riley and 671,652 for Siegelman."
* How could the vote be manipulated? Gundlach offers four scenarios and focuses on one in particular. "The fourth approach, and the one I would take if I were to do it, would be to install an 802.11 card on the tabulating computer, along with enabling software, and use a similarly equipped laptop in a nearby room to modify the data files immediately after they were read from the cartridges. This would simply require access to the tabulating computer at some time before the election to install the card and after the election to remove the card."
I'm sure some would like to call Gundlach a crank, or worse. But the main raises some serious issues, and I know of no one in authority who has taken a look at the key points he makes.
Friday, August 24, 2007
In our previous post, I noted that I had sent an e-mail to Governor Riley after he had appeared on Bill O'Reilly's Fox television show in November 2005 and encouraged anyone to let him know of problems they had encountered in Alabama's justice system. This came after Riley had called for a boycott of Aruba over concerns about the handling of the investigation into the disappearance of Natalee Holloway, an Alabama resident.
I took Riley up on his offer, and through an e-mail form on the governor's official Web site, I let him know about repeated instances of unlawful rulings I had witnessed by Republican judges in Alabama, starting in Shelby County trial courts and going up to the Alabama Supreme Court. Riley sent me a letter, saying he had referred my message to Ken Wallis, his chief legal advisor. I said in my post that I had never heard anything from Wallis.
In another recent post, I noted that a lawyer in Alabama is required to report wrongdoing by other lawyers or judges.
Rule 8.3 of the Alabama Rules of Professional Conduct states that when a lawyer possesses knowledge of professional misconduct, he must report it to an appropriate authority or tribunal. The rule states that self-regulation of the legal profession requires an attorney to initiate investigation when he knows of a violation, and a lawyer is obliged to report every violation of the rules. The failure to report a violation, the rule states, is itself a professional offense.
I filed my complaint on the governor's Web site form and was not able to keep a copy. But my memory is that I provided considerable detail about the wrongs I had witnessed. Governor Riley stated in his response that he had forwarded my information to Mr. Wallis. And yet, almost two years after the filing of my complaint, I have no indication that Mr. Wallis took any action.
Does Governor Riley expect his chief legal advisor to live up to the ethical rules of the legal profession? Would the Alabama State Bar hold the governor's aide accountable for failing to report professional misconduct?
Thursday, August 23, 2007
I have a personal experience with Riley's situational ethics, as they pertain to judicial corruption. In November 2005, when the Natalee Holloway disappearance story was at its peak, Riley called for a travel boycott of Aruba, citing that country's poor handling of the Holloway case. Riley went on Bill O'Reilly's television show to promote the boycott. (Never mind that, statistically speaking, Holloway was far safer in Aruba than she ever was in her native Alabama.)
As Riley attacked the Aruban justice system, O'Reilly raised the issue of Alabama's justice system. (Even O'Reilly saw hypocrisy looming on the horizon.) I don't have a transcript of the show, so I'm paraphrasing here, but Riley said, in so many words: "If anyone has a problem with Alabama's justice system, please contact me. I want to know about it." The implication clearly was that if someone had information about wrongdoing by officials in Alabama's justice system, Riley would try to do something about it--politics be damned.
Well, I took Riley up on his offer. I went to the governor's Web site and sent a rather lengthy missive about my experience with the corrupt practices of Republican judges in Alabama courts, which at the time were headed by Chief Justice Drayton Nabers, a Riley appointee.
My letter was on one of those Web forms that, to my knowledge, don't allow you to keep a copy. But I'm pretty sure I helpfully pointed out to the governor that the source of the corruption I had experienced was one Bill Swatek, an Alabama attorney who is the father of Dax Swatek, who has served as a campaign consultant and advisor for Riley himself.
I believe I also pointed out (helpfully, I'm sure) that it appeared that a corrupt attorney such as Bill Swatek could get away with figurative murder in Alabama courtrooms if he has family ties to the Riley administration.
Finally, I believe I pointed out that said Republican judges had repeatedly made unlawful rulings and used the U.S. mails in furtherance of a fraudulent scheme, constituting a federal crime, honest services mail fraud, under 18 U.S. Code 1346.
A few weeks went by before a letter (dated December 7, 2005) arrived from Riley's office. It assured me that the governor was concerned about the issues raised in my e-mail, and it had been forwarded to his chief legal advisor, Ken Wallis.
Have I ever heard anything from Mr. Wallis? Well, let's just say it's a good thing I didn't decide to hold my breath while waiting for him to take action.
So let's review: Former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman, a Democrat, now sits in a federal prison largely because a jury found that he had improperly granted favors to people who had special ties to him. (Twenty of the 32 charges against Siegelman? Honest services mail fraud.)
Meanwhile, Dax Swatek's daddy (who has a lengthy history of ethical violations with the Alabama State Bar) gets away with all sorts of shenanigans (including mail fraud) in Alabama courts, and Riley doesn't seem to bat an eye.
Is that because Dax Swatek raises money and otherwise assists Riley? By ignoring Bill Swatek's criminal behavior, is Bob Riley improperly granting a favor to someone with special ties to the governor?
And we're supposed to believe that Riley has raised the levels of ethical government in Alabama? We're supposed to believe that Alabama's justice system is better than the one in Aruba? We're supposed to buy the letter from Alabama Republican Party chair Mike Hubbard about the crystal-clean nature of the Riley administration? (Has Hubbard ever heard of Jack Abramoff, Michael Scanlon, and Dan Gans, and their roles in Riley's election in 2002? Maybe Hubbard needs to catch up on his reading.)
So how does Alabama's justice system compare to the one in Aruba? Based on my experience, I'd say Alabama has a ways to go to catch up to Afghanistan.
Does that concern Bob Riley? If it does, I've certainly seen no sign of it.
Riley likes to tout the high ethical standards of his administration in Alabama. The "fair and balanced" editorial page of The Wall Street Journal has fallen for Teflon Bob's act.
Not surprisingly, Alabama Republican Party Chairman Mike Hubbard touts the Riley record on ethics.
Heck, even U.S. Rep. Artur Davis, a Democrat, seems to have fallen under TB's spell. (After reading this, I have little confidence that Davis will do much of anything to help Congress get to the bottom of the U.S. Attorneys scandal; hope I'm wrong about that.)
Does Teflon Bob's record on ethics stand up to the slightest hint of scrutiny? Let's take a look.
First, he recently killed an ethics bill that received unanimous, bipartisan support in the Alabama Legislature. The bill would have broadened the definition of a lobbyist under Alabama law and included those who seek to influence action on state contracts that are not competitively bid. Charges flew that Riley killed the bill in order to protect his children, who are rumored to lobby him on behalf of entities seeking no-bid contracts.
Does that call Teflon Bob's ethics into question? If that doesn't, consider this: Where does Riley stand on the issue of judicial corruption, an issue near and dear to my heart? And what kind of action does Riley take when said judicial corruption has connections to a member of his inner circle?
We will answer those questions next.
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
* Looks like playing along with the government in the Don Siegelman prosecution will pay off handsomely for Nick Bailey. Siegelman's conviction on corruption charges was based almost entirely on the testimony of Bailey, a former Siegelman aide who entered into a cooperation agreement with federal prosecutors after pleading guilty to two charges. Now federal prosecutors are asking that Bailey not serve any prison time, asking a judge to reduce his sentence from 18 months in prison to 12 months of home confinement. And you've got to love this quote from Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Feaga: "Bailey was a foot soldier, and we want foot soldiers to know we won't shoot them if they shell it down on the big dogs." Couldn't Feaga try just a little harder to sound more like a redneck? And comparing a confessed federal criminal to a foot soldier? Shows a lot of respect for our foot soldiers in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.
* Speaking of Bailey, his testimony evidently didn't impress the jury in the corruption trial of Dr. Phillip Bobo. Prosecutors tied Bobo to Siegelman's administration, but jurors acquitted Bobo on all charges this week. The Decatur Daily opines that the Bobo acquittal should provide Congress with more ammunition to look into the Siegelman case for possible selective prosecution.
* Special prosecutors in Birmingham have charged Mississippi attorney Richard Scruggs with contempt of court in a case involving State Farm insurance coverage and post-Hurricane Katrina claims. Scruggs was charged by special prosecutors because Alice Martin, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, declined to prosecute him. Scruggs is the brother-in-law of U.S. Senator Trent Lott (R-MS), and Martin's refusal to prosecute appeared to be a case of selective prosecution, based on Scruggs' ties to GOP royalty.
* Finally, Alabama Governor Bob Riley says he expects the state school board to approve proposals removing lawmakers (mostly Democrats) from two-year college jobs. Alabama's two-year college system has been the subject of an ongoing corruption investigation, and Riley appointee Bradley Byrne has proposed that lawmakers be prohibited from using paid leave to attend legislative sessions. Critics charge that Byrne's proposals are designed to hurt Democrats and others who support the Alabama Education Association. Riley said he wants to end favoritism and preferential treatment given to lawmakers. Is Riley opposed to favoritism and preferential treatment across the board, or only when it seems to involve mostly Democrats? We will examine that subject next.
After all, his trusted aide Dax Swatek (whose father Bill Swatek filed the fraudulent lawsuit that is at the heart of our Legal Schnauzer story) has been connected to an outfit called the Coalition to Protect Our Children.
Isn't it comforting to know that Teflon Bob and the Daxter are on the front line, protecting our women, chillun, and families? Makes you wonder how our country ever survived 200-plus years before our heroes came along.
So it's interesting to note that both the U.S. Family Network and the Coalition to Protect Our Children have ties to Jack Abramoff, perhaps the most disgraced lobbyist in Washington history. (And that's saying something!)
Teflon Bob wrote a letter on U.S. Family Network stationery, urging God-fearing Alabamians to oppose an effort by the Poarch Creek Indians to bring casino gambling to the state. Of course, Teflon Bob didn't tell his Alabama readers that the U.S. Family Network was essentially a front group for Jack Abramoff, who wanted Alabama gambling dollars to keep going to his clients, the Choctaw Indians in neighboring Mississippi.
And Scott Horton of Harper's reported that the Daxter's Coalition to Protect Our Children was a phony outfit designed to promote Channel One in Alabama school's. And Channel One was a client of whom? Why, Jack Abramoff, of course.
Are Teflon Bob and the Daxter really interested in protecting women, chillun, and families? Or are they interested mainly in money and power and doing pretty much whatever it takes to obtain both?
And here's a better question: Will the Alabama press ever awake from its slumber long enough to notice the connections Bob Riley and Dax Swatek have to one of the most scandalous figures in U.S. political history?
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
A reasonable question. Here is my reasonable answer:
Most anything is possible in the world of journalism, but the scenario noted above is unlikely. I have almost 30 years of experience in journalism, so I have some knowledge of how news outfits work. Most reporters I'm aware of are not in the business of conducting serious investigations and then writing nothing about them, particularly on a story of this nature.
Remember, two political opponents--Roy Moore and Lucy Baxley--made public charges that Bob Riley's Huntsville deal was improper. Moore, a former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, used legal terminology--quid pro quo--to describe it.
If a reporter investigated the biotech deal and found nothing wrong, that in itself is a significant story. It would say that Roy Moore and Lucy Baxley were making unfounded charges against Bob Riley. At the height of an election season, I can't imagine any news organization not running that story.
One other thing to keep in mind: On a story of this nature, which involves fairly complex and somewhat vague areas of law, a reporter's opinion should not be the final word on whether a transaction was lawful. Even the best of investigative reporters might not be experts on federal bribery law. To fully understand that area of law would require not only studying the statute, but also delving into voluminous case law and law-review articles.
Reporters, by their nature, usually are folks who make "history in a hurry." They work on tight deadlines and often find it difficult to do the kind of background work that probably would be necessary to fully understand federal bribery law. And besides, it's not a reporter's job to determine whether a transaction is lawful or not. That's up to law enforcement professionals.
(Note: I think the apparent "mystery" of the law is one reason the mainstream press has shown little or no interest in my case. Trying to understand the law surrounding certain events can seem a daunting task, one many reporters and editors would just as soon avoid. And when it involves judicial corruption, as it does in my case, the reporters/editors definitely would rather avoid that. After all, judges have the power to ruin people and organizations. Actually, a lot of law--such as that in my case--is not nearly as mysterious as it may seem. But reporters, and the public, still find the law in general to be an intimidating realm, and that's just the way judges and lawyers like it, especially the corrupt ones. They are like cockroaches; they enjoy the dark and shun the light.)
As for law enforcement, that brings us right back to the issue of selective prosecution. Historically, Americans (rightly or wrongly) have had the notion that the U.S. Justice Department makes an honest effort to prosecute the law in an impartial manner. We now have a growing body of evidence that indicates the Bush administration has violated this public trust--prosecuting cases, or not prosecuting cases, based on politics.
If I seem to take this subject personally, that's because it is personal for me. I've seen Republican state judges, and at least one lawyer, repeatedly commit federal crimes (mail fraud). I've reported it to the Bush justice department, and nothing has been done. Even worse, Alice Martin, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, has taken affirmative steps to sweep the matter under the rug.
I will be writing about all of this in detail over the next month or so. My blog might seem like a partisan endeavor, but that's only because my particular case involves wrongdoing by Republican judges. I have little doubt that judicial corruption is a bipartisan problem. Anyone who cares about matters of right and wrong, should be outraged by judges who betray their oath to uphold the law. And they also should be outraged by prosecutors who picked and choose cases based on political factors.
Finally, it's impossible to overstate the importance of this general issue. As the French novelist Honore de Balzac said, "To distrust the judiciary marks the beginning of the end of society."
Monday, August 20, 2007
While Siegelman is pointing one finger at Rove, John Caylor of Insider Magazine is pointing a different kind of finger in Rove's direction. Caylor writes that he believes Rove now is the target of a criminal investigation, and that was behind Rove's recent announcement that he was stepping down from the Bush White House at the end of August.
Gee, and we all thought Rove wanted to spend more time with his family.
Incurious would be a good term to describe coverage of Bob Riley, Siegelman's Republican successor, from the outset.
Let's consider some quesitons that could be asked about the Huntsville biotech deal that Riley engineered. Riley announced a state incentive package of $50 million (twice the state support UAB received for its Shelby Biomedical Research Building) and later received a generous campaign contribution from backers of the Huntsville project.
We must keep in mind 18 U.S. Code 666, which holds that bribery occurs when an agent of a State "corruptly solicits or demands for the benefit of any person, or accepts or agrees to accept, anything of value from any person, intending to be influenced or rewarded in connection with any business, transaction, or series of transactions of such organization, government, or agency involving any thing of value of $5,000 or more."
So let's ponder some questions that could be asked about the Riley deal:
* When did Riley and the Huntsville people first meet?
* Are there visitor logs to Riley's office, or offices of the Huntsville people, that would show when meetings took place and who was present?
* Were there letters between the parties regarding the deal?
* Were there telephone calls between the parties regarding the deal?
* Were there e-mails between the parties regarding the deal?
* What was the substance of any and all communications between the parties regarding the deal?
Has anyone in the press, or law enforcement, asked these kinds of questions? Eddie Curran, of the Mobile Press-Register, evidently went through volumes of documents while investigating Siegelman. (And that's fine, that's what reporters are supposed to do.) But has any reporter asked to look at any documents related to Riley's deal in Huntsville?
I'm raising issues related to bribery here because that's really what the Siegelman trial came down to. The government threw 33 counts at Siegelman, involving a number of transactions, but the jury convicted him on only seven counts. And six of those seven were connected to the $500,000 contribution from Richard Scrushy to Siegelman's lottery campaign. Twenty of the counts against Siegelman were for honest services mail fraud, and the jury rejected all but one of those charges. Siegelman was convicted on one count related to Lanny Young, the only one that did not involve the Scrushy contribution.
As for the Alabama press, consider the type of reporting it can do when it sets its mind to it. A good example came in Sunday's Birmingham News in the latest piece by Pulitzer-Prize winning report Brett Blackledge on the two-year colleges scandal in Alabama. The story clearly shows that Blackledge dug into records and asked hard questions.
So why has neither Blackledge, nor any other reporter in Alabama that we are aware of, done this kind of reporting on the Riley biotech deal in Huntsville?
Very incurious indeed
"A time is coming, and coming soon, when we as a nation must begin thinking and talking about and planning to repair all that the Bush administration has broken or bent or twisted," Galloway writes. "A time when we must begin shoveling out a stable full to the roof with what Harry Truman called horse manure, or at least that's what he called it when Miss Bess was in earshot.
"No need to search that pile for a diamond ring or a little red sports car. There's nothing there but horse manure."
Galloway is the author of We Were Soldiers Once . . . and Young, and his take on Rove is well worth reading.
I hope that Galloway is right, that our country will soon come to grips with the mess left behind on the national stage by Rove and Co. But I'm not too sure that will happen. Rove shaped Alabama's state courts into a Republican playground, one covered with horse manure, and so far neither the press, law enforcement, or the public seems the least bit concerned about it.
We will shine a light on it here at Legal Schnauzer. After all, we know exactly what it's like to be left holding a bag of horse manure produced by Karl Rove and his cronies.
Sunday, August 19, 2007
Given that recent press reports indicate the Bush Department of Justice (DOJ) practices a form of selective prosecution regarding public corruption cases, and Congress has pledged to investigate the matter this fall, it seems reasonable to ask: Is Riley getting a free ride that certainly was not offered to Siegelman?
A couple of posts on this general topic here at Legal Schnauzer attracted some interesting comments. Let's examine some of the points raised by these readers:
* The contribution to Riley's biotech venture was reported properly while Siegelman's lottery contribution was not--I believe the reader is referring to state regulations regarding the reporting of campaign contributions. But this was not an issue in Siegelman's criminal trial. That involved federal law. Almost two-thirds of the charges against Siegelman involved honest services mail fraud 18 U.S. Code 1346. The single biggest charge on which he was convicted involved bribery, 18 U.S. Code 666. News reports involving Riley's support for the biotech venture and a subsequent contribution to his re-election campaign raise issues of federal law. Whether he properly reported the contributions under state law is not relevant.
* Siegelman's behavior while in office raised many questions that warranted an investigation--Maybe so. But the issue is selective prosecution. And with that in mind, one must ask: What about Riley's behavior, both before and after he was elected? On the subject of reporting campaign contributions, for example, the Washington Post reports that Riley's record has not been pristine. He received several hundred thousand dollars from the Republican Governors Association that were not properly reported. Also, the Post reported Riley's ties to the U.S. Family Network, a public advocacy groups with ties to Russian energy executives. Riley wrote a letter on U.S. Family Network stationery, encouraging Alabamians to oppose plans by the Poarch Creek Indians to build casinos in Alabama. A defeat of casino gambling in Alabama, of course, would benefit the casinos of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, a major client of disgraced Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff. The Alabama press has barely skimmed the surface of these issues.
* Siegelman took great pains to hide contributions he received from Richard Scrushy/HealthSouth--In Siegelman's criminal trial, this charge came under the heading of racketeering and money laundering. The jury acquitted Siegelman on all of these counts.
* Siegelman was involved in a number of questionable deals related to the sale of his home, a motorcycle, etc.--These events were not included in the indictment against Siegelman. Even the U.S. Attorneys Office in the Middle District of Alabama did not put much stock in them.
* Riley's biotech incentives package was approved by the Alabama Legislature--This is true, but in terms of federal law, it is irrelevant. As 18 U.S. Code 666 makes clear, the key factor is the communications between Riley and the biotech backers in Huntsville. News reports have made it clear that the Huntsville folks initiated the campaign through Riley ("Riley voices support for Huntsville biotech, Huntsville Times, Dec. 9, 2004; "Tug of war for biotech: Riley asked to fund Huntsville center, raising concerns for UAB, Birmingham News, Dec. 7, 2004.) Here is the lead paragraph to the Birmingham News story noted above: "A group of business leaders is asking Gov. Bob Riley to steer state money to the development of a biotech research center in Huntsville, a project some in Birmingham believe would be in direct competition with UAB's research program." Clearly, there was communication between Riley and biotech backers in Huntsville from the outset. The fact the Alabama Legislature approved the incentives package does not mean there could not have been an illegal quid pro quo involving Riley and the Huntsville group. For what's it worth, Siegelman's lottery package was approved by the legislature. That didn't seem to stop an investigation into his activities.
* Readers did not raise this point, but as a Birmingham resident, I will. Riley pledged $50 million in incentives and tax breaks for the Huntsville project. That's twice the $25 million UAB received in state funds for the Shelby Biomedical Research Building on the Birmingham campus. ("State helps biotech research center set up in Huntsville," Birmingham News, August 9, 2005") The News article notes how hard UAB, with its long history of excellence in biomedical research, had to lobby for its state funding. Meanwhile, the state showered Huntsville with twice the money it gave UAB, for a community with very little history in biomedical research. Could it be that Huntsville had it so easy because of the nice campaign contribution Riley knew was coming? Is this not worthy of scrutiny from the press and law enforcement?
Friday, August 17, 2007
The workweek started with news that Karl Rove would be leaving the Bush White House at the end of August.
So let's end the week by looking at perhaps Rove's most lasting legacy--a history of dirty tricks. Amy Goodman, of Democracy Now, provides the analysis.
Over the next 25 years or so, historians are sure to unearth many more nuggets from Rove's bag of tricks. And a number of those are likely to involve Alabama. After all, Rove probably deserves more credit than anyone else for turning Alabama's state courts into a Republican-dominated playground.
Readers of Goodman's piece might want to ask themselves this question: Would I trust courts that this guy helped shape?
We invite you to stay tuned here at Legal Schnauzer over the coming weeks and months as we present overwhelming evidence of rampant corruption among Republican judges in Alabama courts. It should be a fitting addition to the Rove legacy.
Thursday, August 16, 2007
Reed's comments went too far, but Thompson's letter shows how partisan politics can blind folks to even more serious realities.
Justin Rood reports that the number of U.S. attorneys fired by the Bush Department of Justice (DOJ) could be considerably higher than the current figure of nine.
Rood notes that Bush Administration officials for months have refused to directly answer a key question: Have other U.S. attorneys been fired, beyond the nine already publicly identified? At one point, Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez seemed to admit that more than nine had been fired, but the DOJ has remained slippery on revealing the exact number.
* Yesterday's post, "Nothing Sticks to Teflon Bob," drew a couple of interesting comments from folks who seem to be on the opposite side of the political spectrum from yours truly. Issues raised in the comments merit a considered response, but unfortunately, your humble blogger doesn't have time to compose such a response today. But we will return very soon to the issues raised regarding "Teflon Bob."
* We've had several recent posts about the sentencing in Mississippi of attorney Paul Minor and former judges Wes Teel and John Whitfield. The sentencing hearing, which already has lasted one week, now is set to resume on September 6.
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
How can that be?
A recent post here drew comparisons between former Governor Don Siegelman's failed lottery campaign and the failed tax-reform campaign of current Governor Bob Riley. We noted the letter Siegelman had written to Riley, stating that the two campaigns were set up in a similar fashion and that Riley should be cautious because Siegelman was then facing federal corruption charges largely as a result of contributions made to his campaign.
A reader left a comment to my original post stating that Riley announced state support for a biotechnology project in Huntsville, and the donation to his campaign came after that. The reader seemed to be saying that this is one quality that made Riley's contribution legal. The reader also noted that Riley's biotech initiative enjoyed wide bipartisan support.
The reader's comment caused me to do a little research. Here's what I found:
Siegelman was prosecuted under several corruption-related statutes, including 18 U.S. Code 666 (Theft or bribery concerning programs receiving Federal funds). The statute states that bribery occurs when an agent of a State "corruptly solicits or demands for the benefit of any person, or accepts or agrees to accept, anything of value from any person, intending to be influenced or rewarded in connection with any business, transaction, or series of transactions of such organization, government, or agency involving any thing of value of $5,000 or more."
I realize that's a mouthful of legalese. But a couple of things are clear. The Huntsville biotech project certainly involved more than $5,000. And it is irrelevant that Riley announced state support for the project prior to receiving the campaign donation. The key is the communication between the two parties, not the timing of any announcements.
This is not to say that I have any proof that Riley committed a crime. Siegelman, in his letter, said he did not think Riley had committed a crime, and I'm willing to go along with the opinion of a former state attorney general. Of course, Siegelman also thought that he (Siegelman) had not committed a crime. The Bush Department of Justice (DOJ) begged to differ.
The critical question is this: Why did the Siegelman transaction draw heavy scrutiny from the press--and eventually, an investigation and prosecution by law enforcement--while Riley's transaction drew scant attention in the press and evidently zero interest from law enforcement?
That goes to the issue of selective prosecution, which Congress is set to investigate when it returns from summer recess in September.
In a recent press release, Acting U.S. Attorney Louis Franklin (Middle District of Alabama) said the investigation into Siegelman's activities was prompted by a series of articles (many of which ran on the front page) by Mobile Press-Register reporter Eddie Curran.
The same reporter, Mr. Curran, wrote a story about Riley's transaction with the biotech folks in Huntsville. (It evidently was not a series of stories; best I can tell, it was only one story, and I think it ran on an inside page. Selective reporting?) But the transaction has not been a secret.
Riley's political opponents, one an arch-conservative, made very public statements about the biotech deal. Roy Moore, Riley's opponent in the Republican primary for governor, called the biotech transaction a clear "quid pro quo." Lucy Baxley, who ran against Riley in the general election, also noted the transaction, "Tell me that's not a trade-off."
Granted, Moore and Baxley were opponents of Riley. But they also have significant experience in state government. Moore was chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, so his thoughts on legal matters should resonate with someone. But evidently the Bush DOJ isn't interested enough to even look into the Riley matter.
As for the idea that Riley's biotech deal enjoyed widespread, bipartisan support, that's not exactly true. Anyone who was in Birmingham or around UAB at the time remembers the uproar over an investment in biotech for Huntsville while a substantial biotech infrastructure already exists in the Magic City. Even The Birmingham News raised questions about duplication of services.It's interesting to note the response of Riley's spokesmen to charges that the biotech venture was improperly handled. Josh Blades used the terms "ridiculous" and "ludicrous" to describe such charges. Dax Swatek (whose father, Pelham, Alabama, attorney Bill Swatek, is at the heart of our story of judicial wrongdoing) used the term "ridiculous."
Those don't seem to be terribly substantive responses to serious inquiries--inquiries about the kind of matters that have put one former governor in federal prison.
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
It also provides a look at the mindset that shaped Alabama's Republican-dominated state courts. Corruption in those courts, which took a major ideological turn thanks to Karl Rove and Bill Canary's campaign efforts in the 1990s, is at the heart of our story here at Legal Schnauzer.
If you were to see how Alabama courts operate, as I have over the past seven years or so, you would not be surprised to see the mess Rove has made at the White House.
Green's article, which is currently available on the Web only to Atlantic subscribers, paints a vivid picture of a conservative guru who is adept at attaining power but has no idea how to govern. Green's article is in the Atlantic, but it could just as easily be in Psychology Today.
It essentially is a case study of political and personal dysfunction. Arrogance, deceit, disrespect, selfishness, and much more are on ample display. A few highlights from Green's article:
* On Rove's insecurity: "A large part of his self-image depends on showing that his command of history and politics is an order of magnitude greater than other people's. Rove has a need to outdo everybody else that seems to inform his sometimes contrarian views of history. It's not enough for him to have read everything; he needs to have read everything and arrived at insights that others missed."
* On Rove's misguided notion that America was ready for a realignment in 2000 that would put Republicans in charge for roughly 40 years, similar to the one led by his hero, William McKinley: "The subtext seemed to be that Rove, too, recognized something everybody else had missed--the chance for a Republican realignment--just as he recognized the overlooked genius of William McKinley. . . . Like his hero McKinley, he alone was the true visionary. Everyone else looked at the political landscape and saw a nation a rough parity. Rove looked at the same thing and saw an emerging Republican majority."
* On his lack of respect for others, including those in his own party: "He never appreciated that his success would ultimately depend on the sustained cooperation of congressional Republicans, and he developed a dysfunctional relationship with many of them."
* On Rove's misguided determination to push for Social Security reform: "Had Bush decided not to pursue Social Security or had he somehow managed to pursue it in a way that included Democrats, his presidency might still have ended up in failure, because of Iraq. But the dramatic collapse of Rove's Social Security push foreclosed any other possibility. It left Bush all but dead in the water for what looks to be the remainder of his time in office."
Green conducts a fascinating interview with Republican Dick Armey, the House majority leader when Bush took office. Armey talks about a tradition he and Bill Clinton developed when they met in the White House. Armey would take the name tag he received as a White House visitor and ask Clinton to sign it. Without saying a word, Clinton would sign and date it, and when Armey left the White House, he would give the card to the first schoolkid he came across. "Bill Clinton and I didn't like each other . . . " Armey said. "But he knew that when I left his office . . . some kid who had come to Washington with his mama would go home with the president's autograph. I think Clinton thought it was a nice thing to do for some kid, and he was happy to do it." When Armey tried to continue the routine with Bush in the White House, Bush declined and Rove said the card probably would wind up on eBay. "If my expectations of civility and collegiality were disappointed, what do you think it was like for the rest of the congressmen they dealt with?" Armey said
Finally, Green adds a touch of historical irony. While Bush has come to be bogged down in Iraq, Rove's hero (McKinley) saw much of his presidency consumed by a foreign adventure--the Spanish-American War. McKinley launched the war at the urging of his future vice president, Teddy Roosevelt, and other hawks. And Green notes that after American forces defeated the Spanish navy in the Philippines, the U.S. occupation encountered a bloody postwar insurgency and allegations of torture committed by U.S. troops. Does that sound familiar?
Bruce Reed, domestic-policy chief under Clinton, may have summed it up best: "I think the larger, deeper problem was they never fully appreciated that long-term success depended on making sure your policies worked."
Alabama courts have suffered from a similar affliction for quite some time now. History suggests that Rove just wanted his side to dominate Alabama courts, which they have done. But small items like due process, equal protection, the rule of law? Those are rather important to the functioning of a court system. But did Rove and his conservative brethren care about such operational matters (not to mention matters of right and wrong)? Evidently not.
The mindset outlined in Green's article will be very much on display as our tale unfolds here at Legal Schnauzer.
So notes Scott Horton of Harper's in an intriguing post today. Highlights from Horton's post:
* Horton discusses Rove's appearance at Alabama's Troy University to speak at its journalism center. The visit was arranged by U.S. Representative Terry Everett, who is the mentor for U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller, who oversaw the Don Siegelman trial. "The Alabama GOP has been very good to Karl Rove, and Karl Rove has been very good to the Alabama GOP," Horton writes. "It's a thoroughly symbiotic relationship."
* During his Troy address, Rove noted the brewing U.S. Attorneys scandal and compared it to the removal of "123 U.S. attorneys during the previous administration." Rove fails to mention, Horton states, that newly elected president Bill Clinton received the resignation of all U.S. attorneys when he was inaugurated, as generally happens with all presidents. That is a very different matter from the current scandal, where U.S. attorneys appointed by Bush evidently were fired because they refused to politicize their offices.
* Horton says the subpoena showdown with Congress is not likely to go away now that Rove has announced his resignation from the Bush White House. Horton notes that much of the scandal-related material was stored on a Republican National Committee server, suggesting that Rove considered the matter to be of a partisan political nature. This also would weaken any claim by Rove of executive privilege.
For good measure, Horton adds a post about his awards for best and worst performances in the Rove postmortem. His award for best blog post goes to conservative pundit Andrew Sullivan. Another sign that Rove was hardly beloved among his fellow Republicans.
Monday, August 13, 2007
Ironically, Atlantic Monthly has just released a major article by Joshua Green on the failed "Rove Presidency." The article is in the September issue and is available online only to subscribers. It was available briefly this morning at freedomworks.org, but has since been taken down due to copyright issues. I managed to check out the article, and it seems Green knew Rove was in deep trouble. The opening sentence: "With more than a year left in the fading Bush presidency, Karl Rove's worst days in the White House may still lie ahead of him."
News surely will come out soon about the reasons behind Rove's exit. But for now, here are some key points in Green's article:
* "Rove's greatest shortcoming was not in conceptualizing policies but in failing to understand the process of getting them implemented, a weakness he never seems to have recognized in himself."
* "A corollary to the Cult of Consultant is the belief that winning an election--especially a tough one you weren't expected to win--is proof of the ability to govern. But the two are wholly distinct enterprises."
* "For all the fascination with what Rove was doing and thinking, little attention was given to whether or not it was working and why."
The key message of Green's superb article is this: Rove knew little, and perhaps cared even less, about governance. He was about getting elected and maintaining power--at all costs.
People like that tend to leave huge messes in their wake. America only now is beginning to come to grips with the mess Rove has made in our country. But those of us who have had up-close dealings with Alabama's state courts already know the kind of mess Rove can leave.
Rove was pretty much an unknown outside of Texas until he began a series of campaigns that led to Alabama's appellate courts being dominated by Republicans. One wonders if he ever would have made it to the White House without success in those Alabama court races. In a most unfortunate sense, America owes much of its current mess to Alabama voters and their willingness to buy into Rove's message about the need for "conservative" courts.
In an earlier piece for Atlantic, Joshua Green outlined Rove's tactics for gaining power, focusing heavily on Alabama. This article remains one of the definitive work on Rove, along with the books by Dallas-based journalists James Moore and Wayne Slater.
We will continue to learn, in the days ahead, about the mess Rove has left behind at the national level. But what about the mess he made in Alabama? That is the subject of our Legal Schnauzer blog. Corruption, cronyism, inefficiency, hypocrisy. It's all there and more, and we will paint the picture in detail. That's the Karl Rove legacy in Alabama.
For more on Rove and his resignation, you will want to check out the following journalists with strong Alabama ties:
* Scott Horton of Harper's has an interesting take on Rove and the new Atlantic Monthly article.
* Glynn Wilson, of Locust Fork News, says an investigation into selective prosecution by the Bush Department of Justice might be ominous for Rove.
Sunday, August 12, 2007
In June 2006, the Associated Press reported that former Governor Don Siegelman sent a letter to Governor Bob Riley advising that contributions to Riley's failed 2003 campaign for a $1.2 billion tax increase would have to be considered a "thing of value," under a federal prosecutor's view of a bribery charge in Siegelman's trial.
Siegelman goes on to state that Riley's Amendment One tax proposal was structured identically to Siegelman's lottery referendum, which led to Siegelman's prosecution on corruption charges. "While you also raised funds for an issue that was important to you, I stand firm in my belief that you committed no crime."
The letter went on to state that Riley had received campaign contributions from developers who received state incentives for a Huntsville project.
The Birmingham News is my main source of state news, and I don't recall seeing this story. And evidently it had little in the way of "legs" because I see no signs that the press looked into the issues Siegelman raised.
Interesting that a Riley spokesman responded by using putdowns and name-calling, as opposed to making a substantive response. That's usually a sign that someone has no substantive response.
Anyone out there seen the full text of Siegelman's letter? Anyone know what became of this project in Huntsville?
His latest, in the form of a letter to Don Siegelman's daughter, Dana, is a must read if you have been following the Department of Justice (DOJ) scandal.
The entire letter is intriguing. But it becomes particularly alarming near the end when Caylor states that he has information indicating that Dana Jill Simpson, who wrote the famed affidavit claiming the Siegelman prosecution was a political hit, might be in danger.
Caylor earlier wrote about U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller and his ties to drug running in south Alabama. Fuller, of course, was the judge in the Siegelman case.
Many of you might have the same initial reaction that I do upon reading some of Caylor's work--it seems to far out there to possibly be creditable.
But thinking about what I've personally witnessed from Republican higher-ups in the Alabama judicial system, I am slow to write off Caylor's work. I'm not sure there is a level so low that some GOPers won't stoop to it, particularly when they fear their grip on power might be endangered.
With that in mind, I will continue to follow Caylor's Web site closely.
Friday, August 10, 2007
Recall that Tracey Mize, the Ingram & Associates representative who contacted me, told me she was aware of the Alabama State Bar rule that requires an attorney to report it when he or she possesses knowledge of professional misconduct by another lawyer or judge. And recall that Ms. Mize stated that information about the crimes committed against my wife and me already were in our file.
So how did Ms. Mize react when I informed her that Angie Ingram, her firm's shareholder, had an obligation to report this information to an appropriate authority or tribunal? Here is our exchange:
TM: "She (Ms. Ingram) doesn't have an obligation to report this wrongdoing because I'm not going to report it to her. It would be a conflict of interest for her. Her duty is to American Express."
Legal Schnauzer : "She also has a duty to the profession of the law."
TM: "She's an honorable woman, and her reputation is impeccable. If she had firsthand knowledge of wrongdoing, I can assure you she would be the first one to report it."
LS: "I have firsthand knowledge, and I can give it to her."
TM: "She doesn't want to see that. She wants to see some type of commitment from you on the debt."
LS: "I'm telling you, Ms. Ingram has an obligation. . . . She inserted herself into my life, and any debt that I owe is because of crimes committed by people in the legal profession."
TM: "Ms. Ingram is not going to get involved in your witch-hunt."
Hmm, so much for customer service. And recall, the Alabama Rules of Professional Conduct state that an attorney must report wrongdoing of which they "possess knowledge." Doesn't say it has to be firsthand knowledge. And Ms. Mize already had stated the information was in their files for Ms. Ingram to see.
I wound up speaking with Jann Blalock, Ms. Mize's supervisor. She also was most helpful . . .
JB: "I'm going to recommend to Ms. Ingram that we put this through the litigation process. I don't understand what this has to do with American Express."
LS: "A lawyer has an obligation to report wrongdoing . . . "
JB: "Have you pulled this with every lawyer that represents somebody? You need to find a different horse to ride. This one's not going to work with us. We called you about a debt, and we're not interested in any schemes."
Schemes? Different horse to ride? Witch-hunt?
I decided to seek a little more information . . .
LS: "Who's the attorney who represents American Express?"
JB: "Angie Ingram."
LS: "I need to speak with her at her convenience."
JB: "I will give her your message."
Ooooookay. Well, I never heard from Ms. Ingram, so I sent her a letter about the wrongdoing I had witnessed. The letter went out about two weeks ago. No response.
Don't you just love lawyers.
Thursday, August 9, 2007
I'm quite sure no one named Osama works in the Shelby County Courthouse in Columbiana, Alabama. But judges J. Michael Joiner, G. Dan Reeves, and Ron Jackson seem to operate like a well-known "Osama." These judges, in conjunction with their attorney cronies, figuratively flew an airplane into my financial picture, causing widespread destruction.
I noted in a recent post that, thanks to these financial terrorists, my wife and I have received communications from Ingram & Associates LLC, a Birmingham debt-collection law firm. The kind folks at Ingram & Associates LLC informed me that they had been hired by their client, American Express, to sue me. As a courtesy, they were contacting me in an effort to resolve the debt that they claimed I owed to their client, American Express. Absent a resolution, I could expect to be sued by their client, American Express.
My case, however, presents a bit of a problem for the charmers who work at Ingram & Associates LLC, at least if they intend to follow the rules of the Alabama State Bar.
Angie Ingram is described on the firm's Web site as "shareholder." Evidently she is the firm's chief attorney. That gives her a big responsibility when she is presented with evidence of professional misconduct by another lawyer or a judge.
Rule 8.3 of the Alabama Rules of Professional Conduct states: "A lawyer possessing unprivileged knowledge of a violation of Rule 8.4 shall report such knowledge to a tribunal or other authority empowered to investigate or act upon such violation."
Rule 8.4 lists seven specific forms of conduct that must be reported. Among the seven forms, the rule states that it is professional misconduct for a lawyer to:
* Commit a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer's honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer in other respects;
* Engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation;
* Knowingly assist a judge or judicial officer in conduct that is a violation of applicable Canons of Judicial Ethics or other law . . .
Lawyers in the Legal Schnauzer case repeatedly violated these three tenets of Rule 8.4 (and the other four, for that matter.) You can read Rules 8.3 and 8.4 in their entirety.
The heart of the matter is summed up in the Comment to Rule 8.3:
"Self-regulation of the legal profession requires that members of the profession initiate disciplinary investigation when they know of a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct. . . . A lawyer is obliged to report every violation of the Rules. The failure to report a violation would itself be a professional offense."
So you see, at least on paper, the Alabama State Bar considers this a serious matter--and a serious obligation for Ms. Ingram.
My wife and I both informed Ms. Ingram's associates that any debt we allegedly owed was the result of criminal behavior by multiple Alabama judges and attorneys. In fact, a woman named Tracey Mize told me that this information already was in my file because my wife had shared it with her the previous evening. In other words, the information already was in Angie Ingram's possession.
"If in fact we are behind on payments to American Express," I told Ms. Mize, "it is because huge chunks of our personal funds were essentially stolen by Alabama judges and lawyers." I cited the specific law they had violated, 18 U.S. Code 1346 (honest services mail fraud).
I went on to inform Ms. Mize that an attorney who has knowledge of a crime committed by another lawyer or judge is obligated to report it. She admitted that she was aware of this.
But when I helpfully pointed out that this includes Angie Ingram, Ms. Mize was less than enthused.
Does Ingram & Associates LLC take seriously its obligations under the Alabama Rules of Professional Conduct? More on that coming up.
Wednesday, August 8, 2007
The Biloxi Sun-Herald reports that rulings by U.S. District Judge Henry Wingfield indicate Minor might receive up to 12 years for his conviction on various corruption charges. Sentences are expected to be handed down by the end of this week.
Charges in the Minor case were similar to those in the prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman. And the Minor case involved charges of judicial corruption in a Deep South state, which means it is of great interest here at Legal Schnauzer.
Tuesday, August 7, 2007
Toobin writes about John McKay of Seattle, who was one of nine U.S. attorneys fired by the Bush Department of Justice (DOJ).
McKay assumed the Seattle position after Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Wales had been murdered, a case that is still unsolved. Wales, a career prosecutor who had spent almost 20 years in the Seattle office, was known for his meticulous work. He also was known as an advocate for gun control in his spare time away from the job.
Toobin writes that McKay might have been fired because he was pushing the DOJ to step up its investigation of Wales's murder.
The motive behind Wales's murder remains unclear. Was he killed because of his well-publicized work on gun control? Was he killed because of his work on a prosecution that came to be known as the "helicopter case?"
Like most New Yorker articles, Toobin's piece is lengthy. But it is well done, and it raises chilling questions about the Bush DOJ.
That's the way it is in Alabama with David Bronner, head of the Retirement System of Alabama (RSA).
Our fair state has a tendency to rank low in quality-of-life surveys where you want to rank high and rank high in quality-of-life surveys where you want to rank low. But the RSA is one of the best organizations of its kind in the country, and that is thanks largely to Bronner.
The CEO of the RSA is one of the most powerful people in Alabama. And you could make a strong argument that he is the smartest hombre in the state, certainly when it comes to financial and political matters.
So his editorial in the current issue of the RSA monthly newsletter is worth exploring.
Two points Bronner makes jump out at me:
* He makes it clear that he does not think much of U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller, who oversaw the Don Siegelman case. Thanks to Scott Horton, of Harper's, we know why: Fuller tried to help a political crony pull off a scam of the RSA (which failed). Also, Bronner evidently was not fond of Fuller's handling of a case involving RSA and that noted cathedral of corporate ethics, Enron.
* Bronner says he is not a buddy of Siegelman's, but he says Siegelman was no different from any other governor he has worked with or against. "Siegelman put nothing in his pocket from contributions to the lottery campaign," Bronner writes. "I do not know of any governor who did not have third parties pay for TV, radio, and newspaper ads on constitutional issues brought before the voters."
* Bronner doesn't mention it, but you would think this applied to Bob Riley's failed tax-reform campaign in Alabama (which I supported). Wonder who paid for that? And did they benefit from their association with the Riley camp?
Monday, August 6, 2007
The Times spotlights several prosecutions of politicians who are Democrats, including Alabama's Don Siegelman and Wisconsin's Georgia Thompson. The Times says the Siegelman case has the appearance of being a "political hit," and it says Congressional investigators also should look into the prosecution of New Jersey senator Robert Menendez.
My favorite line in the editorial is this: "Putting political opponents in jail is the kind of thing that happens in third world dictatorships."
The Times is absolutely right about that. And if the paper wants to get an up-close look at how Republicans operate in the equivalent of a third-world dictatorship, it should send a reporter to check out Alabama's state-court system. Shelby County would be a good place to start; that's where "bosses" like J. Michael Joiner and G. Dan Reeves rape the U.S. Constitution with impunity, only to have their unlawful rulings upheld (with no-opinion affirmances) by our GOP-dominated appellate courts.
Shelby County is hardly a backwater. It is the wealthiest and the fastest-growing county in Alabama, and it's right outside the state's largest city, Birmingham. But the courthouse in Columbiana is run like a mini banana republic, where quaint 14th-Amendment notions like due process and equal protection mean zip.
Kudos to The Times for a strong editorial. But it does not go far enough. It addresses one side of selective prosecution--where Democrats are perhaps wrongly pursued for political reasons by the Republican-led DOJ. But it does not address the other side of the equation--cases where Republican wrongdoers get away with all kinds of shenanigans, for political reasons.
The problem goes beyond putting political opponents in prison, as bad as that is. It also means cheating people in civil cases, and bringing them to the edge of financial ruin, in order to favor people with family ties to the GOP. And on the civil side, it does not just involve cases where a plaintiff, who perhaps was legitimately wronged, has a case wrongfully dismissed. It also involves cases where someone (like me) is forced to defend a fraudulent lawsuit filed by a friend of the GOP and watch as unlawful rulings cause the case to drag on for years, costing thousands of dollars.
That's the issue we will explore in detail here at Legal Schnauzer.
Sunday, August 5, 2007
The White-Collar Crime Prof Blog is written by a couple of law professors, one from Wayne State University in Detroit and one from Stetson University in Florida.
They have written in the past about the Don Siegelman case in Alabama. And it will be interesting to see if they follow the Paul Minor case in Mississippi, where sentencing is expected in the coming week.
The blog has a particularly interesting post here about curious redactions in e-mails that were recently released in the investigation of the U.S. Attorneys scandal. More evidence of the politicization that seems to be rampant in the Bush Department of Justice.
Scott Horton, of Harper's, points out in today's Anniston Star that Alabama's press is sorely lacking on both counts.
Horton notes the strong evidence that prosecutors were improperly feeding material to reporters from certain press organizations during the investigation of former Governor Don Siegelman. And with the Newhouse newspaper chain dominating three key markets in Alabama, no independent voices stepped up to ask critical questions about the prosecutions evidence--and its activities.
In essence, Alabama's press is a lot like its state judicial system. It's a club made up largely of people who are white and male and of a certain ideological bent. And Alabama's citizens, overall, are not well served by either their press or their judiciary.
Saturday, August 4, 2007
Horton is half way through an eight-part series of posts on Mark Fuller, the judge in the Siegelman case. Parts 1 through 4 have been most revealing, and the series continues on Monday.
The DOJ scandal, so far, has focused largely on the firings of nine U.S. Attorneys around the country. But Horton's series on Fuller stands out because it spotlights the critical role a compromised or ethically challenged judge can play in the courtroom, whether the case is criminal or civil.
Our case here at Legal Schnauzer, of course, involves state courts, not federal, and it will focus some on prosecutorial misconduct. But the primary focus of our case is on the judicial side, and it is heartening to see Horton expose the mindset behind a Republican judge who claims to be about the "rule of law" but acts in a partisan and unlawful manner.
Fuller is hardly alone in that sort of thinking among Republican judges in Alabama. Shelby County Circuit judges J. Michael Joiner and G. Dan Reeves are of the same mindset, as our their Republican cohorts on Alabama's appellate courts. We will be shining a spotlight on their misdeeds in the near future.
Meanwhile, in a post today, Horton looks into a couple of interesting matters:
* Leura Canary, U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama and wife of Republican operative Bill Canary, continues to default on demands from the U.S. House Judiciary Committee for documents related to her prosecution of Siegelman. A Justice Department source tells Horton that Mrs. Canary's office and the Public Integrity Section of the DOJ gave false information in response to a Freedom of Information Act request which had sought data relating to her alleged recusal.
* Horton notes a battle between two new Web sites in Alabama. One, donsiegelman.org, supports the former Alabama governor and was started by retired political consultant Claibourne Darden and his wife, Anita. The origins of the other, thetruthaboutdon.com, are unclear, but the site certainly is not friendly to Siegelman. Harper's conducted a search that indicates similarities between the new site and one put together by the Bob Riley gubernatorial campaign. This suggests, Horton notes, that the site has been constructed by people who worked on the Riley gubernatorial campaign.
Gee, I wonder if that could include Riley campaign "consultant" Dax Swatek, whose father Bill Swatek initiated the bogus lawsuit against me and has been the beneficiary of numerous unlawful rulings by Republican judges in Alabama? Much more about the Swateks coming here at Legal Schnauzer.
From doing a quick check of thetruthaboutdon.com, it appears to be mostly a compilation of stories by Mobile Press-Register reporter Eddie Curran, who was credited by Acting U.S. Attorney Louis Franklin for providing the spark that initiated the Siegelman prosecution. The same information is available here, so not sure what purpose the "truth" Web site serves.
* Finally, Horton notes a conversation with a Washington-based GOP campaign advisor. Karl Rove, it seems, was concerned about Republican ties to corporate scandals such as Enron. So Rove's instructions in 2006 were for Republicans to link Democrats to corporate scandals. "Like Scrushy, HealthSouth, and Siegelman?" Horton asked. "Exactly," said the source.
Interestingly, Rove is taking the Leura Canary "dog ate my homework" path. The GOP guru is not responding to a Congressional subpoena regarding the DOJ scandal.