Friday, November 30, 2007
Blogger Big Head DC is reporting that a male escort has had a relationship with U.S. Senator Trent Lott (R-MS), who abruptly announced his resignation recently.
Big Head DC identifies the gay male escort as Benjamin Nicholas, who did not wish to comment for the record. But the blog says e-mail and other evidence confirm that Nicholas and Lott have "met" on at least two occasions.
Nicholas is denying the relationship, but the story is making the mainstream press, including the Miami Herald.
For several years, word has been that the powerful Lott used his influence to protect brother-in-law Richard "Dickie" Scruggs during a federal investigation that led to the conviction of Paul Minor, a prominent Democratic donor. Now, we have Lott announcing his resignation and Scruggs being indicted all in one week.
Have GOPers learned of the emerging "gay" story and decided to throw both Lott and Scruggs under the bus? Is the Scruggs indictment really about the Bushies trying to distance themselves from another GOP gay train wreck?
Speaking of GOP gay train wrecks, have you seen this site? Makes you wonder just who Jeff Gannon was seeing on all of those visits to the White House. Yow!
Civic leaders have been discussing a domed stadium for 10 years or more. But before Langford moves forward with his plan, he needs to check out this story.
Major-league baseball's Tampa Bay Rays plan to build a new 34,000-seat open-air waterfront stadium with a retractable roof. The new facility will cost $450 million.
And what about Tropicana Field, the 17-year-old domed stadium where the Rays have been playing? Plans call for redeveloping the site into a mixed-use development of homes, shops, and offices. According to this story, the land that Tropicana Field rests upon is of great value. The stadium itself? Apparently it's not worth much more than a warm cup of spit.
And that's the truth Birmingham leaders seem to be ignoring. Domed stadiums are yesterday's news. They are being vacated, imploded, or redeveloped all over the country. People want to watch sporting events in open-air facilities, with retractable roofs as insurance against bad weather. People finally are realizing that domed stadiums are lousy places to watch a baseball, football, or basketball game. In fact, they aren't a good place to watch anything.
But retractable-roof stadiums are too expensive, some say. Well, the Tampa facility includes a fabric that sounds like it is less expensive than previous options. That stadium is expected to cost $450 million, and Langford is calling for a $500 million plan in Birmingham. The Langford plan involves more than a dome, but the dome is the big piece, and the Tampa story makes it seem that a retractable-roof facility would be feasible here.
Heck, the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, home to the Arizona Cardinals of the NFL, is considered absolute state of the art. And its price tag was $455 million.
But we need a multipurpose facility, Birmingham leaders say, a place where we can have sporting events and conventions. Again, multipurpose facilities, so popular in the '60s and '70s, are being bulldozed all over the country.
If Birmingham needs convention space, build a convention center. If it needs a sports facility, one that would replace ancient Legion Field, build a sports facility. An open-air stadium with a retractable roof would be the best plan to address both of those needs.
If the city can't afford to do it right, then I would suggest building the convention component and sprucing up Legion Field. Yes, it's not in a great part of town, but it's still a good place to watch a football game--much better than a dome would be.
Here's what makes no sense about a dome in Birmingham: Presumably the No. 1 sporting attraction would be college football--UAB, a bowl game, Alabama A&M vs. Alabama State, etc. The worst environment for college football in the country is in New Orleans, where Tulane plays in the Superdome. The second worst environment is at Minnesota, where the Gophers play in the godawful Metrodome.
One of the best things about college football in the South is the fall weather. Ninety percent of the time, it's beautiful. And you want people to go indoors to watch games?
Birmingham leaders need to consider the experience of East Tennessee State University. Students several months ago voted down a proposal that would have brought football back to the campus. The sport was dropped four years ago during a budget crunch because of escalating costs and declining attendance.
According to news reports, one of the major reasons for declining attendance was the school's domed stadium, which was home to the football team. Fans had come to consider it an unattractive place to watch football and stayed away in droves. A key part of the new proposal was funding for an open-air stadium.
Legal Schnauzer's message: Listen up Larry, ditch the dome and raise the roof. Open air is where it's at.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
Scruggs and the other defendants are charged with conspiring to bribe Circuit Judge Henry L. Lackey in exchange for a favorable ruling in a lawsuit involving legal fees in the representation of Hurricane Katrina victims.
The alleged conspiracy began in March 2007, and Lackey immediately reported the alleged bribery overture to federal authorities and then assisted with the FBI investigation. Evidence against the defendants includes computer e-mails, and the indictment includes excerpts from telephone conversations that evidently were recorded by federal authorities.
At issue in the lawsuit were $28 million in attorney fees from a mass settlement of State Farm policyholders' claims. A Jackson, MS, firm had sued Scruggs, alleging he was withholding money it was owed for work on the Katrina litigation.
The Scruggs indictment raises all kinds of interesting questions. Here are a few that come to mind:
* What, if anything, does this mean for the Paul Minor case, which we've covered extensively here at Legal Schnauzer? Minor and Scruggs were probably the two most successful trial attorneys in Mississippi. Minor was a major supporter of Democratic candidates and (along with two judges) was convicted on corruption charges earlier this year. Scruggs evidently gave to both Democrats and Republicans, and his brother-in-law is U.S. Senator Trent Lott (R-MS). He was investigated in the Minor case, but avoided an indictment then. We have shown that Minor and judges Wes Teel and John Whitfield were wrongly convicted in a case that is being investigated by the U.S. House Judiciary Committee. According to news reports, no written or audio evidence--and no oral testimony--indicated there was any bribery agreement in the Minor case. And since the judges' rulings in the underlying lawsuits were correct under the law, there could be no quid pro quo or corrupt intent as required under the law. Apparently, the Scruggs case does involve strong evidence of an agreement and a quid pro quo. Based on what I see at this early juncture, the charges in the two cases look remarkably similar, but the facts are very different. The Scruggs case appears to involve a legit bribery charge. It appears to be starkly different from the Minor case--and for that matter, the Don Siegelman case in Alabama.
* Did the brewing Scruggs indictment have anything to do with Trent Lott's announcement this week that he will resign with almost six full years left on his term in the Senate?
* Could the FBI investigation in the Scruggs case have turned up evidence that Lott pushed the feds toward Minor and away from Scruggs the first time around?
* Is new Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey having a positive impact, actually bringing a sense of justice to the U.S. Justice Department?
* Is the work of honest attorneys such as Scott Horton, Jill Simpson, and Paul Benton Weeks related to the Don Siegelman case having a positive cumulative effect? Have they helped set a ball in motion that is beginning to steamroll toward justice--and toward big trouble for folks who have been abusing our justice system in recent years?
My wife and I came up with this blog as a way to honor the memory of Murphy, our miniature schnauzer who brightened our lives so much for 11 years and helped us survive the legal nightmare that is described in these pages.
Our cover schnauzer is a handsome fellow from Australia named Gumpie Poo. (Thanks to Valleyview Dogs of Queensland, Australia.) This blog has attracted far more attention than I ever dreamed possible. And I think a big reason for that is the photo of Gumpie Poo. Who could see the photo of the vibrant, ultra virile Gumpster and not want to come on in and look around?
So I could not help but react with a special kind of rage and revulsion at this story about a beagle that was skinned alive by an alleged human being in Alabama.
The beagle, Anne, belonged to a family in Vinemont, Alabama, and she was skinned alive on her back and side. She was later euthanized. Buttercup, another beagle that belonged to the family, suffered minor cuts, evidently at the hands of the same cretin.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is offering a $2,500 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or people responsible for the crime.
If the case ever goes to trial, the perpetrator better hope my wife and I are not on the jury. In fact, I suspect many Alabamians would have a hard time letting this creep get off easy.
This quote particularly jumps out:
"If someone is suffering and I don't respond, what kind of humanity do I have," Wiesel said. "The opposite of love is not hatred, but indifference. The opposite of education is not ignorance, but indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, but indifference. The opposite of life is not death, but indifference."
As I seek to apply those thoughts to my own experiences, I come up with these questions:
* Why did Alabama attorney William E. Swatek, who has a 30-year record of unethical conduct, file a bogus lawsuit against me? Was he counting on public indifference to let him get away with it.?
* Why did Shelby County judges J. Michael Joiner and G. Dan Reeves intentionally make unlawful rulings in the case and why did Alabama appellate judges allow those rulings to stand? Were they counting on public indifference to let them get away with it?
* Why did Karl Rove, Bill Canary, Alberto Gonzalez, and other GOP operatives turn the U.S. Justice Department into a cesspool of corruption, in the process turning men like Don Siegelman (in Alabama), Paul Minor, Wes Teel, and John Whitfield (in Mississippi) into political prisoners? Were they counting on public indifference to let them get away with it?
* And here's the biggie: Are Swatek, Joiner, Rove and Co. correct? Will public indifference let them get away with it?
Never mind that the law apparently does not give Riley the authority to appoint Langford's successor.
Fairfield, Alabama, resident Fred Plump has filed a lawsuit contending that Riley lacks authority in the Langford matter and has asked a federal court to remove Bowman from office.
The bipartisan Jefferson County Election Commission set a special election because its members maintain the state law that gives the governor the power to fill county-commission vacancies by appointment specifically excludes counties that have their own special election rules, as does Jefferson County.
Riley made a similar appointment in 2005, and a panel of federal judges ruled the appointment violated the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965. Riley's candidate was removed, and a special election was held.
"It is all about thwarting the democratic process that was already under way with an election set for February 5," said Joe Turnham, chair of the Alabama Democratic Party. "Now Governor Riley has pushed the issue into federal court."
With his hardheadedness and disdain for the rule of law, Riley is seeming more and more like Alabama's very own version of George W. Bush.
The city is not thriving at the moment. Published reports indicate Birmingham is losing 5.6 percent of its population per year. And there are proposals to close a number of city schools because of a declining population. Middle and upper-class black families evidently are following their white counterparts to the suburbs.
Clearly, Birmingham needs bold and effective leadership. Newly elected Mayor Larry Langford has the bold part down pat. And it looks like he will get a chance to prove the effective part now that Jefferson County Judge Allwin Horn has ruled in Langford's favor in an election contest by runnerup Patrick Cooper.
Horn ruled that Langford met residency requirements to run for mayor. Langford still owns a home in Fairfield, Alabama, but signed a lease on a loft in downtown Birmingham in June 2007.
Cooper said he plans to file an appeal.
This case has special resonance here at Legal Schnauzer because your humble blogger has a case pending before Judge Horn--on a matter that grew from the bogus lawsuit filed against me by a neighbor in Shelby County, a lawsuit that is at the heart of this blog.
So far, I've been extremely unimpressed with Judge Horn. He is a Republican, and like every other Republican judge I've encountered in Alabama, he seems more than willing to make rulings based on politics rather than the law. I will be posting details soon about Horn's actions in my case.
But my experiences with him make me wonder about his motives in the Langford ruling. News reports say Langford and others have been interviewed as part of a Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) investigation into Jefferson County sewer-bond activities. A number of local pundits have stated that it's only a matter of time before Langford is indicted.
Is it possible that Alabama's GOP henchmen want to lift Langford up, making it easier to chop him down? Is it possible that Langford, by being mayor, becomes an even more attractive target for the SEC and perhaps the Bush Justice Department? Did these political considerations play a part in Horn's ruling?
Wouldn't surprise me if they did.
One interesting note about the Langford ruling, which is available here. Horn did cite at least one statutory law and about a half dozen examples of case law. That differs from my experience with him. I've seen him make rulings, ones that don't square with the actual law, where he appears to have made no attempt to conduct any research. More on that coming soon.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
But Hicks did play basketball at Hoover High School, and I've written about a possible connection between Hoover football and my legal tale of woe. That's a pretty weak thread, I'll admit. But hey, my wife's a Taylor Hicks fan, and she turned me into a Taylor Hicks fan, so I don't need much of an excuse to write about the high priest of the "Soul Patrol."
And besides, I need a break now and then from our usual subject matter, which can get a bit grim. Hicks represents an Alabama feel-good story that I am only too happy to help spread.
To my untrained ears, Hicks is more than just a feel-good story. I've listened with great regularity to his major-label debut, and his two independent CDs, and I'm convinced the guy is a significant talent.
Yes, Hicks has a distinctive whiskey tenor and a charismatic stage presence. And he's pretty good on at least two instruments--harmonica and guitar. But I'm most impressed with his writing talent. Some might say that Hicks is unpolished as a songwriter. But there is good basic stuff there. A big-time producer, Matt Serletic, took three of Hicks' original tunes--Soul Thing, The Deal, and Hell of a Day--and turned them into true gems. In fact, many reviewers said that the best songs on the Taylor Hicks CD were those three originals.
So it's established that we here at Legal Schnauzer are big Taylor Hicks supporters. But the point of this post is to alert the public that Birmingham might have another American Idol in the works. And he happens to be a guy I've seen on the football field quite a bit.
Sam Hunt, the starting quarterback this year for the UAB (University of Alabama at Birmingham) Blazers, happens to be a pretty talented musician. Steve Irvine, of The Birmingham News, recently wrote about Hunt and his possible future in music.
I follow UAB athletics, and I had heard that Hunt could sing and play guitar a little. But I figured he was a "hobby level" musician. On a local telecast of a recent UAB game, there was a halftime feature about Hunt, including him playing and singing. Heck, I thought, this guy's good.
Evidently, I'm not the only one who thinks so. He played before about 200 people at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes talent show, and he was lead vocalist at a recent performance by the UAB Gospel Choir.
Hunt's teammates are impressed. "I tried to get Sam to go on American Idol when they came to Birmingham," cornerback Zach Britten said. "I forgot what happened--the practice schedule or what. But Sam can sing, man. I think he would have made it."
I've had a chance to speak to Hunt a time or two, and he seems like a genuinely nice guy. Plus, he's disgustingly handsome, which wouldn't hurt on Idol. In the photo that ran with the News story (not available on the Web version), Hunt has a tousled-hair thing going on that makes him look like a CCR-era John Fogerty.
Hunt was a solid college football player, but he doesn't figure to have an NFL future. UAB struggled to a 2-10 record this season.
But who knows what might happen on the music front? Hunt says he gravitates toward a mixture of country, blues, rock, and gospel. "I would like to play music in the future," Hunt said. "I've seen a lot of really good players and singers who are trying to make it and aren't necessarily making it. That's a hard business to get into. But it would be awesome to do that."
Here is Hunt's bio from the UAB football Web site. The Blazers wrapped up their 2007 season Saturday with a 46-39 loss at Marshall. Hunt completed 13 of 24 passes for 189 yards and one touchdown and ran eight times for 64 yards.
Why did the story make The New York Times? I love cats, and birds, but did that story really deserve that kind of national attention?
Well, I have theory about the way the press covers courts. Most articles about courts will fall into one of a few categories:
* Something horrible happened--think murder, rape, child molestation.
* Someone famous was involved--think Winona Ryder and shoplifting.
* Someone powerful was involved--think Larry Craig.
* Large amounts of money were involved--think Enron.
* Something unusual, bizarre, or ironic was involved--think bird lover shoots cat.
But what about stories that go to the very core of our justice system, stories about corrupt judges, abusive prosecutors, or unethical attorneys. What about stories about judicial rulings that are clearly contrary to established law? Why do judges take these actions, and how are citizens harmed by them?
I would guess that such stories are out there every week, in all 50 states. But how many daily newspapers or TV news programs cover them?
Consider coverage of two stories we've followed closely here at Legal Schnauzer. When former Governor Don Siegelman and HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy were on trial in Alabama, it was a major story. It involved a defendant with power and a defendant with money. But once they were convicted, the state's press lost interest. Critically important stories about the conflicts of Judge Mark Fuller and prosecutorial abuses by Leura Canary's office have drawn little attention.
The same thing has happened with the Paul Minor case in Mississippi. The trial itself was big news--it involved lots of money and lots of power. A few national journalists (Scott Horton of Harper's, Adam Cohen of The New York Times) and a few members of the alternative press have reported on the raging conflicts of prosecutor Dunn Lampton and the numerous unlawful rulings by Judge Henry Wingate. But that story, so far, has gone largely unreported in the mainstream Mississippi press.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Most commentators have focused on changes in lobbying laws or Lott's loss of power under the flailing GOP. Some have even suggested the good senator simply needs to make more cash than his lowly Congressional gig brings home. And some have said, "Hey, lots of Republicans are retiring. It's just a trend."
Well, I don't think most of the retiring folks just got re-elected last year. I don't think most of them hold a safe seat of power till 2012, as Lott does.
So the Legal Schnauzer was just sitting here, ears alert, wondering: What if Trent Lott's resignation has something to do with the Paul Minor case in Mississippi? The Minor case has been the subject of a 25-part series here at our humble blog. (Gee, 25 parts? We must care about this case.)
I decided to turn to the much trusted Scott Horton at Harper's.org. And what to my wandering eyes did appear? This most intriguing post, noting that Horton's sources say FBI agents currently are raiding the law office of Mississippi attorney Richard "Dickie" Scruggs, who is Lott's brother-in-law.
Scruggs, you may recall, joins Paul Minor as probably the two most successful trial lawyers in Mississippi. Both have made financial contributions to state judges, which are perfectly legal under Mississippi law. But Scruggs, who is Lott's relative and a major donor to Republicans, was never prosecuted. Minor, a major donor to Democrats and a thorn in the side of numerous corporations (tobacco, asbestos, oil), was prosecuted and convicted, along with "pro plaintiff" (read Democrat) judges Wes Teel and John Whitfield.
What's going on with the raid at Scruggs' office? Is he going to get nailed for committing crimes, just as Minor did?
I can only guess, but I don't think that's what is happening. Did Scruggs give financial help to state judges? Evidently, yes. Did he receive favorable rulings from said judges? Probably yes. But as we have noted in our "Mississippi Churning" series, that is not a crime. It is only a crime if Scruggs receives a ruling in his favor that is "corrupt" and "unlawful."
The lawsuits at the heart of the Minor case were decided correctly by the judges. The fact they were in Minor's "favor" is irrelevant under the law.
So my guess? I don't think Dickie Scruggs is a criminal any more than Paul Minor is a criminal. But could evidence at Scruggs' firm show that Trent Lott took steps to protect Scruggs while siccing federal investigators on Minor?
You never know with the Bush Justice Department. But that is the question that should be asked.
And we do have a new attorney general in Michael Mukasey. Perhaps he actually is interested in justice, unlike his predecessor, Alberto Gonzalez--who helped turn the Justice Department into a disgusting sewer.
Is Mukasey the guy to drain the swamp? We can hope. And if that's the case, I know the offices of several state judges in Alabama he needs to raid. I think I feel an e-mail coming.
That is just one of many intriguing insights from Siegelman's daughter, Dana, in an interview reported today at Raw Story. The Dana Siegelman interview is the second installment in Raw Story's five-part series on the Siegelman case.
The revelation about the break-ins came after Ms. Siegelman was asked about legal bills the family is facing in the wake of her father's prosecution. She notes that the family is receiving financial help, but she does not want to disclose the benefactors' identity for fear it might put them in danger.
Ms. Siegelman notes the fire at the home of whistleblowing Alabama attorney Jill Simpson and a break-in at the office of one of her father's lawyers. Then she says her family's home had been broken into--twice.
"We figured it was Big Brother dropping in for a visit. A plug here . . . a plug there . . . this happened twice during the trial. Nothing was stolen."
Other highlights from the interview:
* On the morning after the 2002 election:
"My dad's opponent, Bob Riley, came on Alabama statewide television announcing that he had won, and that there had been an error with the ballots in Baldwin County. How he had news of this and my dad, the governor, did not, is beyond me."
* On the role of Bill Pryor, then Alabama attorney general, in deciding the election:
"Needless to say, my dad conceded the election to Bob Riley. The reason for this had a lot to do with who was in the attorney general's office during this time . . . (Pryor) put my dad in a catch-22. Either my dad asked for another recount, in which he knew Pryor would reward Riley and therefore make my dad look like a schmuck, or my dad had to concede the election with his dignity."
* On her father becoming a political target:
"My dad was the first governor to endorse Al Gore in his campaign against Bush, and that was enough to keep (Karl) Rove after my dad."
* On the importance of the story:
"This isn't just a sad story or a bump in the road for politics. This is the corruption of the United States Justice Department. This is a criminal conspiracy for political reasons at best . . . I hate to use this as an example because it upsets me, but truth be told, this is cancer, not a cold."
There is much more interesting stuff in the interview, but I'm going to leave it right there because that is one of the best quotes I've seen about the scope of the problems in our justice system: "This is cancer, not a cold."
And there is an interesting juxtaposition between Hoover High School's search for a new coach in 1998 and steps Briarwood Christian School took at the same time to evidently keep its successful coach, and perhaps two star players.
So let's take a three-part look at some of the questions we raised yesterday:
The sale of Fred Yancey's house was done in an odd, "under-the-table" way. Consider:
* There was never a for-sale sign in the yard. My wife and I, living next door, never saw any indication that the house was for sale. We had been on good terms with the Yanceys, enjoyed having them as neighbors, and they never said a word to us about moving.
* After the sale, I went back and checked local newspapers for several months prior to the closing date and never saw an ad indicating the house was for sale, either by a real-estate agent or by owner.
* After the sale, I checked with a local real-estate appraiser, and he had no record of the property being listed in the Birmingham-area MLS book, which usually contains all properties listed with an agent.
* Even though the house evidently was not listed, a real-estate agent was involved in the transaction. It was Phyllis Tinsley, then with Prudential South o' Town Realty. She now has her own real-estate company.
* Mike McGarity, his wife, and two kids lived in Cahaba Heights prior to buying Yancey's house and becoming my new next-door neighbors.
* Phyllis Tinsley told my wife that she happened to see a for-sale-by-owner sign at McGarity's house in Cahaba Heights and stopped to talk with him. That, Tinsley said, is how she found a prospective buyer. And how did she find a prospective seller? She happened to be in our neighborhood and knocked on Fred Yancey's door. Lo and behold, he was looking to sell his house! A match was made in heaven! (Note: Do real-estate agents really sell houses this way? I have no idea, but sure doesn't sound like a very efficient way to go about it. And why didn't Ms. Tinsley knock on our door? We were the next house over. Maybe we would have been happy to sell.)
* Fred Yancey coached Briarwood Christian to its first ever state championship on Thursday, December 10, 1998. The McGaritys closed on the purchase of the Yanceys house the following day, Friday, December 11, 1998. The day after that, December 12, 1998, my wife and I saw an unfamiliar dog and man in the backyard at Fred Yancey's house, and the yard had been fenced. We soon would find out that--surprise!--we had a new neighbor. We later would find out that our new neighbor had--surprise!--a significant criminal record.
Why did this real-estate deal occur in this way and at this time? My guess is that some school (Hoover High?) was interested in hiring Fred Yancey. Why would Hoover be so high on Fred Yancey? For one, he had just won a state championship, a pretty good indication that he could coach. Two, Yancey had a star player, Tim Castille, who was just an eighth grader. And Tim had a younger brother, Simeon, who reportedly was even better than he was. (Both Castilles would go on to the University of Alabama, where their father Jeremiah--then a Briarwood assistant--had been a star under Bear Bryant. Tim Castille completed his college career last year. Simeon is currently a starting cornerback for Alabama and is an All-American candidate.)
Let's look at some other educated guesses:
* Did Phyllis Tinsley really just stumble upon Mike McGarity and Fred Yancey? Maybe. But it's interesting that McGarity previously lived in Cahaba Heights. Published reports have stated that Tommy Jackson, an assistant coach at Briarwood, once was very active in youth sports leagues in Cahaba Heights. In fact, my understanding is that Briarwood has drawn a lot of players from Cahaba Heights, which may explain why the football program at Shades Valley High School (the public school for Cahaba Heights at the time) has struggled in recent years. Could Jackson, or someone else associated with Briarwood, have known McGarity was looking to buy a house? Could they have thought of him when the school, in an effort to keep its coach, decided to help sell Yancey's house and have him move on campus?
* According to my sources, Briarwood indeed was intensely involved in the real-estate deal. Someone close to the transaction has said the school was pushing for Yancey to move on campus and to get his house sold--quickly.
* According to public documents, McGarity paid a price for Yancey's house that was hardly a bargain at the time. So was Briarwood able to offer an inducement to make the house more attractive? A source, a former student in Oak Mountain schools, has told me that McGarity's son, Michael McGarity, attended Briarwood for a while. I've not been able to confirm this. I know that Michael McGarity wound up at Oak Mountain schools, and I checked with Shelby County officials to see about dates he was enrolled. Federal privacy law prohibits the release of much student information. But enrollment dates are public information and can be released, unless a student or parent has signed a form specifically stating that such information is not to be released. Shelby County officials never said such a form had been signed by the McGaritys, but the officials refused to release the information. I find it curious that Shelby County officials refused to release such innocuous public information. If an employer contacts Shelby schools wanting to verify enrollment dates of a potential employee, I guess the employer is out of luck. Would admission for your child to a private school be a serious inducement to help make a real-estate deal go through? I suspect many parents would find that attractive. If McGarity's son did go to Briarwood for a while, why did he not stay there?
* I've known a few football coaches in my time. Few events in their lives are bigger than playing in a state-championship game. So here you have Fred Yancey, partaking in this huge event on Thursday, and the very next day, he takes on another huge event--the closing on the sale of his house? I don't see that happening unless something extraordinary was going on. My guess? Briarwood was not going to be comfortable about keeping Yancey until they had him moved into the school's house on campus. And the day after the championship game, the deal was done.
* What can happen when a real-estate deal is rushed through? From firsthand knowledge, I know someone living next door to the property in question can suffer greatly. For example, a survey of the property usually is conducted prior to the sale and generally is presented at closing. This is done to ensure there are no encumbrances on the property and is supposed to protect both the buyer and the mortgage company. It also protects people who live near the property. I've seen no evidence that a survey was conducted on the Yancey property prior to sale. During discovery of the civil case, I asked for a copy of McGarity's survey, and he presented an old one, from when the Yanceys bought the house. I can only assume he didn't have one from his purchase of the house because one wasn't done. And that probably explains how his fence got on our yard. If his property had been surveyed and staked out as it should have been, I see no way the fence mistake could have happened. Also, most intelligent home buyers make sure the house is inspected prior to the purchase. Again, I asked in discovery for a copy of McGarity's home inspection, and he did not present one. That appears to mean that he didn't have one done. Were there problems with the Yancey house that might have been caught with a home inspection? I know of at least one. The house, as I understand it, has a history of water coming in the basement during and after heavy rains. While the Yanceys lived there, they had a B-Dry waterproofing system installed. I believe this involves installing a drain that diverts water away from the basement. You can see the drain hole near one of McGarity's garage doors. Do B-Dry systems work? I have no idea. But if I were thinking about buying a house, and the inspection turned up the existence of a B-Dry system, I would have qualms about going through with the purchase. The presence of a B-Dry system, to many would-be buyers, screams, "This house has had water problems!" Not exactly a selling point, I wouldn't think. (By the way, our yard drains extremely well, and some of McGarity's water problems might come from water draining off our yard. I take a certain pleasure in that thought.)
For my wife and me, it's been a "Neighbor From Hell" scene that Hollywood would have trouble dreaming up. I think I've read that the most common neighbor problems involve pets, children, and fences. Our scenario had all that--and much more:
* Max, the barking coonhound mix, was the first problem. I lost track of the number of barking episodes that lasted for 2-3 hours or more. How loud was it? I remember my wife and me trying to have conversations, inside our own home, and just giving up until it stopped. I remember trying to concentrate enough to pay bills--and giving up. I remember being kept awake all night on New Year's morning, 1999. I remember being awakened at about 4 a.m. almost every day when they evidently let the dog out to do his business. And the dog provided the first clue of the kind of person we were dealing with in Mike McGarity. When I called one time to ask if he could do something about the barking dog, his reply (McGarity's, not the dog's) was, "You need to get earplugs." Classy touch. The dog eventually left the premises, I suspect because he either was driving the McGaritys, or other neighbors, crazy. Hope he found a suitable home.
* I've noted the fence that suddenly appeared when McGarity moved in. Once I regained my equilibrium after the dog's exit, I noticed the fence didn't line up with the fence of folks behind us. McGarity already had proven himself to be such an unpleasant sort that I didn't want to raise this issue unless I knew for sure the fence was on our property. So my wife and I paid $200 to have our yard resurveyed. Was the fence on our yard? Yep, and not just a little. It took up 300-400 square feet of our yard. Did McGarity move it? Yep, after a lawyer sent him a letter. Did McGarity reimburse us for the cost of the survey, as demanded in the letter? Nope.
* After taking these steps to build "good will" with us, McGarity decided it would be appropriate for him, other adults, and numerous kids to trespass repeatedly from his front yard to our front yard (an area that we could not fence, under covenants and restrictions of our neighborhood). When I told him verbally to keep himself and his guests off our property, he threatened to sue me for "harassment" and said "we're going to keep on coming." When a lawyer wrote him a letter, explaining criminal trespass law, he trespassed again, on multiple occasions. We finally decided, if our property rights were to mean anything at all, that we would have to act. That led to the criminal trespassing charges against McGarity, the acquittal, the lawsuit against me, mind-boggling judicial corruption, and the blog you are now reading.
* By the way, I talked to two former neighbors of McGarity's in Cahaba Heights. One said the barking dog drove him nuts, to the point that he called sheriff's deputies several times. Another said he experienced trespassing problems similar to what we experienced. What kind of neighbor was McGarity, I asked this guy? "He's a son of a ______," said this fellow. Both said they were thrilled when the McGaritys moved.
* Are those the only problems we've had since acquiring our new neighbor? Gosh, no. I've already mentioned the assault, which happened a little over a year ago. But what's a neighbor problem without a little dose of vandalism? Make that a heavy dose. Let's see if I can remember all the creative ways our house has been vandalized: There were the paint balls, on at least eight to 10 occasions. There were the eggings, on probably a half dozen occasions. There was the attempt to burn down our mailbox. (The box and post were soaked in lighter fluid, and a spent lighter lay in the street. The lighter evidently wouldn't work, which saved our mailbox.) And then there was the lovely night when multiple workmen's tools (which sheriff's deputies told us had been stolen from a home in an adjoining neighborhood) were thrown through our windows, breaking screens and shattering glass. When my wife got up to check on the commotion, she stepped in broken glass. It's a miracle she didn't suffer a serious cut on her foot. Oh, and let's not forget what probably would almost amount to stalking and/or reckless endangerment. McGarity himself has followed my wife and/or me in his vehicle numerous times. Neighborhood buddies of his have followed us while we walked our dog. One swerved her (yes, I said her!) vehicle toward Murphy (our miniature schnauzer) and me one evening as we walked. I guess this mother of two found that amusing. Would she find it amusing if I swerved my vehicle like that toward her kids, or her dog? I don't think so.
* About a dozen neighbors signed a letter prior to the criminal trial saying they considered Mike McGarity to be a wonderful neighbor and that my wife and I were abusing the justice system by seeking his prosecution on criminal-trespass charges. We have a copy of the letter, which we received during the course of discovery in the civil case. Evidently, McGarity's attorney, William E. Swatek, had a copy. What was the purpose of the letter? Well, it was addressed to Judge Ron Jackson, who "presided" over the criminal case, so I can only assume it was presented to him. Is this a slight violation of criminal procedure? Yes. Did the letter amount to defamation by these neighbors? Yes. Were these neighbors--I think there were six households out of about 150 houses in our neighborhood--aware of Mike McGarity's criminal record at the time they signed the letter? Did they know he has convictions for sex- and violence-related offenses in his background? I doubt it. Would they consider him a wonderful neighbor if they knew about that? I doubt it.
* Speaking of McGarity's criminal record, I doubt Hollywood could dream that up. When my wife said something didn't seem right upon meeting our new neighbor, little did I know how right she would prove to be. Upon being sued, I checked into McGarity's background--and it ain't pretty. It's a frightening case of family dysfunction. The short story: He is one of four brothers, and all of them have had significant problems with the law. Two of them died young, under unusual circumstances. And our "soccer dad" himself? I know of at least eight criminal convictions on his record, including a sex-related offense and a violence-related offense. And his record is not the worst in the family. Another brother has been arrested on more stuff than I can remember, including burglary, theft, and felony drug charges. In fact, this brother faced theft charges once in Shelby County. His attorney in that case? William E. Swatek. Did Mike McGarity call on Swatek at the suggestion of his career-criminal brother? I think you can count on it.
* While my wife and I certainly have not been pleased about the aftermath of this hurried real-estate deal, we have wondered if Mike McGarity also was less-than-thrilled about something. Was he caught off guard by the presence of a B-Dry system and the indication that the house had a water problem in its past? Were some promises made during a rush-rush closing that were not kept, at least in his mind? If McGarity's son was enrolled at Briarwood, did something happen to cause that deal to blow up, leaving us with a neighbor who was even more bitter than he appears to be even under normal circumstances? Did McGarity initially seek a lawyer with the idea of pursuing a case, perhaps a legitimate one, against someone connected to Briarwood? Was his attention diverted to suing me, for a case he definitely did not have, as a way to protect Briarwood from some legal--and financial--unpleasantness?
I will go into much more detail later about all of these events and personalities and the resulting legal mess. But this gives you an idea of what can happen when a "Neighbor From Hell" enters your life. And how it can escalate when people in authority take actions to make a problem worse, rather than simply applying the law.
The story, out of Boulder, Colorado, says there currently are 18 million college students in America, and that number is expected to climb by two million over the next eight years. At the University of Colorado, and on other campuses, that has resulted in huge classes.
At Colorado, for example, 33 courses have 400 students or more.
I had a "wait-a-minute moment" when I read this. Isn't there a war going on--two in fact? And our college classrooms are packed to overflowing? Is there something wrong with this picture?
What do members of Tom Brokaw's "Greatest Generation" think when they read this story? They must guffaw at the notion that our college classrooms would be crammed while the country is at war. I doubt it was that way during WWII.
And here's a question: How many of these kids jammed into lecture halls are the progeny of "support the troops" right wingers? In fact, how many of the kids themselves are "support the troops" right wingers?
I guess they just have an interesting way of supporting the troops. Perhaps all the right-wing Justins out there wear "Support the Troops" stickers while they down a few at the latest kegger or try to figure out how to get into Brittney's britches.
Only in Dubya's America.
Monday, November 26, 2007
Raw Story begins a multipart investigative piece on the Siegelman case today. Reporters Larisa Alexandrovna and Muriel Kane open with a solid overview of the case. They note that as early as 1998, when Siegelman was first elected governor, corporate interests in Alabama saw him as a looming threat.
The opening paragraph gets to the heart of the matter:
"For most Americans, the very concept of political prisoners is remote and exotic, a practice that is associated with third-world dictatorships but is foreign to the American tradition. The idea that a prominent politician--a former state governor--could be tried on charges that many observers consider to be trumped up, convicted in a trial that involved numerous questionable procedures, and then hauled off to prison in shackles immediately upon sentencing would be almost unbelievable.
"But there is such a politician: Don Siegelman, Democratic governor of Alabama from 1999 to 2003."
Did Briarwood hurriedly pull off a peculiar real-estate deal that resulted in Yancey, my former next-door neighbor, moving to a house on school property at little or no cost? Did this deal provide the financial incentive for Yancey (and perhaps more importantly, the Castilles) to stay at Briarwood, ensuring that the school's budding football program would remain a powerhouse?
Did Hoover turn to Rush Propst only after it realized that Yancey and the Castilles would stay at Briarwood?
Did the fear of losing Yancey (and maybe the Castilles) to Hoover--or some other school--drive Briarwood to engineer a shoddy real-estate deal that led to major legal headaches for your humble blogger? In fact, did Briarwood's concerns over losing its coach lead to the judicial corruption that prompted this blog in the first place?
Let's see if we can answer some of these questions. We'll do it in three parts, looking at some key facts/events, taking educated guesses at what caused these events to take place, and laying out the aftermath of these events. That's coming up in a bit.
Sunday, November 25, 2007
It shapes up as one of the most important books of 2007, focusing on an unholy alliance between neoconservatives and the Religious Right that helped George W. Bush come to power.
Scott Horton, of Harper's, recently presented an excellent interview with Unger, and it concludes with one of the most compelling quotes I've seen in a long time:
"I see Bush's foreign policy as very much of a piece with his other policies--the unitary executive, his war on science, the politicization of the judiciary, torture, Guantanomo etc.--all of which constitute a brutal assault on America as a constitutional democracy. My central thesis is that the neocons and the religious right constitute an American fundamentalism that is at war with the post-Enlightenment, rational America most of us thought we grew up in. My hope is that a little over a year from now a new administration can start repairing the damage."
An American fundamentalism at war with the rational America most of us thought we grew up in? Powerful stuff, and I think Unger is right on target. I've seen that kind of irrational behavior in my own little court case here in Alabama.
It would be interesting to get the thoughts of people like Don Siegelman and Paul Minor--people who are nothing more than political prisoners in the good ole USA--upon reading that quote from Unger.
More information about Craig Unger's work is available here.
My guess is that the depth of corruption in the Bush DOJ will not be revealed without the help of honest Republicans (yes, there are some). I don't think Democrats can do it on their own. Will honest Republicans become nauseated enough to stand up and play roles similar to that of Howard Baker during the Watergate investigation?
Perhaps there is reason to hope. Alabama attorney Jill Simpson is perhaps the most prominent Republican to stick her neck out, at great personal risk, and say that former Democratic Governor Don Siegelman was a victim of selective prosecution.
Now we have John McKay, a former U.S. attorney in Washington state, saying former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez could face prosecution in relation to the firing of seven U.S. attorneys. McKay, a Republican appointee, was one of the fired U.S. attorneys.
Speaking at an event in Bremerton, Washington, McKay pointed to Gonzalez' role in the firing of David Iglesis, U.S. attorney for New Mexico. "It's apparent that (Gonzalez) had a conversation with the president about David Iglesias, and David Iglesias was fired six weeks later," McKay said. "There was a real live investigation, and the Republicans wanted the indictment out in time to help them in the election, and Iglesias said 'no' and they fired him.
"Now if all of that's true and the attorney general was aware of that when he fired David Iglesias, then he has some 'splainin' to do--and probably in front of a grand jury."
McKay denied press reports that the attorneys spoke up after their performance was questioned. McKay said he was asked to resign in December 2006 and he kept quiet about his leaving until Gonzalez said he wasn't intending to bypass Senate approval for the new attorneys to be appointed.
"When I heard those words I knew he was lying, and I was as stunned as a person could be," McKay said. "I never expected the attorney general of the United States to lie to the United States Senate."
If Congress, or aggressive journalists, ever get to the bottom of the Bush DOJ scandal, I suspect we will discover many events that we never thought could happen.
It hasn't been a total chillfest though. As a University of Missouri grad, I was perched in front of the television last night as the Tigers defeated the Kansas Jayhawks to move into the Big 12 championship game. Folks are even talking about Mizzou as a national-championship contender.
I've lived in Alabama for almost 30 years now, and never thought I would see the day when Alabama and Auburn were heading to so-so bowls (the Tide might not go at all), while once-lowly Mizzou is in the national-title hunt.
Time to get back to the blog, and what better way to do it than to touch base with the "Soul Patrol," the Taylor Hicks fans who have joined us here when we've posted periodically about Birmingham's American Idol and his ties to Hoover High School athletics.
Hicks fans might want to check out an article by Courtney Haden in a recent issue of Birmingham Weekly, one of our fair city's alternative papers. Haden notes that it has been almost 40 years since the great soul singer Otis Redding died in a plane crash near Madison, Wisconsin.
Redding, of course, was one of Hicks' musical idols, and Haden provides an excellent retrospective of the "Big O's" career. It's a career that might never have started if not for Georgia guitar player Johnny Jenkins, who invited Redding to sit in with his band. Jenkins was to record at Stax Records in Memphis, and Redding was along mainly as a driver. But there was studio time left over, and Redding used it to cut one of his own tunes, which turned out to be his first chart single, "These Arms of Mine."
Haden notes that Redding sharpened his songwriting skills, and his albums and singles sold well. But they did not sell like the crossover material coming out of Motown. Could that be another connection for Hicks, whose debut album has not generated the kind of chart success as fellow Idols Chris Daughtry and Carrie Underwood?
Hicks has said several times that he wants to be a career artist, not a "here today, gone tomorrow" sort.
Courtney Haden says Otis Redding's impact lives on, 40 years after his death. One has to think that Redding, a Georgia native, would have enjoyed seeing a fellow Southerner turn the nation on to blue-eyed soul.
"How would the Big O have evolved had he lived?" Haden writes. "What marvelous fusions of city and country could he have contrived? Of course there's no telling, but 40 years after his passing, with comparatively few Otis Redding recording extant to tide us over, it doesn't hurt to wonder."
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Francis X. Gilpin, of the Montgomery Advertiser, reports that a federal grand jury wants to investigate allegations that former Lt. Gov. Steve Windom played a role in an attempted shakedown of Montgomery insurance executive John W. Goff.
The story is based on court documents filed this week and comes on the heels of reports yesterday about allegations from Goff's attorneys that U.S. Attorney Leura Canary was abusing her power in an investigation of Goff.
The notion that Alabama's federal justice arm would be focusing its attention on Windom, a prominent Republican, is a true man-bites-dog kind of story. Federal prosecutors in Alabama have become targets of a Congressional probe into selective prosecution, based on their handling of the case against former Democratic Governor Don Siegelman.
Scott Horton, of Harper's, reported that Canary's job might be in jeopardy after attorneys Thomas Gallion III and Donald R. Jones Jr. wrote a letter to new U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey, charging that Canary was pursuing an abusive and politically motivated investigation of Goff. Horton noted that Mukasey already had sacked a U.S. attorney in Minnesota after criticism of her surfaced from U.S. Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN).
Gilpin reports that a subpoena of Gallion has been withdrawn. And a letter from Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Feaga to Gallion's firm states that the grand jury is interested in a 2003 meeting between Goff and two Windom associates. Goff claimed the men attempted to extort money from him in exchange for Windom's help in retaining a state insurance contract.
Feaga's letter was included among documents filed with Goff's amended lawsuit against Governor Bob Riley, Windom, and others who allegedly caused damage to one of Goff's companies. The amended suit adds Riley's son, Birmingham attorney Rob Riley, as a defendant.
A few questions come to mind about Gilpin's story:
* Is this a thinly disguised effort by Canary to save her job?
* Is Windom truly in any danger of being investigated and, heaven forbid, prosecuted?
* If so, why is Bob Riley not included in the grand jury's investigation? A lawsuit filed by Goff, which seemed to spark the criminal investigation against him, alleges wrongdoing by both Windom and Riley.
You could say that Horton and Cohen are members of the pack because, like me, they have written about the highly questionable prosecution of attorney Paul Minor and ex judges Wes Teel and John Whitfield in Mississippi.
I recently discovered that Horton and Cohen had come under fire from a couple of bloggers, apparently conservative types, who seem to know very little about the Minor case. The bloggers, Walter Olson at PointofLaw.com and John O'Brien at LegalNewsline.com, seem more interested in spreading a pro-corporate ideology than they are in reporting on issues raised by the Minor prosecution.
Olson is based out of the Manhattan Institute, a conservative "think tank," so that appears to color his approach to the Mississippi story. Olson's thesis seems to be: Paul Minor was a trial lawyer, who successfully sued tobacco and asbestos companies, so it's OK if he is wrongfully imprisoned. (And it's OK if two "pro-plaintiff" judges are about to go to prison for crimes they did not commit.)
Olson claims that Cohen says, "Everyone in the justice system down there [in Mississippi] does similarly 'questionable' things, so a 'prosecutor' can haul any lawyer and judge he doesn't like before a grand jury and charge corruption." That's not what Cohen says at all. Cohen says that Mississippi's loose campaign-finance laws allow lawyers (and corporations) to contribute heavily to judges they appear before. "That is terrible for justice," Cohen writes, "since the courts are teeming with perfectly legal conflicts of interest."
And that's the crux of the Minor case: His financial contributions to judges who heard his cases "seem" wrong. But under Mississippi law, they are not. And they only become a federal issue if the judges make unlawful rulings in Minor's favor. And they did not. Therefore, there was no bribery, no honest-services mail fraud, no conspiracy, no racketeering. But three innocent men were convicted anyway.
Olson does say that Horton's pieces on the Minor case are based on slim evidence. Never mind that Horton's work is heavily footnoted, with references to numerous published sources, including Legal Schnauzer.
As for O'Brien, it's not hard to tell where he's coming from. The headline on his piece is "Sympathy for the Devil." I assume the devil, in this case, is Paul Minor. Very subtle.
O'Brien seems to mostly be riding on Olson's shaky coattails. There's little, if any, evidence that O'Brien has done his homework on the case.
In fact, neither post mentions either of the two Republican appointees at the heart of the Minor case--Judge Henry Wingate and prosecutor Dunn Lampton. The public record is clear that Lampton had raging conflicts in the case, and Wingate repeatedly ruled contrary to law.
And both had motive to act improperly. Lampton was on the Bush White House list of U.S. attorneys to be fired. And Wingate was up for a seat on the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. A successful prosecution of a trial lawyer and pro-plaintiff judges stood to save Lampton's job and earn Wingate a promotion.
Of course, it would have taken a little effort to discover this information--effort Olson and O'Brien evidently were not willing to make.
Don McNay reports in the Richmond Register that Giuliani was the lawyer who kept the makers of Oxycontin out of jail. And McNay notes the curious endorsement of Giuliani from evangelist Pat Robertson.
"The Oxycontin people made a product that the company's top executives knew was addictive," McNay writes. "They got their marketing people to push unsuspecting doctors to prescribe it to innocent patients. A lot of people went to the doctor for backaches and came out drug addicts."
And what about Robertson?
"I suspect Robertson is now out of touch," McNay writes. "Still, it is dangerous for an out-of-touch person to make personal endorsements. I am willing to bet that Pat Robertson has never even heard of Oxycontin and doesn't know about Giuliani's involvement.
"The mainstream media spends a lot of time talking about Rudolph's multiple marriages, and his friend who got indicted. They've ignored how Giuliani makes his living."
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Scott Horton, of Harper's.org, reports today that Gallion and Jones have sent Mukasey a 14-page letter outlining abuses by Leura Canary, U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Alabama, in a case involving Montgomery insurance executive John W. Goff.
Gallion and Jones represent Goff in a lawsuit against Alabama Governor Bob Riley, former Lieutenant Governor Steve Windom, and others, alleging their actions caused the failure of one of Goff's companies. They ask Mukasey to remove Canary from the Goff investigation because Riley and Windom have strong business and political connections to her husband Bill, the state's most prominent GOP campaign advisor and president of the Business Council of Alabama.
"Those on the other side of Mr. Canary's campaign efforts have a strange habit of finding themselves the target of a criminal investigation led by Mrs. Canary," Horton writes.
The Goff case appears to represent a particularly vicious form of vindictive behavior by a prosecutor. As part of Goff's lawsuit, Gallion and Jones gave notice of their intention to take the depositions of Governor Riley, his son Rob, and Bill Canary.
"They were astonished to discover a response from Mrs. Canary in the form of a criminal investigation opened against their client," Horton writes. "In a particularly abusive move, Mrs. Canary also served grand jury subpoenas against the lawyers, in a likely effort to block them from further representation of their clients."
Part of the Goff lawsuit involves allegations that Karl Rove, Jack Abramoff, and Michael Scanlon helped direct campaign funds to Governor Riley from Indian casino gambling sources.
Horton has been a remarkably prescient reporter on this story. He reported on September 23 that Bob Riley was highly agitated at the prospect of having to answer questions under oath in the Goff lawsuit. And Horton reported that Riley appeared to be looking to Leura Canary to help make the lawsuit "go away."
He apparently turned to the right person. Now, will Mukasey continue to allow Canary to run amok in Montgomery? If he takes action, what will it be?
Horton notes that Rachel Paulose, the 34-year-old U.S. attorney in Minneapolis, has stepped down to take a job at Main Justice. Paulose was a Rove-connected U.S. attorney, much like Canary. Paulose stepped down after Minnesota's Republican Senator Norm Coleman publicly criticized Paulose and met with Mukasey to discuss his concerns. She was the subject of an investigation into charges that she had discriminated against office employees.
Could Canary meet a fate similar to that of Paulose? Could Mukasey, considering Canary's role in the Don Siegelman prosecution, take action beyond removing her from the Goff investigation?
British journalist Leonard Doyle, of The Independent, says Southern Company has contributed an extraordinary $6.2 million to Republican campaigns since 1990. The company's employees contributed more than $217,000 to help Bush get elected twice.
A single Southern Company plant in Juliette, Georgia emits more carbon dioxide annually than Brazil's entire power sector. And Southern Company ranks among the top two of America's dirtiest utility polluters, the sixth worst in the world. The information comes from the first-ever worldwide database of global-warming pollution.
"The link between massive cash contributions by America's power companies and political arm-twisting in Washington has rarely been put into such sharp relief," Doyle writes. "Environmentalists have long suspected that President Bush's dogged refusal to sign up to international agreements to control global warming was linked to campaign contributions."
Doyle reports that Haley Barbour, one of Southern Company's primary lobbyists when Bush took office, played a key role in persuading him to back away from campaign promises to reduce CO2 emissions when he first ran for president in 2000. Barbour recently was re-elected governor of Mississippi.
We have focused heavily here at Legal Schnauzer on the notion that Republicans have put our justice system up for sale. Now it looks like they have put the environment up for sale, too.
That's the day the Washington Post reported that Lampton had been among 26 U.S. attorneys listed as candidates for firing by the Bush administration.
The Post obtained unreleased government documents showing that the roster of candidates to be fired was much longer than previously acknowledged. When Lampton was asked what he was doing to bring the ire of the Bush administration, he said, "I don't have a clue."
Is it possible that Lampton pursued the Minor prosecution in order to get back into the good graces of the Bush White House?
And keep in mind, it was widely reported at the time of the trial that U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate was a candidate for a spot on the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. That decision would be made by the Bush administration, and Wingate wound up not getting it.
So you had a prosecutor whose position was threatened by the Bush White House. And you had a judge who was up for a promotion, a decision that would come from the Bush White House.
Did that color the prosecution? Our research indicates the answer to that question is a resounding yes.
Paul Geller, of the Lerach Couglin firm in Boca Raton, FL, has indeed acted heroically.
Geller recently saved a miniature schnauzer (and a pregnant woman) from two attacking pit bulls. The attorney was driving his 8-year-old son home from the beach when he saw two pit bulls attacking a woman walking her dog.
"The woman was on the ground, and one of the pit bulls was on top of her," Geller said. "Blood was everywhere."
Geller is an expert in jujitsu--he practices in a room at his law firm's offices--and managed to kick and scare away the attacking dogs. The woman suffered a bite on her face and is doing fine. The schnauzer, Midnight Duke, had to undergo a lengthy surgical procedure and needed about 100 stitches to repair his wounds. He is expected to recover.
Geller is a trial lawyer who specializes in suing corporations who rip off shareholders. I guess a corporate lawyer, in a similar situation, would have started writing a memo on why it would be OK to keep on driving.
Here is Geller's biography from the firm's Web site. I know a few Alabama judges I'd like to sic this guy on.
Monday, November 19, 2007
The war isn't over, and Columnist Paul Krugman makes more valid points in his column today.
Krugman notes that "everyone knows" white men have turned away from the Democratic party over God, guns, national security and so on. But he says that is not true when the South is excluded. Research has shown that 40 percent of non-Southern white men voted Democratic in the 1952 presidential election, and that figure was virtually unchanged (39 percent) in 2004.
Southern voting patterns, Krugman says, are distinctive. Democrats decisively won the popular vote in last year's House elections, but Southern whites voted Republican by almost two to one.
Was this an accident? Krugman says even GOP leaders admit it was not. "Some Republicans gave up on winning the African-American vote, looking the other way or trying to benefit politically from racial polarization." This came from Ken Mehlman, former chairman of the Republican National Committee, speaking in 2005.
Finally, Krugman returns to Reagan's campaign kickoff speech in 1980 at Philadelphia, MS. In December 1979, Krugman writes, the Republican national committeeman from Mississippi wrote a letter urging that the party's nominee speak at the Neshoba County Fair, just outside the town where three civil rights workers were murdered in 1964. It would, the committeeman wrote, help win over "George Wallace inclined voters."
As requested, Reagan appeared and declared his support to states' rights--which everyone took to be a coded declaration of support for segregationist sentiments. Sounds to me like it was pretty well planned.
"Regan's defenders protest furiously that he wasn't personally bigoted," Krugman writes. "So what? We're talking about his political strategy. His personal beliefs are irrelevant."
But it is not funny when the News regularly attempts to blow smoke up the collective rear end of its readers on matters of vital importance.
Take, for example, the small matter of the integrity of our state courts. Editor Tom Scarritt weighs in on this subject in his sleep-inducing Sunday column.
You can always size up a Scarritt column as a waste of space. But his most recent effort goes beyond that, to the realm of being dangerous--at least for anyone out there who might actually take him seriously.
The column is titled "Judges should seek office on own merits." Scarritt notes Alabama's No. 1 position in the country on spending for judicial races, and he seems to share the concerns of retired U.S. Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O'Connor that such heavy fund-raising gives the impression that justice is for sale.
Scarritt then notes the Alabama Supreme Court's recent decision to override a $3.6 billion verdict against ExxonMobil and in favor of the state of Alabama in a case involving natural-gas royalties. He says that decision adds to the perception that justice is for sale.
So far, so good with the column. It actually is coherent and makes a valid point--a rarity for Scarritt. But then he veers off into that strange land we might call "Right Wing World," where truth and intellectual rigor account for nothing.
Of the ExxonMobil ruling, Scarritt writes: "The court's decision that the big oil company's actions did not constitute fraud against the state may have been a correct reading of the law."
This is both dishonest and lazy. The decision has been issued for more than two weeks. It is readily available. And yes, it's lengthy. But Scarritt is the editor of the largest newspaper in the state, so you would think he might take the time to read it before pontificating about it. Obviously, he has not read it, which is lazy. And to imply that the ruling was legally correct, even though we citizens might not like it, is dishonest. The ruling was not legally correct, and we will lay that out in the weeks ahead here at Legal Schnauzer.
Then Scarritt steps in more doo-doo. "The fact eight justices who were supported by money from the business community voted for that decision, and the lone dissent came from the justice supported by trial lawyer money, made it appear justice has a price tag."
That's a slick way of providing cover for Scarritt's eight Republican brethren on the Supreme Court. He tars Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb, the only Democrat on the court and its lone dissenting voice on the ExxonMobil ruling, with the same sleazy brush that could be used (deservedly) on the court's Republicans. "Hey," Scarritt seems to be saying, "the Republicans might be in the pocket of corporations, but Cobb's in the pocket of trial lawyers."
Only one problem with that line of thinking. There is nothing from the ExxonMobil ruling that would remotely suggest Cobb based her dissent on her support from trial lawyers. For one thing, Scarritt would have you believe that "trial lawyers" (one of the great bogeymen of the right wing) were a party to the case, just as a large corporation (ExxonMobil) was a party to the case. But trial lawyers were not a party. The party opposite ExxonMobil was the state of Alabama, and the people of Alabama were the big loser's in the court's reversal--not trial lawyers.
If you actually read the case--which I have--you see that Cobb's dissent is based on a correct reading of the facts and the law in the case. And you see that the Republican majority ignored the evidence and the proper standard of review in the case.
Hmmm, wonder why they did that? Could it be that they were doing the bidding of the corporate sponsors who put them in power? Yes, it could. But Tom Scarritt doesn't want you to know that, so he implies that Sue Bell Cobb is just as corrupt as her Republican brethren.
There's one problem with Scarritt's little game of peek-a-boo. The ExxonMobil ruling is not an anomaly. The Alabama Supreme Court--and the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals, for that matter--has played fast and loose with the law before, favoring certain parties and willfully cheating other parties. All for political reasons.
They did it in the Legal Schnauzer case, the case that is at the heart of this blog. And we will show you how they did it, and who benefited from it.
That's something you definitely won't be reading in Tom Scarritt's rag.
The defense was well aware of Lampton's conflicts and filed a motion to dismiss the charges, saying Minor and others were being selectively prosecuted. Of particular emphasis was the fact that attorney Richard "Dickie" Scruggs, brother-in-law of Senator Trent Lott (R-MS) had made financial contributions to judges and was not indicted.
"When the Republican U.S. attorney looks at Republican supporter Mr. Scruggs' actions he sees them in a way that avoids any criminal overtone," said Minor attorney Abbe Lowell. "When the same U.S. attorney looks at Democrat Paul Minor's actions, he sees racketeering."
And Lowell raised other key points. "Obtaining multi-million dollar results for clients in two separate cases in which negligence and other wrongdoing were alleged by Mr. Minor against Mr. Lampton's family interest is reason all by itself to require Mr. Lampton to stay out of any decision concerning Mr. Minor," Lowell said. "But there he stood announcing how his family's nemesis was a federal felon."
How did Judge Henry Wingate handle the motion to dismiss? In a most curious way. According to the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, he sat on it--for 15 months. "Judges generally rule quickly on a motion to dismiss because that motion could put an end to the case, legal experts say," reporter Jerry Mitchell wrote.
Evidently Wingate was not interested in seeing a weak case come to an end. When he finally ruled on the motion to dismiss, he denied it and said there was no political bias on the part of the prosecution.
Perhaps the biggest reason for concerns about Lampton's motivations was unknown at the time of Wingate's ruling. But it would come to light on a national stage.
That subject has become the heart of an intramural war of words on the editorial pages of The New York Times.
It started when liberal columnist Paul Krugman wrote that Republican politicians understand that their national success since the 1970s "owes everything to the partisan switch of Southern whites." A critical event in this switch, Krugman says, came when Ronald Reagan kicked off his 1980 campaign with a speech supporting "states' rights" delivered just outside Philadelphia, MS, where three civil rights workers had been murdered in the 1960s.
Conservative columnist David Brooks fired back, saying the substance of Reagan's speech had been simplified and distorted. Brooks didn't mention Krugman by name, but it seems clear he was counting his Times colleagues among those who were too eager to help spread a "slur." "(The slur) posits that there was a master conspiracy to play on the alleged Klan-like prejudices of American voters, when there is no evidence of that conspiracy."
Krugman responded on his blog by citing other examples of Reagan's "race-baiting" whoppers. These included the Gipper's 1980 declaration that the Voting Rights Act had been "humiliating to the South."
Finally, liberal columnist Bob Herbert joined in the fray, siding solidly with Krugman. "Commentators have been trying of late to put this appearance by Reagan (in Mississippi) into a racially benign context," Herbert wrote. "That won't wash. Reagan may have been blessed with a Hollywood smile and an avuncular delivery, but he was elbow deep in the same race-baiting Southern strategy of Goldwater and Nixon."
Greg Mitchell, of Editor and Publisher, provides an excellent blow by blow.
The GOP's reliance on race-baiting politics is at the heart of Krugman's new book, The Conscience of a Liberal. Michael Tomasky presents a compelling review at The New York Review of Books.
The winner in this war of words? From my perspective, it's Krugman, hands down. For a conservative columnist, Brooks is fairly thoughtful and reasoned. But I don't see how his Reagan argument can fly with semi-rational people.
The GOPers seem to want it both ways with Reagan. On the one hand, they portray him as their godfather, the brilliant strategist who led them out of the wilderness. But when it suits their purposes, they portray him as a lovable dolt.
In Brooks' world, the Reagan campaign was "famously disorganized," and the Gipper wound up in Philadelphia, MS, almost by accident.
Count me as one Southerner who doesn't buy that scenario for one second.
Sunday, November 18, 2007
Editor John Leek notes that he had asked Matthew Krell, a law student, to present an analysis of my coverage on the Minor case. Then Leek presents my two-part response to Krell's piece.
All in all, I would say this was a healthy exchange. Leek notes that the first part of my response could be interpreted as disrespectful of Mr. Krell. I was aware as I was putting it together that it could be seen that way, but it certainly was not intended that way. I do think generational differences were at the heart of our different approaches to the Minor story. And somehow, the "My Common Enemy" episode of Scrubs came to mind.
I should point out that in "My Common Enemy" it's the older guys (Drs. Kelso and Cox, representing me) who get intellectually bested by the young lady (Dr. Clock, representing Mr. Krell). I guess the Scrubs reference was meant to poke fun at yours truly, as much as anything else.
Anyway, I'm glad that Cottonmouth, The Natchez Blog, and the Jackson Free Press all are focusing intently on the Minor case these days.
Blogger Casey Ann Hughes, Ph.D., has a splendid piece at the Cottonmouth blog, focusing on former Mississippi judge Wes Teel, his family, and the human costs of partisan prosecutions. Hughes' piece is cross-posted at The Natchez Blog.
Hughes has a doctorate in psychology, so she offers special insight into the emotional toll taken by a justice department out of control. Much of the coverage of the Minor case has focused on Paul Minor himself (an attorney) and Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz (who was acquitted on all charges). Former state judges Wes Teel and John Whitfield (who were convicted along with Minor in the second trial) have been somewhat in the background.
Hughes connects us with the human side of this story. She introduces us to Teel, his wife, and grandchildren, and includes photos with the story. She notes that Teel's wife was a longtime public-school teacher before having to retire on disability because of multiple sclerosis, and she depends heavily on her husband for support. Her husband, however, is due to report to federal prison in late December.
Some readers might say, "Hey, Mr. Teel was convicted of a crime. His family will just have to tough it out. Mr. Teel should have thought of his family before committing bribery, honest-services mail fraud, conspiracy, etc."
Those readers would have a good point--if Mr. Teel had actually committed those crimes. But through 20-plus posts in our "Mississippi Churning" series here at Legal Schnauzer, we have shown that Teel, Minor, and Whitfield did not commit the crimes for which they were charged. A jury convicted them only because Judge Henry Wingate, a Republican appointee, made numerous unlawful decisions in the case. His rulings related to expert witnesses for the defense and jury instructions on bribery and honest-services mail fraud were particularly off target.
Hughes opens her piece by noting that political prisoners are associated with Stalin's Soviet Union, Hussein's Iraq, Franco's Spain, and Hitler's Germany.
She closes on a note that is both hopeful and distressing:
"These men will eventually be cleared, but it will take years. In the meantime, who will take care of Judge Teel's wife?
"This is a scary story because the United States Justice Department is imprisoning innocent citizens for purely political reasons, and quieting political dissent through fear. I've just told you about Mississippi, but it's happening all across the country, in Alabama, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin--the list keep growing.
"Is this America, or one of those dictatorships? What country are we living in?"
Joining Hughes in shining light on the Minor case is Adam Lynch of the Jackson Free Press. In a piece titled "Dem at Your Own Risk," Lynch smartly takes the reader through the case, starting with the tort-reform craze that hit Mississippi in 2000 and going through introduction of the Minor case at the recent U.S. House Judiciary Committee hearing on selective prosecution.
Lynch includes interesting comments from a number of key players--including prosecutor Dunn Lampton (who indicates he had strong disagreements with the Justice Department on the handling of the case) and Missouri political scientist Donald Shields, whose research has shown the Bush Justice Department has investigated seven times as many Democrats as Republicans.
Saturday, November 17, 2007
Tommy Stevenson, of the Tuscaloosa News, reports that he is hearing from people around the state who say they have been contacted by 60 Minutes about the story.
Sounds like the CBS folks are doing serious homework. One of Stevenson's sources said producers have conducted 15 to 16 interviews for the piece. The source says the story will be "very comprehensive in its scope, covering the questions about the direction of the investigation and including the main question, which is "was the convicted charge a crime?"
One thrust of the story evidently will be a comparison of Siegelman's conviction for giving an appointment to a state board in exchange for a campaign donation to alleged similar behavior by current Republican Gov. Bob Riley. (Could this include a look at the Huntsville biotech deal?)
Another thrust will be the highly partisan political histories of both prosecutors and the judge.
Speaking of the prosecutors, the ones who have given numerous interviews to the Alabama press, they are not talking to 60 Minutes. Hmmm, guess Sweet Lou Franklin came down with a sudden case of lockjaw.
Think 60 Minutes might have asked Sweet Lou a few questions that Brett Blackledge, The Birmingham News' "attack chihuahua," failed to raise?
White House strategist Karl Rove and Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez have stepped down, apparently in no small part because of their roles in the DOJ scandal, which started with the firings of nine U.S. attorneys. The U.S. House Judiciary Committee has initiated an investigation, focusing on cases of selective prosecution in Alabama (Don Siegelman), Mississippi (Paul Minor), Wisconsin (Georgia Thompson) and Pennsylvania (Cyril Wecht).
Committee chairman, Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), has been stonewalled at every turn in his efforts to obtain documents related to the DOJ scandal.
Now we learn that not only are the Bushies artfully stonewalling the investigation, they are continuing on their merry path of prosecuting for reasons of politics, not justice.
Scott Horton, of Harper's, reports today that Dunn Lampton, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi, is planning a third set of charges against Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz. Lampton initiated the Paul Minor case, and Diaz already has been acquitted on two sets of charges, one involving bribery and mail fraud and the other involving tax evasion.
Lampton, with a huge assist from Republican-appointee judge Henry Wingate, managed to get convictions on Minor and former Mississippi judges Wes Teel and John Whitfield. And we have shown through an extensive series of posts here at Legal Schnauzer, that Minor, Teel, and Whitfield were convicted for crimes they did not commit.
A jury found them guilty only because Wingate unlawfully disallowed expert-witness testimony for the defense and gave incorrect jury instructions on the two key charges--bribery and honest-services mail fraud. Did Wingate do this accidentally? Seems hard to believe, considering that he was up for a spot on the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals at the time. Wingate evidently coveted the post, and convictions in the Minor case were likely to help him with the Bush White House. (Ultimately, Wingate did not get the promotion.)
Also, we've shown that Lampton had long-running conflicts involving Diaz and Minor, but he was allowed to oversee the case anyway. And now he evidently is still going after Diaz.
The pathology of the Bush DOJ also is evident in Alabama. Horton reports that U.S. Attorney Leura Canary, who initiated the Siegelman prosecution in Alabama, is preparing another highly questionable case against an adversary of a prominent Alabama Republican. Horton says details are expected to emerge about this case in the coming week.
Sounds like he is referring to the case of John W. Goff, the Montgomery insurance executive who sued Governor Bob Riley and others for actions that allegedly damaged one of Goff's companies.
Horton has reported that Riley was greatly agitated at the notion of having to testify under oath in the Goff case and turned to Canary for help in making the case "go away." Looks like he found the help he needed.
We've noted several times that a curious form of sociopathy seems to have infected segments of the Republican party, particularly when it comes to justice-related issues. I know that sounds like extremist language on my part. But in my own case here in Alabama, I've witnessed strong evidence of sociopathy (antisocial personality disorder) in several central characters.
The key trait of these individuals is that they have no conscience, no empathy for the rights and feelings of others. Another trait of these folks: They are extremely difficult to treat and are highly resistant to change. Why? They can't recognize the condition in themselves.
This latest news provides even more evidence that sociopathy is rampant in the Bush DOJ. I hope members of the House Judiciary Committee, including key members Artur Davis (D-AL) and Steve Cohen (D-TN), will keep this in mind as their investigation progresses.
Davis and company will have to be extremely tough and diligent because this particular bug is going to be very hard to flush out and kill. On the surface, their investigation seems to be about the justice system. But beneath it all, I think the real problem is a psychological disorder.
I truly think the committee needs to consult with an expert in antisocial personality disorder. The future of our justice system, something Americans used to take pride in, might depend on it.
The Galveston County Daily News received unconfirmed reports that the jury was deadlocked at eight for guilty and four for not guilty.
Under Texas law at the time of the incident, the case hinged on whether the cat was feral or belonged to someone. The cat lived under a toll bridge, and a toll-bridge operator said he had adopted the cat and gave it food and toys. Texas law recently was changed to forbid the killing of cats, regardless of ownership.
Stevenson, head of the Galveston Ornithological Society, was concerned that feral cats were preying on endangered shorebirds. Stevenson said he hopes attention from the case will help officials adopt public policies that work for birds and cats.
It's interesting that this case occurred in a Southern state, where citizens tend to cringe at the thought of government regulation.
A recent story in the Birmingham area gets to the heart of the problem. The Shelby County Humane Society has a program where volunteers take unclaimed dogs and cats to New England for adoption. According to the story, animal shelters in Southern states tend to have way more dogs and cats than they can find homes for. States in New England have actually developed a shortage of dogs and cats, due to strict spay-and-neuter laws.
I applaud the folks at the Shelby County Humane Society for taking a common-sense approach to the problem. One wonders if the New England laws are a bit too strict if they have created a shortage. Let's hope animal lovers and public officials can come together to find a middle ground that will make situations like the one Galveston less likely to occur.