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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A Schnauzer Take on the Raw Story

Lindsay Beyerstein of Raw Story did such a splendid job on her piece about my termination from UAB that there is not a lot to add.

But we schnauzers never have been known as quiet, retiring types. So I can't resist adding my two cents. (Ms. Beyerstein interviewed me at length for her story, so I've probably already had more than my two cents. Let's consider the following my 20 cents.)

My hope is to add some insight to an already insightful article. Let's give it a shot:

Raw Story: "Shuler's problem arose not because he blogged nor because he did so from his workplace, because it's clear he didn't," says (Scott) Horton, who has been following both the Siegelman and Shuler cases closely. "His problem came from the fact that he wrote critical, well received insights targeting a number of very powerful figures in Alabama, starting with U.S. Attorney Alice Martin and prominent Republicans with which she is aligned, and including a number of major figures in the Alabama media."

Legal Schnauzer: I love this quote from Scott Horton, of Harper's magazine, because in just two sentences, he provides a true "nut graph" of what has occurred in my case. And he touches on an issue I would like to flesh out. When people hear the term "blogger," they think of someone who is presenting his opinions on various topics. Certainly I present my opinions and analysis, my take if you will, on a number of issues here at Legal Schnauzer. But in many instances, I've been more of a "citizen journalist" than a "blogger." And it's my role as a citizen journalist, I believe, that led to my dismissal at UAB. For example, I don't know that anyone in Alabama's GOP power structure would care all that much if I simply were offering critical opinions on this blog. But on at least some stories, I am doing more than that--I am acting as a journalist, reporting on stories that the local and regional mainstream press has largely ignored.

While I have presented evidence that UAB officials were concerned about my posts regarding the Don Siegelman case, I have been more of a follower than a leader on that story. The true groundbreakers on that story have been folks like Scott Horton at Harper's, Glynn Wilson at Locust Fork World News, and Larisa Alexandrovna at Raw Story.

I have, however, broken ground on three other stories. They are:

1. The Paul Minor case in Mississippi--Horton and Alexandrovna have written a number of excellent overview pieces about the Minor case. My role has been to write a series of posts, showing in detail how the case was corruptly handled by U.S. Judge Henry Wingate, a Reagan appointee.

2. The Malice of Alice--No one has done more than Scott Horton to expose U.S. Attorney Alice Martin for the corrupt political hack that she is. But I have added an important component to the reporting on Martin, showing how she took my complaints of criminal wrongdoing by Alabama judges and lawyers and intentionally sent them to the wrong investigative agency, ensuring my charges never would see the light of day. Also, I showed how she violated prosecutorial ethics by failing to disclose her clear conflict of interest in my case. This conflict arose because my complaint included multiple charges against Pelham, Alabama, attorney William E. Swatek, who just happens to be the father of Dax Swatek, Alice Martin's former campaign manager. Did Alice Martin inform me of this slight conflict? Nope. I provided a first-person account of Alice Martin's corrupt ways, and I'm guessing she wasn't real happy about it.

3. My Own Journey Through Legal Hell--This is the whole reason I started Legal Schnauzer, to show my fellow Alabamians that our state courts, in the Age of Rove, are a corrupt sewer. And I don't use that term "Age of Rove" lightly. It's a fact that Karl Rove, along with GOP operative Bill Canary, helped turn Alabama state courts from Democratic control to Republican control in the 1990s. It's a fact that Dax Swatek used to work for Bill Canary and remains a close confidante. It's a fact that Dax Swatek has served as campaign manager for Alice Martin (2000) and Governor Bob Riley (2006). Perhaps you've played that "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" game involving all sorts of Hollywood actors and their ties to Kevin Bacon. In our Legal Schnauzer tale, the Kevin Bacon role is played by Dax Swatek. Because Dax Swatek's father (Bill Swatek) filed a bogus lawsuit against me, and because I had the temerity to write about the judicial corruption I had witnessed in the handling of that lawsuit, my story evolved from a minor local imbroglio to something that riled up important players in the GOP power structure.

The bottom line? I feel certain I was not fired because of the progressive opinions expressed on this blog. I was fired because of my reporting about Paul Minor, Alice Martin, and Bill/Dax Swatek.

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Raw Story: Shuler's initial goal as a blogger--at his personal blog, Legal Schnauzer--was to expose the corruption of a local lawyer and his allies in the local judiciary, he says.

Legal Schnauzer: An important point. The local lawyer was William E. Swatek. His primary ally in the local judiciary was Shelby County Circuit Judge J. Michael Joiner. And Swatek's client, my troublesome "neighbor from hell," was Mike McGarity. These are the three people who started this whole process. What do we know about these folks? Public records show that Bill Swatek has been disciplined three times by the Alabama State Bar, including a suspension of his license for acts of "fraud, deceit, misrepresentation, and dishonesty," and he has been tried in criminal court of perjury. Class act. Public records show that Mike McGarity has at least eight criminal convictions in his background. All are misdemeanors, but they include at least one violence-related offense and one sex-related offense. Another class act. And Joiner's handling of my case indicates that he should be serving "5 to 10" in a federal penitentiary. He has committed heinous acts of honest services mail fraud and probably conspiracy and God knows what else. A final class act.

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Raw Story: Shuler has accused Martin of deliberately dragging her feet on the investigation to protect political allies. Shuler asserted that Martin was guilty of the same types of abuses of her official position that she and Canary had so vigilantly policed when they attempted to convict Siegelman and other Democratic elected officials in Alabama, including senior members of the state senate.

Legal Schnauzer: Another critical point. I have shown, in reporting on a detailed e-mail exchange I had with Martin, that she has committed honest-services mail fraud--the very offense that made up the majority of the charges against Don Siegelman. I'm not a federal prosecutor, but Martin's actions in my case also reflect possible obstruction of justice. Do you think Alice Martin was happy to see her crimes--in her very own words--presented on this blog? I don't think so either.

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Raw Story: Martin says Shuler's allegations don't fall under her office's purview.

"Mr. Shuler has made, in writing and in person, numerous allegations against various individuals to my office which, if memory serves deals with civil litigation," she wrote in an email to RAW STORY Wednesday. "Many of his allegations are set forth on his blog."

"The US Attorney, when receiving complaints, refers them to an appropriate federal or investigative agency, as we do not investigate cases," she added. "His complaints were forwarded to the US Postal Inspection Service, as I advised him in my email, as he asserted the mails were involved. He was also advised to contact the Alabama Bar Association. He met with an Assistant US Attorney and presented no evidence of an offense, only has opinions, [and was referred to agencies] that could conduct an independent investigation. I have no knowledge of him contacting those agencies."

She also denied her office was in any way involved with Shuler's termination.

"There has been no contact by the office to Mr Shuler's employer," she wrote.

Legal Schnauzer: There are too many barnyard droppings in Martin's statements to do them justice here. I will address this in a separate post.

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Raw Story: Shuler, a journalist by training, has published numerous original investigative reports on Martin, Gov. Bob Riley, and both Leura and Bill Canary.

Riley also has close ties to Alice Martin. In 2007, whistleblower Dana Jill Simpson testified before the House Judiciary Committee that she heard Canary promise Gov. Riley that "his girls" would take care of Siegelman. Canary's "girls" were his wife, Leura Canary, and Alice Martin.

He's also president ex officio of the Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama, and a frequent target of Shuler's barbs.

Legal Schnauzer: This is important, not only because Bob Riley is president ex offcio of the Board of Trustees, but the board itself serves as the boss of UAB president Carol Garrison. I've worked at UAB for 19 years, and I know that neither Carol Garrison, nor any other UAB president, would so blatantly violate federal law and university policy as she has done in my case without receiving the consent of, or pressure from, the Board of Trustees. That board hired Carol Garrison, and it can fire Carol Garrison. Do I think that board is a factor in my termination? You're darn tootin' I do. And that is not just based on my opinion. I am gathering facts that strongly point in the board's direction.

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Raw Story: Shuler's blog-based reporting on the Siegelman prosecution and other high-profile cases has won him recognition in Alabama and beyond. Last month, Shuler was cited as an authority in an appeal filed by attorneys for prominent Mississippi Democrat Paul Minor, whom Shuler has defended as a victim of politically-motivated prosecution.

Shuler's reporting has also attracted interest from national media, including Scott Horton of Harper's Magazine, Raw Story, author Mark Crispin Miller and Jay Allbritton of AOL News. Prior to his dismissal, Shuler appeared on a local TV news segment about bloggers and the Siegelman case.

Legal Schnauzer: The importance of these paragraphs, in my mind, cannot be overstated. I started the blog in June 2007, and for about four months, the blog was relatively unknown (although I was pleased to see that readership grew steadily). But on October 23, 2007, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on selective prosecution by the Bush Justice Department, and my blog was cited numerous times in documents entered regarding the Paul Minor case in Mississippi. At about that same time, Scott Horton referenced my blog once or twice at his influential and widely read No Comment blog at Harper's.org. Suddenly, Legal Schnauzer wasn't unknown anymore. Important people were taking my work seriously. And in a little more than a month, strange things would start happening at work, events that would eventually lead to my firing at UAB.

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Raw Story: Alice Martin pursued a major whistleblower lawsuit on behalf of two UAB employees who reported that the University had misused federal grant money, and in 2005 the University agreed to pay $3.39 million to settle allegations that researchers double-billed on federal research grants. Under the terms of the settlement, Martin retained the power to reopen a civil or criminal investigation against UAB officials. This power, coupled with Martin's demonstrated enthusiasm for investigating corruption at universities, may have given UAB officials pause.

Legal Schnauzer: Again, it's hard to overstate the importance of these sentences. We will be writing in great detail about this whistleblower lawsuit, providing information that never has been written about in any news forum. I have conducted extensive research on this case, and I will show that Alice Martin essentially has a cocked pistol pointed at UAB's collective head, ready to fire it at any time. I will show that Alice Martin did UAB a colossal favor in the handling of this lawsuit, and the university has lots of reasons (millions of them, in fact) to want to return the favor.

And how might the university do that? By unlawfully terminating an employee who was proving to be a thorn in Alice Martin's deeply conservative side.

2 comments:

John Frum said...

LS: kudos and gratitude and support and . . . well . . . I think you get the gist of where I am coming from.

I am attorney who has been sitting here in Nashville enrapt and disgusted by what I have been reading from the likes of Scott and Larisa since this story first broke. I guess you can say I maintain my law school naivete about the sanctity of Process (with a capital P).

Anyway, I just want to throw out something from Nashvegas that has been bothering me for quite some time. Harold Ford's uncle, part of the powerful Ford machine in Memphis and not necessarily the most sympathetic of guys, went down in a public corruption scheme a couple years ago (dubbed Tennessee Waltz). Being as cynical as I am about Tennessee politics, I am not ready to defend John Ford in the least, but I did just want to point out something more than just a little convenient in the timing of this bust that sheds a little light on the myriad of ways the power of the US Atty's office could be used for improper political mischief.

When did this bust occur? The day after Ford announced he was running for the Senate. I have been trying to dig a little more into this, but don't quite have the time, but you can look at the details of the investigation and see that this was sat on. In any event, I just wanted to throw this out there.

Keep strong. What I have been reading about in AL makes TN seem politically and ethically angelic. Best o' luck.

legalschnauzer said...

John:
Thanks for your comment. Very interesting. I'm vaguely familiar with the Tennessee Waltz case, but I've never thought of it in terms of the Bush DOJ scandal. But it makes sense that it might fit. I wonder if Scott Horton has made this connection. Might mention this to him.

As an aside, you might be familiar with Angus McEachran, who is retired editor of the Memphis Commercial-Appeal. Angus was my first boss in journalism--and that's not an easy way to break in. I believe he served on the jury for a high-profile corruption case in Tennessee. Not sure if it was the Tennessee Waltz case or not. Bet those were interesting jury deliberations if Angus was in the middle of it. He's like a character out of a movie--the classic, crusty newspaper editor.