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Monday, November 10, 2008

Stabler DUI Case Raises Questions About Celebrity and Justice

Did former University of Alabama and Oakland Raiders football star Ken Stabler receive an unlawful break when he was acquitted recently on drunk driving charges?

It looks that way.

Does Stabler's case raise issues that are about to become central to our Legal Schnauzer story? You're darn tootin'. (Good Lord, I sound like Sarah Palin; sorry about that.)

How could the Stabler and Schnauzer stories be connected? In a couple of ways. One, my legal nightmare started because of a corrupt decision by an Alabama district-court judge. (District court usually involves non-jury, bench trials.) A similar event appears to have happened in the Stabler case, although it was in municipal court.

Two, our story is about to focus on one of the largest donors in UAB history, and this fellow is embroiled in a DUI case that has many similarities to the Stabler case. In fact, the UAB donor's behavior behind the wheel appears to have been far worse than Stabler's.

For good measure, this UAB donor has all kinds of interesting political and business associations that make him a "person of interest" in my termination from UAB.

First, let's focus on the Stabler story. The Mobile Press-Register reports that legal experts are baffled by a decision made by the judge in the Stabler case--a decision that directly led to Stabler's acquittal.

Sports fans know all about Ken "The Snake" Stabler. The hard-living, left-handed quarterback was a star for Hall of Fame Alabama coach Paul "Bear" Bryant before becoming a professional standout with the NFL's Oakland Raiders. Stabler probably is the second most famous player in Alabama football history, behind only Joe Namath.

Stabler was stopped on June 8 while driving on Alabama 59 in Robertsdale, near Mobile Bay. Officer Tyler Kane was by the side of the road making another stop when Stabler's vehicle passed within a few feet of him. When Kane stopped Stabler, the former star quarterback's speech was slurred, he smelled strongly of alcohol, and he refused to take a breath test.

At Stabler's trial in October, Robertsdale Municipal Judge James Sweet barred evidence that Stabler had refused to take a breath test. Sweet ruled that Stabler's refusal was inadmissible because officers had failed to monitor him for 20 minutes after his arrest.

The so-called deprivation rule is designed to make sure the driver has no alcohol in his mouth that would contaminate the test.

The Press-Register interviewed several south Alabama lawyers and judges who said the deprivation rule does not apply when a driver refuses to take a breath test:

"That 20 minutes thing doesn't have a dadburned thing to do with that kind of testimony," said Bayless E. Biles, a Baldwin County lawyer who has served as a municipal judge in Bay Minette for nine years. "There is absolutely no application. It is totally irrelevant. . . ."

Haran Lowe, a staff attorney with the state Department of Public Safety who will represent the state in a civil dispute over Stabler's drivers license, said the purpose of the deprivation period is to ensure an accurate reading on the Dr ger breath test machine. If the driver never takes the test, Lowe said, "I don't think the 20-minute (rule) matters. . . ."

Spanish Fort Municipal Judge James V. Roberts Jr. said he didn't want to second-guess a judge in a case that he didn't hear first-hand, but added, "It would be hard for me to see the relevance" of the deprivation period argument.

Did a judge in a bench trial, without the buffer of a jury, make an unlawful ruling in order to acquit an Alabama sports icon? Sure as heck looks that way. And that's a subject that hits close to home here at Legal Schnauzer.

My legal nightmare started when Shelby County District Judge Ron Jackson "acquitted" Mike McGarity of criminal trespass, third degree in a bench trial. Jackson based his acquittal on the notion that it was unclear if I had given McGarity "written warning" to stay off our property prior to his trespass. Alabama law, however, does not require any warning, much less written warning, in a criminal trespass case. In fact, the court transcript shows that McGarity unwittingly confessed to the crime and still was acquitted. That allowed him to file the bogus lawsuit against me that led to this blog.

Here's the problem with bench trials in criminal cases: There is absolutely no one to hold the judge accountable and make sure he follows the law. Without a jury, the judge totally controls the case. And once he acquits the defendant, the victim of the crime--my wife and me in the McGarity case, the State of Alabama in the Stabler case--has no recourse. Because of the double-jeopardy rule, a criminal acquittal cannot be appealed.

Is Judge Sweet an Alabama football fan who just wanted to see one of Bear Bryant's star players get off the hook? Did an Alabama booster provide some financial incentive for the judge to make his curious decision?

Who knows? But it's another example of Alabama courts stinking to high heaven.

And what about the UAB booster? His name is William Cobb "Chip" Hazelrig, and he gave $5 million for the Hazelrig-Salter Radiation Oncology Building, currently under construction on the UAB campus. The Hazelrig gift is believed to be the largest individual donation in UAB history.

Ken Stabler has a lengthy history of legal problems connected to alcohol and driving. Chip Hazelrig's driving history appears to be even worse than Stabler's, and he is scheduled for trial on December 1 in Jefferson County Circuit Court on a DUI charge.

By the way, we're not talking about a guy with a "mild" DUI case or a fairly clean driving record. We're talking about an outrageous DUI case and a driving history that probably should qualify Chip Hazelrig as a public menace.

But UAB was more than happy to take his $5 million, and that alone gives him extraordinary clout with the university's brass. His clout becomes even more interesting when you consider his political and business ties, which we will be examining in detail here at Legal Schnauzer.

Hazelrig's political connections might very well explain why I no longer am employed at UAB.

We also will be keeping up with Hazelrig's DUI trial, which is just a few weeks away. And we will provide you all sorts of details about his truly frightening driving history.

When you consider all of the evidence, Chip Hazelrig makes Kenny Stabler look like an upstanding guy.

Does UAB care that it is taking money from someone who has repeatedly put innocent lives at risk? And does UAB cave in to political pressure from the likes of Chip Hazelrig?

Those might be interesting questions to put to UAB President Carol Garrison.


Anonymous said...

the judge in the Stabler case got his law degree from the U. of Alabama and so did his son.
He is a huge Bama fan and huge Stabler fan. Being a Bama alumni and connected to other Bama alumni.
I personally know him and I also personally know Tyler Kane. Tyler is a good cop and would not lie. He told me Stabler was so drunk he could barely stand up.
When Stabler finally kills someone while driving drunk, James Sweet should be tried for manslaughter.

Anonymous said...

BTW. Tyler Kane is no longer a member of the Robertsdale Police Farce. To quote that great American redneck Gomer Pyle: "Surprise. Surprise. Surprise."

James Greek said...

Anon at 7:29 AM is James Sweet the name of the judge?