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Sunday, November 30, 2008

Could Obama Repeat Bill Clinton's Mistakes?

Two veteran journalists are warning that President-Elect Barack Obama might be about to repeat mistakes made by our previous Democratic president, Bill Clinton, when he took office in 1993.

Robert Parry and Joseph L. Galloway write that Obama is sending signals that he has no intention of supporting investigations of the George W. Bush administration.

Both journalists say such a stance could jeopardize Obama's ability to govern effectively.

Parry, writing at Consortium News, says Obama's desire to promote bipartisanship could lead to a free pass for Bush officials who might have committed crimes.

Parry broke numerous Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s while working for Associated Press and Newsweek. He says Obama's position is reminiscent of the one Bill Clinton took in 1993. And Clinton's decision proved to cost him dearly:

Barack Obama seeks a new era of bipartisanship, but he should take heed of what happened to the last Democrat in the White House – Bill Clinton – in 1993 when he sought to appease Republicans by shelving pending investigations into Reagan-Bush-I-era wrongdoing and hoped for some reciprocity.

Instead the Republicans pocketed the Democratic concessions and pressed ahead with possibly the most partisan assault ever directed against a sitting President. The war on Clinton included attacks on his past life in Arkansas, on his wife Hillary, on personnel decisions at the White House, and on key members of his administration.

The Republicans also took the offensive against Clinton’s reformist agenda, denying him even one GOP vote for his first budget and then sabotaging Hillary Clinton’s plan for universal health insurance.

The desperately-seeking-bipartisanship Clinton allowed Republican loyalists to stay burrowed inside the government, and he bowed to the appointment of right-wing special prosecutors (appointed by a Republican-dominated judicial panel) to investigate him and his administration.

Parry had a front-row seat for Clinton's mistakes, and he came away with this lesson: Try to play nice with Republicans, and you are likely to get burned:

In November 1994, a resurgent Republican Party – energized by its hatred of the Clintons – wrested control of Congress from the Democrats. But rather than sating the Right’s anti-Clinton obsession, the success only fed a desire for more.

Behind a relentless investigation by right-wing special prosecutor Kenneth Starr, the Republicans pressed ahead with what became a multi-year drive to impeach President Clinton, exploiting suspicions over Clinton’s old Whitewater real-estate investment as payback for Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal.

How were Clinton's efforts at bipartisanship rewarded? With an investigation of events that began before he even was governor of Arkansas.

Some observers are saying Obama should ignore the past and look only to the future. But did Republicans look to the past with Bill Clinton? You're darn right they did. And if Republicans take back control of Congress in 2010, will they come after Obama regarding William Ayers or Jeremiah Wright or the heartbreak of psoriasis? You're darn right they will:

Now, after eight years of Bush’s catastrophic presidency, another Democrat has been elected to the nation’s highest office and – like Clinton 16 years ago – Barack Obama is being advised by Washington insiders to reach out to the Republicans with an open hand of bipartisanship.

Most significantly, Obama is being urged to forget about holding Bush and other top officials accountable for torture, war crimes, violations of the Constitution and other serious offenses. Obama’s even getting advice that he should leave some senior Bush officials in place as a bipartisan gesture.

Ironically, some of this advice is coming from the same people who were part of Clinton’s decisions in early 1993 to set aside investigations into Reagan-Bush-I wrongdoing and thus to allow a false history of that era to become cemented as a faux reality.

When Clinton took office, four investigations were pending about wrongdoing in the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations:

All told, the four sets of allegations, if true, would paint an unflattering portrait of the 12-year Republican rule: two illegal dirty tricks (October Surprise and Passportgate) book-ending ill-conceived national security schemes in the Middle East (Iran-Contra and Iraqgate).

Had the full stories been told the American people might have perceived the legacies of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush quite differently than they do today.

But the Clinton administration and congressional Democrats dropped all four investigations beginning in early 1993, either through benign neglect – by failing to hold hearings and keeping the issues alive in the news media – or by actively closing the door on investigative leads.

In other words, a free pass given to Republicans in 1993 paved the way for the disastrous George W. Bush presidency:

It allowed an incomplete, even false history to be written about the Reagan-Bush-I era, glossing over many of the worst mistakes.

The bogus history denied the American people the knowledge needed to assess how relationships had evolved between the United States and Middle East leaders, including Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, the Saudi royal family and the Iranian mullahs.

Though the Middle East crises had receded by the time Clinton took office in 1993, the troubles had not gone away and were sure to worsen again. When that time came, the American people would have a sanitized version of how the country got where it was.

Galloway, who writes about military affairs for McClatchy Newspapers, has similar concerns. He writes, in "Moderation in the Pursuit of Justice is No Virtue," that members of Obama's transition team are indicating that they do not intend to investigate anyone in the Bush administration for possible war crimes:

Moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue, and its no way to begin an administration that was elected on promises of change. What it says is that if you're one of the elite and powerful, your violations of the law will be overlooked, no matter how much damage you did to our country’s standing in the world.

What message would this send to future Karl Rove's? It's not a good one, Galloway writes:

What signal does it send to Mr. Bush's gang of unindicted co-conspirators, who've unwrapped a Pandora’s boxful of other offenses — from perverting the administration of justice, to illegally eavesdropping on the phone conversations and e-mails of ordinary Americans, to salting the stream of intelligence with bogus material, to inviting their cronies to loot the Treasury with no-bid military contracts, to lying under oath to congressional oversight committees, to applying political litmus tests to the hiring of civil service employees to the wholesale destruction of White House e-mails and records? Etcetera. Etcetera.

This nation was founded on the principle of equal justice under the law. No one — no one — ought to be able to skate or hold a get-out-of-jail-free card by virtue of having been the most powerful felon in the land, or of working for him.

Galloway uses a classic analogy to drive home a critical point about the direction Obama needs to take:

Out in West Texas, crusty old ranchers plagued by coyotes killing their calves and baby sheep shoot the offending beasts and hang their carcasses on the nearest barbed wire fence as an object lesson to the rest of the pack.

Unless the newly empowered Democrats in the White House and on Capitol Hill hang a few coyotes on some fences in Washington, D.C., they're making a huge mistake that will come back to haunt them, and all the rest of us, too.

In Alabama, where the roots of Bush sleaze are planted, at least one editorial voice says an investigation of the Don Siegelman prosecution could rip the lid off the Bush Justice Department.

The Tuscaloosa News notes that oral arguments in the Siegelman case are December 9 in Atlanta, before the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, and says the case could spark interest in getting to the bottom of the Bush DOJ swamp:

And while there seems to be some let-bygones-be-bygones sentiment in Washington as Democrats take over the White House and expand their numbers in Congress, the Siegelman case, where two people actually went to jail after a trial that an appeal court has already said raised 'substantial questions,' the arguments at the Dec. 9 hearing in Atlanta could rekindle interest in getting to the bottom of things at the Departament of Justice.

The newspaper could have gone even further. In the Paul Minor case in Mississippi, the South's companion piece to the Siegelman fiasco, three people still are in federal prison on charges that would have to improve greatly to reach the level of bogus.

Here is a Schnauzer prediction: I recently posted a diary at Daily Kos about the Siegelman case, and it attracted far more attention than anything else I've written there. Kos is an influential and widely read labyrinth of progressive ideas, and my post was No. 3 that day on the site's list of high-impact diaries.

What does that tell us? I think it tells us that there is deep and passionate interest among progressives in seeing that justice is done regarding the Bush Justice Department. A large swath of Obama supporters are rightly angry about the trashing of our justice department in general--and the handling of the Siegelman case in particular.

If Obama obstructs a full and intense inquiry into the Bush DOJ, my guess is that he will alienate a major chunk of his base--and that will have profoundly negative consequences for his presidency and our country.

My prediction is this: If Obama leads an effort to paper over the gross wrongdoing of the Bush DOJ, there's a good chance he will be a one-term president. And if that's not the case, my guess is that Republicans will take back Congress at some point and promptly investigate Obama into oblivion, ruining his second term and leaving his presidency in tatters.

Friday, November 28, 2008

On Rove, Alabama, and the Scourge of Abramoff

Those of us who live in Alabama have seen our politics sullied by disgraced Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

We know that Abramoff funneled $13 million of Mississippi Choctaw gaming funds into Alabama to help Bob Riley claim the 2002 governor's race over Don Siegelman.

So here in Alabama, we have our antennae finely tuned for any new discoveries about the extent of Abramoff's sleaze.

The latest comes from Larisa Alexandrovna at Raw Story, who reports that Abramoff was connected to the White House from the earliest days of the George W. Bush administration.

And who was Abramoff's conduit as Bushies were getting settled in at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue? Why, none other than Karl Rove.

Hmmm.

Alexandrovna reports that an e-mail dated February 27, 2001, shows that Abramoff had an agreement with Rove's assistant Susan Ralston for access to the White House.

This was little more than a month after Bush had taken office. And long before the Riley-Siegelman battle in 2002.

So what does this information mean for those of us in Alabama? Well, for this Alabamian, it raises these questions:

* Did Rove, and perhaps Bush, know about Abramoff's plans to funnel money to Bob Riley's campaign?

* Did Rove, and perhaps Bush, know about possible plans to steal the 2002 election by having votes for Siegelman mysteriously disappear into the good night in Baldwin County, Alabama?

* Did Rove, and perhaps Bush, know about plans to work through Bill Canary, head of the Business Council of Alabama, to stage a bogus prosecution of Siegelman?

* Did Rove, and perhaps Bush, know about the central roles played by U.S. attorneys Alice Martin and Leura Canary in plans to subvert the justice system and turn Don Siegelman into a political prisoner?

* Did Rove, and perhaps Bush, know about similar plans in Mississippi, which turned attorney Paul Minor and former state judges Wes Teel and John Whitworth into political prisoners?

* Was this e-mail from February 2001 an early signal that all hell was about to break loose in the U.S. Justice Department, with Alabama and Mississippi serving as Ground Zero for massive criminal conduct?

Rove . . . Abramoff . . . Alabama . . . Mississippi.

They go together like bacon, lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise.

Except these ingredients make for one foul-smelling sandwich.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

All-Republican Panel Will Hear Siegelman Appeal

Three federal judges, all Republican appointees, have been chosen to hear the appeals of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman and his codefendant, HealthSouth founder Richard Scrushy.

The three-judge panel from the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals will include Chief Judge J.L. Edmondson, Senior Judge James C. Hill, and Judge Gerald Bard Tjoflat. Oral arguments are set for December 9 in Atlanta.

President Gerald Ford appointed Hill and Tjoflat to the federal bench. President Ronald Reagan appointed Edmondson.

All three judges have experience in handling politically charged cases. But some of them have been involved in controversial rulings that are likely to give many Siegelman supporters pause.

Siegelman is a Democrat who held four statewide offices in Alabama--secretary of state, attorney general, lieutenant governor, and governor. A federal jury in 2006 convicted Siegelman and Scrushy of federal-funds bribery, conspiracy, and honest-services mail fraud.

Tjoflat was one of four Republican appointees who dissented in an 8-4 decision that sided with Al Gore's request to continue with manual recounts in Florida as part of the Bush v. Gore case in December 2000. Edmondson was one of three Republican appointees who sided with the majority in that case.

Tjoflat was part of a three-judge panel that weighed in on the 1994 election contest for Alabama Supreme Court chief justice between Republican Perry Hooper Sr. and Democrat Sonny Hornsby. The panel upheld a lower-court ruling that threw out 1,700 unwitnessed absentee ballots, making Hooper the winner.

Karl Rove was intimately involved in the Hooper/Hornsby race, and his efforts to get Hooper elected under controversial circumstances signaled a sea change in Alabama courts, which once were all Democratic and now lean way to the right.

Hill was part of a 2000 panel that allowed student-led prayer at Alabama's public schools.

Siegelman lawyer Vince Kilborn said he has no concerns about the makeup of the panel. But the story about the three-judge panel, and the circumstances surrounding the Siegelman case, raises some important questions:

* The central argument of the Siegelman/Scrushy appeal is that the prosecution was politically motivated, that Republicans in the Bush administration were out to get Alabama's most successful Democrat. Given that, isn't it curious that the three-judge panel consists of all Republican appointees? I'm not an expert on the procedures for picking appellate panels, but for the sake of appearances, wouldn't it have made sense to make sure the panel was politically balanced--at least a little bit, say with maybe one Democratic appointee?

* Isn't it curious that this story was released in the Thanksgiving Day issue of The Birmingham News and was buried on page 2B?

* I have more than 30 years of experience as a journalist, and I'm not sure I buy Kilborn's statement that he isn't concerned about the makeup of the panel. For public consumption, he has to say the panel looks stellar and fair. But I find it hard to believe that News reporters Kim Chandler and Mary Orndorff would, on their own, go to the trouble of looking up controversial decisions these judges have been involved in. It looks to me like someone fed them that information, and it probably was someone on the Siegelman/Scrushy team. Why would someone on the Siegelman/Scrushy side feed that information to the reporters? Because they think the makeup of this panel stinks to high heaven--but they feel they can't say that publicly.

* What was my reaction upon hearing about this panel of three Republicans? I immediately thought of William Pryor, former attorney general of Alabama who started investigating Siegelman before the Democrat's fanny had barely hit the governor's chair. Pryor now serves on the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, as a George W. Bush appointee, and I couldn't help but wonder: "Why isn't Bill Pryor on this panel? His presence is about the only thing that could make this panel worse. Did Pryor have a round of golf scheduled for that day?"

* That reaction was from my rational side. What was my paranoid, irrational side thinking? That this is a last gasp by the corrupt Bush administration to subvert justice one more time before being shown the door. And once again, the target is Don Siegelman. What better way to protect Karl Rove from future inquiries than to have Siegelman's conviction upheld on appeal? And what better way to do that than to have an all-Republican panel hear it?

We all know that federal judges are, in theory, insulated from political considerations in their decisions. But anyone who has studied the machinations of U.S. Judge Mark Fuller in the Siegelman case, or those of U.S. Judge Henry Wingate in the Paul Minor case, knows that quaint theory no longer holds in Karl Rove's America.

Rove and his acolytes have found receptive audiences in U.S. attorneys offices and federal courthouses around the Deep South. And don't think for a moment that appellate courts are any more honest than trial courts. This all-Republican panel is every bit as capable of acting corruptly as was Fuller, the trial judge.

As a progressive who is concerned about justice in the South, I am alarmed about the selection of this panel for the Siegelman appeal. And I think the Siegelman legal team is alarmed, too.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Siegelman Case Hits the Media Spotlight

Two media outlets in the past 24 hours have presented in-depth reports on the Don Siegelman case.

Greg Privett, investigative reporter at television station WHNT in Huntsville, prepared a story of more than eight minutes that ran last night. You can watch Privett's report by going to the WHNT Web site and clicking on "Siegelman's Second Chance" under Top News Videos.

Privett starts by noting that Siegelman's second chance will come when his appeal is heard in about two weeks by the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta.

The report spotlights the broad implications of the Siegelman case. "If they can do this to me, as former governor of the state, they can do it to you," Siegelman says.

We can certainly identify with that sentiment here at Legal Schnauzer, considering that I was wrongfully terminated at UAB because I write a blog that deals with the Siegelman case, among other topics.

Privett notes that the U.S. Department of Justice will undergo major changes when President-Elect Barack Obama takes office in January. But Siegelman says citizens should continue to push for answers regarding his case and other possible wrongdoing by the outgoing Bush administration.

"If we don't hold people accountable, these new U.S. attorneys won't take this as seriously as they should," Siegelman says. "If they don't, it's likely to happen again."

On the Web, Huffington Post reporter David Fiderer presents "Scandals Surrounding Don Siegelman's Prosecution: A Quick and Easy Primer, Part I."

Fiderer expertly lays out the web of Republican relationships--Karl Rove, Bill Canary, Jack Abramoff, Michael Scanlon, Bob Riley--that came together to produce the Siegelman prosecution.

It all started, Fiderer writes, with the Rove/Canary connection that solidified in the 1990s:

Rove was recruited for work in Alabama by a Republican operative named Bill Canary, a former chief of staff at the RNC. The two had bonded while working on the 1992 Bush-Quayle campaign, from which Rove had been fired for unauthorized leaking.

While both men were originally from out of state, they both established roots in Alabama, since both married politically active women who hailed from there. Rove's wife, Darby Tara Hickson, had worked in his political consulting firm, whereas Canary's wife, Leura, was an attorney in the state attorney general's office and later at the Justice Department. Rove bought a second home on the Alabama gulf coast. Both men maintained two bases of operations in and out of the state. Rove, of course, worked in Texas.

Through 2001, Canary continued working in Washington, where he was President and CEO of the American Trucking Association.

Canary recruited Rove to work on 1994 campaigns for Alabama Supreme Court justices. Rove's tactics were notable for their dishonesty and viciousness. He directed Republican candidates to call their opponents "ambulance chasers." He ran ads alleging that one Supreme Court Justice, Ernest Hornsby, made a practice of shaking down trial lawyers for campaign contributions. He started a whispering campaign against Mark Kennedy, a Democratic candidate and founder of the Children's Trust Fund of Alabama, by alleging that Kennedy was a pedophile.

Abramoff entered the picture shortly after George W. Bush became president in 2001:

Jack Abramoff's most important client was the Mississippi Choctaw Indian Tribe, which ran a casino across the state border near Philadelphia, Mississippi. Abramoff's job was to quash any competition, which included Don Siegelman's pet cause, a state lottery for Alabama. Lottery proceeds from the would have helped cover tuition at state colleges.

The Choctaw Tribe forwarded Abramoff about $16 million for various political influence schemes. Abramoff relied on other crooks - Ralph Reed, Michael Scanlon, Grover Norquist - to launder money within Alabama, where it was used to help defeat a 1999 voter referendum to establish a lottery. The 2006 Senate Report revealed corrupt activities among Abramoff, Reed, Scanlon, and Norquist. But it also had a notable omission. As first reported by HuffPost's Sam Stein, documentary evidence also implicated Governor-elect Bob Riley.

On December 10, 2002, Michael Scanlon, Riley's former press secretary and an Abramoff cohort, now a convicted felon, emailed Abramoff, alerting him that a Choctaw representative, "definitely wants Riley to shut down the Poarch Creek operation, including his announcing that anyone caught gambling there can't qualify for a state contract or something like that."

In other words, they wanted Riley to continue what he'd been doing for years.

Fiderer notes that Riley, so far, has avoided having his connections to Abramoff closely scrutinized:

Riley's ties to Abramoff were first publicized in late 2005 and figured to become a campaign issue in the 2006 governor's race. But the issue of Republican corruption was neutralized by the prosecution and conviction of Don Siegelman. The Senate Report was released on June 22, 2006 right after jurors in the Siegelman trial had begun deliberations.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Pitfalls and Politics in the Workplace

Having been cheated out of my job a few months ago, I've become keenly interested in the landmines that can lie just beneath the surface in many workplaces.

I was fired after 19 years of service at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) for a couple of reasons--one that is fairly obvious and one that UAB is trying to keep hidden away.

The obvious reason is that I had complained, both to my immediate supervisor and her superior, about age-based harassment and discrimination that I had experienced over a period of some five months or more.

I filed a formal grievance in UAB Human Resources, a process employees are supposed to use without fear of reprisal. But roughly two weeks after filing the grievance, I was placed on administrative leave. And 12 days after that, I was terminated.

Can we say retaliation?

The hidden reason I was fired has to do with Alabama politics and the fact I was producing citizen journalism on this blog that caused discomfort for certain folks affiliated with the Republican Party. And a number of GOP types exert both political and financial power over UAB.

I was exercising my First Amendment right to report on, and comment about, matters of public interest--primarily that Alabama state courts are a corrupt mess and the Bush administration has used the U.S. Justice Department as a political weapon.

Someone wanted to shut me up, and they apparently thought costing me my job would do the trick.

Can we say violation of constitutional rights?

When your antennae are tuned in the right direction, it's amazing how much news you will find about various shenanigans in the workplace.

Here in the Birmingham area we have a case in the suburb of Helena, where a female police officer named Jan McDuff has filed a discrimination lawsuit in federal court.

McDuff has been a police officer since July 2000 and applied for a position as a K-9 officer. Her lawsuit claims the job went to a lesser qualified male officer. In fact, the officer who got the job failed to make it through K-9 school, so the city gave the job to an even less qualified male officer.

When McDuff sent an e-mail to her superiors to express concern about the situation, noting that she is the only female among 21 full-time officers, she was disciplined with a written warning.

Hmmm, this sounds familiar.

Regular folks like Jan McDuff and I aren't the only ones to step on workplace landmines. Some cases gain national attention and some involve people of considerable fame:

* Elizabeth Reyes, an attorney in the Texas Secretary of State Office, filed a lawsuit last year claiming that Karl Rove had her fired after she had commented for a Washington Post story. We posted about the Reyes case
here. In checking the Web and various Texas newspaper sites, I did not find any stories updating the status of the Reyes lawsuit. But it is undisputed that Rove called her boss after the story appeared. And it is undisputed that Reyes lost her job soon after that conversation took place.

* Former CBS News anchor Dan Rather lost his job not long after reporting about George W. Bush's military records. CBS official initially said Rather's lawsuit would be summarily dismissed. But a recent New York Times article shows that discovery in the lawsuit indicates CBS indeed initiated an investigation of Rather partly to quell Republican criticism of the network.

I see no evidence that politics played a role in the Jan McDuff case. But it clearly played a role in the Reyes, Rather, and Legal Schnauzer cases.

Can we all hope for a brighter day, when people can do their jobs without worrying so much about stepping on landmines?

I think there is reason to have hope. But first, we must shine light on cases of injustice in the workplace. I applaud Dan Rather's efforts to get at the truth in his case.

And we are trying to follow his lead in our own Legal Schnauzer case. I've started the litigation process by filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). That is a step that must be taken before a lawsuit is filed.

I've also unearthed quite a bit of evidence about what really caused me to be terminated at UAB. We will be presenting that information in detail in the coming weeks here at Legal Schnauzer.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Siegelman Whistleblower: Did a Notorious Bushie Sweep Her Charges Under the Rug?

An examination of records in the Tamarah Grimes whistleblower case indicate that a controversial Bush appointee might have played a role in protecting Leura Canary, U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Alabama.

Scott J. Bloch, head of the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), appears to have limited the scope of the investigation into Grimes' allegations of wrongdoing by prosecutors in the Don Siegelman case.

Federal agents raided Bloch's office in May as part of an investigation into political bias and obstruction of justice. Just one month ago, the Bush White House fired Bloch.

Before that happened, did Bloch take steps to protect Canary and her top assistants in the office that directed the Siegelman prosecution?

David Margolis, associate deputy attorney general, issued a report in which he found no violations had been committed by management officials in the Middle District of Alabama, led by U.S. Attorney Leura Canary.

But Columbia University law professor Scott Horton, writing at The Daily Beast, quoted a Congressional staffer as saying Margolis had not conducted much of an investigation at all, not even interviewing key players. Another source told Horton that Margolis was intent on "sweeping everything under the carpet."

Doesn't sound like Grimes got a fair hearing does it? And as we noted in a previous post, she was rewarded for her efforts by becoming the target of a criminal investigation.

What was Margolis determined to sweep under the carpet? And did he receive assistance from Scott J. Bloch?

Let's take a look at some of the key allegations Grimes' leveled at Leura Canary and her staff at the Middle District of Alabama (MDAL):

* Obstruction of an investigation--Assistant U.S. Attorney Randolph Neeley had been arrested for drunk driving while working on government business in California, and an error by Neeley resulted in the dismissal of a case. The Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) conducted a review, but Grimes said Canary directed that the report be watered down in order to protect Neeley;

* Favoritism in the workplace--Canary routinely placed favored people in positions for which they did not meet the minimum educational or professional standards. Canary, however, refused to hire a qualified candidate for an assistant U.S. attorney position because the woman's husband had attempted suicide at the end of their marriage. Canary did not want someone "who would be married to a crazy person" in the office;

* A culture of gossip--Canary and other management types cultivated an office environment where vicious gossip was the norm. The sister-in-law of an assistant U.S. attorney had a case of vaginal warts, and that apparently was discussed openly in the office;

* Waste of government funds--During the Don Siegelman/Richard Scrushy case, known as the "Big Case" in the office, prosecutor Steve Feaga was allowed to keep a contract employee (Vallie Byrdsong) for more than three years, long after staff members could have performed his duties, according to Grimes. The government also paid all expenses for Byrdsong to attend the Siegelman/Scrushy sentencing, which included a "victory party" at the home of prosecutor Louis Franklin;

* Unethical Conduct--Justice Department employees removed documents from the Emelle landfill, even though landfill managers had said the documents could be copied but not removed from the premises. Grimes said DOJ employees loaded boxes into cars and removed them anyway.

* Abuse of Public Trust--Members of the prosecution team had improper contacts with jurors, and Canary remained involved in the case long after she had supposedly recused herself due to conflicts.

Was the Department of Justice serious about getting to the bottom of Grimes' allegations? Well, consider the following:

* Regarding obstruction of the Randolph Neeley investigation, OPR never interviewed Grimes. Patricia Watson, one of Canary's chief assistants, asked Grimes what she planned to tell OPR investigators. Grimes said she would answer any questions truthfully. When investigators arrived, they did not interview Grimes. When Watson was asked about this, she said that Grimes' name had been removed from the interview list.

* Regarding the removal of documents from the Emelle landfill, Margolis' report makes no mention of this at all.

* Regarding improper conduct between jurors and prosecution staff, investigators did not interview U.S. Marshals who allegedly were involved in passing notes back and forth.

* Regarding evidence that Canary remained involved in the case after she had supposedly recused herself, Margolis' report makes no mention of this.

Why would Margolis make no mention of the allegations regarding Canary's recusal and removal of documents from the Emelle landfill? Why were key parties not interviewed about certain events?

The Margolis report indicates that he received a request from the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) that only five issues be investigated. These issues apparently did not include Canary's recusal and the landfill documents.

Who is the head of OSC? It's the aforementioned Scott J. Bloch, a 2003 George W. Bush appointee. In May 2008, federal agents raided Bloch's office as part of a criminal investigation over allegations of improper political bias and obstruction of justice. The New York Times reported that agents were trying to determine if Bloch had hired an outside firm to "scrub" his computer files.

Let's consider the following timeline:

* Bloch's letter, identifying five areas for investigation in the Grimes case, was dated April 28, 2008;

* Bloch's office was raided on May 7, 2008.

Did Bloch have time, prior to the raid on his office, to tailor the Grimes investigation so as to protect Leura Canary? If Bloch is being investigated for improper political bias and obstruction of justice, is his handling of the Grimes allegations part of that probe? It it's not, should it be?

Is Bloch a political hot potato? It certainly looks like it. He was fired by the White House on October 23.

The Bob Riley Economy Goes in the Tank

Remember the 2002 Alabama gubernatorial election, when Republican challenger Bob Riley repeatedly knocked Democratic incumbent Don Siegelman on the issue of job losses?

Siegelman, like all governors around the country, was having to deal with an economic downturn brought on by the burst dot-com bubble. And that shined light on one truth of modern politics: There is not much governors can do to prevent job losses when the nation's economy takes a downswing. In other words, governors get too much credit when economic times are good and too much blame when times turn sour.

But Riley didn't want to let the truth get in the way of a good campaign issue. So he attacked Siegelman and wound up "winning" an election that was decided when votes mysteriously disappeared in the middle of the night in Baldwin County.

Not long after Riley took office, the national economy turned around, and Riley was able to crow about creating jobs far better than his predecessor had.

Well, it seems Riley isn't crowing so much these days. A report came out over the weekend that layoffs and plant closings are mounting in every corner of Alabama. With a month left in the year, state officials have been notified of almost 11,000 jobs lost during 2008.

All of this was predictable when George W. Bush became president in January 2001 and took the usual conservative approach of cutting taxes for the wealthiest Americans. The move prompted a "mini boom" in the economy, causing the modest job growth of which Riley was so proud.

But as more of the nation's wealth wound up in the hands of too few people, the economy began to bog down. The middle class, which drives demand, became strapped, saw its purchasing power diminished, and tightened its purse strings out of necessity. This contributed greatly to the economic malaise we now are experiencing.

This isn't anything new, but the American public keeps falling for the same conservative trick. And the results never change.

Several times in the late 1800s, conservative administrations pushed for supply-side tax cuts on the wealthy. The nation experienced the usual result: a "mini boom" followed by recession or depression.

It happened again in the 1920s with the conservative administration of Calvin Coolidge, who was Ronald Reagan's hero. With the help of a Republican Congress, Coolidge started an economic train wreck that led to the Great Depression.

The supply-side tax cuts of Reagan and George H.W. Bush led to a deep recession in the late 1980s and early 1990s, one that only a Democrat, Bill Clinton, could solve.

Now, some 15 years later, another Democrat, Barack Obama, is being asked to clean up after another supply-side mess.

Will we ever learn? Anyone who truly wants to understand this cycle should read Kevin Phillips' masterpiece, The Politics of Rich and Poor. I would argue that it's the most important public-affairs book of the past 50 years.

Reading Phillips, unfortunately, takes a little effort. And too many Americans are not willing to make that effort.

It's easier, I guess, to take your economic cues from the likes of Bob Riley.

Worst Person in the World: Karl Rove or Michael Vick?

For quite some time, I've figured that Karl Rove had no challenger when it came to the title of "Worst Person in the World." (Tip of the hat to Countdown and Keith Olbermann.)

But former NFL quarterback Michael Vick seems determined to give Rove a run for his money.

If I had the power, I would contact the management of Hell and ask them to reserve a large corner for Rove and his acolytes who have turned our justice system into a political plaything. But now, I think I also would ask the managers of Hell to reserve an especially warm corner for Vick and his buddies who ran "Bad Newz Kennels" in Virginia.

Vick is serving a 23-month sentence on convictions related to dog fighting and is scheduled for release from federal prison on July 20, 2009.

But now we learn that Vick didn't just stage fights of pit bulls against other pit bulls. A confidential witness says Vick put family pets in rings with pit bulls and thought it was funny to watch the trained killers injure or kill the helpless dogs.

A number of observers have tried to excuse Vick's involvement in dog fighting by saying the "sport" is part of the culture he grew up in. But I don't know of any civilized culture that endorses putting helpless animals in a pen with trained killers and laughing as they are torn apart.

What to do with a dirtbag like Vick? Well, we know that dogs are descendants of wolves. Perhaps we could put Vick in an enclosure with a pack of hungry wolves and see if he can fight his way out.

He might discover that being torn limb from limb isn't such fun after all.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Workplace Retaliation: A Classic Weapon in the Rove Arsenal

Bogus criminal prosecutions that target political opponents are perhaps the best known dirty trick of the Republican Party in the Age of Karl Rove.

But workplace retaliation is rapidly moving up the charts of favored nasty GOP tactics. And its latest target appears to be Tamarah T. Grimes, a legal aide in Montgomery, Alabama, who complained about sexual harassment and discrimination she experienced while working on the Don Siegelman prosecution.

As someone who lost his job at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) in apparent retaliation for writing truthfully about corruption in Alabama courts, I can identify with Grimes' experiences. And thanks to a Friday story by Adam Nossiter of The New York Times, we know much more about events that led Grimes to blow the whistle on alleged misconduct by prosecutors and jurors in the Siegelman case.

We will go into more detail about Grimes' experiences in future posts, but here is a summary of the retaliatory action she apparently faced as a result of speaking up about alleged wrongdoing:

* In July 2007, Grimes filed an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaint against the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Middle District of Alabama (MDAL). That office, led by U.S. Attorney Leura Canary, oversaw the prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman and codefendant Richard Scrushy, former CEO of HealthSouth;

* Grimes alleged that she had been subjected to demeaning remarks of a sexually offensive and discriminatory nature during her work on the Siegelman case;

* The parties engaged in a mediation in November 2007, with Canary and First Assistant U.S. Attorney Patricia Watson attending from MDAL. Frederick Menner, representing the Executive Office for United States Attorneys, also participated. The mediator was Sharon Stokes, deputy chief of the civil division in the Northern District of Georgia;

* Stokes stated that, during the course of the mediation, Grimes said she tape recorded offensive remarks made by members of the Siegelman prosecution team.

* Upon hearing that audiotapes existed, Canary, Watson, and Menner asked to hear them, according to Stokes. Grimes allegedly said the tapes were in the possession of her attorney, J. Scott Boudreaux of Birmingham;

*When Stokes informed Canary, Watson, and Menner that Grimes would not turn over the tapes, they expressed concern that she might have tape recorded privileged or sensitive law-enforcement information in violation of federal law;

* Menner then contacted his supervisor, Andrew Niedrick, about a possible investigation of Grimes. Menner even sent Niedrick an e-mail with suggested language for referral to the Office of the Inspector General (OIG). Niedrick proceeded to send the information to OIG for a criminal investigation of Grimes.

In case you are trying to pick your jaw up off the floor, let me summarize in one sentence what happened to Tamarah T. Grimes:

She filed an EEO complaint, stating that she had been the victim of harassment and discrimination, and wound up becoming the target of a criminal investigation because of it.

You heard that right, folks: Blow the whistle on wrongdoing in the Bush Justice Department and get rewarded by becoming the target of a criminal investigation.

Life's great in Karl Rove's America, ain't it?

And get this: Grimes says she never told the mediator that she had tape recorded MDAL employees and did not have any such audiotapes. According to Grimes, she told the mediator that she had written recordings, not tape recordings, of what had transpired. And Boudreaux stated that he had never received any tape recordings from Grimes.

You can read the Justice Department report on Grimes allegations here (PDF).

So what really happened here? Did the mediator, Stokes, and Grimes have a genuine misunderstanding? Or did Stokes join forces with Canary & Co. to turn the tables in a classic case of "blaming the victim?"

Do Stokes and Menner have allegiances to "loyal Bushies" in the Justice Department? Were they more interested in silencing Grimes, and protecting Canary, than in seeking justice?

Speaking of Menner, what was his role in all of this? Was he supposed to be an objective observer? If so, he clearly was not. The report on the Grimes case shows that Menner sided with Canary and Watson in stating that they did not believe Grimes' allegations. Why would Menner say that if he was open-minded about the issue and had no firsthand knowledge of what took place?

If Menner participated mainly as a supporter for Canary and Watson, why was he allowed to refer Grimes for criminal investigation? Did Menner violate ethical guidelines in taking this step against a government whistleblower?

In fact, why was Menner even at the mediation if he was only going to be a "water boy" for Canary and Watson?

Grimes' story is familiar here at Legal Schnauzer--so much so that it's eery.

In fact, reading the Grimes documents is like reliving my last few months of working at UAB, when people with connections to the Bush Justice Department clearly were trying to get me fired--and succeeded on May 19, 2008.

On April 15, 2008, I complained to my supervisor, Pam Powell, that she had been harassing and discriminating against me based on age. She responded by claiming I had acted in a "threatening" and "belligerent" manner toward her and gave me a written warning.

Roughly a week later, I went to Powell's superior (Dale Turnbough) and complained about harassing and discriminatory treatment--and the unwarranted written warning. I also filed a formal grievance against Powell with UAB Human Resources.

Turnbough assured me that she would speak to Powell and take care of the matter. She also assured me, after I brought up the subject, that my blog was not a problem.

UAB policy states that an employee is to use the grievance process without fear of reprisal or retaliation.

But what really happened? On May 7, I was placed on administrative leave. And on May 19, I was fired.

So I complained to both my supervisor and her supervisor about discrimination and harassment--and wound up getting fired for it. My subsequent research indicates people with connections to the Bush Justice Department were behind my termination.

That's a story, I feel certain, that Tamarah Grimes can identify with.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

UAB President Becomes Mute When Questioned About An Unlawful Termination

We asked the following question in a post recently: How would UAB President Carol Garrison respond to a few pointed, and obvious, questions about my termination?

The answer? She became mute.

Oh, Garrison has no problem sending out her PR flack, Gary Mans, to let readers of the Chronicle of Higher Education know that I was fired for reasons having to do with job performance. (See comment No. 15 at this link.) But answer questions about my termination? No way. Nope, Garrison pulls her best Sarah Palin at moments like that, which is appropriate considering that Palin is probably a hero to the Alabama GOP types who pressured UAB to fire me.

One of the great myths in American society is that higher education is a bastion of liberal thought. Many faculty members might have liberal mindsets, but faculty members don't have much power on college campuses. Administrators call the shots, but even they aren't the most powerful people on campus. No, the real BMOCs are donors, particularly ones who give major gifts. And their influence does not end with having their names stuck on buildings.

With that in mind, let's pose a few more questions for Dr. Garrison:

* What if you had a donor, who gave, say, $5 million to help build a new building on campus?

* What if this donor had given what is believed to be the largest individual gift in university history?

* What if this donor had strong connections to Alabama's GOP power structure, including Gov. Bob Riley, his son Rob Riley, Riley's campaign manager Dax Swatek, and others?

* What if this donor also had ties to the Las Vegas gambling industry and big oil?

* What if this donor is being sued by members of the estate of one of Alabama's best-known businessmen? What if these heirs are seeking a proper accounting of investments this businessman had with your donor, calling into question your donor's business practices?

* What if this donor was involved in a divorce that apparently was so ugly the court record was sealed?

* What if this donor recently was convicted in municipal court of driving while intoxicated after being clocked driving 112 mph in a 55 zone?

* What if this donor is appealing the conviction in circuit court, with trial set for Dec. 1?

* What if this donor has some 20 traffic violations on his record, many for driving greatly in excess of the speed limit?

* What if public records indicate this donor's driver's license has been suspended six times?

* Would you and UAB associate with this person, even though he clearly has total disregard for the law and the safety of others?

* What if this person threatened to withhold his $5 million gift if a certain UAB employee was not unlawfully fired from his job?

* Is this what you mean by your "Ethics Matters" campaign at UAB?

Artur Davis and the Future of Politics in the Deep South

More and more it looks like Rep. Artur Davis (D-AL) could become a historic figure, both in Alabama and the Deep South.

Davis shows extraordinary promise for leading Alabama toward a brighter future, even though recent election results show huge chunks of our electorate cling doggedly to our unfortunate past.

In the aftermath of Barack Obama's victory in the presidential election, it's hard not to think of Davis and wonder what he could do for our troubled state. Davis was an early and ardent supporter of Obama's, and the two men have much in common.

That makes me ask: Could Artur Davis be the one to cause Alabama to change it's state motto from "Dear God, We Don't Want to Go There" to "Yes, We Can?"

I've been thinking about trying to put the Obama-Davis parallels into words for Legal Schnauzer. But someone beat me to it, and I don't think I could top the job this writer has done.

His name is Jeremy Sherer, and he is an attorney with the Birmingham firm of Whatley Drake & Kallas. Sherer was a district policy advisor for Davis in 2004-05, so at first, he might not appear to be the most objective commentator. But he has written an op-ed piece for the Mobile Press-Register, "Artur Davis: Is His Turn Coming?" that is thoughtful, balanced, and filled with historical insight.

More importantly, it offers signs of hope for Alabama's future, and I urge Legal Schnauzer readers to check it out.

From scanning his bio at the Whatley Drake & Kallas Web site, Sherer appears to be quite a young fellow. But he writes with uncommon perceptiveness, and he focuses on the possibility that Davis might run for governor in 2010:

Davis will face a question similar to one that was asked repeatedly about Barack Obama, and that is: Is Alabama capable of putting racial prejudice firmly in its past and electing a person of color to be the chief executive of our state? Keep in mind that only one black Alabamian has been elected to statewide office: Oscar Adams, who was appointed to the Alabama Supreme Court by Gov. Fob James and later elected twice.

If Davis were to run for governor and win, he would join the ranks of Deval Patrick of Massachusetts, elected in 2006, and David Paterson of New York, who was elevated to the post after Eliot Spitzer resigned. Virginia is the only Southern state to have elected a black governor — Douglas Wilder in 1990.

Sherer draws parallels between Obama and Davis:

Congressman Davis' and President-elect Obama's personal stories are very similar. Both were raised in single-parent families headed by their mothers, with close support from grandparents. Both men attended Harvard Law School, where they first met. And both men chose a life of public service over high-dollar careers in the corporate arena.

Though Davis arrived in Washington before Obama, and Obama exploded onto the national political scene as soon as he arrived in Washington, both men have been considered rising stars within the Democratic Party for several years.

Should Davis decide to run for governor, he will face a daunting challenge-much like the one Obama decided to tackle:

The challenge facing Davis' possible campaign for Alabama's governorship could prove just as daunting as Obama's for the presidency. With the likely primary opposition of Lt. Gov. Jim Folsom Jr. and/or Agriculture Secretary Ron Sparks, a prospective gubernatorial campaign by Davis could be seen in the most-friendly terms as akin to Obama's Iowa caucus campaign against Sens. Hillary Clinton and John Edwards, or in the most-unfriendly terms as Obama's West Virginia primary campaign against Sen. Clinton — the former a solid win for Obama and the latter a resounding defeat.

If Artur Davis were to best those two Democratic giants in the primary, likely awaiting him in the general election would be a well- financed Republican — possibly Attorney General Troy King, two-year-college Chancellor Bradley Byrne or lobbyist Luther Strange.

How could Davis succeed in a tough environment? Sherer offers a prescription:

For Davis to brave this or a similar gauntlet on his way to becoming Alabama's first black governor, he must take a strategic path similar to that of Obama. During his campaign, President-elect Obama was respectful and cognizant of those in the civil rights movement generation and the sacrifices they made for individuals just like him.

Yet Obama sought to move the nation past its historic divisions and prejudices, and toward the challenges and opportunities of the future. Much the same, Davis cannot be seen as "the black candidate" who seeks to represent only certain margins of Alabama. He needs to be viewed as the candidate who is genuinely seeking to unite Alabama and move the state toward success in all socio-economic measurements. . . . "

Sherer notes that Obama won partly by going into places like rural Ohio, locations that Al Gore and John Kerry largely ignored:

Obama proved how successful Howard Dean's 50-state strategy could be. Davis would have to mount a well-financed 67-county strategy in order to be successful. . . .

Davis must prove to Alabamians that he is the person who can bring order, civility and a sense of purpose to Montgomery, just as many believe President-elect Obama can bring to Washington.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

DUI Cases Intersect at Schnauzer Junction

When I set out to write a blog about justice-related issues, I never dreamed that drunk driving would become one of our topics.

But DUI is on our radar because three such Alabama cases have interesting connections to our Legal Schnauzer story.

We recently wrote about the DUI cases of two Alabama football heroes--former University of Alabama and Oakland Raiders quarterback Ken "Snake" Stabler and former Auburn University and San Diego Chargers running back Lionel "Little Train" James.

We also noted that the subject of DUIs is of particular interest here because William Cobb "Chip" Hazelrig, a "person of interest" in my unlawful termination at UAB, has an appeal of his drunk-driving conviction set for December 1.

The latest news is that Lionel James last week pled guilty to two DUI charges in Shelby County, Alabama, and was scheduled to enter an inpatient treatment program. James received a 12-month sentence and will return to the Shelby County Jail once he finishes treatment. With successful completion of the treatment, he will have to serve only 60 days, minus time previously spent in jail or treatment.

A number of intriguing parallels are present with the James and Hazelrig cases:

* James' lawyer, Tommy Spina, also is scheduled to represent Hazelrig in his appeal;

* Both Spina and Shelby County Chief Assistant District Attorney Bill Bostick praised James for admitting his guilt and accepting his punishment. Court records, however, show that Hazelrig has no intention of doing either of those things. He was convicted in Mountain Brook Municipal Court of DUI, speeding, and driving with an improper tag. He is appealing that conviction in Jefferson County Circuit Court.

The fact that Hazelrig is appealing his conviction indicates that he does not plan to follow Lionel James example of taking responsibility for his actions.

So how strong is the evidence against Hazelrig? I would say it is overwhelming, and one can only wonder what kind of defense strategy Spina will come up with. Hazelrig's actions, which already have drawn a conviction in one court, indicate an appalling lack of concern for the safety of others.

We will be getting to the evidence in the Hazelrig case shortly. But let's keep this in mind. Chip Hazelrig is no regular guy who had the bad luck of getting pulled over after drinking one too many. He has a long history of dreadful behavior behind the wheel, and his most recent actions are about as bad as any DUI case I've ever heard of.

Hazelrig is one wealthy dude, with serious political connections--all of which appear to be to the Republican Party. He gave $5 million to UAB for construction of a new radiation-oncology facility, and that is believed to be the largest individual gift in university history.

So money gives Chip Hazelrig clout with UAB. Would that clout help him get a UAB employee fired, particularly if said employee was writing a blog that caused discomfort for some of Hazelrig's GOP associates?

We will be examining that question. And we will ask this question: Should a public university accept donations--for health-care purposes, of all things--from an individual who has a driving record that indicates he is a public menace?

By accepting Chip Hazelrig's cold cash, is UAB essentially condoning unlawful behavior that puts citizens' lives at risk?

Is UAB really interested in the public's welfare, or does it merely want to kiss the rings of big donors who have some seriously dirty laundry?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Obama Set to Appoint the First Schnauzer

While the mainstream media has focused on Barack Obama's appointment of Rahm Emmanuel as chief of staff, a far more important White House role is about to be settled.

Sources tell us that Obama is about to appoint his administration's "First Schnauzer." And trust us, we have good sources in the schnauzer community.

Obama and his wife, Michelle, made a deal with daughters Malia and Sasha that the family would get a dog when the presidential campaign was over. Now that Obama has won, it looks like the presidential puppy will arrive not long after the family is settled at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Recent news reports have noted that the Obamas are interested in a hypoallergenic dog because 7-year-old Malia has allergies. Scientists say there is no such thing as a truly hypoallergenic dog, but Malia seems to be partial to a goldendoodle, a cross between a golden retriever and a poodle.

The miniature schnauzer sheds very little and is one of several breeds known for being suitable for allergy sufferers. In fact, that's one of the factors we considered before getting our schnauzer, Murphy (1993-2004), because my wife has allergies. My wife never had any problems with Murphy around, and getting her proved to be the best decision we ever made. In fact, Mrs. Schnauzer has even done well with the two Tonkinese cats (Baxter and Chloe) that we have now.

Anyway, high government sources tell us that the Obamas might wind up with a schnauzer. What would be some of the advantages of getting a schnauzer?

* It would promote bipartisanship--When Bob Dole ran for president, he and wife Elizabeth had a schnauzer named "Leader." In fact, the Doles getting a schnauzer might have been the last intelligent decision Republicans have made in this country. Getting a schnauzer would help Obama "reach across the aisle."

* It would promote international unity--Schnauzers are the only member of the terrier group who are not from Great Britain; they are native to Germany, one of our most important allies. Would be a good diplomatic move for Obama.

* It would promote global initiatives--We hear more and more about the global economy. And that means Americans need to understand foreign cultures and languages. Did you know the schnauzer gets its name from the German word for "nose?" That's because the breed has a distinctive blunt muzzle. In fact, that lingo has crossed over into our country. Ever heard someone described has having a big "schnauz?" Well, that means the person has quite a honker. And its from the same German root that gives the schnauzer its name.

* It's important for presidents to do "cute"--Remember the pictures of "John John" Kennedy playing around in his father's office? An entire nation saw those photos and went, "Awwww." Well, Obama can do the same thing with his girls and their new puppy. Check out this photo of our Murphy when we first brought her home. Imagine the Obama girls playing with a dog like this:



Schnauzers do "cute" awfully well:



Finally, a schnauzer could help reduce the budget deficit. With a schnauzer on hand, Obama can save on White House security. Check out Murphy in one of her favorite poses, keeping an eye on our homestead. She was definitely our "director of homeland security."

A Lawyer Spills the Beans About Our Justice System

Before I had a firsthand experience with Alabama courts, I was probably like most of you--I assumed judges were honest. (Boy, was I wrong about that.)

Even after I had come to understand that trial-court judges can be grossly corrupt, I assumed appellate judges were honest, that they would fix anything that lower courts did wrong. (Boy, was I wrong about that one, too.)

This gets to perhaps the most scandalous truth about our judicial system. Most of us, I think, can comprehend that a trial judge, acting as a solo artist of sorts, could intentionally or unintentionally botch a case. But how can appellate courts, which include multiple justices, also get stuff wrong?

Well, it happens. And if you followed the Bush v. Gore case of 2000, which gave us eight years of President George W. Bush, you know that even the U.S. Supreme Court no longer can be trusted. (More coming soon on corruption in our nation's highest court.)

Why are appellate courts corrupt? I can point to two reasons: (1) Some judges are more interested in furthering a political agenda than in dispensing justice; (2) Some judges are more interested in protecting corrupt trial judges than in exposing them.

After I posted recently about William C. Thompson, the corrupt presiding judge of the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals, I received an interesting anonymous comment. I'm pretty sure it's from a member of the legal community. He uses the word "colorable," a term most regular folks aren't likely to use. (I'm assuming it's a guy; the language sounds guy-like to me.)

At first glance, my correspondent seems to be taking issue with me. But upon further review (as they say in the NFL), you see that he and I pretty much agree on the state of our courts--they stink.

This is a fascinating, and rare, inside account of what our justice system is really like. It's easy to see why my correspondent wishes to remain anonymous. Any lawyer who put his name to this would be blackballed for sure.

Here's what he had to say (with the original spelling, grammar, and punctuation in place):

Date: Thu, Oct 30, 2008 at 4:00 PM

Subject: [Legal Schnauzer] New comment on Has Karl Rove's Terror Campaign Worked in the Deep....

Simply because an appellate judge rules against you does not mean he/she is corrupt. incompetent maybe, but not corrupt.

appellate judges get the law and facts wrong all the time. there are thousands of appeals, and very little court personnel to do an adequate job reviewing each appeal.

if your appeal was pro se, more than likely it was decided by a staff atorney, without judge thompson even reading it. the staff attorney probably just wrote a memo reccomending "affirmed no opinion" and the Court went along with it.

many times the Court does this (affirmed no opinion) to protect litigants. I have filed appeals before to cover my ass from a crazy client where i knew that i was beat on the law and facts. the court would affirm with no opinion, to spare me the beatdown that would follow.

the appellate courts in this state are bad, and they are generally bought off by either corporate or trial lawyer money. but i doubtjudge thompson specifically intended to committ fraud or any other crime in affirming the verdict against you.

maybe you are right. maybe the repubs in this state are out to take you down and have orchestrated all of this rigmarole to simply "get" you. But I would like to see some hard facts on this blog, rather than innuendo and accusations.

The proof is in the pudding. Post the depositions or the trial transcript. post the illicit conversations you recorded that implicate uab. post some hard evidence, rather than opinion.

also remember that if you do get a lawyer- a long shot given that it appears you have sued every lawyer you previously hired- to sue UAB for your wrongful termination (which by the way, may be a colorable claim), the defense will offer all of your web posting into evidence to portray you as a kook. be carefull what you post. post only what you can prove, or it can bite you in the ass in the future.

This guy is sort of taking shots at me, but I like him anyway. After eight years of hearing a constant stream of BS from lawyers, it is refreshing to hear one be this honest. He reveals all kinds of "inside baseball" about the justice system, but let's focus on just a few things:

* He disputes my contention that Thompson is corrupt, but he has no problem with the notion that Thompson is incompetent;

* He says appellate judges get the law and facts wrong all the time. In other words, my experience is not unusual;

* He says Alabama courts are badly understaffed, and "rulings" often are made by staff attorneys without the judge even looking at the case;

* He says Alabama appellate courts are "bad" and are generally "bought off" by corporate or trial-lawyer interests;

* If appellate courts are this bad, imagine how bad trial courts must be.

Well, there you have it folks, straight from one of the horses' mouths. Our courts are "bad," "incompetent," and "bought off."

That's a lawyer talking--not just a Legal Schnauzer.

Gosh, I would like this guy to do an occasional guest post at our humble blog. And he could do it anonymously. No telling what we all would learn.

The invitation is out there.

Obama's Election Prompts a Run on Guns

If you ever need a reminder of how dense people can be, feel free to check back on this post.

Why? Well, we have a report that gun sellers in the Birmingham area say sales have skyrocketed since the presidential election. It seems gun enthusiasts are stocking up because they fear President-Elect Barack Obama will tighten restrictions on gun ownership.

Never mind that Obama has said he "respects the constitutional rights of Americans to bear arms" and would "protect the right of hunters and other law-abiding citizens to purchase, own, transport, and use guns."

Even though no evidence suggests that Obama intends to dramatically alter the nation's policies on gun ownership, the owner of one Birmingham sporting-goods store says gun sales have increased about 30 percent since the election.

CNN reported that the FBI saw requests for background checks on gun purchases rise dramatically for the week of November 3-9, with an increase of almost 49 percent over the same period in 2007.

In Alabama, the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office says applications for gun permits are running about double the normal number.

"He's going to take my guns," said one Alabama man. "Ain't a whole lot we can do about it, but we're stockpiling before he takes them away."

Why would people have such thoughts? The National Rifle Association ran ads and sent out fliers during the campaign saying that Obama would shut down 90 percent of gun shops and ban some ammunition. "This administration is coming after our freedom," NRA President Wayne LaPierre said this week.

Wonder if it's ever occurred to the panicky gun folks that the NRA is issuing these dire warnings in hopes of sparking a run on guns and NRA memberships. Think these people have figured out that the NRA is interested in their money, not Obama's policy plans?

The scary thing is that some of the whackos who are stockpiling guns probably also voted. That must explain how Republican Greg Shaw defeated Democrat Deborah Bell Paseur for a seat on the Alabama Supreme Court, even though Republicans on the court cheated Alabama out of a $3.6 billion jury verdict against oil giant ExxonMobil. Alabamians, apparently, like that kind of "jurisprudence."

Strange things happen when large chunks of the populace is not able, or willing, to put two and two together and get four.

All of which reminds me of the routine about voting by the late, great George Carlin. The common refrain is that we need more people to vote. But Carlin took the opposite approach. He said we have too many people voting, especially stupid people.

It's a process of "garbage in, garbage out," Carlin said.

"If you have selfish, ignorant citizens, you're going to get selfish, ignorant leaders."

I think he had a point:

Monday, November 17, 2008

Here is the Latest on the Siegelman Story

Friday normally is a relatively quiet day in the blogosphere. But this past Friday was anything but calm, with the breaking story by Time magazine's Adam Zagorin about shenanigans in the prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman.

The story reverberated around the Web throughout the weekend and has potential for a number of intriguing followups. Let's take a look at the latest turn in a story that shows just how far our Justice Department has sunk in the Era of Rove:

Peter B. and Me
Our Friday post about the Siegelman story probably attracted more attention than anything we've done on Legal Schnauzer. And I was invited to appear via telephone on the Peter B. Collins Show, a progressive radio program based in San Francisco.

This was my second visit to the Peter B. Show; the first was back in July after Raw Story's Lindsay Beyerstein had broken the story about my unlawful termination at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) because I write this blog.

Brad Friedman of Brad's Blog was a guest on Friday, and he and Peter B. asked a number of insightful questions about the latest revelations in the Siegelman case.

I was in the last segment of the three-hour program. You can listen by going to the Peter B. archives here and clicking on "download this episode" for 11-14-08. You can click on the timekeeping device just above the play/pause button and drag it over to about the 2:42:36 mark--and that's where my segment begins.

We delved into a number of interesting subjects, including the similarities between the Siegelman case and the Paul Minor case in Mississippi, along with some speculation about how an Obama administration might approach the DOJ scandal.

I got a bit of big head the last time I turned into a "radio star." Mrs. Schnauzer is trying her best to keep my feet on the ground this time.

The Scott Horton Perspective
No story about the Siegelman case would be complete without input from Scott Horton, legal-affairs contributor for Harper's magazine and a law professor at Columbia University.

Horton has played a central role in bringing the Siegelman case to the nation's attention, and he posted "What the Justice Department is Hiding" at the Daily Beast, a new Web publication started by former Vanity Fair and New Yorker editor Tina Brown.

Horton provides an excellent summary of the Siegelman case, along with insight on the latest revelations about wrongdoing by U.S. Attorney Leura Canary and improper communications between jurors and the prosecution team.

Documents provided by Canary staffer Tamarah T. Grimes show the entitlement at the heart of Canary's operation:

Grimes also charges that Canary ran the U.S. Attorney’s office like a personal fiefdom, enlisting federal employees for babysitting, and appointing relatives to positions in violation of federal nepotism rules.

Justice Department sources reveal that after bringing these charges, Grimes was subjected to intense harassment by Canary, who at one point threatened she would prosecute Grimes for perjury unless Grimes withdrew her complaints.

The improper jury communications focus on a juror who was called "Flipper" because she liked to entertain her colleagues by performing backflips.

Grimes quoted the lead prosecutor describing direct interaction with a juror who was about to be questioned by the judge and who was “scared and afraid she is going to get into trouble.” This conduct violated rules guaranteeing the independence of jurors as well as an order issued by the judge in court against dealings between the jurors and the prosecution team.

Communications of this sort between litigants and a juror often lead to a mistrial and potential disciplinary action against lawyers involved. However, the Justice Department kept these jury interactions secret from the court and defense counsel in what may constitute a serious act of obstruction.

A Justice Department investigation into the charges was a sham, Horton shows:

“Look at the list of people these ‘investigators’ failed to question and at the questions they failed to ask. Frankly, this doesn’t much look like an investigation,” said one Congressional staffer.

The internal probe failed to question the marshals who were on jury duty. This omission suggests that the purpose of the report was not to get at the truth. Was this a fair investigation of the Grimes accusations, or was it a rushed effort to exonerate—through “inconclusive” findings—an errant U.S. attorney on the eve of a massive transfer of power in Washington?

Concern about the Siegelman matter, and other political prosecutions, appears to be very much on the DOJ radar:

A career Justice Department lawyer stated that apprehension about the matter was building within the department. “What happened in this case is a disgrace that threatens the reputation of the Department as a whole and federal prosecutors across the country,” he said. He identified David Margolis as having failed to take corrective measures. “He has essentially checked out and is intent on sweeping everything under the carpet. It will be one hell of a mess for the new tenants.”

"Flipper" Is Revealed
David Fiderer, of Huffington Post, has a fascinating read about the inner workings of the Siegelman jury. The piece is titled "Dirty Little Secrets About Juror Contacts in the Don Siegelman Case."

"Flipper," it turns out, is Katie Langer, a 26-year-old gymnastics coach who is one of two jurors to speak to the press about the case. The other is jury foreman Sam Hendrix.

Fiderer had previously done some outstanding reporting on the Siegelman jury, and we noted his work about Langer and Hendrix and their curious ties to Auburn University.

Insight on the Siegelman Appeal
Glynn Wilson, of Locust Fork World News & Journal, has a detailed analysis of the key points in Siegelman's appeal, which will be heard by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta on December 9.

Wilson has a fascinating nugget about possible interest in the case from the resident at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue:

There is an attorney in Montgomery who could shed considerable light on the extent to which George W. Bush was interested in keeping up with developments in the Siegelman case. We won’t name him for now, but we know from talking to other sources who have heard it from him that Bush was in the loop in this case. On top of all the other grounds for impeachment, this would certainly add to the list. Unfortunately, the hierarchy of the Democratic Party refused to pursue this for the past couple of years, and now it is too late.


The Alabama Press, As Usual, Is Pathetic
Isn't it interesting that a major Alabama story, one with national implications, was broken by Time magazine? And the mainstream press in Alabama doesn't seem to care.

The Montgomery Advertiser, based in the capital city where the Siegelman trial took place, ran a wire story about the latest revelations in its Saturday editions.

The Birmingham News did have a staff reporter prepare a piece for the front page on Saturday. But it had the News' usual right-wing slanted tone, and there was no followup in the Sunday edition. The headline, "Siegelman Case E-Mails Heralded as Red Flag," treats this as a story about public relations rather than possible federal crimes committed by prosecutors. And the story makes no mention of the most serious charges against Canary.

Schnauzer Beats Keith O in the ratings
Well, not really. But hey, this is my blog, and if I can't crow here once in a while, where can I crow?

As I noted earlier, my Friday piece on the Siegelman case received more attention than anything I've written in the blogosphere. And get this: I cross posted it at Daily Kos, and it wound up No. 3 on the list of high-impact diaries for November 14, 2008. And where was Keith Olbermann's diary that day, which was about the possibility that Hillary Clinton might be offered a job as secretary of state in a Barack Obama administration? Why, it was No. 4!

So, in a way, we did beat Keith O in the ratings. Mrs. Schnauzer says I'm taking so much glee in that little accomplishment that you would think I was Bill O'Reilly.

I'm a huge Keith O fan, and I look forward to helping him trounce Bill O in the ratings. But I must admit that, for one shining moment, I was pretty thrilled that my little blog post "ranked" one notch higher than Keith's did. What a country!

On a serious note, I should say that the lesson about the DK ranking probably is this: The Don Siegelman story resonates with people. Citizens are concerned about corruption in the Bush Justice Department, and they want key people held accountable.

The notion that someone could be targeted for criminal prosecution simply because of his political affiliation is profoundly disturbing to people. It runs counter to the foundational beliefs that make us Americans.

And Siegelman is not alone in suffering at the hands of people connected to the Bush DOJ. A number of Rovian types who are connected to the Siegelman case are almost certainly responsible for my unlawful termination at UAB.

Thankfully, I haven't lost my freedom, but imprisonment is not the only dirty card these scoundrels will play. I lost my job, Huntsville businessman Alex Latifi lost his business, former Assistant U.S. Attorney Deirdra Brown Fleming saw her career threatened, and whistleblower Jill Simpson has seen her law practice badly damaged. Simpson also has seen a mysterious fire at her home and had someone apparently try to run her off the road. These are just Alabama cases we know about. Who knows what has gone on in other states?

While Americans are rightly concerned about the economy, two wars, and numerous other issues, they care deeply about justice. They are appalled that certain people could use our Justice Department as a political weapon. And they don't want those people to slip away into the good night.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Catholic Bishops Are A Scary Bunch

One of the most disturbing post-election articles I've read is about Catholic bishops in the United States and their warning to Barack Obama about possible policy shifts on abortion rights, embryonic stem-cell research, and other "life" issues.

Daniel Burke, of Religion News Service, reports that Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said an Obama administration will not achieve the unity it seeks if it pursues "aggressively pro-abortion policies."

Such policies, George states, would be seen by millions of Americans as "an attack on the free exercise of their religion."

This last quote is one of the most inane statements I've ever seen from a supposedly intelligent public person. How would an Obama policy regarding abortion rights, or any other issue, be an attack on Catholics' right to practice their religion? It wouldn't, and this statement indicates George is more interested in firing up financial support from social conservatives than he is in helping the country move forward.

The fact that George's statement was unanimously approved by some 300 bishops indicates American Catholic leadership is deceitful, selfish, and arrogant.

These are the same folks who have worked for years to hide and protect the pedophiles who soil the priesthood. And yet, Obama is supposed to take their "moral" positions seriously?

If my understanding of American history is correct, the American bishops deserve "credit" for starting our nation's culture wars. Now, as our incoming president faces two wars, a colossal financial crisis, and other perils, they seem hell-bent on rekindling those wars.

Pretty darn un-American, if you ask me.

My understanding is that abortion began to come to the forefront in the early 1970s when the bishops went through Pat Buchanan to pressure the Nixon administration on the issue. Protestants did not join the fray until Jerry Falwell and other Southern racists became concerned over Jimmy Carter's efforts to remove the tax-exempt status of religious schools that discriminated based on race.

That led to formation of the Moral Majority, and it soon joined the Catholic bishops in picking up the cross for "life" issues. But Falwell and his followers mainly were concerned that Carter would stand in the way of state-sponsored segregation.

In other words, America's "pro life" movement grew in the soil of racism, and that Catholic bishops would confront our first black president over this issue is shameful. It also shows an ignorance of modern American history.

George and his bishop friends seem to be particularly exorcised that Obama might support the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA), which they say would "coerce" Americans into subsidizing abortion with their tax dollars. I'm guessing it also would cause massive outbreaks of halitosis and ring around the collar.

Here is the irony in all of this: Obama actually takes a conservative approach to abortion rights. His stance is to keep the government out of health-care decisions facing women and their doctors. What could be more conservative than that? He also favors efforts to reduce unwanted pregnancies, which is the root cause of most abortions anyway.

Want more irony? The U.S. abortion rate went down under our last Democratic president, Bill Clinton, and the decline stalled during the George W. Bush years.

The bishops, however, appear to prefer a president like Bush who claims to be "pro life" but creates an environment where progress on the issue is stalled. This tells me the bishops aren't really interested in abortion. They are interested in filling the collection plates, and abortion is a hot-button issue that fires up the social-conservative base.

Even more alarming than the bishops' stance on abortion rights is their opposition to embryonic stem-cell research. How anyone can be opposed to research on embryos that are going to be discarded anyway is beyond me. And thanks to George W. Bush, we've already lost eight years of potential progress on this "pro life" issue.

As someone who has lost two close relatives to Parkinson's disease, this hits pretty close to home for your humble blogger.

I'm a Presbyterian, one of God's "frozen chosen," so it's certainly not my place to tell Catholics how to handle their religious lives. But if I were Catholic, and a supporter of Barack Obama (or our country in general), I would find this statement from the bishops highly offensive.

I also would be tempted to start a movement within the church to withhold financial support if the leadership continues to issue statements that are wrongheaded, divisive, and harmful to our nation.

The bishops were happy with George W. Bush, who ran one of the most incompetent, corrupt, and "pro death" administrations in history?

Catholic leaders appear to have their collective heads stuffed in a certain deep, dark crevice. I would say it's time for them to pull their heads out into the light--or shut the hell up.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Schnauzer Hits the Radio . . . And More

Adam Zagorin's article in Time magazine about revelations from a new whistleblower in the Don Siegelman case has been reverberating around the country today.

My voice will be added to the mix when I discuss the story on the Peter B. Collins Show at 7:30 CST tonight. You can check out the broadcast by going here and clicking on "Listen Live."

I was fortunate to be on Peter B's show back in July, not long after my unlawful termination from UAB, which came largely because I blogged about the Siegelman case. Peter is a sharp guy and an excellent interviewer, so I look forward to a return visit tonight.

More news on the Siegelman front:

* The Time article now includes links to the e-mail documents in question. You can check out those documents here. The link to the full story is here.

* I cross posted my piece today at Daily Kos, and it easily attracted more attention than anything else I've put up at DK. It became one of today's recommended diaries and drew more than 200 comments. I think that's an indication of the public's interest in justice issues in general--and the Siegelman case, in particular. I hope members of Congress, and the Obama administration-to-be, are paying attention. You can check out the Kos post, along with all of the comments, here.

* Larisa Alexandrovna of at-Largely calls today's story "the final nail" in the Bush Administration's coffin. Just to make sure, let's hope more nails are coming.

* TPM Muckraker has reaction on today's developments from Siegelman himself. It sounds like the former governor struggled to keep his composure while talking about the blatant unlawfulness revealed in the Tamarah Grimes documents. Siegelman says this amounts to "outrageous criminal conduct" and is "more frightening than anything that has come before." Compelling stuff.

New Whistleblower Emerges in Siegelman Case

A whistleblower from inside the Justice Department has provided documents that raise questions about the behavior of prosecutors during the case of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman.

Tamarah T. Grimes, a legal aide who worked in the office that prosecuted Siegelman, provided the documents, according to a major investigative story by Adam Zagorin of Time magazine.

Grimes worked for Leura Canary, U.S. attorney for the middle district of Alabama in Montgomery, and provided the documents to Department of Justice watchdogs in 2007. She now is involved in an employment dispute that could result in her termination.

The documents include e-mails from Canary, written long after her recusal in the case, offering legal advice to her subordinates. Canary supposedly had recused herself because her husband, William Canary, is a close associate of Governor Bob Riley (Siegelman's one-time opponent) and White House strategist Karl Rove. Bill Canary had received tens of thousands of dollars in consulting fees from political opponents of Siegelman, Zagorin reports.

Grimes' documents show that Leura Canary was giving legal advice to prosecutors in her office, long after she was supposed to be off the case:

In one of Canary's e-mails, dated September 19, 2005, she forwards senior prosecutors on the Siegelman case a three-page political commentary by Siegelman. Canary highlighted a single passage which, she told her subordinates, "Ya'll need to read, because he refers to a 'survey' which allegedly shows that 67% of Alabamans believe the investigation of him to be politically motivated." Canary then suggests: "Perhaps [this is]grounds not to let [Siegelman] discuss court activities in the media!"

Prosecutors in the case seem to have followed Canary's advice. A few months later they petitioned the court to prevent Siegelman from arguing that politics had any bearing on the case against him. After trial, they persuaded the judge to use Siegelman's public statements about political bias — like the one Canary had flagged in her e-mail — as grounds for increasing his prison sentence. The judge's action is now one target of next month's appeal.

That is not the only damaging information Grimes provided about Canary:

Beyond providing the e-mails, Grimes has given a written statement to the Department of Justice noting that U.S. Attorney Canary had "kept up with every detail of the [Siegelman] case".

Grimes also provided e-mails that show previously undisclosed contacts between prosecutors and the Siegelman jury.

A key prosecution e-mail describes how jurors repeatedly contacted the government's legal team during the trial to express, among other things, one juror's romantic interest in a member of the prosecution team. "The jurors kept sending out messages" via U.S. marshals, the e-mail says, identifying a particular juror as "very interested" in a person who had sat at the prosecution table in court. The same juror was later described reaching out to members of the prosecution team for personal advice about her career and educational plans.

And that was not the only hanky panky between jurors and the prosecution:

Further undisclosed evidence of prosecution team members speaking with jurors following the verdict emerges in Grimes' written statement to the DoJ. In it, she says a member of the team prosecuting Siegelman had spoken with a juror suspected of improper conduct — apparently at the time the judge was due to question the juror about that conduct. Grimes quotes the lead prosecutor in the case as saying someone had "talked to her. She is just scared and afraid she is going to get in trouble."

Glynn Wilson, of Locust Fork World News & Journal, provides important perspective on this breaking story. Wilson includes insights from Scott Horton, Columbia University law professor and legal-affairs contributor for Harper's magazine, on a number of topics, including:

* A possible approach from an Obama Justice Department regarding the Siegelman case and other matters related to corruption in the Bush administration.

* Possible connections between President George W. Bush and the Siegelman case.

Horton says the White House is concerned about the U.S. Attorney’s probe.

“As the Inspector General noted, the White House’s refusal to cooperate and turn over documents blocked the conclusion of the Justice Department’s internal probe,” he said.

“But of greater interest,” he said, “is the suggestion now openly aired that the White House is particularly concerned about documents and evidence linking it to the prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don E. Siegelman. I am told that this involves former White House counsel Harriet Miers, former senior political advisor Karl Rove, and President Bush, himself.”

He asks: “What you may wonder was the President of the United States doing meddling in the prosecution of a Southern governor? That is a very good question. Some significant news on this front will break shortly. Stay tuned.”