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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Orwellian World of UAB

Since the politicization of the Bush Justice Department first came to public attention, no one has done more to shine light on the scandal than Scott Horton, Columbia University law professor and legal-affairs contributor at Harper's magazine.

I never dreamed that my little corner of Alabama would be touched by corrupt Bushies; I figured they would be content to go after big timers like former Governor Don Siegelman and former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy.

But I was wrong about that, and in May 2008, I was fired from my job as an editor in the Publications Office at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB).

A mountain of evidence suggests my firing was a "political hit," and Horton closes out 2008 by spotlighting my termination on his No Comment blog at harpers.org. UAB's handling of my case, compared to its handling of some legitimate violations of the university's Acceptable Use Policy, is right out of George Orwell, Horton notes:

We could hardly end 2008 without delivering a George Orwell Honorable Mention to the University of Alabama at Birmingham for its truly extraordinary “acceptable use” policy on employee Internet use. There’s nothing strange about the language of the policy–in fact it’s pedestrian (the Internet “may not be used for any activity which is destructive, disruptive, or illegal” it says). But how the university interprets and applies this prohibition might surprise an observer–unless, of course, the observer is attuned to the peculiarities of Alabama politics.

Horton expertly puts UAB's actions into perspective, taking special delight in noting that the university expressed concern that I had actually read Harper's to help keep up with Alabama-related events:

Case in point: The university recently fired Roger Shuler, a long-time public relations employee who blogs on legal developments under the moniker “the Legal Schnauzer,” apparently expressing concern in a grievance hearing over the fact that he regularly visited and read Harper’s. After The Chronicle of Higher Education reported on the firing, the university posted a credibility-straining assertion that the firing was “based solely on work performance.” Also according to the Chronicle:
The university told The Raw Story that Mr. Shuler had not been fired for blogging, but it would not comment further. In June an appeals committee at the university voted to overturn Mr. Shuler’s dismissal. But he says the university recently told him that, while he could be rehired, he would not get his former job back.

Horton then dives into the "Rest of the Story" version of my firing, focusing on the numerous threatening anonymous e-mails I had received--including one specifically stating an intention to go after my job:

Shuler says that the decision to fire him was based on the political content of his blog posts, which were critical of Alabama Governor Bob Riley and one of his key allies, U.S. Attorney Alice Martin. According to Shuler, the firing occurred only a few months after one of Riley’s political cronies threatened him with the loss of his job because of his blogging. Indeed, to the university’s chagrin, his final review session was taped, and portions which have now been published suggest that the primary concern of his reviewers was that he was publicly critical of the state’s political powers.

Horton provides more details about Alice Martin's curious denials regarding my firing:

Martin’s office, according to a report from Raw Story, denied that “her office was in any way involved with Shuler’s termination. ‘There has been no contact by the office to Mr Shuler’s employer,’ she wrote.” So what led to the firing? That apparently will be for a court to determine. In the meantime it’s worth noting some other cases of Internet abuse at the university to see how they were handled.

Yes, indeed, UAB recently has dealt with at least two cases where its computer/Internet use policy actually was violated. One involved anti-gay comments sent from a UAB computer to a California-based gay-rights organization. Another involves a vile and racist e-mail that appears to have been sent from a UAB computer. It includes crude and profane references to President-Elect Barack Obama. So how did UAB handle those? Horton clues us in:

Apparently the university actually is prepared to be liberal about Internet use–as long as that use isn’t in “liberal” interests. Huntsville CBS affiliate WHNT recently broadcast a study of the university’s bizarre double standard. One university employee recently used her work account to pen this note to the leaders of an Anti-Proposition 8 group in California: “You freaks make me sick. You are the scourge of the earth and are responsible for everything that’s wrong in this sorry world because of the immorality you have brought on the world as a whole.” The university’s response to the use of its facilities to transmit this hate mail? According to WHNT, they won’t say more than that they did “follow up appropriately as outlined by UAB’s Acceptable Use Policy”; there is no evidence of whether any disciplinary action was taken. WHNT’s Greg Privett also noted a widely circulated ditty coming from the university’s pediatrics office. It starts “Wuz the night befo Crizzmus” and it proceeds to ridicule President-Elect Obama in overtly racist tones. Surely this violates the university’s “acceptable use” policy?

This all might seem hopelessly bizarre for folks who live in areas where rational thought prevails. But Horton notes it fits right in with the strange terrain of Alabama:

It seems that in Birmingham one type of “political speech” is protected and can be freely spread using the university’s servers while another is not–even when the employee is expressing it on private time and his own computer. George Orwell would understand.

The Times--And Lyrics--Are A Changin' For Baby Boomers

Regular readers know that 2008 has not been a happy-go-lucky year here in SchnauzerLand.

"Highlights" included yours truly being screwed out of my job at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) and having a portion of the rights to our own house unlawfully auctioned by a corrupt Republican sheriff. I chronicled this theft of our own home in a number of posts, including this one and this one.

Mrs. Schnauzer and I will be more than happy to see 2008 in the rearview mirror. But the year's hardships have made us appreciate it that much more when someone gives us reason to have a good belly laugh.

Such a moment came recently from one of our regular Mississippi correspondents. Our friend shared with us her concern that, with the first wave of Baby Boomers pushing age 60 and beyond, it might be time to update the lyrics to some of the musical hits from the 1960s, '70s, and maybe a few from the '80s.

Some examples our friend suggested:

* Mrs. Brown, You've Got a Lovely Walker--Herman's Hermits

* I Get By With a Little Help From Depends--The Beatles

* The First Time Ever I Forgot Your Face--Roberta Flack

* Fifty Ways To Lose Your Liver--Paul Simon

* A Whiter Shade of Hair--Procol Harum

* Once, Twice, Three Times to the Bathroom--The Commodores

* You Make Me Feel Like Napping--Leo Sayer

* Papa's Got a Kidney Stone--The Temptations

* It's My Procedure, and I'll Cry If I Want To--Leslie Gore

* On the Commode Again--Willie Nelson


After we finished cackling, Mrs. Schnauzer and I decided to add a few to the list:

* Chair Lift to Heaven--Led Zeppelin

* Assisted Living For the City--Stevie Wonder

* Don't Pull Your Teeth Out On Me, Baby--Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds

* Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is (That Judge Wapner Comes On)--Chicago

* Eli Wallach's Coming--Three Dog Night

* Hey You, Get Off of My Lawn--Rolling Stones

* Drool's Out--Alice Cooper

* A.A.R.P. in the USA--John Cougar Mellencamp

* I'm Free Fallin' (And I Can't Get Up)--Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers


We welcome your additions to the list.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Online Porn And Other Workplace Hazards

As someone who was fired for allegedly engaging in "non work-related activity" at work, I was intrigued, and slightly amused, by a recent article in Newsweek.

The magazine reports that one-fourth of employees who use the Internet visit porn sites during the workday. The figure comes from an October survey by Nielsen Online, showing that workplace porn visits are up 23 percent from a year ago and porn sites receive more hits during office hours than any other time of the day.

What's driving the workplace porn rush? Some experts say it is driven by the stress of a wobbly economy. Others say many younger folks, who have grown up with the Internet, don't see porn as a big deal.

I particularly like this quote from Dawn Adams, CEO of a Wisconsin HR consulting firm:

"Managers are dealing with so many issues right now that sometimes people are able to hide out and no one knows what they're doing."

Hah! Has Ms. Adams considered that maybe the managers are the porn watchers? She sounds like a typical HR dolt. Managers are the ones who have time to watch porn. Non-managers have real work to do!

A few employers are catching on to the porn parade. Earlier this year, nine Washington, D.C., city employees were fired for viewing porn sites thousands of times while on the job. The worst offender reportedly logged an average of one hit every 2.5 minutes.

In addition to lost productivity, some companies are concerned about their equipment. Reports Newsweek:

Adult sites also expose computers to viruses, adware and spyware—though such ills can serve as smoking guns. At her last job, Adams fired an executive for spending hours a day on adult sites. "His computer was always crashing," she says. "That's how we found out."

Now let's do a little math here. The story says a quarter of employees who use the Internet visit porn sites--that includes men and women. I'm not an expert on the subject, but I'm guessing about 90 percent of the visitors to porn sites are guys. (I've seen few signs that the porn industry is designed with the interests of women in mind.)

If we take the survey results and my guesses as accurate, then what percentage of guys are viewing porn in the workplace? I'm not a whiz at math--hey, that's why colleges have journalism programs--but the figure must be getting close to the 50 percent or higher range.

Here's some irony for you. Was I viewing porn at my former employer, the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB)? Nope. Was I doing "non work-related" activity at work? Nope. For good measure, that term isn't defined, or even mentioned, in the UAB employee handbook or its Acceptable Use Policy for computers and networks. The university evidently doesn't consider "non work-related activity" an issue--except in my case.

If the Nielsen Online survey is to be believed, UAB must be awash in people viewing porn at work. But is the university doing anything about it? Heck no, it's too busy firing me for reading articles about Don Siegelman!

Remember my tape recorded conversation with Anita Bonasera, UAB's director of employee relations? She flat-out admits that I was targeted because I followed the Siegelman case on my computer, even though part of my job description was to keep up with news and public affairs, particularly as they pertain to Alabama. Last time I checked, the Siegelman case had something to do with Alabama--and his codefendant, Richard Scrushy, is UAB's most famous alum and one of its major donors. The university has named buildings for the man.

But hey, I could have been watching porn, and all would have been fine. God, if I had only known!

You can see the absurdity in UAB's actions. And that reminds me of a classic moment from my grievance hearing.

One of the women on the panel asked me, "Why were you checking the Harper's magazine site?"

Don't remember my answer exactly, but it went something like this: "Harper's is the second oldest monthly magazine in the United States and is considered one of the top general-interest publications in the world. Since we are in the business of producing magazines, it seems kind of natural for a member of the Publications Office to check out world-class magazines.

"One of Harper's writers, Scott Horton, is an Alabama native and a law professor at Columbia University--which is in the Ivy League, by the way--and is a highly respected writer on legal and public affairs. He has a special interest in Alabama, and part of my job description is to keep up with issues that affect our state.

"Is there some problem with an employee at an academic institution checking out Harper's magazine?"

My real answer probably wasn't that sarcastic. But that's exactly what I wish I had said, and that's the point I hope I got across. Apparently it worked because the grievance committee found I never should have been fired. But UAB's president upheld my termination anyway.

Go figure.

Gee, I just wish UAB had been clear about its policy. If I'd known they wanted me to scope out Jenna Jameson but not Scott Horton, I would have been happy to comply.

Bob Riley Continues His Anti-Gambling Charade

Alabama Governor Bob Riley persists on positioning himself as an anti-gambling crusader, despite a mountain of evidence that Riley's administration actually has been fueled by gambling interests.

The latest news has Riley forming a task force, led by retired Jefferson County district attorney David Barber, to crack down on illegal gambling.

Riley's move comes roughly two weeks after he had announced 12.5 percent proration in the state's education budget. Some legislators have proposed expanding gambling and levying state taxes to help offset budget cuts.

But Riley, who claims to be pure as new-fallen snow on gambling, won't hear of it.

The governor either has turbo-charged reserves of hypocrisy or he considers Alabamians to be complete dolts--or both.

This is the politician who took $13 million of Mississippi Indian gaming money, funneled through disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, for his 2002 campaign. And U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) withheld from a Senate investigation an e-mail that proved Riley's ties to Abramoff.

It also has been reported that a number of Riley's close associates, including his son Rob Riley and former campaign manager Dax Swatek, have had ties to the gambling industry.

We are going to be reporting on these Rob Riley and Dax Swatek gambling connections in a series of posts coming soon.

I can only assume that Bob Riley figures if he spouts the anti-gambling BS often enough, Congress and an Obama Justice Department will forget about looking in his direction when it examines the sordid Abramoff mess.

Obama attorney general-designate Eric Holder doesn't seem like the kind of guy who would fall for that trick.

Bits and Pieces for $50, Alex

Mountain Brook Is One of the 10 Wealthiest Communities in U.S.
I've long heard that the Birmingham suburb of Mountain Brook is one of the wealthiest towns in the United States. Now we have confirmation that "The Brook" is indeed in the top 10.

A survey by University of Montevallo urban geography professor Stephen Higley places Mountain Brook at No. 9, with a mean household income of $210,089.

Three of the four wealthiest communities--Darien, No. 1; Westport, No. 3; and Greenwich, No. 4--are in Fairfield County, Connecticut. No. 2, Lake Forest, is near Chicago. And Nos. 5 and 6--Potomac and McLean--are near Washington, D.C.

Here's a shocker: Beverly Hills, California, did not make the top 50. It was No. 52, with a mean household income of $148,758. Gosh, Jed Clampett might as well have stayed in the Ozarks.

Higley has all kinds of interesting stuff at his Web site, higley1000.com. For example, he examines racial integration in the wealthiest 1,000 places in America. (Heck, I thought the whole idea of living in one of these places is to avoid headaches like racial integration.)

You can check out a detailed analysis of the Birmingham area, along with a look at our wealthiest neighborhoods, here.

Newbies Give Birmingham High Marks
Folks who have lived around Birmingham quite a while tend to pooh-pooh the place. But relative newcomers, those who have lived here less than two years, are high on "The Ham."

That comes from a survey conducted by Samford University marketing students for the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce.

The five greatest strengths of the Birmingham area: (1) Medical community; (2) Southern hospitality; (3) Restaurants; (4) Higher education; (5) Historically rich.

The five greatest weaknesses: (1) Crime; (2) Government officials; (3) Public transportation; (4) Behind the times; (5) Public K-12 education.

Where is knee-jerk Republican voters on that list?

Here is some encouraging news: Only 12 percent of respondents considered racism a major weakness.

"My sense is that the new generation is more bullish, more positive, more aggressive about change in our city," said Betsy Holloway, associate professor of marketing at Samford. Holloway said newcomers and young respondents seemed to be saying "the past is the past, and we're not going to let it dominate the future."

Monday, December 29, 2008

Victims of Discrimination Receive Justice In Court

Two victims of workplace discrimination recently received justice in court--and both cases have their roots in the South.

Both cases also involve substantial amounts of money, an indication that courts do not look kindly upon organizations that discriminate and retaliate against their employees.

The better known of the two cases involves Mauricia Grant, a former technical inspector for NASCAR who said she was subjected to repeated racial discrimination and sexual harassment in the two-plus years she worked for the stock-car organization.

NASCAR recently announced that it had reached a settlement in Grant's $225 million case.

Grant apparently came away with a solid financial result, but Ed Hinton of ESPN notes the down side to such settlements--particularly when it comes to NASCAR, which has a history of effectively hiding its dirty laundry.

The second case involves Yvonne Baldwin, the former acting police chief in Prichard, Alabama. Baldwin claimed that the city discriminated against her, and a federal jury in Mobile agreed, awarding $235,000.

Baldwin's attorney, James Starnes of Birmingham, said the case involved overwhelming evidence of disparate treatment compared to Baldwin's male counterpart.

The case also involved retaliation after Baldwin filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

No two cases and no two juries are alike, of course, but it is interesting to compare the Baldwin case to the one I will be filing against UAB. Disparate treatment, based on gender, race, age, etc., is at the heart of any discrimination case. It appears to have been clearly present in the Baldwin case, along with retaliation for filing an EEOC complaint.

Those two issues are present in my case, along with a couple of issues--wrongful termination and First Amendment violations--that apparently were not present in the Baldwin case.

Baldwin no longer works in the Prichard Police Department, but she was not terminated. She declined to accept a contract offer that she said was not equal to one offered to a male colleague. And First-Amendment issues were not present at all in the Baldwin case.

News accounts note that Baldwin also could receive attorney's fees and costs in her judgment.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Memo To Alice Martin: Get Lost!

Alice Martin, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, has been described by Scott Horton of Harper's magazine as perhaps the most corrupt and crooked public official in the country.

Now it appears that Horton did not go far enough in his critique of Martin. He should have added delusional to her list of attractive traits.

The Alabama blog Doc's Political Parlor reports that Martin has asked U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) to help her get a one-year extension to serve under the Barack Obama administration.

You heard that right: One of the most notorious and corrupt members of the Bush Justice Department--and there is a lot of competition for that title--wants to stay on under Obama. Why? So she can lead the prosecution of Birmingham mayor Larry Langford on corruption charges.

A few facts seem to have escaped Alice Martin in her state of delusion:

* U.S. attorneys serve at the pleasure of the president and typically hand in their resignations when administrations change. As John McCain once famously said, "Elections have consequences." And Alice, one of the consequences of the November election is that you are about to be out of a job.

* Jeff Sessions is a Republican who, based on the word of Lanny Young (one of the government's star witnesses in the Don Siegelman case), has some serious ethical baggage of his own. What makes Martin think Sessions would have any pull with an Obama administration? Is she really that stupid/desperate?

* If Obama's attorney general-designate Eric Holder has the kind of spine we hear he has, Martin is more likely to be a target of the new Justice Department rather than a part of it. She already is being investigated by multiple governmental agencies--under the Bush administration. Those investigations are likely to be coverups, but Holder has a history of fighting corruption. He might want his department to scrutinize Ms. Martin's activities.

I would be glad to show Holder & Co. how she handled my complaints to her office about corruption among Republican judges in Alabama. We already know that Holder has a history of going after corrupt judges in Pennsylvania. I think he and his lieutenants would find the actions of Alabama judges in my case--along with Martin's efforts to protect them--to be most interesting.

If they were to look into Martin's possible role in my unlawful termination at UAB . . . well, there is no telling what Holder & Co. might find on that trail.

That brings us to another point raised by Doc's Political Parlor. It reports that Martin is interested in the seat on the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals vacated by Greg Shaw, who won a spot on the Alabama Supreme Court.

My understanding is that Governor Bob Riley will appoint someone to fill Shaw's seat. There is no doubt that he and Martin are political buddies, and Riley has shown an inclination to take care of his buddies, no matter the circumstances. Martin and Riley even have shared a campaign manager--Montgomery-based "consultant" Dax Swatek, who has a history of sleazy activity and has become a major character in our Legal Schnauzer story.

But you have to wonder if even Bob Riley will shy away from appointing Alice Martin and the sizable baggage she brings with her. Not only is Martin already under investigation for unethical conduct, a Congressional inquiry into political prosecutions and other Bush-era activities could head in her direction.

Congressional attention also could focus on Riley and his ties to disgraced GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Riley might not want to draw attention to himself by appointing someone who is likely to become a political "hot potato."

How would it look to have a judge on Alabama's Court of Criminal Appeals wind up being indicted on criminal charges herself? And to know that Bob Riley put her there?

Friday, December 26, 2008

Has UAB Become A Haven For Hate Speech?

Has the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) become so infected with Republican sleaze that it tolerates hate speech while unlawfully firing an employee who writes a progressive blog?

A growing body of evidence suggests the answer to that question is yes.

The latest comes from Greg Privett, an investigative reporter for television station WHNT in Huntsville. Privett reports on an anti-gay e-mail that was sent by Pamala Gibson, an employee in UAB's Department of Physiology and Biophysics, from her work computer. UAB spokesperson Dale Turnbough issued a statement, saying the university had "handled" the matter. But she did not say if Gibson had been disciplined in any way.

Privett also says a second e-mail--one that is filled with racist, profane language, and makes fun of President-Elect Barack Obama--appears to have been sent by a UAB employee from a work computer. WHNT still is investigating that incident.

(Note: You can see the video of Privett's report by clicking on the WHNT Web site, going to the "Top News Video" section near the top of the page and scrolling to the story headed "University of Alabama . . . ")

Regular Legal Schnauzer readers know that I was fired from UAB in May, after 19 years of service. UAB's written reasons for my firing are vague, but they appear to center on allegations that I used my work computer to write my personal blog, which focuses on corruption in Alabama state courts and criticism of the Bush Justice Department, particularly its prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman.

A number of interesting parallels exist between my case and these recent instances of hate-speech being sent from state-owned computers at UAB:

* Dale Turnbough, who is quoted in Privett's report, is the same individual who signed my termination letter. My former boss, Pam Powell, answered to Turnbough, whose title is associate vice president for public relations and marketing.

* Turnbough mentions UAB's Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) in her statement to WHNT. This is the policy that governs the use of UAB computers and networks. We already have noted that Gibson clearly violated the AUP, and yet it is unclear if she was disciplined at all. I, on the other hand, did not violate the AUP or any other UAB policy, and I've been out of a job for six-plus months now. By the way, it is not just my opinion that I did not violate any university policy. I sat through my entire grievance hearing, and saw my former boss, Pam Powell, repeatedly answer "no" when asked to provide documentation to support her claim that I should have been fired. That grievance hearing was tape recorded, so Powell's "answers" are preserved for posterity.

* UAB's Acceptable Use Policy states that any violations should be handled with the university's progressive discipline procedure. As defined in the You & UAB Handbook, that process is to start with an oral warning, then proceed (if necessary) to written warning, and finally possible termination. Immediate termination is reserved for serious offenses such as theft, fighting, showing up for work under the influence of drugs or alcohol, etc. Evidence in my grievance hearing showed I should not have been disciplined at all. But assuming that discipline was merited, it would have been an oral warning. Instead, UAB conveniently skipped the first two stages in its progressive discipline procedure and immediately fired me. Will UAB employees who used state equipment to send hateful and vile e-mails be treated in a similar fashion? Sure doesn't look like it.

* It's important to note that while Dale Turnbough served as UAB's "spokesperson" in the hate e-mail case, she was a central figure in my termination. Greg Privett has interviewed me at length about my termination, and I understand that WHNT plans to include my story in a series about Alabamians who have suffered under the Bush Justice Department. That series is due to run after the first of the year, probably about the time the Obama administration starts to make over the Justice Department.

* Notice that Turnbough did not grant an interview for the WHNT story, instead issuing a prepared statement. Imagine her trying to explain UAB's handling of this bigoted e-mail compared to its handling of my case. And she would have been forced to explain her own actions in my case, not those of some other university official. Is it any wonder that Turnbough didn't want to take questions from Greg Privett?

* Turnbough's quote that UAB cannot comment on a personnel matter is intriguing. The university seemed to have no problem commenting on my personnel matter. After Raw Story ran Lindsay Beyerstein's investigative piece about my termination, several Legal Schnauzer readers voiced their concerns to UAB President Carol Garrison. Garrison had UAB spokesman Gary Mans respond with a statement that my firing was based solely on work performance. Mans went so far as to post the statement in the comments to a story about my firing at The Chronicle of Higher Education. Isn't it interesting that Dale Turnbough can't comment on a "personnel matter" that involves use of UAB computers to send bigoted and racist e-mails, but the university was more than happy to issue a false and defamatory statement regarding my case?

Here is a question for taxpayers from coast to coast: UAB dips its snout in the federal trough to the tune of more than $400 million a year in research funding. You can bet that not long after the Obama administration takes over, UAB representatives will be approaching various agencies with their hands out. Dale Turnbough makes a six-figure salary, and Gary Mans makes close to that (last time I checked). Do they have an obligation to explain UAB's handling of "personnel matters" that involve the use of taxpayer-supported equipment?

And if this vile, racist, anti-Obama e-mail did indeed come from UAB--and I have information, which I've shared with Greg Privett, that indicates it is legitimate--how should Obama officials and supporters react if UAB takes no substantive disciplinary action?

Here's a final thought: It's undisputed that I was fired because I write a blog--on my own time--that has been supportive of former Democratic Governor Don Siegelman and critical of the Bush officials who prosecuted him. Contrary to what Carol Garrison/Gary Mans have said in their public statement--again, notice they repeatedly refused to answer questions about my case--I have an audiotaped conversation with a UAB human-resources director admitting that I was targeted because of my blog and its pro-Siegelman content. It's also undisputed that UAB's own grievance committee found I should not have been terminated, but President Garrison upheld my termination anyway.

Come January 20, Democrats are going to be in charge of the White House, both chambers of Congress, and the Alabama Legislature. And representatives from UAB are going to approach those Democrats and beg for dollars.

Isn't it about time that Democrats take a hard look at this southern university that protects hate speech while violating federal employment law at will? If UAB officials don't want to answer questions from reporters, shouldn't they have to answer questions from Democrats who are expected to help fund the university's endeavors?

Thursday, December 25, 2008

A Dog Day Christmas Afternoon

While browsing on the computer this afternoon, I came across a holiday video that I just had to share with the Schnauzer crowd.

In fact, Mrs. Schnauzer pointed out that the video actually features a schnauzer--a black standard or giant. I think it might be a standard, and you don't seem to see many of those in the U.S.

Looks like this little gem originated in Hungary. For some reason, I've always envisioned Hungary as a grim, eerie place; maybe I've watched too many Dracula movies. Based on this video, Hungary looks like an uber cool place, and it makes me want to visit.

With a tip of the hat to Pam Miles' e-mail list in Huntsville, Alabama, we offer a doggie version of "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree."

Happy holidays:


Hope For White People In Alabama

Sometimes I think a huge chunk of our white population has lost its collective mind.

White people, after all, are responsible not only for electing--but somehow re-electing--the worst president in our nation's history, leaving us with a mess not seen since the days of Herbert Hoover.

More evidence of "whities gone wacko" comes with a charming Christmas Day story in The Birmingham News. It tells us that local gun enthusiasts are buying up every firearm in sight out of fear that a Barack Obama administration will somehow make it difficult to get that much needed semi-automatic weapon and ammo.

And get this: One gentleman visited a Birmingham sporting-goods store the day after the election and bought $40,000 worth of semi-automatic hunting guns. Said the store's proprietor: "He said that he wanted to guarantee that his children, his grandchildren and yet-to-be-born grandchildren would have a way to hunt."

Gee, I thought the economy was bad, but this bozo could blow $40,000 on guns. And given his enthusiasm for firearms, I think it's safe to say he already had a bunch of guns.

Now, this gentleman could have put that money into college funds for his grand kids. Heck, he could have even made donations in their names to a favorite charity--say, one designed to help fight cancer or heart disease or hunger or poverty.

But no, he wanted to make sure the fruit of his loins could shoot guns to their hearts content. Makes you feel good about the future of our country doesn't it?

In the same edition of the same newspaper, we find a story that actually does make you feel good about our country.

Joe Openshaw, a retired veterinarian from Bessemer, Alabama, has 11 Christmas trees in his 1895 home. The trees have different themes, and each year, one tree has a patriotic theme.

This year's patriotic tree includes a tribute to our president-elect. It features Barack Obama campaign buttons, plus pictures of Obama and his family. The "Tribute Tree to Our President-Elect" stands in the bedroom of Openshaw's 18-year-old son, Daniel, and won't come down until after the Jan. 20 inauguration.

Openshaw's 22-year-old daughter, Marlow, is particularly protective of the Obama tree. Her best friend said she was going to put a John McCain ornament on the tree, but Marlow said it wouldn't stay on long.

How often have you heard patriotism associated with the Republican Party, almost as if it has been permanently hijacked? But here you have a white family, living in a state with a tortured history on race, showing support for our first African-American president.

Maybe there's hope for our country, and our state, after all.

A Christmas Gift to Make You Smile

Our Legal Schnauzer team has been thinking of something special to do for our readers at Christmas.

We are deeply grateful for the loyal readers who regularly make their way to our little corner of cyberspace. It's heartening to know that people recognize our system of justice is hurting--and they want to help make it better.

All of us here in SchnauzerLand certainly wish that our readers--and our world at large--will find comfort, joy, and hope in the religious and spiritual foundation of Christmas.

But we wanted to offer something, in keeping with the spirit of this blog, that might touch our readers in a down-to-earth way. Few things touch the human spirit quite like humor and music. And when you add in a legal connection, we thought we had found the perfect gift.

For our gift, we can thank the creators of Scrubs, which we think is one of the funniest, most creative shows in television history. And we are happy to report that, after seven years on NBC, Scrubs has found a new home on ABC--with new episodes starting on January 6.

We want to focus on Ted, the sad-sack lawyer at Sacred Heart whose primary source of joy in life comes from singing a cappella tunes with his fellow hospital employees. They call themselves the "Worthless Peons."

Ted's Band practices in the hospital elevators and roams the halls cranking out cartoon, prime time TV, and movie theme songs at opportune times.

In a way, Ted and his band mates provide the spiritual centerpiece of the show. They exhibit a childlike quality, the kind we associate with Christmas, as they brighten a world where illness and death are regular visitors.

And so we share this compilation of Ted's "Greatest Hits," with hopes that it will bring a smile to your face on Christmas Day. Be sure to make it to the end for the Worthless Peons' version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." It may be the best version of the classic that I've ever heard:



We can't go without including a clip where Ted's Band and the Janitor's group get into a "sing off" to impress Elliot, the show's blonde, goofy, and wonderfully hot doctor:



By the way, Ted's Band is for real. The guys actually sing those songs, and in real life, they are called The Blanks-complete with a Web site and a CD.

For good measure, we had to include a clip from one of the funniest bits in television history. The Janitor is convinced that J.D. thinks he's stupid. It plays out with hysterical results that have forever changed the way I look at sloppy Joes.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Basketball Coach, Assault, and Legal Ethics

A defamation lawsuit filed by University of Mississippi basketball coach Andy Kennedy against witnesses in an assault case raises some troubling legal-ethics questions.

Kennedy sued Cincinnati cab driver Mohamed Jiddou, who said in a police report that Kennedy struck him. Kennedy also sued Michael Strother, an employee at a valet service who supported Jiddou's story in an interview with a Cincinnati television station.

Speaking about the lawsuit for the first time, Kennedy told the Jackson Clarion Ledger that he filed it to protect his credibility.

Phil Taliaferro, an attorney representing Strother, had a very different take in an interview with USA Today:

"I've been practicing for 46 years and I've never heard of a situation in which a witness has been sued within 24 hours for telling what he saw. Michael is a 22-year-old young man who had the courage to tell the police what he saw."

I don't pretend to be an expert on legal ethics, which puts me in company with about 98 percent of lawyers. But based on my research and experience, Kennedy appears to be acting out of desperation. And his lawsuit smacks of witness intimidation, not only of Jiddou and Strother but against other witnesses that might come forward.

A Cincinnati television station reported that police wanted to interview two bar patrons who reportedly had a confrontation with Kennedy and a limo driver who might have witnessed the alleged assault. Wonder if those folks will be anxious to come forward now?

The Kennedy lawsuit raises serious questions about attorney Richard Katz, who filed the lawsuit on Kennedy's behalf.

A few points to consider:

* A person filing a criminal complaint has a qualified privilege to do so, and that privilege would appear to protect Jiddou and Strother from a defamation claim. In making their statements, it seems that Jiddou and Strother simply described certain events as they saw them, and at the time of their accounts, it appears they did not even know who Andy Kennedy was. How can they defame Andy Kennedy's character when they did not know who he was at the time of the event?

* Most jurisdictions have a "Rule 11" requirement, stating that by signing a pleading or motion, the lawyer certifies that he has good grounds to support it. This generally requires that a lawyer conduct some investigation before filing a claim. It's hard to see what kind of investigation Katz could have conducted in the roughly 24 hours from the time of the incident until the lawsuit was filed;

* What if Jiddou and Strother are making up their stories? What if they did conspire to "get" Kennedy? The law has a provision to protect someone like Kennedy in that situation. It's called malicious prosecution, and it's been the subject of numerous posts here at Legal Schnauzer. (Two examples can be found here and here.) If Kennedy were to prevail in criminal court, and he can show that Jiddou and Strother had no "probable cause" to have him prosecuted, he could file a claim for malicious prosecution--and he should prevail;

* Here's the rub with malicious prosecution: Such a case could not be filed until the criminal case is over, with a finding in Kennedy's favor. Kennedy clearly does not want a criminal trial to happen at all, and that probably is why he filed the defamation case. In fact, his attorney pretty much admitted as much in one newspaper interview;

* I look for Jiddou and Strother to file motions to dismiss Kennedy's lawsuit. Such motions differ from motions for summary judgment, which come only after discovery has taken place. A motion to dismiss cuts a case off at the outset, and such motions are rarely granted. But if the Jiddou/Strother lawyers can show their clients engaged in privileged communication, a dismissal would be called for;

* Jiddou and Strother also should counter with an abuse of process claim against both Kennedy and his attorney. This tort involves the issuance of legal process (such as a lawsuit), with an ulterior motive. In this instance, the ulterior motive would be to intimidate the witnesses into dropping the criminal complaint;

* Jiddou and Strother also can come back with an assault and battery counterclaim. Assault is both a crime and a tort, so they can countersue for assault;

My guess is that Kennedy and his attorney want to get this problem into the civil arena, so they can offer Jiddou and Strother enough money to make the problem go away, protecting Kennedy's job--and those of his assistant coaches.

Here's a problem with that scenario: Even if Jiddou and Strother settle civilly and agree to drop the criminal charges, that can't be done without the OK of the Cincinnati prosecutor. After all, that case will be the People of Ohio vs. Andy Kennedy, and victims don't get to make the call on whether it will be dropped or not.

Chances are, Kennedy's attorney is well enough connected in the legal community that he will be able to get prosecutors to drop the criminal case if a civil agreement is reached. Kennedy's attorney also is likely to be well connected enough to avoid the Rule 11 sanctions that he probably should face. (Jiddou and Strother could play hard ball by immediately filing a bar complaint against Katz. If the Ohio bar is like the Alabama bar, nothing is likely to come of that.)

It's a dangerous game Kennedy is playing. Since he was on university business, a countersuit for assault and battery also could name the University of Mississippi as a defendant, along with its officers. Such an outcome is likely to make said officers most unhappy and make it more likely that Kennedy and his staff will lose their jobs.

My guess is that Kennedy wants a quick settlement that will save his career and keep the university out of the equation.

Kennedy might have fired the first shot in the civil battle over the downtown fracas. But I would say Jiddou and Strother still hold all of the good cards.

One of the fundamentals of American law is that someone who feels he has been wronged, either criminally or civilly, is to use the justice system without fear of a facing a lawsuit.

I know all about this principle, and how it doesn't necessarily protect crime victims. I was the victim of a criminal trespass, and because the accused was wrongly acquitted, I faced a lawsuit for malicious prosecution. Not only did I have probable cause for bringing the criminal complaint, I had actual cause; the perpetrator unwittingly admitted in court that he had trespassed.
I became a victim both of a crime and a lawsuit. By law, Alabama courts are not supposed to allow that to happen. But a few corrupt judges did allow it, and that's why I started this blog.

From where I sit, it appears that Jiddou and Strother are going through the same kind of double victimization.

Kennedy's lawyer should have known better than to file a defamation lawsuit in this situation. It just makes him and his client look desperate, and it heaps abuse upon some of the basic foundations of American law.

Smell Like A Whopper, Become a Hot Lover

I approached Mrs. Schnauzer with an idea for spicing up our love life.

"I'm going to try the new men's body spray by Burger King," I said.

"You're going to try the what?" she said. "By who?"

"A new body spray for men, by Burger King."

"Have you been reading The Onion again?"

"No, this is real. I read about it in the business section of the newspaper."

"What on earth is it called?"

"It's called Flame. The company describes it as "the scent of seduction with a hint of flame-broiled meat."

"Won't you smell like a Whopper?"

"Well, yeah. Is there a problem with that?"

"Don't think you're going to attract many women with that. A pack of dogs maybe. But women? I doubt it."

At this point, I figured I should use a time-honored technique that husbands have used successfully throughout the ages. You take your own stupid idea/mistake/phase and pin it on your spouse. We experts call it "flipping"--as in flipping a burger, at Burger King.

"Hey, what if you're an oddball?" I told the Mrs. "What if other women find me and Flame irresistible?"

"You mean: What if the fact you smell like a Whopper causes you to drive other women wild with passion?"

"Exactly."

"That's a risk I think I can live with."

I examined her face for a hint of the concern she was hiding so well.

I'm still looking.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Connell Story Appears to Be Growing Legs

The plane crash that killed Republican information-technology expert Michael Connell is increasingly being placed in context with corruption that has plagued the Bush White House and sullied recent presidential elections.

That does not mean that the crash is anything other than an unfortunate and curiously timed accident. But journalists, lawyers, and activists with national influence are asking serious questions. And evidence continues to grow that Connell and his family felt threatened because of his possible testimony in an election-fraud lawsuit in Ohio.

Scott Horton, of Harper's magazine, puts the plane crash into a broader perspective with a piece titled "A Troubling Black Box Death:"

Michael Connell was well-known to those who follow the “black box” voting drama. A voting technology expert from Akron, Ohio, Connell faithfully served the Republican Party, and in particular its chief electoral guru, Karl Rove–faithfully, that is, up until a few months ago. Under subpoena and court order, Connell was compelled to testify about his role in managing the 2004 election tabulations in Ohio. In that race, Connell both served as information technology consultant to the Bush-Cheney campaign and, under contract with the state of Ohio, managed the vote tabulation from servers he maintained in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He emerged as the focal witness in the current controversy over voting machine manipulation in Ohio. In 2004 exit polls put Kerry on top, but official results in black box districts, strongly at variance with the exit polls, gave the state, and the race, to Bush. After Connell was reportedly threatened by Karl Rove, an attorney for the plaintiffs in the litigation appealed to Attorney General Mukasey for protection late last summer. Now Connell is dead, the victim of a crash on the approach of his plane to the Akron airport on Friday.

Horton notes that Connell's role in Republican IT activity went well beyond the 2oo4 election:

Mike Connell set-up the alternate email and communications system for the White House. He was responsible for creating the system that hosted the infamous GWB43.com accounts that Karl Rove and others used. When asked by Congress to provide these emails, the White House said that they were destroyed. But in reality, what Connell is alleged to have done is move these files to other servers after having allegedly scrubbed the files from all “known” Karl Rove accounts.

A number of experts believe that these "side" e-mail accounts, which Connell created, might hold the answers to what really happened in a number of critical elections over the past eight years or so. And they might shine considerable light on events that have sullied the reputation of the U.S. Department of Justice.

The Telegraph of London reports on the Connell plane crash and the troubling questions it raises about the Bush Administration.

As a resident of Alabama, I was amazed to learn that some local television stations still practice serious journalism. WOIO, of Cleveland, presents the following substantive report on the Connell case:

Siegelman Reveals Pressure Tactics Used Against Witnesses

Government prosecutors tried three times to get former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy to provide incriminating evidence against former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman, including once while their criminal trial was under way.

Scrushy refused each time, and that is why he is in federal prison, Siegelman says in an interview with The Daily Beast.

Paul Alexander, author of Machiavelli's Shadow: The Rise and Fall of Karl Rove, conducted the interview.

Siegelman provides background on his appointment of Scrushy to a hospital board:

Scrushy had just recently resigned from the board and the person I had defeated, Fob James, had appointed one of Scrushy's vice presidents to the position. When I got elected I called Scrushy and said, "I want you to serve in my administration like you did in three previous administration." And he said, "Oh, Governor, do I have to? I just resigned from that board. Can't I get you the name of somebody?" I said, "Nope, it's either you or nobody." So he went onto the board reluctantly. And this poor guy is still in prison today.

Scrushy paid dearly for refusing to give false statements to federal authorities, Siegelman says:

In an effort to get me, the prosecution went to Scrushy before they indicted him and said, "Just tell us Siegelman extorted the money; just tell us he twisted your arm." He said, "I can't do that because that's not what happened." They went to him after he was indicted and said, "Okay, we will give you another chance. Tell us Siegelman twisted your arm and tried to extort money." He said, "I can't say that because that's not what happened." During the trial, he was sitting at the defense table, and they came and got him again and gave him a third chance to throw me under the bus by lying for the prosecution and he wouldn't do it. This is not the way the justice system in this country is supposed to work.

Siegelman remains hopeful that a Barack Obama administration will support efforts to get at the truth behind the politicization of the U.S. Justice Department under George W. Bush:

There are lots of good fights, and I know that Obama is looking to end the war in Iraq, to provide health care to all Americans, to fix the economy, and to deal with global warning—there are so many important issues that are out there—but restoring people's faith and trust in the government, assuring people the Department of Justice will no longer be used as a political weapon in this country, is vital. We are not going to allow the torture of prisoners in Guantanamo, nor are we going to permit the torturing of witnesses until we get the correct testimony to put political enemies in jail in this country.

A lot of Americans are aware of the injustices that have been going on in the Bush administration. They need to know that the Obama administration is not going to tolerate these kinds of injustices. I am hopeful that the Obama administration will work with an interested House Judiciary Committee (and hopefully a Senate Judiciary Committee) in finding the truth.

Dome or Retractable Roof? You Make The Call

Birmingham residents should turn their attention north to Indianapolis if they want to see how our city's stadium of the future should take shape.

The 24-year-old RCA Dome, the former home of the Indianapolis Colts NFL team, was imploded Saturday to make room for additional convention space.

You can check out a story and video about the implosion here. It involves lots of dusts and explosions, but that's what happens to massive structures that become obsolete in less than a quarter of a century.

And what has replaced the RCA Dome as home for the Colts. Why, spanking new Lucas Oil Stadium, which features a . . . retractable roof.

HOK Inc. of Kansas City, Missouri, has been chosen as architect for the Birmingham facility, and HOK officials say a retractable roof would add only about $30 million to a project that is expected to cost between $450 and $500 million.

Should Birmingham go with a fixed-roof dome, which will be obsolete the minute it is finished? Or should it go with a retractable roof, which will put the facility in step with the latest in multipurpose facilities?

From here, seems like a pretty easy question to answer

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Newspaper Industry Is Hemorrhaging

The outlook keeps getting bleaker for America's newspaper industry.

Now we have word that Detroit, one of the few cities that still has two newspapers, will see a major change in its market.

The Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News will slash home delivery to three days a week, printing small editions on other days and encouraging readers to get information online.

Since 2002, the Detroit papers have lost 19 and 22 percent of their print circulations, respectively.

Why is that? The reasons are varied and complicated.

But I suspect one reason is that the mainstream press, over the past 25 years or so, has been pelted with charges of "liberal bias" from right wingers. And editors have either begun to believe it--or they have been intimidated by it.

As a result, they have largely called off their reportorial dogs on Republican corruption that has infected our country for the past eight years--and beyond.

History will show that George W. Bush has presided over the most corrupt administration America has seen. But how many truly ground-breaking, enterprising stories have been written about Bush scoundrels?

Precious few.

Consider this: In the United States, at this very moment, we have at least three classic political prisoners--and I'm talking about in the Josef Stalin sense of that term.

Their names are Paul Minor, Wes Teel, and John Whitfield, three Mississippians who are spread out in federal prisons around the South. How many American mainstream newspapers have taken a serious, in-depth look at their plight, explaining to their readers the truth--that these innocent men were railroaded?

I can't think of a single newspaper. Certainly none in Mississippi has done it.

And don't forget: Don Siegelman is not out of the woods yet. He's out of prison for the moment, but a three-judge panel of appellate judges (all Republicans) could put him right back in the slammer.

What should be on the gravestone of American newspapers when the last one goes under?

"We were intimidated into extinction."

Did the Rove Crime Syndicate Strike Again?

Has the United States, the most powerful nation on earth, been led for the past eight years by a crime syndicate?

Many Americans would recoil at such a thought. "We're not Sicily," they would say.

But a growing body of evidence suggests we might be more like Sicily than we care to admit. And the latest grim evidence came Friday evening when a plane crashed in a residential area near Akron, Ohio.

The pilot and lone occupant of the plane, Michael Connell, was killed. Connell was an information-technology expert for the Republican Party and was set to testify in a lawsuit about possible rigging of elections in Ohio.

Connell and his wife, Heather, reportedly had received threats from GOP strategist Karl Rove, and attorneys in the Ohio case had asked the U.S. Justice Department to provide protection for the Connells.

Larisa Alexandrovna, of the blog at-Largely, said Connell had become a central witness in the Ohio election-fraud case.

The Akron Beacon Journal followed up with a story today, focusing on Connell's connections to the Bush family and possible election fraud. Bob Fitrakis, an attorney who helped bring the Ohio lawsuit, said Connell's death "sent a chill down my spine."

"He was the Bush family's IT guru. He had tremendous knowledge and information."

Velvet Revolution, an election-reform Web site, reported that one of its investigators had been talking with Connell about ways he could come forward with information about vote rigging.

Connell, an experienced pilot, had to abort two recent planned flights out of fear that his plane had been sabotaged, VR reports. A Connell associate had told VR that Connell was responsible for destruction of Bush White House e-mails and setting up an off-the-grid e-mail system.

Friday night's plane crash is under investigation, and a likely cause is not expected to be known for months.

Mark Crispin Miller, reporting at his blog News From Underground, writes about a growing list of people who have met untimely ends while getting close to information about alleged dirty tricks during the Bush/Rove era.

The title of Miller's post? "Bloody Karl."

As a resident of Alabama, I've seen signs of a possible Bush/Rove crime syndicate. In fact, I would argue that such an organization probably has its roots in Alabama, thanks to Rove's electoral success in state-court races in the 1990s.

Here's a prediction: If U.S. Rep. John Conyers, incoming Attorney General Eric Holder, and a few gutsy journalists ever get to the bottom of the Bush Justice Department scandal, several key players will have connections to Alabama.

Consider just a few events in this neck of the woods:

* Votes for Democratic incumbent Don Siegelman mysteriously disappear in the middle of the night in Baldwin County, Alabama, giving Republican challenger Bob Riley a "victory" in the 2002 gubernatorial election;

* Two subsequent criminal prosecutions target Siegelman. One in Birmingham flops; one in Montgomery is "successful;"

* A house fire and an automobile "accident" involve Republican whistleblower and attorney Jill Simpson;

* Questionable prosecutions, against a Democratic state legislator (see Schmitz, Sue) and a defense contractor who had supported the Democratic Party (see Latifi, Alex), become a common tactic.

For what it's worth, my unlawful termination at UAB has the fingerprints of Alabama Republicans all over of it, and some of them have connections to Karl Rove. This suggests that GOP corruption has not only infected Alabama's executive and judicial branches, but also our system of higher education.

And next door in Mississippi, attorney Paul Minor and former state judges Wes Teel and John Whitfield remain in federal prison because of a case that has "political prosecution" written all over it.

Let's leave, for now, with these questions:

What was in the off-the-grid e-mail system that Michael Connell helped set up? Did it include information about the Siegelman prosecutions, the Paul Minor case, the 2002 governor's race, efforts to silence Jill Simpson, and more?

Was Michael Connell the "man who knew too much?"

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Basketball Coach Files Defamation Suit in Assault Case

University of Mississippi basketball coach Andy Kennedy has filed a defamation lawsuit against a cab driver and a valet who say the coach struck the cabbie early Thursday morning in Cincinnati.

The lawsuit seeks $25,000 each from cab driver Mohamed Jiddou and valet Michael Strother.

The suit states that Jiddou's criminal complaint, which says Kennedy punched him with a closed fist while yelling racial slurs, is false. Strother backed up Jiddou's version of events in an interview with reporter Eric Flack of WLWT in Cincinnati.

Flack has been on top of the story from the beginning, and you can check out his report from last night on the latest in the Kennedy case. Near the end of the piece, you can click on a link to the lawsuit.

Today's Cincinnati Enquirer story includes a couple of intriguing quotes from lawyers involved in the case.

Here's this from Kennedy's attorney, Richard Katz:

"As an athlete or a coach, if you're in this business and something happens, whether you're innocent or guilty, it's with you for the rest of your career. We don't want this to happen. We want this to be over and then throw the baggage in the river."

Katz seems to be saying that, from his view, this is not about a possible crime; it's about Kennedy's career. In a startling moment of candor, he also seems to admit that the purpose of the lawsuit is to help force the criminal case "to be over."

Here is a quote from Jiddou's attorney, Rusty O'Brien:

"Any basketball coach knows that the best defense is a good offense. The guy's back is up against the wall because he got caught red-handed, so he's coming out with his guns blazing."

Ironically, the opposing attorneys seem to agree: In less than 24 hours time, the focus has gone from a possible crime to Kennedy's career.

Kennedy's defamation lawsuit raises some interesting legal ethics questions, and we will be examining those in an upcoming post.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Eye Witness Comes Forward in Andy Kennedy Case

A Cincinnati television station has an interview with an eyewitness in the Andy Kennedy assault case--and the witness supports the story of a cab driver whom Kennedy allegedly struck.

The story, by reporter Eric Flack of WLWT, features an interview with a valet at Bootsy's restaurant. Bootsy's is near the Lodge Bar, where Kennedy had been drinking and had to be escorted out and threatened with arrest--before the incident with the cab driver. Witnesses say Kennedy got into a confrontation with two individuals at the bar.

The valet said Kennedy, and others in his party, were hitting and kicking the cab before Kennedy struck the driver. "I saw it with my own eyes," the valet said.

Police are looking for a limo driver who apparently also witnessed the incident.

Ole Miss officials already are starting to back away from their unqualified support for Kennedy. Athletics Director Pete Boone said today that he needed a few days to "sort things out" before granting more interviews on the subject. Translation: He's going to talk with the president, board members, and other higher ups at the university.

Boone said there was no question that Kennedy would be the Rebels coach for the rest of this season. He said nothing about Kennedy's status beyond that.

I've yet to see any news reports raising the possibility of a civil case against Kennedy and others. That's when things really could get hairy for Ole Miss, although the criminal case is likely to play out first.

Since Kennedy and his staff were on university business, Ole Miss is likely to be a target in a lawsuit.

Hope everyone on the Ole Miss coaching staff has good liability coverage. They are probably going to need it.

An update: Apparently Kennedy has decided to beat everyone to the punch in the lawsuit phase. Another Cincinnati television station is reporting that Kennedy filed a lawsuit today against both the cab driver and the valet. It appears that the lawsuit alleges that the cab driver and the valet are conspiring to defame Kennedy. I haven't seen the lawsuit, but one has to wonder what connections the cab driver and the valet could possibly have and how they could pull off such a conspiracy.

Even UAB's Alumni Can't Stay Out of Trouble

We posted yesterday about the numerous unsavory stories brewing at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), my former employer.

Now we learn that even some of UAB's most high-profile alumni cannot stay out of trouble.

Andy Kennedy, the head men's basketball coach at the University of Missisisppi, was arrested early Thursday morning in Cincinnati on a misdemeanor assault charge. Kennedy, a UAB graduate and the school's second leading all-time scorer, allegedly punched a cab driver and used several racial insults.

Ole Miss assistant coach Bill Armstrong, another UAB graduate, was arrested for disorderly conduct related to the incident, which took place at about 1 a.m.

Ole Miss assistant coach Torrey Ward, also a UAB graduate, apparently was present and involved in the fracas but was not arrested.

The cab driver, Mohammed Moctar Ould Jiddou, is a legal resident of the United States and has been in the country for seven years, according to his attorney. Jiddou said Kennedy referred to him as "bin Laden," "Saddam Hussein," and other disparaging names.

The Ole Miss team was in Cincinnati to play the University of Louisville in a game nationally televised on ESPN last night. Louisville won the game 77-68, and Ole Miss lost star guard Chris Warren to a knee injury.

The fate of the Ole Miss coaching staff also appears to be in question. Newspapers and Web sites around the country have run mug shots of Kennedy and Armstrong over the past 24 hours. And the fact the altercation involved a person of color could be troublesome for Ole Miss, which has a tortured history with racial issues.

This story has a strong personal touch here at Legal Schnauzer. I've known Kennedy, Armstrong, and Ward for a number of years and always considered all three to be good guys and solid professionals.

Also, Torrey Ward's mother, Janice Ward, played a central role in my termination at UAB. She is the human resources representative for our department, and until she decided to professionally stab me between the shoulder blades, we were good friends.

Janice Ward, you might recall, was in the meeting with my supervisor Pam Powell when I was alleged to have acted in a "threatening" and "belligerent" manner upon being told I was to be disciplined for "policy violations" I didn't commit. Janice Ward agreed with Powell's account of the closed-door meeting, but when questioned at my grievance hearing, she said only that she was "uncomfortable" in the meeting--and she didn't say I was the one who made her uncomfortable.

In other words, Janice Ward's story fell apart under scrutiny, and UAB's own grievance committee found that neither she nor Powell were creditable about the events in our meeting.

I find it interesting that Janice Ward once stood in judgment of my professional behavior in a closed-door meeting, and now her son is involved in an ugly altercation at 1:15 a.m. on a public street while on a business trip representing a state university.

Janice Ward testified against me and backed up a version of events that she apparently knew was not true. I wonder if that is how she would like her son to be treated if he goes before some inquiry board at Ole Miss.

And I imagine that will happen.

Ole Miss Athletics Director Pete Boone was with the team in Cincinnati and issued a statement backing Kennedy. But I suspect that tone might change when the team returns to Oxford, Miss., and the president and other administrators get involved--particularly after seeing the flurry of negative publicity this has caused for the university.

Several different versions of the altercation are flying around in news reports. But the bottom line, right now, is this:

* The Cincinnati police report portrays Kennedy and his staff members as the aggressors. The report says Jiddou's face was swollen in the immediate aftermath of the fracas;

* The police report evidently was based partly on the word of a third-party witness, someone not connected to the cab driver or the Ole Miss staff;

* Regardless of what happened, Kennedy and his staff were out on the town at 1 a.m. and got involved in some kind of altercation where racial slurs and alcohol were involved. Administrators at Ole Miss are likely to take a dim view of that behavior and wonder what kind of example it sets for the school's student-athletes.

This could be the killer for the Kennedy staff's tenure at Ole Miss: Kennedy and Armstrong have entered not-guilty pleas and have pretrial hearings on January 16. Criminal cases move relatively quickly, but this still is likely to tarnish the entire 2008-09 season for Ole Miss.

And it could go way beyond that. Assault, in most states, is both a crime and a tort. In other words, you can be sued for assault, and it can drag on a long time. In Alabama, the statute of limitations on an assault and battery lawsuit is six years.

I know because I was assaulted by my criminally inclined neighbor, who is a central character in this blog. Corrupt prosecutors in Shelby County insist it was a misdemeanor assault, but I have read the law and know it is a felony because he used a "dangerous instrument" (a roadside sign) to hit me in the back. I don't care to trust the case to the sorry prosecutors in Shelby County, but I still can bring a lawsuit against this neighbor--and I have a third-party eye witness to the assault.

As someone who has been the victim of an assault, I can tell you it's not a fun experience. I know the UAB alums involved, but I tend to be sympathetic to the cab driver here.

When my neighbor assaulted me, he immediately started trying to cover his tracks--not knowing there was an eye witness to the whole thing. When someone physically strikes out at another in a public place, I think a heavy "cover my ass" mode kicks in. I suspect that's happening with someone in the Ole Miss party.

Also, some reports quote the Ole Miss people as saying the cab driver used a racial slur against Ward, who is black, after Ward told him to quit talking to another cab driver and get the party back to its hotel. But under the law, anything the cab driver might have said does not justify an assault.

If my understanding of civil procedure is correct, Jiddou could sue everyone in the Ole Miss party individually. And since they were on university business, he probably could sue the university and its board of trustees. And the lawsuit could drag on for years, with the attending negative publicity.

I notice that it didn't take long for Jiddou to find an attorney who would represent him. That means the attorney probably is thinking beyond the criminal case.

Something tells me the higher-ups at Ole Miss will not be thrilled at that prospect. And that could be the key that sends the Ole Miss coaching staff packing.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Has UAB Become a Hotbed for Mismanagement and Corruption?

The UAB men's basketball team took the floor last night against Jacksonville State with only six scholarship players on hand, well below the NCAA-allowed 13.

That's because the program took a major hit on Tuesday--two players were declared academically ineligible and two others left the program for unspecified reasons.

All of UAB's usual starters were in place, and they responded admirably to a tough situation, beating Jacksonville State, 75-48. But UAB's once-proud basketball program became almost a butt of jokes on SI.com, Fanhouse, and other sports Web sites.

While some fans quickly pointed fingers at Coach Mike Davis or Athletics Director Brian Mackin, I think a couple of other questions should be raised: Is an implosion taking place on Birmingham's Southside and does it go well beyond the basketball program? And are the basketball problems merely a symptom of problems brewing under the weak leadership of President Carol Garrison?

Substantial evidence suggests that Garrison is steering the institution right into an iceberg. Let's consider some recent UAB-related headlines:

* A longtime engineering professor files a discrimination lawsuit, alleging wide-ranging pay disparity for female faculty members.

* A longtime history professor files a discrimination lawsuit, alleging disparate pay for African-American faculty members.

* A major donor to the university has a horrifying history behind the wheel, including a conviction for driving 112 mph in a 55 zone, and a history of potentially problematic political and business affiliations.

* An office associate in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics uses state equipment to send a hate-filled e-mail to a California gay-rights group. UAB has announced no disciplinary actions for this clear violation of university policy.

A number of other UAB stories are lurking just beneath the headlines. You will be reading about them here at Legal Schnauzer:

* A School of Business faculty member, Susan Key, has filed a lawsuit alleging disparate treatment, retaliation, and equal-pay violations. Part of her claim involves allegations that former marketing faculty member Bob Underwood routinely conducted a "comedy act" involving an elderly black character named "Pork Chop." For some reason, black staff members found Underwood's act offensive, but Key states that it was allowed to go on for an extended period of time. Key's suit helped set off a number of administrative changes at the School of Business. Underwood exited to Furman University.

* Multiple medical trainees from India have alleged discriminatory practices at UAB's program in Huntsville. This includes a finding by the U.S. Department of Labor that some trainees were not paid properly. (This story already is making headlines in India, and soon should be making headlines here--although the Birmingham press is likely to ignore it.)

* A key administrator, who was at the heart of several human-resources imbroglios, recently left the university to take a job at another institution in the South. It appears she "got out while the gettin' was good," in order to preserve her professional reputation from activities going on at UAB.

* A case involving two whistleblowers outlines massive research fraud at UAB. The case was "settled" with the university paying roughly $3 million, but court documents indicate the actual fraud was at least 100 times that amount. Settlement documents state a criminal, civil, or administrative investigation can be reopened at any time. This could be a priority for an Obama-appointed U.S. attorney in Birmingham, considering that UAB evidently has cheated taxpayers out of hundreds of thousands of dollars, and records show that current U.S. Attorney Alice Martin never conducted a thorough investigation. Evidence also suggests that Martin, who already is under investigation by multiple government agencies, used this case as leverage to get a certain blogging UAB employee fired.

* A company owned by a well-known member of the University of Alabama Board of Trustees was implicated in a major fraud case a few years back in Pennsylvania. So far, the trustee and his company have managed to escape scrutiny. But again, that could change with an Obama-appointed U.S. attorney in Birmingham. Documents from the Pennsylvania case show the Alabama fraud case is pretty much already made. Someone just needs to have the guts to bring it.

* Finally, we have my discrimination complaint, which has been filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). That process, which usually runs about six months, is a precursor to a lawsuit against UAB. The case promises to be much more than a standard employment lawsuit. Substantial evidence shows that I did not engage in misconduct or violate policy in anyway and that my termination was driven by political forces external to UAB. If the U.S. mails and/or the federal wires (computers, telephone lines, etc.) were used in furtherance of a fraudulent scheme to unlawfully fire me, criminal behavior might be involved. Let me rephrase that: Criminal behavior--honest services mail or wire fraud--definitely would be involved, regardless of whether law-enforcement ever brings charges.

The bottom line? These might seem like tough days at UAB, with a few basketball players hitting the exits. But a year or two from now, after a few perp walks have been conducted with university leaders, these might seem like the good old days.

Higher Education Loses a Whistleblowing Heroine

America today is minus a true heroine, a woman who showed extraordinary courage in the face of the ignorance that sometimes reigns in the "hallowed halls" of higher education.

Jan Kemp died on December 5. That name might not ring a bell for you. But if you lived in the Deep South in the 1980s and followed college football--which includes just about everyone in the Deep South--the name will definitely ring a bell.

Kemp was an English professor at the University of Georgia who blew the whistle on preferential treatment given to "student-athletes." She was fired when she refused to inflate grades for Georgia athletes, particularly football players, some of whom were functionally illiterate.

Kemp sued the university and won, earning a "hero of the '80s" title from People magazine. She died at age 59 from complications of Alzheimer's disease.

The lawsuit proved to be a public-relations nightmare for the university, and Kemp won a $2.58 million award--later reduced to $1.1 million.

Until I began to research the Kemp case following her death, I did not realize just how much torment she endured--all because she insisted that an institution of higher learning should actually be educating its students.

She stayed in Athens, Georgia, home of the university, for most of her adult life, even though she was reviled by many UGA alums. Her private life was filled with pain, including two suicide attempts and an ugly divorce/child custody case--all of which seemed to stem from her battles with the university.

Taxpayers across the country owe a debt of gratitude to Jan Kemp. To be sure, colleges and universities still are plagued by corruption--as my own unlawful termination and other assorted problems at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) show.

But Jan Kemp took a major step toward holding public institutions accountable for their actions. I can only imagine the amount of fortitude it took for her to stare down the football-mad machine at a major Southern university.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Bob Riley Takes Hypocrisy to New Levels

Alabama Governor Bob Riley two days ago announced a state hiring freeze and a 10-percent cut in the state budget.

So what did Riley do on the very same day?

He hired one of his cronies to an $80,000-a-year job.

We're not making this up, folks. We know about it thanks to some top-notch reporting by Sebastian Kitchen, of the Montgomery Advertiser. Maybe there is hope for Alabama journalism yet.

Kitchen reports that Riley hired Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh to work for State Finance Director Jim Main.

A Riley staff member said the process for hiring Cavanaugh started three or four weeks ago. But Kitchen reports that Riley told Associated Press as early as November 6 that budget problems likely would result in a hiring freeze.

Cavanaugh, who is in her third stint with Riley, apparently needed a job because she lost to Democrat Lucy Baxley for a seat on the Public Service Commission in the November election.

If Don Siegelman were governor and pulled a stunt like this, can you imagine the sniffing that would ensue from Eddie Curran of the Mobile Press-Register?

I wonder if Fast Eddie will be on top of this Riley story? Probably not. Guess he's got that Siegelman book to crank out.

UAB Has More HR Headaches

My former employer, the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), seems to have lost all ability to manage human beings.

You would think an institution of higher learning might have a grasp on that by now. But I guess you would be wrong.

We've written extensively about my wrongful termination after 19 years of service--and I have filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a precursor to a lawsuit against UAB. Much more is coming on that.

We have written about a lawsuit filed by Rosalia Scripa, a professor of engineering and former assistant provost who has been a faculty member at UAB for more than 30 years.

We also have noted a case against UAB involving medical trainees from India. That case recently became international news and shows signs of becoming a colossal headache for the folks on Southside. We have much more coming on that case, too.

Now comes word of a discrimination lawsuit filed by Horace Huntley, who has taught history at UAB for more than 30 years.

Huntley alleges that the university has discriminated against him and denied him fair pay because of his race and age.

"Basically he just feels like he hasn't been treated fairly in his salary over the years," says Byron Perkins, Huntley's attorney from the Cochran Law Firm.

According to the lawsuit, Huntley asked Provost Eli Capilouto to correct the pay disparity, and Capilouto suggested that Huntley retire.

Capilouto also is a central figure in the Scripa case. That lawsuit alleges that Capilouto asked Scripa to alter figures on a study regarding faculty salaries and suggested that Scripa sign a letter stating she was stepping down from her provost position for "family and personal reasons."

Guess who shows up in the Huntley case, issuing a "no comment" on UAB's behalf? Why, none other than Dale Turnbough, the "spokesperson" who wrote my bogus termination letter.

In other words, UAB's spokesperson on employment matters is someone who herself practices employment discrimination.

Do we see a pattern developing here? Counting credit for sick time, I have more than 20 years of service at UAB; Scripa and Huntley have more than 30 years.

The Huntley and India cases involve people of color. All four cases involve charges of discrimination based on age, gender, race, or ethnic origin.

While UAB is mismanaging its own employees left and right, it jumps in bed with Birmingham businessman William Cobb "Chip" Hazelrig, who has a horrifying record of misadventures on the highway and a number of curious (some might say troubling) political and business associations.

What is the message from UAB? It seems to be:

"Hey, if you give us $5 million, you can wreak all kinds of havoc in public places, and we don't care one bit.

"But give us 20 to 30 years of professional service, and we are likely to cheat you on the job. Be particularly aware if you are over the age of 50, are female, or have dark skin. Then, you are definitely on our radar.

"And woe to the employee who doesn't toe the conservative Republican line. If you don't kneel at the altar of Bob Riley or Alice Martin, you are toast.

"Should we have to follow federal laws, even though we have our hand in the federal trough to the tune of some $400 million a year? Heck, no. We want cash without accountability.

"And if you get screwed, we'll be sure to put Dale Turnbough front and center as a glowing example of the way we handle employee relations."

Is Karl Rove Securing the Crime Scene?

The nation was treated to quite a postmodern political spectacle the other day.

A national television program invited former Bush strategist Karl Rove to critique President-Elect Barack Obama's plans for the U.S. Justice Department.

That's a little like asking Charles Manson for his thoughts on Martin Luther King and the nonviolence movement.

But there was Matt Lauer, of NBC's Today Show, asking with a straight face for Rove's thoughts on Obama's nomination of Eric Holder as attorney general.

Seems King Karl considers Holder to be a "controversial" nominee. That's interesting coming from a guy who is under investigation by a special prosecutor for allegedly manipulating the Justice Department for political reasons.

Republicans apparently have chosen Rove to lead the opposition on Holder, which provides more evidence that the GOP is morally bankrupt.

We know that Rove could not possibly be concerned about what's best for the nation, so what is he really up to? Scott Horton, of Harper's, provides the answer in a piece titled "Securing the Crime Scene."

No one should be surprised that "Turd Blossom" Rove is trying to save his own skin. Writes Horton:

There’s something fouler afoot here, I think. Karl Rove has his own agenda at Justice. The Senate Judiciary Committee’s report on the U.S. Attorneys scandal identified the individual whose manipulations produced the firings of eight of the country’s best U.S. Attorneys so they could be replaced with partisan hacks: Karl Rove. The Justice Department’s Inspector General hints at just the same conclusion, but notes that it was thwarted from completing its study by the refusal of Karl Rove and those who worked for him to cooperate with the probe. When the House Judiciary Committee subpoenaed Rove to testify on these same issues, and his nefarious role in the prosecution of Alabama Governor Don E. Siegelman, Rove failed to appear, choosing instead to vacation with post-Soviet Mafiosi at a Crimean resort favored by Stalin. Now a special prosecutor is looking closely into Rove’s dealings and speculation that he may face criminal charges mounts.

Horton notes that Rove has had other brushes with the law and narrowly escaped an indictment in the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame:

And in all of these dealings, Rove has held an ace in the hole—political appointees at the Justice Department have undermined the inquiries into him and furnished him with highly improbable cover to avoid answering to Congress. Thus no one in Washington faces greater exposure as a result of the changing of the guard at the Justice Department than Karl Rove.

Thus it appears Rove has two objectives in taking on Holder. The first is to delay the turnover in the attorney general’s office as long as he can, providing more time in which his misconduct can enjoy the cloak of nefarious secret opinions of the Office of Legal Counsel and the attorney general’s own wink-and-nod. The second is to tar Holder as a political player, so that if charges are brought against Rove in the coming administration—as appears increasingly likely, unless Rove gets the pardon he wants for Christmas—Rove can bellow charges of “politics.”

If Karl Rove is concerned about the Holder nomination, that makes me think Obama made a good choice.

Do Republicans have reason to fear Eric Holder? This diary at Daily Kos suggests the answer is yes.