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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Alabama Shooting--With Political Overtones--Mirrors the Steve McNair Case

News continues to break in the shooting death of former National Football League star Steve McNair, with the release yesterday of text messages between McNair and the girlfriend who shot him.

Before that, the McNair case took a turn that reminds us of an ugly Alabama incident--one that has indirect ties to Republican Party politics and our Legal Schnauzer story. That's because, like many of the ugly incidents we write about here, the Alabama case involves corrupt Pelham attorney William E. Swatek.

As regular Legal Schnauzer readers know, Bill Swatek has family ties to GOP royalty, including former Bush strategist Karl Rove. Both the McNair case and the Alabama case drive home this key message: It's unlawful for a convicted felon to possess a firearm, and there's a good reason for that.

McNair was shot and killed in early July in Nashville, Tennessee, where he had once starred for the Tennessee Titans. Investigators determined that McNair's mistress, 20-year-old Sahel Kazemi, shot him four times before killing herself with a single gunshot to the head.

About two weeks after the death, authorities charged Adrian J. Gilliam Jr., of La Vergne, Tennessee, with being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm. A criminal complaint said Gilliam confessed to selling the gun to Kazemi. Gilliam recently pleaded guilty in federal court in Nashville, and sentencing is set for December 18.

How does this connect to our Legal Schnauzer story? Well, as we have reported in numerous posts, Alabama lawyer William E. Swatek is largely responsible for the legal headaches my wife and I have endured. Not only is Swatek the father of Alabama GOP consultant Dax Swatek (a protege of Karl Rove confidante Bill Canary), he has a 30-year history of unethical behavior in the legal profession. We have outlined Bill Swatek's legacy of sleaze here and here.

Until Adrian Gilliam's role in Steve McNair's shooting death came to light, we had pretty much forgotten about a particularly ugly episode from Bill Swatek's sordid past. Now seems like a good time to bring it to light. The case is not only revealing about Bill Swatek, it says a lot about a justice system that appears to protect rogue lawyers like him.

In December 1995, 42-year-old Lawrence Weems was shot 11 times outside his home in Trussville, Alabama. The gunman was a private detective named Don Weiffenbach, who had been hired by Beverly Weems and her attorney for a divorce case against her husband, Larry Weems.

Who was Beverly Weems' attorney? Bill Swatek. And what did Don Weiffenbach have in his background? A felony conviction, from Arizona. So how was he in possession of a firearm?

Larry Weems alleged in a lawsuit that Swatek helped Weiffenbach obtain a pistol permit in Shelby County after he had been denied in Jefferson County because of the felony conviction.

What exactly happened that evening in Trussville? The details are murky. Weiffenbach said Beverly Weems had asked him to come to the Weems residence to check for an outside tap on the phone line, and Larry Weems confronted him. Weems said he was called to the residence and walked into an ambush.

According to public documents, Weiffenbach was shot twice, and Weems was shot 11 times. Weems was hospitalized in critical condition, but he survived.

This much appears to be clear. Weiffenbach was unlawfully in possession of a firearm. And it's a miracle someone was not killed.

What happened in the aftermath of the shooting? Larry Weems filed lawsuits against Shelby County and the City of Trussville. His lawsuit for negligent hiring and supervision against Swatek and Beverly Weems generated enough documents to fill several large folders at the Jefferson County Courthouse.

Larry Weems says that depositions in the case present compelling evidence that Swatek was at least partly responsible for Weiffenbach obtaining a pistol permit in Shelby County. Not long after the shooting, Swatek sold his house to his wife and put it in her name, according to Shelby County probate records.

Was Swatek concerned about a possible major judgment against him? His actions indicate the answer is yes.

Weems' lawsuit dragged on for years before eventually losing steam and being dismissed--for reasons that are hard to determine from viewing the case file.

Was the lawsuit dismissed mainly because Weems had a member of the Birmingham legal community in the crosshairs? Did the "justice" community rally to dismiss Weems' lawsuit, not based on the facts and law, but based on the need to protect one of its own?

Consider this: Weems says he filed a criminal complaint with the Birmingham office of the FBI, and nothing was done about it. He filed a complaint against Swatek with the Alabama State Bar, and it was not investigated--even though Swatek had been disciplined three times previously by the state bar, including a suspension of his license.

Don Weiffenbach moved to Florida and died a few years ago. Larry Weems remains convinced that Bill Swatek was responsible for a shooting that nearly claimed his life.

Did Bill Swatek help a convicted felon unlawfully obtain a firearm? The Alabama legal and law-enforcement community apparently want to make sure the public never knows the answer to that question.

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