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Friday, February 27, 2009

UAB Fans Show Their Fannies

The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) lost a basketball game last night. The university also might have lost what little was left of its good name.

UAB lost to No. 5 Memphis before a packed Bartow Arena. Blazer fans, perhaps distraught at seeing their chances for an NCAA Tournament berth take a direct hit, apparently decided to take out their frustrations on journalist and radio talk-show host Paul Finebaum.

The Capstone Report, a Web site devoted to news and commentary about University of Alabama athletics, reports that Finebaum received abusive treatment when he appeared for last night's UAB game. The article states that Finebaum was greeted with booing, F-bombs and other profanities, and a variety of crude gestures.

What was Finebaum's great sin? In recent days he apparently had made a number of critical comments about UAB President Carol Garrison and her leadership, or lack thereof, at the university.

I've only heard snippets of Finebaum's highly rated radio show in recent days, but sources told us that he has focused on, among other things, stories about Garrison's relationship with former University of Tennessee president John Shumaker.

Those stories began to surface about a year after Garrison arrived at UAB in 2002. Garrison and Shumaker had worked together at the University of Louisville, where he was president and she was provost.

When Shumaker interviewed for the Tennessee job in 2002, his wife Lucy was at his side through the whole process. But when Shumaker was hired and reported for work in Knoxville, Mrs. Shumaker did not accompany him. That's because she was back in Louisville, preparing a lawsuit for divorce.

Interestingly, when Garrison became UAB's president, Shumaker started using Tennessee's university plane to make numerous trips to Birmingham. Turns out those trips had mostly to do with Shumaker's "personal relationship" with Garrison, not university business.

Later, news reports revealed that Shumaker and Garrison had shared a hotel room at a conference in San Antonio, and Shumaker had lied to Tennessee officials about the nature of the arrangement.

No wonder Lucy Shumaker was filing for divorce.

Shumaker reimbursed Tennessee for the improper personal expenses, but he wound up resigning amid a boiling scandal--with Carol Garrison at the center of it.

Garrison kept her job at UAB, but she brought the university enormous embarrassment. How did Garrison manage to remain as president? My sources say UA System Chancellor Malcolm Portera stood by her, probably because UAB's previous president, W. Ann Reynolds, already was preparing a discrimination lawsuit--and Portera didn't want another female president to leave under uncomfortable circumstances.

If Finebaum criticized Garrison for the Shumaker affair, he was right on target. Consider what she did:

* She engaged in a scheme to waste taxpayer funds on personal business. Is that any less of a problem just because the money came from Tennessee taxpayers? I don't think so.

* She engaged in a scheme to cover up hanky panky on a "business trip," again involving misuse of taxpayer funds.

Those issues are a matter of public record, and Finebaum has every right to call Garrison's ethics and leadership into question. If UAB fans don't like that, maybe they should push for the university to hire a president who conducts him or herself in an ethical manner.

From where I sit, it appears Finebaum has gone easy on Garrison. Consider other topics he could have brought up:

* Myriad human-resources problems, including a growing list of lawsuits by veteran faculty and staff members;

* Rampant research fraud that started under previous presidents and, based on court documents, continued under Garrison;

* UAB employees who have used state-owned equipment to send racist and anti-gay e-mails, apparently without receiving any significant punishment;

* UAB's human-resources director, who recently left for a lesser job under curious circumstances.

If Finebaum really wants to take off the gloves and go after Garrison--and the rising level of sleaze on Birmingham's Southside--he has plenty of ammunition.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Scalia Gets It, How About Obama?

What prompted U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia to voice concerns earlier this week about abusive prosecutions under the federal honest-services fraud statute?

Scott Horton, legal-affairs contributor at Harper's Magazine, suspects Scalia might have gotten a whiff of the foul odor emanating from the outrageous Sue Schmitz case in Alabama.

Schmitz, a Democratic representative in the Alabama Legislature, was convicted earlier this week on charges that she underperformed in her community-relations job with a state program for at-risk youth. The prosecution was driven by Bush-appointed prosecutor Alice Martin, and the conviction ensures that Schmitz will give up her seat in the legislature. This dovetails nicely with announced Alabama Republican Party plans to take over the Democratic-controlled legislature in 2010.

Even Scalia, one of the nation's foremost conservative "thinkers," apparently smells a rat with this one. Writes Horton:

When Justice Antonin Scalia argued for the Supreme Court to visit the legality of the rampant and plainly abusive prosecution of “honest services fraud” cases earlier this week, he posited an example of the utterly preposterous sort of construction that a misbehaving prosecutor might put on the statute. Imagine, he said, a prosecution brought against a government employee for absenteeism. Historically that would be handled under employment law with bad evaluations, fines, and possibly even dismissals. But, Scalia posited, under the ridiculous abuse of the “honest services fraud” statute a prosecutor might actually attempt to charge the absentee employee with criminal fraud.

Was Scalia really just speculating? I don’t think so. I suspect that he had learned about the Sue Schmitz case in Alabama.

We now have indications that an arch-conservative on the nation's highest court has concerns about abusive prosecutions by the Bush Justice Department. But what about our Democratic president?

Barack Obama has been president for a little more than a month, and in that time, two people in Alabama have been convicted in federal cases that dripped of politics.

The convictions of Sue Schmitz and insurance executive John W. Goff indicate that the political prosecutions started under the George W. Bush administration are continuing apace under Obama.

If anything, the ugliness in the U.S. Justice Department has picked up steam since Obama took office. Heck, we've had two innocent people convicted in Alabama--and that's just in February, our shortest month. What do we have to look forward to in March? Four convictions? Six? Eight?

To be sure, Obama barely has gotten his feet wet as president. And God only knows, he and his team have a ton of stuff on their plate. But last time I checked, justice issues were supposed to be kind of important in America. We have a Democrat in the White House, and people's lives are still being ruined by a justice system run amok.

Is anyone in the Obama administration even aware of it? Do they care about it?

Couldn't Obama or Eric Holder--or somebody--at least make a public statement, voicing concern that people are still being prosecuted and convicted simply because they are Democrats or have tried to stand up to corrupt Republicans?

Couldn't Obama or Eric Holder--or somebody--at least state unequivocally that they intend to get to the bottom of corruption in the DOJ and hold the appropriate people accountable?

What has Obama done related to justice issues so far? Not a whole heckuva lot, other than seeking extensions in a lawsuit involving expansive claims of executive privilege by the Bush administration.

Investigative journalist Larisa Alexandrovna, for one, is tired of it. She takes Obama to the woodshed for dithering on matters of justice:

The Constitution guarantees liberties and provides protection for the "people" against tyranny. The abuses of power that have taken place are such heinous violations of those rights and liberties that it boggles the mind that any negotiations are even being considered. Moreover, these abuses were carried out by people who had the trust of the public to act as an honest enforcer of the law, not a as a branch of political police.

Has Mr. Obama failed us? Yes. He has failed the most important task he was given, to defend and protect the Constitution of the United States. Clearly, protecting the Bush administration from prosecution is far more important to this president. This saddens me, but it does not surprise me at all.

Alexandrovna is right on target. And here is a little prediction from your friendly neighborhood Schnauzer. If Obama does not get justice issues right, his presidency will fail. If he does not show a spine of steel--and he had better do it quickly--Republicans will smell blood in the water and will destroy any chance he has of bringing our country out of free fall.

One of Bill Clinton's biggest mistakes was, in the early months of his presidency, letting Republicans off the hook for wrongdoing during the Reagan and George H.W. Bush years.

That mistake nearly brought the Clinton presidency to its knees. And it greatly restricted what Clinton was able to accomplish. Worst of all, it set the stage for the disastrous eight years of George W. Bush.

Obama, like Clinton, appears to be a smart man. But he seems to be heading down the same slippery slope that tripped up Clinton.

And this is not just about Obama. His party's reputation is at stake. If a Democratic president cannot take a firm stand on matters of justice, the party likely will drift toward the precipice of irrelevance.

So, Mr. Obama, Antonin Scalia seems to get it. How about you?

Will Alabama Universities Stand Up For Workers? Hah!

Several universities have canceled licensing agreements with apparel maker Russell Corporation over the company's policies toward workers in Central America.

Steven Greenhouse, of The New York Times, reports that the University of Michigan announced it is ending an agreement with Russell because of the company's decision to close a unionized factory in Honduras.

Duke, Georgetown, Columbia, Cornell, Rutgers, and Purdue are among other universities who have curtailed agreements with Russell to protest the company's opposition to workers' rights.

Russell Corporation, a leading manufacturer of T-shirts, sweatshirts, and fleeces with university logos, has deep roots in Alabama. The company's headquarters are in Alexander City, which used to revolve around the Russell name. The company, now owned by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway, has moved much of its manufacturing operations overseas.

Alex City is about 70 miles southeast of Birmingham, on the Highway 280 corridor between the state's largest city and the Opelika-Auburn area. You still sense the Russell presence as you drive through town. But you also sense that the company's impact on the community is not what it used to be.

Now, Russell's reputation is taking a hit, too.

Should we expect Alabama universities to stand up for workers' rights in the Russell matter? After all, the issue has a strong Alabama flavor.

We're not holding our collective breath here at Legal Schnauzer. Malcolm Porter, chancellor of the University of Alabama System, is a member of Bill Canary's Business Council of Alabama. Canary probably opposes the use of the term "union" at weddings, so don't look for Portera to show any guts on workers'-rights issues.

And UAB, which is part of the UA System, has a dismal record toward employees under the "leadership" of President Carol Garrison. UAB can't manage human resources on its own campus, so it's hard to imagine Garrison standing up for the rights of workers on another continent.

After all, Garrison is busy protecting UAB employees who send racist and homophobic e-mails. And in her spare time, she has been busy firing a veteran employee for writing a progressive blog, in his own time, that dared to critique the Bush Justice Department and other Republican luminaries. Who has time to worry about poor slobs in Honduras?

Universities in a number of states are taking courageous and principled stands on the issue of workers' rights. But look for Alabama institutions to sit on their collective duffs.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Has Bush DOJ Produced Another Political Prisoner?

The answer to our title question apparently is "yes" after the conviction yesterday of Alabama Representative Sue Schmitz (D-Toney) on federal corruption charges.

Strange isn't it that George W. Bush has been out of office more than a month now, but his Department of Justice is the gift that keeps on giving. In this case, the "gift" is political prisoners--people who have been sentenced to prison terms for crimes they did not commit.

Schmitz joins former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman, Mississippi lawyer Paul Minor, and former Mississippi judges Wes Teel and John Whitfield as high-profile individuals who were convicted of "serving or working while being a Democrat."

And you can add Alabama insurance executive John W. Goff to that list. He was convicted of the related crime--"standing up to a bunch of corrupt Republicans, particularly Governor Bob Riley."

Schmitz' case truly was about politics. It was not about any of the ludicrous charges brought against her because she supposedly didn't perform up to expectations in her community-relations job with the Alabama CITY program. As Scott Horton of Harper's has stated, there is no crime called "teacher underperforms lesson plan."

But Sue Schmitz apparently is on her way to federal prison anyway. Will Judge R. David Proctor, a George W. Bush appointee, order that Schmitz be imprisoned pending her appeal? That has happened with Siegelman, Minor, and others, so we can assume the answer is "yes."

Here's the real story of the Sue Schmitz case, which was tried twice and probably cost taxpayers into the high six figures or low seven figures: The felony conviction automatically removes Schmitz from the Alabama Legislature, and that's what U.S. Attorney Alice Martin and her GOP cohorts were after. It's all part of a plan, launched by Riley and Alabama GOP head Mike Hubbard, to take over the state legislature in 2010.

We have said in recent days that the case against Schmitz was a "joke"--and we were being charitable. If the law is followed--a very big if--the conviction cannot possibly stand up on appeal.

But we also stated that when Bush prosectors and a Bush-appointed judge are in control in a blood red state like Alabama, anything can happen. We said that Schmitz could only be convicted if the judge was a buffoon and/or the jury was clueless. One, or both, of the those conditions evidently was in place at the Schmitz trial.

God only knows how much prosecution evidence was improperly admitted. Got only knows how much defense evidence was improperly excluded. God only knows what instructions were presented to jurors.

But I doubt that the prosecutors care that their handiwork probably will be overturned. And they certainly do not care that hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars probably were wasted. By the time the Schmitz conviction is overturned, her seat in the legislature will be held by someone else--probably a Republican.

David Fiderer of Huffington Post, a lawyer by training, has written brilliantly about the weaknesses in the government's case against Sue Schmitz. He wrote that prosecutors were trying to exclude volumes of exculpatory evidence, including the inconvenient truth that Schmitz had prevailed in a wrongful-termination lawsuit after being dismissed from the CITY program. Essentially, Alice Martin & Co. wanted to prevent Schmitz from putting on a defense. And with a Bush-appointed judge in charge, I'm guessing that's what happened.

The Decatur Daily voiced concerns months ago about the secrecy with which Judge R. David Proctor conducted the Schmitz trial. One has to wonder what Proctor was trying to hide.

Scott Horton, a Columbia University law professor, said it was a great surprise that the judge allowed the case to the go to the jury at all. And yet, Proctor did it twice.

Just how crazy is "justice" in Alabama? While a federal jury was convicting Schmitz because she supposedly performed poorly on her job, a state judge was ordering that Schmitz be reinstated, with back pay, to the very same job--because she was wrongfully terminated!

As Dave Barry would say, "I'm not making this up."

Scalia Shines A Misplaced Spotlight on Honest-Services Fraud

Reading about U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's criticism of federal prosecutors during the George W. Bush administration is a little like hearing David Mamet complain about the foul language in Glengarry Glen Ross.

Mamet, one of America's most acclaimed playwrights, wrote Glengarry Glen Ross, and his use of edgy language is central to the story of four desperate real-estate agents in Chicago.

Scalia, to a great extent, is responsible for the abuses of Bush prosecutors. After all, his vote in Bush v. Gore went a long way toward handing the presidency to Bush and leading to corruption of the U.S. Justice Department.

Perhaps that is why Scalia's dissent in a Supreme Court refusal to review a Chicago public-corruption case rings so hollow.

While rummaging around in the dark basement of American justice, Scalia has detected a legitimate threat. But he is shining his flashlight in the wrong corner.

The problem, Scalia says, is the honest-services fraud law itself--18 U.S. Code 1346. The statute is hopelessly vague, the justice says, and does not give potential defendants sufficient warning that certain behavior is criminal.

Scalia is right about this, as Scott Horton expertly points out in this piece on his No Comment blog at Harpers.org. But the same could be said of many other federal statutes. I'm not a lawyer, but my research indicates that the entire U.S. Code is famously and alarmingly vague.

Consider, for example, 18 U.S. Code 666, federal funds bribery. Like the honest-services fraud statute, 666 played a central role in the prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman. If you consider yourself an everyday American, try reading 666 closely and see if you can figure out what it means. Imagine serving on a jury and trying to determine whether or not someone has violated that statute.

If Scalia is concerned about vague federal statutes, he should not stop at 1346. He might as well advocate rewriting the entire U.S. Code because almost all of it is clear as Mississippi mud.

Here is a little secret I've learned while trying to imitate a lawyer in the blogosphere: If you really want to understand federal law, you've got to study the case law. That task isn't easy, but if you put a little effort into it, you will find that most federal crimes are pretty well defined.

For example, our research team here at Legal Schnauzer produced this little number that explains honest-services fraud in a fairly succinct manner:

Mail Fraud: A Primer

And for good measure, our crackerjack researchers produced this little number on federal-funds bribery:

Bribery: A Primer

As Scott Horton points out, these laws were abused and used for political purposes in the prosecutions of Don Siegelman in Alabama and Paul Minor, Wes Teel, and John Whitfield in Mississippi. But the problem was not the laws themselves. The problem was the corrupt prosecutors and federal judges who ran roughshod over the law in the Siegelman and Minor cases.

Consider the honest-services mail fraud charge in the Siegelman case: The case law is clear that the public must actually be deprived of an official's honest services. But in appointing former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy to a hospital-regulatory board, Siegelman tapped an individual who clearly was qualified to serve and had served under three previous governors. Therefore, the public was not deprived of Siegelman's honest services.

Consider the bribery charge in the Minor case: The case law is clear that this requires a "corrupt act." And this is defined as "inducing the official to violate his or her lawful duty." Minor clearly did not commit a corrupt act because the two state judges handling his cases, Teel and Whitfield, ruled correctly under the law. Minor's clients prevailed because, under the law, they should have. And that means no bribery occurred.

If Scalia wants to lead a rewrite of the entire U.S. Code, I say he should have at it. But such a painstaking task isn't necessary.

What is necessary is that we have honest federal prosecutors who prosecute crimes, not people. The problem in the Siegelman and Minor cases was not that prosecutors didn't know the law. They intentionally refused to follow it.

Our Justice Department will never regain the public's trust until the people who corrupted our courts are held accountable. That should be a top priority for Congress and the Obama administration.

And Antonin Scalia should be pushing for it, too.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Alabama's Religiosity Compares to Iran's

Reporters in our religion section here at Legal Schnauzer let out a collective guffaw the other day when they learned what country Alabama is most comparable to in terms of religious fervor.

The answer? Iran.

How charming.

The information comes from a Gallup poll asking people in various locations if religion is an important part of their daily lives. Researchers then compared the results in American states to those in various countries. The results are comical--and more than a little disturbing.

For example, 82 percent of Alabamians said religion is an "important part" of their daily lives. The figure was 83 percent in Iran, leading our state to be paired up with one of the planet's most backward countries.

Alabama was not the only Southern state with a less-than-desirable pairing:

* Mississippi (85), Lebanon (86)

* South Carolina (80), Zimbabwe (81)

* Tennessee (79), Iraq/India (79)

* Arkansas/Louisiana (78), Romania (78)

* Georgia/North Carolina (76), Haiti/Tajikistan (76)

The least religious U.S. state was Vermont (42), which compared to Switzerland (42). Hmmm, would you rather your state be compared to Iran or Switzerland?

What does this survey say about Alabama, the South, and religion? Our crack religion team is not sure. But we are sure of one thing: It ain't pretty.

For example, here's a question to ponder: Does religious fervor promote unhealthy societies? The countries noted above hardly are known for their desirable, healthy living conditions. But what about their companion U.S. states? Well, the very states with high levels of religiosity also rank among the unhealthiest states in the U.S.

And the South has long had higher rates of violence than other regions of the country. This subject is explored in the fascinating book Culture of Honor: The Psychology of Violence in the South.

How's this for irony? The Gallup poll came out just as Time magazine featured a cover story on "How Faith Can Heal." Time reported that a growing body of scientific evidence suggests faith actually promotes health. Research has shown that people who attend religious services have a lower risk of dying in any one year than those who don't attend.

Well, shouldn't the South be the healthiest region of the country then?

Here's the problem, I suspect: Research also shows that people who believe in a loving God fare better after a diagnosis of illness than people who believe in a punitive God.

Does religion in the South have a toxic quality that it shares with religion in places like Iran? Are Southerners prone to believe in a punitive God? The answer appears to be yes.

What is it that warps religion in the South? My guess is that when many Southerners answered affirmatively to the Gallup question, they really weren't thinking about faith. They probably were thinking of a cultural/political mindset that could broadly be called "conservatism." And that has little, if anything, to do with genuine faith and a loving God.

In places like Alabama and Iran, I suspect, what passes for religiosity is driven by insecurities and fears, not faith. For example, the most "religious" countries in the Gallup poll are hardly known for supporting the interests of women and minority groups. The same can be said of the American South. These states and these countries seem to share a high level of distrust and fear regarding people who are seen as "different."

The bottom line? The Gallup poll shows what many of us have suspected for some time: Conservative thinking, whether or not it is cast in religious tones, isn't good for you.

Alabama Governor Fiddles While Rome Burns

In an act of stunning irony and political gamesmanship, Alabama Governor Bob Riley says the state should reject federal economic stimulus funds for unemployment compensation.

Riley joins the governors of Mississippi, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Georgia in questioning economic stimulus funds for unemployment compensation. Is anyone surprised that the governors of these Deep South states are concerned about funds that would assist low-income workers? Those governors are a real "Murderer's Row" of forward thinking, aren't they?

And what about irony? We've presented substantial evidence that indicates someone close to Riley helped engineer my unlawful termination at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). That little bit of trickery, in addition to almost certainly violating numerous federal laws, caused me to seek unemployment benefits for the first time in my life.

Do Riley or his supporters cause Alabamians to go on unemployment and then reject efforts by the federal government to assist those who are out of work? They are a swell bunch, aren't they?

Alabama's weekly maximum unemployment benefit is $255, which ranks 48th in the nation, ahead of only Mississippi and Arizona. Adjustments required by the stimulus law would add about 12,700 Alabamians to those who are eligible for unemployment. These would mostly be seasonal workers and workers just out of school who are new to the job market.

Bob Riley has overseen the worst Alabama economy since the Great Depression, driven largely by the boneheaded policies of his patron saint, former Republican President George W. Bush. But Riley would rather play ideological politics than help Alabamians who are struggling in an economic crisis caused by members of Riley's party.

I wonder how brave Riley and his fellow Southern governors really are. Wouldn't it be interesting to see Congress go back and add a provision that says states have to accept all or none of the stimulus funds? What would Goober Bob do then, other than soil himself?

Democrats in the Alabama Legislature indicate they plan to take steps to get the federal money anyway. But they will have to do it without the help of our Republican governor.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Will Corporate Fraud Investigations Target Alabama?

The Washington Post reports that officials in Congress and the Department of Justice are looking at ways to provide more resources for investigations of corporate fraud.

The tanking Bush economy seems to have heightened interest in rounding up wrongdoers in corporate boardrooms. If new attorney general Eric Holder and his troops are serious about going after business fraud, they might want to focus some resources on Alabama.

While recent public attention has focused on problems in the mortgage and banking sectors, Holder & Co. might want to focus on an under-the-radar industry that appears to be rife with corruption.

It's called reinsurance, and the Justice Department has a spotty record at policing the field over the past 10 years or so. Perhaps that record will improve in the future, and a good place to start would be Alabama.

That's because an Alabama company, which happens to be owned by a prominent member of the University of Alabama Board of Trustees, was implicated in one of the government's largest and most successful prosecutions for reinsurance fraud.

The case, based in Pennsylvania, resulted in the 1997 conviction of Philadelphia lawyer and businessman Allen W. Stewart. The government was able to retrieve some $17 million through forfeiture proceedings.

Alabama connections in the Stewart matter were so strong that prosecutors and fraud experts from Alabama were deeply involved in the case. And yet, the Department of Justice chose not to pursue a case against the Alabama company when the Stewart prosecution was over.

The statute of limitations on the activities from the mid to late 1990s almost certainly has run. But has the Alabama company changed its ways? Is it still conducting business in a fraudulent manner? That might be a question that Holder & Co. will want to look into.

And considering that Holder has extensive legal experience in Pennsylvania, and strong family connections to Alabama, those questions might hold a special interest for him.

Either way, evidence is overwhelming that a prominent figure in the University of Alabama System has a business that has not always operated in an ethical fashion. We will be examining that business, and its owner, here at Legal Schnauzer.

It's interesting that Allen W. Stewart currently is serving a 15-year federal prison sentence. But an Alabama businessman whose company was implicated in the same case has avoided serious scrutiny. Maybe it's about time that changed.

When we reported back in October on a Virginia case involving General Reinsurance, a subsidiary of Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway, we noted the reinsurance trail led in a roundabout way to my unlawful termination at UAB.

The Schnauzer has continued to sniff the reinsurance trail, and we will be reporting our findings in the not-too-distant future.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Abramoff Investigation Inches Toward the South

The Jack Abramoff scandal apparently was a coast-to-coast affair. But a breaking story from James Grimaldi, of The Washington Post, shines light on the scandal's strong Southern flavor.

Ann M. Copland, a former legislative aide to U.S. Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS), has been charged with one count of conspiracy to commit honest-services fraud in connection to the Abramoff case.

Copland makes it 20 people who have been convicted or charged with crimes in the Abramoff affair. Here is a running list kept by The Washington Post.

At least four people on the list have strong connections to Alabama and/or Mississippi. Joining Copland are:

* Michael Scanlon--A former aide to Alabama Governor Bob Riley when Riley served in the U.S. Congress, Scanlon was one of Abramoff's top partners and the case's strongest connection to Alabama.

* Robert Coughlin--One of "Abramoff's friendlies" in the Bush Department of Justice, Coughlin was heavily involved in efforts to secure funding for a jail for the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, an Abramoff client. Coughlin is cooperating with investigators as part of his plea agreement. Given that Alabama Gov. Bob Riley reportedly received $13 million for his 2002 campaign from Mississippi Choctaws, one wonders what kind of Alabama-related dirt Coughlin might be able to dish.

* Kevin Ring--A close associate of Coughlin, Ring almost certainly has knowledge about Abramoff-related events in the South. Ring generated huge volumes of e-mail related to the Abramoff scandal, and some experts say he might be the key to cracking open the case.

Here's what we had to say on April 29, 2008, upon writing about the Coughlin plea and what it could mean in the Deep South:

What we don't know is this: Just how important will this story become and what light might it shine on the prosecutions of Don Siegelman in Alabama and Paul Minor in Mississippi?

Much is still to be learned about the Coughlin case. As part of his plea deal, Coughlin has agreed to cooperate with an investigation by the Justice Department's Office of Inspector General. That makes me think a number of Republicans, some in Alabama and Mississippi, might be doing serious squirming right about now.

The charge against Ann M. Copland is likely to make certain Deep South GOPers squirm a little more.

Friday, February 20, 2009

We're Still Bummed About the Grammys

Our Culture and Arts staff here at Legal Schnauzer recently went into a funk after the Eagles Long Road Out of Eden was almost shut out at the Grammy Awards.

It was our considered opinion that Long Road was far and away the best album of 2008--we are showing our age here; we still call them albums--and we remain mystified that the Grammy folks failed to consult us before handing out these awards.

Turns out, we're still miffed about the Grammys. That's because the album we consider the second best of 2008, Lindsey Buckingham's Gift of Screws, did not get nominated at all.

This kind of injustice gets us riled up here at Legal Schnauzer, so we decided to do something about it--by highlighting Mr. Buckingham's superb work to our massive international audience.

Lindsey Buckingham is best known as lead guitarist, chief arranger, and co-lead singer and songwriter (with the ever mysterious Stevie Nicks) for the mega-group Fleetwood Mac, which is about to embark on a nationwide tour. Christine McVie, the other singer/songwriter in the classic Mac lineup, left the band a few years back.

Buckingham has produced five solo albums that have drawn far less attention, and generated a fraction of the sales, of his work with Fleetwood Mac. But if you want to grasp the musical genius of the fellow who truly drives one of the biggest bands of the pop/rock era, you need to check out Buckingham's solo work.

If you like dazzling guitar work, innovative percussion, lush vocal arrangements, and creative compositions that call to mind the best work of the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson, Buckingham's solo material is for you. And if you like quirky, in the best sense of the word, Buckingham's solo stuff is must-have material.

Admittedly, Buckingham's solo work is not everyone's cup of tea. Mrs. Schnauzer tends to put up with most of my musical tastes--with the exception of my hometown favorites, the Ozark Mountain Daredevils. ("You're playing that hillbilly music again!). But she doesn't quite know what to make of Mr. Buckingham. She seems to dig his more mainstream, pop-oriented efforts. But his "esoteric" works leave her scratching her head. ("Hmmm, Lindsey's sounding weird again.")

We had the good fortune of catching Buckingham's stop at the Davis Theater in Montgomery on the 2007 Under the Skin tour. I've been fortunate to see some pretty good concerts over the years, but that was No. 1 in my book. Even Mrs. Schnauzer seemed to enjoy it, particularly when Buckingham brought down the house with a rollicking version of the Fleetwood Mac Classic "Go Your Own Way."

The title for Gift of Screws comes from a poem by Emily Dickinson:

Essential oils are wrung
The attar from the rose
Is not expressed by suns alone
It is the gift of screws

I haven't a clue what that poem means. But it sounds cool. And for you single guys out there, I bet you can impress the ladies by quoting this poem. It's short, easily memorized, and is guaranteed to make you look deep and literary. (Let me know how this Legal Schnauzer "love tip" works.)

Anyway, let's enjoy a few tunes from Lindsey Buckingham's solo catalog. Here is a live performance of "Did You Miss Me," one of the more pop-oriented tunes from Gift of Screws. It has kind of a Chris Isaak/Roy Orbison vibe:



Here is the title song from Gift of Screws. Beware, this comes under the heading of "quirky" Buckingham material, what Mrs. Schnauzer would call "weird":



Buckingham is not known for political songs, but here is one that I think fits that category. "Treason" has rather oblique lyrics, but I'm guessing it's a pretty good shot at the Bush administration. That's how I choose to hear it, anyway:



Finally, we must include a song from Buckingham's 1993 masterpiece, "Out of the Cradle." If you want to try only one of Buckingham's solo albums, this is the one. It is a stunning piece of work and has held up remarkably well over time. The album's opener, "Don't Look Down," is Buckingham at his absolute best. This is a live performance from the Tonight Show With Jay Leno Show in 1992. For you guys out there, please note that Lindsey had a couple of serious "guitar babes" in his solo band from the '90s. Enjoy.

Sue Schmitz Comes Out Swinging

Alabama Rep. Sue Schmitz (D-Toney) took the stand in her own defense yesterday, employing a tactic that more criminal defendants probably should try in corruption cases.

Apparently in Criminal Law 101 at law schools across the country, students are taught that it's a bad idea to let a criminal defendant testify in his or her own defense. The idea seems to be this: If the prosecution fails to prove its case, argue that to the jury and don't take the risk of your client getting tripped up on cross examination.

But time after time, that strategy seems to fail. For example, I've often wondered if former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman could have avoided a conviction by taking the stand in his own defense.

In her testimony yesterday, Schmitz said she took legitimate steps to land a job with the Community Intensive Training for Youth (CITY) program, she was not seeking a job where she would not have to work, and she did work for her paycheck.

Schmitz did not testify on her own behalf in in her first trial, which resulted in a hung jury. She decided to take a more aggressive approach this time, and it will be interesting to see how it turns out.

It's possible that prosecutors will trip up Schmitz on the stand. But these prosecutors work for U.S. Attorney Alice Martin, so they can't be that smart. Martin and her cronies have proven time and again that they are a bunch of incompetent boobs, so why be afraid to stand up for yourself against laughable criminal charges?

My guess is that Schmitz has improved her chances of being acquitted. And it shouldn't hurt that a state judge yesterday ordered Central Alabama Community College, which oversees the CITY program, to rehire Schmitz and pay her back pay.

I haven't spent the first day in law school, but let me take a few guesses at why many criminal-defense lawyers are reluctant to let their clients take the stand, particularly in corruption cases:

* Corruption cases often are complex, involving many activities over a fairly long period of time. If the defendant takes the stand and exhibits a poor memory, that could look bad to the jury;

* Because corruption cases are complex, a skilled prosecutor can get a witness confused and put them on the defensive. Again, this could look bad to a jury;

* For many public officials--governors, legislators, mayors, etc.--their job description is, essentially, "deal making." That's what they do. They engage in give-and-take with various groups and constituents in an effort to get something accomplished--hopefully something for the public good. A skilled prosecutor can make this "deal making," which might be perfectly legitimate, sound like criminal activity.

* When defendants take the stand, it runs the risk of lengthening a trial considerably. Jurors and judges have limited patience and attention spans. Dragging a trial out, perhaps doubling it in length, could alienate the people who will determine your client's fate.

Of course, the No. 1 reason criminal-defense lawyers probably give for keeping their clients off the stand is this: "My client was corrupt and is guilty as h--l. No way I'm putting them on the stand."

That last concern clearly was not the case with Siegelman. And it isn't the case with Schmitz.

I think she made a wise move by standing up to the boobs who work for Alice Martin. If Schmitz is convicted, my guess is that it won't be because she took the stand. A conviction probably will mean the judge is a buffoon and/or the jury is clueless--which means Schmitz would have been convicted anyway.

If Schmitz' strategy is successful, perhaps law professors will think again about the advice they hand out in Criminal Law 101.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Central Character In My Termination Bails Out At UAB

The human-resources director who played a central role in my unlawful termination at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) has left her position.

Cheryl E.H. Locke became vice president for human resources and chief human resources officer at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina. Her appointment was effective October 20, 2008.

Locke, a graduate of Brown University, had been chief human resources officer at UAB since January 2005. She played a critical role in my termination, overseeing the grievance process and its aftermath. Apparently the whole time that was going on, in July 2008, Locke was looking for a way to exit UAB. She found it at Wake Forest.

Exactly how important is Locke to my journey into HR purgatory? Consider:

* She oversaw my my grievance process, and the day after the hearing in my case, summoned me for a meeting in her office;

* She informed me that the grievance committee, consisting of three fellow UAB employees, had found that I should not have been terminated. (I've been told by more than one Birmingham lawyer that they had never heard of a UAB grievance committee voting to overturn a termination.) But Locke added several caveats: I would have to return to work with two written warnings in my file; I would have to return to an unspecified position other than the one I previously held; I would have to agree to quit blogging. (I'm not making this last one up, folks; when asked to confirm the blogging proviso in writing, Locke backed down and said she meant I would have to blog on my own time. I politely informed her that the IT guy who testified at my grievance hearing confirmed that I had been blogging on my own time all along.)

* When I informed Locke that I could not accept her proposed terms, she refused to negotiate and went against her own committee by upholding my termination. (Why did I reject her proposal? One, I sat through the entire grievance hearing, and there was not a shred of evidence to support discipline of any kind, much less two written warnings. Two, an employee who receives three written warnings in an 18-month period of time is automatically fired, so Locke's proposal was a bad-faith effort to set me up to be fired again; Three, I was not going to give up a job I had earned and performed well, according to UAB's own records, when there was zero evidence that I should have been disciplined at all.)

* In a letter dated July 18, 2008, Locke exhibited a remarkable capacity for pretzel logic as she explained her reasons for upholding a termination that her own committee had found was wrongful. By the way, when I asked to see a copy of the committee's written report, Locke refused. I still haven't seen it.

* In another stunning display of pretzel logic, UAB President Carol Garrison also upheld my termination, and I reported on that in a post dated October 15, 2008. Now we discover that, at the time of that post, Cheryl E.H. Locke had already "left the building" at UAB.

Here's what I will always remember about my interaction with Cheryl E.H. Locke (other than wondering what the heck E.H. stands for): When she made her proposal that I return to some unspecified "other" job, she told me, "My staff and I are fully committed to making sure that you have a positive experience in this new position."

How committed was Locke? So committed that she apparently was looking for another job at the time she spoke those words.

And how about this for timing? A little more than a month after my last meeting with Locke, I began to notice something curious when I checked my blog statistics: A lot of people were finding my blog by keying in the words "Cheryl E.H. Locke." And I could tell that quite a few of them were coming from servers at Wake Forest University.

"I wonder if she's looking for another job," I remember thinking to myself. In fact, I considered posting about what I was seeing on my blog statistics, but I decided against it. Turns out blog statistics don't lie: Cheryl E.H. Locke was looking for a way out of UAB at the same time she was making me a bad-faith offer to return.

Why did Cheryl Locke leave UAB? Well, I can only speculate about that, but this much is clear: She appears to have taken a career step backward, and that's not something folks usually do if they like the work environment they are in.

As Wake Forest's own press release states, Locke was head of the entire HR enchilada at UAB--the university, the hospital, the works. At Wake Forest, she leads the HR function for just the medical center.

Wake Forest is a prestigious place, but as a private institution, it is significantly smaller--in terms of student enrollment and number of employees--than UAB. And in terms of prestige, UAB takes a back seat to very few biomedical research centers; it certainly does not take a back seat to Wake Forest.

Cheryl Locke might have all kinds of professional and personal reasons for leaving UAB and heading to Tobacco Road. But here is my perspective:

Locke and I worked in the same building for three-plus years--in fact I was just one floor above her--but I never laid eyes on her until I was summoned to her office regarding my grievance hearing. That doesn't mean anything, other than being something I find curious. I'm pretty good at paying attention to my surroundings and recognizing faces, and I thought I would recognize most people who worked in the UAB Administration Building. For example, I used to chat on the elevators with Locke's predecessor, Susan Barber McWilliams, all the time; she was a familiar face. But I had never seen Locke until I was called into her office.

Like most folks, I don't bat .1000 when it comes to judging people. But aside from her inexplicable ruling regarding my termination, I had a generally favorable impression of Cheryl Locke.

She seemed smart and pleasant, and I had the impression that she wasn't real comfortable with what she was being forced to do in my situation. (By the way, Locke let me know that she shared progressive views similar to those that I express on my blog, another sign to me that she's probably a pretty good person.) From where I sat, it seemed Locke knew that what she was saying didn't make a lick of sense--and I think that bothered her.

In other words, Cheryl Locke showed signs of having a conscience, and that's something I didn't see a lot in my last few months at UAB.

The bottom line? I'm convinced Cheryl Locke was being forced by higher ups to screw around with me. And my case apparently was not the only one where that happened. A lawsuit filed by veteran UAB faculty member Rosalia Scripa alleges that Locke made curious and perhaps unethical statements to her--again, possibly at the urging of higher ups.

Locke came to UAB with powerful credentials--an Ivy League education, experience at major health-care institutions in Boston, Jacksonville, and the Washington, D.C., area. Someone like that usually values her reputation. And I'm guessing that Cheryl Locke felt her reputation in the HR field would be tarnished forever if she stayed much longer under a corrupt administration at UAB.

I hope Locke finds more pleasant working conditions at Wake Forest, and I'm guessing she did. Ironically, she apparently was hired by Doug Edgeton, who used to work at UAB. I interviewed Doug many times before he left for Wake Forest, and he always seemed to be a thoroughly genuine, decent, and competent individual.

Working for him should be much more pleasant than working for Carol Garrison and the corrupt "Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight" at UAB.

Based on the number of Wake Forest people who apparently read about Locke on my blog, I'm guessing she had to answer some interesting questions about her time at UAB.

In fact, I bet Locke and Edgeton have had some interesting conversations about the cesspool UAB has become--and how glad both of them probably are to be out of there. This is one Legal Schnauzer who would have enjoyed being a fly on the wall for that conversation.

Only one downside I can see for Cheryl Locke. Given the number of HR-related lawsuits piling up from her short time at UAB, I'm guessing she will be making a number of return trips to Birmingham for pleasant activities such as depositions. Or perhaps multiple lawyers from Birmingham will be visiting her at Wake Forest. I'm sure that would be fun, too.

Who will get stuck with the bills for these legal services? Probably the tax payers of Alabama. Do you think UAB's leaders give a rip about that? I doubt it.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Report on Anti-Obama E-Mail Generates Threats

Someone apparently is taking exception to our recent report on the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) employee who used her work computer to send a racist, anti-Barack Obama e-mail.

Since our original report on Wednesday, your humble blogger has received at least two written threats of physical violence. Two other missives seemed to encourage physical violence against yours truly. All of the communications came as anonymous "comments" to Legal Schnauzer.

We reported that Ashla Jana' Campbell, a financial associate in UAB's Department of Pediatrics, transmitted an e-mail that included a poem titled "Night Befo Crizzmus" from her work computer. The poem makes numerous racist references and mocks Obama and other prominent Democrats.

Use of state equipment to transmit such material is a violation of UAB's Acceptable Use Policy and is to be handled by use of the university's progressive discipline policy. UAB President Carol Garrison has failed to respond to our interview requests, and it is unclear if UAB has taken any disciplinary action against Campbell.

Someone claiming to be Campbell's husband, however, is threatening to take action--of a violent kind--against me.

Not long after our original post, we received the following anonymous comment (language alert):

How childish to only approve comments that agree with your warped worldview. Maybe I should just come down to 5204 Logan Dr and kick your pansy ass. Why don't you look over your shoulder for a while like my wife has had to you piece of useless shit.

Evidently the guy objected to the fact that I had not approved one of his earlier anonymous comments. But I have no idea which one it was because I get all kinds of anonymous comments. If someone doesn't have the guts to sign his name, and his comment either makes no sense or is based on false or defamatory information, I reject it--as many bloggers do. This guy responded by letting me know he had the investigative ability to look up my address in the phone book and the "manly ability and intent" to kick my "pansy ass."

I thought it might be a good idea to let him know that I had checked Ms. Campbell's entry in the UAB online directory and discovered her husband's name is Robert. Interestingly, Ms. Campbell has since deleted that information from the online directory. Anyway, here is my response:

Anon: Or should I say "Robert." Sounds like you are making a threat. Is that how a "real man" handles his problems? Making anonymous threats. What a manly thing to do. Why don't you write a semi-coherent response, in English, with your real name. Maybe that will work.

Our correspondent seemed pleased to admit that he was Robert Campbell and followed with another threat:

No wonder UAB let you go, you don't know english when you see it? Real man?? does a real man harass a woman from behind a computer. Does a real man kick that man's ass when it's his wife? you betcha I'm glad you know my name because when people ask "Who did that to your face?!" you can tell them.

Meanwhile, someone thought it would be fun to egg the guy on. I think this person is a certain Alabama Republican operative--or perhaps a certain "newspaper reporter" in the state:

eventually schnauzer your going to piss off the wrong person. you write b/s about people and expect them to take it. sorry u femine pansy azz will get it

Classy, isn't it? Here's another one:

I would pay to see that guy kick your ass schnauzer. You've got it comong BIG BOY

Note the curious mispelling of the word "coming." If you check out the first comment to this post, you will find the same mispelling--"comong."

The earlier post, from roughly a year ago, was about Republican operative Dax Swatek and his connections to U.S. Attorney Alice Martin. It also highlighted Dax Swatek's misleading actions in conducting Martin's 2000 campaign for an Alabama court seat. It's not hard to guess who might have responded by writing "nutcase yours is comong"--and roughly three months later I was unlawfully terminated at UAB.

Now, we have another commenter who spells the word "coming" as "comong." Gee, wonder who that might be. And wonder what he might know about the loss of my job. Hmmm.

As for our anonymous commenter who claims to be Robert Campbell, his actions have been reported to authorities. Under Code of Alabama Section 13A-11-8 (harassment or harassing communications), it's not a real good idea to threaten people.

Bush Prosecutors Still Going Crazy In Alabama

If you think the craziness in Alabama federal courts ended with the Don Siegelman case, please think again.

George W. Bush no longer is in the White House, but Bush-appointed prosecutors still are running amok in Alabama.

The latest outrage came yesterday when a federal jury in Montgomery convicted insurance executive John W. Goff on 23 counts of mail fraud, one count of embezzlement, and one count of filing a false report with the Alabama Department of Insurance. Goff, of course, only faced criminal charges after he had filed a lawsuit against Republican Governor Bob Riley seeking information about campaign funding Riley had received through Mississippi Indian gaming interests and disgraced GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

While that was going on in the Middle District of Alabama, to the north in Decatur, State Rep. Sue Schmitz (D-Toney) was being tried in a case that has become theater of the absurd. Even though the Schmitz case would have to improve to be a joke, don't bet against her being convicted.

As the Goff case proves, anything can happen in federal court when Bush prosecutors are on the loose.

I was not in attendance at the Goff trial and have not reviewed complete papers in the case. And coverage of the case has been scant. (Interestingly, the Montgomery Advertiser relied on reporting from the Associated Press. The Advertiser apparently could not be bothered to have a reporter walk a few blocks to cover a case that involved Gov. Bob Riley and his connections to Jack Abramoff. Of course, the fact Riley and Abramoff were front and center might explain why the local fish wrapper tried its best to downplay the case.)

I know little about what went on in the courtroom, but the Goff case never was about the courtroom anyway. It was about politics, and that's what caused Goff to be indicted in the first place.

Here's what you really need to know about the criminal case against John Goff:

* In September 2007, Scott Horton of Harper's reports that interrogatories in Goff's lawsuit ask all kinds of uncomfortable questions about the sources of Riley's campaign funding. Sources in the Montgomery and Birmingham bar tell Horton that Riley is highly distressed at the nature of questions he might have to answer under oath and seeks help from U.S. Attorney Leura Canary in making the lawsuit "go away."

* In April 2008, seven months after Horton reported that Riley was pushing for something to make the Goff lawsuit go away, Goff is indicted. How questionable is the case against Goff? Consider the timeline.

* The criminal case against Goff mirrors charges that were raised and settled in an administrative case in March 2005. A Bush-appointed prosecutor decides to recycle the charges, once Goff tries to look into Riley's connections to Abramoff.

* We noted that the Goff case might actually smell worse than the Siegelman prosecution--and that's saying something. The AP story on Goff's conviction states that Goff filed a lawsuit against Riley while Goff was under investigation. But our reporting shows that Goff filed his lawsuit in March 2007, and the criminal investigation began in September 2007. Also, evidence indicates the statute of limitations had run on the Goff charges, but the criminal case moved forward anyway.

Are the press, prosecutors, even federal judges, making a major effort to protect Alabama citizens from the truth about their governor? Sure looks that way.

As for the Schmitz case, it seems to get goofier by the day. Two days ago, we were treated to a Birmingham News story with this headline: "CITY Workers say Schmitz rarely seen." But if you actually read the story, at least three employees in Schmitz office said they saw her more than 10 times. One witness said she had seen Schmitz in the office 15 to 20 times, but a prosecutor produced previous testimony that put the number at 10 to 15 times.

What's the deal? Do 10 to 15 Schmitz sightings constitute a crime, but 15 to 20 do not? Good grief.

Then today, we have this gem: "CITY founder had concerns Schmitz not doing her job." When you read the article, you find that the official actually had given Schmitz high marks on two employee evaluations.

The Schmitz prosecution is an Alice Martin Vaudeville Special. But while we suppress guffaws, we have to remember this is serious stuff--and we will not be surprised if Schmitz is convicted.

A judge once famously said that a prosecutor could get a grand jury to "indict a ham sandwich."

In Alabama, it looks like a Bush prosecutor could convict a ham sandwich--particularly if the sandwich is a Democrat or is seeking ugly truths about a Republican.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Irony of UAB Bedding Down With the GOP

We have presented substantial evidence that U.S. Attorney Alice Martin, Alabama Governor Bob Riley, or people connected to them helped engineer my wrongful termination at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB).

The notion of a university, one with a major biomedical research enterprise, jumping in bed with Republicans is filled with irony.

Why? Consider this piece from The New York Times by evolutionary biologist and author Olivia Judson. She notes that the hallmark of George W. Bush's science policy has been to consistently distort and suppress scientific evidence in order to fit an ideological perspective.

A new book, Undermining Science: Suppression and Distortion in the Bush Administration by journalist Seth Shulman, sounds like must reading for folks who want to know more about this subject. It is filled with case after case where scientists in government posts were intimidated by Bush officials. Shulman catalogs a long list of government scientists who resigned their government positions in despair.

So what is going on at UAB? The university receives more than $400 million a year in federal research funding, more than the University of Alabama and Auburn University combined. In fact, only the University of North Carolina and Duke University top UAB in federal funding among research institutions in the South.

So UAB's status as a research institution depends almost totally on federal support for scientific inquiry. And yet the school jumps in bed with Bush acolytes who have shown that they are not friends of scientific research.

Riley, for example, supports the teaching of alternative philosophies to evolution (including intelligent design) in science classrooms.

Also, Riley has thumbed his nose at UAB, sending gobs of state dollars to support a biotech center in Huntsville, funds that could have boosted a biotech infrastructure that already existed in Birmingham.

Federal funding for research was largely level or stagnant under the Bush administration. In fact, with massive amounts of money pouring into defense, funding for health research declined 10 percent.

Makes a lot of sense for UAB to bow down to Bushies doesn't it? And that doesn't even account for the rampant corruption that marks the Bush administration. Evidently UAB is perfectly fine with that.

But here's some irony for you: Now that the political climate has changed following the November election, UAB is more than happy to put its hand out for the Obama administration. We learn that UAB now is counting on the Obama stimulus package to beef up its sagging research enterprise.

Let's see if we have this straight: UAB, clearly acting at the behest of its GOP boosters, fires an employee for writing a progressive blog--on his own time. Then, when a progressive administration takes over the White House, UAB is ready to tie on its bib and eat like a pig at the federal trough.

How very Orwellian.

In wrongfully firing me, and mistreating other veteran employees, UAB has shown a disdain for federal employment laws. And the university has a recent history of fostering rampant research fraud that cheated federal agencies out of hundreds of millions of dollars--but UAB got off with a "slap on the wrist" from the Bush Justice Department. (Much more on this case, and the "cover" Alice Martin provided for UAB, coming at Legal Schnauzer.)

Here is a question for progressives in Alabama and beyond: UAB is a university that has shown disdain for democratic ideas of fairness and justice. In fact, I am living proof that UAB will fire an employee simply for expressing progressive ideas. And yet, the university now has its hand out, seeking financial support from the Obama administration and other Democrats, at the national and state levels.

Isn't it time that progressives asked UAB a few hard questions and held this rogue institution accountable? Are progressives going to let this Southern institution, which is infected with a peculiar brand of right-wing sleaze, play them for dupes?

Siegelman: White House Should Not Push a Deal with Rove

The Obama White House has indicated that it might encourage Congress to cut a deal with former Bush advisor Karl Rove in exchange for his testimony about possible crimes in the Bush administration.

But former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman, the best-known victim of an apparent political prosecution under the Bush Justice Department, says any deals with Rove would be a bad idea.

In an article written by Sam Stein of Huffington Post, Siegelman says the idea of a deal with Rove smacks of the kind of negotiation common in a civil matter. But Rove's testimony would go way beyond civil matters:

"This is not a matter involving civil damages. It is a matter of high crimes, abuse of power, the subversion of our country's constitution and of our individual rights and liberties," Siegelman wrote the Huffington Post.

"There should be no deal cut with Karl Rove that would provide him with any immunity whatsoever. There is too much at stake. U.S. Attorneys were fired because they wouldn't take on political cases and the DOJ was used as a political weapon to destroy people Karl Rove wanted out of the way. For Rove not to be held accountable means others in the future will feel more free to abuse power.

Under the law, Siegelman says, there is no reason to negotiate with Rove:

"The U.S. Supreme Court has made it clear that Congress has the right to get the testimony it needs when investigating a criminal matter. It is equally clear that executive privilege protects advice given to the President if it involves matters of military or diplomatic secrets."

Monday, February 16, 2009

Case Against Schmitz is a Joke

I often have to suppress a laugh when I read about the case of Alabama legislator Sue Schmitz.

The charges against Schmitz are so preposterous as to induce guffaws. But then I remember this is serious business, and Schmitz' freedom actually is at stake for a crime that Scott Horton, of Harper's, calls "teacher underperforms lesson plan."

And the state of Alabama has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars--perhaps into the seven figures--to prosecute Schmitz not once, but twice. Her first trial resulted in a hung jury.

The retrial is going on now, and a report in The Birmingham News was titled "Schmitz' job called a joke." Perhaps that headline should be adjusted to read "Case against Schmitz is a joke."

Schmitz, a Democrat from Toney, is being tried as part of the Republican Party's plan to take over the Alabama Legislature in 2010. Hey, if you can't win at the ballot box, use the remainders of the Bush Justice Department to put Democrats in prison! Former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman can tell you all about that strategy.

How do prosecutors describe the case against Schmitz? It goes something like this: She received $177,251 in pay (over three years; they usually leave that out), but did little or no work in her community-relations job.

Here's a question the mainstream press in Alabama never seems to ask: Under what federal statute is that a crime? Answer: There isn't one.

Does case law exist, saying that Schmitz' alleged inactions constitute a crime? I haven't conducted exhaustive research on this, but my guess is that no such case law exists. And that means that, even if prosecutors get a conviction on the second go-around, it almost certainly cannot hold up on appeal.

Here are some key components of the prosecution's case:

* She "pulled strings" to land her job--That's a crime? Heck, career counseling centers at college campuses all over the country teach students how to pull strings to land jobs. Are they engaged in criminal activity?

* She didn't turn out work product--If that's a crime, about 90 percent of the managers in the country need to start checking out how they look in orange jumpsuits.

And the retrial on Friday took things to new levels of absurdity. Larry Palmer, interim director of the CITY program for which Schmitz worked, testified that, at some point, Schmitz gave him progress reports in one lump. But he could not testify that the reports presented to him Friday by the prosecution were the same ones.

Oops. This is the Alice Martin team playing keystone cops again, folks.

And get this: Palmer apparently testified that Schmitz prepared and gave him reports. That's work, isn't it? That's work product, isn't it? I thought she was being tried for the crime of not doing any work.

Was Schmitz an exemplary employee in her work with CITY? Maybe not.
Is she a criminal? Not even close.

How do you handle a case where someone is underperforming on her job? You usually discipline her or, if necessary, get rid of her. Schmitz' contract was not renewed after almost four years, but she sued the college that administered the program and won her wrongful termination case. Prosecutors have desperately tried to keep that inconvient truth out of the criminal case.

You've heard of the crime "driving while black?" In Alabama, Schmitz' real "crime" was "working while Democrat."

Artur Davis Disses Siegelman Supporters

Artur Davis wants to be the Democratic nominee for governor of Alabama in 2010, but he has a strange way of going about seeking the nomination.

One of Davis' strategies apparently is to alienate supporters of former Governor Don Siegelman, who is arguably the most successful Democrat in Alabama history, having been elected secretary of state, attorney general, lieutenant governor, and governor.

But consider this exchange from a recent interview Davis gave to the Alabama blog, Doc's Political Parlor:

Question: What if someone were to say that you are elected to represent us the best you can, and Alabama is better served when you are on the House Judiciary?

Answer: Other than a few bloggers out there who are frankly obsessed with the Siegelman issue for better or for worse, no one thinks that I was elected to be on the Judiciary Committee and represent Gov. Siegelman’s interests. I spoke out, if you will, in defense of Gov. Siegelman’s interests because I thought that that was the right thing to do. I still think so. And I think there is a very fair chance the 11th Circuit Court will reverse his conviction. They could do it any day now. That’s not any inside knowledge. That’s based on how long these things take and how quickly they could happen, from my days of practicing.

Davis exhibits arrogance and self-centeredness in this answer. Siegelman supporters are "obsessed?" That's quite an insult there, Artur, to a lot of folks who might be inclined to vote for you. I guess seeing someone made a political prisoner in the United States isn't worth being "obsessed" about? Oh wait, that issue isn't going to help your run for governor.

Two things are particularly galling about Davis' comment:

* He hints that there is a "cult of personality" around Siegelman--I can't speak for everyone who supports Siegelman. But I feel--as Siegelman himself has said--the case is not just about him. His is only the best known of many cases where people have been harmed by those connected to the Bush Justice Department. Most people I'm aware of are "obsessed" about seeing that our justice system is cleaned up and victims are made whole from the damage they've incurred. Those victims include Don Siegelman, but they are hardly limited to him.

* Davis hints that if Siegelman wins on appeal, the whole matter will be over--Perhaps this is what Davis meant when he said he hoped to see the matter "fade away" by 2010. But a Siegelman win on appeal won't do anything to determine who corrupted the justice system to bring the case in the first place. It won't do anything to determine who brought similar cases in other states. It won't do anything to determine who caused nine U.S. attorneys to be fired for failing to bring political prosecution. And it won't do anything to compensate Siegelman and others for the damages they have suffered. If Siegelman wins his criminal appeal, the story of our broken justice system will still be in the early chapters.

On another issue, it's hard to understand why Davis continues to say that Republican Bob Riley has been a good governor, despite mounds of evidence to the contrary. I can only assume this is a bouquet that Davis throws to the "corrupt business" crowd.

The three-part Davis interview at Doc's Political Parlor can be viewed here:

* Artur Davis in the Parlor, Part I

* Artur Davis in the Parlor, Part II

* Artur Davis in the Parlor, Part III

While we are criticizing Davis on certain fronts, it seems only fair to praise him for a number of good points he makes. In Part I of the interview, he hints that he would look at boosting corporate tax rates in Alabama:

Question: On the subject of creating a long-term strategy for education and expanding the education initiatives you mentioned, how would you address the funding issue?

Answer: We are going to have re-visit our corporate tax structure. We obviously have to be competitive with the rest of the Southeast, but we can’t afford to offer a deal that is substantially better than the rest of the Southeast unless we are getting a heck of a return. We are not getting enough of a return with our strategy of undercutting all the rest of the states.

Whoever becomes the next governor is going to have to frankly make a hard decision and be candid with the people of Alabama about what our priorities are. I’m not going to judge those priorities sitting here now because they will evolve over the course of the next year and a half. But I would say that I’m not interested in raising taxes on individuals in Alabama, and I’m not interested obviously in a tax structure that would be counterproductive in terms of recruiting businesses though I think we have a long way to go before we reach that point.

In Part III, Davis floats several good ideas about a possible cabinet, particularly a position focusing on alternative energy:

Question: What might your cabinet look like generally and specifically?

Answer: Two things I would like to see.

Tennessee has a cabinet level officer that deals with alternative energy. That’s a very good idea, having someone on a cabinet level who focuses on alternative energy strategy for Alabama, recruiting alternative energy producers to come here, maximizing what we already have, working to make sure that the things we do in this state are consistent with what are going to be a lot harsher and stricter federal laws when it comes to carbon emissions. We need someone who is doing that full-time. That’s no longer a combination of a bunch of offices. We need a full-time person working on that.

If there is a way to get in that in the budget to do that and create that entity, I would do it. And frankly given how many extra positions we have right now at the sub-cabinet, I’m pretty sure there is a way to move the money around and do that.

I have always thought that there may be some room to consolidate the state Banking and Insurance Commissioners into one person. And I do have some thoughts about that given some things that are happening in the economy right now, the interplay between the two. Consolidating those two into a Financial Services Department would, I think, be a helpful event and, candidly, a selling point to also attract someone to do the job. As Gov. Riley would tell you, as Walter Bell would tell you, it’s hard to persuade people to do either of those jobs. If you combine the two of them it might be easier to persuade someone to do it because of the interesting policy challenge there.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Anti-Obama E-Mail Draws a Reprimand in Pennsylvania

Apparently it is perfectly fine to use a work computer at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) for transmitting a racist e-mail that mocks President Barack Obama and other prominent Democrats.

But officials in Mifflin County, Pennsylvania, take a dim view of such activity.

Jeri Minnick-Dukes, an administrative secretary in the police department in Mifflin County, received a written reprimand for sending the e-mail "Night Befo Crizzmus" to a co-worker.

The reprimand is expected to be the only punishment in the Pennsylvania case. But not everyone is happy about that. Bernard Chapman, an African-American who used to work as a police trooper in Pennsylvania, said Minnick-Dukes should lose her job.

“To only place a letter of reprimand in her file is not sufficient. To demean the President-elect of the United States solely because he is African-American is an egregious violation of protocol here,” Chapman said.

In the UAB case, financial associate Ashla Jana' Campbell used state-owned equipment to send the same poem. UAB president Carol Garrison has failed to respond to interview requests, and it remains unclear if Campbell has received any discipline at all.

A source told Legal Schnauzer that UAB officials have known that Campbell sent the racist e-mail since early January.

I have to give the folks in Pennsylvania credit. They have been upfront about the issue, while UAB leaders have gone into hiding.

Interesting that a small community in Pennsylvania can react to a problem with honesty and openness while leaders at major public university stick their heads in a hole.

Of course, UAB officials don't want to touch this subject because they know they fired an employee, me, simply for expressing progressive views--on my own time. Meanwhile, they have employees actually violating university policy by sending racist and homophobic messages on state-owned equipment, and nothing much happens to them.

No wonder UAB officials go into hiding when such issues surface.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Is Artur Davis Selling Out Siegelman--And Democrats?

We posted recently about U.S. Rep. Artur Davis (D-AL) and his ties to GOP "consultant" Dax Swatek.

The post drew a mixed response. A number of folks wondered why it's a big deal that Swatek gave Davis $250 in 2004. Unfortunately, Swatek is only one of many connections Davis has to people who have corrupted our business and political climates.

Let's deal with Swatek first.

Given that Davis has announced his intentions to run for governor in 2010, I would argue that his association with Dax Swatek is important for two reasons:

* Swatek is not just any GOP consultant. He has documented ties to Bill Canary, Karl Rove, Jack Abramoff, Ralph Reed, and Alice Martin--the very people who played central roles in polluting our political and justice systems. The concern isn't that Swatek is a "pro-business" conservative; it's that he has connections to sleazebags and comes from a family with a history of sleaze in the legal profession;

* The Swatek donation represents only a sliver of the connections Davis has cultivated with the "pro-business" crowd. (Actually, we should call it the "corrupt business" crowd. Legitimate, honorable people can be pro business.)

Let's ponder Davis' connections to Bill Canary, president of the Business Council of Alabama. Canary, of course, is the gentleman Alabama attorney and whistleblower Jill Simpson identified as being central in a plot to conduct a bogus prosecution of former Democratic Governor Don Siegelman. And Canary's wife, U.S. Attorney Leura Canary, conducted the Siegelman prosecution, despite her myriad conflicts in the case.

From his seat on the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, Davis once appeared to be genuinely interested in getting to the bottom of the Siegelman affair. But some observers, particularly Glynn Wilson of the Locust Fork World News & Journal, questioned Davis' interest in justice. Wilson even went so far as to hint that Davis actually was trying to protect Bill and Leura Canary by not pushing for them to be called to testify in Washington.

In a new book by journalist Gwen Ifill, Davis says that most Alabamians will ignore the Siegelman matter in the coming months and that the whole subject will fade from view by 2010.

Davis' comments raised hackles in progressive circles throughout Alabama. And when Davis announced that he would leave his seat on the Judiciary Committee in order to run for governor, it added fuel to Wilson's argument that his heart never was committed to justice in the first place.

Perhaps the most disturbing notion is that Davis might have tried to protect Bill and Leura Canary. When Karl Rove balked at testifying before the Judiciary Committee, citing executive privilege, Siegelman said publicly that going after Rove directly was not the best strategy anyway. A former prosecutor, Siegelman said cases usually are built from the bottom up, and he suggested that the committee target the Canarys--before going after Rove.

That has yet to happen, and Wilson suggests Davis played a role in making sure it did not happen while he was on the committee.

Why would Davis want to protect Bill and Leura Canary? We can think of 4,450 reasons. According to opensecrets.org, that's the number of dollars Davis has received from the Business Council of Alabama and The Capitol Group, both headed by Bill Canary.

Here is a breakdown of the campaign contributions from Bill Canary, in chronological order by name of the donor organization:

* Capitol Group--$1,000 (6/23/03)

* Business Council of Alabama--$750 (3/15/04)

* Business Council of Alabama--$1,000 (8/8/05)

* Business Council of Alabama--$1,000 (6/1/06)

* Business Council of Alabama--$500 (3/30/07)

Here is what the Inside Alabama Politics newsletter says in its February 6, 2009 issue:

Davis' leaving the House Judiciary Committee is widely viewed as an effort on his part to put distance between him and former Gov. Don Siegelman and Siegelman's legal problems. . . .

With the Judiciary Committee trying to force former presidential adviser Karl Rove to testify, Davis' presence on the committee could have been harmful to his hope of securing some business backing for his gov. run. He is known to be cultivating some big B'ham business interests in that regard, and getting caught up in a tug-of-war with Siegelman folks could nullify his courting of business that listens to Bill Canary.

Here is something that Artur Davis, and many citizens, probably have lost sight of: Organizations such as the Business Council of Alabama and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have honorable sounding names, and they once might have operated in honorable ways. Many members of those organizations might still have honorable intentions. But some folks near the tops of those organizations have become amoral outlaws, who have bought our judgeships and corrupted our justice system for their own greedy purposes.

Consider Bill Canary. If Jill Simpson's statements are accurate--and she made them under oath before representatives of Congress--Bill Canary is a criminal. And that would make the Business Council of Alabama a glorified criminal syndicate.

(A personal note: Isn't it interesting that Malcolm Portera, chancellor of the University of Alabama System, is a member of the BCA? And isn't it interesting that I was unlawfully terminated from a job in the system that Malcolm Portera oversees? Isn't it interesting that Malcolm Portera reportedly is one of UAB President Carol Garrison's biggest booster and probably saved her job when her personal life caused UAB massive embarrassment not long after she arrived. Much more coming soon on Carol Garrison's personal peccadillos. She has quite an interesting history, one the folks at the University of Louisville and the University of Tennessee know a whole lot about. Talk about ethical and personal baggage!)

The editors of Inside Alabama Politics evidently believe the business climate has become toxic. It notes that a number of business leaders would be turned off if Artur Davis actually tried to get at the truth regarding the Bush Justice Department in general and the Siegelman case in particular.

What's the thinking of these business titans? Apparently it's this: "We don't give a crap if we have political prisoners and a corrupt justice system in this country, as long as our beds are feathered. We want to be led around by the nose by criminal whack jobs like Bill Canary."

How sick is that?

And here's a question for Artur Davis? Do you really want to jump in bed with these people? What do you really stand for? And how many sleazy elbows are you willing to rub in order to bring "change" to Alabama?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Can God Save Us From Our Cell Phones?

Sports Illustrated each week includes a feature called "Sign of the Apocalypse." It's a brief, sports-related item that is so bizarre or outlandish that one can only react by saying, "Geez, the world must be coming to an end."

Here's a recent sample: "The Yankees asked the city of New York for $370 in bonds for their new stadium the same week they signed CC Sabathia to a $161 million contract."

Alabama government provides us with another sign that the apocalypse might be just around the corner.

The Alabama Legislature, which opened its session last week, is considering a bill that would outlaw text messaging while operating a motor vehicle.

Our public-safety team here at Legal Schnauzer has no problem with the bill, which was introduced by Rep. Jim McClendon (R-Springville). But the fact that it's necessary to even discuss such a bill makes us wonder if our society has gone over the edge.

Are some people so stupid that they need to be told that it's a bad idea to type a text message on a cell phone while driving? Why don't we pass a law that says it's illegal to jam a railroad spike into your eye? Perhaps we have some people who think it's a good idea to have railroad spikes protruding from their eyeballs.

And that's not the only nuttiness out there involving cell phones. A recent study at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), your humble blogger's former employer, informs us that children who talk on cell phones while crossing the street are about one-third more likely to be hit or nearly hit by cars.

Gee, no kidding. I could have never figured that one out if the journal Pediatrics hadn't published it. I'm sure UAB received a sizable federal grant to conduct that piece of scientific wizardry. Those are your tax dollars at work, folks.

So, let's see if we have this straight: Parents all over the country are giving cell phones to their Justins and Jessicas in order to protect them from all manner of boogeymen. Meanwhile, Justins and Jessicas are so dazed as they chatter on their cell phones that they walk right into traffic.

So much for the safety features of cell phones.

Last time I checked, most of us got through childhood relatively unscathed without the assistance of cell phones. ("That's the way it was, and we liked it!) And I'm quite sure that many people used to conduct business successfully without having to talk or text on cell phones while driving.

How dense have we become about our gadgets? Scientific studies have shown that a driver who is talking on a cell phone is just as dangerous as a driver who is drunk. And hands-free phones don't make it any safer to drive while having a phone conversation.

The concept is simple: Driving is a complex task that requires your full attention. And carrying on a phone conversation at the same time takes your mind off that potentially dangerous task.

Use of cell phones while operating a motor vehicle should have been outlawed long ago. But cell-phone companies don't want anyone tinkering with their money-making machine, and they have a powerful lobby.

If thousands of Americans have to die in order to feed the cell-phone beast, so be it.

In Alabama, Rep. McClendon proposed a bill that would have outlawed the use of hand-held cell phones while driving. That did not even make it out of committee.

You might want to remember this issue the next time you hear a politician, probably a "conservative" Christian, talk about our "culture of life." Chances are that same politician votes against bills that would outlaw use of cell phones while driving.

The Unites States does not have a culture of life; it has a culture of money. It also has a culture of distraction. That we have to discuss laws to outlaw texting while driving proves it.