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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Lying Lawyers Draw Inconsistent Punishment

The legal profession has a mixed record, at best, for dealing with lawyers who lie in official proceedings.

We've written extensively about lawyers who clearly have lied in court documents--and pretty much gotten away with it. So we were surprised to learn that a former University of Alabama law professor actually is being held accountable for lying to law-enforcement officials.

The case also raises questions about the fair administration of criminal justice, another major topic here at Legal Schnauzer.

Tari Devon Williams, a former assistant dean at the UA law school's Public Interest Institute, was sentenced last week to one year probation for lying to authorities about her husband, who was under investigation for using stolen identities to forge prescriptions and sell the drugs.

Williams pleaded guilty last October to federal crimes involving obstruction of justice and making a false statement to a law enforcement officer.

Williams' husband, Isaac Smith, had entered a plea agreement acknowledging he had engaged in a conspiracy to commit health-care fraud.

We certainly don't endorse what Williams did, but we have to ask these questions: Why is she being punished when other lawyers routinely get away with lying in court proceedings--essentially lying to judges? Is it OK to lie to a judge but not to a law-enforcement officer?

Just consider a few stunts we've seen lawyers pull.

First, there's our old friend, William E. Swatek, who puts the "dirt" in the term dirt bag. We caught Swatek red-handed lying in a court document, and no one has done a thing about it--to this day. Here is how we described it in an earlier post:

During the course of litigation, Swatek filed a Motion to Clarify (dated November 16, 2001), seeking to join three additional neighbors in the lawsuit against me. The motion claims that the three additional neighbors had viewed photographs of property belonging to them and wanted to assert conversion claims against me. However, one of the neighbors, Eric Hallmark, told me in a phone conversion that he was not familiar with the motion and had no intention of joining a lawsuit against me. At a deposition on December 3, 2003, Swatek stated that prior to filing his Motion to Clarify, seeking to add Hallmark (and two other neighbors) to the lawsuit against me, he had a meeting with them in his office. Swatek further stated that he was “positive” the motion was drafted with their permission. Obviously these statements by Swatek are at odds with Hallmark's statements, which I have on tape. The motion Swatek crafted clearly was fraudulent, and he used the U.S. mail to send it to me in order to seek an advantage during litigation.

I'm not a prosecutor, but Bill Swatek's actions sure sound an awful lot like mail fraud. I reported it to multiple officials in the Bush Justice Department, and nobody did a thing about it. I reported it to the Alabama State Bar, and nobody did a thing about it.

So why is Tari Devon Williams going on probation?

Swatek hardly is alone in his shady tactics. Two Birmingham lawyers, Wayne Morse and Laura Nettles, have knowingly filed false documents in a lawsuit my wife and brought against debt collectors NCO and Ingram & Associates. Here is how we described it in an earlier post:

Wayne Morse, an attorney for Ingram & Associates, had filed a motion claiming he never received an audio file of my conversation with one of his client's representatives. Morse, who is with the Birmingham firm Waldrep Stewart & Kendrick, alleged that I had "withheld" the evidence, and it therefore should be excluded. There is a slight problem with Morse's claims--they aren't true. And our lawyers have filed e-mails with the court showing that Morse indeed received the audio files.

Now, lawyers for NCO have joined Morse's bogus motion, claiming that they also did not receive the audio files. Never mind that our lawyers have filed e-mails with the court showing that NCO's lawyers did receive the audio files.

Laura Nettles, an attorney for the Birmingham firm Lloyd Gray & Whitehead, wrote the motion for NCO.

The motions from Morse and Nettles clearly were designed to deceive U.S. District Judge Abdul Kallon, who is handling the case, and affect the outcome of litigation. Is it obstruction of justice to lie to a federal judge? I intend to file complaints with the appropriate authorities, but will anyone take it seriously? I'm not holding my breath.

Again, why is Tari Devon Williams going on probation?

As for the fair administration of justice, consider Williams' husband. Isaac Smith was charged with health-care fraud, and he will pay a serious price for it.

But what about Rob Riley, a Homewood attorney and the son of Governor Bob Riley? As we have reported in a series of posts, a whistleblower has accused Riley and several accomplices (some with ties to UAB) of operating a company, Performance Group LLC, that practices health-care fraud. The Bush Justice Department refused to even investigate, and so far, we've seen no signs that the Obama DOJ will do any better.

We certainly don't advocate a "get out of jail free" card for everybody. Tari Devon Williams and Isaac Smith should be held accountable for their wrongdoing.

But what about Bill Swatek, Rob Riley, Wayne Morse, and Laura Nettles? Will they be held accountable? Is there reason to think our system makes any effort at applying the law equally?


Robby Scott Hill said...

If it suits their purposes, people are going to lie in court and lie in court documents. The police do it all the time. It's part of their job - to protect, to serve & to commit perjury whenever it supports the state's case. Lawyers who represent politicians in civil suits also lie in court.

Anonymous said...

Seriously? Lying lawyers? Surely NOT! But, really, your blog isn't big enough to accommodate all the names of all the lying lawyers, even if you just limited it to the Birmingham area. And as a lawyer/friend told me once, "Ninety-seven percent of lawyers give the rest of us a bad name."

Anonymous said...

All lawyers lie - including those who have moved up the food chain and are in higher positions.

legalschnauzer said...

Anon No. 1: "97 percent of lawyers give the rest of us a bad name."

That's one of the best lines I've heard in a long time. Do you mind if I steal it from you?

Anon No. 2: Interesting about the lawyers who move up the ladder and lie. I assume you are talking about judges?

Anonymous said...

It's a gift! From Anon 1.

Anonymous said...

I have a friend married to a lawyer in the 3 percent. She told me even he trades, as in I'll give you my dui for your fraud. Nice to know you pay a lawyer and even though you're innocent you lose your case because the other lawyer had something your lawyer wanted.

legalschnauzer said...

That's funny, and scary, about the bartering that apparently goes on among lawyers. I hear it happens on the civil side. I hear there is a law firm in Bham that specializes in employment cases and will barter back and forth with big employers, such as UAB. "Hey, I'll give you a good deal on this case if you'll help me out with this one." Under that kind of system, the stronger your case, the more likely that someplace like UAB is likely to get off the hook.

Barbara Ann Jackson said...

As mentioned in my other comment on your blog, I know first-hand about lawyers & judges dishonest judicial activities and crippling results from it. Because you've written extensively about "lawyers who clearly have lied in court documents--and pretty much gotten away with it," I hope that you highlight my amazing 'lying lawyers' story: "Some Home Foreclosures are Actually Disguised Real Estate Extortions," . For a long time, I have been making my public appeal for legal help. By the same token, not only would I become helped, I feel certain that CASE STUDY stories like mine can be a catalyst toward judicial overhaul and debt collection reform. If any legal advocates can help, place contact me @ barbara@lawgrace. If any legal advocates can help, place contact me @ barbara@lawgrace.

Anonymous said...

Hey Dawg, I have gotten a "sheriff's sale" deed in my filecabinet probably 20 years old and worthless. In the legal process of levying or enforcing a lien, this is a worthless tool basically to scare the home owner, but it has no teeth. It is no more than a lien on your house which can be erased or "fall off" through a chapter 7 or 13 bankruptcy. As far as the sale of the assets like a car or whatever, their is a possibility of that happening if the vehicle does not have a primary lien holder on it. I've seen it done through the process of collecting on a bad debt through the legal (lengthy) process of suing for unpaid services and then the somewhat complicated process of enforcing the lien. Like I said no repo or forclosure can happen if the particular item being attached to has a primary lien holder on it. If you have it paid for then you can have some problems. I'm your friend and not a collector (I despise them) but have had to collect a few debts over the past 28 years of being in business and not being paid for "intangible" services. The moving business. I've gone after a few people who were basically trying to not pay and have won a few times other times ended up with a useless document that says sheriff's deed. The fact that the deputy called you? That, I find strange. They are supposed to be uninterested parties and are, it's just their job through the actions of motions filed through the county court which they are required to fulfill which, auctioning property on the court house steps is a duty that falls under their job description. Hey, I've been on the other side of the stick and avoided a couple of liens in district court which I couldn't afford to fight ( Collections know whether you have the money to fight them or not and I didn't and as in your case I did not owe the money and was prepared to defend myself but the district judge would not let me and deferred the case to a later date. I was worried because I do have a couple of auto's paid and I knew they could haul them off if they got a judgement, so, I declared bankruptcy and with an automatic stay which put an end to their case. Bankruptcy is not always a good alternative but in my case it was. The only good lawyer is a ( how does that go?)Lawyer's are the engine of corruption. Professional debt collectors have no empathy and will use any tactic available to harass and eventually try to break you or make your life miserable. They ought to be publicly hanged for what they do to especially the older, senior population and those who don't know how to fight them back. They must be aliens, I don't know how they sleep at night. Screw them. If there is a Hell, they have front row seats.