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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Does Hunting Club Breed Corruption in Alabama Divorce Courts?

A hunting club in rural Alabama provides the setting for Alabama judges and lawyers to fix divorce cases, according to two lawsuits filed in U.S. district court. Public documents indicate the club also might be involved in fixing criminal cases.

The allegations do not come from a regular citizen; they come from a legal insider--attorney Joseph W. Blackburn, who teaches tax law at Samford University's Cumberland School of Law.

Both lawsuits claim that a hunting club--which sources tell Legal Schnauzer is in Lowndes County, near Hayneville--served as the base for a criminal enterprise under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).

Included as defendants in the lawsuits are Birmingham attorneys Charles Gorham, George Richard Fernambucq and L. Stephen Wright--in combination with "unknown defendants"--who hunted and fished together as controlling members of the hunting club. Judge John C. Calhoun, who lost his re-election bid in 2006, and Judge R. A. "Sonny" Ferguson, who remains on the domestic-relations bench, also are defendants.

In the first lawsuit, filed in 2007, Blackburn was a plaintiff, claiming he was injured by the corrupt actions of lawyers and judges during his divorce from Sharon Lovelace Blackburn, a federal judge. In the second lawsuit, filed in August 2009, Blackburn serves as attorney for plaintiffs claiming they were victimized in Jefferson County domestic-relations court.

According to court documents, Blackburn accuses the judges and lawyers of conspiring to run "a 'good ole white boys' club,' aimed at ensuring that only white males, to the exclusion of everyone else, would run the Jefferson County, Alabama circuit-court system."

The hunting club is at the heart of the illegal activity, Blackburn alleges, and it involves substantial sums of money. Why was the club formed? Court documents provide the answer, stating that "RICO enterprise" aims were to:

(a) stream illegal benefits to any "club" judges; 
(b) inflate attorney fee awards--at the expense of hapless litigants--to club lawyers; and 
(c) defraud the public, specifically women and minorities, by keeping the club secret from them while insiders benefited from favorable judicial treatment.

A RICO lawsuit requires at least two distinct but related "predicate acts" that are violations of criminal statutes. Blackburn lays out a stream of criminal acts in court documents. The following paragraph provides the guts of the RICO allegations:

Ferguson and Calhoun bargained for and accepted, and said Defendant attorneys paid Ferguson and Calhoun, a quid pro quo share of such illegal Enterprise profits. In making and accepting such payments, Ferguson, Calhoun and said Defendant attorneys engaged in predicate acts of Hobbs Act violations, Travel Act violations, money laundering, monetary transactions violations, and mail and wire fraud.

The scheme dates to at least 1993, Blackburn claims, when Calhoun was appointed an Alabama state-court judge. For many years before that, Calhoun had hunted and fished with Gorham, Fernambucq, Wright--and other unknown attorneys--as controlling members of the hunting club.

For some time, the club operated in a legitimate fashion. But that changed when Calhoun became a judge and failed to disclose his conflicts of interest. According to court documents:

It was improper, Blackburn says, for Calhoun to continue as a member of that club while serving as a judge in these attorneys' domestic relations cases.

The hunting club's influence might not have been limited to domestic-relations cases. It also apparently was involved in Jefferson County criminal cases. Court documents state that at least one criminal-court judge and several attorneys associated with him hunted together at the club. The judge and the lawyers "were personal friends and practiced criminal law in that court's circuit."

How deep does the hunting-club enterprise go? Blackburn states that it grew to include "law firms, law partners, members, shareholders, and support staff . . . and it may include corporate entities or other legally recognized entities such as partnerships or LLCs, through which such persons are engaged in the practice of law."

Blackburn paints a picture of a Birmingham legal community that is riddled with corruption. Among the law firms named in the complaints are Gorham and Cason; Najjar Denaburg; and Boyd Fernambucq and Vincent. And that does not include any number of unknown law firms and attorneys.

These law firms' activities, as described by Blackburn, sound an awful lot like organized crime. But the mainstream Alabama press has been largely silent on the issue. We will not be silent here at Legal Schnauzer.

Our blog has reported before on corruption in domestic-relations court. But the hunting-club revelations, as reported by a member of the legal community, take the sleaze to a whole new level.

We would not be surprised if similar outfits are operating in other parts of the country, corrupting the judicial process and harming thousands of mothers, fathers, and children.

(To be continued)


Anonymous said...

This makes a lot of since. I have been looking for an answer as to why, after spending a substantial amount of time (2years), on my mothers's divorce case, that Ferguson recused himself giving no reason. One day later Steven Wright withdrew as her attorney. Judge Ferguson recused himself one day after he ordered 3 motions, one of which was a speedy trial! Her was then sent to Pate, whom had to send my mother a letter to let her know that STEVEN WRIGHT had withdrawn from her case. After 2 years of supposedly representing my mother, we found out that the only thing that he had done was supeona her husband's 401k. The rest of the paperwork in my mother's file was given to Mr. WRIGHT by her husband! STEVEN WRIGHT is as crooked as they come, along with Ferguson! It makes me sick to think that my mother paid that SOB $5,000. What gets me even more is the fact that all of these bizzare events happened August, 2009! Maybe I need to contact whoever is investigating FERGUSON and WRIGHT!!!! My thoughts are that Ferguson, and WRIGHT knew what was about to go down, and my mother's case was one more to add to their dirty laundry list. They passed it on to Pate thinking that would be the end of me. Guess What? WRONG!! I WILL NOT GO AWAY! SOMEONE WILL HEAR THIS STORY!!! If anyone has anymore info on this story, please update often!!! thanks and God Bless!

MaxShelby said...

You've touched on something that seems to prevail in far too many issues--"the good ol' boys white clubs."
Alabama seems unwilling to learn from the ghosts of her past and I believe this is the root of many problems in this state whether they are political, legal or environmental.
This state just refuses to move forward in any progressive direction and I use the term "progressive" not only politically, but in a forward thinking way for change that will truly benefit all Alabamians whatever their political leanings.
This mindset based on the past is a prison for the citizens, while the ones who believe that way seem to propser.

Robby Scott Hill said...

Speaking of hunting land, that Fernambucq firm has connections to Conservation Commissioner Barnett Lawley.

Anonymous said...

Oh it is not just the good ol' boys white club, there is one very bad lawyer woman in this club. She is so bad everyone is afraid of her! She is pure evil!

Anonymous said...

Who is the woman? I'm guessing it is the "honorable" Rosemary D. Chambers? She can make anything appear and disappear in Just One Look/Alacourt and her long-arm can reach all the way to Alaska, California, Nevada and Hawaii!

Anonymous said...

Must be nice to live in some fantasy world in which "old white men" can bear all responsability and everybody else is just some big baby, pure and innocent.

legalschnauzer said...

You're saying the hunting-club issue doesn't exist with Alabama courts? I would suggest you go to Hugo Black Courthouse and check out two of the federal lawsuits on the matter.

Anonymous said...

I watched a documentary on the family court system and it made me perform a few google searches. Now I find a lot of what has never made sense to me now makes much more sense. I hired Steve Wright from Najjar. This case never would end, they kept drawing it out and drawing it out because they knew my family was helping with paying for custody battle. They bled me dry the dropped me. Calhoun was a problem from the first day. I never heard a judge take the lords name in vain and he did it twice on the first day of court. All about money for them, All about the kids for me..Calhoun literally fell asleep on the bench during the hearings TWICE. My experience has taken any faith in the court system from me. For some reason im thinking Calhoun died, not sure why. Either way I hope they rot in hell.

Kyle Tankersley said...

Calhoune, I will not honor him with the title "Judge" is apparently alive but discredited, abandoned by his peers.. defeated by massive contributions, and thank you all. He is not in a good space without pension or friends.

Pamela Jenkins said...

I have solid evidence of bribery in St.Clair Co. Alabama. I have a new facebook page"Judicial corruption in St.Clair Co. Alabama. Follow me to be truly updated on Al. Judicial corruption.
I'm a huge admirer of the Tell the Truth articles by you. Together WE can fight people who lost their homes illegally and was not compensated. Luther Strange is the next big Felon along with Bentley

Victim of DR Courts/Counsel said...

Rick Fernambucq and judge Ferguson ruled on my case in Dec 2008, my ex got everything and we we back to court in 2009. Our attorney paid the Rule Nisi/Contempt fee, once as one fee, then separated the motions filing and passing separately. Our counsel paid 3 fees and had my ex served by process serve. Rick Fernambucq filed the same, no fee and emailed it to our counsel. (My current wife-our counsel). Our attorney brought it to the courts attention via motion. It was set for a hearing, never heard. Rick Fernambucq filed an Amended Rule Nisi, stating, see attached on 7 or so numbers. The attached was the original Rule Nisi. You can't amend something that the fee was never paid on. He paid the fee on the Amendment 9 days later, post filing, before judge Palmer. Palmer stated this on record, "I see where it was filed on Feb 24the and the fee was paid March 7, 2012. Our attorney tried to state that she had lost jurisdiction when it was put on the docket, along with service of process done by Rick Fernambucq serving me by hand in courthouse, while attending another hearing. Counsel for the plaintiff cannot serve the Defendant, the clerk even noted that he couldn't do that. The appellate court has upheld time after time that the fee had to be paid at the time of commencement, not a day later. In June 2013, Rick had the nerve to write an entire article to his fellow peers in the magazine he founded, on the importance of paying the fee. All copies have been pulled. The judge cut off our counsel after she realised this was on record and said your fishing, fishing, fishing and got up from the bench and literally exited right. The Rule Nisi we filed got denied at trial. Ricks was granted holding me in contempt for non payment of alimony. I was jailed when she didn't even have jurisdiction based on the incompetence of Rick. Rick later filed a conditional judgment under the interpleader rule/no fee...faxed to my employer bribing them to put an iwo into effect. Filed another Rule Nisi/no fee/no service of process and 5 days later, filed an Amended Rule Nisi changing pay due alimony including the monthly figure, and interest because there was a Stay filed June 2012 that Rick and Palmer forgot was never lifted. I was jailed in that window of time as well. Palmer disposed of the stay internally/informally/exparte and Rick requested jail for 6 months, etc. I ended up in E.R. in lieu of attending that hearing. The iwo as not served, no hearing, it was faced from Omaha, Nebraska to my retail store in Florida and then faced to Legal intake of the Chicago, I'll office/ no serve and it stayed it must be served. There was $1000 CS on the order and no order that I was to pay it post age 19. The order, taking 55% of my income went through 30 days post her age of maturity. All arrearages of alimony and current CS was all paid through the Alabama Child Support Agency, while I reside in Florida. This was done so my ex didn't have to claim over $60,000.00 in income. Went on for 27 months. The employer was not who I'm employed by either. My employer sent me a letter post loss of job, stating they over paid me and wanted reimbursements of $15k of "Disbursements,, paid on my behalf via order,". Threatened if I didn't pay the money they illegally took from me, that my ex received, they would take legal action. We filed fraud on the cour, turned in over $4 million in banking/paid in full mortgages on 3 alleged foreclosure that never happened, along with 37 statements of perjury, 2 zero financial affidavits and Palmer ruled that, "No new evidence had been brought before this court or the trier of fact. Banking post Ferguson stepping down couldn't have possibly received by him and it's an oxymoron according to the zero affidavits.