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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Riley Aide Threatens Christian Coalition Leader Over Gambling

An associate of Alabama Governor Bob Riley threatened a Christian Coalition leader over gambling issues, according to a lawsuit filed in Montgomery County Circuit Court in May 2007.

Dr. Randy Brinson, chairman of the Christian Coalition of Alabama, states in the lawsuit that he supported a bill in the Alabama House of Representatives that would tax and regulate gambling and help fund Medicaid. Brinson's support for the bill, sponsored by Rep. Marcel Black (D-Tuscumbia), drew heavy fire from Riley allies.

The most alarming fire came from Dax Swatek, who was Riley's campaign manager in 2006. The lawsuit says Swatek had become a lobbyist for Jones Group LLC, a Montgomery-based public affairs consultant registered to lobby on behalf of Greenetrack Inc., an Alabama gaming facility, among others.

Swatek apparently was more than happy to take money from gambling interests. But he must not have liked the bill that Brinson supported. The lawsuit states:


Not only have negative comments been made about Brinson and the Coalition in the news media, Brinson recently received a personal threat from Dax Swatek during a phone conversation after the April 10, 2007, press conference held by Rep. Marcel Black concerning HB 527. In the conversation Swatek told Brinson he'd "better back off," and said it in a threatening manner sufficient to alarm Brinson. As Swatek represents a powerful gambling interest with an enormous interest in controlling the state's gambling laws, Brinson has taken Swatek's threat seriously.

Brinson and the Christian Coalition filed the lawsuit against Swatek, John Giles, and a number of other parties, claiming the defendants unlawfully seized the organization's Web site and member lists and interfered with its business relations.

Giles was chairman of the Christian Coalition of Alabama for about eight years until he was forced to resign in August 2006. Brinson became the new chairman, and Giles went on to form a group called Christian Action Alabama.

Under Giles' leadership, the Christian Coalition of Alabama was steadfastly opposed to gambling. But the lawsuit notes that a 2005 Boston Globe article quotes conservative leader Grover Norquist saying that his organization, Americans for Tax Reform, gave $850,000 to the Alabama Christian Coalition, and the money came from an Indian casino in Mississippi.

The lawsuit goes on to note Bob Riley's connections to gambling interests in Las Vegas and Mississippi--and to the money laundering operation of GOP felon Jack Abramoff.

The two sides evidently reached a quick settlement, and the lawsuit was dismissed roughly one month after it was filed. But the 20-page document offers a fascinating look at the seamy intersection between Republican Party politics, religion-based organizations, big-money gaming interests, and criminal enterprises.

We will be examining the lawsuit closely because it speaks volumes about the political climate in Alabama and other conservative strongholds.

Regular readers know that Dax Swatek is a major player in my personal story, largely because his father, Pelham attorney William E. Swatek, filed the bogus lawsuit that started my legal headaches. Evidence strongly suggests that the Swateks, or someone else with close ties to Riley, played a major role in my unlawful termination at UAB. And evidence also suggests they might have played a role in my wife's unlawful termination at Infinity Property & Casualty.

A number of sources have told me that the Riley crowd is famous for such skulduggery. You can rest assured that will be a major line of inquiry when my wife and I file lawsuits against the entities and individuals who cheated us out of our jobs.

Here is one of many posts I've written that says a lot about the Swateks longstanding connections to sleaze. And we have addressed before the Riley crowd's tendency to threaten those they see as opponents.

Consider this from a post I wrote last November:

I've called the GOP tactics financial terrorism. And I've experienced them personally. I've received more threatening anonymous comments on my blog than I can count. And they have not been idle threats.

After a February 2008 post about connections between U.S. Attorney Alice Martin and Alabama GOP political consultant Dax Swatek, we received an anonymous comment: "Nut case, yours is comong (sic)."

After an April 2008 post, we received an anonymous comment claiming that I was blogging at work, and my employer, UAB, needed to be notified. On the date in question, I was taking a vacation day, so I was not blogging at work--then or any other time.

Roughly a month later, I was fired at UAB, after 19 years on the job, amid vague allegations that I was blogging at work. For the record, UAB's own IT expert testified at my grievance hearing that those allegations were not true. But did someone with GOP political ties get in the ears of UAB leaders and pressure them to unlawfully fire me? Sure looks that way. And evidence suggests it was all because I was writing a blog that was critical of the Bush Justice Department and it's handling of various political prosecutions, including the Siegelman case.

Isn't it interesting to learn now that Dax Swatek resorted to issuing threats against Randy Brinson and the Christian Coalition? And how do people like Dax Swatek and Bob Riley reconcile such threats with their efforts to garner the support of Christian voters.

"You'd better back off"? That sounds like mighty fine Christian language doesn't it. But that's how Bob Riley's henchmen talk--and that's how they act.

The Brinson lawsuit is perhaps the most insightful document we've seen about the Republican Party's depravity during the eight-year reign of terror under George W. Bush. And GOP immorality continues to reign, partly because the Obama Department of Justice refuses to expose it.

Legal Schnauzer, however, is not afraid to expose it. We will be publishing the entire lawsuit and examining its contents closely.

The Debt Collector's Creed: Lie Early and Lie Often

We have established that, based on my experience, debt collectors will target you even when they have little or no documentation to show that you owe the alleged debt. We also have established that debt collectors, when caught in the act and forced to account for their violations of federal and state laws, will go to great lengths to keep from disclosing information about how they do business.

Now we come to Lesson No. 3 about debt collectors: When you confront them with their nasty deeds, they will lie early and they will lie often in an attempt to get off. It's not a pretty sight. But we will show you how two debt-collection outfits--Pennsylvania-based NCO and Birmingham-based Ingram & Associates--practice the fine art of deceit.

We have many examples, but let's start with one of the most basic issues in our lawsuit against NCO and Ingram & Associates for violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), plus multiple state-law claims.

In an effort to collect a debt that I allegedly owed to American Express, representatives of Ingram & Associates made a number of interesting representations via telephone. They said that:

* Ingram & Associates had been hired by American Express;

* Ingram & Associates had been hired by American Express to sue me;

* Angie Ingram, the law firm's principal, was American Express' attorney;

* Angie Ingram had a fiduciary duty to American Express.

There's only one problem with all of these representations. Evidence we've seen in our lawsuit indicates that they are not true.

Despite that, Angie Ingram goes to great lengths in an affidavit to make it sound like she was hired by American Express. Consider this statement from Ms. Ingram:

NCO Financial Systems Inc. (NCO), as agent for American Express, hired Ingram & Associates LLC to represent American Express as its attorney to collect a debt owed to American Express by Roger Shuler. NCO regularly acts as an agent for American Express in hiring attorneys to collect debts/account balances owed to American Express.

Contrast that with an affidavit from Gregory R. Stevens, vice president of customer contact management at NCO. Mr. Stevens states:

10. On July 5, 2007, NCO referred the account to Ingram and Associates (Ingram) to file suit.

Stevens says NCO placed the account with Ingram & Associates. He says nothing about American Express hiring Ingram & Associates or Angie Ingram acting as American Express' attorney.

Even Ingram's own statement, stripped of all its deceitful language, admits she was hired by NCO, not American Express. And her employees' representations to me were lies.

Clearly, someone has a problem with the truth.

Why would Ingram & Associates tell me that they had been hired by American Express, when they had every reason to know that wasn't true? My guess is that kind of deceit works. Consumers hear that the giant and famed American Express is about to sue them, and they are likely to cough up money--even when the debt collectors don't have basic documents to show the consumer owes the debt.

Remember what we learned from Lesson No. 1 about debt collectors: When asked to produce documents it had from American Express regarding our alleged debt, Ingram & Associates responded that it didn't have any.

How can you be an attorney for American Express when you have no documents from American Express?

We're just getting warmed up with our series about debt-collector deceit. Many more posts are coming. For now, take an up-close look at the affidavit from Angie Ingram in our case:


Angie Ingram Affidavit

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Debt Collectors Scurry Into Cover-Up Mode

We've established, based on my experiences, that debt collectors will target you even when they have no documents to show you have a cardholder agreement--much less that you owe a debt.

So what happens when you catch on to the debt-collection scheme and file a lawsuit alleging violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA)--and perhaps alleging fraud and other state-law claims? You can expect debt collectors, and their slimy lawyers, to immediately go into cover-up mode.

So here is Lesson No. 2 about debt collectors: The same dirt bags who have no qualms about repeatedly invading your private affairs--when they have no documents indicating that you owe them a debt at all--will tuck tail and run for the hills when the tables are turned.

Want proof? My wife and I filed a lawsuit against two debt-collection outfits--Pennsylvania-based NCO and Birmingham-based law firm Ingram & Associates--over a debt I allegedly owed to American Express. We've already shown that NCO and Ingram & Associates could not produce a single document proving that I even had an American Express card, much less that I owed a debt on one.

That's not all that NCO and Ingram & Associates can't produce. Darrell Cartwright and Allan Armstrong, our attorneys in the case, filed discovery requests seeking a number of basic documents related to efforts to collect what appears to be a phantom debt. And guess what? NCO and Ingram & Associates don't want to turn over much of anything that would reveal how they do business. What a surprise!

Here are a few examples, from our Request for Production of Documents from Ingram & Associates:

* Request No. 6 asks for any and all documents evidencing any communication or relationship between or among defendants (Ingram & Associates and NCO) and American Express.

Response: Ingram & Associates claims this is not reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. (That by the way, is classic legal-stonewall language.)

* Request No. 23 asks for any and all e-mail and electronic transmissions between or among defendants, any creditors and any non-party that in any way relates to my wife and me.

Response: Ingram & Associates claims it would be cost prohibitive to provide this information. (We're not making this up, folks! They can hire a high-priced lawyer--in this case, Wayne Morse of Waldrep Stewart & Kendrick--to lie and scheme and defend the indefensible, but it's too costly to produce a few e-mails!)

Here are a few examples from our Request for Production of Documents from NCO. You will notice a familiar theme, an attempt to cover up at all costs:

* Request No. 32 asks for all documents between the defendants and any other person, persons, or entities regarding my wife and me and collection of an alleged debt.

Response: NCO claims that this request is overbroad and seeks information that might be protected by attorney-client and work-product privileges. More classic legal-stonewall language.

* Request No. 40 asks for copies of all documents that evidence an agreement between NCO and the original creditor, American Express.

Response: NCO will turn that over only with a confidentiality agreement in place. Hmmm, wonder what's in that agreement with American Express.

What do we learn from all of this:

* NCO and Ingram & Associates are extremely sensitive about any communication between each other.

* NCO and Ingram & Associates are extremely sensitive about any communications among themselves and American Express.

* NCO and Ingram & Associates are extremely sensitive about any documents regarding their relationship with American Express.

* NCO and Ingram & Associates are extremely sensitive about any communications they've had about us or our alleged account with any third parties.

Given that both my wife and I have been cheated out of our jobs in the wake of attempts to collect what appears to be a phantom debt, I bet there is a real good reason they don't want to share this information. Could it reveal communications they had with each other about plans to cheat one, or both of us, out of our jobs? Could it reveal communications they had with third parties--perhaps individuals with connections to the Alabama Republican Party--about plans to cheat one, or both of us, out of our jobs?

We've already established that my wife almost certainly was unlawfully terminated at Infinity Property & Casualty because of the lawsuit we filed against NCO and Ingram & Associates. But a growing body of evidence indicates that my termination at UAB might have been driven partially by efforts to collect what appears to be a phantom debt. We will have much more on that storyline coming soon.

But first, here is an up-close look at stonewalling by debt collectors and their lawyers. This is NCO's response to our discovery requests:


NCO Discovery Response

Alabama Bingo Raids Coincide With Layoffs at Mississippi Casinos

Governor Bob Riley's campaign to shut down electronic bingo in Alabama started at about the same time a Mississippi Choctaw casino was laying off employees.

Do you see a connection? Bob Gambacurta, writing at the Montgomery Independent, sure does. And it shows that the story of disgraced GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff still resonates in the Deep South.

Gambacurta also raises a critical point about the Alabama Supreme Court's best-known ruling on bingo, the one that set out six standards defining the game. The high court, the same one that ExxonMobil loves so much, apparently violated its own procedures and made the ruling without having jurisdiction over the case.

The Independent article lays bare Riley's blatant hypocrisy on gambling. And it presents even more damning evidence about the governor's ties to Mississippi gambling interests, once represented by GOP felons Jack Abramoff and Michael Scanlon. Writes Gambacurta:

Look at what happened during nine days, from December 29, 2008 through January 6, 2009 and connect the dots: Riley created his anti-gambling task force; the following week, the Poarch Creek Indians opened their $240 million Wind Creek casino and resort in Atmore featuring 1,600 electronic bingo machines; and the next day, the Mississippi Choctaws laid off 570 employees, the first of 700 employees to be cut loose at its Golden Moon casino in Philadelphia, Miss. Then they cut back casino operations to three days per week.

Chucky the Ground Squirrel, who spends his days happily digging holes in my backyard, could connect those dots. And Gambacurta doesn't stop with that:

Few people close to the gambling debate can look you in the eye and with a straight face deny that Bob Riley took Mississippi Choctaw Indian campaign contributions in his first run for governor in 2002 - whether it was $600,000 or $2.2 million. Nor can they deny Riley received campaign funds tied to Alabama's Poarch Creek Indian gaming interests for his reelection in 2006.

The governor's son, Rob Riley cannot honestly deny his own ties to the gaming industry through his associations with Paragon Gaming, his friend and business associate Robert Sigler and Sigler's Crimson Group companies which promote gaming interests in the United States and Canada.

It's a matter of record that Riley gave the Birmingham law firm of Bradley Arant a $600,000 state contract to advise his task force on electronic gambling. Riley's son-in-law Rob Campbell is a partner at Bradley Arant and ironically, the firm once advised another client in 2005 that electronic bingo in Macon County is legal and constitutional.

Ah, where there is cash to be made in an underhanded way, you can rest assured a Riley family member will be nearby. And that mindset has been in play since Jack Abramoff evidently steered Mississippi gaming dollars into Alabama to help get Riley elected in 2002. It was all about hard, cold cash for Abramoff, and it appears to be about hard, cold cash for Bob Riley and his family members.

Maybe that's why Gov. Riley, in his best Don Corleone imitation, issued a threat about "getting too close to the families." Remember that one? Let's check it out:

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Debt-Collection Fraud Starts With the Basics

We know that the debt-collection industry played a major role in electing Scott Brown to Ted Kennedy's U.S. Senate seat from Massachusetts, and that's largely because the industry opposes health-care and consumer-protection reforms.

So its appropriate that we take a critical look at an industry that is trying to flex its political muscle on the national stage. My wife and I have filed a lawsuit against two debt-collection outfits--Pennsylvania-based NCO and the Birmingham-based law firm Ingram & Associates--alleging multiple violations of the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act (FDCPA), along with various state-law claims.

Waging that lawsuit has given us considerable insight into how the debt-collection industry operates. And over the next few weeks, we are going to be sharing our insights with Legal Schnauzer readers. We would encourage anyone who has a credit card, and that's a lot of folks, to tune in.

We will begin today with Lesson No. 1: Debt-collector fraud can begin with the most basic issues.

Our case started with a debt I allegedly owed to American Express. (The card allegedly was in my name.) Court documents indicate that AMEX placed the alleged debt with NCO, which made several collection efforts. NCO then placed the alleged debt with Ingram & Associates, a firm that is part of something called the "NCO Attorney Network."

Ingram & Associates made multiple phone calls to my wife and me, violating the FDCPA on multiple grounds--and we recorded these conversations for posterity on audiotape.

What do we mean by fraud "on the most basic issues"? Well, a rational person might think, "If I was going to try to collect a debt, I would make sure that I had documents in hand that proved the person actually owed the debt."

But that apparently is not the way debt collectors think. Based on our experience, they will try to collect a debt, even when they have no idea whether you owe it or not.

During the discovery process in the lawsuit, our attorneys (Darrell Cartwright and Allan Armstrong), made a number of simple requests that produced stunning replies from the defendants.

Our No. 1 request for production of documents from Ingram & Associates asks for the following:

Each and every document relating to any debt, allegedly owed by plaintiffs to American Express or NCO, including, but not limited to, any cardholder agreements signed by the plaintiff.

In other words, just show us the documents you have that prove Roger Shuler owes the debt--and that Roger Shuler signed a cardholder agreement with American Express. Sounds simple, right? Here was the response from Ingram & Associates:

Ingram & Associates does not have any documents from American Express.

Now let's digest that for a moment. Ingram & Associates called me and repeatedly said they had "been hired by American Express" to sue me. They repeatedly said that I owed a debt, and they could garnish my wages or have our house sold on the courthouse steps to satisfy that debt. (You will be hearing audiotapes of these conversations.) They called my wife and talked to her for roughly an hour, even though she had nothing to do with the alleged debt. All of these are violations of the FDCPA.

But Ingram & Associates had no documents from American Express proving that I owed the debt! They didn't even have a cardholder agreement showing I ever had an American Express card, much less one for which I owed a debt!

Now let's consider NCO, the folks who hired Ingram & Associates. No. 28 in our request for production of documents from NCO reads as follows:

A copy of any and all documents which you allege create an obligation by the plaintiffs for the account you are attempting to collect.

It couldn't be more simple. Just show us the documents upon which you base your allegation that Roger Shuler owes a debt to American Express. Here is the answer:

NCO objects to this request to the extent plaintiffs are seeking documents outside NCO's custody or control. Notwithstanding said objections, none.

Now let's digest that for a moment. NCO sicced Ingram & Associates on us because I allegedly owed a debt to American Express. But when asked to produce documents from American Express that show I owed the debt, NCO says they don't have any.

I see two trends here:

* NCO and Ingram & Associates initiate debt-collection procedures when they have no proof that the target owes the debt or even has an agreement with the alleged cardholder.

* NCO and Ingram & Associates are determined not to produce any documents from American Express.

Hmmm, wonder why that is? Could it be that American Express and its surrogates practice such fraudulent tactics against consumers all over the country? Is it possible that these tactics unlawfully generate hundreds of millions of dollars every year for AMEX and its surrogates? Is that why NCO and Ingram & Associates appear to be trying to protect AMEX at all costs?

While we ponder those questions, here is a document that will give you an inside glimpse at the game of hide-and-seek that transpires when you try to get the truth out of a debt collector. It's a copy of Ingram & Associates response to our discovery requests:

Ingram Discovery Response

Rob Riley Fined $10,000 in Campaign-Ethics Case

Rob Riley, the son of Alabama Governor Bob Riley, paid a $10,000 fine in 2008 for his role in a decade-old campaign-finance ethics case.

The Federal Election Commission (FEC) announced the fine in a press release dated June 20, 2008. But we can find no record that the story was reported in any of Alabama's major newspapers.

Was the story covered up by Alabama's mainstream press, and if so, why? Riley was fined for his connections to Triad Management Services, a Republican consulting firm that apparently was engaged in money laundering.

That story seemingly was too hot to handle for Alabama reporters. But it was not too hot for Derek Kravitz, a reporter for The Washington Post. Here's how Kravitz described the Triad case:

The case centered on a $3 million political advertising blitz aimed at bolstering Republican candidates in the closing weeks of the 1996 election, which was financed by donations from leading conservative contributors to a company called Triad Management Services.

Triad billed itself as a consulting firm devoted to keeping the Republican majority in Congress, according to promotional materials in 1995 and 1996. Carolyn S. Malenick, a noted Republican donor and former fundraiser for Oliver L. North's Freedom Alliance, operated the firm as its president and sole owner. Robert L. Cone, a former Pennsylvania executive of the Graco children's products company, was Triad's primary source of funding.

What was Triad's goal? Kravitz writes:

Donors' money went from Triad to two political action committees, Citizens for the Republic Education Fund and Citizens for Reform, which financed television and radio commercials and sent out mass mailings in what their officials have said was an effort to counter organized labor's efforts on behalf of Democrats, investigators said.

In other words, it was a money-laundering operation. And Rob Riley was in the middle of it, on behalf of his father, who then was running for a Congressional seat. Kravitz provides details about the offenders, including this one:

-- Robert Riley Jr., the son of Rep. Bob Riley (R-Ala.), and his father's campaign committee paid a $10,000 civil fine for making and accepting excessive contributions, but denied purposely flouting ethics laws.

The Rob Riley story just keeps getting curiouser and curiouser. Thanks to Derek Kravitz, we know that the Alabama governor's son has ties to election-law violations and money laundering. We also know that Riley Jr. has extensive ties to gambling, even though his pappy is trying to shut down gaming facilities in Alabama. And thanks to federal-court documents, we know that Riley Jr. has ties to health-care fraud, a case that involves a number of physician and staff members at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), my former employer.

For the record, we have evidence indicating that Riley Jr., or someone very close to him, played a major role in my unlawful termination at UAB.

In short, Rob Riley has a nasty habit of violating the law and enriching himself at the expense of taxpayers. We will be laying out the whole story here at Legal Schnauzer.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Story of UAH Shootings Takes on Broader Dimensions

Coverage of the fatal shootings at the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) so far has focused on the crime itself and the background of the alleged perpetrator, neuroscientist Amy Bishop.

But we are seeing signs of a more complex story starting to emerge, one that includes a focus on the workplace environment at UAH--and the actions and inactions of University of Alabama officials.

A prominent UAH alum says the university should shoulder some of the blame. A senior faculty member in the UA System raises the specter of deeply flawed tenure processes, where some candidates are intentionally undermined. And a UAH student says Bishop had numerous admirers, who considered her an excellent teacher and inspiring scientist--and they petitioned the administration to keep her.

Perhaps the most startling statement comes from Samuel N. Parks, a former student-body president at UAH. In a letter to the editor titled "UAH Deserves Some Blame," Parks says he was inundated with calls and text messages in the moments after the February 12 shootings. Once his initial disbelief cleared, Parks apparently was not all that surprised that such a tragedy took place on the UAH campus:

I do not wish to divert responsibility for these heinous crimes away from the perpetrator, but I am compelled to admit the university's administration does share a modicum of the blame for fostering an environment that welcomes this type of tragedy. By routinely treating the faculty and staff as expendable livestock, and by regarding the students as blank checks ripe for cashing, the university has spawned an atmosphere of doubt, fear and animosity. Such conditions will always breed radical responses from the chronically oppressed.

The most unfortunate part of this event is that three innocent people died before we realized the deplorable working environment which permeates the university.

The "deplorable working environment which permeates the university"? Those are powerful words from a UAH insider. Perhaps its time to label Parks as "crazy."

Another "crazy" might be James D. Slack, a professor of government at the UA System's Birmingham campus (UAB). In an op-ed piece for The Birmingham News, Slack says the tenure process often is hopelessly flawed and shrouded in secrecy:

If the horrific murders at the University of Alabama in Huntsville are linked to biology professor Amy Bishop's tenure denial, the public might get a rare glimpse into the dynamics that determine permanent faculty status. Tenure, or the protection against firing without cause, typically involves a five-year process of reviews and, in the sixth year, a determination with avenues for appeal. Successful candidates gain property interests, while unsuccessful ones receive a terminal year of employment.

Slack seems to envision lawsuits that will open the books on what took place in Amy Bishop's tenure process. And Slack indicates that it's high time such an inquiry took place:

Good tenure standards and procedures assess quality, not just quantity, but measuring quality is always an elusive affair. Mistakes happen that devastate lives and careers, and sometimes they happen intentionally. Just as Bishop may find with the Alabama jury system, the tenure process may be flawed, but it's the best we've got.

Is it possible that the tenure-review committee intentionally shot down a worthy candidate for reasons that had nothing to do with her strengths or weaknesses as an academician? Sounds like James Slack would not have a hard time buying that.

We've heard a lot about Bishop's detractors. But The Huntsville Times reports that she also had quite a few admirers. One of those was Rena Webb, a graduate student in Bishop's Introduction to Neuroscience class. The Times reports:

Webb, the graduate student, wanted to be a part of cutting-edge research. When she learned that Bishop had been denied tenure at UAH, Webb appealed to her classmates. All 22 in neuroscience signed the petition to save Bishop's job.

That petition, dated Feb. 5, was mailed seven days before the shooting. It began: "Dr. Bishop is a brilliant and excellent instructor. She is very responsive to the students."

UAH officials reportedly had denied Bishop tenure in April 2009 and denied her appeal last November. Would they have revisited the issue based on the request of Bishop's neuroscience students. It seems unlikely, given what we are learning about the university's administration.

Samuel N. Parks, the former UAH student-body president, expresses a sentiment that we share:

The perpetrator should be prosecuted to the fullest extent. But we should not allow this lesson to pass quietly. It is time for wholesale change at UAH so the shootings of Feb. 12 are never repeated.

We would modify that only slightly. It is time for wholesale change throughout the University of Alabama System. And the scrutiny should start with the Board of Trustees, who are responsible for all three campuses and have helped foster an environment of dysfunction.

Also, we shouldn't just focus on the prevention of workplace violence. Thankfully, incidents such as the one in Huntsville are rare, and I suspect that will remain the case. But an absence of violence does not mean a workplace is healthy--or that an employer is following the law. Here at Legal Schnauzer, we've been writing for months about unlawful treatment of employees in the UA System--long before gunfire erupted at UAH.

I have communicated personally with probably a dozen or so current and former UA System employees who have solid reason for believing they've been wronged in the workplace. My guess is that none of them ever will come close to acting out in a violent fashion. But their stories still indicate that the University of Alabama has serious workplace issues that need to be addressed.

Parks hints that he wasn't all that surprised that such a tragedy took place under the UA banner. As a former employee in the UA System for 19 years, it's sad to say that I wasn't either.

Is the Obama DOJ Practicing Deceit in the Paul Minor Case?

The Barack Obama administration hardly has distinguished itself on matters of justice. With the latest news from the Paul Minor case in Mississippi, the Obama Department of Justice (DOJ) appears to be clueless and perhaps downright deceitful.

A report in the Jackson Clarion-Ledger indicates something still is seriously wrong with the U.S. attorney's office for the Southern District of Mississippi, even though it now is led on an interim basis by Obama appointee Don Burkhalter. Writes reporter Jimmie E. Gates:

Officials in the U.S. attorney's office for the Southern District of Mississippi have repeatedly said the office removed itself from the case of former Gulf Coast attorney Paul Minor and two former judges.
But last week, Ruth Morgan of Gulfport, an assistant U.S. attorney in that office, argued in court papers that former Chancery Judge Wes Teel should remain in prison until he is resentenced.

What gives? The office claims to have recused itself, but one of its attorneys clearly remains on the case. Is someone out of touch with reality on the Mississippi Coast? One legal observer in the state seems to think the answer is yes.

Philip W. Thomas, at MS Litigation Review, gets right to the point in a post titled "Burkhalter Looks Horrible in Paul Minor Recusal Flap." Writes Thomas:

For the life of me I can’t figure out why interim U.S. Attorney Don Burkhalter says that his office has recused itself from the Paul Minor judicial bribery case when it's clearly not true. Here is the relevant paragraph from Thursday’s Clarion-Ledger article on the subject:

But interim U.S. Attorney Don Burkhalter of the Southern District said his office is indeed recused from the case, with the exception of two attorneys. He said [Ruth] Morgan and Dave Fulcher are working with the Department of Justice on court filings in the trio's appeal, but he is not involved.

Talk about disgusting. Here you have an Obama appointee sounding just like George W. Bush appointee Leura Canary in the Middle District of Alabama. Canary, of course, claimed to have recused herself in the Don Siegelman case, only to turn it over to two of her lieutenants, Steve Feaga and Louis Franklin. Thanks to DOJ whistleblower Tamarah Grimes in Montgomery, Alabama, we now know that Canary didn't even recuse herself. Thomas isn't buying Burkhalter's nonsensical explanations:

Not knowing to quit when he is behind, Burkhalter digs his hole deeper:

"You don't see my signature on the motion," Burkhalter said.

If you don’t personally sign it then your office is not working on it? You know that is untrue don’t you? Since you are the U.S. Attorney, if anyone who works in the Southern District U.S. Attorney’s office—which includes Morgan and Fulcher—is working on it, then your office is working on it.

Federal public defender George Lucas’ comment is dead-on:

"It appears their perception of a recusal is different than mine."

I would add that their perception of recusal is different from anyone’s living in reality.

Burhalter is playing word games that make him look like a liar. Morgan and Fulcher are assistant U.S. Attorneys in Burkhalter’s office. If they are working on the case, then the office has not recused itself from the case.

Thomas goes on to point out the absurdity in Burkhalter's statements:

Saying that the office is recused—except for the two lawyers who have been assigned to the case—is a bizarre word game that reinforces negative stereotypes about politicians and lawyers. Most people would simply call it a lie. It would be like saying: “I don’t steal—except on Fridays.” The qualifier negates the statement.

Hiram Eastland, an attorney for Paul Minor, issued a statement about the shenanigans that are still going on in the DOJ:

The prosecution of Paul Minor was flawed from the beginning and reeked of political motivations as evidenced by this case being flagged by the Committee on the Judiciary of the House of Representatives in 2007 as one of the most glaring examples of prosecutorial misconduct by the Department of Justice.

Off and on throughout this case the U.S. Attorney's office has maintained it has recused itself from the case when it clearly has not. Recusal is a seminal issue in this case simply because–as we have seen from some charges being overturned and the fifth circuit repeatedly questioning key points in the case by requesting re-briefings on the matters–that an objective US Attorney’s office without agenda, would not have proceeded with such an obviously flawed case.

So, the case progresses, the US Attorney’s Office continues to flip-flop on the recusal issue, the appellate court has overturned the main charge that served as the underpinning of the entire prosecution, and yet Paul Minor begins his fourth year in prison.

Do Obama and his attorney general, Eric Holder, plan to sleepwalk for four years on justice issues? It's starting to look that way. Perhaps a few more electoral results like the one in Massachusetts will wake them up. By then, of course, it might be too late for this administration to accomplish much of anything.

You can check out Hiran Eastland's full statement below:

Paul Minor--Hiram Eastland Statement

Friday, February 19, 2010

What Role Did "Crazy" Comment Play In Shootings at UAH?

The story of last Friday's fatal shootings on the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) campus has taken a number of twists and turns, most of them focusing on the background of neuroscientist Amy Bishop, who has been charged in the case. But perhaps the most stunning development since news of the shootings first broke came in a report two days ago from The Chronicle of Higher Education.

An anonymous UAH faculty member, who served on Bishop's tenure committee, told the Chronicle that he had concerns about Bishop's mental health. He said that at least twice in official settings he had expressed the view that Bishop was "crazy." The Chronicle story hints that the faculty member's assessment played a role in the university's ultimate decision to deny Bishop tenure--and that apparently was the issue that sparked the shootings.

That a faculty member, who apparently has no credentials for assessing anyone's mental health, would make such a statement is unfortunate. That UAH officials might have given it any weight, effectively ruining Amy Bishop's academic teaching career, is appalling. For that, we all are losers because Bishop had shown that she is a scientist of considerable promise.

It is not known what discipline the anonymous faculty member practices. But given that he served on a tenure-review committee, it appears that he held senior status. The Chronicle article states that several of Bishop's colleagues found her to be strange, but one veteran said she was not the strangest academic he had encountered in a long career.

I know from my own experience of working in higher education for 19 years that if every "strange" or "crazy" person was denied tenure, there would be few full professors on university campuses.

One colleague, however, thought he found something dark about Bishop. Reporters Thomas Bartlett and Robin Wilson write:

Another professor, however, has long been wary of Ms. Bishop. He asked The Chronicle not to use his name because, considering recent events, he is worried about his own safety. The professor, who was a member of Ms. Bishop's tenure-review committee, said he first became concerned about Ms. Bishop's mental health "about five minutes after I met her."

It's comforting to know that this professor was confident in his ability to make snap judgments. And he was so confident that he shared his views in an official capacity, during a process that would essentially make or break Amy Bishop's academic career. The Chronicle reports:

The professor said that during a meeting of the tenure-review committee, he expressed his opinion that Ms. Bishop was "crazy." Word of what he said made it back to Ms. Bishop. In September, after her tenure denial, she filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging gender discrimination. The professor's remark was going to be used as possible evidence in that case.

Did UAH officials take this snap judgment seriously? Oh, yes:

It was then, the professor said, that the associate provost of the university, John Severn, came to him and asked whether he truly believed what he had said about Ms. Bishop. (Reached by phone, Mr. Severn declined to comment.) The professor was given the opportunity to back off the claim, or to say it was a flippant remark. But he didn't. "I said she was crazy multiple times and I stand by that," the professor said. "This woman has a pattern of erratic behavior. She did things that weren't normal."

On what did the professor base his assessment? Not much:

No one incident stands out, the professor said, but a series of interactions caused him to think she was "out of touch with reality." Once, he said, she "went ballistic" when a grant application being filed on her behalf was turned in late. The professor said he avoided Ms. Bishop whenever he saw her, on or off the campus. When he spotted her not long ago at a Barnes & Noble bookstore, he made sure he was out of sight until she had left the store. He even skipped a faculty retreat because he knew she would be there.

The professor makes clear that he never told university officials he thought Bishop was potentially violent. He says officials appeared to mainly be concerned about legal fallout of a possible lawsuit by Bishop.

So what did they do? They effectively fired Bishop, even though her record--as we know it at this point--indicates she was a productive researcher who probably met the criteria for tenure.

Here is "management" as it apparently is practiced in the University of Alabama System: A faculty member makes a grossly inappropriate comment that gets back to its target and causes you to worry about a lawsuit. Your response is to effectively fire the person who was victimized by the comment.

Makes a lot of sense, doesn't it?

Now three people are dead, and if it's legal fallout UAH officials were concerned about, they will have plenty of that in the weeks and months ahead.

I worked in the University of Alabama System for 19 years--and was the victim of a wrongful termination that currently is under EEOC investigation--so it takes a pretty stupid administrative act to shock me. But this latest news from UAH leaves even me feeling numb.

The story does not clearly state this, but it appears that the anonymous professor's assessment might have been the deciding factor in denying Amy Bishop tenure. It remains unclear when Bishop's appeal was completed and a final decision was reached.

The way I read the Chronicle story, it appears the university gave considerable weight to the professor's assessment in the original finding to deny tenure for Bishop. Then it seems the university might have been thinking about reversing course and granting tenure, possibly causing a representative from the provost's office to go back to the professor to see if he was serious about what he had said. This would fit with statements from Bishop's husband, James Anderson, that his wife had won her appeal at the faculty-review level, but the provost ultimately overruled.

Again, the timeline on all of this remains unclear. But it looks like the professor's willingness to repeat his "crazy" comment might have been the final blow for Amy Bishop's tenure hopes.

If the administration was leaning toward denying the tenure appeal, I can't imagine why Associate Provost John Severn would have consulted the professor. It would seem pointless to do that.

Regardless of the timeline, the ignorance displayed by UAH in this situation is mind boggling? I can only try to illustrate by encouraging others to put themselves in this position: Imagine that one person, with an uninformed and unprofessional comment, has the power to cost you your job and put a permanent black mark on your career. Imagine that you have a spouse and perhaps children who depend on your ability to make a living. Imagine that the person who makes this comment might not actually think you are "crazy"--he might not like your gender, your politics, your religion, your skin color; he might be jealous of your accomplishments.

It has been widely reported that Bishop was a "Harvard liberal." Was the anonymous professor a conservative who detested her political views? Was her tendency to vote for Democrats what really caused the professor to consider her "crazy"?

Then imagine that your superiors actually listen to this individual and give his opinion considerable weight regarding your future.

Scary, isn't it?

If the anonymous professor had legitimate grounds for thinking Amy Bishop might be a threat to herself or others, there were other avenues to take. He could have contacted human resources, the legal office, campus police--the list goes on.

My understanding about the tenure process, and I worked in higher education for a long time, is that it's supposed to be about a junior faculty member's capabilities in three areas--teaching, research, and service. In many instances, I'm told, service carries almost no weight, teaching carries some weight, and research carries a whole lot of weight. Research, which is particularly important in the sciences, was Amy Bishop's strong suit--and that leads us to believe that she almost certainly met the criteria for tenure.

I've seen no indication that the tenure process is supposed to be an opportunity for uninformed and unqualified individuals to question a candidate's mental health. And it certainly is not a time for administrators to allow such individuals to sway life-changing decisions.

If Amy Bishop had become a threat to others down the road--an inclination that even our anonymous professor says he did not see--the university could have taken appropriate action at the time. Tenure is not a free pass to bully, harass, or harm others. We've seen no reports that Amy Bishop ever harmed or threatened to harm anyone during the roughly six years she lived in Huntsville, before the anonymous professor's comment and the ultimate denial of tenure.

Despite that, we now have three people dead, two critically injured, and Amy Bishop's career and life are in tatters.

What might the loss of Amy Bishop's productivity mean to society? Numerous reports have indicated that she invented a new kind of cell incubator, which is touted as a major advance over old-style Petri dishes. And what might this mean in everyday terms? Here is how The Chronicle of Higher Education describes it:

Its use could drive scientific advances against nerve-related ailments—such as Lou Gehrig's disease, Alzheimer's disease, and stroke—because nerve cells don't survive more than a day or two in a Petri dish, said Richard E. Reeves, chairman of Prodigy Biosystems, which is making and marketing the device.

An Alabama university nurtured a scientist who had made major strides toward developing treatments for catastrophic nerve disorders that effect huge numbers of Americans. Then an Alabama university screwed it up, and now her services have been lost--with probably 25 years or so left in her academic career.

All, apparently, because word of a colleague's unfounded remark about her mental health got back to Bishop. And UAH wanted to avoid legal fallout.

How pathetically, and sadly, ironic is that?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Did Mismanagement Lead to Alabama Campus Shootings?

Amy Bishop, the neuroscientist who is charged in last week's fatal shootings on the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) campus, has a number of troubling incidents in her past.

News reports, so far, have focused on Bishop's actions and her background--with little scrutiny directed toward administrators at the University of Alabama.

Based on what we've learned about the UAH shootings, and on my own experience as a 19-year employee in the UA system, that needs to change. Mismanagement, particularly related to Bishop's denial of tenure, almost certainly played a major role in a tragedy that left three people dead and three others wounded, two critically.

By now, many readers probably know about the mysterious shooting death of Bishop's brother, the suspicious mail bomb sent to one of Bishop's former professors at Harvard University, and the altercation with a fellow customer at a Massachusetts pancake house. All of these help paint the picture of Bishop as a troubled individual.

But we also have a picture of Bishop as a successful researcher, caring teacher, promising entrepreneur, devoted wife and mother. We've seen no reported signs of violent behavior during her time in Huntsville.

It seems undisputed that Bishop has a prickly personality, one that can rub some people the wrong way. But what transformed her into an alleged mass murderer? What role did UAH administrators--and the overall environment in the UA system--play in this transformation?

Our guess is that mismanagement played a substantial role in the Huntsville tragedy. Several reports have indicated that the victims' family members have raised questions about Bishop's hiring, why her past troubles were not unearthed in a background check. That raises the possibility of future lawsuits against UA for negligent hiring.

Experts have said, however, that even the most thorough background check probably would not have found the incidents in Bishop's past. Her brother's shooting, rightly or wrongly, was officially ruled an accident. She and her husband were among several people questioned about the mail bomb, with no charges ever being brought. And charges over the restaurant altercation were eventually dismissed.

If the public and the victims' families want to see where responsibility is more likely to lie, they should look at the actions of UA's administrators long after Bishop was hired--particularly as her candidacy for tenure drew near.

Our guess is that liability for UA should rest with negligent (even wanton) supervision, rather than negligent hiring. Our guess is that Bishop's defense lawyers eventually will be able to make a strong case that gross mismanagement drove her to insanity.

The federal government deserves scrutiny, as well. Discriminatory practices have been evident in the UA system for quite some time; we were writing about them here at Legal Schnauzer long before Amy Bishop became a household name--and they go well beyond my personal case at UA's campus in Birmingham (UAB). (See here, here, here, and here.)

Why should the feds be held accountable? The UA system receives hundreds of millions of dollars every year in federal research grants. Those funds are predicated on a commitment to conduct business in a lawful and nondiscriminatory manner. But it has been clear for at least two to four years that UA does not live up to that commitment.

We've written extensively about the case of Seema Gupta, a woman from India who was one of at least four international trainees to leave UAB's family-medicine residency program in Huntsville after making claims of widespread discrimination. Gupta filed a federal lawsuit, and a jury found that she indeed was the victim of discrimination based on her Hindu religion. Edward Stellmacher, a former resident from Germany, has a similar lawsuit pending.

This doesn't even include my case, which is being investigated by the EEOC, or the cases of at least three veteran UAB faculty members who have combined experience of roughly 80 years. And I've lost track of the number of current and former employees who have contacted me, because of my blog, and told horror stories about their experiences with UAB managers.

The record, just from UA's Birmingham campus, is clear: The university regularly engages in discriminatory practices. But has the federal government intervened? To our knowledge, the answer is no.

UA's federal funding should have been frozen some time ago, while an investigation of alleged discrimination was conducted. But the federal government apparently has done nothing, giving UA managers and administrators a free pass to abuse employees and violate civil-rights laws.

Did Amy Bishop experience abuse in the workplace, particularly regarding her candidacy for tenure? Our guess is that she did.

Tenure decisions are based on a junior faculty member's performance in three areas--research, teaching, and service. As the old phrase "publish or perish" implies, the research component often is far and away the most important factor.

All informed, objective accounts that we've seen indicate Amy Bishop was a top-notch researcher. One of the most insightful pieces on the Huntsville tragedy comes from Eric Fleischauer, of the Decatur Daily. He quotes Eric Seemann, a psychology professor who was one of Bishop's colleagues at UAH. Writes Fleischauer:

Despite her excellent research ability, Seemann was not surprised she struggled to obtain tenure.

“Amy was kind of hard to get along with,” he said. “I’ve talked to people who said, ‘Wow, she can be really arrogant,’ or be really headstrong. I knew that to be true. But at the same time she was brilliant. She was really one of UAH’s rising research stars. People I know in biological sciences would say, ‘She’s a great researcher, but she’s lousy to work with.’ ”

She was brilliant and she knew it.

“At one meeting I was with Amy, she was complaining to a group of us. She said she was denied tenure not because she was a lousy researcher — she’s not, quite the opposite — and not because she didn’t have good classes, she believed she did — I think some might say otherwise — but because she was accused of being arrogant, aloof and superior. And she said, ‘I am.’

“She said, ‘I am arrogant, I am aloof and I am superior in my attitude. But it doesn’t mean I don’t want to get along with people.’ ”

Reports about Bishop's teaching ability are a mixed bag. Some students rated her highly, finding her to be insightful, effective, and caring. Others complained, saying she lectured mostly from the textbook, gave unfair tests, and had a distant manner.

But Bishop's record as a researcher, alone, indicates that she probably met the criteria for tenure. UAH recently received an Area Research Enhancement Award (AREA) from the National Institues of Health, a grant designed to promote research at universities that have not traditionally received much NIH support. Who brought home that major grant? Amy Bishop.

Another insightful article comes from Shaila Dewan, of The New York Times. She quotes Bishop's husband, Dr. James Anderson, as saying that his wife had won the first round of her appeal on the tenure issue. It appears that a faculty review committee disagreed with the decision to deny tenure, but UAH Provost Vistasp Kharbari upheld it and President David Williams signed off on that final ruling. Writes Dewan:

Mr. Anderson said that months ago, the university administration overruled a successful appeal of the decision to deny Dr. Bishop tenure in spring 2009.

“She won her appeal,” he said, “and the provost canned it.”

The university has declined to elaborate on the details of Dr. Bishop’s tenure application, saying only that she was denied last spring and that she could stay at the university only until the end of this academic year. Even if a faculty member successfully appeals a tenure denial, the final decision rests with the administration.

The Huntsville Times' Lee Roop picked up on that theme. Writes Roop:

Bishop's husband, Jim Anderson, said Monday that Bishop won her appeal at one level based on "inadequate review" of the dossier, but that Kharbari "turned that down."

Administrators overriding the findings of review committees seems to be an ugly pattern at UA. I know of at least two other similar situations:

* In my case, UAB's own employee grievance committee found that I should not have been terminated. I sat through the entire four-hour grievance hearing, and there was no evidence that I should have been disciplined at all. Based on the findings, the committee apparently did not believe a number of statements from my former supervisor, Pam Powell. And yet, UAB's HR director at the time, Cheryl Locke, ignored her own committee and upheld my termination. UAB President Carol Garrison signed off on that.

* In the Seema Gupta case, a rogue program director named Dr. Allan Wilke apparently caused many of the problems at the family-medicine residency program in Huntsville. Wilke was demoted after Gupta left the program and filed a lawsuit; he now teaches at a school in The Bahamas. But Wilke didn't leave until he had badly damaged the careers of multiple residents. In Gupta's case, Wilke non-renewed her after the second year of a three-year program, even though the head of the internal medicine program said she already was performing at a third-year level. Gupta appealed and a review committee found that she should not have been non-renewed. She returned to the program, and Wilke promptly placed her on probation--even though the review committee had made no such recommendation. That caused Dr. Gupta to leave the program, in what appears to be a classic case of "constructive discharge" under the law.

So why would UAH administrators deny Amy Bishop tenure--even though her department chair supported her, even though a faculty-review committee reportedly supported her, and even though she brought home one of the most important research grants in recent UAH history?

A report yesterday from The Chronicle of Higher Education shines some light on that question. It indicates that one fellow faculty member, who served on Bishop's tenure-review committee, described her as "crazy."

Is it possible that the opinion of one person, who perhaps had zero credentials for judging someone's mental health, overrode the findings of numerous other individuals--plus a documented record of substantial research success?

Is it possible that the UAH administration allowed the opinion of one person to largely ruin the academic career of a promising faculty member?

Where were the University of Alabama Board of Trustees, and Chancellor Malcolm Portera, when all of this was taking place? Where were the system's supposed professionals in human resources? Where were the lawyers from the system's Office of Counsel?

All of these people are supposed to make sure that procedures are followed and employees are treated in a fair and lawful fashion. They failed in the Seema Gupta case, they so far have failed in my case, and they clearly failed in the Amy Bishop case--with tragic consequences.

Why could all of these people, with their multiple advanced degrees, not ask a simple question: "Why are we taking this woman--who has a stellar research record and the support of her department chair, a faculty-review committee, and many of her students--and denying her tenure?"

Why couldn't somebody ask this simple question: "Are we certain that this woman, who has a doctorate from Harvard University, can't cut it at UAH?"

Many unanswered questions remain about the Huntsville shootings. But we know this much for sure: Amy Bishop, for all of her peculiarities and difficulties in the past, was keenly aware of what tenure meant. Colleagues have said that, unlike most faculty members at UAH, she spoke openly about the process, both before and after her candidacy was denied. She surely knew what the standards were and that she met them.

Amy Bishop probably realized that she had played the game the way it was supposed to be played, right up until the end, and still she was being cheated. And something inside of her snapped. Numerous lives now are ruined as a result.

The University of Alabama has a clear recent record of treating capable and diligent employees in an inhumane fashion. Legal Schnauzer readers have been reading about such treatment, of me and many others, long before gunfire erupted in Huntsville.

The University of Alabama's dismal record on employment issues is a matter of public record. I can reach across my desk right now and lay my fingers on numerous documents that prove it. And yet people in authority--judges, lawyers, government officials--turn a blind eye. The mainstream press, so far, has turned a blind eye--and who knows if reporters ever will ask the questions that should be asked.

Our guess is that if Amy Bishop had been granted tenure--and the record indicates she had earned it--she would have gone on to a solid, maybe even a distinguished, academic career. She might have hurt a few feelings along the way. But we doubt that any hurtful acts on her part would have gone beyond that.

On the surface, Amy Bishop is responsible for the UAH shootings. She alone apparently pulled the trigger, and under criminal law, she alone will probably pay a severe price.

But under the surface, there are bigger issues that all of us should ponder. For months now, I have been writing about the inhumane and unlawful treatment of employees in the University of Alabama System. I know people are reading those posts, but I've seen no sign that anyone has taken action. Mostly I've seen signs that the legal and journalism professions in Alabama are doing everything in their power to cover up the problems.

We know, by the way, that Alabama is not the only place with such issues. On February 8, I wrote a post titled "Are Universities Breeding Grounds for Discrimination," outlining multiple cases where institutions of higher learning have mistreated employees.

Four days later, gunfire went off on a campus in Huntsville, Alabama.

Can anyone draw the connection? Does anyone have the courage to hold higher-education officials accountable?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

University of Louisville Fraud Case Has Connections to Alabama

A professor at the University of Louisville has pleaded guilty to fraud-related charges and agreed to serve 63 months in federal prison. The case has alarming ties to Alabama, with implications for a university president, the governor, and the governor's son.

Robert Felner, a former dean of the college of education at Louisville, faced nine federal charges, including money laundering, mail fraud, and tax evasion. He agreed to pay more than $2 million in cash and property as part of a restitution deal.

The Felner case reflects poorly on the leadership of current UAB president Carol Garrison, according to a leading commentator on higher-education issues. Garrison had been provost at Louisville before taking the UAB position in 2002. And we have shown that UAB, under Garrison's administration, has some ugly ties to Governor Bob Riley's son, Homewood attorney Rob Riley.

Here is how the Louisville Courier-Journal describes the case that led to the Felner plea agreement:

The agreement comes close to ending a case that began in spring 2008, when the University of Louisville reported suspected fraud to federal officials. The investigation involved multiple federal agencies, including the U.S. Secret Service, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Internal Revenue Service.

Following Friday's hearing, UofL spokesman Mark Hebert said, “Mr. Felner's guilty plea will prompt few tears on the University of Louisville campus.”

“An extraordinarily talented man has violated the trust of UofL administrators, faculty and staff and, perhaps most importantly, taxpayers. It's time for Mr. Felner to be held accountable for his criminal acts and we're glad that's happening,” he said. “This will close the book on Mr. Felner as far as we're concerned.”

It does not, however, close the book on a leadership style that led to the Felner case, according to Marc Bousquet of howtheuniversityworks.com. In fact, that leadership style simply has moved south to Birmingham, where former Louisville provost Carol Garrison now resides as president.

Here is what Bousquet wrote when Felner was indicted in 2008. It was part of his annual "Turkey at the Top Award," which goes to those who have exhibited poor leadership in higher education:

Turkey at the top is always intensely competitive. This year’s contenders included first runner-up Robert Felner, the U of Louisville dean indicted for conspiracy to commit fraud, money laundering, and tax evasion in what the feds allege are repeated acts of embezzlement of grant monies amounting to over $2 million.

Crimes were not the only problem with Felner at Louisville. Writes Bousquet:

Not content with these escapades, Felner racked up 31 grievances and complaints in his 5 years at the “U of L” but was consistently backed against the faculty by upper administration, especially Provost Shirley Willihnganz and President James Ramsey, who spent extravagantly on lawyers and consultants to prop up his administration despite what numerous accounts (including this one and others that I’ve privately confirmed) termed an “onslaught” of complaints from faculty, staff and students alleging “unsavory behavior, ranging from sexual harassment to workplace intimidation.”

Let's digest that for a moment: There were more than 31 grievances and complaints against Felner--from faculty, staff, and students. The complaints ranged from charges of sexual harassment to workplace intimidation. And yet, the Louisville leadership tolerated that behavior.

According to Bousquet, the current president and provost were merely following a template that Carol Garrison helped create at Louisville:

This pair continued the authoritarian regime of wall-to-wall administrative solidarity and secrecy established by their high-living predecessors, former provost Carol Garrison and former president John Shumaker—later found sharing lavish hotel rooms and limousines at public expense, while jetting to trysts in the University of Tennessee’s private plane.

So what do we learn from Marc Bousquet? That Carol Garrison was part of a despotic, secretive regime that still is leaving repercussions at the University of Louisville. And as we have shown in repeated posts at Legal Schnauzer (see here and here), Garrison has established a similar regime at UAB.

It's interesting that the Felner case at Louisville only came to a head once federal investigators started looking at fraud. As we have shown in numerous posts (see here and here), fraud in various forms has reared its ugly head at UAB, both before and after Garrison's arrival.

Will Carol Garrison eventually meet the same fate as Robert Felner. If the Obama Justice Department were to train its sights on UAB, it probably would uncover fraud that makes the Felner case pale in comparison.

Some of the fraud almost certainly involves Rob Riley, son of Governor Bob Riley. And guess what? Rob Riley just happens to have close business ties to several UAB physician/faculty members--and federal court documents indicate they have been involved in some serious hanky-panky with federal Medicare dollars.

Carol Garrison, Bob Riley, and Rob Riley--that's quite a trio. Is the Obama Justice Department watching? You can rest assured that we are watching here at Legal Schnauzer--and much more reporting is coming on an unholy alliance that is built largely on fraud.

Much, much more is coming on Carol Garrison and her trysts with John Shumaker--at taxpayer expense.

Carol Garrison left fraud and sleaze in her wake at Louisville. It's still brewing at UAB.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Was Monkey Business Involved With Alabama Supreme Court's Bingo Ruling?

Court documents indicate that someone connected with the Alabama Supreme Court improperly communicated with Governor Bob Riley's Anti-Gambling Task Force regarding a bingo ruling, according to a report in the Montgomery Independent.

Lawyers for VictoryLand were surprised by a citation in a motion to vacate an injunction that had halted raids by the governor's task force at the Macon County facility. The citation was to a case styled Surles v. Ashland, and that was curious because the decision in Surles had not been released at the time the task force's motion was filed.

The episode suggests that someone at the Alabama Supreme Court was working in conjunction with the governor's office. This would not be the first time we've seen reports about possible improper communications between Riley's office and the Supreme Court. It also is not the first time we've seen signs that Alabama's highest court is fully capable of acting in a corrupt fashion.

Bob Martin, editor and publisher of the Independent, says the task force motion was time stamped at 1:55:15 on January 29. The Surles decision was not released until 2:04 on January 29. Writes Martin:

According to Supreme Court Rules and policies no one, including attorneys in a case are permitted to see or be told the details of a decision other than the justices and the court staff. Although attorneys for both sides are notified the result of a case two hours prior to its release, they are not told the details and lawyers with whom I talked said it would take clairvoyant skills for a lawyer to be confident enough to cite a case by only having knowledge about which side won or lost.

Martin noted previous signs of apparent collusion between the governor's office and the high court:

This is not the first time in the governor's bingo war that someone at the court has been accused of making an improper exparte communication with Riley or his lawyers.

A previous matter involved a judge assignment in a case brought by the governor and his task force on gambling against an electronic bingo operation at White Hall in Lowndes County.

Chief Justice Cobb had appointed Jefferson County Circuit Judge Robert Vance to take the case primarily because he was already handling a similar matter in Walker County.

Last August this newspaper received information that on or about July 29, 2009, the governor, a party to the lawsuit, placed a telephone call to one or more of the justices, urging them to overrule Cobb and remove Vance from the case.

The information we received was that the phone call was while the governor was in Washington and that one of the lawyers hired to advise his gambling task force, may have been with the governor at the time.

A communication with a judge in a case by a party or a lawyer for one side without the lawyers representing other parties being present violates all kinds of judicial ethics rules and laws.

That is alarming, and so is the fact that the governor always seems to prevail on gambling issues before the Alabama Supreme Court. Consider the case styled John M. Tyson, Jr. v. Macon County Greyhound Park, Inc., d/b/a VictoryLand, which was released on February 4. The majority in that case found that Macon Circuit Court does not have subject-matter jurisdiction over an action seeking to enjoin the enforcement of criminal laws of the State of Alabama. That decision opened the door for future raids at VictoryLand.

But a dissent authored by Justice Thomas A. Woodall, and joined by Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb, makes clear that the decision in Tyson conflicts with a number of previous appellate rulings. Writes Woodall:

In recent years, Alabama appellate courts have exercised jurisdiction in cases distinguishable in no material respect from this case. In those cases, not a single Judge or Justice has questioned the subject-matter jurisdiction of the trial court. The Court's departure today from that practice is, in my opinion, unnecessary and, under the facts of this case, unfair to Macon County Greyhound Park, Inc., d/b/a VictoryLand ("VictoryLand"), whose duly licensed bingo operation is at risk of irreparable harm because of a difference of opinion between the Macon County law-enforcement officials and the commander of Governor Riley's Task Force on Illegal Gambling, John M. Tyson, Jr. Therefore, I respectfully dissent.

Woodall even cites a case where Tyson, acting as district attorney of Mobile County, was granted the same kind of declaratory relief that VictoryLand was seeking in the recent matter:

The majority does not discuss State ex rel. Tyson v. Ted's Game Enterprises, 893 So. 2d 355 (Ala. Civ. App. 2002), [*14] aff'd, Ex parte Ted's Game Enterprises, 893 So. 2d 376 (Ala. 2004). In that case, it was Tyson, then acting as district attorney of Mobile County, who invoked the civil jurisdiction of the Mobile Circuit Court by seeking "a judgment declaring that . . . machines owned and distributed by Ted's [were] illegal 'slot machines' and 'gambling devices' under Alabama's criminal gambling statutes." Tyson, 893 So. 2d at 358. In its opinion, which rendered a judgment in favor of the State, the Court of Civil Appeals held that "the State's right to seek a declaratory judgment with respect to [such] matters" was "particularly appropriate" given "the invasive power the State wields when it seeks to enforce statutory provisions against its citizens." Tyson, 893 So. 2d at 362. In so holding, the court was well aware that "[t]he trial court's entry of a judgment adverse to the State [would], if not reversed . . . , have an adverse impact on how the State enforces the criminal gambling statutes as to other machines." Tyson, 893 So. 2d at 362 n.5. I am aware of no authority that would allow one party to a dispute to seek a resolution of that dispute through a declaratory-judgment action, while denying that same [*15] right to the other party to the dispute. In other words, if Tyson had that right, so does VictoryLand.

Woodall seems to be pointing out that the Alabama Supreme Court is willing to overlook its own precedent--when Gov. Bob Riley wants it to.

None of this is a surprise to us. We've written extensively about corruption in Alabama's Republican-dominated appellate courts. (See here and here.) I've seen in my own cases how Alabama appellate courts will ignore their own procedures and precedents when it is politically expedient to do so.

Not only do our appellate courts generate unlawful rulings, but we now have direct evidence that indicates the Supreme Court is colluding with the governor's office on matters of significant public interest.

Is there any reason to believe that justice is being done in the Alabama Supreme Court's rulings on electronic bingo? We sure don't see one.

Is there reason to believe that the governor's office is interfering with actions of the Alabama Supreme Court, making a mockery of the notion of separation of powers in our state? The answer to that question clearly is yes.

Raising the Specter of Bob Riley and Federal Crimes

Has Alabama Governor Bob Riley been involved in one or more quid pro quo deals that would represent violations of federal law?

An Alabama journalist raised that question in a compelling letter to the editor, filled with facts and solid analysis--but you aren't likely to read the letter in a mainstream newspaper. Phil Fleming, who has worked as a photographer and broadcast journalist in Alabama and New York City, submitted the letter for publications in our statewide dailies. They apparently consider the topic too hot to handle and have not run the letter.

Glynn Wilson, of Locust Fork News & Journal, performed a valuable public service by running the letter in its entirety. We are pleased to follow up by spotlighting a letter that, in a few short paragraphs, gets to the heart of a matter that has been largely ignored in Alabama for the seven-plus years of the Riley administration. Writes Fleming:

Bob Riley must explain to the people of Alabama why he received a specific $500,000 campaign contribution from disgraced lobbyists Jack Abramoff and Michael Scanlon in his 2002 campaign for governor.

Abramoff and Scanlon sent the funds to the Republican Governor’s Association, which then added an additional $100,000 dollars. That $600,000 amount was deposited directly to Riley’s campaign account.

Fleming quickly shows how facts tie Riley to a national scandal for which he never has been held accountable:

Let’s review the facts, all easily found posted online.

Abramoff and Scanlon received a total of $66 million dollars from six Indian tribes. Among the recipients of this money included Riley, former National Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed and Texas Congressman Tom Delay.

The Abramoff/Scanlon agenda during that election year was to block gambling in Texas and Alabama, which benefited the Louisiana Coushatta Tribe and the Mississippi Choctaw Tribe. They were successful.

Abramoff and Scanlon pleaded guilty to corruption conspiracies, Delay has been in legal limbo with pending criminal charges and a lot of hot air gets floated about who is supporting gambling and who isn’t.

Alabamians have been focusing recently on who does and does not support electronic bingo and other forms of gambling in the state. But that obscures the larger issue, Fleming writes:

One of the most fascinating situations involves some $850,000 dollars that Reed sent to John Giles, then-president of The Christian Coalition of Alabama to block gambling in Alabama. Reed received $4.2 million dollars directly from Abramoff/Scanlon. That happened during election year 2002, and both men had to resign in the end.

I’ve followed this closely for years, and believe Bob Riley owes us an explanation about that specific net $500,000 dollar contribution he received from Abramoff and Scanlon, both now convicted felons. There is online email correspondence between Abramoff/Scanlon making reference to Riley, so it should be easy to prove a quid pro quo existed.

An alleged quid pro quo was at the heart of the Don Siegelman prosecution. But Fleming says no one has taken a serious look at Riley's actions that have the appearance of true "something for something" deals--involving millions of dollars:

Michael Scanlon worked for Riley when he was a Congressman. He also worked for Congressman Tom Delay. Just “connect the dots.” Delay was indicted by a Texas grand jury, in 2005. To this day, the case has not been brought to trial.

In the end, I predict we’ll see this is not about gambling. The real issue is about money for results in politics, or quid pro quo.

Those of us in Alabama all remember how Don Siegelman and Richard Scrushy were convicted for something similar. With the U.S. Justice Department ranking Alabama as the fourth most corrupt state in the nation, the people need and deserve a transparent explanation.

Will the mainstream press in this state investigate? Or will they get beaten to the truth by the Web Press, again?

The Web press, indeed, is on the story. But this issue might eventually test the mettle of the Obama Justice Department. Riley has avoided scrutiny, so far, largely because the DOJ was run by his fellow Republicans who were loyal to the George W. Bush administration. They were not about to shine a spotlight on the shady transactions of a GOP governor who was a strong Bush supporter.

But the game, at least in theory, has changed. Obama appointees eventually will be in place at most Justice Department outposts, including in Alabama. Will they be inclined to examine a Riley administration that has not been particularly adept at covering its ugly tracks?

Sounds like the subject for another letter from Phil Fleming.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Alabama Jury Awards $2.7 Million in Sexual-Harassment Case

A Georgia-based security company had multiple opportunities to address widespread complaints of sexual harassment against a district manager. But U.S. Security Associates Inc. apparently did not take the complaints seriously, and a federal jury in Birmingham found that the company should pay--to the tune of $2.7 million in damages.

Jamie Marks, of Leeds, Alabama, said Chris Hargrove repeatedly propositioned her for sex or inappropriately touched her. On one occasion, Hargrove masturbated in front of her. Marks' complaints, however, fell on deaf ears.

This all hits close to home here at Legal Schnauzer. I went through roughly five months of age-based harassment at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). When I finally told my supervisor that I was tired of it, and I'd had enough--and then officially complained to her superior and to human resources--I was soon placed on administrative leave and then fired.

How clueless can management be these days? The answer, based on the Jamie Marks case and my own experience, is "very."

Consider my experience at UAB, which I've written about extensively. I had known my supervisor, Pam Powell, for pretty much the entire 19 years I was at UAB and worked successfully under her for 12 years. But in the early to middle part of 2007, Powell informed our staff that she planned to recommend a coworker with about 20 years less experience than me as her replacement when she retired in two or three years. (The young coworker also had about 20 years less experience than one of my female colleagues.)

I didn't complain because I figured UAB would hire an external candidate when the time came anyway. But with me being 51 years old and in a protected class due to my age, I was a potential legal impediment to Powell's plans. I had never received anything but positive performance reviews from Powell, but suddenly I could do almost nothing right in her eyes.

When I turned in a vacation-request form, it was a problem. My daily timekeeping wasn't up to snuff. Projects I had successfully managed for years became a concern.

Powell finally violated UAB policy by giving me a written warning, and that's when figured I had to do something. I asked for a meeting with Powell's superior, Dale Turnbough, who clearly had no clue about Powell's plans for the future of our office. I told Turnbough that I wasn't concerned about what might happen down the road, but I was concerned that I was facing harassment and discrimination based on my age right then.

Turnbough assured me she would take care of the problem and even encouraged me to go through the formal HR grievance process. Roughly three weeks later, in about as obvious a case of retaliation as you can imagine, Turnbough handed me my termination letter.

Now consider the Jamie Marks case. Alicia Haynes, Marks' attorney, says 15 other women have been identified as victims of sexual harassment at the company. Another lawsuit is pending in Birmingham federal court with six plaintiffs.

"There was a level of arrogance on the part of the company," Haynes said. "They weren't going to do anything about (Hargrove)."

Instead, the company tried to discredit the women who came forward. Apparently, that strategy failed big time at trial.

A level of arrogance? I would say that's an excellent way to describe the "management" at UAB. Time will tell if the university, funded largely by state and federal taxpayer dollars, will be held accountable in my case and several others that are pending.

The Jamie Marks verdict should give clueless managers something to think about. But who knows if they are smart enough to pay attention?

Why Do Cats and Captions Make Us Laugh Out Loud?

How can one picture of a cat, with a caption written in an almost indecipherable "language," be funnier than many two-hour movies that are billed as "comedies"?

I've been asking myself that question after stumbling upon an "LOL cats" photo at icanhascheezburger.com that is a true gem. The picture/caption combo is so perfect in its execution--and beautiful in its simplicity--that I want to preserve it for posterity here at Legal Schnauzer. Five days after discovering this little slice of comic heaven, it still cracks me up every time I think about it.

We'll ponder why this mini masterpiece strikes such a chord, but first let's give it a look:

funny pictures of cats with captions
see more Lolcats and funny pictures

OK, I'm chuckling again. And believe me, that has special value when you spend as much time as I do dealing with, and writing about, legal headaches.

Like most classic comedy, this is a mix of the familiar and the unfamiliar. Anyone who's ever had a cat, knows that many felines have a fondness for the bedroom. One of the first things Mrs. Schnauzer and I see most every morning are Baxter and Chloe, our brother-and-sister Tonkinese combo, curled up at the foot of our bed. In fact, I can even imagine Baxter, our household's "Dennis the Menace," messing around with buttons on an alarm clock.

The look on the cat's face is priceless--a familiar blend of curiosity and self-satisfaction. And the use of strange spelling--"elebenty" for 11 a.m.--gives the scene a childhood innocence.

What is unfamiliar about the scene, what gives it a comic punch? Why, the notion that a cat would keep up with our affairs and even try to help us out by ensuring that we get extra rest. Who knew that a cat--the very picture of aloofness and "above it all" attitude--could be so thoughtful?

But then, with the clock turned just so, we can see that it's already way past "elebenty a.m.," and the cats "hoomin" has missed his big presentation.

The kicker comes when the scene brings us back to the familiar: The cat has no sense of time! Who understands less about the passage of time than a cat? And our little black and white fellow will never understand why his attempt to be helpful is destined to go unappreciated.

"No need to thanks," he says.

Oh, I love it. And it makes me want to give Baxter and Chloe an extra hug or two. I can't count how many times they've made us laugh or smile while we've been in the midst of handling the legal wreckage caused by sheer human meanness. Because I have no job--and thus, no big presentations to give--I value our kitty kats even more.

Unlike a dog, Baxter and Chloe don't seem to understand why we value their companionship so--especially in these difficult times.

They just look up at us with big blue eyes as if to say, "No need to thanks."

Maybe I treasure this photo not just because it's funny, but because it says something hopeful about humankind. As long as some people value their pets--and take the time to put pictures and captions together in amusing ways--surely there is hope for us still.