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Friday, April 30, 2010

Is Oil Spill About to Give Alabamians What We Deserve?

Few states have a stronger record than Alabama when it comes to sucking up to the oil industry. So it's ironic that a massive oil spill that started off the coast of Louisiana now is moving eastward toward . . . Alabama. And it is poised to land a possibly catastrophic blow to our state's economy and environment.

Is Mother Nature giving us payback? Sure looks like it. And for comedic effect, we have a Republican Governor who now claims that oil giant BP is going to be held accountable for the big spill. But that same governor, Bob Riley, never has held big oil accountable before. Why should we think it's going to happen now?

Here is a lesson of Biblical proportions for Alabamians, one that should resonate in our supposedly hyper religious state: You reap what you sow.

For roughly the past 15 years, Alabamians have consistently voted to place Republicans on our state's high courts. The Alabama Supreme Court now has eight Republicans and one Democrat--the result of aggressive campaign tactics led by Karl Rove, Business Council of Alabama President Bill Canary, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

In November 2007, our high court overturned most of a $3.5 billion verdict against ExxonMobil in a fraud case involving natural-gas royalties. It was an 8-1 vote, and since then, the GOPers on the Alabama Supreme Court have been known as the "Exxon Eight."

Guess where much of their campaign funding came from? According to a report from Scott Horton, of Harper's, it was largely from ExxonMobil. Those same business sources largely funded the campaign of Governor Bob Riley.

When Riley had a chance to appeal the Alabama Supreme Court's unlawful ruling, one that ignored clear legal precedent, what did he do? He did nothing.

Now Riley says he's going to be tough on BP as an oil spill approaches the Alabama coast. The Mobile Press-Register reports:

Riley said BP Plc, which operated the Deepwater Horizon well that blew up April 20 and caused the spill, will ultimately be responsible for those claims.

BP officials did not return calls for comment Thursday. Riley did not say that the company had agreed to honor such claims. When asked if the company would, Riley said, "They are the responsible party."

BP has agreed to reimburse the state for the costs it incurs preparing for and cleaning up the oil spill, Riley said.

Right Guv, BP is going to reimburse Alabama the way ExxonMobil did back in 2007 for its fraudulent actions. You're going to hold big oil's feet to the fire now, aren't you?

What's Riley going to say next, "Good job, Brownie"? Isn't it fun to watch Republicans deal with disasters caused by their pro-business supporters?

It's starting to look like Mother Nature is a liberal. And she doesn't take kindly to conservative states that continually mock her. When you piss off Mother Nature, she can extract a fearsome price. Will Alabamians ever learn?


UPDATE: What could this mean for Alabama's environment? Some insight comes from an excellent article about the rare diamondback terrapin, which makes its home on our state's coast. Biologists at UAB in Birmingham have been trying to save this turtle for several years. Articles ncludes a beautiful picture of a creature that is rarely seen:

Oil Slick Threatens Rare Turtle

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Is Bush Able to Blackmail Obama Into Ignoring Justice Issues?

The George W. Bush White House ordered electronic surveillance of Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential election in an effort to gather information that could be used to blackmail the new administration into ignoring Bush-era crimes.

According to a new article at the Wayne Madsen Report (WMR), Obama and prospective chief of staff Rahm Emanuel were included in surveillance that led to the indictment of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. The operation apparently yielded damaging information about Team Obama, including Emanuel's ties to the Chicago gay community. But the Obama administration took steps to ensure that the information gathered under Bush-appointed U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald would focus on Blagojevich and not them.

Was the Bush effort at blackmail successful? Does it explain the Obama administration's reluctance to investigate justice-related matters, such as the political prosecutions of Don Siegelman in Alabama and Paul Minor in Mississippi? The answer, according to WMR, appears to be yes. Reports Wayne Madsen:

Bush and his team, according to WMR's sources sought to obtain information on Obama and Emanuel that could be used to "blackmail them" in order to ensure that there would be no investigations of the Bush administration's complicity in torture, political prosecutions throughout the United States of Democrats, and other illegal activities.

Blagojevich essentially has become a fall guy for the Obama White House. Reports WMR:

Although the Bush-appointed U.S. Attorney for northern Illinois Patrick Fitzgerald and his team of prosecutors captured "thousands of phone calls" in their investigation of Blagojevich and his chief of staff John Harris, they chose to only concentrate on those intercepted phone calls that were used to indict Blagojevich and Harris. In fact, WMR has learned that when Obama and Emanuel became aware that their phone calls were intercepted by the FBI, they moved fast to have Fitzgerald arrest Blagojevich in the early morning of December 9, 2009. The White House transition team wanted to ensure that it was Blagojevich who was at the center of the FBI wiretaps.

The WMR report dovetails with recent reports that Blagojevich's lawyers are seeking to subpoena Obama for testimony in the former governor's corruption trial. That also could include Emanuel, who said yesterday that he has not yet received a subpoena in the Blagojevich case.

Fitzgerald's willingness to look the other way on the Obama/Emanuel information has given him extraordinary power over the White House, Madsden reports. And it might explain why Fitzgerald, and perhaps other Bush-appointed U.S. attorneys, remain in office:

WMR has been told that Emanuel was aware of the damaging nature of the "thousands" of FBI intercepted phone calls to him and Obama and wanted to divert Fitzgerald and the FBI away from he and the president-elect to Blagojevich and Harris. Fitzgerald, known as the man who covered up key elements of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and saw to it that the legal ground was laid for a commutation of the prison sentence of Dick Cheney's chief of staff Scooter Libby in the Bush administration's cover-up of the outing by the media of CIA non-official cover agent Valerie Plame Wilson, decided to seek authorization for the early morning arrest of Blagojevich to protect Obama and Emanuel, as well as Bush.

Fitzgerald lived up to his part of the bargain with Emanuel by interviewing Obama, Emanuel, and Jarrett in mid-December 2008 and then green lighting Obama's selectee as White House chief counsel, Greg Craig, to issue a report stating that there was "no inappropriate contact" between Obama, Emanuel, or Jarret with Blagojevich. Emanuel quickly left the United States for a vacation in Africa. Fitzgerald cautioned Obama, Emanuel, Jarrett, adviser David Axelrod, Craig, and transition team spokesman Robert Gibbs to remain silent and not disclose anything to the press. The diversion of attention by the public and the media to Blagojevich and Harris was successful.

Why, in fact, are so many Bush-appointed U.S. attorneys still in office? And why are Obama appointees acting mostly in an impotent fashion? WMR provides a possible answer:

On July 29, 2009, WMR reported: "If the Fitzgerald prosecution of Blagojevich is any indication, some GOP U.S. Attorneys may have decided to trade knowledge and influence in return for keeping their jobs. In Fitzgerald's case, it was possibly information he had on convicted Chicago political kingpin Antoin 'Tony' Rezko's links to Obama and his chief of staff Rahm Emanuel that made Blagojevich a useful "sacrificial lamb" to send a message to the Obama camp. In any event, Fitzgerald's plan worked--he remains secure as Obama's U.S. Attorney for Northern Illinois."

Much of the information in the Blagojevich indictment remains sealed. And that is not by accident, Madsen reports:

The reason behind U.S. Judge James Zagel's order that many of the documents related to the Blagojevich indictment remain redacted is that the documents show the extensive nature of the FBI's surveillance of many of those connected to the Obama campaign, including Obama, Emanuel, White House adviser Valerie Jarrett, and others. . . .

Fitzgerald is adamantly opposed to unsealing the redacted documents lest his complicity in a Bush-ordered wiretap of Obama and Emanuel becomes known to the public. Fitzgerald's knowledge of "smoking gun" evidence against Obama and Emanuel ensured that Obama renominated Fitzgerald as U.S. Attorney for northern Illinois. By focusing his criminal probe on Blagojevich and Harris, Fitzgerald is also providing protection for Bush, Dick Cheney, and then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey from potential repercussions from a White House-ordered electronic surveillance program directed against a presidential candidate/president-elect and his top political adviser.

Bush might have been a terrible president, but his White House apparently was pretty good at surveillance. And that probably explains why Obama and Emanuel don't want to touch justice-related issues. Reports WMR:

The word from federal national security officials is that the outgoing Bush administration picked up a wealth of blackmailable intelligence on Obama and Emanuel from their wiretaps of the now President and his chief of staff. Obama's sleazy deals with Rezko and his shopping of his Senate seat and Emanuel's contacts with Israeli intelligence officials and his penchant for bizarre behavior at Chicago gymnasiums frequented by the city's professional and affluent gay community reportedly stand at the top of the FBI's "catch."

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Rove Takes Shots From Progressives in Alabama

Karl Rove spent much of yesterday in Birmingham, and unlike the Obama administration, Alabama progressives clearly have not forgotten how the Bush strategist helped besmirch the U.S. Constitution while in the White House.

Only about 50 people showed up at Rove's book signing, according to The Birmingham News, with protesters almost outnumbering book buyers. Maybe people are wising up, even in Alabama.

Glynn Wilson, of the Locust Fork News-Journal, says the News was being generous to Rove. Wilson said only about 20 people showed up for the book signing. And one of those was federal appellate judge William Pryor, long a Rove/Bush ally.

Wilson has an excellent first-person account, featuring plenty of photos. Writes Wilson:

The most prominent person to show up for a signed copy was none other than William “Bill” Pryor, the former Alabama attorney general who first started trying to investigate then-Governor Don Siegelman in 1998.

As a political payoff, Bush appointed Pryor to a judgeship on the Eleventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta in 2004 while Congress was in recess, although he was later confirmed by the Senate after a deal was negotiated by Senator John McCain’s “Gang of 14.”

Yes, that’s the same Bill Pryor Rove tried to deny knowing before the House Judiciary Committee, although Rove’s political consulting company ran his campaign for attorney general in 1998. When Pryor walked up and Rove saw him, he smiled real big and said, “Hey, Bud!”

Rove appeared on private property at two locations--a shopping-mall bookstore and a snazzy dining club--so it's hard to know how much protesters' voices were heard. But two prominent Alabama progressives, both targets of the Bush administration, made sure their voices were heard in the hours leading up to Rove's stop in Birmingham.

Former Democratic Governor Don Siegelman and former GOP operative Jill Simpson spoke out about the irony of Courage and Consequence, the title of Rove's new book. In a report by Andrew Kreig at OpEd News, Siegelman and Simpson say Rove is low on "courage"--and he has not been forced to face the "consequences" for his unlawful actions. Reports Kreig:

"Rove is a pathological liar," Siegelman wrote me in response to Rove's denial that he helped frame Siegelman on federal corruption charges in 2006. Siegelman, Simpson and others have cited evidence that the White House ruined Siegelman's re-election campaign as part of a nationwide plan to rely on what a DOJ chief of staff in 2005 called "loyal Bushies" as prosecutors.

Siegelman was tough also on watchdog institutions.

"By failing to investigate Karl Rove's subversion of our constitutional rights, abuse of power and the use of the DOJ as a political weapon," he wrote, "Congress and the mainstream media will be held in contempt by history."

Rove denies in Courage that he had anything to do with Siegelman's prosecution on corruption problems. And he denies that he or other leading Republicans even knew Simpson, who became a key whistleblower in the case. Simpson has a ready reply for that one:

In response to Rove's claims, Simpson disclosed for the first time publicly that her late father and sister met both future Bush presidents in Texas beginning three decades ago. She said her sister worked at a Bush-affiliated bank in Texas on investor relations involving the oil business.

Simpson says her father occasionally met members of the Bush family on business dealings related to oil leases for his accounting clients, and she showed me photos illustrating that she and her son were invited to the White House in 2001.

"Karl Rove knows perfectly well what the truth is," says Simpson. An attorney, Simpson points out that a Democratic staffer cut her off during her 2007 House Judiciary Committee closed-door testimony when she started to respond to a question about her political experience by mentioning her family's connections to the Bush family. "It's right there in the transcript," she says, noting the bottom of page seven.

Simpson goes on to discuss the personal price she has paid for speaking out about Rove and his Alabama cohorts, led by Bill Canary, president of the Business Council of Alabama and husband of Siegelman prosecutor Leura Canary. Reports Kreig:

Simpson says she's received more than 100 requests for TV interviews but has granted only three: To CBS immediately after her closed-door congressional testimony so that public could see something tangible, and to MSNBC five months later on Feb. 25 after CBS sat on the footage until the day before the MSNBC program. The other was to a local reporter who spotted her at a meeting and put a microphone in front of her.

This rings true. Last June, she drove from Alabama to Washington to watch a path-breaking conference that I organized at the National Press Club to focus on prosecutorial abuse in political cases. But she declined my invitation to speak to the nationwide audience on C-SPAN.

"I just want to watch," Simpson told me last summer. "I've had my house burned, my car run off the road, my legal practice hit, all for what I said. I'm not sorry I did it. I had to do it. But I don't need more." She was a reluctant subject even for this interview.

Siegelman went on the offensive regarding an Associated Press article about Rove's visit to Birmingham. The story included this line: Siegelman went to prison but is now free on bond while appealing his more than 7-year sentence for taking a bribe from former HealthSouth Corp. CEO Richard Scrushy.

That prompted this e-mail from Siegelman to AP reporter Bob Johnson, with the heading, "And what bribe did I take?"

What was the government's contention? That I was engaged in Racketeering and Organized Crime and as proof they claimed I accepted a contribution to the Alabama Education Foundation to support free college education for Alabama students ... and in exchange they said I reappointed the contributor to a board to which he had been appointed by three previous governors and that instead of taking a FREE motorcycle from Honda I bought the exact same bike with my own money and later sold it to Nick Bailey who had taken money from a lobbyist!

Now that is hard to swallow.

By failing to hold Rove and other Bush officials accountable, Siegelman says, the Obama administration is making a mistake of historic proportions. Reports Kreig:

With the Obama administration opposing Supreme Court review or recusal of his trial judge, Siegelman, age 64, must prepare for the possibility of a long return to prison.

The former governor sees congressional investigators and the Obama administration alike avoiding the political heat of taking on such a powerful media figure as Rove, who is a columnist for Newsweek and the Wall Street Journal and a contributor to Fox News. Rove has used those outlets and others to attack those who question him.

Siegelman takes aim on his website at fellow Democrats who argue that the nation should put aside past disputes regarding the justice system. He amplified his views for my story today, as follows:

Now it not the time for America to only look forward to tomorrow while denying the evil deeds done yesterday....[H]istory will not treat kindly those who today, for politically selfish reasons, lack the moral strength to restore justice and preserve our democracy.

Kreig, for one, does not plan to let the matter go quietly. He writes:

Later this week, I'm planning to publish suggested questions for news reporters interviewing Rove as he proceeds on his book tour nationally. The questions are based on my 18 months research on prosecution misconduct cases, which has led to creation of the Justice Integrity Project to help reporters with the kind of in-depth research increasingly difficult during news industry budget cuts.

To check the facts and provide fair warning, I gave Rove the questions in advance in late March. Also, I invited him to appear on my radio show, which has hosted Siegelman and several prominent authors objecting to our nation's loss of civil liberties.

Karl Rove & Co. Chief of Staff Sheena Tahilramani responded to my invitations with a note, "As far as any background on this subject, it's just not something Karl's able to delve into while he's in the middle of the tour. I've already got him fully committed and his plate is full. Thanks for reaching out."

Paul Minor Appeal Attracts Heavy Legal Artillery

Theodore B. Olson, a former U.S. solicitor general and one of the top appellate attorneys in the country, will represent Mississippi lawyer Paul Minor in his upcoming appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Minor and codefendants Wes Teel and John Whitfield were convicted on various bribery and fraud counts. The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the bribery convictions, but allowed the fraud-related claims to stand--and then denied an application for rehearing.

A key issue in the Minor appeal will be the constitutionality of the federal honest-services fraud statute under which he was convicted. The U.S. Supreme Court already has heard oral arguments on two honest services cases and is scheduled to hear another case this spring.

The Minor case could become the fourth such case to go before the nation's highest court.

“The open-ended and unclear language of the ‘Honest Services’ statute is inconsistent with the fundamental principle that the public must be able to understand what a criminal law means," Olson says. "Mr. Minor will ask the Supreme Court to make clear that the vague language of the ‘Honest Services’ statute cannot be used to criminalize lawful campaign contributions.”

Honest-services fraud also was a major issue in the Don Siegelman case in Alabama. In that case, however, the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals did just the opposite of what happened in the Minor case--it overturned the fraud convictions, but left the bribery convictions standing.

The Stench From Rove's Visit Means We Need Comic Relief

We spent most of yesterday in the same area code as Karl Rove, and that has left us feeling as if we need to run through an industrial-strength car wash to remove any hint of Rovian sleaze that might have floated our way.

Perhaps the safer route would be to wash away the scent of Turd Blossom with some comic relief here in our little corner of the blogosphere. As usual, we turn to Scrubs, one of the best and most underappreciated shows in television history.

One of the many attributes that makes Scrubs special is its ability to use cultural references to great comic effect. The Simpsons, of course, is brilliant at this, constantly making sport of movies, other television shows, books, plays, public figures, social trends--you name it.

Scrubs is pretty good at it too, and one of our favorite examples comes from an episode that features key characters obsessing about current issues--big and small--in their lives. Elliot "Barbie" Reed is obsessed about the fiance she recently dumped. Chris "Gandhi" Turk frets about the pieces of candy still stuck in his teeth after he ate a Bit O' Honey candy bar. And John "Dame Judy" Dorian can't stop thinking about his tendency to sabotage relationships.

The producers of Scrubs use this scenario, and a memorable rant from Dr. Perry Cox, to set up a hilarious skewering of award shows, especially the Academy Awards. In the Scrubs version, it becomes "The Who Caresies Awards"--honoring those people who think "others actually give a rat's ass about the minutiae of their lives."

It ends with an inside joke. Zach Braff, as J.D., accepts his award by saying, "Suck on that, Tony Shalhoub." That's a reference to the actor from Monk, who had beaten out Braff for an Emmy Award.

How good is this bit? I caught the episode on reruns the other night, and later--while loving on our boy kitty kat, Baxter, before bedtime--thought of the phrase "Dame Judy Dorian" and couldn't help but laugh out loud. Baxter proceeded to give me one of those "WTF" looks that kitty kats are famous for.

Anyway, let's enjoy a Scrubs classic:


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Did Debt Collectors Cheat Me Out of My Job at UAB, Part II?

We recently examined evidence that points to the prominent role debt collectors might have played in my unlawful termination at UAB. But how could they have done it? And what evidence did they leave behind at the scene?

Let's try to answer those questions by examining some of the characters and actions involved:

* The Angie Ingram/William E. Swatek connection--In our previous post on this subject, we raised an intriguing question: Could Bill Swatek, the sleazy Alabama lawyer who is largely responsible for the legal headaches my wife and I are experiencing, have sought a writ of execution on our cars and house as a means of helping Angie Ingram collect on a debt I allegedly owed to American Express? Could Swatek have offered this favor in hopes of receiving some favor from Ingram? If there is one thing we've learned about the legal profession, it's this: The field is filled with backscratching, and multiple sources have told me that is especially true in debt collection.

So it's not hard to imagine Swatek and Ingram entering some kind of "I'll do this for you if you'll do that for me" agreement. But what evidence suggests that might have actually happened?

For one, it seems clear that Angie Ingram and Bill Swatek know of each other. Not long after I started hearing from Ingram's representatives, I wrote her a letter to say that my wife and I had been the victims of multiple unlawful acts by lawyers in Shelby County--and as a lawyer herself, she had a duty to report such acts to the proper tribunal. The material I sent mentioned Bill Swatek prominently.

So we've established that Angie Ingram almost certainly knew of Bill Swatek and his roll in our legal drama. But what about Swatek? Did he know of Angie Ingram and her efforts to collect an alleged debt on behalf of American Express? The answer appears to be yes.

I've seen solid evidence that Swatek, or people close to him, keep up with this blog. And since I've written extensively about Angie Ingram, they almost certainly know about her connections to us. In fact, I wrote a post about the numerous anonymous threats and sick comments I've received on this blog, many of which have a Swatekian tone. One of the sickos' favorite topics has been the alleged debt to American Express. Here is one comment on that topic:

How much is your house worth schnauzer? I'm thinking of buying it for pennies on the dollar.Haven't heard you talk about AMEX lately.the folks still treating you nice?HA Ha

That's one of probably about a dozen AMEX-related snarks I've received. And the sender never seems to leave his name. Bold fellow, isn't he?

Bottom line: Angie Ingram and Bill Swatek might have known each other for years. But there is little doubt that they knew of each other in the months leading up to my unlawful termination at UAB.

* The Shelby County Phone-Calling Club--In the weeks leading up to the scheduled sheriff's sale on our house, we received close to 25 calls from deputies Bubba Caudill and Eddie Moore. The calls generally took this tone: "We're about to sell that property. Have you worked something out with the other side?"

Multiple sources who are familiar with the legal profession and debt collection have told me this is highly irregular. In a legitimate sheriff's sale, deputies have no reason to make such calls. They generally act as disinterested observers. If the parties "work something out," the deputies will be notified and the sale will be canceled.

So why did Bubba and Eddie repeatedly call us? It seems clear they wanted me to talk to the other side, who was William E. Swatek (supposedly working on behalf of our troublesome neighbor, Mike McGarity). But I've seen no sign that Swatek actually was working for McGarity. The bogus judgment against me of $1,525 had been sitting there for three years, and Swatek never made any effort to collect it. It would have cost McGarity more than that to try to collect it. And Swatek never sent a demand letter, which indicates he didn't even want the $1,525.

What did he want? My guess is that he wanted something that would benefit Angie Ingram--and himself. And that's why Bubba and Eddie were so anxious for me to contact Swatek.

We've established that Angie Ingram and Bill Swatek probably knew of each other and their respective roles in our legal drama. We've established that Shelby County deputies were making a highly irregular effort to get me to contact Bill Swatek. And we've established that Bill Swatek almost certainly was not working on behalf of Mike McGarity, but rather on behalf of something (or someone) else.

Here is a critical point: We know that audiotapes I made of conversations with Ingram's representatives are key evidence in our lawsuit against her firm and NCO for violation of federal debt-collection law--and for various state-law claims. We know the audiotapes are so important that attorneys for both Ingram & Associates and NCO have tried to commit fraud on the court in an effort to get them excluded.

How does this connect to my unlawful termination at UAB? Well, we need to consider these questions:

* How could the Ingram/Swatek nexus worm its way into UAB?

* How far might someone have gone in an effort to get their hands on those audiotapes, which conclusively show that Angie Ingram and her firm violated federal law?

* Did any actions by my superiors at UAB reflect an ulterior motive on someone's part?

We will address those questions shortly.

(To be continued)

Richard Shelby Is A Reptile!

Before I became a somewhat enlightened progressive, I was what you might call a "clueless moderate." I bounced back and forth between the parties, voting for who I perceived to be the "best candidate." That brilliant strategy caused me to cast votes for Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, essentially endorsing their efforts to ruin our nation's finances for generations to come.

During this time--what I call my "wilderness period"--I was having lunch one day with a liberal coworker when Richard Shelby's name came up. I opined that our U.S. senator, then a Democrat, seemed like an OK guy. My lunch companion reacted as if he had been struck with a red-hot poker.

"Oh God," he said. "Richard Shelby is a reptile!"

Looking back, I'm not sure I've ever personally witnessed truer words being spoken. The latest example of Shelby's reptilian qualities came yesterday when he helped lead a Republican effort to block financial reform.

How big a reptile is Shelby? The progressive issue-advocacy group Americans United for Change (AUC) reports that yesterday's GOP blockade came after Shelby had received $5.3 million in contributions from the financial industry since 1998.

According to data from the Center for Responsive Politics, here is how much cash Shelby has taken from a few of the heavy hitters in the financial industry:

JP Morgan Chase--$101,321

Citigroup Inc--$108,199

PriceWatershouseCoopers--$76,700

Goldman Sachs--$67,600

In 2009 alone, Shelby raked in $806,838 from the financial industry. Tom McMahon, acting executive director for AUC, puts it in stark terms:

Pretending as if the financial crisis never happened, Senator Richard Shelby today stood with Wall Street over Main Streets in Alabama that suffered the consequences of the big banks’ greed and recklessness. Senator Shelby voted against ending taxpayer bailouts, against shining a bright light on the shadowy derivatives markets, and against establishing a new watchdog agency on Wall Street that will protect American consumers against Madoff-style scams.

After taking over $5 million in contributions from the financial industry over the years, it doesn’t look very good that Senator Shelby is now refusing to hold Wall Street accountable for laying waste to the economy and leaving over 8 million Americans without jobs.

Shelby's ties to big finance do not stop with cash contributions. AUC reports that Shelby's former staffers tend to land cushy jobs as lobbyists for the financial industry. These former staffers include:

* Jennifer Bendall, a former political advisor to Sen. Shelby, now works for Eris Group. In 2009, she lobbied on behalf of several companies with a stake in the current financial regulation reform debate. Her clients (and firm fees) include MetLife ($180,000), Morgan Stanley ($120,000), and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce ($20,000).

* Stewart Hall, former legislative director for Sen. Shelby, lobbied in 2009 for Ogilvy Government Relations on behalf of the Carlyle Group ($50,000) and the Community Financial Services Association ($300,000), the trade association for payday lenders

* Lendell Porterfield is a former aide to Sen. Shelby and is currently a principal at Porterfield, Lowenthal, and Fettig. In 2009, Porterfield’s clients (and firm fees) included the American Bankers Association ($120,000), Prudential Financial ($30,000), and the New York Bankers Association ($50,000).

* Philip Rivers, Sen. Shelby’s former chief of staff, is now a lobbyist with Locke Liddell Strategies. In 2009, Rivers’ lobbied on behalf of the American Financial Services Association ($120,000).

Is Richard Shelby carrying the water bucket for financial big hitters? As Sarah Palin would say, "You betcha." And McMahon, of AUC, is onto the senator's tactics:

Counting on Republicans to block financial reform was the safest and surest bet Wall Street executives have made in a very long time. But, with two-thirds of American people in support of stricter regulations for banks and other financial institutions, Senator Shelby just made the riskiest gamble of his career. In the face of overwhelming public demand that Wall Street be held accountable for laying waste to our economy, it’s not a question of whether reform is going to pass--it’s a question of how long Republicans like Richard Shelby can run from the pitch forks on Main Street.

What became of my visionary lunch companion? I'm not sure where he is these days; he moved to another state not long after that lunch. But I give him a lot of credit for being far smarter than I was about seeing through snakes like Richard Shelby. I now look back on that lunch as the day the scales started falling from my eyes about modern conservatives.

Do I have regrets about my "wilderness period"? Oh, yes. I'm ashamed to admit I voted for Reagan (twice!) and the first Bush. I'm ashamed that I was too busy trying to build a career to educate myself about what actually was going on in my country.

But here's my biggest regret: I hate that we've given reptiles a bad name by comparing them to Richard Shelby.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Obama's Shame: Alabama Bingo Battle Reflects Failure on Justice Issues

How could the failure of an electronic-bingo bill in the Alabama Legislature have national implications? Because it reflects the Obama administration' utter failure to repair the colossal damage done to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) under George W. Bush. In fact, the Alabama episode makes us wonder if Obama is even trying to fix the DOJ.

A bill that would have allowed citizens to vote on a plan to regulate and tax electronic bingo died in the Alabama House of Representatives late last week when a count showed it did not have the 63 votes needed to pass. The bill had passed the Alabama Senate, but shortly after that vote, federal authorities informed legislators that they were investigating possible corruption connected to the bill.

The investigation almost certainly was triggered by the ongoing presence of Bush-appointed U.S. Attorney Leura Canary in the Middle District of Alabama. Canary, who oversaw the prosecution of former Democratic Governor Don Siegelman, is a staunch ally of current GOP Governor Bob Riley. And Riley has been leading a highly visible crusade against gambling in Alabama, driven apparently by the support he received from Mississippi gaming interests and disgraced Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Did the federal investigation have the desired chilling effect on the bingo legislation? Oh yes, said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Marcel Black (D-Tuscumbia). Here is how The Gadsden Times reported it:

Black said the announcement that the FBI was investigating the Senate bingo vote had a “chilling effect” on enough House members who wouldn’t commit to vote for the amendment.

“You just pick up the paper and read the FBI, and you read you were offered a campaign contribution for your vote, and that is effective,” Black said.

Two days after the bingo bill died, word came that federal authorities were serving subpoenas on state lawmakers and lobbyists. A federal grand-jury apparently is looking into possible corruption surrounding gambling.

Is this a legitimate grand-jury proceeding, considering that the bingo bill already has died? Or is it just more grand theater from Bob Riley and Leura Canary, designed to threaten anyone who might consider supporting a bingo bill in the future?

And here are the bigger questions: How in the world is this happening on Barack Obama's watch? Is Eric Holder as brain dead as a department-store mannequin? Are Obama and Holder going to allow Leura Canary to serve as "U.S. attorney for life" in Montgomery?

It's hard to say whether the investigation is legitimate or not. But here is one sign that it might be bogus: The Birmingham News, the official mouthpiece of the Republican Party in Alabama, does not say in its report who authorized the issuance of subpoenas.

My understanding is that subpoenas usually have to be authorized and signed by somebody. So who was it in this case? Was it Leura Canary? Was it federal prosecutor Brenda Morris, who already is under investigation for her role in botching the Ted Stevens case in Alaska? The News doesn't tell us.

Doug Jones, an attorney representing Democratic lawmakers, provided some perspective:

"Serving dozens of subpoenas would be typical of the kind of investigation this appears to be," Jones said. "The feds recently sent out absurdly broad subpoenas for documents seeking 'all gambling records of any kind from a number of sources that cannot possibly be complied with until the request is more defined. That's what this sounds like to me. They are trolling."

We suspect Jones is being kind. This sounds worse than trolling to us. It sounds like a huge waste of taxpayer dollars on a grand charade. And if federal funds are being used for a fraudulent, politically motivated witch hunt, that sounds an awful lot like criminal activity.

A reporter from The New York Times recently spent several days in Montgomery and produced a story about the bingo fiasco. As the story makes clear, this is happening on Obama's watch. You would think that might make somebody in the administration take notice, maybe even ask, "What on earth is our Justice Department doing?"

If anyone in ObamaLand has asked such a question, we've seen no sign of it yet.

Karl Rove Returns to the Scene of the Crime

Protest posters figure to be prominent in Birmingham over the next few days. That's because Karl Rove is coming to town.

The former Bush White House strategist visits Birmingham on Tuesday for a pair of events--a book signing at a local mall and a speech at a private club. It will be a little like Osama bin Laden touring the former site of the World Trade Center.

Alabama is Ground Zero for the corruption of the U.S. Justice Department during the Bush years--all apparently orchestrated by Rove. Two bogus prosecutions of former Democratic Governor Don Siegelman, one in Birmingham and one in Montgomery, are exhibits A and B of Rove's handiwork.

But the man who is known as Turd Blossom has no qualms about returning to Alabama, especially when there is money to be made. Alabama progressives plan to greet him with protests.

Reports Glynn Wilson at Locust Fork News-Journal:

Some Democrats who support former Governor Don Siegelman say they are working on mounting a protest of Rove’s visit.

They’ve designed a sign that says, “Restore Justice: Jail Rove. Free Don.”

“If you stand on the side of Gov. Don Siegelman, you’ve got a rare opportunity this coming Tuesday in Birmingham to add your voice in calling out Karl Rove as he continues his book tour,” said the Rev. Jack Zylman of Southside.

“While Rove is out on a book-signing tour, Gov. Siegelman is having to think about the fact that he is facing a possible return to prison,” he said in an e-mail alert. “Siegelman was convicted of something that was not a crime. So why are we letting Karl Rove travel the country signing his book and making millions while Gov. Siegelman goes to work each day not knowing if he will be sent back to prison? If the Don Siegelman case were truly investigated, it’s certain it would lead to Karl Rove.”

Rove is scheduled to appear at 3 p.m. at the Books-A-Million store inside Colonial Brookwood Village and at The Club at 6 p.m.

Protesters might have a hard time making their voices heard. The Club, known for its breathtaking view from atop Red Mountain, is a private facility. And my understanding is that the interior of malls generally is considered private property.

Hopefully, the protests will have an impact. For sure, plenty of these posters figure to be present:

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Could Siegelman Prosecution Wind Up Helping the Porn Industry?

The prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman is best known as Exhibit A for corruption in the George W. Bush Justice Department. But could the political prosecution wind up boosting, of all things, the pornography industry?

According to a report from Josh Gerstein at Politico.com, the answer appears to be yes.

How could that be? It starts with the government's plans to prosecute John Stagliano, one of the top directors and producers in the porn industry, on obscenity charges. Stagliano is based in Malibu, California, but apparently because of porn's widespread distribution, federal prosecutors can more or less venue shop for an area that is likely to produce a conviction. That often leads them, in obscenity cases, to conservative jurisdictions such as Alabama.

But our fine state presents problems for the feds this time. And that might be because of controversy generated by the Siegelman case.

It looks like the Stagliano case will wind up being tried this summer in Washington, D.C., normally one of the last places the feds want to prosecute an obscenity case. Writes Gerstein:

The move could have been made to save the government money, since the Adult Obscenity Task Force prosecutors who were planning the case generally live in the D.C. area. However, some observers have also noted that the perceived unwillingness of some U.S. Attorneys to bring obscenity cases played a role in some of the controversial dismissals by the Bush administration in 2006. This might have made filing such a case in Birmingham, Alabama politically problematic, since the office there was already embroiled in controversy over the prosecution of former Gov. Don Siegelman (D-Ala.)

Gerstein tried to get insight from Alice Martin, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama during the Bush era, and wound up getting stonewalled. That's a big surprise.

The U.S. Attorney in Birmingham in 2007, Alice Martin, told POLITICO she could not recall any decisions about the Stagliano case, including why it was redirected to D.C.

"I cannot recall"? Isn't that the phrase Alice Martin repeatedly offered up when questioned about possible perjury she committed in connection to an employment-related matter? And Martin used similar phrases when questioned by Raw Story's Lindsay Beyerstein about my unlawful termination at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). Actually, Martin did not allow Beyerstein to question her; she issued a written statement--the classic tactic of the stonewaller.

Nice to see our gal Alice has still got it.

According to Politico, Democratic administrations have tended to focus on child-pornography cases, not on adult pornography. Because of that, some experts thought the Stagliano prosecution would be abandoned when Barack Obama took office. But looks like it's going to move forward--another example of Obama apparently sticking to George W. Bush policies.

The prosecution, however, is not likely to take place in Alabama. And that should greatly enhance John Stagliano's chances of an acquittal.

We wonder if Stagliano has any idea how much he owes to Don Siegelman.

For the curious, you can check out some of Stagliano's handiwork at his official Web site, buttman.com (definitely NSFW). Yes, our guy caters to folks with ass fetishes--hence his nickname in the porn industry, "Buttman." Also, Stagliano is known for his commitment to "gonzo porn," a growing genre in the adult field.

Let's see if we have this straight: The Bush DOJ's corrupt machinations in Alabama could wind up helping the pornography industry? It actually could bring joy to people with butt fetishes everywhere? It could promote gonzo porn?

Got to love those GOP family values.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Did Debt Collectors Help Cheat Me Out of My Job at UAB?

Substantial evidence indicates that I was cheated out of my job at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) because someone in our state's power structure did not like the content of my blog, which has shined a spotlight on judicial corruption and political prosecutions during the George W. Bush era. Evidence also indicates that my workplace experience involved standard civil-rights issues--age and gender discrimination, retaliation, wrongful termination.

But our recent research raises this question: Did debt collectors play a prominent role in cheating me out of my job at a state institution?

That question not only is troubling for me, but also for all Americans who are concerned about a debt-collection industry that long has played fast and loose with the law. We know that debt collectors have an ugly history of costing people their jobs--and that's one reason the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act (FDCPA) was passed in 1978.

More than 30 years after the FDCPA became law, are debt collectors finding new and creative ways to threaten jobs--all in an effort to collect "debts" that they probably cannot prove are owed? Our experience here at Legal Schnauzer indicates the answer to that question probably is yes. And it's possible that we've been victimized by such chicanery twice.

My wife was unlawfully terminated at Infinity Property & Casualty last September, and we've established that it almost certainly was retaliation for her participation in a lawsuit we filed against two debt-collection outfits--Pennsylvania-based NCO and Birmingham law firm Ingram & Associates.

Now we've uncovered information that makes us think debt collectors might have been interfering with our right to earn a living even longer than we originally thought. Did debt collectors--perhaps in conjunction with some of the sleazy legal and political figures in our Legal Schnauzer story--contribute to the many strange events that marked my last year or so at UAB, leading ultimately to my termination?

What caused that question to enter our minds? Well, Mrs. Schnauzer and I have had several people ask us: "What subject on your blog do you think made someone uncomfortable enough to help get you fired at UAB?"

In an effort to answer that question, I went back to the beginnings of this blog and traced topics that I covered from the first post in June 2007 until my termination at UAB on May 19, 2008. Here are some of the topics that come up again and again:

(1) Political prosecutions of the Bush Justice Department, particularly the cases involving former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman and Mississippi attorney Paul Minor;

(2) Judicial and legal corruption in Alabama state courts, much of it connected to people with ties to current GOP Governor Bob Riley;

(3) Our experiences with unethical debt collectors, focusing heavily on the efforts of Ingram & Associates--and its principal, attorney Angie Ingram--to collect a debt I allegedly owed to American Express. One of Ingram & Associates primary tactics was a threat to sell our house "on the courthouse steps";

(4) Threats to auction our cars and house, orchestrated by corrupt lawyer William E. Swatek and Shelby County Sheriff Chris Curry. This culminated with a bogus sheriff's sale of our house "on the courthouse steps" on May 12, 2008, one week before I was terminated at UAB.

For months, I've focused on topics No. 1 and 2 as the likely "hot potatoes" that caused me to be fired. And I still think those probably played an important role.

But Mrs. Schnauzer recently was examining some of our numerous legal documents, when a light bulb went off over her head. And it caused her to ponder this: "The people from Ingram & Associates were the first people to threaten to sell our house 'on the courthouse steps.' But the person who actually wound up doing that was Bill Swatek, with help from the Shelby County Sheriff's Department. Is there some connection between the threats by Ingram and the actual sale that Bill Swatek instigated, supposedly on behalf of our troublesome neighbor, Mike McGarity?"

When Mrs. Schnauzer raised this question to me, I was stunned. It had never occurred to me that there might be a connection between Angie Ingram and Bill Swatek. It had never occurred to me that the bogus sale of our house maybe had little to do with Mike McGarity--even though his name was on all the official documents--but was an effort to collect money on Angie Ingram's behalf.

But when I went back and made a timeline, focusing on topics No. 3 and 4, I found that they dovetailed almost perfectly with the strange events that started happening on my job at UAB. And I realized that I might have been fired largely because we refused to cave in to Bill Swatek's threats regarding our house.

Here is something that jumped out in my mind: For months leading up to the sheriff's sale, Deputy Bubba Caudill and his colleague Eddie Moore called us repeatedly to say, "We're getting ready to sell that property." We lost track of how many times they called, but it must have been close to 25. And almost always, they said, "Have you worked things out with the other side? You need to work things out because we're going to sell that property."

In retrospect, this much is clear: They desperately were trying to get me to contact Bill Swatek to "work things out." Why did they want me to contact Bill Swatek? Why did they care?

I had no intention of contacting Bill Swatek for several reasons: (1) I know he's a colossal dirt bag, and I have no interest in dealing with people like him; and (2) As I reported on this blog at the time, I knew the sheriff's sale was a fraud and could not be conducted in a lawful fashion.

Instead of contacting Swatek, Mrs. Schnauzer and I showed up to tape record the bogus sheriff's sale--and captured it for all eternity here on the blog. As a result, we have a sheriff's deed on our house. But our guess is that Swatek didn't get what he really wanted out of the charade.

Is it possible that our refusal to "work something out" with Swatek was a big reason for my termination at UAB, which came one week after the sheriff's sale?

Is it possible that Swatek wanted to "work something out" on behalf of Angie Ingram, to help get her money for American Express?

If Swatek was willing to do such a favor for Angie Ingram, did he want a favor from her in return?

Hmmm, wonder what that might have been?

We will be addressing these questions--and more--in a future post.

(To be continued)

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Lying Lawyers Draw Inconsistent Punishment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So why is Tari Devon Williams going on probation?

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

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

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

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

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

Again, why is Tari Devon Williams going on probation?

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

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

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

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

Tom Petty Teaches A Lesson About Standing Up To Bullies

We long have been fans of Tom Petty and his music. For our money, Petty and his band the Heartbreakers have consistently turned out some of the most finely crafted albums of the rock and roll era. But we recently discovered a new reason to admire Petty--and it has little to do with music.

For years, we've thought "I Won't Back Down" was just another outstanding tune in the Petty catalog, one that became a major hit back in 1989. It wasn't until we read a recent profile of Petty in Rolling Stone, that we learned about the story behind "I Won't Back Down."

It turns out that Tom Petty doesn't much care for it when people try to cheat him. And he likes it even less when people try to bully him, apparently over legal matters. Petty, we learned, has a strong sense of justice--and that makes us like him even more.

"I Won't Back Down" was inspired by a courtroom battle and a near-fatal threat Petty received in the aftermath.

(For extra credit, here is a Legal Schnauzer trivia question: Who taught Tom Petty to play the guitar? Answer at the end of this post.)

In 1987, Petty sued the tire company B.F. Goodrich for $1 million for using a song very similar to his "Mary's New Car" in a TV commercial. An advertising agency for Goodrich had tried to buy the rights to "Mary's New Car," and Petty refused--so the company made a thinly veiled effort to steal the song.

According to a newspaper article dated March 6, 1987, a judge ordered Goodrich to stop using the commercial. A spokesman for the ad agency said the move would cost the tire maker hundreds of thousands of dollars.

On March 17, 1987, 11 days after the judge's order, someone set fire to Petty's home in Encino, California. Petty, his wife, one of their two daughters, and a housekeeper were home at the time. They managed to escape unharmed, but almost everything in the house was destroyed. Officials quickly determined that the fire was caused by arson.

What was it like to be the victim of arson? Petty described it in an article by Reuters:

"We were shaken for years by it," says Petty, adding that he could not bring himself to use the word "fire" in a song. "It's sort of like being raped, I would imagine. It really took a long time. And it was 10 times as bad, because you knew that somebody just went and did it. Somebody tried to off you."

The arson case has never been solved. And it never officially has been tied to the B.F. Goodrich lawsuit. But the timing was, shall we say, curious.

How did Petty respond? He wrote a classic song. And for good measure, he rebuilt his house out of fire-resistant materials.

Petty's raw anger came pouring out in "I Won't Back Down." Here are the lyrics:

I Won't Back Down 
Music and Lyrics by Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne

Well I won't back down
No I won't back down
You can stand me up at the gates of hell
But I won't back down
No I'll stand my ground, won't be turned around
And I'll keep this world from draggin me down
gonna stand my ground
... and I won't back down

Chorus:
(I won't back down...)
Hey baby, there ain't no easy way out
(and I won't back down...)
hey I will stand my ground
and I won't back down

Well I know what's right, I got just one life
in a world that keeps on pushin me around
but I'll stand my ground
...and I won't back down

(I won't back down...)
Hey baby, there ain't no easy way out
(and I won't back down...)
hey I will stand my ground
(I won't back down)
and I won't back down...

(I won't back down...)
Hey baby, there ain't no easy way out
(I won't back down)
hey I won't back down
(and I won't back down)
hey baby, there ain't no easy way out
(and I won't back down)
hey I will stand my ground
(I won't back down)
No I won't back down...

As for our trivia question, former Eagle Don Felder taught Tom Petty to play the guitar. They grew up near each other in Gainesville, Florida. Felder went on to peform on some of the Eagles biggest albums and wrote the music for "Hotel California." He also played the classic guitar solo on "One of These Nights" and co-wrote "Victim of Love," one of the finest rockers in the Eagles catalog.

Petty learned those guitar lessons well. And he went on to play with some of the giants of music, including George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Bob Dylan, and Roy Orbison. Here is a live performance of "I Won't Back Down." Enjoy.


Monday, April 19, 2010

Reverse Discrimination Lawsuits Bedevil Alabama Fire Department

An Alabama fire department that spent $300,000 to settle a reverse-discrimination lawsuit in 2004 is back in court today in a similar case.

William C. Hunter alleges that the Mobile Fire-Rescue Department discriminated against him based on race and age by promoting a less-qualified black officer in 2007 to be deputy chief. The case, which is scheduled to go to trial today in federal court, raises a number of issues we've covered here at Legal Schnauzer.

The black officer, Govan Mike Trenier, was at the heart of an earlier case filed by white fire captain Alan Silvester. A federal jury ruled in Silvester's favor in 2004, and the department appealed and wound up settling the case for $300,000.

In the latest lawsuit, Hunter states that he applied for one of three vacant deputy-chief positions and placed second among applicants on a job-related exam. Trenier, who ranked sixth, got one of the positions. Two white applicants, who ranked first and third respectively, got the other two spots. Both of the white applicants are younger than Hunter, who has 38 years of experience with the department and has been fire services district chief since 1995.

Mobile attorney Richard Fuquay has taken three similar cases to trial. "Every case is different, but it's the same type," Fuquay said.

The trial on Hunter's lawsuit is expected to last three days.

The Mobile case hits close to home for us. Race-based discrimination has not been a part of my experience at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), my former employer. But age-based discrimination certainly has been.

My job situation started deteriorating not long after my former supervisor, Pam Powell, told me (and apparently everyone else in our department) that upon her retirement she intended to push for the promotion of Matt Windsor, a coworker with 20 years less experience than me. Not long after that, Powell initiated a harassment campaign against me that lasted about five months before I finally complained about age discrimination to her superior. I was fired roughly three weeks after making the complaint.

I've seen extensive evidence to indicate UAB has practiced gender discrimination in my case. My termination letter was vague, at best, but the main charge seems to be that I was using university computer equipment to write my blog, in violation of the university's Acceptable Use Policy (AUP). It was revealed at my grievance hearing that UAB's own investigation showed I had not used my work computer to write the blog. In other words, I did not violate the AUP in any way, but UAB's administration upheld my termination anyway.

How are female employees treated when they clearly have violated the AUP? Well, we've already reported on two female UAB employees who used university equipment to send messages that were racist or homophobic--and they both, at last report, still work at the university.

Recently we learned of another curious case involving a female UAB employee.
She engaged in titillating behavior that violates the AUP in highly creative ways. But she still works at the university. Much more on that case coming up.

As for the Mobile fire-department cases, I feel for both sides. On one hand, the department reportedly has been making a serious effort to increase diversity in its ranks, an honorable goal. But it apparently has been trying to reach that goal by discriminating against white firefighters.

As a victim of discrimination myself, I know how painful that kind of experience can be.

Is Birmingham FBI Division Serious About Public Corruption?

The Birmingham Division of the FBI recently announced that it is initiating a special effort to combat public corruption, particularly in connection with federal stimulus funds. It is part of a nationwide crackdown on corruption and fraud.

Local FBI officials have taken several steps to encourage citizens to come forward with information about possible public corruption. Should the public take this action seriously? Based on our experiences during the Bush administration, the official Legal Schnauzer statement is, "I'll believe it when I see it."

Of course, President Barack Obama now is in charge of the U.S. Justice Department, which includes the FBI. Even though Obama's performance so far on justice matters should be ranked somewhere between "lame" and "dismal," perhaps we can hope that the feds now will pursue cases of genuine corruption--and not just go after Democrats or people of color for political reasons.

What is public corruption? The FBI states:

Public corruption is a breach of trust by federal, state, or local officials—often with the help of private sector accomplices. It’s also the FBI’s top criminal investigative priority. The FBI relies heavily on public assistance in identifying potential wrongdoing by public officials and no information—no matter how seemingly insignificant it may seem is unimportant.

How can citizens report possible public corruption in Birmingham? The local FBI office has established a link on its Web site:

birmingham.fbi.gov/priorities.htm#4

You can report concerns about corruption via e-mail to:

birmingham@ic.fbi.gov (placing "public corruption tip" in the subject line)

A telephone tip line is available at 877-628-2533. Also, an advertisement has been scheduled for the legals section of The Birmingham News on the following three Sundays--April 18, April 25, and May 2.

Says Patrick J. Maley, FBI special agent in charge of the Birmingham division:

We need the eyes and ears of all concerned citizens to help us in fighting crime and corruption. Don’t be a silent witness. Call the FBI if you are aware of any possible corruption or fraud.

We've had personal experience with reporting public corruption during the Bush era. I sent detailed information to former U.S. Attorney Alice Martin and FBI Special Agent in Charge Carmen S. Adams. Martin stonewalled, and Adams did nothing at all. In fact, I've seen no sign that Carmen Adams even exists.

Of course, my complaints were about Republican judges in Shelby County and dirt bag lawyer William E. Swatek, who has strong family ties to the GOP. At that time, the feds only were interested in alleged wrongdoing by members of one party, not both.

Just off the top of our head, we can think of several sleazy situations the feds need to check into:

* Corruption involving judges and the sheriff's office in Shelby County almost certainly still is going on.

* Corruption in Jefferson County Domestic Relations Court almost certainly still is going on.

* A company partly owned by Homewood attorney Rob Riley (son of Governor Bob Riley) has been accused of practicing health-care fraud, in association with several partners who have ties to UAB.

* Several lawyers who defend corrupt debt collectors have filed fraudulent documents in federal court.

Those are just cases we've covered here at Legal Schnauzer, and I'm just one citizen--in one state. Imagine what other citizens around the country have witnessed. But is the FBI serious this time?

Perhaps there is at least one hopeful sign. The mysterious Carmen Adams apparently has been replaced by Patrick J. Maley, which would almost have to be an improvement.

Has anything else changed? Perhaps it's time for us to find out.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Could Legal Schnauzer Be Coming to a Bookstore or Big Screen Near You?

A London-based author and screenwriter has expressed an interest in taking our Legal Schnauzer story beyond the blogosphere.

She contacted me via e-mail several weeks back, and we have "talked" electronically about the story's possibilities in several formats--book, film, documentary, educational video, new media. It could take the form of a multi-media project, using several platforms.

We are in the early talking stages, and much work stands between this stage and a finished product. My hope is that we will be able to meet on her next visit to the United States.

This much is certain: She has a track record of taking ideas and turning them into real works that reach international audiences. She writes in both English and French, and her books have sold primarily in Europe (especially the UK and France) and Australia. One of her early screenplays was a quarterfinalist in a major screenwriting competition.

How did she stumble upon our Legal Schnauzer tale? It started with her general interest in justice issues, especially the prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman. From researching the Siegelman story, she discovered Legal Schnauzer and noticed references to the personal encounters my wife and I have had with the Alabama justice system.

That piqued her interest, and I sent her links to several key posts that caught her up on our back story--the nutty neighbor (Mike McGarity), the sleazy lawyers (William E. Swatek, Jesse P. Evans III, Michael Odom, Richard Poff . . . ), the corrupt judges (J. Michael Joiner, G. Dan Reeves . . . ), the out-of-control law enforcement officers (Sheriff Chris Curry, Deputy Bubba Caudill), the slimy debt collectors (NCO, Ingram & Associates), the weak-kneed employers (UAB, Infinity Property & Casualty), and so on.

One of the challenges, she said, is that the scope of the story is vast. In fact, she referenced a multi-layered story that wound up falling short of the mark. "I worry about 'the Syriana problem,' which tried to deal with 'defense sales' and terrorism and everything else and ended up being very confusing to a lot of people. So somehow you need to connect the dots while telling the story."

I certainly agree, and I like her way of cutting to the chase. How does an experienced writer approach a story such as ours? Here is some insight, straight from the source:

Justice demands that the story be told. The question is how? The key to this is finding the story 'frame' in my view. Some enveloping, thematic event that will allow the stories to unfold within it. In my experience this usually emerges as you get into the nitty gritty of the story. It could very well lie in your perceptive comment about the fact that you were kind of swept into this sort of like collateral damage or a drive-by shooting. There is also the idea that you thought you were acting under the set of rules that we all are led to believe are in operation when in fact an entirely different system was/is in operation.

It's remarkable that someone who had been a complete stranger could be so perceptive about issues that had enveloped our lives for roughly 10 years. Mrs. Schnauzer and I had never compared our experiences to a drive-by shooting, but that's what it indeed feels like. We were just minding our own business--working hard and playing by the rules, as Bill Clinton used to say--when legal "weapons" were drawn and corruption "bullets" started flying all around us.

And let's ponder this quote: "You thought you were acting under the set of rules that we all are led to believe are in operation when in fact an entirely different system was/is in operation."

I don't think I've ever read a better summation of the American justice system--in it's current state. And it doesn't just apply to our Legal Schnauzer story, which involves mostly civil matters. It applies to numerous criminal cases where freedom has been at stake--the Don Siegelman case in Alabama, the Paul Minor case in Mississippi, the Charles Walker case in Georgia, the Cyril Wecht case in Pennsylvania.

So, what might come from this? It's too early to say. She could write something. I could write something, probably with her guidance on the publishing field. We could write something together. Or perhaps it could take a form--with other participants--that we haven't even thought of yet.

To be sure, numerous business and tactical hurdles remain to be cleared. But it's heartening to know that a pair of perceptive, talented, experienced eyes have noticed our Legal Schnauzer story and seen something worth exploring.

How's this for irony? If you live in the United States, you might feel that the moral collapse of our justice system is a story that just doesn't resonate. Many regular citizens--and Web journalists--clearly get it. But President Barack Obama seemingly has decided that the problem is not worthy of his attention. Attorney General Eric Holder has done virtually nothing to address it. And the mainstream media's performance on the story has been hit-and-miss, at best.

So isn't it interesting that someone from "across the pond"--who has lived much of her life in France and in England--would get it in a profound way.

"Justice demands that the story be told," she said.

Maybe it will take an outsider to help save Americans from their own corrupted justice system. Maybe that's the kind of perspective we desperately need.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Plot Thickens On Siegelman Prosecution and Air Force Tanker Deal

Former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman has confirmed that his prosecution probably was driven partly by the prolonged battle over a massive Air Force tanker contract.

Andrew Kreig, executive director of the Justice Integrity Project, shines new light on the Siegelman case--and its ties to major national stories, in a new piece at OpEd News. Here is how Kreig summarizes the latest on the Siegelman story:

Imprisoned businessman Richard Scrushy, a defendant in the most controversial federal prosecution of the decade, last week repeated his call for the presiding judge to remove himself, even as the disputes widened to include reported Supreme Court contender Elena Kagan, up to $50 billion in scandal-ridden Air Force contracts, and Karl Rove's best-selling new memoir.

Scrushy, who was Siegelman's codefendant, renewed his call for trial judge Mark Fuller to remove himself from the case. Reports Kreig:

Scrushy, now serving a seven-year sentence for arranging $500,000 in donations to a non-profit at the request of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman, requested last week that Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller of Montgomery rule on recusal requests filed last summer, or else withdraw.

Scrushy and Siegelman have argued that the judge is disqualified after being enriched by $300 million in Bush-era contracts via the judge's closely held company Doss Aviation for such services as refueling Air Force planes and training pilots.

Speaking of the Air Force, Kreig follows up on his report from last week about the Siegelman prosecution and its possible ties to a tanker contract that could be worth $50 billion. Alabama is expected to be the site of a major assembly plant if Europe-based EADS wins the contract over U.S.-based Boeing--and Kreig now provides insight from Siegelman himself. Writes Kreig:

The EADS-led plan would replace Boeing Corp., the previous tanker builder. Years ago, EADS used competitive intelligence agents to show that Boeing had bribed an Air Force procurement officer. My article noted that an EADS victory would enable an assembly plant in Alabama, as advocated by four European heads of state, major global financiers and some U.S. politicians.

"The ring of truth in the article," Siegelman wrote me last week after publication and follow-up, "is that Republicans wanted EADs, and I was close to Boeing because I had helped them expand their National Missile Defense Center in Huntsville and had them locate a manufacturing facility for the Delta IV and Delta II Rockets in Decatur, AL."

Kreig shows how the Siegelman case could have an impact on the process to fill the U.S. Supreme Court seat vacated by retiring John Paul Stevens. That's because one prominent contender, U.S. Solicitor General Elena Kagan, has taken controversial positions regarding the Siegelman matter. Writes Kreig:

A bipartisan group of 91 former state attorneys general from more than 40 states have since formed an unprecedented coalition filing a friend-of-the-court brief to the Supreme Court and arguing it should hear Siegelman's case because his actions did not constitute a crime.

But Kagan, now widely reported as a leading candidate to ascend from her post as Justice Department solicitor general to become her friend Obama's nominee for a Supreme Court vacancy, urged the high court in November to deny Siegelman a hearing.

She cited technical legal arguments devised with the assistance of DOJ's trial prosecutors. Since the 2006 convictions DOJ has withstood complaints that include: political prosecution with Rove, judge-shopping, jury tampering, lying about the recusal of Alabama's top prosecutor, firing a DOJ whistleblower, and suppressing evidence that DOJ tried to blackmail its central witness.

Karl Rove has stepped into the fray while promoting his new book. Writes Kreig:

Concurring with DOJ's view is former White House advisor Rove, now on book tour promoting his memoir "Courage and Consequence" that denies any improper role by him, others in the Bush White House, prosecutors or the judge.

Also, Rove mocks whistleblowers and congressional Democrats alike who have become involved in the Siegelman/Scrushy case.

One Rove target is California Congressman Adam Schiff, the House Judiciary Committee's chief interrogator last July asking Rove about his role in DOJ prosecutions. In his book, Rove says Schiff "was clearly not prepared."

Rove also attacks Jill Simpson, an Alabama lawyer who became a key whistleblower in the Siegelman case. Writes Kreig:

Rove wrote also in "Courage" that a Democratic committee staffer privately disparaged to him Republican whistleblower Dana Jill Simpson. She is an Alabama lawyer from rural Rainsville who had stepped forward to provide the committee in 2007 with sworn testimony and documentation of the court record on military contracting.

She alleged a plan by her fellow Republicans as early as 2002 to frame Siegelman, and later steer the case to Fuller. Her testimony said that Riley's son Robert confided to her in 2005 even before Siegelman was indicted in his second trial that Fuller hated Siegelman and would "hang" him. Robert Riley has issued a statement denying her claim, but has not been called to testify.

Simpson responds that the facts would become obvious if Congress for the first time summoned witnesses for a public hearing under oath, or if the Supreme Court would examine the court filings on Fuller's conflicts. Siegelman, released on bond in 2008 by federal appeals court Democrats promptly after CBS 60 Minutes alleged GOP misconduct, also seeks Supreme Court review and a first-ever congressional hearing.

Does Air Force Legal Fiasco Shine Light on Siegelman Case?

A colonel once considered one of the Air Force's top judge advocates generals has left the service after it was discovered that he had practiced law for more than 20 years without a license. In an indirect way, the case shines new light on the prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman.

Col. Michael D. Murphy left the Air Force on April 1 after a 26-year career. For more than 20 years of that career, Murphy practiced law without a license after he had been disbarred in Texas and Louisiana for his actions as a civilian attorney.

Murphy had numerous plum assignments, including serving as commandant of the Judge Advocate General School at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama. Maxwell was the base for much of the prosecution's work in the Siegelman case.

How did a non-lawyer manage to climb so high on the Air Force's career ladder? The Air Force Times reports:

The high image of Murphy collapsed in 2006 when the Air Force learned Murphy had been disbarred more than two decades earlier for actions as a civilian attorney in Texas—he failed to file an appeal on time—and then lied to the service about his qualifications.

Texas didn’t disbar Murphy immediately for his 1981 mistake; it suspended him first. The suspension allowed him to join the Air Force because he still technically had a law license.

Aware he would be disbarred in Texas, though, Murphy applied to the Louisiana bar—lying about his suspension. The Bayou State granted him a license. Texas finally disbarred him in May 1984. Louisiana followed suit in September 1985 when it learned what was going on.

Murphy never told his bosses about the legal problems, and the Air Force at the time did not require lawyers to prove they had a law license.

After the Air Force learned of Murphy’s problems, it began requiring all its judge advocates general to prove they are members of the bar.

How is this for irony?

In the intervening years, Murphy not only tended to the Air Force’s legal matters, he volunteered to teach ethics and best practices to civilian attorneys and third-year law students at Louisiana State University

What was the outcome of the Murphy matter? He will lose more than $1 million in retirement pay over the next 30 years. But it could have been much worse:

Legal complications kept Murphy’s case from reaching a court-martial until March 2009. After a three-day trial, a 10-member military jury found Murphy guilty of conduct unbecoming an officer, theft by filing fraudulent vouchers and failing to maintain his legal qualifications.

Because his defense attorneys could not present evidence of Murphy’s “good conduct” as a White House staff member because of the classified nature of his work, an Army judge ruled Murphy’s sentencing hearing would not be fair. Murphy, the judge ruled, could not be ordered to prison—he faced a maximum of 41 years—or fined.

How does all of this tie in with the Siegelman prosecution? Well, Air Force footprints were all over that case. The prosecution team, representing the U.S. Department of Justice, conducted much of its work at an off-site location--Maxwell Air Force Base. Key prosecutor Stephen P. Feaga is an Air Force Reserve colonel. Recent reports indicate the Siegelman prosecution might have been driven largely by the battle for a massive Air Force tanker contract.

Based on what we now know about Michael D. Murphy, is there extra reason to question any case with ties to Maxwell Air Force Base? We would say the answer is yes.

Alabama blogger Robby Scott Hill, who has a law degree, provides insight on the hypocrisy that grips the legal profession--in both the military and civilian worlds. And he shows how this hypocrisy affects our country as a whole:

While the USAF refused to commission licensed attorneys who were graduates of The Jones School of Law at Faulkner University across town on The East Side of Montgomery, it conveniently overlooked the fact that The Commandant of its JAG School had been disbarred by The States of Texas and Louisiana, was not licensed to practice law and Murphy actively assisted the Bush Administration in violating International Law when it directed "enemy combatants" to be tortured and indefinitely detained without due process of law.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Did Toyota Commit Fraud With Evasive Courtroom Tactics?

We have written extensively in recent weeks about lawyers who use deceptive and fraudulent tactics in an effort to hide the wrongdoing of debt collectors.

Now it appears debt collectors are not alone in practicing fraud on the court. They are joined by Toyota, a company that once enjoyed a stellar reputation.

A review of lawsuits filed around the country shows that Toyota routinely engages in deceptive legal tactics when it is sued, according to a recent article by reporters Curt Anderson and Danny Robbins for the Associated Press. In fact, Toyota now is being sued for fraud because of its unlawful actions in an earlier case.

The review involved a wide range of complaints, not just the sudden acceleration problems that have led to a massive recall of Toyota vehicles. How does Toyota, a company once known for quality and integrity, approach cases in the courtroom? Anderson and Robbins write:

Toyota has routinely engaged in questionable, evasive and deceptive legal tactics when sued, frequently claiming it does not have information it is required to turn over and sometimes even ignoring court orders to produce key documents, an Associated Press investigation shows.

That should sound familiar to regular Legal Schnauzer readers. That is exactly the behavior we've described regarding a lawsuit my wife and I have filed against two debt-collection firms--Pennsylvania-based NCO and Birmingham-based Ingram & Associates--alleging multiple violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) and various state-law claims.

NCO and Ingram & Associates have turned over just a fraction of material they are required to produce in discovery. They even have resorted to blatant fraud, stating in court documents that I "withheld" evidence when e-mail records clearly show that our lawyer produced the material in question.

Could this kind of behavior wind up biting the debt collectors on the fanny? Well, it's already happening to Toyota.

Here's how AP describes a case against the automaker that went to trial five years ago. It involved a Colorado man named Jon Kuylowicz:

For example, in a Colorado product liability lawsuit filed by a man whose young daughter was killed in a 4Runner rollover crash, Toyota withheld documents about internal roof strength tests despite a federal judge's order that such information be produced, according to court records. The attorneys for Jon Kurylowicz now say such documents might have changed the outcome of the case, which ended in a 2005 jury verdict for Toyota.

Stuart Ollanik, an attorney for Kuylowicz, has filed a new lawsuit, accusing Toyota of fraud in the earlier case.

How do corporate wrongdoers get away with slippery tactics in the courtroom? Here's how the process is supposed to work, according to AP:

The AP reviewed numerous cases around the country in which Toyota's actions were evasive, and sometimes even deceptive, in providing answers to questions posed by plaintiffs. Court rules generally allow a person or company who is sued to object to turning over requested information; it's permitted and even expected that defense attorneys play hardball, but it's a violation to claim evidence does not exist when it does.

In our case against debt collectors, we've seen firsthand how lawyers try to squirm out of producing documents. We're not sure if the defendants will claim certain documents do not exist, when they do. It's too early to tell at this point, and the judge has not yet been asked to resolve discovery issues.

But our experience provides classic examples of corporate evasiveness. And as we noted earlier, the debt collectors resorted to outright fraud when they tried to have tape-recorded evidence stricken by falsely claiming that I had withheld it.

What's it like to try to get information out of corporate wrongdoers? We can give you an up-close and personal view. The discovery we've received from NCO and Ingram & Associates indicates they are extremely sensitive about several kinds of key information:

* Any contracts between the two of them--or among them and the alleged original creditor, American Express;

* Any communications between the two of them--or among them and American Express;

* Any communications among them and any third parties.

Here are two classic examples of corporate evasiveness. These are answers to our discovery, first from Ingram & Associates and then from NCO. I suspect these are the kinds of answers Toyota tends to produce early on, before resorting to out-and-out fraud:


Ingram Discovery Response


NCO Discovery Response