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Monday, May 31, 2010

Artur Davis: What a Waste of Political Potential

A hopeful person might have expected that the first black candidate with a legitimate chance to become governor of Alabama would be someone who understands the injustice and inequality that still permeates our society, especially here in the Deep South.

But that hopeful person would be wrong. What we have instead is an empty suit named Artur Davis. And a video making the rounds on the eve of Tuesday's primary election shows that Davis gives empty suits a bad name.

The video juxtaposes Davis' own words, with his actions and inactions, to show that the Congressman is the political equivalent of Don "No Soul" Simmons, a soul-free black character from the 1987 comedy classic Amazon Women on the Moon. Check it out:



Davis makes Don "No Soul" Simmons look like Malcolm X. Heck, I have more soul than Davis--and I'm one of the whitest guys on the planet.

Actually, it's not a lack of soul that is hampering Davis. It's lack of a spine. And it's too bad because Davis clearly has political talent.

Former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman pointed to Davis' "empty suit" status when he endorsed Ron Sparks, Davis' opponent in Tuesday's primary. Here is a release from Siegelman's office:

For Immediate Release

May 29, 2010

For the first time ever, Don Siegelman is endorsing a candidate in the Alabama Democratic Primary.

"I'm proud to join political leaders like Dr. Richard Arlington, Hank Sanders, Joe Reed and the Alabama Democratic Conference and New South Coalition in supporting Ron Sparks for Governor. Why? Because I know Ron's heart is right.

Ron Sparks wants to create jobs, pay for free college scholarships for our children with our own Educational Lottery and pay for nursing home care for our seniors by taxing casinos. Ron is courageous and the hardest working man I've seen, well, since I was a candidate.

That would be enough but I am also disappointed in Artur Davis ... not only because he voted against health care and took a bunch of money from insurance companies, but Artur has taken several thousands of dollars in contributions from the very people who had me prosecuted and put in prison.

I just don't understand who Artur really is deep inside. But I do know who Ron Sparks is and what he stands for, and I like everything I know about Ron Sparks. So, it's for these reasons that I am supporting Ron Sparks for Governor."

Don Siegelman

Governor of Alabama 1999-2003

What about those questionable contributions to which Siegelman refers? They entered the Artur Davis coffers from Bill Canary, president of the Business Council of Alabama and husband of Siegelman prosecutor Leura Canary. They also came from Dax Swatek, a sleazy GOP "consultant" who has documented ties to Karl Rove, Jack Abramoff, Ralph Reed, and Alice Martin (another Bush prosecutor who went after Siegelman).

The most recent polls show Davis leading Sparks, but the lead appears to be small--and it's shrinking quickly. The polls also show Davis losing to three of the top Republican candidates in a general election.

A recent report has Davis asking the Obama administration to hold the U.S. attorney position in Montgomery open for him in case he loses. Sounds like Davis knows he's probably going to need it. After all, candidates with no soul and no spine usually don't get very far.

Environmentalists Are to Blame for Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico

Of all the words written and spoken about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, perhaps the most off-the-charts statement comes from Charles Krauthammer, a conservative columnist for the Washington Post.

Who deserves the No. 1 spot in the blame game for a spill that is on the verge of reaching catastrophic proportions? Is it BP, Transocean, Halliburton, incompetent and corrupt government regulators?

Nope, Krauthammer tells us, it's none of the above. In his most recent piece, our guy Chuck seems to lay heavy blame at the feet of environmentalists. And as Dave Barry might say, "I'm not making this up!"

Consider the lead on "A Disaster With Many Fathers," Krauthammer's piece from last week:

Here's my question: Why were we drilling in 5,000 feet of water in the first place?

Many reasons, but this one goes unmentioned: Environmental chic has driven us out there. As production from the shallower Gulf of Mexico wells declines, we go deep (1,000 feet and more) and ultra deep (5,000 feet and more), in part because environmentalists have succeeded in rendering the Pacific and nearly all the Atlantic coast off-limits to oil production. (President Obama's tentative, selective opening of some Atlantic and offshore Alaska sites is now dead.) And of course, in the safest of all places, on land, we've had a 30-year ban on drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

So we go deep, ultra deep -- to such a technological frontier that no precedent exists for the April 20 blowout in the Gulf of Mexico.

So "environmental chic" caused the Gulf oil spill. To borrow a phrase from Alabama political candidate Dale Peterson in his widely parodied ad, "Betcha didn't know that."

Krauthammer does admit that environmentalists aren't the only ones who deserve blame. In fact, he concedes that BP should shoulder a smidgen of the blame. What a guy, that Chuck!

But then he balances out any signs of sanity with this classic conservative talking point. If the well continues to gush through August, as it almost certainly will, the disaster becomes "Obama's Katrina."

Sounds like the Washington Post has set the bar pretty low for its op-ed columnists these days.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Is Sarah Palin Smarter Than Obama?

It pains us to even write the words in the headline above. On almost every level, the question plainly is absurd. But on one level--that of street-fighting politician--we suspect it is a legitimate question.

In fact, a recent quote from Sarah Palin indicates that, when it comes to street-fighting politics, she might be smarter than Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry, and just about all major Democrats of recent vintage.

In Time magazine's recent special issue about "The 100 Most Influential People in the World," Palin was included on the select list. I would be the first to say that is pretty sad. But most revealing is what Palin wrote about another honoree, Glenn Beck. (That Beck made the list also is pretty sad.)

Consider this nugget from Palin's essay about Beck:

Glenn, 46, tackles topics other news shows would regard as arcane. Consider his desire to teach Americans about the history of the progressive movement: he's doing to progressives what Ronald Reagan did to liberals—explaining that it's a damaged brand.

Hmmm, Palin admires Beck because he helps explain that progressivism is a "damaged brand." Sadly, that kind of attack-dog mindset is what modern political discourse is all about. Beck gets it. So does Palin.

Obama, unfortunately, does not.

And get this: Beck and Palin are not dealing in truth--and they don't care. Progressivism is far from a "damaged brand." It is largely responsible for much of the progress--Social Security, Medicare, environmental protection, food safety, civil rights, etc.--America has made over the past 100 years. In fact, many progressive programs have become so popular and successful that huge numbers of Americans take them for granted.

Meanwhile, conservatism really is a "damaged brand." But Democrats time and again have proven incapable of sending that message home.

Over the past 80 or so years, Democratic presidents repeatedly have had to clean up messes left by conservatives--Franklin Roosevelt following Coolidge and Hoover, Jimmy Carter following Nixon, Bill Clinton following Reagan and George H. W. Bush, and now Obama following George W. Bush.

Essentially, a Democrat cannot get elected in modern American unless a Republican has screwed things up so badly that people become desperate to put an adult in charge. Two of the most qualified Democrats in modern times--Al Gore and John Kerry--failed to capture the White House. Why? We submit it's because Republican had not yet screwed things up enough to allow a Democrat to be elected.

Our three most recent Democratic presidents--Carter, Clinton, and Obama--have each failed to explain to the American people why conservatism truly is a damaged brand. And why is it damaged? Because of rampant incompetence and corruption.

Nixon had Watergate. Reagan and the first Bush had Iran-Contra and the savings and loan scandals. The second Bush had Iraq, Afghanistan, torture, political prosecutions, the mortgage crisis, an imploding economy . . . well, you get the idea.

Democrats consistently fail to show the American people how modern conservatism results in disastrous governance. Carter failed, Clinton failed, and Obama is on his way to failing.

The single best thing Obama could do for his country is to revisit the past eight years and expose the incompetence and corruption that was at the heart of the Bush II administration. Obama needs to explain why he inherited a godawful mess and how it has hamstrung him--and our country.

He also should lead the effort to hold Bush criminals accountable. (Actually, Obama does not need to be "leading" that effort. He's got other things to do, cleaning up after Bush--and trying to prevent environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. But he should encourage Eric Holder, John Conyers, and others to lead the charge.)

Not only would this be good for America, it would be good for the Republican Party. It would force the GOP to get rid of its wackos and marauders and get back to being a functional organization again. America needs a rational and competent Republican Party. It doesn't have one now.

With so much to gain from exposing modern conservatism, what has Obama said? He wants to look "forward, not backwards." Once again, a Democrat is going to let Republicans off the hook.

And that means the damaged conservative brand will remain in place, contributing greatly to American decline.

Sarah Palin might be hopelessly misguided. But she does understand one thing: In a world of sound bites and ADD, it's critical to attack the other guy's soft underbelly when you have the opportunity. Conservatives do it, even though progressives don't have a legit soft underbelly.

Conservatism has a massive underbelly, one that is wide, soft, and ready to be smacked. But progressives always seem to pull their punches.

Obama, for example, does not appear to understand how to attack the other guy, in an appropriate fashion--in a way that actually would educate Americans and make our two-party system stronger.

Democrats must show that conservatism is the truly damaged brand. But Obama doesn't seem to get it. And I'm starting to think no Democrat ever will.

LOL Cats Can Find Comedy in the Courtroom

The courtroom is a hard place to find humor, especially when you are one of the parties involved in a case. It becomes even harder when you are the party--as my wife and I have tended to be--who always is getting screwed in court.

But our friends at icanhascheezburger.com, and their band of comical cats, manage to find humor in the darnedest places.

I know better than most folks that it usually isn't much fun to stand in front of a judge. But even I had to LOL when I saw this gem:

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

While we're on the subject of animals, I just had to share one more LOL Cats classic. This one has nothing to do with legal matters. But we recently had a new TCBY open near our house, so I guess you could say this is in honor of all things smooth, cool, and creamy:

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

Finally, many of our posts are about conflict--and the way people often try to cheat one another. But the animal kingdom teaches that it doesn't have to be that way. In fact, those who are supposed to be enemies can lend each other a helping hand. Maybe people someday will learn that valuable lesson.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Alan Grayson Is On Target About Al Qaeda and the GOP

U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) is taking heat in some circles for allegedly comparing Republican officials to members of the terrorist group Al Qaeda.

First, Grayson did not compare Republicans to Al Qaeda. But if he had, he would have been on the right track.

I live in Birmingham, Alabama, and have faced various forms of retaliation for daring to expose Republican corruption in our state courts and to write critically about the Bush Justice Department, especially its handling of the Don Siegelman and Paul Minor cases in the Deep South.

I know, from firsthand experience, that Alan Grayson is right--Republicans can, and do, act like terrorists.

In my case, which also has very much involved my wife, retaliation has come in the form of threats to our property and our livelihoods. It's what I have called "financial terrorism." And it has been quite effective.

We've been harassed by unethical debt collectors. I was unlawfully terminated from my job at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), where I had worked for 19 years in various editorial capacities. Last September, my wife was mysteriously terminated from her job at Infinity Property & Casualty, where she had worked for three years.

The bottom line? Our finances have been ruined, and we are essentially unable to hold jobs--despite our solid work histories--all because I've stood up to the corrupt conservative elites who run Alabama. The elites who are behind my cheat job are direct descendants of Karl Rove's influence in our state--and they are the same general crowd that orchestrated the bogus Siegelman prosecution.

Want to know more about how Republicans practice financial terrorism? I've outlined our experiences with it in posts here, here, and here.

My wife and I hardly are alone on the front line in Alabama. I know of a tenured professor who has been targeted for unlawful treatment at UAB because he teaches labor history and economics, has ties to the union movement, and has been involved with (gasp!) "liberal" politics. We will be writing much more about that case shortly.

Some might say, "Schnauzer, you and your wife have been through the wringer, but you are still alive; you aren't dead. Therefore, it's wrong to compare your experiences to terrorism."

Well, that depends on your definition of terrorism--and we have examined that subject in a post titled "Dubya: The Terrorism President." While some see George W. Bush as the president who fought terrorism, I argue that he is the president who actually fostered terrorism--on our own soil. And the Bush brand of terrorism was driven largely by a Rove-led hostile takeover of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Here is one definition of terrorism that I find instructive:

Terrorism: The unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence against people or property to coerce or intimidate governments or societies, often to achieve political, religious, or ideological objectives.

We've been conditioned to believe that terrorism involves bombs, airplanes, injuries, and death. But the definition above indicates it can be more subtle than that.

And as two individuals who have been targeted by the GOP, my wife and I can state for sure that we feel like victims of terrorism.

So what about Alan Grayson and his comments that seem to have wrinkled the undies of certain conservatives? Well, he didn't compare Republicans to terrorists. He compared two possible decisions--electing anti-government Republicans to run the government and offering pilot positions to Al Qaeda members--and showed why neither one makes sense.

Grayson has drawn the wrath of the Fox News crowd for "going too far" when, in fact, he didn't go far enough. He didn't compare the GOP to a terrorist organization. But he should have. And as our experience in Alabama shows, he would have landed a truth-filled haymaker.

You can check out Grayson's comments here:



Mrs. Schnauzer and I are becoming huge fans of Alan Grayson. He's one of the few Democrats out there who seems to have steel in his spine. And if he were to run for president in the not-too-distant future, he probably would have our vote.

That's because Grayson speaks for those who are outraged by what has happened in our country over the past eight to 30 years. And as oil moves toward the beautiful white, sandy beaches of the Alabama coast--courtesy of big business--that rage only strengthens.

I was thinking about this the other night while watching a Chris Matthews interview on Hardball with Pensacola, Florida-based attorney Mike Papantonio. They were discussing the BP oil spill and the anger it has generated in the Gulf states. Papantonio said President Barack Obama has, so far, utterly failed to grab the bully pulpit and use it to hold big oil accountable.

"Obama needs to sound like Huey Long right now, not Gandhi," Papantonio said. "We're tired of the Gandhi speech. We're tired of kumbaya. . . . You can even taste the anger down here. It's beyond belief."

Yes, it is beyond belief. And for those of us who had already faced retaliation for standing up to "pro business" forces, it is even more unbelievable.

Here is the Matthews-Papantonio interview. Somebody in the White House needs to be watching:

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Is California Prisoner A Victim of Judicial Retaliation?

A former attorney in Los Angeles has been jailed for 14 months, even though he has been charged with no crime.

Richard Fine, a 70-year-old taxpayer's advocate who once worked for the U.S. Department of Justice, is being held for contempt of court.

According to a report by CNN's Special Investigations Unit, Superior Court Judge David Yaffe found Fine in contempt after he refused to turn over financial documents and answer questions when ordered to pay an opposing party's attorney's fees. But Fine says something else is driving his incarceration. Reports CNN:

Fine says his contempt order masks the real reason why he's in jail. He claims he's a political prisoner.

"I ended up here because I did the one thing no other lawyer in California is willing to do. I took on the corruption of the courts," Fine said in a jailhouse interview with CNN.

What has made Fine an unpopular fellow with judges?

For the last decade, Fine has filed appeal after appeal against Los Angeles County's Superior Court judges. He says the judges each accept what he calls yearly "bribes" from the county worth $57,000. That's on top of a $178,789 annual salary, paid by the state. The county calls the extra payments "supplemental benefits"--a way to attract and retain quality judges in a high-cost city.

While the practice of paying supplemental benefits is common in California, most high-cost cities elsewhere don't hand out these kinds of benefits. Judges in Miami, Chicago and Boston receive no extra county dollars.

Judges in Los Angeles County not only have the highest state salaries in the nation, they also get tens of thousands of dollars in county benefits. These payments, Fine says, mean judges are unlikely to rule against the county when it is involved in a lawsuit.

In the last two fiscal years, Los Angeles County won all but one of the nine trials that went before a judge, according to Steven Estabrook, the county's litigation cost manager.

"The reason I'm here is the retaliation of the judges," Fine says. "They figured they're going to throw me in jail and that way they feel that they can stop me."

This story hits very close to home here at Legal Schnauzer. Just yesterday, I wrote about my own experiences with a corrupt judge--G. Dan Reeves of Shelby County, Alabama--threatening to hold me in contempt simply for arguing my case.

I have no problem believing that LA judges would retaliate against a lawyer who tried to throw a wrench into their gravy train. In fact, this passage from the CNN article pretty much confirms it:

Fine's decade-long crusade against the judges eventually led to his disbarment last year. Joe Carlucci was the lead prosecutor for the California State Bar. Carlucci says whenever Fine lost a case, he would appeal and argue the judges were corrupt.

We have a prosecutor for the California State Bar essentially admitting that Fine was disbarred and incarcerated because he tended to appeal rulings that went against him. Imagine that, a lawyer files an appeal! That's what lawyers are supposed to do, isn't it?

And what is wrong with Fine basing his appeals on allegations that the judges are corrupt? Nothing. And did the state bar bother to check the record for evidence that the judges, indeed, are corrupt. Probably not.

A spokesman for the group Judicial Watch says the Fine case is off the charts for courtroom lunacy:

"He's probably done more time than most burglars, robbers and dope dealers," says Sterling Norris of the public-interest group Judicial Watch.

Norris says Fine's confinement has gone on too long.

Norris won a case in 2008 that found county payments to judges unconstitutional. The California Legislature swiftly passed a bill that enabled counties to continue paying the extra benefits.

"I think it's a lack of judicial integrity to say enough is enough," Norris says. "We've got a man, 70-year-old attorney, in jail for over a year on coercive confinement and that is way beyond the pale. No matter what else he may have done, that is improper."


UPDATE:
In an article out today, the Los Angeles Examiner has a report about errors in CNN's reporting. According to the Examiner report, CNN was more favorable to the allegedly corrupt judges than it should have been:

Corrections on CNN's Reporting

Also, here is a report about Richard Fine's background. Some have wondered if he is some sort of crank. But according to his bio, he has a law degree from University of Chicago and a Ph.D. from the London School of Economics. Doesn't sound like a crank:

Richard Fine's Bio

Alabama Man Might be the Dumbest Criminal Ever

A Haleyville, Alabama, man has been sentenced to three years of supervised release after pleading guilty to mailing a threatening letter to the Social Security Administration office in Cullman.

Patrick Bryant Wilson, 41, mailed a letter containing white powder and photos of the 9/11 attacks. Wilson said in a plea agreement that he wanted to scare Social Security officials into thinking the powder was anthrax.

How did Wilson get caught? He put a return address on the letter--his own, the real one.

Even the dunderheads in the U.S. Justice Department could solve that crime.

Actually, there is a serious element to this story. Why was Wilson ticked at Social Security? He had lost his job as a regional manager for the Guthrie's restaurant chain after getting hurt on the job. According to a filing from Wilson's attorney:

He became frustrated dealing with Social Security Disability Office and acted as he reflected in a 'stupid' manner by not only mailing the matters in the envelope but also making several phone calls as well.

Perhaps there is more to Wilson's workplace story than we know now. But a guy gets canned after getting hurt on the job? Sounds like he might have a potential lawsuit against Guthrie's. They sound like a big-hearted employer, don't they?

Wilson's sentence includes drug and alcohol counseling. That sounds like a good idea, along with a possible legal action against Guthrie's. After all, it doesn't look like Wilson is cut out for a life of crime.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Will Voters Send a Corrupt Alabama Judge Packing?

Residents of Shelby County, Alabama, where I live, have a chance to get rid of one of the most corrupt judges in the country.

Will folks in my neck of the woods be smart enough to boot G. Dan Reeves to the exits? We will find out on June 1 in Alabama's primary election.

We have written numerous posts about Reeves and shown, from firsthand experience, that he is a monstrously bad judge. Birmingham lawyer Ferris Ritchey is putting up a serious challenge to Reeves, and we recommend a vote for Ritchey in the strongest terms possible.

It's rare that you have a chance to replace one of the good old boy judges who have turned the courthouse in Columbiana into an ethical cesspool. The county is heavily Republican, so Democrats usually have no chance and general elections mean nothing. Everything is decided in the primaries, and most local lawyers don't have the cojones to challenge an incumbent.

Ritchey evidently does have a pair, and we give him credit for that. If he loses, and he's clearly the underdog, he's likely to face all kinds of retaliation for having the audacity to run against Reeves.

It's going to take more than one person to turn around the sleaze pit in Columbiana. But if Ritchey could get elected, it might be a major step in the right direction.

How bad is Reeves? First, he isn't remotely qualified to be a judge. According to Reeves' biography, he earned a degree from Birmingham School of Law in 1984 and was elected circuit clerk in Shelby County in 1988. He served 10 years as clerk before becoming a judge in 1998.

At most, Reeves has four years of experience as a practicing lawyer. And multiple sources have told me that they have no memory of him seriously practicing law before he became clerk. Essentially, he went from being clerk to a judge, with almost no courtroom experience. It's hard to imagine a judge with a thinner resume than Reeves'.

Ritchey, on the other hand, has more than 25 years of experience as a lawyer and currently serves as president of the Birmingham Bar Foundation. His practice has focused on family, probate, and estate-planning law.

Reeves is corrupt, incompetent, and stupid--the big trifecta for a judge. In fact, he makes almost no effort to hide the fact that he is crooked. I've had numerous parties contact me about their horrifying experiences before Reeves, and in their rare honest moments, several lawyers have told me they are well aware that Reeves is a bad and dishonest judge.

Do they do anything about it? No, they are afraid to. Shelby is the fastest growing county in Alabama, it's court dockets are swelling by the month, lawyers can make a lot of money there, and hardly anyone wants to take on a member of the corrupt establishment.

Consider this scene from my own experience with Reeves, where I was representing myself in defending a bogus lawsuit brought by my neighbor, Mike McGarity. Of course, I didn't start out representing myself. But the two lawyers I'd hired didn't have the guts to stand up to corrupt judges, so I took the case over myself.

I had filed a motion for summary judgment, properly executed and supported with materially relevant evidence that showed the case could not go to trial. The motion raised multiple issues that had not previously been raised in the case. McGarity's lawyer, William E. Swatek, had filed no response--nada, zilch. We had a hearing to argue several motions that were before Reeves:

Me: Are we going to address the motion for summary judgment?

Reeves: Yes, we are.

Me: Well, the other party has filed no response to my motion.

Reeves: Yes.

Me: Well, that means the motion has to be granted and the case dismissed. That's the law.

Reeves: Mr. Shuler, I will make my decision.

Me: There's no decision to make. The law says you have to grant summary judgment. The law makes the decision for you.

Reeves: Mr. Shuler, I don't want to hear any more on this. I will make my decision.

Me: You have to grant summary judgment. You have no choice.

Reeves: Mr. Shuler, I'm going to hold you in contempt.

Me: I'm just arguing my case.

Reeves: Mr. Shuler, I've told you that you need to get a lawyer, but you don't have one. And that's why you keep losing these rulings.

Me: This doesn't have anything to do with whether I have a lawyer or not. The law is clear: When I present materially relevant evidence, the other party has to present evidence to contradict it. If they don't respond--and you just admitted they haven't responded in this case--the law says my evidence must be considered uncontradicted, and summary judgment must be granted. The deadline for their response is well past, so the case is over. It's real simple.

Reeves: Mr. Shuler, I'm warning you . . .

Me: They haven't presented any evidence because they don't have a case. They've never had a case, and Mr. Swatek knew it the day he filed the complaint. Of course, he has a 30-year history of unethical actions with the Alabama State Bar, but I guess that doesn't trouble you.

Reeves: Mr. Shuler, you are going to jail if you don't watch it.


I'm not making this up, folks. It's been almost six years since that exchange, so I might not have every word exact. But that's the basic exchange. And you will not be surprised to learn that Reeves denied the motion, and a case that by law had to be dismissed, went to trial--costing Alabama taxpayers thousands of dollars.

I've got a dead stump in my back yard that could have gotten that ruling right. But Reeves was too corrupt and too ignorant to do his job in a lawful fashion. That tells you everything you need to know about Dan Reeves.

Is Ferris Ritchey the answer to all of Shelby County's problems? Not by a long shot. The Shelby sleaze has been building for decades, and one man and one election are not going to make it go away.

Besides that, I have one qualm about Ritchey. We've written about him before here at Legal Schnauzer, and it had to do with a golf outing where his partners included Circuit Judge Mike Joiner (Reeves' evil twin) and the esteemed William E. Swatek, our favorite dirt bag lawyer.

Why was Ritchey playing golf with such low-life characters? Perhaps there is an innocent explanation. I know that Swatek has endorsed Reeves, which tells me the establishment is against Ritchey. That tells me I'm for him.

Some free advice for Ritchey: If you really need to play golf, find some honest people to join your foursome. Playing golf with Mike Joiner and Bill Swatek is not the way to go.

Interestingly, Ritchey contacted me via Facebook recently. After informing me that I know how to "raise a ruckus," he asked what I thought of his run against Reeves. I said, in so many words, "Mr. Ritchey, if you are serious about bringing real justice to the Shelby County Courthouse, I am all for you."

Ritchey assured me that he is not part of any good old boy network, and I will take him at his word.

Based on the number of Ritchey yard signs I've seen in the area where I live, it appears Ritchey is making a serious challenge. His problem, I suspect, is that Reeves lives in the more rural southern part of the county and probably will dominate in that area.

Will Ritchey's support in the relatively urban north be enough to pull an upset? Could Shelby County take one small step away from the shadows of corruption?

We will be watching closely.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Poking Fun at Absurd Political Ads in Alabama

Alabama long has "enjoyed" a reputation for over-the-top political ads. But Dale Peterson, a Republican candidate for agriculture commissioner, has taken things to a new high--or low, depending on your perspective.

Peterson's ads are so nutty that they are drawing attention on the national stage. Scott Horton, of harpers.org, takes a serious look at what's seriously wrong with Peterson's ad. And the Web site Funny or Die does a hysterical spoof of our guy Peterson and his outdoorsy "conservative values."

First, let's examine Horton's take on what passes for political discourse in Alabama. The post is titled "Still Crazier in Alabama," and you will see why when you check out the real Peterson ad:



Now clear your mouth of any liquid in preparation for a classic spoof of the Peterson ad. It's a send up for the ages:

"Conservative Values" Are On Display in Alabama Murder Case

A Republican commissioner in Mobile County is the only suspect in an investigation surrounding the death of a 45-year-old real-estate agent.

Angel Downs was shot and killed outside her Gulf Shores, Alabama, home on May 9. Authorities say Commissioner Stephen Nodine was romantically linked to Downs, and the case is being treated as a homicide.

Results of the investigation will be presented to a Baldwin County grand jury on May 24.

Nodine's biography on the Mobile County Commission Web page touts his conservative values. The Mobile Press-Register reports that Nodine is married with one son, and his wife filed a divorce petition in February 2010.

A county commissioner since 2004, Nodine has a growing list of legal entanglements. A grand jury last week delivered a bill of impeachment and indicted him on drug charges.

How close were Nodine and Downs. The Mobile Press-Register reports that the two shared more than 500 phone calls and voice messages in the past month.

A Mobile television station is reporting that investigators found blood stains on the door of Nodine's truck, with two shell casings in the bed.

Officials have declined to describe the gun that fired the fatal shots. A search of Downs' home yielded substantial evidence in the murder case.

A lawyer says Nodine was "a basket case" when he visited with the commissioner on the morning of May 10, just hours of Downs' shooting death.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Story of Alabama Injustice Resonates at Daily Kos

Our post from earlier today, "Story of Obama Classroom 'Assassination' Hits Close to Home" seems to have struck a chord with a national and international audience.

Our piece was cross posted at Daily Kos, which is one of the most heavily trafficked sites on the Web. The article, which shows that progressive political speech is treated much differently from conservative political speech in Alabama public education, was named one of the "Recommended Diaries" for today (May 20, 2010).

That helped it generate more than 120 comments from readers, and the conversation was most enlightening.

You can check out the give and take in the Kos community at the link below:

Story of Obama Assassination Hits Close to Home

Actually, this is the second day in a row that we've been among the Recommended Diaries at Daily Kos. A cross post from yesterday (May 19, 2010) drew more than 300 comments. You can check out that conversation here:

Anti-Obama Teacher Is Placed on Leave in Alabama

Story of Obama Classroom "Assassination" Hits Close to Home

An Alabama teacher captured the nation's attention this week when he used the assassination of President Obama as an instructional tool in a geometry class.

Once we got past the sheer audacity of Gregory Harrison's actions, we were struck by this part of the story: School officials initially did not plan to discipline Harrison.

Why did that strike a nerve? Like Harrison, I used to work in public education in Alabama. And like Harrison, I engaged in what could be called political speech. But unlike Harrison, I was supportive of progressive ideas, as espoused by folks like Barack Obama. And unlike Harrison, I was summarily fired, with zero cause.

So perhaps the real shocker here is not Gregory Harrison and his wrongheaded teaching techniques. It's the blatant double standard applied to alleged political speech in Alabama public education. And my guess is that Alabama hardly is alone in employing such a double standard.

Longtime readers of Legal Schnauzer know my employment nightmare. In fact, yesterday marked the two-year "anniversary" of my unlawful termination at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB).

I had worked 19 years in various editorial positions at UAB when I was canned on May 19, 2008. I had received good to excellent performance reviews throughout that time and had no disciplinary record under UAB policy. But I had spoken out on this blog in what could be called a progressive manner--writing critically about corruption in the Bush Justice Department--and soon a 30-year career as a professional journalist was in tatters.

In a termination letter, UAB gave vague reasons for my firing, saying I had violated university policies--without saying what those policies were. The general allegation seemed to be that I had engaged in excessive "non-work related activity" (NWR) and misused my university computer.

Apparently I was not alone in finding the allegations vague and thin. The university committee that heard my grievance ruled that I should not have been fired. UAB's chief human resources officer, however, said I could not return to work unless: (1) I accepted two written warnings in my file; (2) I accepted another, unspecified job--in an unspecified department, with an unspecified supervisor; (3) I agreed to quit blogging.

Even in Karl Rove's Alabama--this was June 2008--I found No. 3 to be a jaw-dropper. HR chief Cheryl E.H. Locke did not put any of the three provisos in writing, so I said I needed a week to think about it and e-mailed her to confirm what I had heard.

Locke agreed that I'd heard Nos. 1 and 2 correctly, but on No. 3, she said she meant that I could no longer blog at work. I then reminded her that a UAB information-technology expert named Sean Maher testified in my grievance hearing that he had been asked to monitor my computer usage in real time and found that I never wrote the first letter of my blog on university time or equipment.

Locke apparently had no answer for that because she did not respond. When we met again, I informed her that I was not accepting her offer. I noted that, under UAB policy, an employee who receives three written warnings in an 18-month period of time is automatically fired. I further noted that I had sat through the entire four-hour grievance hearing, and no evidence was presented to indicate that I should have been disciplined at all--much less receive termination or written warnings.

"Your offer seems like a bad-faith attempt to get me to come back, sign away my rights to the wrongs I've experienced, and then fire me all over again," I told Locke. To her credit, she didn't deny it. "Well, if you get a third written warning, that will be up to your new supervisor."

This came after Locke had told me that she and her staff were deeply committed to making sure I had a successful future at UAB. I would later discover that Locke almost certainly was planning her exit from the university when she spoke those words. She now holds an HR job at Wake Forest University.

The bottom line? Locke went against the findings of her own committee and upheld my termination. When I appealed to President Carol Garrison, she did the same thing.

I've now been unemployed for two years--in the worst economy since the Great Depression.

Let's do a brief comparison of Gregory Harrison's behavior and my behavior:

* Harrison clearly made inappropriate comments of a political nature; I started a blog that, by UAB's own policy, is not political in nature. At the time of my firing, I never had endorsed a political candidate, party, or campaign. I also had not identified myself as a UAB employee and did not write about matters related to work.

* While Harrison apparently did not endorse a presidential assassination, he did seem to make light of a would-be criminal act. This indicated that he is not terribly concerned about acts of gross injustice; I, on the other hand, spoke out against injustice--especially corruption in Alabama state courts and the apparent political prosecutions, at the federal level, of Democrats Don Siegelman in Alabama and Paul Minor in Mississippi.

* The evidence against Harrison is overwhelming. Every news account I've seen indicates he did indeed use the Obama assassination story as a teaching tool. The evidence against me is nonexistent. UAB's own IT guru admitted I had never typed the first letter of my blog at work. With that off the table, UAB apparently leaned on vague allegations that I was "researching" my blog at work, constituting non-work related activity.

This "researching my blog" charge is nonsensical on multiple levels. The claim seems to be that I was checking various news items about the Siegelman case, and then posts would show up on my blog about the Siegelman case. In making this charge, UAB conveniently ignored my job description. My fellow editors and I were charged with, among many other things, keeping up with current events so that we could present possible story ideas for our some 20 alumni publications, covering almost every academic subject at a major research university.

The Siegelman story was of particular interest because (a) It was the biggest story in Alabama at the time, one with major national interest; (b) Siegelman, when he was governor, was ex oficio president of the University of Alabama Board of Trustees, which governs UAB; (c) Richard Scrushy, Siegelman's codefendant, was (and is) UAB's most famous alumnus and had his name on any number of buildings before he went to prison; (d) It touched on political science, Alabama history, criminal justice--all topics of study at UAB.

In short, I would have been neglecting my duty if I had not been keeping up with the Siegelman story. So I essentially got fired for doing my job.

And how is this for more irony? Part of UAB's allegations seems to be that, in my spare moments, I was looking at blogs--dangerous, subversive stuff like No Comment, by Scott Horton at harpers.org. Again, however, UAB ignored my job duties. Pam Powell, my supervisor, had repeatedly told all of us to learn about "new media," including blogs, so that we could offer such services to our clients in the various UAB schools. We all knew that communication was moving away from the printed page and toward digital formats, so this was an effort to stay on the leading technological edge.

I, indeed, used my research to make several "new media" suggestions that generated new business for our department. What was my reward? I got fired.

Here is perhaps the nuttiest part of UAB's "researching my blog" claim. It totally ignores the digital nature of the Web. The material is there 24/7; it isn't going anywhere. As any blogger knows, if you want to research something on the Web, you can find it, read the relevant parts and link to it in a matter of minutes. You can cut and paste parts directly into a post in a matter of seconds. There is no reason to "research" any non-work material at work.

The time-consuming part of blogging is actually writing the stuff. And UAB's own expert admitted I wasn't doing that.

What's the real difference between the Harrison case and mine? The ugly truth is this: Political speech that trashes a progressive, especially a black one, is acceptable in Alabama; Political speech that questions the actions of conservatives must be punished.

When I get into court with UAB--and that day is coming soon--the university undoubtedly will contend that the content of my blog had nothing to do with the decision to fire me.

But the words of Anita Bonasera, UAB's director of employee relations, tears that story to shreds. After I was placed on administrative leave, I called Bonasera to ask several questions about the grievance process. In the course of the conversation, Bonasera made it clear that I was targeted, and ultimately fired, because of my blog content about the Siegelman case.

I tape recorded the conversation, so it's not a he said/she said deal. Is there a double standard regarding political speech in Alabama public education? The answer is yes, and below is resounding proof.

(Some background: The clip lasts a little more than three minutes. For roughly the first 1:30, I'm trying to explain to Bonasera the nature of my job duties--that I wasn't engaged in non-work activity. Who was the determiner of what was non-work activity? Bonasera says it was my supervisor, Pam Powell, against whom I had filed a formal grievance roughly two weeks earlier. Can we say retaliation? At about 1:50, Bonasera admits that these employment issues were related to my blog--and then tries to backtrack. While backtracking, at roughly 2:08, she admits that I was targeted because of the Siegelman content on my blog.)

Audio: UAB and the Cost of Blogging About the Siegelman Case

As for the Harrison story, it continues to resonate on the national stage. On last night's Countdown on MSNBC, Keith Olbermann's "Worst Person in the World" was Jefferson County Schools Superintendent Phil Hammnonds, who only decided to discipline Harrison because of a public outcry:

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

A Catch Worth Remembering for a Hometown Boy

We interrupt our regular programming to bring you a breath-taking sports moment. In this case, it is one of the prettiest catches you will ever see in a baseball game.

Why did it capture our attention? Well, the guy making the catch is Antonio DeJesus, an outfielder for the Springfield Cardinals, the AA affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Springfield Cardinals play in Springfield, Missouri, which just happens to be your humble blogger's hometown. And the goal of the Springfield players is to someday become members of the St. Louis Cardinals, who have been my favorite pro sports team since the summer of 1963, when I was 6 years old.

When I was a kid, Springfield didn't have a minor-league team. The only time I got to see up-and-coming baseball standouts was when we would go see the Arkansas Travelers play while visiting my aunt and uncle in Little Rock.

I used to dream about how cool it would be for Springfield to have its own minor-league team. And now the city actually has one. And that it's an affiliate of the Cardinals . . . well, that's almost too good to be true.

Anyway, the Springfield team plays at Hammons Field, which I've never seen. But I'm told it's a beautiful facility, and the team draws large and enthusiastic crowds. I hope to see a game there one of these days. (By the way, here is a review of Hammons Field from one of several minor-league ballpark aficionados on the Web.)

In the video below, you can catch a glimpse of downtown Springfield in the background as the fly ball heads for the outfield. (Actually, I think that's a grain silo you see in the background; after all, we are talking about the Midwest here. Springfield has a quite lovely downtown, but I'm not sure any of the buildings are tall enough to be seen at much of a distance. Perhaps the most famous thing about Springfield's downtown is that Aaron Buerge, one of the early dudes on The Bachelor has a restaurant there called Trolley's Grill. Personally, I thought Buerge was an idiot for letting Helene Eksterowicz, the incredibly cute girl from New Jersey, get away. Most guys from Springfield have better sense than that. Of course, Buerge grew up in Joplin, so that probably explains it. Bad move, Aaron! Helene's a babe!)

Anyway, the glimpse of downtown Springfield kind of makes me homesick, although after 30 years in Birmingham, Alabama has long been my home--warts and all.

By the way, Mrs. Schnauzer, an Alabama native, likes downtown Springfield--although she couldn't care less about baseball. She's in love with the cool old-fashioned Steak 'n Shake, which is on St. Louis Street, just a few blocks from where the gleaming new ballpark now sits. Whenever we visit Missouri's "Queen City of the Ozarks," her first question is, "When can we go to Steak 'n Shake?" (You can check out a photo of Springfield's Steak 'n Shake at cruisin66.com, a Web site that pays tribute to sites along old Route 66.)

Back to baseball: From checking the stats, it looks like Antonio DeJesus is a long shot to make the big leagues. His hitting appears to be anemic, which I'm guessing is because of this little thing known as the curveball. But when it comes to glovework, our guy Antonio can flat out get it done.

Go Cardinals!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Siegelman Judge Appears to be both Corrupt and Gutless

We've written before about the classic scene from Animal House where Dean Wormer tells Kent Dorfman, "Fat, Drunk, and Stupid is no way to go through life, son."

That scene came to mind again recently when we read the latest news about Mark Fuller, the federal judge in charge of the Don Siegelman case. The Montgomery-based judge wants another judge to determine if Fuller should recuse himself--even though the record is filled with evidence that Fuller never should have been on the case in the first place.

What would Dean Wormer tell Mark Fuller? "Corrupt, gutless, lazy, and whiny is no way to go through life, son."

But that's the way Mark Fuller is, and he shows no sign of changing.

It's been apparent for a long time that Fuller is corrupt. The rampant errors in the Siegelman case prove it. John Caylor, a veteran investigator and journalist in Alabama and north Florida, has called for Fuller's impeachment. Caylor knows the territory from growing up with Fuller in Enterprise, Alabama. Here's how we reported it in an earlier post:

"Mark Fuller is dirty," Caylor says. "I personally know he is dirty. Moreover, I know the whole damn bunch associated with him."

How does Caylor know? It's partly because of his own family ties to the Dixie Mafia. Caylor's father was police chief in Enterprise, a welcoming figure for mobsters looking for a new home after being kicked out of Phenix City. Fuller's father was a state district attorney in Enterprise.

Fuller, Caylor says, has held a longstanding grudge against Siegelman and railroaded the former governor as part of a sweeping effort by the George W. Bush administration to prosecute prominent Democrats. Caylor once lived near Karl Rove in north Florida, and says the former White House strategist directed the scheme to target Siegelman and others.

So we've established the corrupt part. What about gutless? Under 28 U.S. Code 455, it is abundantly clear that Fuller has a duty to recuse himself--on multiple grounds. The law says a judge "shall disqualify himself . . . . " In other words, Fuller has an obligation under the law to act, but he is shoving it off on another judge.

As for lazy, codefendant Richard Scrushy filed the motion to recuse on June 26, 2009, and Siegelman joined it last October. So Fuller has been sitting on the motion for almost a year, and is only acting now because Scrushy recently filed a motion that said, in so many words, "Get off your ass and do your job!"

As for whiny, get this from Fuller's latest memorandum opinion:
The Court has taken no particular pleasure in presiding over this matter. Nonetheless, it has not been an unbearable burden either. Should the judge to whom the instant motion to recuse is referred decide that the Court need not disqualify itself, then there will be a further duty for this Court to perform in this case, and the Court will, as it must, perform that duty conscientiously.
Well, doesn't that ease your mind? Presiding over the Siegelman case has not been an "unbearable burden" for Fuller. Sure nice to know that the case is all about him. Also nice to know that a federal judge isn't burdened by the fact that his corrupt actions have caused two innocent men to go to prison.

It's also clear, from this statement, that Fuller intends to stay on the case--in spite of what the law says--unless another judge forces him off.

Mark Fuller: What a waste of carbon. This guy makes Kent Dorfman look like one of life's winners. You can check out Fuller's latest handiwork below:

Fuller Recusal

Anti-Obama Teacher Is Placed on Administrative Leave in Alabama

An Alabama teacher who used the assassination of President Obama as an example in a high-school geometry class has been placed on administrative leave.

Gregory Harrison is on paid leave and faces possible termination, Jefferson County School Superintendent Phil Hammonds said. Hammonds originally said Harrison would not be fired and would face no disciplinary action other than a "long conversation."

Hammonds apparently changed his mind after phone calls flooded his office yesterday, coming from as far away as New York, California, and Wisconsin.

Meanwhile, recent history indicates a serious double standard exists regarding alleged political speech in Alabama public schools--and one such case hits very close to home.

Harrison used the example of shooting Obama to help teach his students at Corner High School about angles. A parent complained about Harrison's lesson, and the school system contacted Birmingham's Secret Service Office. Agents questioned Harrison but released him without charges after determining that he was not a credible threat to the president.

Harrison probably would have faced little in the form of discipline, but a public outcry appears to be changing that. Reports The Birmingham News:

Hammonds said the district has suffered great embarrassment by the teacher's "lack of judgment."

"As a district, we are embarrassed by his actions and what he said," Hammonds said. "There is nothing that can be said to rationalize what was said. We take this very seriously. There is no place in our society for a person to make these comments."

Hammonds said he will investigate the matter further, and will talk to students and teachers before recommending to the board what to do with the teacher. Hammonds said termination is a possibility.

Are employees in Alabama public schools treated fairly based on alleged political speech? At least two cases we are familiar with, when compared to the Harrison case, indicate the answer is no.

Steve White, a science teacher at West Limestone High School near Athens, Alabama, was fired in 2006 after showing a film clip to his class in which President George W. Bush, members of his staff, and conservative personalities were referred to as "a--holes."

Parents complained, and White promptly received a written reprimand in his file. National news shows picked up on the story, and parents went to the school board with allegations that White had shown sexually explicit materials in class.

School officials investigated and said they found pornographic material on White's computer, that he was showing videos in class rather than teaching science. White was a Democratic candidate for the Alabama House of Representatives at the time. The Athens News Courier reported:

Allegations against White began when parents complained their children had been shown a video at filmstripinternaitonal.com referring the President Bush and his administration as a-holes numerous times. The clip also used the s-word and showed someone “flipping a bird.”

On April 5, parent Christy Jackson demanded to know what punishment White had received and went to Channel 48 with her concerns. She did not name White during her interview, but The News Courier leaned the following day the teacher was White, a candidate for the district 4 seat on the state House of Representatives.
Carroll announced the following week that White had been punished by Principal Stan Davis in the form of a letter of reprimand in his employment file.

The story was soon picked up by national news shows, including Fox News, CNN, MSNBC and others. Talk radio show hosts discussed the incident for several days and Web site logs, one of which named White “Unhinged Teacher of the Week” were created.

On April 7, parents came to school board members with new allegations against White, saying he had shown sexually explicit materials in class. White was placed on leave that day.

Davis and Carroll confiscated the computer from White’s room April 10.

White lost an appeal in August 2006. An arbitrator found that White's behavior was not immoral, but he had violated the school's Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) for computers.

So let's review: One Alabama teacher uses the assassination of Barack Obama as an instructional tool, and the initial reaction is not to discipline him in any meaningful way. Another Alabama teacher shows a film clip that makes a negative reference to George W. Bush, and he immediately receives a written reprimand, is investigated, and winds up being fired.

In the second example, it should be noted that the teacher himself did not make the negative comments about Bush; they were in a film clip. It also should be noted that this teacher taught science, which one might assume could involve images of the human body. There appear to be significant questions about whether the images on White's computer actually were pornographic. After all, an arbitrator determined his behavior was not immoral. But the teacher, who just happened to be running for public office as a Democrat, got fired.

What about the teacher who directly discussed the assassination of Obama? It appears that he is only being disciplined because of a flood of phone calls from around the country. And it remains to be seen if he will be investigated or terminated.

A double standard in Alabama? We think so.

And we've seen how the double standard is applied in an up-close-and-personal way. More on that coming up.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Assassination of Obama Is Used as a Teaching Tool in Alabama

An Alabama math teacher used the assassination of President Barack Obama as a way to teach angles to his geometry students.

Secret Service officials questioned the Corner High School teacher after someone alerted them about the class session. The teacher was not taken into custody or charged with a crime.

Corner is a community in extreme northwest Jefferson County, about 20 miles from Birmingham. Reports The Birmingham News:

The teacher was apparently teaching his geometry students about parallel lines and angles, officials said. He used the example of where to stand and aim if shooting Obama.



"He was talking about angles and said, 'If you're in this building, you would need to take this angle to shoot the president,' " said Joseph Brown, a senior in the geometry class.



Phil Hammonds, superintendent of Jefferson County Schools, said the teacher will not be terminated:

"We are going to have a long conversation with him about what's appropriate," Hammonds said. "It was extremely poor judgment on his part, and a poor choice of words."

Victim of Bush Justice Department Is Fighting Back in Mississippi

Neither Congress nor the Obama Justice Department seem inclined to hold anyone accountable for the apparent crimes of the George W. Bush administration. Perhaps the best hope for victims is to seek justice themselves in the civil arena. One victim in Mississippi is doing just that--and he recently won a major court victory.

A federal judge has ruled that former Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz and his wife, Jennifer, can proceed with a lawsuit against former Bush prosecutor Dunn Lampton.

Oliver Diaz was tried and acquitted twice in connection with the Paul Minor case. Minor, a successful Gulf Coast trial attorney, and former state judges Wes Teel and John Whitfield currently are serving federal prison sentences after being convicted on corruption charges. We have written extensively about the Minor case and shown that the convictions were the result of unlawful jury instructions given by a Republican-appointed federal judge.

The Diazes charge that Lampton invaded their privacy by releasing confidential tax information to the Mississippi Judicial Performance Commission. U.S. District Judge Daniel P. Jordan ruled that Lampton is not protected by immunity in the case.

The Biloxi Sun-Herald reports on the immunity ruling:

“In the present case, (Dunn) Lampton provided the tax records to the commission after Diaz was acquitted,” Jordan wrote in his order. “The prosecution was over; the conduct was neither part of his prosecutorial function nor part of his role as an advocate.”

The full ruling can be read here:

Oliver Diaz Order

Monday, May 17, 2010

Is Obama Holding Leura Canary's Job for Artur Davis?

Congressman Artur Davis has asked the Obama administration to hold a sensitive U.S. attorney position for him, should he lose in his bid to become governor of Alabama, sources tell Legal Schnauzer.

One of the great mysteries of the Obama administration has been this: Why has it left Leura Canary in place as U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Alabama? Canary, a Bush appointee who has served under Obama for roughly 15 months now, is notorious for her role in the apparent political prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman.

Sources now are shining significant light on the mystery. They say Davis, an Obama supporter during the 2008 campaign, has asked the president to leave Canary in place so the position could go to Davis if he falls short in his bid for governor. The White House apparently has agreed to do that.

This scenario raises all kinds of troubling questions about Davis and Obama and their views of the Justice Department. It also raises questions about possible manipulation of the appointment process:

* If Davis and Obama have struck such a deal, when did it take place? If it was shortly after Obama took office, has there been any legitimate attempt to fill the U.S. attorney position in Montgomery?

* If the deal came more recently, does that mean Davis realizes his run for governor is in trouble, especially in light of his no vote on health-care reform? A report out yesterday said Davis now is drawing less than 40 percent of the black vote in his primary run against Ron Sparks.

* How is this for irony? After possibly harpooning his own gubernatorial run by voting no on Obama's health-care bill, could Davis now be turning to the president for help with a political appointment? Does the man have no shame?

* The names of two Alabama lawyers--Michel Nicrosi and Joseph Van Heest--have been put forth for the Montgomery position. But U.S. Senators Jeff Sessions and Richard Shelby, respectively, nixed them. Were Nicrosi and Van Heest serious candidates or were their names floated for show?

* If the names were floated for show, does that mean Davis and perhaps the White House are working with the likes of Sessions and Shelby to deceive the public?

* What about federal crimes that have gone ignored--or non-crimes that were pursued--in the 15 months Canary has served under Obama? This would include an ongoing federal investigation surrounding electronic bingo in Alabama, which appears to be a glorified political favor to GOP Governor Bob Riley, a staunch Canary ally. What kind of costs, financial and otherwise, have the public paid in order to hold a spot for Artur Davis?

* Is the Obama White House remotely serious about justice issues and cleaning up the mess it inherited from the George W. Bush administration? Or does Obama see federal-prosecutor jobs as something to be passed out as political patronage?

* Could there be a worse choice for the Montgomery position than Artur Davis? In his run for governor, Davis has sought the support of pro-business interests led by Bill Canary, who is Leura Canary's husband and president of the Business Council of Alabama. Bill Canary, a longtime associate of Karl Rove, reportedly was in the middle of the plan to unlawfully prosecute Siegelman--and he should immediately be on the radar of the new federal prosecutor in Montgomery? But would he be on Artur Davis' radar?

* If Davis is awarded the position, would he do anything to clean up one of the ugliest cesspools in the American justice system? Would he do much of anything, other than collect a nice government check while he ponders his next political move?

Davis has a background as a prosecutor and, on paper, probably is qualified to be a U.S. attorney. But if he is going to be appointed to such a position, it needs to be outside of Alabama. Davis has spent the past year or so sucking up to the white, corporate, conservative elites who have turned Montgomery into an ethical sewer.

It's hard to imagine that Artur Davis would be the right person to clean up that mess.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Dog Takes a Leak, Fatal Shooting Ensues

A fox terrier puppy stopped to relieve himself on some grass Sunday evening in Chicago. A few minutes later, the dog's owner lay dead from a gunshot wound.

Charles J. Clements, 69, has been arrested in the shooting death of 23-year-old Joshua Funches. Their confrontation started when Clements, a regular winner of neighborhood beautification awards, noticed the dog urinating on his lawn.

According to news reports, Clements instructed Funches to keep the dog off his lawn, and Funches sassed the former Marine and retired truck driver. That sparked an argument that ended in gunfire. The story shines an unfortunate spotlight on property-related issues, a frequent topic here at Legal Schnauzer.

Here is how the Chicago Tribune describes the incident:

Joshua Funches, a 23-year-old father of two, was walking his fox terrier Gucci in the 500 block of Landau Road on Sunday night when the dog lifted its leg and urinated on Clements' lawn, said Funches' mother Patricia, 53.

The two men began arguing, and at some point, Clements, a retired truck driver, pulled out a pistol and pointed it at Funches, a Crete-Monee High School graduate who drove a bus, said Will County Assistant State's Attorney Sondra Denmark.

Witnesses said Funches then said to Clements, "Next time you pull out a pistol, why don't you use it?" Denmark said. At that point, witnesses said they saw orange and white light and heard a loud noise. They saw Funches fall to the ground.

"It was all over a little wooden plaque," said an emotional Patricia Funches, referring to the beautification award. "It was a senseless death."

A report in the Chicago Sun-Times indicates Clements did not have a gun when he initially spoke to Funches, but went back in his house to get the weapon after the two had argued. The report says the shooting occurred several doors down from where Clements lived:

Will County prosecutors made no mention of the dog urinating in the yard when they outlined their case at a bond hearing Tuesday, saying only that Funches was walking the dog and crossed the lawn, which resulted in words exchanged with Clements and escalated into a shouting match and some shoving before the older man pulled a gun and shot him.

Funches' mother said she was told by neighbors that after the initial arguments Clements went back into his house to get the gun and returned to shoot her son, who by then was several houses down the block on his way home, which would undermine any self-defense claim.

Patricia Williams, 16, pointed out to me the weed-strewn yard where Funches was actually shot.

You wonder if Clements would have stopped himself if it had meant spilling blood in his own yard.

The story raises a number of legal and ethical questions, not to mention high emotions. One Chicago columnist said it reflects two conflicting American values: the lawn as icon and our love of dogs.

I think it's more complicated than that--and I have a lot of personal experience in this area. The legal headaches I've reported on this blog started when a man with an extensive criminal record, Mike McGarity, moved in next door to us and immediately began trampling on our property rights.

McGarity built a fence on our yard that took up about 400 square feet of our property. When we noticed the possible encroachment, we had our yard resurveyed to prove it. Then we had a lawyer send McGarity a letter, stating the fence would have to be moved and we expected to be reimbursed for our expenses.

After removing the fence and failing to reimburse us, McGarity apparently decided to retaliate. He, family members, and guests began to repeatedly trespass on our property. Our house was vandalized--with eggs, paintballs, objects thrown through our windows, you name it.

When I told McGarity verbally on multiple occasions to stay off our yard, he threatened to sue me for "harassment." My wife and I consulted with multiple lawyers before I swore out a warrant against McGarity for criminal trespass, third degree. He was acquitted at trial, even though the transcript shows he confessed to the crime as charged, and that allowed him--with the help of lawyer William E. Swatek--to sue me for malicious prosecution.

The whole ordeal has cost us tens of thousands of dollars, and my decision to write about the corrupt handling of the lawsuit in Shelby County Circuit Court almost certainly contributed to the loss of my job at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB).

As you can see, property issues can get complicated, expensive, even dangerous. But here is a key thought to keep in mind: One of the concepts that makes our country America is the notion of private-property rights. Some people are quite relaxed about this right; others are highly sensitive about it. But there is no question that, under the law, any owner has an almost unfettered right to manage what takes place on his property. Renters have similar rights.

So what's our take on the Chicago story? First, I think it's about way more than lawns vs. dogs. According to news reports, several people who lived nearby said Clements was an excellent neighbor, and they appreciated the fact that he took care of his property. They also said his concern usually was about children who came on his yard, not pets.

That's one thing Clements and I have in common. I've never been concerned about animals coming on our property. I frequently scoop up dog poop off our front yard, and I don't mind. We have a terrier that lives behind us who makes regular forays into our back yard to dig holes. I go out after a while and fill them up with dirt, but I've never complained to the owner. The presence of animals on our property just does not bother us--and my wife and I are especially fond of terriers.

After all, we've never had an animal sass us. We've never had an animal lie to us--or about us. We've never had an animal's parent call to threaten us. We've never had an animal sue us.

People are my concern because I've learned that people can lie, cheat, steal, threaten, and vandalize. Well-behaved children, who have parents that I know and trust, used to always be welcome on our yard. Before McGarity moved in, the neighbors on the other side of us asked if their two boys could come on our yard to retrieve balls, etc. We said yes, and that worked fine for awhile. But when it became a problem, and we raised concerns with the parents, they indicated they weren't going to take the matter seriously. So we rescinded the invitation to come on our yard. We have a feeling the mother bad-mouthed us to numerous neighbors, and that made us even more determined that kids no longer were going to romp on our yard. That was our mindset when McGarity moved in.

Charles Clements had every right to be vigilant about what took place on his property. But he and Funches both made mistakes on Sunday evening, mistakes that had fatal consequences.

To many people, a dog peeing on a lawn is a minor thing--and it certainly would be a minor thing to me. But under the law, Clements was within his rights to tell Funches that he would prefer the dog do his business elsewhere.

Allowing a dog to pee on a lawn almost certainly is not a crime, unless it would violate a municipal ordinance in some places. But if Clements had plenty of time and money to waste, he could have filed a lawsuit against Funches for trespass. That probably would have resulted in an injunction, hard feelings, and use of public resources that could be better spent elsewhere.

If Clements simply could not let the issue pass, he took the wiser path by simply telling Funches that he did not want the dog peeing on his yard. We don't know the kind of tone that Clements used to start the conversation. My guess is that he was fairly rough about it.

Funches' big mistake came when he apparently didn't simply say, "Sorry about that," and keep walking. When a property owner makes a lawful request--even if it's in a rough tone of voice--the appropriate response is to acknowledge the mistake, apologize, and say you'll try not to let it happen again. If you don't want to say all of that, just try "Sorry," and it should work. Even if you think the property owner is being a horse's ass, "sorry" is the best response.

Clements' big mistake came when he introduced a gun into the equation. There is no indication that Funches threatened him. So why go get a gun?

All of this reminds us of Edna Jester, the 88-year-old Cincinnati woman who wound up being arrested after she kept footballs that kids kept throwing onto her yard--despite her repeated requests that they quit doing it.

We tend to be sympathetic to the Edna Jesters and Charles Clements of the world. They have every right to be vigilant about what takes place on their property. But Charles Clements clearly went way too far. (I have a feeling Mike McGarity would have been dead a long time ago if he had moved in next door to Charles Clements.)

The Jester case, thankfully, ended in fairly benign fashion after area law enforcement had butchered the situation horribly--actually arresting a senior citizen for picking up objects off her yard.

The Clements case, sadly, ended in death. Joshua Funches should not have sassed a property owner, making a lawful request--no matter how silly it might have seemed. Clements should not have introduced a gun into the equation, no matter how disrespectful he thought Funches was being.

Now, multiple lives are ruined because of those mistakes.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

An Alabamian's Footage: "The Gulf Appears to Be Bleeding"

Perhaps the most dramatic video so far of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico comes from an Alabama resident named John Wathen.

Wathen, an environmental investigator and clean-water advocate for Perry County, Alabama, has worked extensively on the coal-ash issue that has affected his home area. He is involved with a number of environmental Web sites, including creekkeeper.blogspot.com.

Wathen is at the heart of bpoilslick.blogspot.com, one of the best sites on the Web for keeping up with the disaster.

The Locust Fork News-Journal named Wathen its 2009 Local Person of the Year. Writes Glynn Wilson:


As for the local Southern scene, there is really only one story worth mentioning on the environment front, and that is the massive TVA coal ash spill in Tennessee that is now creating havoc in Alabama’s Black Belt. Why this story does not rate more national, regional and local attention is beyond me, although one of the top rated and highest circulation news sites in the country had the foresight to make it the lead story on Christmas day.

Who is the person most responsible for helping to bring this story out of the darkness and into the light? Our local person of the year is Hurricane Creekkeeper John Wathen of Tuscaloosa, who deserves the credit for being more of a bona fide environmental activist than all the other fine people working for all the other non-profit organizations in the state.

Here’s to you John.

Wathen's footage of the BP spill almost brings tears to your eyes. In stark detail, it shows the devastation that already has occurred and indicates that it is likely to get much worse.

In his commentary, Wathen says "the Gulf appears to be bleeding." Indeed it does.


Republican Commissioner Tied to Shooting Death in Mobile County

A Republican commissioner in Mobile County has been questioned in the shooting death of a 45-year-old real-estate agent.

Angel Downs was found in her driveway on Sunday night, dead from a single gunshot wound. Police met with Stephen Nodine and executed a search warrant on his red county-issued pickup truck, which neighbors said was seen leaving the scene.

This is Nodine's second recent brush with the law. He remains under investigation after marijuana was found in his truck last December.

News reports indicate that Downs was a strikingly attractive woman. Mobile County District Attorney Judy Newcomb said investigators have completed a re-examination of Downs' residence. An early news report indicated that authorities found evidence that pointed to suicide. But followups have not mentioned that possibility. Reports the Mobile Press-Register:

The search warrant for Downs' townhouse at The Ridge allowed investigators to examine any computers, cell phones and other electronic devices inside, Newcomb said.

An autopsy of Downs' body was also completed Monday, according to Scott Millroy of the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences lab in Mobile.

Investigators have yet to reveal the autopsy's findings, however.

Friends and coworkers remembered Downs fondly:

"Angel Downs was a wonderful employee and will be greatly missed," said Robb Cunningham, president of Benchmark Homes in Mobile and Baldwin counties. "She always had a smile on her face and was always optimistic, even in the midst of a tough real estate market."

Downs was married in 1993 in Savannah, Ga., but divorced in August 2005 while living in Baldwin County, court records show. She had no children. Cunningham said her relatives reside in Georgia.

Downs, whose territory was Foley, Roberstdale and Loxley, was promoted to sales manager in Baldwin County in October 2008 and was manager of the company's build-on-your-lot division, Cunningham said.

Nodine, a Republican, represents Mobile County's second district. His biography says Nodine "has stood for conservative values, fought for common sense solutions to tough challenges and worked to implement a clear vision for more jobs, better roads, more parks and green space, safer communities and a brighter future."

Here is a report from a Mobile television station. In it, an official is asked about the possibility that Nodine's truck was spotted in Downs' neighborhood and says that he could have been there on "regional business."

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Insider on Siegelman Prosecution Fears for his Life

A member of the team that prosecuted former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman says he witnessed rampant misconduct in the case but is afraid to come forward out of fear for his life.

Scott Horton, legal-affairs contributor for Harper's magazine, made the revelation in a speech last week to the Rotary Club of New York and the American Constitution Society.

Horton says that one Justice Department whistleblower--Tamarah Grimes, of Montgomery--had come forward about misconduct in the Siegelman prosecution and wound up losing her job. A second, unnamed whistleblower fears a similar fate, or worse, if he comes forward.

Horton says he has interviewed both prosecution insiders, and they corroborate statements by key witness Nick Bailey that he was heavily coached and threatened with being outed as a homosexual. Says Horton:

As I note, two members of the prosecution team were appalled by the misconduct that drove the case against Siegelman. One of them filed internal complaints inside the Justice Department. The result? Her name is Tamara Grimes. She was persecuted, hounded, and finally dismissed from her position--in direct violation of the federal whistleblower protection statute.

And what about the second member of the team?

(He) tells me he will not step forward because he knows he would face the same fate. He even indicated the fear of a mob type--"you don't understand, these people would kill me if they have to to keep the lid on this." And Main Justice? "They’d be happy to learn that I was dead."

Horton goes on to summarize the Justice Department's disgraceful handling of the Siegelman case:

So today, even though the Siegelman case has been torn to shreds in the public and 104 state attorneys general, led by Graham Wood, the national co-chair of the McCain for President campaign, have formally complained about the Justice Department’s gross and abusive handling the case, the Justice Department admits no wrong. It's even issued a series of brazenly false public statements in an attempt to cover its tracks.

The Siegelman prosecution hardly is an isolated instance of abuse. Horton discusses other justice-related matters, and the full speech can be viewed below:

Scott Horton Speech