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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Roller Derby Queen Prevails In Legal Battle Over a Romance Gone Sour

Stacey Blitsch

I never expected to have much in common with a roller derby queen. But by golly, it has happened. And that's because lawyers have tried to muzzle both Stacey Blitsch and Legal Schnauzer--without much success, so far.

Regular readers know that North Carolina lawyer Chad Essick has threatened me three times with legal action because of my reporting about Ted Rollins, CEO of Charlotte-based Campus Crest Communities. What has been my great sin? Reporting accurately and thoroughly about Rollins' actions connected to a peculiar divorce action he brought against Sherry Carroll Rollins, his ex wife who now lives in Alabama with the couple's two daughters. Since Ted Rollins has no facts or law to support a claim against me, he has resorted to threats from a lawyer who apparently has too much time on his hands.

Blitsch has faced similar efforts to silence her voice on the Web, although under very different circumstances from mine. Blitsch's antagonist, like mine, has only succeeded in bringing heightened attention to his own questionable actions.

Who is Stacey Blitsch? She's a real-life roller derby queen, based in California. As you can tell from the photo above, she cuts quite an impressive swath.

How did Blitsch get crossways with a lawyer? First, she got dumped by her boyfriend, a New York lawyer named Matthew Couloute Jr. Then she discovered that Couloute had also dumped another woman, Amanda Ryncarz. The two women decided to go on the Web site LiarsCheatersRUs.com and air their grievances about the lawyerly Lothario.

Couloute was not amused. He responded by filing a federal lawsuit for tortious interference with business relations. He amended the complaint to add a claim for defamation. But U.S. District Judge Harold Baer, of New York, booted the lawsuit last week, stating that Couloute did not have grounds to support either claim.

Gloria Allred, flanked by Amanda
Ryncarz and Stacy Blitsch
How did Blitsch and Ryncarz manage to fight off their former legal lover? Well, it probably helped that their case attracted the attention of Gloria Allred, the high-profile discrimination lawyer from Los Angeles. Allred's star power might have helped her clients prevail in court.

It's also possible that Blitsch and Ryncarz prevailed because Couloute had a crappy case. And it appears that he is exactly what Blitsch and Ryncarz say he is--a world-class cad, with a big-time sense of entitlement.

To be sure, the women lambasted Couloute on LiarsCheatersRUs.com. Legal analyst Jonathan Turley has a nice, tongue-in-cheek take on the contretemps:

We have previously discussed the problems of lawyers with being attacked by ex-girlfriends for their alleged bad relationships. The latest such story involves attorney Matthew Couloute Jr. who sued a former roller derby queen Stacey Blitsch and another ex for their posts about him at liarscheatersrus.com. The site still has a place for Couloute comments. Now, federal Judge Harold Baer has tossed out the defamation lawsuit as improperly based on protected opinion. In this case, the opinion that Couloute is a collossal loser. [Just for the record, I want to note that I have not dated Couloute and that I am merely repeating the opinion of those who have dated Couloute].

Couloute was called a cheating “scum” who, according to Amanda Ryncarz, dumped her over the phone five days before marrying another woman. Blitsch has a son with Couloute.

In a nine-page opinion, Judge Baer easily dispensed with Couloute's claim for tortious interference. Wrote the judge:

Under New York law, to establish a claim for tortious interference with prospective business relations, a plaintiff must establish: “(1) business relations with a third party; (2) the defendant’s interference with those business relations; (3) the defendant acted with the sole purpose of harming the plaintiff or used dishonest, unfair or improper means; and (4) injury to the business relationship.” DiFolco v. MSNBC Cable L.L.C., 622 F.3d 104, 114 (2d Cir. 2010).

For Plaintiff’s tortious interference claim to survive, Plaintiff must allege that Defendants “directly interfered with the [identified] business relationship by directing some activities towards the third party and convinc[ing] the third party not to enter into a business relationship with the plaintiff.” Zdenek Marek v. Old Navy (Apparel), Inc., 348 F. Supp. 2d 275, 280 (S.D.N.Y. 2004) . . . Plaintiff fails to point to any client, current or prospective, about which Defendants had knowledge and to whom their comments were directed. . . . Plaintiff would have the Court infer from the Defendants’comments (accusing Plaintiff of being a “liar” and a “cheater”) and the fact that Defendants “must have known that Plaintiff had current clients” that Defendants specifically targeted those clients. . . . Plaintiff provides no cases to support the idea that potentially harmful statements posted on a website such as this one, coupled with the knowledge that the statements might be read by third parties, is sufficient to show that one or more relationships were intentionally interfered with by Defendants.

Why did Couloute not bring the defamation claim in his initial complaint? Truth is an absolute defense to a defamation claim, and we suspect that the lawyer knew discovery would show that the women's claims were true. Aside from that, Judge Baer had no problems dispensing with Couloute's defamation claim, as well:

The key question here is whether, drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of Plaintiff, the comments contain assertions of fact or opinion. The New York Court of Appeals distilled the following three factors which courts are instructed to consider in determining whether a statement is one of fact or opinion:

(1) whether the specific language in issue has a precise meaning which is readily understood; (2) whether the statements are capable of being proven true or false; and (3) whether either the full context of the communication in which the statement appears or the broader social context and surrounding circumstances are such as to signal [to] readers or listeners that what is being read or heard is likely to be opinion, not fact.

Did Couloute meet his burden? Judge Baer ruled that he did not:

With the possible exception of the statement that Plaintiff “rents or finances everything and owns absolutely nothing”--a statement clearly capable of being proven true or false--the comments, even if viewed in isolation, are opinion. Defendants state that Plaintiff "lied and cheated all through his 40 years of life," and that, because Plaintiff is an attorney, "he's great at lying and covering it up without batting an eye." Comments such as these are clearly hyperbolic. And when viewed within the larger context of the website on which they were posted, there can be no doubt that a reasonable reader would understand the comments to be opinion. As Defendants note, liarscheatersrus.com is "specifically intended to provide a forum for people to air their grievances about dishonest romantic partners. . . . " The average reader would know that the comments are "emotionally charged rhetoric" and the "opinions of disappointed lovers."

The case of the roller derby queen scorned does raise at least one serious issue. I'm all for free speech in general, but the notion of folks taking to the Web to bash someone because of a romance gone sour is, well . . . a little disarming. I'm working on 21-plus years of marriage and don't plan to re-enter the dating scene anytime soon, but I could see where the Liars/Cheaters Web site might ensnare folks who aren't liars or cheaters at all. Maybe they just declined an invitation for a date, and the other party decided to "make them pay."

Judge Baer seemed to acknowledge that such Web sites are ripe sources of potential abuse:

Of course the Internet makes it more likely that a greater number of people will read comments such as these, and thereby amplify the impact they may have on a person, but this does not change the underlying nature of the comments themselves. See Sandals Resorts Intern., Ltd v. Google, Inc., 925 N.Y.S.2d 407, 415-16 (N.Y. App. Div. 2011) (noting the Internet "encourage[es] a freewheeling, anything-goes writing style," and that "readers give less credence to allegedly defamatory remarks published on the Internet than to similar remarks made in other contexts."

In spite of my reservations about LiarsCheatersRUs.com, I'm pleased that the roller derby queen and her friend prevailed. It would be nice, also, if this case helped convince Ted Rollins' lawyer to find something constructive to do with his time.

To celebrate one victory for justice, let's enjoy a live performance of Jim Croce's "Roller Derby Queen."


Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Death of Alabama Lawyer Chace Swatek Hits Close to Home in Disturbing Ways

Chace Swatek and his sister,
actress Barret Swatek

Chace William Swatek had a low-profile law practice in Alabama, but my recent post about his mysterious death drew heavy traffic and a boat load of comments, many of them with harsh words for your humble blogger.

Chace's older brother, Dax Swatek, is a well-known Republican thug/operative, with documented ties to the Karl Rove and Jack Abramoff wings of the party, and I suspect that drove some of the traffic to my post. The Swatek family seems to have little in the way of morals or ethics, but they have connections to Birmingham's sizable conservative, evangelical Christian community--and I suspect that was another driver. After all, Chace's memorial service was at Briarwood Presbyterian Church, a suburban megachurch that has ties to our Legal Schnauzer story through a curious deal engineered by a real-estate agent named Phyllis Tinsley.

At least one reader, however, was drawn to the Chace Swatek post for a very different set of reasons. Peter B. Collins is a prominent progressive radio talk-show host who is based in San Francisco and known for producing "news and commentary from the Left Coast." I've been a guest on Peter B's show probably eight to 10 times, usually to discuss issues connected to the prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman. In fact, Peter B said he knows me mostly as "the guy who blogs about Siegelman."

It was not until he read the post about Chace Swatek that Peter B understood the tale of personal legal woe that caused me to start Legal Schnauzer in the first place. He did not know that my interest in the justice system grew from a bogus lawsuit that William E. Swatek (Chace's father) filed against me on behalf of a criminally inclined neighbor named Mike McGarity. "My first interaction with you was when you were fired from the University of Alabama, where you worked for almost 20 years, because of your private work on the blog and your coverage of the Siegelman case," Peter B said. He added that he found it "astounding" to learn that my personal story started because of the Swatek family and their ties to  Republican royalty.

My appearances on Peter B's show usually have been to discuss issues of national significance. But he had me on last week to talk about the Chace Swatek post and the personal story that drove me to start a blog about justice issues.

You can check it out at The Peter B. Collins show Web site, with a piece titled "Roger Shuler’s Personal 12-year Battle Against Injustice and Sleaze in Alabama." As I recount our story, Mrs. Schnauzer and I were trying to follow Bill Clinton's advice to "work hard and play by the rules" when one day our world got turned upside down by a lawsuit from hell. "I got caught up in this like stepping in cow poop out in the field," I said. "I wasn't looking one day, and the next thing I knew I had mess all over my shoe and wondered, 'How did that happen?'

"It really started from us trying to protect our property rights. We had a difficult neighbor who wouldn't stay off our yard, and one thing led to another . . . "

The link above includes an audio preview of our discussion, and the full interview is available via subscription. Here are highlights from Peter B's examination of the Chace Swatek story and its ties
to courtroom buffoonery that launched a legal blog:

* On the fact that my wife and I were the victims of a low-level crime (criminal trespass), and our efforts to have that prosecuted led Mike McGarity, with Bill Swatek's help, to sue me for a little-known tort called malicious prosecution. I pointed out that McGarity was found not guilty on the criminal-trespass charge, even though a transcript of the trial shows that he confessed to committing the crime:


Because he was acquitted, (McGarity) turned around and sued me for a tort called malicious prosecution and that's what started our whole nightmare. People don't know this, but you can be the victim of a crime, and if you bring charges and the person is acquitted, they can sue you for malicious prosecution. . . . It most often is used when people are charged with shoplifting, at say a department store, and they get acquitted and then sue the department store. It's called a disfavored tort and should almost never be brought, but this guy got Bill Swatek as his lawyer, and (Swatek) has a 30-year history of sleazy activity with the Alabama State Bar, and that's how we got caught in this never-ending mess. And it can happen to any American. If you stepped outside and got mugged and decided to press charges and the guy got off, he could turn around and sue you. It's pretty scary stuff. . . . We were the victims of a low-level crime and made the mistake of taking it to court. The guy wouldn't stay off our property, and one of our concerns was that if someone got hurt on our property, we would get sued. These people were on our yard constantly . . . adults and kids. They basically turned our yard into a park.

* On the special treatment that Bill Swatek receives in Shelby County court, which led to the McGarity acquittal, a lawsuit against me, and ultimately a judgment for roughly $1,500 for a tort called conversion (the malicious prosecution claimed ultimately was dismissed), which is essentially a civil form of theft. Swatek brought a conversion claim against me because I cleaned up trash that had been thrown onto my yard, and no one had claimed it. I'm not making this up; I have a legal judgment against me because I cleaned up junk out of my yard and put it in a bag in my garage:


One of the things I don't know for sure is how does (Bill Swatek) get that kind of power? And he's not the only Shelby County lawyer who gets treated favorably that way. I will be writing more about what I call a hunting club case. There are hunting clubs in Alabama, where judges and lawyers get together to fix cases, and I think something like that might be going on in Shelby County. There definitely are several federal lawsuits that have been filed related to that kind of activity related to divorce cases. . . . What we are talking about here is organized crime, where certain people get favored in court, and it appears lawyers do favors for judges through hunting clubs. . . . I read in a federal lawsuit that (certain lawyers) will take judges to South America on fishing trips or up to Canada to fish for salmon or trout or whatever they have up there. Then they come home, (and the lawyers get favorable judgments) and they don't have to meet deadlines, they don't have to file documents.


* On Dax Swatek's connections, and their possible influence on my personal story:

Dax Swatek is the key figure. . . .  He has ties to what I call the two prongs of the Republican crime family. You've got the Karl Rove prong of the family, and Dax Swatek's mentor is Bill Canary. People who have followed the Siegelman case know that Bill Canary is very close to Karl Rove. In 2006, Dax Swatek was Bob Riley's campaign manager. . . . Bob Riley has very clear, documented ties to Jack Abramoff and to Michael Scanlon. You have one prong to the left that goes straight to Karl Rove and another prong to the right that goes straight to Jack Abramoff--and Dax Swatek is right in the middle of both of them. . . . And he's the older brother of Chace Swatek, the one who turned up dead.

* On criticism I took for the Chace Swatek post. Peter B noted that he has a rule of waiting until someone is buried before telling the truth about them:

I didn't really have much to criticize the deceased (about). He had kind of a low-profile law practice, doing stuff like his father did--divorce and criminal defense. . . . It was an occasion to provide a lot of background on what this family is really like, and how it hits home personally to me. A lot of the comments bash me, and others stood up for me. I'm not into sugarcoating things on my blog--never have been, never will be. I just told the truth, and it's all supported by public documents about the father. I had one brief phone conversation with Chace Swatek, when he called me out of the blue . . . and I guess I will never know why he called me. Maybe I should have followed your idea of waiting until he was buried. I jumped the gun by 24 hours. I really was not critical of (Chace). It was more his father and his brother and this ugly network they are involved in.

* On the comments to the Chace Swatek post:

I hope your listeners will read the comments because it's quite an expose into the right-wing mind. A lot of these people don't give a crap what has happened to me and Carol, they just don't like that I wrote about the Swateks. Several of them quoted Bible verses to me. I had a number say, "Would you please take this down . . . this is just awful to have this at a time of grief for the family.' I said, "Heck no, I'm not taking it down--it's part of my life and part of the public record. . . .

I'll pat myself on the back, I let all of those comments through, and I didn't have to. I moderate comments, and I could have kicked them all out if I had wanted to. I engaged quite a few of the people in back and forth. I challenged several of them--the ones who said you just need to get over it and move on--and said, "Why don't you confront the Swatek family? Maybe not now during a time of grief, but why don't you ask, 'What have you done to these people?' and see how they react." Of course, I don't think they will really do that. It's a real eye opener into the Southern, Republican, conservative mind.

* On the damages we have incurred--including the loss of our jobs--and the notion from some commenters that we should "turn the other cheek" toward the Swatek family:

We are fighting (our employment cases) in court on our own . . . and we're surviving on our savings. . . . We don't have children, and we've made efforts to be fairly frugal--although we were not planning to use (our savings) for things like this. It's tough; I call it financial terrorism, and I think that's what they were trying to do to Don Siegelman. More than putting him in prison, I think they wanted to ruin him financially so he could never run for office again. And that's what they've tried to do to me.

We've spent $25,000 to $30,000 directly to multiple lawyers. And a lot of your listeners probably have no idea about the expenses of filing a case, filing an appeal (when you are representing yourself, as we are now). We should be stockholders in OfficeMax because we have to go there to get this stuff bound. And (those expenses) don't even count my salary for four years and my wife's salary for over two years. The people who criticize me on the comments and say "just let bygones be bygones," well . . . we're not sure, but it's probably in the neighborhood of $500,000 to $1 million that these people have cost us--when you total up salaries, benefits, legal expenses, and everything.

Turning the cheek sounds easy in Bible study class. I'm willing turn the cheek, but justice has to be achieved at some point.

In tallying up our damages, I didn't even note that Bill Swatek has unlawfully held partial ownership in our house for almost four years. Given that our house probably would go on the market for about $200,000, that gives you an idea of those damages. And the figures I tossed out didn't account for emotional pain and suffering, which has been horrific.

Here is perhaps the No. 1 theme that jumped out in the comments from Swatek supporters, many of whom seem to self identify as devout Christians: My wife and I--and others who have been victimized by Bill Swatek over the years--are non-entities. We are sub-human, not deserving of concern or respect, because we do not fit into their conservative tribe. We are to twist ourselves into all sorts of pretzel-like forms in an effort to practice Biblical principles of "forgiveness" and "letting go." But the Swateks are not to be held accountable or challenged in any way. The Biblical notions of restitution and justice are completely foreign to these commenters--unless, of course, they become victims someday.

I long have suspected that many conservatives have severely warped notions about Christianity and the Bible. The comments on the Chace Swatek post pretty much confirm that.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Is Bob Riley Finally About to Come Under Scrutiny?

Bob Riley

Former Alabama Governor Bob Riley is under investigation by the Montgomery County District Attorney's Office, according to a new report from The Montgomery Independent.

The news comes as defendants in the federal bingo trial have stated they will not call any witnesses, meaning closing arguments are expected tomorrow and Riley will not be called in the case. That comes as no surprise to those of us who have watched Riley give new meaning to the term "Teflon governor."

But Ellen Brooks, who has been Montgomery County DA since 1993, might try to put a few scratches in Riley's protective coating. We have only one question for Ms. Brooks: What took you so long?

On the premise that late is better than never, let's take a look at the The Montgomery Independent's report:

The Montgomery Independent has learned from multiple credible sources that the District Attorney's office in the 15th Judicial Circuit (Montgomery County) has been investigating certain activities of former Gov. Bob Riley that occurred during his two terms as governor and includes lobbying for firms which received lucrative state contracts under his tenure.

The District Attorney in Montgomery is given specific authority under state law to investigate activities of state government and state officers throughout Alabama.

What might be of particular interest about the Riley era?

The former governor, with much fanfare, began a career as a lobbyist, soon after he left office, hiring on wealthy business clients, some which he awarded state contracts and business during his two terms as governor.

Riley's client list included Gulf Coast Asphalt Co., which has offices in Houston and Mobile, and Brett Real Estate Robinson Development Co. in Saraland. His other clients included Austal USA, EADS North American, and VT Systems Inc. -- Austal USA builds Navy ships in Mobile; EADS North American is based in Arlington and would have built a refueling tanker in Mobile if it had won the federal contract, and VT Systems is the parent of a company that operates an aircraft maintenance facility in Mobile.

How far could the Brooks inquiry go? Well, Team Riley already is showing signs of being under pressure:

Then there are dozens of other firms who have profited under Riley's administration, including the phantom company called "Paragon Source" which received a $13 million no-bid contract from Riley's Administration for work product the state never used. Questions remain about where this firm went and how much did it really walk off with from the State.

In another turn connected to the Riley lobbying gig, it has been reported on the street that the former governor has, in the past few days, turned his lobbying clients over to a family member. The Independent has learned that some of the complaints were made by the State Democratic Party.

Democrats might have filed complaints about Riley, but our guess is that "Teflon Bob" will get off the hook unless Republican insiders step forward. Will Ellen Brooks seek testimony from former Riley aide Bill Johnson and former GOP official Bradley Unruh?

Ellen Brooks
Johnson, for example, was at the heart of our post titled "Alabama First Family Believes in Self-Enrichment," focusing on hundreds of thousands of state dollars that Riley funneled to the Birmingham law firm Bradley Arant, where his son-in-law is employed.

Unruh was a key figure in our post titled "Viewing Mike Hubbard's Actions Through the Prism of the Don Siegelman Case," where he called for an audit of the Alabama Republican Party that would focus on expenditures involving Riley's daughter, Minda Riley Campbell.

The Montgomery Independent's report raises many questions:

* Why did Ellen Brooks sit silently for eight years of the Riley administration while the governor and his cronies repeatedly engaged in questionable activities? Why did she wait until now to rise from her slumber?

* Where is George Beck, U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Alabama. Any possible crimes involving Bob Riley surely involve federal jurisdiction. The USA's office in Montgomery has not been shy about going after former governors. (You can ask Don Siegelman about that.) So where is George Beck in this equation?

* Where is Luther Strange, attorney general of Alabama? His office has been bringing a dubious case against accused honeymoon murderer Gabe Watson, so has "Big Luther" been too busy to look toward Bob Riley. Oh wait, Big Luther came from Bradley Arant, the big firm that seems to be the legal enabler for corrupt "pro business types" such as Bob Riley and Ted Rollins. That means Big Luther has been firmly embedded in Bob Riley's colon, so no scrutiny is likely to come from the AG's office.

We aren't holding our breath that Bob Riley ever will be held accountable for anything. But The Montgomery Independent has done some important reporting on corruption in Karl Rove's Alabama, and we take their work seriously. The public should take it seriously, too.

If Ellen Brooks digs like a terrier, perhaps like a schnauzer, she is likely to find some profoundly disturbing stuff. How disturbing? The following interview with Brad Unruh gives an idea:


Prosecutor in Gabe Watson Case Has a History of Connections to Colossal Screwups

Gabe Watson

Birmingham was the site of international legal intrigue late last week as Gabe Watson was acquitted of murder in the honeymoon drowning death of his wife, Tina Thomas Watson, on a 2003 diving excursion off the coast of Australia.

The trial received global media attention, but the outcome should not have been a surprise; the notion of prosecuting Watson on a capital murder charge in Alabama for events that took place in Australia--he served 18 months in prison there after pleading guilty to manslaughter in 2009--was dubious from the outset. But the surprise came from Jefferson County District Judge Tommy Nail, who granted a motion for acquittal before the case went to a jury.

Such motions are routinely filed but hardly ever granted in criminal cases. That Nail granted this one speaks volumes about the weakness of the prosecution's case. And that is fitting, given that Don Valeska handled the case for the Alabama Attorney General's Office. Valeska has a long history of overreaching in some instances and blowing slam-dunk cases in others. One of his blown slam dunks has had a profound impact here in the Schnauzer household.

Valeska was the prosecutor in a 1981 perjury case against Pelham, Alabama, lawyer William E. Swatek. As regular readers know, Bill Swatek is the person most responsible for the 12 years of legal misery that Mrs. Schnauzer and I have endured. Our headaches might never have come if Valeska had won a conviction against Swatek 31 years ago. But the prosecution managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in that case, allowing Swatek to return to the "legal profession" and earn regular suspensions and reprimands for violations of ethical standards.

To be fair to Valeska, a conviction would not necessarily have meant the end of Swatek's legal career. A conviction on a felony charge would automatically have caused Swatek to be disbarred. But contrary to common belief, a disbarment is not permanent. Under the rules of the Alabama State Bar, Swatek might have been allowed to return to practice within five years.

A conviction, however, probably would have led to one of two outcomes: (1) Swatek would have had to find another way to make a living for at least five years and might never have returned to the law; or (2) Swatek might actually have learned a hard lesson and become an ethical lawyer upon his return.

Neither of those outcomes came to pass. Because of the acquittal, Swatek received only a 60-day suspension of his law license. And based on our own experiences, we know the "slap on the wrist" did not cause Swatek to change his ways.

How did Valeska manage to blow the perjury case against Bill Swatek in 1981? The answer to that question is unclear. But court documents and published reports show that the evidence against Swatek was overwhelming. Following is an excellent summary of the issues at hand, from a September 1981 article by Jane Aldridge in the Birmingham Post-Herald. The headline: "Hard Legal Battle Ensues Around Lawyer." (You can check out the full article at the end of this post.)

Don Valeska, an assistant attorney general, said three attorneys who had been invited by Swatek to use his private office for conferences with their client in a civil suit, discovered their conversations were being taped.

Valeska contended they took the tape, confronted Swatek with it, but that he declined to comment on it at that time. Later during investigations by the Birmingham and Alabama State Bar Associations, he denied knowing the conversations were being taped. His client, John Bailey, said he did the taping.

Valeska declared the tape itself, which he said contains statements by Swatek at the end, proves that he knew about it.

Valeska was right about that. I've checked Swatek's disciplinary file at the Alabama State Bar--it's about a foot thick, by the way--and it includes a transcript of a conversation between Swatek and Bailey that was caught on the tape. Following is a portion of that transcript: (You can check out the full transcript at the end of this post.)

William E. Swatek and Johnny Bailey on cassette tape taken by Paul G. Smith from Swatek's office on May 30, 1979:

Swatek: "Testing . . . one . . . two . . . three . . . four . . . five . . . "

Bailey: ". . . 'cause that's the one probably to use, or do you want to use that one?"

Swatek: "I'd rather use this one, 'cause you can't hear it at all, and I can stick it down under the desk and . . . "

What do we learn from this snippet:

* Bill Swatek voice tested the tape recorder--"Testing . . . one . . . two . . . three . . . "

* Bill Swatek determined which tape recorder to use after Bailey asked him about it;

* Bill Swatek determined where to place the tape recorder.

And yet, as we showed above, Swatek testified under oath before multiple bar associations that he knew nothing about the tape recording, that his client did it on his own.

The indisputable truth? Bill Swatek lied under oath during an official bar proceeding. That is perjury, and Swatek was guilty.

So how did a Jefferson County jury decide to acquit? God only knows what went on behind the scenes to cause that outcome. But under the facts and law, Bill Swatek (an "officer of the court") committed perjury and should have been disbarred.

Tina Thomas Watson
Are we being too hard on Don Valeska about the outcomes of the Swatek case and the Gabe Watson case? Perhaps. In the Swatek matter, I see nothing in the record that indicates Valeska made any blunders that led to the acquittal. I can think of only one explanation for the outcome: Somebody in the system--judge, jury, bailiff, custodian--was tainted somehow. In the Watson matter, it was not Valeska's decision to bring the case in Alabama. That decision came from former Attorney General Troy King, and his successor, Luther Strange,  allowed the prosecution to proceed.

Was Valeska acting as a "good solider" by moving forward with the clod-headed decisions of his superiors at the Alabama Attorney General's Office? The answer probably is yes.

Here, perhaps, is the take-home lesson from all of this: We can study the arc of Don Valeska's 30-year career as a prosecutor and see much of what is wrong with our "justice system." And these problems hardly are limited to Alabama. (See prosecution of Simpson, O.J.)

In 1981, Don Valeska failed to get a conviction in a case where a single sheet of paper shows the defendant was guilty beyond all doubt, not just reasonable doubt. In 2012, Don Valeska failed to get a conviction in a case that was so weak it never should have been brought--and probably was only brought because statewide officeholders wanted to score political points with the public.

Over a 31-year span, Valeska's career is bookended by two prosecutions that featured monumental screwups. That tells us that our justice system has been a sewer for a long time--and the stench is only getting stronger.

Here is a Birmingham Post-Herald article, from September 1981, about the Swatek perjury case:


Swatek Perjury Article


Here is a transcript of tape-recorded evidence in the Swatek perjury case:


Swatek Perjury Transcript

Thursday, February 23, 2012

CEO Ted Rollins Got a "Rocky Mountain High" While Sealing a Deal at Colorado State University

Ted Rollins

Ted Rollins, CEO of Campus Crest Communities, smoked marijuana at a party last summer to celebrate approval of his student-housing complex under The Grove banner at Colorado State University.

Rollins smoked the illegal drug, and encouraged underaged individuals to join in, at a party hosted by a woman named Josie Plaut in Fort Collins, Colorado. Sherry Carroll Rollins, Ted's ex wife and a Birmingham resident, makes the revelations in the second installment of a videotaped interview with Legal Schnauzer. (See the interview at the end of this post.)

How does Sherry Rollins know about the illegal drug activity? Sarah Rollins, her daughter with Ted Rollins, was along for the trip, at her father's insistence. Sarah Rollins, then 17, was one of several teens who made the trip to Fort Collins to help sell The Grove project to city officials.

Sarah Rollins reported the marijuana smoking to her mother and admitted that she joined in the festivities, at the invitation of her father.

The project at Colorado State has been controversial and met stiff opposition for several reasons, Sherry Rollins reports. One, it is to be built on 27 acres next to a residential neighborhood. Also, citizens have raised concerns about noise, traffic, and environmental degradation.

Josie Plaut
Who is Josie Plaut, the woman who hosted the party that featured weed? Plaut is director of projects at the Institute for the Built Environment (IBE), which was hired by Campus Crest Communities to make The Grove project more "green"--and thus more palatable for Fort Collins residents. IBE is a "multidisciplinary institute" that is affiliated with Colorado State.

The Fort Collins Planning and Zoning Commission rejected Campus Crest's first proposal. The company then brought IBE on board, and with Plaut's apparent support, a revised plan was approved last June. You can check out a transcript here of a marathon P & Z meeting that ended, in the wee hours of the morning, with approval of The Grove project.

Campus Crest now has 32 projects either completed or planned around the country, with one in the works for the University of Maine. The student newspaper there provides an excellent summary of controversies facing Campus Crest at various locations. One of those locations soon will be at Auburn University here in Alabama.

As for the situation at Colorado State, does IBE generally make it a practice to conduct business with developers who violate drug laws and encourage young people to do the same? Is IBE concerned about the message Ted Rollins' behavior sends to parents who might consider having children live at The Grove?

The answers to those questions remain unclear. I left voice messages with Josie Plaut and Brian Dunbar, director of the institute, seeking an interview about their role in approval of The Grove project. When those messages were not returned, I e-mailed them and again asked for an interview on a variety of subjects, including drug-related activities during Ted Rollins' visit to Fort Collins. In an e-mail reply that I received yesterday afternoon, Ms. Plaut stated:

The assertion that illegal drug use occurred at my home is completely false. Further, the assertion that there was a party at my home the night of the Planning and Zoning meeting is also completely false. I am respectfully declining to answer your list of questions.

Plaut went on to state that neither she nor Dunbar would be available for interviews. It should be noted that my questions did not assert that a party took place at Ms. Plaut's home the night of the Planning and Zoning meeting; after all, that meeting, according to public records, lasted well past midnight. The questions addressed a party that took place at Ms. Plaut's home sometime during Ted Rollins' stay in Fort Collins.

Is it possible that Ms. Plaut was not aware of drug activities taking place during an event at her home? Of course it is. Sherry Rollins, in a statement to us that was based on a first-hand account from her daughter, did not say that Ms. Plaut knew of the activity or participated in it.

We sent an e-mail to Ted Rollins, posing questions about his activities in Fort Collins. He has not responded.

This much seems clear:

* Neither Ms. Plaut nor Mr. Dunbar are in any hurry to answer questions about their activities connected to Ted Rollins and The Grove project at Colorado State;

* Ted Rollins got both a nice deal and a "Rocky Mountain High" while in Colorado.


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Investigation Into Murder of Alabama Lawyer Produces Two More Arrests

Blake Lazenby

Two more arrests have been made in the murder of Alabama lawyer Blake Lazenby, bringing the total to four. The latest arrests include a man who, according to our reports, played a peculiar role in a divorce case that was ongoing at the time of Blake Lazenby's death.

Earnest James Files Jr., 56, of Alexander City, and Charles Andrew Joseph Hendrix, 21, of Birmingham, had initial court appearances on Tuesday before Talladega County Circuit Judge Julian King. Reports the Talladega Daily Home:

Files was formally charged with one count each of criminal solicitation of murder and criminal conspiracy to commit murder. Hendrix was charged with two counts of capital murder committed during a burglary in the first degree. Hendrix was also charged with one count of theft of property in the first degree, for allegedly stealing a 2009 GMC Yukon that belonged to Lazenby.

King set Files’ bond at $1 million. Hendrix’s bond in the theft case was set at $500,000, but because he is facing capital charges, he will not be allowed to post a bond on the murder counts.

Previously arrested in the case were Ocie Lee Lynch and Calvin McCall Haynes, both of Birmingham.

Files is by far the most interesting figure arrested in the case so far. That's because his name appeared in a divorce case that Geanne Elder Lazeby had filed against Blake Lazenby. The divorce case was ongoing at the time Blake Lazenby was murdered.

We first raised Files' name in a post titled "Did Hardball Tactics In a Divorce Case Lead to the Murder of Alabama Lawyer?" From that report:

The Birmingham firm of Smith Spires & Peddy made an appearance, on June 6, 2011--almost three years after the case had begun. SSP lawyers A. Joe Peddy and Tamera Erskine joined the fray on Blake Lazenby's behalf, even though neither they nor their firm appear to have experience in divorce law.

They filed the subpoenas on non parties, and to our eyes, the documents appear to constitute a "fishing expedition," at best. At worst, they appear to have been used for nasty, strong-arm purposes. Who were recipients of the subpoenas, and what information was sought? Here is a summary:

* Custodian of Medical Records, Alabama Women's Specialist, Birmingham--All records pertaining to the treatment and/or diagnosis of Geanne E. Lazenby, including services rendered and financial records.

* Custodian of Medical Records, Craddock Clinic, Sylacauga--All records pertaining to the treatment and/or diagnosis of Geanne E. Lazenby, including services rendered and financial records.

* Custodian of Records, Coosa County Sheriff's Office--All police reports and investigative documents related to any allegations or claims made by Geanne E. Lazenby against Earnest Files, DOB: 10/31/1955.

We found the subpoena regarding Earnest Files to be particularly odd:

The information sought in the third subpoena is truly baffling. Who in the heck is Earnest Files, of Coosa County, Alabama, and what was the relevance of any police reports Mrs. Lazenby had filed about him?

We checked the Web site for the Coosa County Sheriff's Office and found this item dated April 1, 2011:

Earnest James Files Jr. of Kellyton, AL was arrested on charges of Harassing Communication and Criminal Trespassing. He was processed and released on bond to await trial.

Did Geanne Lazenby file a report regarding Mr. Files? If so, why did her husband's lawyers want the information--and how did they intend to use it? Why was it a factor in the Lazenby v. Lazenby divorce case?

The Talladega Daily Home shines new light on Earnest Files' connections to Geanne Lazenby:

According to documents obtained through the Coosa County Sheriff’s Department, Geanne Lazenby, who was living in Alexander City, filed a harassing communications and criminal trespass complaint against Files on March 28, 2011. According to her complaint, Files called her cell phone more than 100 times in less than a week, including once while a deputy was taking her statement. She said she had repeatedly told him not to call her, and added that he had visited her home on two occasions in spite of being told not to come by, either.

Files turned himself in for harassing communications and posted a $500 bond on April 1.

The case was dismissed “with leave to reinstate” on May 25, and Files was ordered to have no further contact with Geanne Lazenby.

Why were Blake Lazenby's lawyers interested in a criminal complaint that Geanne Lazenby filed against Earnes Files? Why was that relevant to the Lazenby v. Lazenby divorce case?

We still don't have the answers to those questions. But we figured the murder investigation eventually would turn in Mr. Files' direction. And now that, in fact, has happened.

UAB's Carol Garrison: The Disturbing Backstory of a Corrupt University President

Carol Garrison

The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) settled a whistleblower case with the U.S. government for $3.39 million in 2005. In announcing the settlement, UAB President Carol Garrison made a statement that speaks volumes about the kind of "leadership" Alabama's largest employer has been under for roughly a decade.

In a written statement, Garrison called the settlement a "very positive outcome."

What Garrison did not say, and the mainstream press did not bother to find out, is that UAB got off with paying a tiny fraction of the actual fraud that was present in the case.

Thomas Gober, a forensic accountant who had been UAB's director of research compliance, was one of the whistleblowers. The other was a physician, rehabilitation-medicine specialist Jay Meythaler.

According to court documents, Gober conservatively estimated the total fraud at UAB to be $300 million over at least a 10-year period. He said the total might have approached $600 million. If we cut UAB a break and split the difference--calling the total $450 million--that means the university paid way less than 1 percent of the amount it should have had to pay for defrauding the federal government, mostly Medicare and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Carol Garrison calls that a "very positive outcome"? Not for American taxpayers, it wasn't.

Evidence indicates that the Bush Justice Department, friendly to the conservative "pro business" forces that run Alabama, let UAB off the hook. Sources have told Legal Schnauzer that the feds conducted no legitimate investigation of the allegations against UAB, and the case was settled when UAB hired a powerful Washington, D.C., law firm that essentially agreed to plead guilty to one case of fraud. The government accepted that plea, without even addressing more than 100 similar cases on the UAB campus.

Former U.S. Attorney Alice Martin, so quick to go after Democrats and people of color for "corruption" in the Northern District of Alabama, was not interested in scrutinizing UAB.

If Garrison were an honest person, here is what she would have said after the 2005 settlement: "Our hard-working scientists and administrators at UAB have bilked the federal government out of almost half a billion dollars, and we think it's great that we will have to pay back less than 1 percent of that amount now that we've been caught.

"We are deeply grateful that my close personal friend, Alice Martin, chose not to look too closely at the way we conduct business on Birmingham's Southside. If a real U.S. attorney had been in office, we would have had to pay back hundreds of millions of dollars--and dozens of UAB big wigs might have gone to federal prison. Wouldn't that have been awful?

"Thanks to Alice and our many Republican friends in Alabama, it's business as usual at UAB. And I don't have to worry about wearing one of those orange prison jumpsuits. Isn't that a positive outcome?"

When you know the facts behind the UAB whistleblower case--and I do--you understand that Garrison's actual statement is grotesquely warped, almost depraved.

But it helps explain a tenure that has been marked by rampant mismanagement, including both scientific and academic fraud, numerous complaints of discrimination from veteran faculty and staff members, layoffs, key faculty departures, and more.

The UAB Athletics Department has been brought to the edge of ruin under Garrison's "leadership." She caved in to pressure from the University of Alabama Board of Trustees and hired Neil Callaway as football coach in 2006. The Callaway era mercifully ended with his firing on November 27, after an 18-42 record over five seasons marked by steadily declining attendance.

Callaway's hiring prompted Garrison to make perhaps the single most ignorant public statement ever uttered by a university president. First, she addressed reports that UA trustee Paul Bryant Jr. engineered the Callaway hiring, saying the perception was "absolutely incorrect." Then she called Callaway "the absolute best coach in the world."

Garrison seems to have a fetish for the word "absolute," in all of its various forms. We'd say she might be absolutely the most clueless individual to ever head a major university.

Even UAB's vaunted men's basketball program seems to be teetering on Garrison's watch. The Blazers are on their way to a probable losing record in 2011-12 under head coach Mike Davis. Like Callaway, Davis just happens to be a product of UA's Tuscaloosa campus. Did the trustees want a pair of Tuscaloosa guys to help drive UAB sports over a cliff? If so, the plan seems to be working.

I'm not always the Amazing Kreskin when it comes to predicting the future. But even I could see decay coming at UAB. If you go back and look at Garrison's first year in office, you see that her subsequent behavior should not be a surprise. Garrison showed clear early signs that she did not mind wasting taxpayer dollars and abusing the public trust.

Garrison heaped enough embarrassment on UAB in her first year that she should have been fired. But the University of Alabama Board of Trustees, already facing a lawsuit from Garrison's predecessor, chose to keep her on. That led to what has clearly been the worst decade in UAB's otherwise charmed history.

As UAB president, Garrison has kept an extremely low profile, rarely granting interviews and often relying on written statements to serious inquiries. There's a reason for that. She wants no part of having to answer for her actions, which have badly tarnished one of Alabama's shining stars.

In retrospect, there were plenty of early signs that Carol Garrison was a terrible choice as UAB president. The public, and even many UAB employees, chose to ignore it. But we should have seen it coming.

What was the first clue? Her dalliance with a man named John W. Shumaker, then president of the University of Tennessee, showed that Carol Garrison has shaky ethics. And things only have gone downhill since then on Birmingham's Southside.

This all hits close to home for me, as I described in a recent post:

As for my own experience with corruption under Carol Garrison's regime, I worked in various editorial positions at UAB for 19 years before being unlawfully fired in May 2008. A tape-recorded conversation I had with UAB Employee Relations Director Anita Bonasera proves that I was targeted and fired because I have written numerous blog posts--on my own time, with my own resources--that have been supportive of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman. I was one of many journalists--conservative icon George Will is the latest--to address the likelihood that Siegelman, a Democrat, was the victim of a political prosecution under the Bush Department of Justice. Evidence strongly suggests that Carol Garrison got heat about a UAB employee exercising his First Amendment rights to report on a matter of public concern, and she caved in from pressure to fire me.

I have an ongoing federal lawsuit against UAB, and who knows how that will turn out? But there is no doubt about why I was fired. The following video spells it out, especially at the 1:40 to 2:30 mark. This is the kind of "ethics" that UAB practices under Carol Garrison. . . .

The John Shumaker/Carol Garrison scandal has largely been swept from public view. But the public needs to be reminded about it. That's because the scandal set the stage for significant rot to set in at Alabama's single most important asset. UAB is too important--on a national and international scale--to let an inept president cause decay that could take years to fix.

When did decline set in at UAB, and what could it mean to Alabama's future? We will examine those questions in a series of upcoming posts. The following video illustrates the blatant dishonesty that is at the heart of UAB life these days. It proves that the Shumaker/Garrison affair of 10 years ago was a sign of things to come.

(To be continued)


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Kobe Bryant vs. Ted Rollins: Does Racism Explain the Vast Differences in Divorce Outcomes?

Kobe and Vanessa Bryant

Basketball star Kobe Bryant has agreed to cough up $75 million, including three mansions, as part of the property settlement in an ongoing divorce case with his wife, Vanessa.

News reports have noted signs of a possible reconciliation between the Los Angeles Lakers star and his wife. But the Los Angeles Times reports that Vanessa Bryant's divorce action appears to be moving forward. And the $75 million might just be the beginning of the booty that Vanessa is likely to rake in from the divorce.

That's because the Bryants reportedly did not have a prenuptial agreement, and Kobe was a serial adulterer throughout the marriage. That means the basketball star is trapped in a full-court, courtroom press. And getting out of it will be mighty expensive.

All of which reminds us of another divorce case that did not involve a prenuptial agreement. We are talking about Rollins v. Rollins, the case we've written about extensively because it has strong ties to Alabama. In that case, Campus Crest Communities CEO Ted Rollins got off with an astoundingly favorable judgment in his divorce from Sherry Carroll Rollins.

Why is Kobe Bryant on the verge of being taken to the proverbial cleaners, while Ted Rollins came away virtually unscathed in his divorce case? Both men are seriously wealthy; Rollins is a member of the family behind Rollins Inc. and Orkin Pest Control, one of the wealthiest clans in the country. Both men allegedly behaved badly during their marriages; Sherry Rollins cited adultery as one of the grounds in her divorce complaint.

Ted Rollins
Here is a major difference: Kobe Bryant is black and Ted Rollins is white. Is that why Kobe Bryant is giving up at least half of his assets while there was pretty much no division of property in the Rollins case? From where I sit, the answer appears to be yes.

We already have compared Ted Rollins to former football star Terrell Owens and asked if Rollins' whiteness explains his child-support payments that are roughly 27 times less than those ordered against Owens.

Ted Rollins is starting to look like the poster child for the benefits of having white skin and connections to corporate and legal elites. And he seems more than happy to take advantage of those benefits.

By the way, we are not making it up, or even exaggerating, when we say that there was virtually no division of marital assets in the Rollins case. The final judgment of divorce can be read at the end of this post.

It reads as if Ted Rollins was the manager of an Arby's and lived with his wife in a rented two-bedroom apartment throughout their marriage. You would never know that Ted Rollins is so loaded that he has the use of at least three private jet craft.

And how about this? Court documents show that Ted Rollins had been president or CEO of at least two businesses--St. James Capital and Campus Crest Communities--during his 14-year marriage to Sherry Rollins. But there is no mention in the divorce judgment about those properties or any others. According to Ms. Rollins, the family lived in a Greenville, South Carolina, home that had been appraised at roughly $1 million. No mention of that either. (By the way, sounds like the home was a little snazzier than your standard two-bedroom apartment.)

Sherry Rollins got a vehicle out of the divorce decree and not much else in the way of property.

How can that be? After all, division of marital assets is a key component of most any divorce case, especially when substantial assets are involved. So why did the issue of marital assets pretty much disappear from Rollins v. Rollins?

Well, we repeatedly have tried to interview Ted Rollins about the favorable outcome he received from Circuit Judge D. Al Crowson in Shelby County, Alabama. We particularly have sought to ask Mr. Rollins how he managed to get the case moved to Alabama, given that Sherry Rollins initiated it in Greenville and it was litigated there for more than three years. We have tried to ask Mr. Rollins if his ties to the powerful, pro-business Birmingham law firm of Bradley Arant helped him obtain a result that is blatantly contrary to black-letter law.

So far, Mr. Rollins has refused to answer our questions, although he's had his lawyer--Chad Essick of the North Carolina firm Poyner Spruill--threaten me three times with legal action.

You heard that right: Ted Rollins refuses to answer my questions, and passes up multiple opportunities to clarify anything that is inaccurate in my reporting, but then sics his lawyer on me claiming, that my posts contain "false or misleading information."

I've presented Ted Rollins with 10 sets of questions related to the Rollins v. Rollins case--sent via e-mail, in writing, per his request--and each time he's been given plenty of time to respond and make any necessary clarifications. He has never responded, and yet his lawyer claims my posts are inaccurate.

A reasonably objective person could come to this conclusion: Ted Rollins is a bully with something to hide, a man who is too cowardly to be questioned by a real reporter--on matters of public interest, involving taxpayer-funded courts.

I soon will be sending more questions Ted Rollins' way. But for now, you can check out the Rollins v. Rollins divorce judgment and notice that the issue of marital assets is almost completely ignored.

Perhaps we should note that race does not appear to be the only factor at play here. After all, wrestling icon Hulk Hogan gave up a serious chunk of marital assets in his divorce--and The Hulkster definitely is white.

Does that mean Ted Rollins has access to shyster lawyers and judges in a way that does not apply to most Americans, of any color? Sure looks that way:


Rollins Divorce Order

Monday, February 20, 2012

Newt Gingrich Bashes Federal Judges For All the Wrong Reasons

Judge William M. Acker Jr., right, with
 Stanford Professor Jack Rakove

Newt Gingrich has made the bashing of federal judges a centerpiece of his presidential campaign. Gingrich actually has picked an excellent target--but for all of the wrong reasons.

Federal judges deserve serious scrutiny, and they rarely get it. Just in the Hugo Black U.S. Courthouse here in Birmingham, I've seen ample evidence that suggests corruption is widespread among federal judges. And that's where Gingrich goes off the tracks.

The Newtster frequently rails about "activist judges" who make decisions that are "out of the step" with the country. In other words, Gingrich does not like judges who make discretionary rulings with which he disagrees--and he usually is pointing a finger at U.S. circuit judges, the ones who rule on appellate cases.

But judges who make tough calls on close issues of law--or even on matters "of first impression"--are not the major problem with our justice system. In our constitutional democracy, appellate courts are supposed to make close calls in a way that might not always be popular, ensuring that the "tyranny of the majority" does not strip away rights of those in the minority.

Our real problem is one that is less high-minded and occurs regularly at the lower levels of our system--in the U.S. district courts. I'm talking about cases where federal trial judges knowingly and intentionally rule contrary to clear, bedrock law.

We've seen this happen in high-profile criminal cases, including the political prosecutions of Don Siegelman in Alabama and Paul Minor in Mississippi. Federal judges Mark Fuller and Henry Wingate, respectively, issued jury instructions in both cases that were not in line with the actual law. That meant both Siegelman and Minor were convicted of "crimes" that do not exist.

Judicial skulduggery is not limited to criminal cases involving public figures. I've seen it happen time and again in civil matters involving regular folks. And I've witnessed corrupt rulings by federal judges from all sides of the cultural and political spectrum.

Let's consider two federal judges here in Birmingham--William M. Acker Jr. and Abdul Kallon.

On the surface, Acker and Kallon could not be more different.

Acker is a white, 84-year-old Reagan appointee with a prune face and a faux folksy manner that he uses in an effort to hide the fact he's a nasty, weaselly son of a bitch. Acker could not be more old-school Alabama. Multiple sources have told me that, as a young man, Acker attended the Dixiecrat convention at Boutwell Auditorium in 1948. That's the convention where Strom Thurmond was nominated for president, and it means a racist heart probably beats beneath Acker's black robes. Before being appointed to the federal bench, Acker was active in Republican Party politics and practiced at the old-line Dominick Fletcher Yeilding firm, which dates to 1943.

Abdul Kallon
Kallon is a black, 42-year-old Obama appointee, who grew up in Sierra Leone and went on to graduate from Dartmouth College and University of Pennsylvania School of Law. At first glance, Kallon sounds like a classic immigrant success story. But he apparently is a man with little in the way of principles. Kallon worked at the Birmingham firm Bradley Arant, defending employers in discrimination cases, when Obama plucked him out of obscurity--apparently at the recommendation of then Congressman Artur Davis.

For all of their differences, Acker and Kallon share one common trait--they are profoundly and flagrantly corrupt. And in my experience, their unlawful rulings always favor the big and the powerful over the small and the powerless. In other words, they love corporations and institutions and despise individuals who have been wronged.

Aren't those charming traits for federal judges who are charged with upholding our constitutional rights?

I've witnessed their crookedness first hand, time and again, and I will spell it out here at Legal Schnauzer in clear terms. And that's the scary thing about Acker and Kallon. They get the simplest, most basic rulings wrong--and they do it over and over again, always screwing the little guy. These aren't just "mistakes." These are unlawful rulings that are made intentionally, in order to ensure that regular folks will have their constitutional rights trampled.

Upon reading this, I'm sure some will claim that I'm engaging in sour grapes, that I'm a "disgruntled litigant" who is unhappy because Acker and Kallon ruled against me. That's the typical line that many lawyers use to obscure the ugliness they know exists in our taxpayer-funded courts.

For the record, I will expose Acker and Kallon by dealing in real facts, real law, and real rulings. I will show how rulings from Acker and Kallon conflict with black-letter law. When I am finished, the objective reader will see that these two men are not fit to preside over a corner lemonade stand, much less a federal courtroom.

It's pretty much impossible to touch a federal judge; they have lifetime appointments, they can almost never be sued, and they receive little scrutiny from the mainstream press. That's because it takes some legwork to understand what scoundrels like Acker and Kallon are doing, and most reporters are too lazy or disinterested to do it.

I am not lazy, and I am extremely interested, so I will show you exactly how judges like Acker and Kallon waste your taxpayer dollars--and violate their oaths of office. I also will show that judicial corruption is not limited to our district courts, at the trial level. I've seen ample evidence that the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals is more interested in protecting its judicial brethren than in dispensing justice.

Here is a key point to keep in mind: Federal judges are almost untouchable, but they are not above the law. If Acker and Kallon are taking directions from third parties, cheating litigants at the insistence of someone external to the case, that almost certainly constitutes criminal activity. Obstruction of justice and conspiracy are just two possible criminal charges that come to mind.

Will a federal prosecutor ever pay attention? Probably not. Will I pull the masks off Acker and Kallon? You can count on it.

(To be continued)

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Alabama Lawyer With Strong Ties to GOP Turns Up Dead at Construction Site

Chace Swatek and his
sister, Barret Swatek

An Alabama lawyer with roundabout connections to our Legal Schnauzer story was found dead at a Shelby County construction site late yesterday morning.

The body of Chace William Swatek, 35, was found behind a stack of metal pipes near the Shelby County Services Building in Pelham. Law-enforcement officials say the cause of death is not known, but they do not suspect foul play.

Swatek had powerful family ties to the Alabama Republican Party. His older brother, Dax, is head of the lobbying/consulting firm Swatek Azbell Howe &  Ross. Dax Swatek was 2006 campaign manager for former GOP Governor Bob Riley--he of the ties to GOP felons Jack Abramoff and Michael Scanlon--and is a protege of Bill Canary, president of the Business Council of Alabama. Canary, of course, is the husband of Leura Canary, Bush-era prosecutor in the Don Siegelman case and instigator of the federal bingo prosecution, which is being retried at this moment in Montgomery. Dax Swatek also played a prominent early role in the bingo fiasco. (More on that in a moment.)

For good measure, Chace's sister is actress Barret Swatek, an outspoken conservative (despite her less than "family values" lifestyle) who seems to be a serious bud of Sean Hannity.

What about ties to my personal legal story? Chace Swatek was the youngest son of Pelham attorney William E. Swatek, a central figure in the 12-year legal battle Mrs. Schnauzer and I have been forced to fight. As regular readers know, Bill Swatek was largely responsible for a bogus lawsuit that our criminally inclined neighbor Mike McGarity filed against me, bringing monumental legal heartache to our family unit and leading both of us to be cheated out of our jobs.

I've written extensively about the unethical (and probably criminal) stunts Bill Swatek and his judicial cronies have pulled against my wife and me. To say that I hold Bill Swatek and everyone associated with him in utter contempt would be an understatement. In fact, the Legal Schnauzer blog never would have started without the courtroom cheat job Bill Swatek set in motion.

Now in my 55th year of living, I've yet to meet another human being who comes close to Bill Swatek's level of wretchedness. At the risk of sounding cold-hearted, it's safe to say that I wasn't exactly broken up about news of Chace Swatek's demise. If ever a family deserved to have some bad karma come its way, it's the Swatek clan.

It's not just a matter of Bill Swatek screwing over the missus and me. He's been using his position as "an officer of the court" to cheat people for years. I've seen his file of professional misconduct at the Alabama State Bar office in Montgomery, and it's about a foot thick. Bill Swatek has been disciplined by the bar three times, including a suspension of his license for acts of "fraud, dishonesty, misrepresentation, and deceit." He was tried for perjury in a well-publicized criminal trial back in the early 1980s. A Jefferson County jury found him not guilty, even though court records include tape-recorded proof that Bill Swatek was guilty as charged--that he, in fact, lied to a committee of the state bar in an official proceeding.

We've laid out Bill Swatek's ugly history in probably close to 100 posts. Here are three pieces that pretty much sum it up:

Here's Why Americans Hate Lawyers

What Are These Wacky Alabama GOPers Up to Now?

Bill Swatek: A Portrait of Alabama Sleaze in the Age of Rove

The post at that last link was the introduction to a trilogy we produced, using video, newspaper clippings, and court documents to illustrate the depth of Bill Swatek's depravity. You can check out those three posts here and ask yourself, "How on earth does this guy still have a bar card?"

An Alabama Portrait of Sleaze in the Age of Rove, Part I

An Alabama Portrait of Sleaze in the Age of Rove, Part II

An Alabama Portrait of Sleaze in the Age of Rove, Part III

For good measure, we have video of Bill Swatek essentially stealing the full property rights to our home on the steps of the Shelby County Courthouse. My wife and I have an ongoing federal lawsuit against Mr. Swatek and various Shelby County officials over that little charade. You can watch the video at the end of this post.

If you think Bill Swatek caused us grief, just check out what he did to a Trussville man named Lawrence Weems. Mr. Weems wound up with numerous bullet holes in him, thanks largely to Swatek's corrupt handling of a divorce case.

Public documents indicate that Bill Swatek passed along nasty tendencies to his offspring. Dax Swatek, as we've noted, has strong ties to Bob Riley and Bill Canary. It's not so well known that Dax Swatek was deeply involved in Riley's anti-gambling campaign. We've shown that Dax Swatek has a habit of issuing threats against people he views as political enemies, even fellow conservatives and avowed Christians:

Aides to Riley Helped Drive Anti-Gambling Crusade in Alabama

Riley Aide Threatens Christian Coalition Leader Over Gambling

These two posts make it clear that Dax Swatek played a pivotal role in the unrest over gambling that led to the federal bingo prosecution currently unfolding in Montgomery. That first post shows that Riley aides, including Dax Swatek, pushed the governor to fight gambling initiatives:

According to a 2007 lawsuit filed by the chairman of the Christian Coalition of Alabama, several top aides to Riley played prominent roles in stirring the governor's anti-gambling passion. And that led to what some reporters have called "the bingo wars of 2010," the biggest political story of the year in our state--and that was before the recent arrests. . . .

Dr. Randy Brinson states in the lawsuit that Riley initially was neutral in 2007 when a bill to tax and regulate gambling was introduced in the Alabama Legislature. But when Brinson and the Christian Coalition threw their support behind the bill, HB 527, several Riley aides took quick action. And their concerns had nothing to do with a genuine opposition to gambling in Alabama. In fact, the aides and Riley were up to their necks in gambling interests.

In the lawsuit, Brinson states:

"These persons knew that Riley's connections with Las Vegas and Mississippi gambling entities, combined with his stance against gambling in Alabama that resulted from these connections, would make it easier to enlist his opposition."

Who were these associates? Brinson names them: Dax Swatek, Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh, Toby Roth, and Ken Wallis.

As for Chace Swatek, I didn't know a whole lot about him. Here's pretty much the extent of my knowledge, from a July 2009 post:

Chace Swatek, another of Bill Swatek's sons, earned a law degree at Pepperdine University (home of Ken Starr) before flunking the California bar exam, flopping in a real-estate project on Alabama's Gulf Coast and slinking home to join daddy's law practice.

I went on in that post to describe my one interaction with Chace Swatek--and it was pretty strange:

I've never found interaction with a Swatek to be terribly edifying. Since my blog is grounded in uncomfortable truths, and the Swateks I've known seem to shun the truth like cockroaches avoid the light, I suspect they don't enjoy their interactions with me.

So imagine my surprise when I returned home the other evening to discover that I had a voice message from Chace Swatek. When I played it, the message was a simple "please call me."

My first guess was that Chace Swatek wanted to huff and puff and threaten me with a defamation lawsuit over a less-than-flattering post I recently authored about his sister, Barret Swatek, a wannabe actress who touts her "conservative family values" while living in a way that appears to be anything but "pro family."

So what happened?

I was prepared for Chace Swatek to threaten me with legal action. So what did he say when I called him back? Try this:

"Oh, I had a question I intended to ask you, but I have it answered."

Hunh? "OK," I said.

After bringing that scintillating conversation to a close, I checked my blog stats to discover that someone (or several someones) had been finding Legal Schnauzer by keying in the keywords "Chace Swatek." And several of those originated from the Alabama State Bar.

Has someone filed a bar complaint against Chace Swatek? If so, Chace is continuing a proud family tradition. Did Chace Swatek think I had filed the bar complaint?

Don't know why he would think that. I certainly have never been his client, and I've had no dealings with him at all. Was Chace concerned that I had come up with proof that he had sent me threatening e-mails, and I had reported him to the bar because of it?

I never did come up with answers to those questions. I hadn't thought much about Chace Swatek since writing that post until I checked my blog stats about 2:30 p.m. yesterday and noticed a lot of traffic from people keying in various searches about Chace Swatek. One of the queries was "Chace Swatek death February 2012."

Mrs. Schnauzer and I treated ourselves yesterday to a belated Valentine's date, a matinee showing of "The Descendants" (a great movie, by the way; four strong thumbs up), and I returned home to find that al.com had reported Chace Swatek's death about 6 p.m.

Before we went to the movie, I told Mrs. Schnauzer about the curious traffic regarding Chace Swatek on my blog stats. "That must be some sort of hoax," she said. "How could he turn up dead?"

Well, it wasn't a hoax, and Chace Swatek did turn up dead.

I'm guessing that the official finding will be a natural death. But if Chace Swatek treated people in the same manner as his father does, I would not be surprised if someone wanted to cause him harm.

Either way, we've all heard the phrase "what goes around, comes around." For those who know what the Swatek family is really all about, those words ring true today.


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Lawyer for CEO Ted Rollins Is Threatening Legal Action Once Again

Chad Essick

An attorney for Campus Crest Communities CEO Ted Rollins has threatened me for the third time with legal action for reporting accurately about the Rollins v. Rollins divorce case.

Chad Essick, of the North Carolina firm Poyner Spruill, informs me this time that his client's patience is wearing "razor thin." Next thing you know counselor Essick will be putting me on double-secret probation.

Essick goes on to question why I continue to report about a case that he calls a "private family matter." If you know anything at all about the American court system, that sentence should make your jaw drop.

The court file in Rollins v. Rollins is a public record. The case was litigated in a taxpayer-funded courtroom, with lawyers who are officers of a taxpayer-funded court, overseen by a judge who is paid by taxpayers. The Rollins case could not be more public, and it only came to my attention here in Alabama because Ted Rollins filed a complaint in this state after Sherry Carroll Rollins got things rolling by suing him for divorce in South Carolina.

If Ted Rollins is unhappy that I'm reporting on his divorce case, which he brought to the county where I live, he has only himself to blame. The crumbling Rollins marriage was a private family matter back when the couple was developing "irreconcilable differences" and, according to Ms. Rollins' complaint, her husband was rather flagrantly committing adultery.

But once either party filed a lawsuit, it became as public as any other divorce record. Chad Essick has to know this. After all, he got through law school at Campbell University, so he probably isn't stupid.

Why then is Mr. Essick making wacky statements on Ted Rollins' behalf? Desperation, maybe? Heck, I don't know.

I do know that the business about a "private family matter" is not the only sign that Ted Rollins and his lawyer are out of touch with reality. Let's examine a few key issues in their latest missive. (You can read the whole thing at the end of this post.)

* Threats to cut off family support to Sherry Rollins and the couple's daughters, Sarah and Emma--I reported this in a February 3 post titled "Has CEO Resorted to Extortion In An Effort to Silence Our Reporting?" I reported the threat because Sherry Rollins called me and told me about it in detail, and I tape recorded the conversation. Ms. Rollins had reported similar threats to me on probably a dozen occasions over almost two years' time.

* Ted Rollins' status as a deadbeat dad--I've reported this in multiple posts, and public records--plus a videotaped interview with Sherry Rollins--show that it's true. Sherry Rollins stated, with a camera rolling and under no coercion from anyone, that Ted Rollins had failed to pay more than $200,000 in court-ordered family support from South Carolina. It still hasn't been paid, and that makes Mr. Rollins a deadbeat dad. It's fact.

* My communications with Sarah Rollins, and the threat of a restraining order--Mr. Essick is topping himself with this one. He states that I have been in contact with Sarah Rollins, and Ted Rollins vows to get a restraining order against me if I contact either of his minor children again. A fact: I was "in contact" with Sarah Rollins because she called me at home. Let me repeat: Sarah Rollins called me, not the other way around. Is Mr. Essick going to seek an order to prevent me from answering my own phone?

It's interesting that Ted Rollins would voice such concern about the welfare of minor children. I have information about how he has treated minor children who were under his care, and it's not a pretty story. More on that coming soon.

Mr. Essick says my posts contain "false and misleading" information, and he demands that I take "certain corrective action" in the form of a retraction. I made it clear that no retraction is forthcoming. Here is my full reply:

Mr. Essick:

A response to the latest in your ongoing series of threats:

* The threats to cut off family support were communicated to me by Sherry Rollins in a tape-recorded conversation. She called me about them, not the other way around, and she has made similar reports to me on probably 8-12 occasions. I've never initiated a conversation on such topics; she has always brought it up. My posts on this subject are true, and there will be no retraction.

* Public records, and videotaped interviews with Sherry Rollins, show that Mr. Rollins still owes a significant sum of money that he never paid, based on South Carolina court orders. Thus, he is a deadbeat dad. My posts on this subject are true, and there will be no retraction.

* Sarah Rollins contacted me via telephone. She initiated the communication. That is fact, and Mr. Rollins should learn the facts before making threats about restraining orders.

* Sherry Rollins has not provided documentation to show that one word of my reporting is false. Whether I continue to report on this subject is not her call--it's mine. This also is not a "private family matter," as you should know. Rollins v. Rollins is a matter of public record, litigated in taxpayer-funded courts, and Ted Rollins is CEO of a publicly traded company that conducts business from coast to coast.

Finally, public records show that you are not a member of the Alabama State Bar, and yet you continue to send law-related communications to an Alabama citizen. You appear to be practicing law in Alabama without a license. You also have repeatedly made threats against me, hinting at legal actions that you cannot lawfully take. This appears to be a violation of legal ethics at both the state and national levels.

Your unlawful and unethical actions will no longer be tolerated.

I've conducted additional research since I wrote that, and under the State Corporate Admission Rules of Alabama, I don't think Mr. Essick is practicing law without a license. He is, however, violating
Rule 3.1 of the Alabama Rules of Professional Conduct ("Meritorious Claims and Contentions"), which states, in part:

(a) In his representation of a client, a lawyer shall not file a suit, assert a position, conduct a defense, delay a trial, or take other action on behalf of the lawyer’s client when the lawyer knows or when it is obvious that such action would serve merely to harass or maliciously injure another.

In addition, Mr. Essick, Mr. Rollins, and any number of other individuals and entities would be subject to a counterclaim for abuse of process, conspiracy, defamation (and other possible claims) if they bring a baseless lawsuit against me. Any lawsuit they file would be baseless because my reporting has been accurate.

Essick is threatening a SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation), which is the kind of tactic to which a low-rent, cowardly law firm would resort. Is that what Poyner Spruill is all about? The answer appears to be yes.

Essick's claim that Rollins v. Rollins is a "private family matter" makes him come across as someone who knows he has no serious position other than to flail at the air.

It's ironic, however, that Essick raised the issue of Ted Rollins and minor children. That is a subject that merits very serious attention.


Ted Rollins--Letter No. 3