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Sunday, September 30, 2012

FedEx Creates An Ad for the Ages--Just In Time for the Political Season

"FedEx Candidates" ad

We might not manufacture much in postmodern America. But by golly, we still can turn out unforgettable advertising.

An example for the ages comes from FedEx--and it's perfect for an election year. The spot is called "FedEx Candidates," and you can read some background on it here. Joe Berkowitz, of fastcocreate.com, provides the basics:

Essentially, political elections are competitions like any other, and no competition would be complete without a little smack-talking. In the latest ad for FedEx, a couple of candidates casually decide to go negative. 
Created by agency BBDO New York, the new ad quietly shows all the resources FedEx has at its disposal through the lens of two political rivals picking up their campaign swag at the same spot. Amid the blizzard of posters, coffee mugs, and lawn signs they’ve requested, the candidates fling barbs at each other through clenched-tooth smiles. It’s an appropriate enough commercial for a year marked by a real campaign and an unreal one.

The folks who came up with this earned their payday. It might be the best thing to hit the advertising circuit since "The Most Interesting Man in the World" entered our lives. Enjoy.


Friday, September 28, 2012

Robert Vance Jr. Is Not Fit to Serve on the Alabama Supreme Court, and Here Is Why

Robert Vance Jr.

Does Robert Vance Jr. have the skills, temperament, and ethical convictions to serve on the Alabama Supreme Court? The answer is a resounding no, and that comes from my first-hand courtroom experiences.

Many progressives, such as myself, might become nauseous at the thought of Republican Roy Moore bringing his strange mix of right-wing virtue and old-time religion to our state's highest court. Under normal circumstances, I would not consider a vote for Roy Moore. But the alternative is Robert Vance Jr., and I know for sure that he is ethically challenged and prone to unlawfully protect the interests of legal and corporate elites.

For all of Moore's wackiness, I've seen no signs that he intentionally rules contrary to established law and favors the legal establishment over everyday citizens. In fact, Moore might be willing to stand up to the thugs who run the Alabama State Bar, and that could help clean up our courts. Robert Vance Jr. almost certainly will be a toady for the State Bar--and that's why Roy Moore will get my vote on November 6.

I've reported before that Vance Jr. cheated me raw in a legal malpractice claim I brought against Jesse P. Evans III and Michael B. Odom. They were the first lawyers I hired to represent me in a bogus lawsuit filed by our criminally inclined neighbor, Mike McGarity, and his corrupt lawyer, William E. Swatek. Now, we are going into specifics, and this will not take long. It involves simple law, and the evidence of Vance's chicanery is overwhelming.

At issue is a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, also known as a "Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim Upon Which Relief May be Granted." That is a mouthful, but the concept is simple. A defendant who files a Motion to Dismiss essentially is saying, "This complaint is deficient on its face, it cannot be corrected, and the plaintiff cannot prevail under any set of facts. Therefore, the case must be dismissed, and no discovery is necessary."

Those last five words are key; a defendant who files a Motion to Dismiss probably is desperate to avoid discovery--and that's why he's filing a motion that almost never should be granted, under the law.

How do we know that? Well, it comes from Jerome Hoffman, a professor at the University of Alabama School of Law and author of Alabama Civil Procedure. Here are Hoffman's words on the subject:

Courts do not favor motions to dismiss. As a Rule of thumb, Rule 12(b)(6) motions will almost never be granted by trial courts, and those that are will almost always be reversed by appellate courts.

Why is that? When my legal-malpractice claim was filed in 2003, federal courts and most state courts operated under a "notice pleading" rule. (A pair of U.S. Supreme Court cases styled Twombly [2007] and Iqbal [2009] have tightened pleading standards somewhat in federal cases. Those rulings had not come down at the time my case was heard, and my case was in state court anyway, where Twombly and Iqbal generally do not apply.) Here is one definition of notice pleading:

[The] Rules of Civil Procedure require only “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,” in order to “give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests."

That is a very low bar for a plaintiff to clear, and it explains why Motions to Dismiss should almost never be granted. The plaintiff need only give notice of a recognized legal claim, with a brief summation of the grounds upon which it rests, and that is sufficient to overcome a Motion to Dismiss. Most complaints can accomplish that in one page--in maybe one or two paragraphs, at most.

My legal-malpractice complaint was 12 pages long, filled with details and citations to relevant law. (You can read it at the end of this post.) No serious practitioner of the law could argue this complaint did not easily meet the standards of notice pleading. But Robert Vance Jr. granted the Motion to Dismiss anyway.

According to Jerome Hoffman, there are only about three scenarios where a Motion to Dismiss can legitimately be granted under Alabama law--and he spells them out:

* The complaint alleges wrongdoing that is not recognized under the law. Hoffman gives the example of someone filing suit because of a "social snub";

* The complaint, on its face, falls outside the relevant statute of limitations;

* The defendants, on the face of the complaint, are protected by some form of immunity.

None of those was a factor in my case. Evans and Odom could not argue with a straight face that legal-malpractice is not a recognized tort--and they did not even try. Many legal-malpractice claims get booted by the two-year of statute of limitations, but I beat the clock--and Evans and Odom did not argue otherwise. As private attorneys, Evans and Odom clearly did not enjoy any form of immunity from suit.

Robert Vance Jr. had no legal grounds for granting the Motion to Dismiss, and that is apparent from the wording of his order. (You can read it at the end of this post.) Vance does not make one single citation to law in his order. Here is the gist of his ruling:

For the reasons stated in the defendants' motions, the plaintiff's complaint, as amended, fails to state a cause of action for which relief may be granted. Accordingly, the defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint, as amended, is hereby GRANTED. The plaintiff's claims are hereby DISMISSED with prejudice, costs taxed as paid.

Let's briefly ponder the two passages in bold above. The Birmingham firm of Starnes and Atchison (now Starnes Davis Florie) represented Evans and Odom, with Bryan O. Balogh and W. Stancil Starnes handling the case. In the first bold section, Vance essentially informs us that the fine folks at Starnes and Atchison decided the case for him--and me. Vance apparently cannot be bothered to consider citations to law from both sides, or even come up with something on his own, so he simply adopts what one side, the defense, puts forth. Never mind that the question on a Motion to Dismiss is the sufficiency of the complaint, on its face--and the Starnes lawyers never made any showing that I failed to meet notice pleading requirements. In fact, they did not even raise the issue of notice pleading.

As for the second bold section, Vance Jr. actually says, in so many words, that legal malpractice is not a cause of action for which relief can be granted. Even the Starnes firm does not argue that.

How Vance Jr. could write that with a straight face is beyond my comprehension. And he wants us to take him seriously as a candidate for the highest judicial office in Alabama?

On second thought, here is what Vance might be saying with his ruling: "In my courtroom, legal malpractice is not a claim for which relief can be granted. That's not the law, of course, but that's how things are done in my courtroom. After all, I have to protect my friends in the legal tribe. If regular folks get screwed by lawyers and then get screwed again in my courtroom . . . well, that's just tough. Their problems are not my concern."

Sounds a little like Mitt Romney, doesn't it?

That's the real Robert Vance Jr. talking. Is it any wonder that lawyers from all the big firms seem enthusiastic about his candidacy? Isn't that reason enough for you and I to be against it?

  Evans Complaint
Evans Vance1

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Randall Rollins: A Member of the "1 Percent" Lies Under Oath In An Alabama Divorce Case

Randall Rollins

You might think that a billionaire would have better things to do than to perjure himself over a few million dollars in a divorce case--especially when it wasn't even his divorce. But our research indicates you would be wrong.

We already have presented a couple of posts (see here and here) that strongly suggest Randall Rollins, the billionaire head of Orkin Pest Control and parent company Rollins Inc., produced false documents in the Rollins v. Rollins divorce case. Now we present evidence that pretty much cinches the deal.

Why would Randall Rollins, a certified member of the "1 Percent," resort to criminal behavior? At issue was a real-estate investment company called St. James Capital, which Randall Rollins jointly owned with his cousin, Ted Rollins. The younger Rollins was a party in the divorce case, and St. James Capital was a marital asset that stood to be equitably divided in court.

Randall and Ted Rollins apparently were so determined to ensure that Sherry Carroll Rollins did not receive her lawful share of the company that they decided to lie under oath. They produced documents showing that Ted Rollins had sold his share in St. James Capital for roughly $85,000. But other documents in the divorce file indicate that story has more holes than the Oakland Raiders' offensive line.

Sherry Rollins has stated that she saw documents in her ex husband's computer showing that St. James Capital was started with a $34 million investment, and Ted Rollins was both president and co-owner of the company. That information alone blows a huge hole in the notion that Ted Rollins would sell his share in such a company for the paltry sum of $85,000.

But let's assume for a moment that Ms. Rollins was mistaken. Even with that assumption, the file presents overwhelming evidence that Randall and Ted Rollins lied under oath.

The evidence comes in the form of two real-estate appraisals that were produced during the discovery process in Rollins v. Rollins. The first appraisal is for a piece of property styled "Industrial Building; Carolina Point Parkway; Greenville County, South Carolina." (See first document at the end of this post.) According to the appraisal, the property includes 38.935 acres of land, plus an 800,154-square-foot industrial building. It has an "as is" market value of $9.6 million.

The second appraisal is for a piece of property styled "San Francisco RV Resort; 700 Palmetto Avenue; Pacifica, CA." (See second document at the end of this post.) This is a 182-space RV park located on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and it has operated successfully as an RV park since its construction in 1984. The property has a market value of $7.8 million.

Executives with St. James Capital or its affiliates requested the two appraisals. It isn't clear from the documents whether the company was looking to buy the properties or owned them and was looking to sell. Either way, St. James Capital was conducting business on two pieces or property that were worth a combined $17.4 million.

According to Sherry Rollins, testimony at the divorce trial showed St. James Capital owned 28 properties throughout the United States and Canada. And that motivates us to try our hand at some math: The average value of the Greenville and Pacifica properties was $8.7 million. If we assume all 28 properties carried the same value--in reality, of course, their values might have been higher or lower--that would give St. James Capital assets totaling $243.6 million.

We're supposed to believe that Ted Rollins sold his stake in such a company for $85,000?

I'm a proud graduate of the Jethro Bodine College of Business at the University of Missouri, and even I know that's a bad deal.

Fortunately, I also know it's a bad idea to commit perjury in a court case. That's a lesson Randall and Ted Rollins apparently never learned.


R. Rollins Property1

R. Rollins Property2

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Alabama Woman Remains Incarcerated In the Wake of a Curious Divorce Case

Bonnie Cahalane (Knox) Wyatt

A central Alabama woman remains in the Chilton County Jail from the fallout of a divorce case that appears to have been handled in an irregular fashion.

Bonnie Cahalane (Knox) Wyatt, 46, of Clanton, has been incarcerated on a contempt-of-court charge since July 26. That means Ms. Wyatt has been in jail for more than eight weeks from her efforts to end a marriage where the parties lived together as husband and wife for less than a year.

A hearing was scheduled yesterday on a motion to set aside the contempt order. But the most recent inmate list at the Chilton County Jail's Web site (posted at 7:50 a.m. on 9/25/12) still includes Ms. Wyatt.

On a related subject, Ms. Wyatt appears on a Web page titled "Autauga County's Most Wanted Worthless Check Writers." Autauga County District Attorney Randall V. Houston sponsors the page, and it states that Ms. Wyatt is wanted for writing one bad check in the amount of $3,048.23.

A check of state court records several days ago showed no bad-check charge has been brought against Ms. Wyatt. The official charge in such cases usually is "negotiating a worthless negotiable instrument," under Code of Alabama 13A-9-13.1

Why is Bonnie Wyatt's picture splattered all over a Web page for writing one bad check when we can find no such charge against her in court records? Is it the usual practice in Autauga County to prosecute someone for writing one bad check? If so, does the county have a jail/courthouse complex the size of Bryant-Denny Stadium?

Under Code of Alabama 12-17-224, a DA can establish a "worthless check unit," which requires a holder of a worthless instrument to file a complaint with the unit. That means someone filed a complaint against Bonnie Wyatt for writing one bad check, which was in a pretty substantial sum. The obvious question: Who was it, and did he or she give Ms. Wyatt a chance to correct the problem?

Those are just a few of many questions surrounding the Bonnie Wyatt story. For now, here is the biggest question: How does a woman wind up in jail for more than eight weeks after filing for divorce from a man she only lived with for roughly 10 months?

The simple answer is found in the divorce decree for a case styled Bonnie Sue Wyatt v. Harold Jay Wyatt. (See document at the end of this post.) The decree, actually titled "Final Order of Divorce," states that Ms. Wyatt was to pay Mr. Wyatt $165,000 on or before June 7, 2011. Mr. Wyatt then was to satisfy the debt on the marital residence and convey his interest to Ms. Wyatt.

Ms. Wyatt sought to have the order amended before trial judge Sibley Reynolds, stating that misrepresentations were made in settlement negotiation, and also tried to appeal the order to a higher court. Both of those efforts failed, and when she did not pay the $165,000, Reynolds issued a warrant for her arrest.

How did Bonnie Wyatt come to owe her ex husband so much money in the aftermath of a brief marriage? How did one party wind up in jail over a divorce case that, on its face, should have been quick and simple?

I contacted Harold Wyatt recently in an effort to answer those questions. Mr. Wyatt clearly was unhappy with some of his wife's actions during the course of their marriage, but he did not come across as an unreasonable person. He initially said that I needed to speak with his lawyer, but he wound up talking rather freely about issues in the marriage. Mr. Wyatt said he had sunk a lot of money into the marital residence, and that left him in a strapped financial condition after the divorce.

In my review of the court file, I did not find documentation--invoices, canceled checks, etc.--regarding funds he allegedly spent on the home. In our conversation, Mr. Wyatt made reference to about 40 pages of material he had produced in discovery. Materials from discovery do not always show up in court files,  so perhaps the documentation exists, even though I haven't seen it.

Court records show that Bonnie Wyatt obtained a Protection From Abuse (PFA) order during the course of the marriage, but Mr. Wyatt denied that any abuse took place. The court ultimately dismissed the PFA and instituted a joint restraining order during the divorce proceedings.

Here perhaps is the most troubling issue I've seen in the court file: The "settlement agreement" in Wyatt v. Wyatt consists of a one-page, handwritten document that came out of mediation and looks like something a third grader might produce. (See document at the end of this post.) Signatures are affixed, but I see no sign that the document was notarized or made official in any way.

Has Bonnie Wyatt been in jail for more than eight weeks based on the scribbled document you see below?

This might be the bigger question about Wyatt v. Wyatt: Why was Harold Wyatt in a position where he felt the need to sink substantial money into the home that Bonnie Wyatt owned? Mr. Wyatt told us the house was in a state of major disrepair at the time he came on the scene. Why was that the case?

Our research on that question is ongoing.


Wyatt Divorce Decree


Wyatt Divorce Settlement

Has Drug and Sex Scandal Caused the Ouster of a Right-Wing Lawyer With Ties to Pat Robertson?

James M. Henderson

Update at 1:05 p.m., CDT, on Wednesday, 9/26/12:

The entry for James M. Henderson on the Web site at the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) no longer exists. Henderson also no longer is included on the ACLJ's list of "Senior Attorneys and Staff." It's not clear when Henderson's name was removed, but he was listed last night and apparently this morning. Did Henderson resign? Was he fired? We don't know at this moment. But news of a sex and drug scandal involving Henderson, which originated with reports at Exposed Politics and The Patriot-Ombudsman, apparently prompted swift action at ACLJ. We will continue to track the latest developments on this story. 


A "pro family" lawyer with ties to religious broadcaster Pat Robertson apparently has a secret life that involves marijuana and online sexual banter with boys, according to two Web-based investigative reports.

James M. Henderson Sr. is senior counsel at the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) and an adjunct professor at Regent University School of Law, which Robertson founded at Virginia Beach in 1978. Working under ACLJ chief counsel Jay Sekulow, Henderson has helped prepare appellate-court briefs on some of the most contentious issues of our times--abortion rights, free speech, the Bush-Gore recount of 2000, and ObamaCare. Henderson's online bio touts his roles as a husband, father of eight, and youth minister.

But a Web site called Exposed Politics reported on Monday that Henderson appears to have a secret life that revolves around sexually charged interactions with boys and the use of illegal drugs. The Patriot-Ombudsman Web site published a followup yesterday, noting that Henderson's Facebook page had been scrubbed and a query to Jay Sekulow had been deflected to an ACLJ media officer, who failed to respond.

This story has roundabout ties to our base in Birmingham, Alabama, via an outfit called the Southeast Law Institute and its director, lawyer/activist A. Eric Johnston. More on that connection in a moment.

But first, how did James Henderson's apparent double life come to light. Like many postmodern scandals, it started on the Internet--with a Facebook user who called himself "Kyle Johnson."

Before it was scrubbed, Johnson's Facebook page showed that quite a few of his friends were boys who tended to pose shirtless. A number of the boys apparently knew each other and decided that Kyle Johnson might have improper motives. From Exposed Politics, which began to investigate after receiving an anonymous tip:

According to sources, several of these boys got the idea that Mr. Johnson might be a predator and so they began copying his electronic messages, taking pictures of him and his vehicle, taking cell phone videos inside and outside his car, and photographing evidence in his car.  
Through Aug. 23, 2012, “Kyle Johnson’s” Facebook page contained many comments and references to marijuana and sex. These include references to his personal use of marijuana.

Was this man's name really Kyle Johnson? The answer appears to be no, and one of the boys found evidence that the mans' real name is . . . James M. Henderson Sr. From The Patriot-Ombudsman:

According to the anonymous young man, who gave the videos to Expose Politics, when “Kyle” went into a nearby liquor store to get something for them to drink, he rifled through the glove box and found out who, he says, “Kyle” really is.

The investigative report then includes a still shot of a bank statement that is addressed to:

James Henderson 
Theresa Henderson 
7108 Reservoir Road 
Springfield, VA 22150-3836

Henderson's online bio says he is married to Theresa Ann Henderson (nee Lawson), and this apparently is their address.

How does all of this connect to us here in Alabama? Well, A. Eric Johnston is our version of James Henderson. And Johnston's Southeast Law Institute is a miniature ACLJ.

As it turns out, Henderson and Johnston apparently have collaborated on legal work. We found at least two instances where they worked together on legal issues that are dear to right-wing hearts:

* Frisby v. Schultz, 487 U.S. 474 (1988)--Henderson and Johnston urged the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse a lower-court ruling that prevented abortion-rights foes in Wisconsin from picketing at the private residence of an abortion provider.

* Lee v. Weisman, 505 U.S. 507 (1992)--Henderson and Johnston urged the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse a lower-court ruling that prevented clergy from leading prayer at a Rhode Island public school.

A. Eric Johnston
Like Henderson, Johnston is no stranger to hypocrisy. Johnston is director of Citizens for a Better Alabama (CBA), a staunch anti-gambling outfit that supported former Governor Bob Riley's raids on casinos in our state. CBA launched frequent attacks on casino owner Milton McGregor, who was acquitted on all charges in a federal trial and retrial on corruption charges.

The forerunner to CBA was a group called Citizens Against Legalized Lottery (CALL). We shined light on those two groups--and A. Eric Johnston's massive hypocrisy--in a November 2011 post titled "Abramoff Confirms That He Helped Turn Alabama Into a Political Cesspool."

From that post, which borrowed heavily on a Birmingham News article about a book by GOP felon Jack Abramoff:

A 2005 investigation by the U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee revealed documentation of the payments that Abramoff routed from the Mississippi Choctaws into Alabama. For example, the Christian Coalition of Alabama accepted $850,000 from the Americans for Tax Reform to help fight video poker legislation in 2000; and another $300,000 went from the anti-tax group to the Citizens Against Legalized Lottery, which was formed in 1999 to defeat Siegelman's lottery plan. 
Abramoff wrote that conservative activist Ralph Reed, whom he enlisted to help on the Alabama anti-gambling campaign, didn't want his "co-religionists" to know the operation was financed with gambling money.

We then tied things together, showing that A. Eric Johnston helped fight gambling in Alabama . . . by using Mississippi gambling money that had been laundered through Jack Abramoff:

Citizens Against Legalized Lottery, by the way, morphed into Citizens for a Better Alabama (CBA) in 2001 and played a leading role in fighting the Sweet Home Alabama plan that would have brought legalized, regulated gaming to our state. CBA is led by A. Eric Johnston, a shadowy Birmingham lawyer who made a failed run for the Alabama Supreme Court in 2010. 
We can thank Jack Abramoff for confirming what many of us have suspected for some time: A. Eric Johnston's group is not really based on a moral objection to gambling; it's designed to protect Mississippi gaming interests.

The bottom line? A. Eric Johnston is the worst sort of hypocrite on gambling issues. Now, it appears that James M. Henderson Sr. is a hypocrite on family issues. No wonder these two guys have gotten along famously for years.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Here's How Bill Swatek Botched An "Open and Shut" Divorce Case for One of His Female Clients

Bill Swatek

Do you like the idea of spending more than $10,000 on a lawyer, only to see your divorce case botched so badly that you lose custody of your children?

If so, Pelham, Alabama, attorney William E. Swatek might be your man.

We've heard from an Alabama woman who had a stellar record as a mother, while her husband had a history of being a porn addict who was abusive to his children--and yet, he wound up with custody. Her attorney was Bill Swatek, and the judge was Swatek's former neighbor and long-time golfing buddy J. Michael Joiner.

I have personal experience with Swatek and Joiner combining to fix cases; they did it in the bogus lawsuit Swatek filed on behalf of Mike McGarity, our criminally inclined neighbor. And it sounds like they did it in my source's divorce case.

Here is a key point I've learned from dealing with our corrupt judicial system: Just because a lawyer is crooked, it does not mean his clients always prevail. It means he happily plays along with what crooked judges and opposing lawyers want. In my case, it apparently was predetermined that Swatek's client would unlawfully get a good deal. In my source's case, it apparently was predetermined that Swatek's client would unlawfully get a raw deal.

Either way, the lawyers get their cash--perhaps with some going on the side to the judge--so none of them cares what happens to the parties or their children.

How little did Swatek care about the welfare of his client in my source's case. Via e-mail, here is how she described it:

The day in court [Swatek] put me on the stand and honestly I feel I was my worst witness because I was so unprepared. He started asking me financial questions that I had not prepared for because I did not know he was going to ask me. It made me look really bad. Then he started asking questions that I had a very hard time understanding where he was going. I tried my best just to put my faith in him; after all, I was paying him for his expertise. After I stepped down he said he had no other witnesses and no one else was called on my behalf--while my husband had photos, had two people testify that he was a "wonderful father," etc. Afterwards I asked why he didn’t call my witnesses and he said that he didn’t know what to ask them and he didn’t know what they could attest too. Besides, [Swatek said] having your mom and sister testify that you are a good mother isn’t worth much because they are expected to take your side. I asked why he didn’t tell me that before so that I could have gotten someone else. He explained that there was nothing negative said about my parenting ability and that he felt it was a moot point to have someone say I was a good mother.

Does this kind of attorney negligence, which almost certainly amounts to legal malpractice, have repercussions? It sure does, says our source:

I went home knowing I had lost--it is a feeling in the pit of your stomach that you know your kids will be soon taken from you. What really irritated me was [Swatek's] apathetic attitude. It was as if he really didn’t care what happened to my kids. I was so naive. I really want to believe we live in a fair and just place. I know there are bad judges and bad lawyers, but I wanted to believe that was somewhere else. Looking back I believe that it is possible that Swatek was told to "roll over," and he obeyed.

Based on my experience, I would say she is absolutely on target. Are these the only techniques Swatek uses to abuse his own clients, especially women in divorce cases? Oh, no. We have more to come.

More Evidence Points to Child Sexual Abuse Involving Wall Street CEO Ted Rollins

Campus Crest executives, including
Ted Rollins (second from right)

Campus Crest Communities CEO Ted Rollins frequently drove his stepson to school when the boy was about 12 or 13 years old and made a habit of keeping several curious items in the vehicle. When Sherry Carroll Rollins later described the items in a counseling session at Duke University, the psychologist recommended she read a well-known book about homosexual behavior.

The book, called The Homosexual Matrix, would help her better understand what likely was happening between her adolescent son and her then husband, the psychologist told Ms. Rollins.

What were the items? They included a spatula, a bungee cord, and a necktie.

The family lived in Louisburg, North Carolina, and the counseling sessions came not long after someone filed a complaint with the state's department of social services about a possible abusive sexual relationship between Ted Rollins and his stepson.

The boy attended a private school that was about a one-hour drive, each way, from the family home. Ted Rollins would drive the child to school most every weekday, and Sherry Rollins began to receive frequent reports from the school that her son was arriving one to two hours late to school.

When this was reported to the psychologist, along with the unusual items kept in the vehicle, it apparently set off alarms. Ted Rollins was head of a company called American Textile Services at the time.

Sherry Rollins described her sessions with the psychologist in an e-mail to me last October. The e-mail includes a reference to the soiled towels a maid had discovered in a closet at the Rollins home. The towels were stained with fecal matter, and this disclosure also appeared to cause alarm in counseling sessions:

When I was seeing a psychologist at Duke University in 1994, he suggested I buy the book The Homosexual Matrix to understand the activities of homosexuals and the things that they used in their activities. I noted that in Ted's Jeep a bungee cord, a spatula and a necktie he kept around the mirror in his car. 
After reading the book I reported back to the psychologist that I had found the necktie around the mirror repeatedly after I would remove it. I also removed the bungee cords and the spatula several times. They would always be replaced. I never understood the significance of these items although I would remove them only to find them replaced. 
After reading the Matrix, I became inflamed about these items. I confronted Ted, and he always said he had to have these items to: (A) Be prepared for disaster with the bungee cords; (B) The spatula was used to remove frost from the windshield; and (C) The neckties were there because he got rid of them on the ride home. The only problem was that he did not wear a necktie to work, and he never removed ice from the windshield. These were unusual items to be found in the vehicle and I kept removing them. They always reappeared in the Jeep. 
Ted drove Zac home from school each night, as he would pick him up from St. Timothy's school in Raleigh and bring him to the plant and then home. The towels, the bungee cord, the ties, and the spatula just added up to an unusual trove of items to find.

Sherry Rollins has told Legal Schnauzer that she is living in fear in the wake of reports about an investigation of alleged child sexual abuse involving her ex husband. Ms. Rollins' fears appear to be grounded in reality.

She has told us multiple times about two mysterious automobile accidents, involving both her and her daughters, in the years leading to her divorce from Ted Rollins. She also has told us about a fall that her son suffered while working at one of Ted Rollins' properties. That's the same son that Mr. Rollins assaulted--and the same son who was at the heart of the investigation for possible sexual abuse. The fall resulted in life-threatening injuries that required multiple surgeries and caused the son to lose his spleen.

We will provide details about these incidents in future posts--and the details are horrifying. They present powerful evidence that someone was trying to remove Sherry Carroll Rollins, and at least some of her children, from the Rollins family tree.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Tape Recordings Nail Debt Collectors in Flagrant Violations of Federal Law (Part 2)


Debt collectors cannot lie to you during the course of their communications about money you allegedly owe. That's one of the basics of the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act (FDCPA).

In fact, a collector does not have to tell a flat-out falsehood to violate the FDCPA; any statement that is "deceptive" or "misleading" is a violation and should lead to damages if you bring a lawsuit in federal court.

The operative word in the previous sentence is "should." That's because the federal bench is littered with judges who are corrupt, incompetent, senile--or a combination of all three. Many of them were appointed to the bench from large, corporate law firms--and these jurists often are more loyal to business interests than they are to the law.

A perfect example is U.S. District Judge Abdul Kallon, the Obama appointee who heard the FDCPA lawsuit Mrs. Schnauzer and I filed in the Northern District of Alabama. Kallon came from the "pro business" firm of Bradley Arant and was recommended by former U.S. Rep. Artur Davis (D-AL), who has since switched to the Republican Party.

Kallon is a Democratic appointee, so quite a few Alabama consumers probably go before him thinking they will get a fair shake. They almost certainly will be disappointed, and that's because Abdul Kallon is a corporate whore. I have absolute proof of that; after all, Kallon granted summary judgment to collectors in the face of irrefutable evidence that they violated the law. (See video at the end of this post.)

Speaking of evidence, tape recordings are wonderful things. They reveal the truth about people and entities in a way that cannot be denied. In the second part of our series about collectors "caught in the act" of violating the FDCPA, we are dealing with a common character on the American frontier--a debt collector who tells a bald-faced lie. And this one did it while representing some of the biggest names in the corporate constellation.

The collector is Tracy Mize, who worked for the Birmingham law firm of Ingram and Associates. She was trying to collect a debt I allegedly owed to American Express, which had placed the account with a Pennsylvania-based collection company called NCO, which placed it with Ingram.

NCO, by the way, is owed by JPMorgan Chase, the largest private corporation in the world. You see what I mean about the big hitters involved here.

Let's set the stage for Tracy Mize's big lie: I told her about the misconduct we had witnessed from multiple lawyers and judges in Shelby County, Alabama--and noted that expenses associated with a protracted (and bogus) legal battle had put a crimp in our finances. She responded with her own story, about a complaint she filed that led to the disbarment of a senior partner at Sirote and Permutt, one of the major firms in Jefferson County. I noted that bar rules require an attorney who has "unprivileged knowledge" of misconduct within the legal community to report it to the "proper tribunal." Mize acknowledged the rule, but seemed to be convinced that it did not apply to her boss, Angie Ingram. That led to this comment from Mize:

But see, Angie has to stay out of this. She is hired by American Express to pursue this. She can't get involved in wrongdoing alleged against other attorneys. That's a conflict of interest for her. That's why I think you need to speak to a third party because Angie is the attorney for American Express, hired specifically to pursue these cases legally.

Mize states that Angie Ingram was "hired by American Express" and adds that Ingram is "the attorney for American Express." That probably is an effective statement in a collection case because it makes an alleged debtor think he is facing the resources of a corporate powerhouse. But there is a slight problem with the statement: It isn't true.

How do I know that? Gregory R. Stevens, vice president for customer contact management at NCO, filed an affidavit in my lawsuit that states the following:

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

In her own affidavit, Angie Ingram admits she was hired by NCO, not American Express. So Tracy Mize lied to me, and that is a violation of 15 U.S.C. 1692e, which states in pertinent part:

A debt collector may not use any false, deceptive, or misleading representation or means in connection with the collection of any debt.

I suspect the con game that Ingram and Associates tried on me is pulled on thousands of consumers every day across America. A collection attorney obviously wants you to believe she represents the biggest and baddest kid on the block--or at least the corporate entity that you most likely have heard of. That way, she increases the chances that you will soil yourself and agree to a settlement--probably in that order.

Chances are that you've never heard of most debt-collection outfits, so dropping those names is not likely to have the desired effect. What's the solution for the collector, who really, really wants you to soil yourself? In my case, it was to tell me that the attorney had been hired by American Express--even though it wasn't true.

Just think about it: The representative for a collection attorney tells you she was hired by NCO. You're likely to say, "Never heard of 'em, so bite me." But let her say she was hired by American Express, and you immediately start to sense a loosening in your bowels.

The collector hopes that disturbing sensation is followed by a loosening in your wallet.

How does this scam play out in real life? You can catch it "live and in color" at the video below.


Previously in our series:

Tape Recordings Nail Debt Collectors in Flagrant Violations of Federal Law 



Jerry Sandusky and Ted Rollins: Both Coach and CEO Reportedly Brought Child Abuse Into the Home

Jerry Sandusky

The most searing images from the child sexual abuse case of former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky involved acts that took place in university locker room facilities.

But a new report states that Sandusky's adopted son was prepared to testify that the coach had sexually abused him in the home. That reminds us of Ted Rollins, the CEO of Campus Crest Communities who was convicted in the mid 1990s for assaulting his stepson and investigated on a complaint of child sexual abuse involving the same child.

No substantive actions were taken against Ted Rollins after the child sexual abuse complaint was filed, much as an investigation against Sandusky in the 1990s resulted in no sanctions. But the Rollins story--plus the most recent news about Sandusky--drives home what appears to be a general truth about such cases: The home is by far the most likely place for abuse to happen.

In fact, the threat that Sandusky's adopted son might testify about abuse in the home probably was the defining factor in the most watched criminal case of 2012. Trial transcripts show the threat prompted Jerry Sandusky to not testify in his own defense. From a report at espn.com:

Jerry Sandusky reversed course and decided not to take the witness stand after his adopted son came forward and told prosecutors the former Penn State assistant football coach had abused him, documents show. 
Trial transcripts posted online Friday offer a glimpse into Sandusky's decision to remain silent during his child sex-abuse trial. 
Matt Sandusky, whom the defense had planned to call as a witness, abruptly switched sides late in the trial, approaching prosecutors and offering to testify that he had suffered abuse at the hands of his father, the transcript shows.

Is it possible that Jerry Sandusky would have been acquitted if he had chosen to testify? It's hard to say, but it appears the threat that his son would testify about abuse in the home cinched a conviction:

Prosecutors planned to call Matt as a rebuttal witness if Jerry Sandusky testified in his own defense, the transcript shows. They later backed off, but wouldn't agree to a defense request to refrain from asking Sandusky about his son's claims on cross examination. 
"Mr. Sandusky had always wanted to testify on his own behalf. He always wanted to tell people his side to the allegations in this case," defense lawyer Joe Amendola said during a private conference in judge's chambers. "However, that potential evidence, whether true or not, was so devastating" that Sandusky felt he could not run the risk of testifying and subjecting himself to questions about Matt, he continued.

As for Ted Rollins, we know he was convicted for severely beating his stepson in 1995--and that event took place in the home. We also know that two years earlier, Rollins had been investigated for the possible child sexual abuse of the same child--and that apparently involved events in the home.

Ted Rollins
Why did authorities take no substantive action against Rollins at the time? It's hard to understand, given that we now know a maid found more than 100 towels, soiled with feces and other debris, in a closet at the family home. And this powerful evidence pointing to anal sex was found at about the same time the child sexual abuse allegations surfaced.

Perhaps the most powerful lesson from the Sandusky and Rollins cases is this: In the 1990s, authorities and society in general tended to act cautiously when allegations of abuse were brought against men in powerful positions. But some two decades later, we now seem inclined to take these matters with a heightened sense of alarm.

For all the stomach-churning qualities about testimony showing Jerry Sandusky abused boys in Penn State showers, we also know this: Abuse is much more likely to take place in the home than in a public place--and that's one reason it's often difficult for victims to ever achieve justice.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Blake Lazenby Murder Case Takes An Unexpected Turn With the Announcement of a Sixth Arrest

Blake Lazenby

An investigation in the murder of an Alabama lawyer has taken a curious turn with the arrest of a 53-year-old Alexander City woman.

Teresa Baker Taylor was arrested on September 15 for solicitation of and conspiracy to commit murder. She is the sixth person to be arrested in the murder of Talladega lawyer Robert Blake Lazenby, whose body was found at his Sylacauga home in July 2011.

Taylor is identified as the girlfriend of Earnest James Files Jr., who reportedly worked as a landscaper for Lazenby's wife and was arrested in February.

Where does Teresa Baker Taylor fit into the picture? Here is how the Talladega Daily Home describes it:

According to Talladega County District Attorney Steve Giddens, Teresa Baker Taylor, 53, of Alexander City, was arrested Friday morning for solicitation of and conspiracy to commit murder 
Her bond was set at $1 million by Circuit Judge Bo Hollingsworth. 
Giddens said Taylor had been involved in a relationship with Earnest “L.A.” Files, Jr., and had represented herself as Lazenby’s wife. Files had also worked for Lazenby’s wife as a landscaper. 
Blake and (Geanne) Lazenby were in the midst of a four-year divorce battle when he was killed.

Here is the complex picture that law-enforcement officials have painted for the crime:

According to testimony that has come out so far, about a year before the murder, Files, 56, approached Calvin McCall Haynes, 30, and asked him to kill his girlfriend’s husband for $85,000. In a recorded statement played at Files’ preliminary hearing, Haynes said Files and a white woman with two children had approached him and offered him the cash on the scene. The woman was allegedly Taylor, even though she claimed to be Mrs. Lazenby, Giddens said. 
Haynes said he did not want any part of the murder himself, but mentioned it to Ocie Lee Lynch, 30. Lynch in turn approached Charles Andrew Joseph Hendricks, 21, and Jeremy Lee Cade, 22. 
Lynch and Hendricks are each charged with capital murder during the commission of a burglary, and Hendricks faces an additional charge of theft of property in the first degree in connection with the theft of Lazenby’s vehicle, which was burned out and abandoned in Cahaba. 
Cade was charged with theft of property in the first degree and receiving stolen property, also in connection with the theft of the vehicle. 
Lynch and Haynes are also charged with solicitation of and conspiracy to commit murder in connection with the case.

The Taylor arrest is surprising in at least a couple of ways. I've seen no references to her in my review of the Lazenby divorce file, and she seems to have little connection to the family--other than the peculiar assertion that she has represented herself as Blake Lazenby's wife.

How and why would Taylor represent herself as Blake Lazenby's wife? From the two passages in bold above, that apparently is based on the testimony of Calvin McCall Haynes. He reports seeing a white woman and two children with Files when they approached him about a plan to kill Blake Lazenby.

Quite a few people who have followed the Lazenby case--and my blog gets a lot of traffic about it--seemed to assume the woman with Files was Geanne Lazenby. But officials now say it was Teresa Baker Taylor, posing as Ms. Lazenby.

Were the number of children present a key factor? The Lazenbys have one child, a daughter named Madeline. Does Ms. Taylor have two or more children?

That is just one of many questions that continue to swirl around the Blake Lazenby case.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Allan Armstrong and Darrell Cartwright Prove That Your Own Lawyers Can Be Your Worst Enemies

Darrell Cartwright

If two lawyers solicited your business, would you feel they had a duty to inform you of any unsavory actions in their backgrounds?

What if one of the lawyers had recently threatened to kill a man, and the other had served as his defense counsel? What if one of the lawyers had been slapped with a restraining order because of the death threat, as part of a divorce case? What if one of the lawyers was part of the divorce case because, according to court documents, he had cheated with another man's wife?

And that's not all. What if one of the lawyers had gone through a relatively recent bankruptcy and might have the motive to make extra cash by selling you down the river? What if one of the attorneys had been arrested twice for DUI, driving left of the center line, and carrying a concealed weapon?

Would you trust such a person to represent your best interests in court? How would you feel about such a person if you discovered all of this after the fact--not only after your case, but after he and his partner had ruthlessly cheated you and your spouse?

This is where Mrs. Schnauzer and I stand with Birmingham lawyer Allan L. Armstrong and his partner, Darrell Cartwright. In July 2009, they solicited our business in a lawsuit against unscrupulous debt collectors. How did they know to contact us? They had read my blog posts about our experiences with a number of corrupt entities connected to the debt-collection field--Ingram and Associates, NCO, and the National Arbitration Forum (NAF).

We agreed for them to represent us in two cases--a nationwide class-action against National Arbitration Forum and our lawsuit against Ingram and Associates and NCO for violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) and a number of state-law claims.

Armstrong and Cartwright did a horrible job in both cases. In the NAF class-action, they shuffled us off to a lawyer named Brian Clark at the Birmingham firm of Wiggins Childs Quinn and Pantazis. I originally was a named plaintiff in the case, but was dropped from that role without my OK, and my wife and I wound up not making one penny from a case that was settled in plaintiffs' favor.

I turned over all sorts of documentation that showed how NAF had acted in a fraudulent matter, and that probably helped force a settlement. But none of the three local lawyers involved even bothered to contact me when the case was resolved. I had to call Clark to be informed that we weren't getting a dime. He also told me none of the local lawyers made anything on the case either. Do I believe that? You might say I am slightly skeptical.

As for the FDCPA case, Armstrong and Cartwright cheated us so flagrantly I will need to write a series of posts to explain it. According to the written words of judges in the case, our lawyers' mistakes cost us the case. Suffice to say that we have filed a legal malpractice case against Armstrong and Cartwright. And not surprisingly, they tried to avoid and refuse service--proving that they are both con men and cowards. (They've been served anyway, via Rule 4(e) of the Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure, so the refusing service gambit didn't work.)

We provided tape-recorded evidence of the FDCPA violations, and Armstrong/Cartwright still managed to screw things up. You have to try pretty hard to lose a case like that--and our lawyers did.

What about all of the ugliness we discussed at the outset of this post? That's all in Allan Armstrong's fairly recent past, and Cartwright served as his defense counsel in the criminal case involving the death threat. Did either one of them breathe a word to us about any of it? Nope, they led us to believe we were being represented by a couple of honorable, trustworthy guys.

For the record, I don't believe Armstrong and Cartwright made "mistakes" in our FDCPA case; I believe they screwed us intentionally in order to protect the debt-collecting scoundrels on the other side. I also believe our "attorneys" probably got compensated nicely for their troubles. Finally, I believe both Cartwright and Armstrong know exactly who cheated Mrs. Schnauzer out of her job at Infinity Property and Casualty--it happened in the midst of our FDCPA case--and they are violating their duty under ethics rules to report what they know to the "proper tribunal." I also would not be surprised if Cartwright and Armstrong know who cheated me out of my job at UAB--and they are staying quiet about that, too.

How did I uncover all of the sleaze about Allan Armstrong? It was mainly because I stumbled upon a Jefferson County divorce case styled Johnny Jefferson Scruggs III v. Michelle Ann Scruggs. According to court documents, Armstrong was Ms. Scruggs' "paramour" and left a death threat on Mr. Scruggs' voice mail. As a result, the divorce-court judge issued a restraining order against Armstrong, which can be viewed at the end of this post.

This was in spring 2008, a little more than a year before Armstrong and Cartwright solicited our business with the following e-mail:

From: Darrell Cartwright 
7/21/09 
To: Me, Allan 
Mr. Shuler, I read with great interest your comments on the National Arbitration Forum and the means by which they perpetrate a fraud on consumers. If possible, I would very much like to speak with you concerning these matters. Allan Armstrong and I are investigating possible action here in Alabama over the tactics employed by the NAF and others. If you are willing, you may contact me at this email address, and Allan Armstrong at the email address above, or you may contact me by telephone at 205-222-5900 or Allan at 205-201-1529. We pursue a number of consumer cases together and are very interested in looking at this one further. Thank you, and keep up the good work with your blogs.

We had never heard of these guys, but they went out of their way to con us into becoming their "clients"--then they brazenly cheated us. In a profession that includes the likes of William E. Swatek, it's hard to say who is the "lowest of the low" among lawyers. But Armstrong and Cartwright are strong contenders for the title.

How shady is Armstrong? In both 2000 and 2001, he was arrested for DUI, driving left of the center lane, and carrying a concealed weapon. In 2004, he went through a bankruptcy.

As clients, Mrs. Schnauzer and I had a vested interest in knowing about all of this. Did Armstrong and Cartwright tell us? Not on your life.

And in a series of upcoming posts, I will show you exactly how they cheated us and earned the title "lowest of the low" among lawyers--and God knows, they faced stiff competition for that "honor."


Armstrong Restraining Order

Thursday, September 20, 2012

How Did An Alabama Woman Wind Up In Jail From the Fallout of a Divorce Case?

Bonnie Cahalane (Knox) Wyatt

A central Alabama woman has been in the Chilton County Jail for more than seven weeks on an official charge of contempt of court. But a Legal Schnauzer investigation indicates she might be unlawfully incarcerated because of corruption connected to one or more divorce cases.

Bonnie Cahalane (Knox) Wyatt, 46, of Clanton, was jailed on July 26, and a source says she has not had contact with family members since that time.

Ms. Wyatt is incarcerated--at least on paper--because of actions related to a divorce case styled Bonnie Sue Wyatt v. Harold Jay Wyatt, which she initiated on October 5, 2009, and led to a Final Order of Divorce on May 11, 2011. Chilton County Circuit Judge Sibley G. Reynolds heard the case, and multiple sources have been telling Legal Schnauzer for months that Reynolds has a tendency to handle divorce cases in a highly irregular fashion.

Is Reynolds part of the hunting-club culture that has caused gross corruption in divorce courts in Jefferson and Shelby counties? That is not clear at this point. But his actions--and those of several lawyers and parties connected to Ms. Wyatt's case--are emitting a foul smell.

The Wyatt story is particularly troubling because it involves some sketchy characters, besides Judge Reynolds. One is Pelham lawyer William E. Swatek, who played a leading role in my own legal difficulties that started in Shelby County. Swatek has been disciplined by the Alabama State Bar at least three times, including a suspension of his license for acts of "fraud, dishonesty, misrepresentation, and deceit." Our post titled "Here's Why Americans Hate Lawyers" provides a good summary of the sleaze in Swatek's background.

Another curious character in this story is a man named Bobby L. Knox, who is one of Ms. Wyatt's former husbands. Knox is the president of Shelby Concrete, and court records indicate he possesses a substantial income that allows him to sometimes throw his weight around. Documents also indicate that Knox possesses a nasty disposition when it comes to interactions with women; he has been sued twice in federal court for sexual harassment of former female employees--and both cases were settled.

Then we have Harold Jay Wyatt, who was the defendant in the divorce case that led to Bonnie Wyatt's incarceration. What kind of person is Harold Jay Wyatt? Reviews seem to be mixed. A source tell us that Mr. Wyatt gives the impression of being a fine fellow who genuinely cared for his wife and sunk quite a bit of money into their marital residence. Court records, however, show that Harold Wyatt has been married and divorced three times, and that Ms. Wyatt took out a Protection from Abuse (PFA) order against him during the course of their marriage. He has worked as a cattle rancher and for International Paper in Selma, and his most recent address in court documents is for W V Wyatt Farm Service in Selma.

Is Bonnie Cahalane (Knox) Wyatt in jail for a legitimate reason or is she being held because someone has come to see her as a threat? Has an Alabama court become so corrupt that it would hold a woman in jail, even though it has no lawful grounds for doing so?

Ms. Wyatt has been in touch with me off and on since March 2012, discussing apparent irregularities in Chilton County divorce cases via e-mail, and I started seriously investigating her situation in late August. It wasn't until then that I discovered, via court records, that she was in jail. Her story is long and winding; it will take a number of posts to explain, and my research is ongoing. But I've learned enough to strongly suspect she is in jail because someone wants to go outside the law to punish her--or someone sees her as a threat.

The central issue in the Bonnie Cahalane (Knox) Wyatt story appears to be this: In the Final Order of Divorce in Wyatt v. Wyatt, Ms. Wyatt was ordered to pay her husband $165,000 on or before June 7, 2011. The order states that upon payment, Harold Jay Wyatt "shall satisfy the debt owing to Regions Bank on the marital residence, in the approximate amount of $108,000 and shall execute a deed conveying his interest in the marital home and real estate to the Wife.

"The Husband shall make all payments due on the above referenced debt, as well as the insurance on the home, up and until June 7, 2011, or until Wife makes payment as stipulated herein, whichever occurs first. The balance received by the Husband, over and above the payoff of the debt, shall settle all other equity issues related to the marital property."

How did Bonnie Wyatt come to owe Harold Wyatt $165,000? That's hard to understand, particularly when you consider that court documents indicate the marital home belonged to her before the marriage. Also, records show that the couple married on December 1, 2008, and separated on September 9, 2009. They lived together as man and wife for less than a year, but Bonnie Wyatt owes Harold Wyatt $165,000? How did that happen?

A hand-written document that came out of mediation in Wyatt v. Wyatt indicates Ms. Wyatt agreed to a  deal paying Harold Wyatt $165,000. But we can find no copy of a formal agreement that she has signed. Ms. Wyatt sought to alter the divorce order on the grounds that new evidence showed Mr. Wyatt had made misrepresentations during the proceedings and that she had never received documentation of alleged improvements to the marital home or the use of loan proceeds against the marital home.

Judge Reynolds denied the motion to alter, and various attorneys apparently failed to follow through on Ms. Wyatt's efforts to appeal the order to the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals. Documents show that Ms. Wyatt failed to pay the $165,000, leading to her arrest for contempt of the divorce order.

Does Bonnie Cahalane (Knox) Wyatt actually owe $165,000? Do any documents prove she owes the debt, and is there any formal settlement agreement in the divorce? Has Ms. Wyatt been deprived of her freedom on bogus grounds?

Here is one oddity about the Wyatt case, at least in my experience: Most divorce cases I've seen end with a document called "Final Judgment of Divorce" or "Final Divorce Decree." The equivalent document in Wyatt v. Wyatt is styled "Final Order of Divorce," and it seems to be based on a settlement agreement--but I can find no formal agreement in the file, nothing official that Bonnie Wyatt has signed.

Why was the word "order" used in the decisive document for the Wyatt case? Did that set up Bonnie Wyatt for a criminal finding that she had violated a court order? Is that language commonly used in Alabama divorce cases or is that peculiar to Judge Sibley Reynolds?

We might discover a valid reason for Bonnie Wyatt's jail time. But at the very least, her case presents this question: Why is a seemingly civil matter being treated in a criminal fashion? If Ms. Wyatt does owe a certain sum due to her divorce, how is she supposed to pay it while incarcerated? And why does documentation regarding the alleged debt seem to be absent from the court file?

We will examine these questions, and more, in a series of upcoming posts as our investigation continues.


(To be continued)

Sewanee's Honor Code Apparently Doesn't Raise Concerns About Interactions With CEO Ted Rollins

University of the South at Sewanee

The University of the South at Sewanee is noted in higher education for its honor code. So it's curious that one of the school's most prominent alums has no concerns about breaking bread earlier this year with Campus Crest Communities CEO Ted Rollins--even though our reporting has shown, and public records make clear, Mr. Rollins hardly is an honorable fellow.

Sewanee, which is just north of Chattanooga, Tennessee, enjoys a reputation as one of the nation's finest private, liberal-arts colleges. Anna Durham Windrow, head of The Windrow Group in Nashville, has more than 25 years of experience in government relations and is a prominent and visible alumna of Sewanee. She has served on the school's Alumni Board and its College Visiting Committee.

Earlier this year, Windrow met with Ted Rollins and his daughter, Sarah, having lunch and showing them around the campus. Windrow is so close to Sewanee that she has a home in the mountains near the school.

Sarah Rollins wound up being admitted to Sewanee and became part of the freshman class in August. Best we can tell, Ms. Rollins is a bright young woman who would merit inclusion in the Sewanee student body, on her own merits. So why was Ted Rollins the one to lead the visit with Anna Durham Windrow? Why was Sherry Carroll Rollins, the mother and Birmingham resident who actually raised Sarah and her sister Emma, kept at an arm's distance?

I contacted Anna Durham Windrow recently to ask this primary question: Was she aware that Ted Rollins had taken steps in an Alabama divorce case that would lead to Sarah and her mother and sister winding up on food stamps? Was she aware that Ted Rollins had been convicted for a brutal assault on his stepson? Was she aware that Ted Rollins had been investigated for child sexual abuse in North Carolina?

Anna Durham Windrow
Anna Durham Windrow, is a seasoned public-relations professional, and she gave all the right answers. She did not seem to be aware of the ugliness in Ted Rollins' background, but that was not the focus of the visit at Sewanee. That, Ms. Windrow said, was all about Sarah Rollins, her interest in the college, and her qualifications as a promising student. (See video at the end of this post.)

Ms. Windrow gave a reasonable answer, and one hardly can blame her for wanting to focus on Sarah Rollins and not her father. If I had an opportunity to deflect attention away from Ted Rollins, I would do it, too. But it still does not answer this question: How does Ted Rollins, and his considerable ethical baggage, fit with an institution that sends the following message to its students?

In signing the Honor Code, you are pledging on your honor not to lie, cheat or steal or more simply put, to live honorably as a part of the Sewanee Community.

If Sewanee takes honor this seriously, why did it even allow Ted Rollins on campus? Is Rollins, trying to wrangle a deal where he can build one of his The Grove apartment complexes on the pristine Sewanee campus? If so, would this institution of honor conduct business with a CEO of dishonor?

We don't have the answers to those questions at the moment. But we do have my conversation with Anna Durham Windrow, and she was made well aware of the ugliness in Ted Rollins closet. You can check it out in the video below.

Actually, Ms. Windrow is aware of only a portion of the ugliness regarding Ted Rollins. I did not tell her about a maid discovering roughly 100 towels, soiled with fecal matter and other debris, in a closet at the family home back in the 1990s--around the time of the investigation regarding child sexual abuse. I did not tell Ms. Windrow of stories Sherry Rollins has shared with me on multiple occasions about two mysterious automobile accidents, involving both her and her daughters, in the years leading to her divorce from Ted Rollins. Ms. Windrow also wasn't told about a three-story fall that Ms. Rollins' son suffered while working on scaffolding at one of Ted Rollins' properties. That's the same son that Mr. Rollins assaulted--and the same son who was at the heart of the investigation for possible sexual abuse. The fall resulted in life-threatening injuries that required multiple surgeries and caused the son to lose his spleen.

Just how dishonorable is Ted Rollins? Why have Sherry Rollins and at least three of her four children experienced curious accidents that put their lives at risk? We will examine those questions in upcoming posts.

As for Ms. Windrow, she and I agree on one thing: It's heartening to see Sarah Rollins as part of the Sewanee family, especially given the hell Ted Rollins forced her, her mother, and her sister to experience. I've only had one conversation with Sarah Rollins, and that came when she called me out of the blue a few months ago. On that occasion, she seemed to want to talk about the relationship between her father and her half brother, the stepson Ted Rollins did abuse physically and was alleged to have abused sexually.

Sarah Rollins clearly was troubled by the relationship, and she did not pull any punches about what she understands to have gone on with her father and half brother. I found her to be most articulate and insightful.

We will examine her take on a difficult subject shortly, but for now, here is my discussion with Anna Durham Windrow:


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Mitt Romney's "47 Percent" Supporter Actually Makes Other Corporate Vermin Look Good

Mitt Romney fundraiser

Could another businessman make Ted Rollins look good by comparison? That's a tall chore. Rollins, the CEO of Charlotte-based Campus Crest Communities, engineered a $380-million Wall Street IPO in late 2010, but our reporting reveals him to be a dismal human being.

Rollins pulled off a monstrous cheat job against his ex wife in an Alabama divorce case. He clearly perjured himself on a child-support affidavit, causing his two daughters in Birmingham to wind up on food stamps. Rollins was convicted for assaulting his stepson and investigated for child sexual abuse of the same stepson, both in the 1990s. Published reports indicate Rollins' company builds shoddy student-housing complexes and practices racial and gender discrimination.

How could another corporate titan actually make Ted Rollins look good? Thanks to Mitt Romney, we might have found the guy.

Marc J. Leder is the co-CEO of Sun Capital Partners in Boca Raton, Florida. His $3-million mansion was the site of what has become known as the "47 percent fundraiser," where Romney was caught on tape saying that 47 percent of Americans--those who support President Barack Obama--are "victims" who are "dependent upon government" and "pay no income tax."

Quite a few pundits say the videotaped gaffes pretty much ensure Obama's re-election in November. That, in my view, is far from certain. But the revelations about what Mitt Romney really thinks of mainstream Americans have dominated the news cycle for about 48 hours. And they raise this question: Who in the heck is Marc Leder, the guy who hosted the fundraising event back in May?

In business terminology, Leder is a "private equity guy." In more stark terms, he is a "vulture capitalist"--a guy who swoops in on supposedly struggling companies and sucks money out of them. In some instances, he "rehabilitates" businesses; in others, he helps push them over the cliff. In other words, he does exactly what Mitt Romney did years ago at Bain Capital.

Marc Leder
Leder has developed a specialty in the retail sector, and he has invested in some familiar names, such as Captain D's and Edwin Watts Golf. Here is what we learn about Leder in a profile from yesterday's Orlando Sentinel:

Interviews and public documents paint a picture of the Wharton School graduate and former Lehman Brothers executive as a shrewd businessman with a lavish lifestyle. 
Sun Capital's portfolio includes more than 70 companies, many of which are household names: Boston Market, Smokey Bones, Gerber Childrenswear, Hickory Farms, The Limited, Friendly's. 
The firm specializes in targeting unprofitable or underperforming businesses, with the aim of turning them around, but often involves dismantling companies and selling off assets

Can the process be messy, even hurtful to some? Oh yes, reports the Sentinel:

Friendly's, the family eatery and ice cream parlor, filed for bankruptcy protection in 2011, court records show. 
"Friendly's used the Chapter 11 process to close restaurants, cut jobs and terminate pensions for roughly 6,000 workers and retirees," according to The Wall Street Journal. 
One company that Sun Capital closed, in 2008, was Jevic Transportation, in southern New Jersey. It then filed for bankruptcy. About 1,500 workers were let go. 
"I had a job on Sunday, no job on Monday," said William J. Brown, 57, of Burlington, N.J.

If Leder sounds like a ruthless SOB, that's because he probably is. He also has a taste for a lifestyle that is not exactly "family friendly," by Republican standards.

The Web is filled with reports about "debauched parties"  that Leder hosted at a summer home in Bridgehampton, New York. According to The New York Post, these featured a "nude frolic" in the tycoon's pool. Some have called Leder an "orgy host."

How is Ted Rollins better than Leder? Well, Rollins creates apartment complexes that appear to have some value--as long as you are careful about stepping onto balconies. Leder doesn't appear to create much of anything with value.

Of course, you also could look at it this way: What's an occasional orgy compared to assault of a child and possible child sexual abuse?

On second thought, maybe we need to keep looking for someone who is worse than Ted Rollins.

Lindsey Buckingham Provides a Soundtrack for the Sorry State of Affairs in Postmodern America

We are overdue for a musical interlude, and with both political conventions now completed, this seems like a good time to ponder tunes that reflect our social condition heading into fall 2012.

For that, we turn to Fleetwood Mac's Lindsey Buckingham, who might top our list of favorite musicians over the past 45 years or so--at least among artists who are mere mortals. Don Henley (Eagles), John Fogerty (Credence Clearwater Revival), Burton Cummings (Guess Who), and Robert Lamm (Chicago) would be other strong competitors for the No. 1 spot. (We would have to designate Lennon and McCartney as immortals, deserving of their own private pantheon.)

At the least, Buckingham would be tied for No. 1 on our list, even though he once rarely ventured into political or social territory. That has gradually changed over the past 10 years, both in his solo work and his occasional forays with the still mega-band Fleetwood Mac.

If I had to pick the five most profound issues facing our nation heading into the November elections, the list definitely would include these two:

(1) The expanding income gap between the wealthiest Americans and everyone else;

(2) The failure of the mainstream press to hold public officials accountable, especially on matters of justice;

I recently realized that two Buckingham tunes, one of recent vintage and one that goes back about a decade, address both of these weighty matters. The first is from his most recent solo release, 2011's Seeds We Sow. "One Take" is a biting, searing commentary on the dangers of greed. To my ears, "One Take" is a complex, multi-layered tune, with several possible storylines going on at once.

First, the chorus hearkens to Buckingham's folk roots by borrowing from Brewer and Shipley's 1971 classic, "One Toke Over the Line." Second, the lyrics could be a meditation on fame, focusing possibly on a bad actor in the world of film or stage. ("I've got a publicist who covers up the avarice.") Finally, Buckingham dispenses with ambiguity and seems to make it clear that this bad actor is from the ugliest side of the corporate world:

I'm just another madman 
Looking for another fall 
And I got to make a killing
Cause a journey of a billion 
Always starts with something small 
I'm just another madman 
I turn it off, I turn it on 
And I won't be denied 
No, I won't be satisfied 
Til the middle class is gone.

The character at the heart of this song is not a nice guy. Sounds like he could host a Mitt Romney fundraiser.

Let's give "One Take" a listen:





Perhaps Buckingham's turn toward social commentary started with "Murrow (Turning Over In His Grave)," from Fleetwood Mac's 2003 release, Say You Will. Behind a blistering musical track, Buckingham mocks a somnolent mainstream press that has come to be owned by corporate interests. Here is a live version of "Murrow," featuring Buckingham's solo band:





"One Take" and "Murrow" definitely fall in the category of quirky, left-of-center songs for which Buckingham has become known. But he still is capable of turning out pop classics that would fit in the Top 40. One example from Seeds We Sow is "When She Comes Down," which features the kind of gorgeous, layered vocals that evoke the Beach Boys of the Pet Sounds era. It has a celestial, otherworldly feel, and one YouTube commenter said, "I want this to be the last song I hear in this earthly body." I can understand that sentiment:


 


Finally, we have a song that combines Buckingham's social sensibilities with an accessible pop track. It's a Fleetwood Mac tune called "What's the World Coming To," from Say You Will. Here is a live version, featuring splendid vocal harmonies with Stevie Nicks. Modern rock music doesn't get much better than this. Enjoy: