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Friday, November 30, 2012

Judge Sibley Reynolds Increases The Amount That Jailed Alabama Woman Must Pay In Her Divorce

Judge Sibley Reynolds (upper, right)
in his Chilton County courtroom

The amount that an unlawfully incarcerated Alabama woman must pay to settle her divorce has increased by almost $33,000, according to a new Web report on the case.

Bonnie Cahalane (Knox) Wyatt has been in the Chilton County Jail since July 26 because she failed to pay $165,000 as part of her divorce settlement. The Alabama Constitution states that citizens cannot be sent to jail because of debts, and case law specifically states that it is unlawful to incarcerate anyone because of failure to pay a property-related debt from dissolution of a marriage.

Alabama law, as best stated in a case styled Dolberry v. Dolberry, 920 So. 2d 573 (Ala. Civ. App., 2005), is clear: A party can be jailed for failure to pay a divorce-related debt, such as alimony, that involves "sustenance and support" of a former spouse; but a property-related debt is considered a contract matter, and the alleged debtor is subject to neither a finding of contempt nor incarceration.

So why has Chilton County Circuit Judge Sibley Reynolds flagrantly violated Alabama law by ordering that Bonnie Wyatt be sent to jail, for four months and counting? The only apparent answer is that Reynolds is intentionally acting outside the law, punishing Ms. Wyatt because someone sees her as a threat. The incarceration clearly has nothing to do with her divorce from Harold Jay Wyatt and any debt Ms. Wyatt allegedly owes to him. The couple lived together as man and wife for only about 10 months, so it's hard to see how Harold Wyatt could have such a large stake in a house that belonged to his wife prior to the marriage.

Now we learn that Judge Reynolds has increased the amount owed to $197,929.20. That comes from a report at examiner.com, written by Bradley Patterson, titled "Tyranny and Corruption, Alabama Style: Judge Sibley G. Reynolds." Patterson is the author of the Alabama blog Broke in Marshall County and has written extensively about issues connected to domestic-relations and family courts. From his report at examiner.com:

Chilton County resident Bonnie Sue Wyatt is now in her fifth consecutive month of incarceration for failure to pay a debt, under a civil contempt order signed by 19th Judicial Circuit Judge Sibley G. Reynolds. Earlier today several sources close to the case indicated that Ms. Wyatt is being held under indefinite incarceration, and some believe it may be motivated by corruption and not based in law. We have recently confirmed with officials in the Chilton County Courthouse that Ms. Wyatt must pay in full $197,920.19 to be released, in accordance with an order issued by Judge Reynolds on July 11.

Does Judge Reynolds have the slightest interest in handling Bonnie Wyatt's case according to law? Apparently the answer is no, based on this information from the examiner.com article:

Since her incarceration in July, Judge Reynolds has also stripped Ms. Wyatt of her custody rights to her children, and was said to have asked Ms. Wyatt, “Have you learned your lesson yet?” in open court on the day he stripped her rights to her children. This has led many to question the rumors about Ms. Wyatt's alleged ability to pay along with the judge's own motivations in the case. Ms. Wyatt indicated in appeals documents that she could not pay the amount ordered. Her attempts to appeal the order were denied by Judge Reynolds himself.

Why would Judge Reynolds ask Ms. Wyatt, "Have you learned your lesson yet?" What lesson is the judge trying to teach? Does that lesson have anything to do with the facts and the law in Wyatt v. Wyatt? Why did Reynolds raise such a question at a hearing where Ms. Wyatt's former husband--Bobby Knox, president of Shelby Concrete and a wealthy resident of Chilton County--was trying to get custody of their youngest daughter?

Clanton lawyer Angie Avery Collins is listed as Ms. Wyatt's attorney of record, but Patterson raises questions about Ms. Collins' performance. An emergency interlocutory appeal, called a writ of mandamus, clearly should be filed, asking the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals to force Reynolds to follow the mandate spelled out in the Dolberry case. In fact, such an emergency motion should have been filed back in July to put a stay on the arrest warrant and ensure that Ms. Wyatt would not be unlawfully jailed.

But the record shows that Ms. Collins has done little, if anything, to protect her client's interests. Are lawyers in and around Chilton County afraid to stand up to Sibley Reynolds? That's how it looks from here. From the examiner.com article:

Considering that under State law one can only be held for up to five days under criminal contempt, one has to wonder how Ms. Wyatt has remained incarcerated for over four months under civil contempt which is presumed to be less serious. Ms. Wyatt has previously retained the services of at least four attorneys on the matter. Most recently she hired Clanton, Alabama based attorney Angie Collins in the matter, though it appears that Ms. Collins has abandoned her client. Sources indicate that Ms. Collins received payment for her services, but now refuses to return the phone calls of those close to Ms. Wyatt. She has also not visited Ms. Wyatt at the jail nor has she taken any action to protect her client's interests. 
Our own multiple phone calls about the case have not been returned either. Today her secretary indicated to us that Ms. Collins was in her office, but would call us “right back within 20 minutes.” As of press time, several hours have passed and she has not done so. Sources close to Ms. Wyatt are astonished at Ms. Collins' lack of cooperation to have her client's right to liberty restored.

Dana Siegelman Makes A Profound Statement About The Perils We All Face From Corrupt Judges

Dana Siegelman

Former Congressman Parker Griffith said this week that the Don Siegelman case was a "political assassination" and an "embarrassment" to the U.S. Department of Justice. Those words, spoken in an interview with Los Angeles radio host Lila Garrett, were perhaps the most powerful statement from a political figure about the nation's most notorious selective prosecution.

The most profound words in the interview, however, might have come from Dana Siegelman, the former Alabama governor's daughter. Making a joint appearance with Griffith, Dana Siegelman cut to the core of her father's case--and shed light on the issue of judicial corruption, which plagues our justice system at both the state and federal levels.

With the exception of Harper's legal-affairs analyst Scott Horton and Justice-Integrity Project director Andrew Kreig, most lawyers speak in polite tones about even the worst federal justices--including Mark Fuller, who ramrodded the Siegelman case in the Middle District of Alabama. Neither Parker Griffith nor Dana Siegelman is a lawyer, so they did not pull any punches. Griffith called Fuller "a weak individual," but Dana Siegelman went much farther--and she illustrated the problem that corrupt judges can pose for all Americans.

The issue came up when Garrett asked about possible recourse, considering that the U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear the case, and noted that "a raft of lawyers" must be working on a case that involves such a clear injustice. Dana Siegelman's reply?

It’s a funny thing. A lot of top lawyers wanted to take this case right from the get-go because it seemed like a blatant win, and they wanted their names on it. Dad liquidated (our) trust fund for college degrees, and he’s apologized to this day because he spent all of this money trying to get these great lawyers to do this case, and of course, as the case looked less and less appealing, they left. So there is no money left for legal defense, and we have a handful of people working tirelessly pro bono, appealing the sentence, appealing for a new trial . . . and these appeals are long in the making. I think we’ve been appealing for a new trial for almost four years.

Why the futility? Dana Siegelman cuts to the chase--and it affects many Americans, not just her father:

We had a great legal defense team--lots of people who really love dad. They are brilliant lawyers, but you can be the best lawyer in the entire world and if you get in front of a corrupt judge, there’s really not much you can do. And that’s where they found themselves.

Those words are so on target that they hurt--and they are the No. 1 reason we need legal reform in this country, maybe even more so than health-care reform. If you have good insurance, our health-care system probably serves you well--and that is the case for many Americans. Our legal system, however, serves almost no one--except members of the legal tribe. In some cases--as we know because Don Siegelman is a lawyer--the legal tribe will eat one of its own.

In theoretical terms, Dana Siegelman's words are flawed. After all, we have multiple layers of appellate  courts. And any lawyer who witnesses misconduct by a fellow member of the bar, including a clearly corrupt judge, is bound by ethics rules to report it.

But what is the reality? Appellate judges often are more interested in providing cover for their trial-court brethren than in ensuring that justice is served. And the rule that lawyers must report misconduct within the profession . . . well, that's an utter joke. The law is our only self-regulating profession, and lawyers prove what most of us already know--that foxes make poor guards of hen houses.

That creates a situation that is horrific for victims of the system--and it's also hard on the lawyers who try to serve them. Says Dana Siegelman:

I’ve seen dad’s lawyers cry in the courtroom because they were just so exhausted and devastated that it’s turned out to be like this--and all of their hard work was for naught.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Allan Armstrong Still Practices Law In Alabama, Despite A History of Cocaine And Alcohol Abuse


Our reports on the notorious William E. Swatek have shown that you don't need much in the way of ethics to remain a lawyer "in good standing" with the Alabama State Bar.

Now another lawyer, Allan L. Armstrong, teaches that you can keep rocking along with a bar card in our state, even if your judgment is clouded by all sorts of substance abuse. And we've seen signs that J. Scott Vowell, the presiding judge of Jefferson County Circuit Court, will take steps to protect you.

We already have shown that Armstrong has an alcohol problem that dates back at least 12 years. He twice has been arrested for DUI, driving left of the center line, and carrying a concealed weapon--once in 2000, and again in 2001.

Now we learn from a source that Armstrong has been treated for cocaine abuse. The same source also tells us that, within the past year or so, police officers removed Armstrong from Sammy's, a Birmingham strip club, for trying to start a fight. (See video at the end of this post.)

Does this subject hit close to home? Yes, it does. Armstrong and his legal compadre, Darrell Cartwright, served as "legal counsel" for Mrs. Schnauzer and me in our lawsuit against unethical debt collectors. We had never heard of either attorney until Cartwright contacted me via e-mail after reading about our experiences with debt collectors on this blog. He solicited our business, and unfortunately, we decided to hire him and Armstrong.

That's ironic because we later learned that Armstrong had his own problems with debt, to such an extent that he went through a bankruptcy.

Cartwright and Armstrong proceeded to cheat us in a way that almost had to be intentional. They filed deeply flawed documents, without our knowledge, that caused us to lose a case where we had tape-recorded evidence of the collectors' unlawful actions.

We didn't know at the time about Armstrong's financial, legal, and substance-abuse problems. But now that we've learned about them through various court documents, and a knowledgeable source, some troubling questions come to mind: Did collectors, knowing our lawyer had financial and alcohol/drug problems, pay him to sell us down the river? Did someone have Cartwright contact me, knowing he and Armstrong ultimately would cheat us?

I suspect the answer to both questions is yes? Why? Well, for one reason, Mrs. Schnauzer and I have a pending legal-malpractice claim against Armstrong and Cartwright, and their response to it has been curious--as has the actions of the court.

Armstrong and Cartwright are refusing/avoiding service, and they have been for months. We paid the fee to have a sheriff's deputy serve papers, and that was unsuccessful. We had a special process server appointed, and his efforts to serve papers also were unsuccessful. The server reported that he made multiple visits to the Armstrong and Cartwright homes, when they clearly were home, and service was refused.

We then filed documents to have the court send the papers via U.S. mail, pursuant to Rule 4(e) of the Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure (ARCP). Under that rule, service is deemed complete "when the fact of mailing is entered of record"--and the case docket shows that the mailing was entered in the record on July 19, 2012.

Despite evidence to the contrary, Jefferson County Circuit Judge J. Scott Vowell has entered an order claiming that service has not been perfected. I've filed multiple motions showing that service, in fact, has been perfected--despite Cartwright and Armstrong's best efforts to avoid it. So why does Judge Vowell persist in ignoring the obvious?

Has he grown senile, with his retirement looming in a matter of weeks? Is he intentionally providing cover for crooked members of the legal tribe, hoping we will give up and drop the case? Given that Jefferson County Domestic Relations Court has been ravaged by corruption during Vowell's tenure as presiding judge, I would say the latter is the most likely scenario.

Speaking of curious, my wife and I are pro se litigants, and therefore are not allowed to file documents electronically. That means we must rely on the U.S. mail to receive orders and other documents in our case. But we now have failed to receive at least three of Vowell's orders in the mail. I only learned about them after visiting the courthouse and looking up the case on a public computer. It seems extremely unlikely that our mail service is so poor that we would not receive three orders sent from the court--unless, of course, the court intentionally is not sending them.

Perhaps it should be noted that Vowell and his wife, Cameron McDonald Vowell, are major donors to the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), the institution that unlawfully terminated me for writing truthfully on this blog about misconduct among our state's legal, judicial, and political figures. Is it possible that the Vowells know who caused me to be cheated out of my job? Is it possible the Vowells even played a role in it? Is Scott Vowell "massaging" our legal-malpractice claim, even though he knows he has a personal interest that requires his recusal in the case?

I would say the answer to all three questions likely is yes.

As for Allan Armstrong's cocaine problems, our source on the story is Birmingham resident Jeff Scruggs. You might remember Scruggs as the fellow who received multiple death threats from Armstrong via voice mail. You also might remember Scruggs as the fellow who, in his divorce case, identified Armstrong as his wife's "paramour," cited Armstrong's threats, and sought a restraining order.

Scruggs makes it clear that he does not hold Armstrong in high regard. But he has reason to know about issues in Armstrong's past--and perhaps his present. At last report, Scruggs' ex wife now lives with Armstrong, and the Scruggses share custody of a child.

Jeff Scruggs has reason to know the kind of person that hides behind Allan Armstrong's facade as an  "officer of the court." The picture that Mr. Scruggs paints is not a pretty one, as you can tell from viewing the following video.

I have left multiple messages for Armstrong, seeking comment for this post. He has failed to respond.


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Mayhem Continues At The Grove Locations Near College Campuses Around The Country

Student riot at the
 University of Maine

Roughly 40 college towns around the country have welcomed The Grove, even though the company behind the student-housing complexes has a documented history of lax security, shoddy workmanship, and poor management.

We have shown that The Grove sites are plagued with general mayhem, including a homicide, shootings, and car jackings. Now we can add a riot to the list of "fully loaded" activities that Campus Crest Communities touts for its student residents. (See video at the end of this post.)

Campus Crest, the company behind The Grove brand, has a special interest for us here at Legal Schnauzer. For one, the company has a major presence in our home base of Alabama, with four sites around the state--at the University of South Alabama, Troy University, Jacksonville State University, and Auburn University. Also, Campus Crest CEO Ted Rollins played a leading role in an Alabama divorce case styled Rollins v. Rollins, which we have called the worst courtroom cheat job in our experience.

Ted Rollins has left a trail of mayhem in his personal life, causing his ex wife (Birmingham resident Sherry Carroll Rollins) and their two daughters to wind up on food stamps--even though Mr. Rollins owns multiple private jet craft and heads a company that completed a $380-million Wall Street IPO in 2010. Perhaps it should come as no surprise that Mr. Rollins' student-housing complexes tend to attract ugly activities.

The latest example comes from The Grove location at the University of Maine, which opened in September for the 2012-13 academic year. The complex was the site a couple of months ago for what the Bangor Daily News described as "near riot conditions." From the newspaper's account:

Multiple police agencies descended on a brand new apartment complex in Orono on Saturday and Sunday nights to break up parties that drew at least 300-400 people to a single parking lot. State police later said in a website posting that the party created “near riot conditions.” 
The Grove, owned by North Carolina-based Campus Crest Communities Inc., opened this past weekend, welcoming its first batch of University of Maine students. The facility, located a half-mile from the Rangeley Road entrance to the university, has room for 620 tenants.

What was the scene like? From the Daily News:

Just hours after The Grove residents began moving in, police were called to the area around Building 12 about 11 p.m. Saturday in response to a series of noise complaints made by other Grove tenants and residents on Park Street. 
Police arrived to find between 300 and 400 men and women crowded together in the parking lot around Building 12, Orono police Capt. Josh Ewing said Tuesday afternoon. 
Ewing said police arrived to find hundreds of people “drinking, yelling and listening to music.”

A spokesman for Campus Crest Communities said the company will enhance security at the Maine site. That's ironic because we tried to conduct an interview with Ted Rollins about security issues after a woman was murdered at The Grove near Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee. Rollins did not respond to our request for an interview.

Security isn't the only issue at The Grove locations. A balcony collapse at the University of North Texas led to serious injuries for three young people. Residents at the Maine location already are seeing signs of sloppy workmanship and poor on-site management. The Campus Crest stock price seems to be hanging in there, so maybe that's all that matters to the company's executives and investors.

Speaking of irony, Campus Crest Communities continues to use the term "fully loaded living" to advertise its student housing. That phrase, of course, carries all kinds of possible meanings. You can see what it apparently means at the University of Maine by checking out the video below:



Former Republican Congressman From Alabama Calls The Siegelman Case A "Political Assassination"

Parker Griffith

A former GOP Congressman called the prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman a "political assassination," in an interview this week on a Los Angeles radio station.

Parker Griffith, who represented Alabama's Fifth District in the U.S. House of Representatives, said the Siegelman case produced an unjust conviction that was orchestrated by tainted federal judge Mark Fuller. Griffith appeared with Dana Siegelman, the former governor's daughter, on Connect the Dots with Lila Garrett, from KPFK, Pacifica Radio in Los Angeles.

Fuller was acting on the orders of Bush-administration strategist Karl Rove, according to a report on the Griffith interview from Andrew Kreig, of the Justice-Integrity Project. From Kreig's article:

A Republican former congressman provided new momentum Nov. 26 for the current petition drive to free former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman, a Democrat, from his unjust prison sentence. 
Former Alabama Congressman Parker Griffith . . . described Siegelman's seven-year sentence as a "political assassination" in a remarkable interview by Lila Garrett on KPFK. Garrett hosts a Los Angeles-based radio show. The interview can be heard nationwide in the second of the show's three segments. 
The Pacifica Network show featured also Siegelman's daughter, Dana, 27. The younger Siegelman is leading the petition drive with sign-ups here. The drive's goal is to persuade President Obama to pardon her father, 67, from convictions in 2006 on hoked-up corruption charges.

Griffith, a 70-year-old physician from Huntsville, Alabama, was a Democrat before switching to the Republican Party in 2009. He served one term in Congress before losing in the 2010 Republican primary, after his party switch. From the Kreig report:

"There was not a finer man that wanted to do more for the state than Don Siegelman," said Griffith, 70, a physician. He said authorities unfairly convicted the former governor in what appeared to be a Karl Rove-orchestrated plot concocted with the help of the federal trial judge, Mark Fuller. 
"This was a political assassination," Griffith continued. "This judge was trying to prove to the Karl Rove faction that he could carry out an assignment."

As Kreig notes, Griffith is not the first conservative to criticize the Siegelman prosecution. Grant Woods of Arizona, who was co-chair of the John McCain campaign in 2008, and newspaper columnist George Will are among the others. But the Griffith statements have special resonance, Kreig reports:

Griffith is probably the most prominent critic from Alabama to combine blunt language and strong, recent GOP credentials in office. Griffith joined the Republican Party in 2009 while representing Alabama's Fifth District in the state's northern-most district surrounding Huntsville. He served one term in Congress from 2009 to 2011 before losing in a 2010 Republican primary following his party switch. Most in public office and in the major media, in Alabama and around the nation, have lost interest in Siegelman's plight after years of court reversals for him.

You can listen to the interview by clicking on the following link to the KPFK archives. Scroll to Connect the Dots for November 26, 2012 and click on the play link. Here are more highlights from Parker Griffith's portion of the interview:

On Don Siegelman's strengths as a politician:

Don was an unbelievable man of the people. He could outwork any opponent and was seen as a threat to the Southern Strategy of Karl Rove. He probably was the last major populist governor. Bill Clinton is known as our first black president; Don Siegelman was the first black governor of a Southern state. He was a man of all the people.

On Alabama's dysfunctional political environment:

I see this as a state that has always had a poisoned atmosphere in its political system. . . . Karl Rove took the mantel of the hit man or goon squad for Bushes, and he had disciples who were dependent on a Republican administration for favors and largesse.

On the sorry state of our federal justice system:

This Judge Fuller is a weak individual . . . and he has demonstrated that over and over on bench. . . . Don Siegelman was taken out of the political arena, and the charge he is in prison for is laughable. . . . We are surrounded by educational-lottery states, and Don wanted to do that for the children of Alabama. He met a tremendous amount of resistance . . . from casino money pouring into Alabama because surrounding states were benefiting from our citizens crossing the borders.

On the profound implications of the Siegelman case:

This justice system, that we grew up hearing in our civics classes and around our tables was impartial and that it was fair and not politicized, we now know that’s not the case. We’ve seen that over the last several decades in many, many areas. 
In Alabama, as it relates to Don, it came down so obviously to a political decision that it’s an embarrassment--not only to the state, but to the Justice Department.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Here Is How The Wealthy Rollins Family Approaches "Negotiations" On A Prenuptial Agreement


What is it like to negotiate a prenuptial agreement when you are about to marry into one of the wealthiest families in the United States?

If you are marrying into the Rollins family--the folks behind Orkin Pest Control, Dover Downs Gaming and Entertainment, RPC Inc., and other profitable enterprises--you don't negotiate it. You receive a massive document at the last moment, and then have a family lawyer more or less try to force it down your throat. If you refuse to sign it, and the wedding goes ahead anyway, brace yourself in the event of a divorce; the Rollins family will gather its considerable resources and find a judge who will cheat you in ways that are almost beyond comprehension.

That's the experience of Birmingham resident Sherry Carroll Rollins, who was a Rollins spouse for about 10 years. Her divorce was finalized in Shelby County, Alabama, in 2005, but the fallout continues for Ms. Rollins and the two daughters she had with Ted Rollins. The courtroom cheat job administered by Circuit Judge D. Al Crowson was so horrific that Ms. Rollins and her girls wound up on food stamps--even though Ted Rollins owns multiple private jets and is CEO of a company, Campus Crest Communities, that completed a $380-million Wall Street IPO in 2010.

Why were members of the Rollins family willing to resort to criminal behavior to gain the upper hand in an Alabama divorce case? Evidence strongly suggests it's because Ted Rollins chose to marry Sherry Carroll without a prenuptial agreement--and that meant his inheritance and income from various business interests, many of which involve other family members, were at risk in the event of a divorce.

Was Sherry Carroll adamantly opposed to a prenuptial agreement, in general? The answer appears to be no. After all, prenups have become a common part of the marital experience, even in cases where major family wealth is not involved. Many Web sites state that prenups are a good idea for all kinds of couples, and they should be negotiated when both parties have proper representation and time to consider all of the provisions.

Is that how the Rollins family approached the subject with Sherry Carroll? Not exactly. She was living in Birmingham when she met Ted Rollins via a business associate who had helped decorate a Marriott hotel that the Rollins family had built. As the relationship became serious, Ms. Carroll and her youngest son, Zac, lived for a while with Rollins in Charlottesville, Virginia, where he ran an investment company.

When they decided to get married, the ceremony was to be in Alabama. The night before they were to head South, a prenup suddenly appeared. Here is how Sherry Carroll Rollins described it in an e-mail to me a few months ago:

The night before I left to go to my wedding with [Ted]; the fax machine began spitting out pages of a prenup for me to sign. In it, it stated that Ted could choose any hospital for me and even against my own will. I went to him with the [stuff] from his lawyer, threw it in his face, and told him I was going back to Charlottesville and started getting in the car to go. He came out, tore up the pages, and threw them all over. He said, "[Screw] a prenup; I want to marry you, and this is stupid." So I never signed anything.

The proposed prenup was about 70 pages long, Ms. Rollins says now. Frank Bredimus, a lawyer in Leesburg, Virginia, prepared the document, and Ms. Rollins later would learn that Bredimus and her husband had an unusually close relationship. In fact, Bredimus came to Shelby County to testify falsely that he and Ms. Rollins had an affair during the course of her marriage. Ms. Rollins provided more details about the prenup issue in a recent e-mail to me:

You might be interested to know that the night before we left to go to Alabama to get married and then onto Lake Como, Italy, the fax machine went crazy and around 70 pages were spit out of it. I picked them up before Ted came home; I had never been so shocked; it was a prenup written by his best friend Frank Bredimus, the one who lives in Leesburg, Va., on a farm [that] Ted purchased for him. The most disturbing thing of the few pages I read was that [Ted] would be able to put me in any health care institution or hospital of his choice without my permission. He was to be my power of attorney over all decisions in my future life. 
I threw the papers at him when he came home; I was not packed and I told him the whole thing was off. I stayed up most of the night, trying to figure out what he thought I was. I told him that if he wanted to be my warden from now on, that I was leaving the next day and going back to Charlottesville and taking Zac with me and opening up my design office again. . . . He begged, he pleaded and he tore up the prenup completely; he said it was all Frank's idea. I never heard anything about it again. I guarantee you that is why they spent so much money screwing me over in two states; Ted's inheritance was at stake and St. James Capital, as well.

Under the circumstances, it's easy to understand why Sherry Carroll refused to sign a prenuptial agreement. Here is perhaps the bigger question now: Why did Ted Rollins go ahead with the wedding anyway?

We will address that question in upcoming posts.

Tape Recordings Nail Debt Collectors In Flagrant Violations Of Federal Law (Part 4)


Federal law prohibits a debt collector from making any statement that tends to abuse or harass an alleged debtor. But we have audiotaped evidence of a collector, working on behalf of the largest bank in the United States, repeatedly making the kind of abusive statements that  violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA).

This all was in an effort to collect a debt I allegedly owed to American Express. Discovery in a lawsuit my wife and I filed under the FDCPA showed that the collector had no information showing I owed any obligation to American Express--or that I even had an AMEX card.

But that did not keep representatives of the Birmingham law firm Ingram and Associates, working on behalf of Pennsylvania-based collection company NCO (which is owned by JPMorgan Chase), from using unlawful tactics in an effort to squeeze money out of us. It also did not keep them from lying to us repeatedly, another violation of federal law. (See video at the end of this post.)

Let's focus primarily on 15 U.S.C. 1692d, which holds: "A debt collector may not engage in any conduct the natural consequence of which is to harass, oppress, or abuse any person in connection with the collection of a debt."

How many ways did Ingram and Associates representative Jann Blalock violate that provision of the law, while working on behalf of JPMorgan Chase? Let's count the ways, in a few snippets of a conversation I had with Ms. Blalock. The first begins with my efforts to inform Ms. Blalock that her boss, Angie Ingram, has an obligation under the law to report misconduct by other lawyers, which led to our alleged debt issues:

Roger Shuler (RS): Do you understand the Rules of Professional Conduct in the legal profession? 
Jann Blalock (JB): Absolutely, but what does that have to do with a debt you owe to American Express? 
RS: It has to do with any attorney who becomes aware of wrongdoing in her profession. 
JB: Have you pulled this with every lawyer that represented someone that you owed a debt to?

That insult was violation No. 1, especially in light of what we later learned--that Ingram and Associates had no proof I owed a debt or even had an AMEX card. Here's another example, where I invoke the right that any alleged debtor has under the law, telling the collector not to call me again, especially at work:

RS: Well, I've been called a witch hunt, and I've been called everything else, and I'm getting sick of it. Do not call me at work. 
JB: Okay, you need to find a different horse to ride, sir. This one is not going to work with us, okay?

That insult is violation No. 2. And it's particularly important because Ms. Blalock knew her only chance of collecting the debt was to berate me via the phone. If the case went to court, she had no information with which to win a case, unless I failed to appear--and that wasn't going to happen. Here is another violation, again on the issue of telephone communications:

RS: Well, you need to quit calling me at work and you need to quit calling me at home if you are going to act this way. I've-- 
JB: I'll call you about a debt? I'm not interested in playing any schemes, okay?

This is a violation on multiple levels. Her reference to "schemes" on my part is the kind of abusive, insulting language that is prohibited by law. Furthermore, collectors are required to abide by requests not to call at work or home--and Blalock admits she is going to ignore that request.

As for false statements, my communications with collectors were filled with them. The most blatant example in this audio involves Blalock's statement: "Sir, all we have to do with you is that we've been retained by American Express to collect a debt."

Discovery later showed this to be false; Ingram and Associates was retained by NCO, not American Express. That is a violation of 15 U.S.C. 1692e, which states: "A debt collector may not use any false, deceptive, or misleading representation or means in connection with the collection of any debt."

What is it like to be on the receiving end of abusive calls from debt collectors? The following video will give you an idea.

Previously in our series:

Tape Recordings Nail Debt Collectors In Flagrant Violations Of Federal Law (Part 1)

Tape Recordings Nail Debt Collectors In Flagrant Violations Of Federal Law (Part 2)

Tape Recordings Nail Debt Collectors In Flagrant Violations Of Federal Law (Part 3)



Monday, November 26, 2012

Alabama Woman Spends Thanksgiving In Jail On A Corrupt Judge's Order That Is Contrary To Law

Bonnie Wyatt

If you were able to enjoy a Thanksgiving meal with family and friends, perhaps you will be especially thankful when you hear how one central Alabama woman spent the holiday.

Bonnie Cahalane (Knox) Wyatt, a 46-year-old mother of four, spent Thanksgiving in the Chilton County Jail, where she has been since July 26--even though black-letter state law says her incarceration is unlawful.

How could such an outrage take place? The answer is simple: In way too many jurisdictions across the country, at both the state and federal levels, America is a land "of men, not of laws." That, of course, turns the maxim of Founding Father John Adams--that we are "a government of laws, not of men"--on its head. But a distracted public and a somnolent press allow it to happen.

The case of Bonnie Wyatt is a prime example. Alabama law plainly states that no citizen is subject to a finding of contempt--and possible incarceration--because of failure to pay a property-related debt connected to dissolution of a marriage.  To hold otherwise, would return us the days of debtors' prisons.  (Actually, debtors' prisons never have totally gone out of style; more than a third of U.S. states allow debtors to be jailed under certain circumstances.)

No such circumstances apply to Bonnie Wyatt's case. But Circuit Judge Sibley Reynolds has ordered her jailed for four months, and counting, even though the law says he cannot do that. John Adams must be spinning in his grave.

On paper, Bonnie Wyatt's path to jail started when she apparently signed a settlement agreement in her divorce case, stating she would pay Harold Jay Wyatt $165,000 to satisfy a debt on the marital residence--even though she owned the house in the first place, and they lived together for only 10 months.

Court documents show that the settlement agreement was written on a hand-scribbled sheet of paper that looks anything but formal, and the amount in question appears to be based on little in the way of evidence or testimony. But even if the agreement is ironclad, and the amount is right on the money, Bonnie Wyatt still cannot be subject to contempt--and jail--for failure to pay. Harold Wyatt and his lawyer have a number of civil remedies at their disposal, but those do not include incarceration.

This is not new or complicated law. It is grounded in Sec. 20 of the Alabama Constitution (1901), which holds that "no person shall be imprisoned for debt." Case law expanded on that with Ex parte Thompson, 210 So. 2d 808 (Ala., 1968), which held:

Because the payments were not for the sustenance and support of his former wife, (Sec.) 20, Ala. Const. 1901, applied, and Thompson could not be imprisoned for the failure to pay a debt.

A case styled Dolberry v. Dolberry, 920 So. 2d 573 (Ala., Civ. App., 2005) spells out the law even further. It states that a party who fails to pay alimony, which involves "sustenance and support" for a former spouse, can be jailed for failure to pay. But, per Dolberry, "a property settlement upon dissolution of a marriage" is considered a "debt ex contractu"--and it is not subject to a finding of contempt, much less incarceration. From Dolberry:

This ordinary money obligation is not attended with any of those peculiar equitable considerations which attach to alimony. Therefore, the debt created by the agreement of the parties hereto is within the ambit of Section 20, supra, and is not subject to enforcement by contempt proceedings.

Why, then, is Bonnie Wyatt incarcerated, in flagrant violation of Alabama law? In our view, it clearly has nothing to do with her divorce case from Harold Wyatt; that is mere pretext for some other agenda. Judge Sibley Reynolds, it appears, has jailed Ms. Wyatt because someone wants her punished for a reason that has nothing to do with the law--or someone has come to see her as a threat.

Judges, in my experience, only do that kind of thing for people with connections to money, power, or the justice system--or perhaps all three.

What kind of person would stoop so low as to have a woman unlawfully incarcerated? The evidence points in the direction of at least two individuals. And public records suggest they are capable of stooping quite low.

We will begin following that path in an upcoming post.

Financial Review of Mike Hubbard's Tenure As Party Chairman Stirs Up Discord In The Alabama GOP

Mike Hubbard

The Republican Party takeover of the Alabama Legislature in 2010 might have come with the aid of financial chicanery. A review of the party's finances during that time period has uncovered questionable transactions and led to discord in the state GOP hierarchy.

Current chairman Bill Armistead ordered the review--he calls it an audit--focusing heavily on the actions of his predecessor, Mike Hubbard, now speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives. The review unearthed at least one instance where Hubbard appears to have used GOP dollars for his personal gain, according to a report last week at al.com.

What else did the review find, and what does it mean for the future of the Alabama Republican Party? It probably is too early to answer those questions, but this much is clear: The state GOP is experiencing a rancorous split, with Armistead and his associates on one side and those loyal to former Republican Governor Bob Riley (which includes Hubbard and state Senate leader Del Marsh) on the other.

At the heart of the conflict might be the rise of Bob Riley's 2014 PAC, which is competing for political donations with the Alabama GOP.

Some curious journalism surrounds the story. Reporter Charles J. Dean and al.com deserve credit for breaking one of the biggest state political stories of the year. But why did they break it on the day before Thanksgiving, typically a slow readership day? And how will al.com follow up, considering its long-standing support of the Riley political machine?

For now, the story shines light mostly on a printing contract that raises questions about the way Mike Hubbard conducts business. From the al.com report:

In 2010, the Alabama Republican Party negotiated a deal with a Florida company to design hundreds of glossy and colorful campaign flyers for GOP candidates seeking seats in the Legislature. 
The contract with Majority Strategies of Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida was for $848,687. 
Once the deal was signed, Majority Strategies then subcontracted out the printing, shipping and postage costs of the flyers to another company: Craftmaster Printing of Auburn.

One of the shareholders in Craftmaster Printing is Mike Hubbard. This is not the first time the press has shined light on Hubbard's tendency to mix politics with business. Editor Paul Davis spelled it out in a 2010 piece for The Tuskegee News:

Since he became Republican Party chairman in February 2007, [Hubbard] has paid from party funds $176,826 directly to his own companies. 
Huge payments to Craftmaster Printers date back to the days when the company was nearly bankrupt. He is a major Craftmaster stockholder, along with former AU Coach Pat Dye. 
Since 2002, his companies have received at least $1,494,566 from the coffers of the State Republican Party.

No wonder Armistead thought it would be wise to examine Hubbard's handling of the party's purse strings.  How has Hubbard reacted to news of the financial review? Not well, according to al.com:

In a recent interview with the Birmingham News/al.com, Hubbard saw the financial review and after reviewing it a few moments, tossed it back across the table.

What was Hubbard's best effort at an explanation? Well, he claims to have made a personal profit of a little more than $9,000 on the deal. This is the same Mike Hubbard who has trumpeted the federal prosecution of former Democratic governor Don Siegelman, who made zero personal profit on the transaction in question.

For now, we seem to have a stalemate in the Alabama GOP. Hubbard and Marsh say they have done nothing wrong, and they want Armistead to release the financial report. Armistead says the state GOP Executive Committee has not agreed to release the report.

Meanwhile, rumors persist that the Riley machine might try to force out Armistead as party chair. Will Armistead have sufficient ammunition to fight back? Well, you have to wonder if Hubbard's actions might eventually attract the attention of federal prosecutors. We already have noted that the speaker could be in trouble if federal laws and state ethics laws were applied to him the way they have been applied to two former governors--Siegelman and the late Guy Hunt.

Bob Martin, of the Montgomery Independent, showed in a series of articles last fall that Hubbard's "boss" style of politics goes well beyond his printing company. Martin showed that taxpayers were helping pick up the tab for Hubbard's book, Storming the State House. And it doesn't end there. Writes Martin:

Hubbard is also president of the Auburn Network, which is owned by IMG College and was recently purchased from ISP Sports. State records and other reports I have seen show that since State Fiscal Year 2008, over $4 million in state funds have been spent on advertising with the Auburn Network or its parent company. This is the firm which has the contract to broadcast Auburn football games and other Auburn sports events . . . and, of course, sell advertising for those events. 
It is the observation of most Goat Hill regulars that Speaker Hubbard has a virtual iron grip on the passage or failure of legislation before the House. Therefore is there any state agency with legislation and budgets before the House who would not want to please the Speaker by patronizing his business? I doubt it.

Mike Hubbard claims that he wants Armistead's financial review to be released. But can Hubbard's actions withstand serious scrutiny? Perhaps we soon will find out.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Did A Progressive Firewall Keep Karl Rove And Co. From Stealing The 2012 Presidential Election?

Romney headquarters in Boston,
site of the ORCA servers

The failure of a Republican get-out-the-vote Web application called ORCA has been well chronicled in the post-election press. But the progressive hacktivist group Anonymous claims ORCA actually was designed to steal the election, and Anonymous says it erected a digital firewall that prevented the theft in three key swing states.

Does President Barack Obama owe his re-election to the electronic handiwork of a group that is known for its shadowy videos featuring the face of a character from the film V for Vendetta? It probably is too early to know for sure what happened on election night. But Anonymous issued a pre-election video stating that it would be monitoring any actions by GOP strategist Karl Rove to steal the election, and the group now has issued a press statement claiming it did, in fact, block an effort to change vote totals in three different states--presumably Ohio, Virginia, and Florida.

If those three states had gone Republican, Mitt Romney probably would have won the election. Did a progressive firewall thwart Rove's plan to steal the 2012 election? And if so, was Anonymous the group behind the white-hat cybersleuthing effort?

Details are murky at the moment, but a source tells Legal Schnauzer that progressive groups kept a watchful eye on ORCA and did communicate with representatives from Anonymous in the days leading to the election.

The story is gaining traction across the Web. Consider these words from a Truthout report by Thom Hartmann and Sam Sacks:

If this is true, then the implications are enormous and could take down the entire Republican Party and finally wake Americans up to the fact that our privatized vote system is shockingly flawed and insecure. . . .

In an era of internet lulz and digital false flags, we must demand proof for these sort of claims made by Anonymous. But given Karl Rove’s history with elections in Ohio and the known vulnerabilities with our corporate owned electronic voting machines, there may be both smoke and fire with these election night allegations.

The watchdog group Protect Our Elections says it received a letter from a group calling itself "The Protectors." It's the same letter that Truthout and Wonkette identify as being a press statement from Anonymous.

What is the key point in the letter? Here is how Truthout describes it:

The statement reads, “We began following the digital traffic of one Karl Rove…After a rather short time, we identified the digital structure of Karl’s operation and even that of his ORCA. This was an easy task in that barn doors were left open and the wind swept us inside.” The “ORCA” that Anonymous is referring to in the press release is a massive, high-tech get-out-the-vote system created by the Romney campaign this year that will keep tabs on potential voters and coordinate with operatives to target who has and hasn’t voted yet on Election Day. . . . 
But, according to Anonymous, ORCA had nothing to do with getting out the vote and everything to do with rigging the vote. 
“We coded and created, what we call The Great Oz. A targeted password protected firewall that we tested and refined over the past weeks. We placed this code on more than one of the digital tunnels and their destination that Karl's not so smart worker bees planned to use on election night.”

What impact did The Great Oz have on election night? Here is how Truthout describes it:

Anonymous alleges these “digital tunnels” were leading to servers in three different states. The release goes on to detail what happened on election night as Rove’s operatives attempted to access these tunnels. “We watched as Karl's weak corrupters repeatedly tried to penetrate The Great Oz. These children of his were at a loss--how many times and how many passwords did they try--exactly 105.” 
“Karl’s speared ORCA whale was breached, rotting with a strong stench across his playground, unable to be resuscitated,” claims Anonymous.

Perhaps the defining moment of the campaign came on election night when Rove, acting as an analyst for Fox News, refused to go along with his own network's call that Obama had won Ohio, and thus, the election. Did Anonymous cause Rove's moment of disbelief by foiling his plan to steal the election? Truthout addresses the question:

So might this have really been the reason for Karl Rove’s shock on election night? Under the guise of sophisticated get out the vote operation, had Rove and the Republican Party actually built up a massive system to steal the Ohio election, just like in 2004, only to have it thwarted at the last minute by a group of computer hackers?

It might be months, even years, before all of the facts are in on Election Night 2012. But watchdog groups and members of the progressive press are taking the Anonymous story seriously. States Protect Our Elections:

We are not in a position to vouch for the contents of this letter any more than we can vouch for the video by Anonymous warning Karl Rove not to rig the election. However, we can analyze that content under the prism of Mr. Rove’s history and facts over the past few weeks. We do so in the hope that this will lead to an investigation of Mr. Rove’s entire operation ala General David Petraeus. In that spirit, we provided this information to the FBI prior to publication, and followed up after publication. For years, we have campaigned for a complete investigation of Mr. Rove, and we have provided extensive legal memos and evidence to the FBI to support such an investigation.

We urge others who have information to about election tampering or other criminal violations by Mr. Rove, including violations of campaign finance laws, to provide that evidence to the FBI. We also urge people who gave money to Mr. Rove and his organizations to contact the FBI if they were misled, promised things that did not happen, or were otherwise defrauded.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Wealthy Family Behind Orkin And Dover Downs Abuses Those Who Enter Without A Prenup

Dover Downs Hotel and Casino

Why did members of a mega-wealthy American family resort to criminal tactics in an effort to gain the upper hand in an Alabama divorce case? The answer appears to be simple: Birmingham resident Sherry Carroll Rollins dared marry into the family behind Orkin Pest Control, Dover Downs Gaming and Entertainment--and numerous other highly profitable enterprises--without signing a prenuptial agreement.

That meant the inheritance and various business interests of her husband, Ted Rollins, were vulnerable in the event of a divorce. That, Ms. Rollins said, made her the subject of intense scrutiny and suspicion during the roughly 10 years she was a Rollins spouse. And when she finally decided to seek a divorce, after her husband allegedly had engaged in multiple extramarital affairs, the power of a "1 Percent" family came down upon her.

The result was Rollins v. Rollins, a divorce case that spread over two states and has come to be known here at Legal Schnauzer as the worst courtroom cheat job I've encountered in the civil arena.

Was Sherry Carroll adamantly opposed, in general, to the idea of a prenuptial agreement? It does not appear that she was. But the Rollins family presented her with a proposed agreement under such bizarre circumstances, with such one-sided conditions, that she threw it in Ted Rollins' face and said the wedding was off.

How did Ted Rollins react? He tore up the agreement and said he wanted to get married anyway. Sherry Rollins later would say that, to her knowledge, she was the only woman to marry into Rollins wealth without a prenup.

What kind of money did that leave potentially exposed in the event of a divorce? How did that cause Sherry Rollins to be treated during the course of her marriage? She provides insight by pointing to Dover Downs, the Delaware-based hotel, casino, and racing complex that is one of the Rollins family's prime properties. From an e-mail that Sherry Rollins sent to Legal Schnauzer:

I remember when [Dover Downs] went public in 1993 or so. Ted's brother, Jeff, who was 24 years old, made $68 million on the IPO. Ted made somewhere near that, but Mr. Rollins (John Rollins Sr., Ted's father) held onto Ted's money as they did not trust his marriage with me, with no prenup in place. I was the only Rollins woman without a prenup. That made them all very nervous from the beginning and influenced how I was treated. 
They kept private detectives on our house, and especially me. In these families where money is the only respected thing, the new person walking in without their approval, and without the prenup, is a huge threat to their income flow.

How did the Rollins family present a prenup to the interloper, Sherry Carroll? What were some of its provisions? We will examine those issues in an upcoming post.


(To be continued)

At Least $200,000 In Indian Gambling Money Helped GOP Take Over the Alabama Senate In 2010

Mike Hubbard

Indian gambling funds totaling at least $200,000 helped the Republican Party take over the Alabama Senate in 2010. The funds went to GOP candidates who generally claimed to be opposed to gambling in all forms.

Eleven Senate races were targeted for the funds, according to a report late last week from Bill Britt, of the Alabama Political Reporter. Who was behind this hypocritical effort, using gambling funds to elect candidates who supposedly were against gambling? Britt points a finger squarely at Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn), who was chairman of the Alabama GOP at the time.

Could the ALGOP's actions go beyond hypocrisy to criminality? Britt states several times in his post that the answer is no, but we say the answer is yes. More on that in a moment.

First, some context. Britt's post is the most recent of several reports over the past six weeks--in both non-traditional and mainstream news outlets--showing that Alabama Republicans have been taking gambling money on one hand, while telling voters they were opposed to gambling on the other.

First, we learned that Luther Strange's campaign for attorney general received $100,000 from the Poarch Creek Indians, funneled through the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC) between July 15 and August 4, 2010. Then we learned that the anti-gambling group Citizens for a Better Alabama received $100,000 from the Poarch Creeks, funneled through the RSLC and Rob Riley (son of former "anti gambling" governor Bob Riley) on June 10, 2010. For good measure, we learned that $3,500 in Poarch Creek funds went to State Sen. Bryan Taylor, of Prattville, in the same general time period.

That adds up to at least $203,500 that can be traced from the Poarch Creeks to supposedly anti-gambling GOP interests. But the actual total clearly is much higher than that. We know, for example that the Poarch Creeks gave $350,000 to the RSLC in 2010, and the RSLC gave $850,000 to the Alabama Republican Party for the 2010 election cycle.

The possible mound of cash grows even higher with Britt's report last week that $1.273 million went from the RSLC to various Republican PACs in Alabama--and Mike Hubbard has been a prime user of PAC-to-PAC transfers.

Hubbard has said, "We were assured that none of our contributions came from gambling sources." Britt, however, clearly is not buying it, especially in light of recent reports that State Sen. Del Marsh (R-Anniston) made two trips to solicit funds from the Poarch Creeks. Writes Britt:

How does that statement remain believable when Hubbard’s closest ally, then finance chairman Marsh, took money from the PCI, that was then transferred from the RSLC to PACs controlled by Hubbard? Is it credible to believe that the author of “Storming the Statehouse” did not know that gambling money was coming into the campaigns of GOP senators? 
Marsh, according to those who spoke on conditions of anonymity—because of fear of retribution—have said that Marsh went to see the Tribe in Atmore on the behalf of someone else. Who else would Marsh take marching orders from except then ALGOP Chairman Mike Hubbard?

Until last week, reports about the flow of Indian gaming money to the ALGOP focused on summer 2010.  But Britt's latest report shows funds changing hands in fall 2010, specifically in the October 10-15 time frame. The largest amounts went to the following GOP Senate candidates:

Gerald Allen--$38,500
Phil Williams--$35,000
Bryan Taylor--$23,200
Shadrack McGill--$18,900
Ray Robbins--$43,000
Danny Joyner--$20,000

Robbins and Joyner lost their races; the other four Republicans won. Britt raises questions about Hubbard's motives in distribution of the gambling funds:

Questions remain as to why Hubbard and Marsh would give large sums of gaming funds to freshmen GOP who had strong personal beliefs against gambling. 
Could there be a nefarious motive to later reveal to these naive senators that they have the taint of gambling money within their campaigns? Could this have been used to keep them in line should they cross party hierarchy?

Britt makes a powerful case that Mike Hubbard is a blatant phony:

Speaker Mike Hubbard dedicated a great amount of his book “Storming the State” to his fundraising efforts. However, there is no mention of campaign contributions from the PCI or any other gaming interest. This oversight in Hubbard’s biography again suggest the type of cover up that has plagued the Alabama GOP for years. 
While there is no apparent illegal activity, the deceptive practice of hiding gaming money from voters does seem to discredit the premise that brought the GOP to power in Alabama.

In our view, Britt is too quick to discount the possibility of criminal activity on the part of Mike Hubbard and the ALGOP. Britt is correct in pointing out that the mere act of accepting campaign contributions is not illegal. But if the contributions were based on an agreement that Republicans would fight non-Indian gaming to help benefit their Indian benefactors, that could point to bribery under federal law.

We know from our reporting on the Don Siegelman case that the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has broken with precedent and found that an explicit agreement is not necessary to prove a federal bribery case. Rather, a jury can infer that an illegal quid pro quo ("something for something") deal existed based on circumstantial evidence--such as apparent attempts to hide the source of funds via PAC-to-PAC transfers.

Is this story dripping with irony? Mike Hubbard repeatedly has trumpeted the federal prosecution of Siegelman, which led to the former Democratic governor now being housed at a federal prison in Oakdale, Louisiana. But mounting evidence suggests that Mike Hubbard has engaged in the very behavior that the government claimed was criminal in the Siegelman matter.

Bill Britt has performed a valuable public service by reporting on ties between Alabama Republicans and Indian gaming money. But based on current Eleventh Circuit law, it might not be just a matter of hypocrisy; it might be a matter of criminality.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Alabama Woman Is Unlawfully Imprisoned Because Of An Alleged Debt From Her Divorce Case

Bonnie Cahalane (Knox) Wyatt

A central Alabama woman remains in the Chilton County Jail over an alleged debt connected to her divorce settlement, even though her incarceration clearly is contrary to state law.

Bonnie Cahalane (Knox) Wyatt has been in jail since July 26, closing in on four months, and apparently will remain behind bars for the Thanksgiving holiday. That's under orders from Chilton County Circuit Judge Sibley Reynolds, who presided over the Wyatt v. Wyatt divorce case that was settled in May 2011.

Reynolds' order, however, presents a problem: It is against the law. That is perhaps most evident in a case styled Dolberry v. Dolberry, 920 So. 2d 573 (Ala. Civ. App., 2005).

The finding in Dolberry confirms what we have suspected for some time about the Bonnie Wyatt case: (1) She is being incarcerated as punishment for a political or social reason that has nothing to do with her divorce from Harold Jay Wyatt; (2) The ACLU,  the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, and any other appropriate organization or agency needs to pay an immediate visit to Clanton, Alabama.

That a citizen could be unlawfully jailed--on the orders of one judge. who obviously is incompetent, corrupt or both--is an outrage that should not be tolerated.

Reynolds ordered Bonnie Wyatt's arrest after she failed to pay a $165,000 debt that was incorporated into her divorce settlement with Harold Wyatt. Upon payment, Mr. Wyatt was to satisfy a debt on the marital residence and convey his interest in the home to Ms. Wyatt.

We have noted in previous posts that the settlement agreement was dubious on numerous grounds--the court record shows a one-page, hand-written document that appears to be neither formal nor final; it came from a mediation session,  but it's unclear if it was based on any testimony or documentation; Ms. Wyatt claims that information was withheld from her during the mediation process.

Even if the settlement agreement was legitimate, the fallout from it is not. Reynolds ordered Ms. Wyatt's arrest when she failed to pay the $165,000 in the prescribed time. And that, by law, cannot be done.

We already have one Alabama citizen who is a political prisoner; I'm talking, of course, about former Governor Don Siegelman, who currently resides in a federal prison at Oakdale, Louisiana--even though his convictions were based on unlawful jury instructions, and the key bribery charge was brought almost one full year past the five-year statute of limitations. But now we have a woman who is being held in what amounts to a debtor's prison, even though that clearly is unlawful? Will this finally alert someone in position of authority that Alabama's "justice system"--both state and federal--is broken beyond repair.

In some ways, the Bonnie Wyatt story might be an even bigger outrage than the Siegelman saga--and that is saying something. Siegelman was a veteran office holder who obviously made powerful enemies from winning elections as a Democrat in an increasingly Republican state; Siegelman was targeted for utterly bogus reasons, but he had the resources and support to put up a powerful defense. And the Siegelman case at least involved a jury verdict, even though it was flawed because of unlawful instructions from an ethically compromised trial-court judge.

Meanwhile, court records show that Bonnie Wyatt is a mother of four who simply tried to extricate herself from a marriage that was a mistake pretty much from the outset; she and Harold Wyatt lived together as husband and wife for only about 10 months, so it's hard to see how she came to owe him $165,000. It's even harder to understand how Judge Sibley Reynolds--with no statutory or case law to support it, and no jury to bless it--could order Ms. Wyatt to jail.

It's not as if the controlling law is complicated. Sec. 20 of the Alabama Constitution (1901) plainly states that "no person shall be imprisoned for debt." A search through case law reveals one exception to that general rule, but it does not apply to Bonnie Wyatt's situation. That means she has been unlawfully jailed for almost four months . . . and counting.

By the way, this is not a "matter of first impression." The key case law dates to 1968--and it is based, in part, on a case that dates to 1888. A veteran Alabama judge can't get law right when it's been in place for almost 125 years? Good grief.

Scores of cases over that time period could spell it out for Judge Reynolds. But Dolberry v. Dolberry does a splendid job, and it's only seven years old. A third grader could find it, and grasp it, with a simple Google search.

What were the facts in Dolberry? Except for the dollar amount and the gender of the spouse to be incarcerated, they were almost identical to those in Wyatt. The husband in Dolberry was to pay the wife $15,000 for her equity in the marital home. When the husband failed to pay, the trial court found him in contempt of the divorce judgment and ordered him jailed on weekends until he "purges himself of this contempt order."

The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals reversed, citing a case styled Ex Parte Thompson, 210 So. 2d 808 (Ala., 1968). Thompson, in turn, cites Murray v. Murray, 4 So. 239 (Ala., 1888). The key finding in Thompson:

Because the payments were not for the sustenance and support of his former wife, (Sec.) 20, Ala. Const. 1901, applied, and Thompson could not be imprisoned for the failure to pay a debt.

That gets to the exception we mentioned earlier that applies to marriage-related debt in Alabama--and I believe in all other states, as well. An award of alimony goes to sustenance and support, meaning it can be coerced by a contempt citation. But, per Dolberry, "a property settlement upon dissolution of a marriage" is considered a "debt ex contractu." The court explains:

This ordinary money obligation is not attended with any of those peculiar equitable considerations which attach to alimony. Therefore, the debt created by the agreement of the parties hereto is within the ambit of Section 20, supra, and is not subject to enforcement by contempt proceedings.

Bottom line? You can be held in contempt and jailed for failure to pay alimony. You cannot be held in contempt and jailed for failure to pay a property settlement.

So why is Bonnie Wyatt in jail, and what should be done about the damages she has sustained? What should be done to ensure that other Alabama citizens do not experience similar court-sanctioned abuse?

We will address those questions in an upcoming post.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Refusal To Sign A Prenuptial Agreement Draws The Wrath Of Wealthy Family Behind Orkin Pest Control


Why did Birmingham resident Sherry Carroll Rollins become the victim of a monstrous cheat job in an Alabama divorce case?

Several factors probably were involved, but this appears to be No. 1 on the list: Ms. Rollins refused a last-minute effort to force her into a prenuptial agreement; so when she tried to divorce a member of the powerful clan behind Orkin Pest Control, the family made her pay dearly.

Sherry and Ted Rollins were married for roughly 10 years before she filed for divorce in Greenville, South Carolina, where they lived at the time. Ms. Rollins cited infidelity as one of her grounds for divorce, and the case was litigated in Greenville for three years; multiple court documents show that jurisdiction firmly was established in South Carolina.

A judge there found that Ted Rollins was president of a real-estate development firm called St. James Capital, regularly flew in private jet craft, and belonged to one of the wealthiest families in the country. A judge also found Ted Rollins in contempt of court for failure to pay child support, and a bench warrant for his arrest was in place for more than two years.

In other words, the legal landscape in South Carolina did not look so favorable for Ted Rollins. But those with plenty of money apparently can change the scenery in a hurry.

How did Ted Rollins do it? First, he violated a court order to maintain mortgage and insurance payments on the marital residence in Greenville. That caused Sherry Rollins and the couple's two daughters to be kicked out of the house, and they fled to Alabama, where Ms. Rollins had relatives.

Ted Rollins then proceeded to sue for divorce in Alabama, even though black-letter law shows that cannot be done when jurisdiction is established in another state. The Birmingham metro area, however, proved to be a friendly location for Ted Rollins' legal interests.

Bradley Arant, his corporate law firm, has headquarters here. Rollins' current business enterprise, Campus Crest Communities, has sites at four Alabama universities. And a Shelby County judge named D. Al Crowson was willing to bend the law beyond recognition in order to give Mr. Rollins a spectacularly favorable--and unlawful--result.

The curious reader might ask, "Why would Ted Rollins go to all of that trouble? Why not make his wife a reasonable settlement offer and get it over with?"

Here is the answer: Our research indicates that Ted Rollins is the only member of his mega-wealthy family, male or female, to get married without a prenuptial agreement. That fact, plus Ted Rollins' misconduct during the course of the marriage--which goes beyond infidelity to documented abuse of Ms. Rollins' son from a previous marriage--means a member of the family behind Orkin Pest Control stood to get taken to the proverbial cleaners in divorce court.

It's not that the Rollins clan didn't try to force a prenup down Sherry Rollins' throat. But they did it under extraordinary circumstances, and on such outrageous terms, that she refused to sign it.

Ted Rollins violated family protocol by going ahead with the wedding anyway. Why would he do that? Evidence suggests he had extremely dark motives.

Evidence also shows that the Rollins family abuses those who would dare marry into their exalted midst. The story of Sherry Rollins, and the prenuptial agreement she refused to sign, is a prime example.


(To be continued)

The Downfall Of Gen. David Petraeus At The CIA Really Is A Story About The Power Of E-Mail

Jill Kelley

The fall of Gen. David Petraeus as director of the CIA has been portrayed as a story about sex, politics, military culture, and national security. But when all of the details become known, and we are learning more by the hour, this will be a story about the awesome power of e-mail.

In fact, our guess is that the Petraeus story will come to be known as the first great e-mail scandal of our time. Many more are sure to follow.

We've known from the outset that e-mail played a central role in Petraeus' decision to step down following revelations about an affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell. But let's consider just a couple of key angles we've learned about in the past 24 hours or so:

* Marine Gen. John Allen, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, became ensnared in the scandal when it was revealed that he had exchanged flirtatious e-mails with Jill Kelley, the Tampa woman who complained to the FBI about harassing e-mails she had received from Broadwell.

* Petraeus and Broadwell used a common tactic in an effort to disguise their electronic communications. Obviously, it did not work too well.

How powerful is the allure of e-mail? A senior defense official described some of the communications  between Allen and Kelley as sexually explicit and likened them to "phone sex over e-mail." But here is perhaps the most stunning revelation about the scandal so far:

The investigation focuses on emails between Allen and Jill Kelley, a close friend of the Petraeus family. Kelley was the woman who originally notified the FBI when she received threatening emails from Petraeus' mistress Paula Broadwell -- and that investigation later uncovered the affair. 
Sources said officials are reviewing 20,000 to 30,000 pages of documents -- mostly emails -- between 2010 and 2012. One official would only say "there is the distinct possibility" this case is connected to the Petraeus investigation.

Investigators are reviewing 20,000 to 30,000 pages of e-mails between Allen and Kelley? Good Lord, no wonder we have been unable to fully draw down the war in Afghanistan. The top commander has been spending 90 percent of his time "sexting" a married mother of three in Tampa--an exceptionally hot mother of three, we might add. We probably can assume the general was sexting on government time, with taxpayer-funded resources.

As for Petraeus and Broadwell, they obviously tried to cover their tracks. Reports USA Today:

The Associated Press, citing a law enforcement source who declined to be identified, reported that Petraeus and Broadwell apparently used a "dropbox" to conceal their e-mail traffic. 
Rather than transmitting e-mails to the other's inbox, they composed at least some messages and left them in a draft folder or in an electronic "drop box," the AP reported. Then the other person could log onto the same account and read the draft e-mails, avoiding the creation of an e-mail trail that might be easier to trace.

That technique, according to published reports, commonly is used by terrorists. And yet, the head of our CIA was using it. How's that for irony?

It's too early to say what's next in the Petraeus affair. But we can safely predict that forced resignations and failed marriages are in the offing. To be sure, e-mail will continue to play a front-and-center role.

How is the Petraeus scandal playing on the international stage, especially in Afghanistan? Russia Today provides insights:


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

How Many Crimes Did Ted And Randall Rollins Commit In Manipulating An Alabama Divorce Case?

R. Randall Rollins

Based on the feedback I get from readers, divorces are among the most difficult of legal battles to experience. That must be especially true when the opposing party, and his allies, engage in criminal behavior. An Alabama woman apparently was up against that kind of conduct when she tried to divorce a member of an affluent American family, the folks behind Orkin Pest Control.

By their nature, divorces are fraught with emotion and stress, filled with battles over money, property, and child custody. But most divorces, even the ugliest ones, probably stay in the civil arena. That, however, was not the case when Birmingham resident Sherry Carroll Rollins tried to divorce Ted Rollins, who now is CEO of Charlotte-based Campus Crest Communities.

Ted Rollins and the wealthy gentlemen at the top of the Rollins Inc. empire apparently were so determined to make Sherry Rollins pay that they engaged in criminal behavior. And our research indicates they violated at least two Alabama statutes. Given that the divorce case covered ground in three states--South Carolina, Alabama, and Georgia--federal law might also have been trampled.

Who was Ted Rollins' partner in crime? Well, he probably had several, but No. 1 on the list appears to be R. Randall Rollins, the chief executive of Atlanta-based Rollins Inc., the umbrella company for Orkin and other highly profitable enterprises.

We've already shown that Ted Rollins almost certainly committed perjury when he filed a child-support affidavit, called a Form CS-41 in Alabama, claiming he made roughly $50,000 a year--all of it from a mortgage company in Brentwood, Tennessee. This document, signed under oath, came from a guy who owns multiple private jet craft and had ownership stakes in at least two companies--St. James Capital and Campus Crest Communities--at the time.

We also have shown that Randall Rollins also probably committed perjury in the Rollins v. Rollins divorce case when he produced a document claiming that Ted Rollins had sold his share in St. James Capital for roughly $85,000. Based on our review of other documents in the case, plus interviews with Sherry Rollins, we've estimated that St. James Capital had assets totaling at least $243.6 million. We know it had an interest in an RV Park overlooking the Pacific Ocean near San Francisco that was appraised at $7.8 million. We know it had an interest in a major office/industrial development in Greenville, South Carolina, that was appraised at $9.6 million.

Ted Rollins
Testimony at the divorce trial showed that St. James Capital had 28 properties throughout the United States and Canada. But we are to believe that Ted Rollins would sell his share in a $243-million company for $85,000? I don't think so.

The Rollinses' statements under oath appear to violate Code of Alabama 13A-10-101 (Perjury in the first degree). And that is a Class C felony, the kind of conduct that can send a person to prison, with an orange jumpsuit in tow, for one to 10 years. Here is how that code section reads:

Section 13A-10-101 
Perjury in the first degree. 
(a) A person commits the crime of perjury in the first degree when in any official proceeding he swears falsely and his false statement is material to the proceeding in which it is made. 
(b) Perjury in the first degree is a Class C felony. 
(Acts 1977, No. 607, p. 812, §4905.)

The apparent crimes in Rollins v. Rollins do not stop there. Alabama law takes a particularly dim view of folks who lie about financial matters. That's why we have Code of Alabama 13A-9-49 (Issuing False Financial Statement). Here is how the code section reads:

Section 13A-9-49 
Issuing false financial statement. 
(a) A person commits the crime of issuing a false financial statement if, with intent to defraud, he: 
(1) Knowingly makes or utters a written instrument which purports to describe the financial condition or ability of himself or some other person and which is inaccurate in some material respect; or 
(2) Represents in writing that a written instrument purporting to describe a person's financial condition or ability to pay is accurate with respect to that person's current financial condition or ability to pay, knowing or having reason to believe the instrument to be materially inaccurate in that respect. 
(b) Issuing a false financial statement is a Class B misdemeanor. 
(Acts 1977, No. 607, p. 812, §4145; Acts 1979, No. 79-664, p. 1163, §1.)

A Class B misdemeanor can land you in a county jail for up to six months.

Did Ted and Randall Rollins "utter written instruments which purported to describe the financial condition or ability of himself or some other person and which is inaccurate in some material respect"? The record strongly suggests the answer is yes. And that takes the wrongdoing in Rollins v. Rollins to a whole new level.

The civil wrongs, by definition, were against Sherry Rollins--and by extension, her daughters, who were cheated out of child support to which they were entitled under the law. That's bad enough, but the wrong on the civil side is contained to a few people.

Crimes, on the other hand, are considered a wrong against society. Ted and Randall Rollins probably thought they were just cheating Sherry Rollins, but that's not how our system of justice views things. A crime, by definition, is a wrong against the norms of society; it harms all of us.

Ted and Randall Rollins should be held accountable in a court of law. But they should not have to answer just to Sherry Rollins; they should answer to all of us.