Leaderboard 728 X 90

Monday, December 31, 2012

Considering The Best of Legal Schnauzer For 2012

Murphy Abigail Shuler,
as a puppy in 1993: She
is the real schnauzer who
inspired this blog.

Americans must love end-of-the-year lists. We certainly have plenty of them, so I've decided to join the crowd.

My all-time favorite such list was Casey Kasem's countdown of the year's biggest pop-music hits on American Top 40. Casey is getting way up there in years, but as far as I know, he still might be doing his "best of" list. If so, I don't know how he manages to find enough decent songs these days to fill a countdown.

As for Legal Schnauzer, it had never occurred to me to do a "best of" list at the end of the year. But a reader suggested one a few days back, and I thought, "Well, why not?" After all, many of my best ideas--and many of my most intriguing pieces of information--come from readers.

So I started thinking: What posts this year best represent the kind of reporting I hope to do here? Which ones were best written? Which ones best covered important subjects, in Alabama and beyond? Which ones addressed issues that most touched lives? Which ones seemed to resonate with readers? Which ones generated a high volume, and quality, of comments?

Those thoughts led to this question: What kind of impact is our little blog having? The year 2012 marked our fifth full year of blogging, plus about a half year of pieces in 2007. What do the numbers show? We churned out 322 posts this year, bringing our total to 2,334. Our audience continues to grow, with roughly 387,500 page views in 2012, up from 379,156 last year--and way up from the 187,571 in 2008, our first full year.

Our all-time page views top 1.57 million, with almost 1.1 million unique visits. (The real numbers are higher than that because I blogged for four to six months before signing up for a statistics service.) Those totals  represent only visits directly to Legal Schnauzer, and do not include readers at a number of national Web sites where my work appears.

Gauging readership in the blogosphere is an inexact science, but I took a crack at it in July 2011, when we reached 1 million page views. Totaling our audience from all sources, my best guess is that we've had between 5 million and 10 million of what I call "significant reading experiences" (SRE). From all of the statistics available to me, our readership and influence seem to be growing steadily. For that, I am deeply grateful--especially when you consider that many of our posts deal with complex subjects and are not easy reading. Keeping up with Legal Schnauzer takes some work, and it's heartening to know that a significant number of people are willing to put in the effort.

With a variety of questions and numbers swirling in my head, here is my shot at Legal Schnauzer's Top 10 posts of 2012. I like to think we are getting better at this blogging thing as we move along. If so, this list should represent some of our best work. And early indicators hint that 2013 will be very interesting,  indeed.

It's traditional to publish these lists near the end of the year in question. We are running out of time on that front, so I will start this post here on New Year's Eve 2012--with details to follow, in the first few days of 2013.

As always, we pay tribute to Murphy Abigail Shuler (1993-2004), our precious girl and the real schnauzer who inspired this blog. Her memory keeps us moving forward, toward a day when we hope Americans can enter courtrooms with some assurance that the rule of law will prevail.

With that in mind, this seems like a good time to rerun Murphy's appearance on a Birmingham news program, commemorating a Blessing of the Animals on St. Francis of Assisi day. Murphy is the schnauzer being held by her mom near the beginning and end of the clip.

Happy New Year to all of our readers. Thanks for your tips, your inspirations, your support, your constructive criticisms, your witticisms, and your determination to join us in this effort to help resuscitate a broken justice system. Most of all, thanks for your time and your interest.

Quite a few of you have become friends and acquaintances. Getting to know many of you--via phone, e-mail, snail mail, in person, or a combination of all the above--has provided some of my fondest memories  of the past 5 1/2 years.

Burton Cummings, one of my favorite musicians, says, "Without the audience, you have nothing." I know from first-hand experience that he is right on target about that.

(To be continued)


Don Siegelman, Paul Minor And The End Of Russian Adoptions: The U.S. Abandons Its Moral Authority

Vladimir Putin

Russian president Vladimir Putin has signed a law that bans adoptions to the United States, taking effect tomorrow (January 1). The story has special resonance here in the Deep South because it raises questions about  America's fading moral authority--and nothing shines light on that issue like the flagrantly unlawful prosecutions of prominent figures in Alabama and Mississippi.

Don Siegelman, the former governor of Alabama, has resided at a federal prison in Oakdale, Louisiana, since Sept. 11. He reported there after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear his appeal, even though the trial court and the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals both misapplied the settled legal standard for cases of alleged bribery in the context of a campaign contribution.

Paul Minor, a highly successful attorney from Biloxi, Mississippi, is in a federal prison at Pensacola, Florida, on charges that largely mirror those in the Siegelman case. We have written dozens of posts about the Mississippi case and shown that Minor and codefendants Wes Teel and John Whitfield were convicted mainly because the trial judge issued jury instructions that were almost the exact opposite of what the actual law states.

It's hard to compare cases of judicial and prosecutorial corruption, but the misconduct in the Minor case might have been even more blatant than that in the Siegelman case. That's saying something when you consider that the Siegelman case has attracted the attention of 60 Minutes and other major news outlets.

Siegelman, a popular Democrat in a heavily Republican state, became a target during the George W. Bush years, and extensive evidence suggests that GOP political guru Karl Rove used his connections in Alabama right-wing circles to orchestrate a bogus prosecution.

Minor apparently became a target because he helped win huge settlements against the tobacco and asbestos industries, angering the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other corporate interests. Minor also was a prominent financial supporter of Democratic campaigns, including the John Edwards presidential bid.

Dana and Don Siegelman
Numerous journalists, op-ed writers, and legal experts--including more than 100 former state attorneys general--have concluded that Siegelman and former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy were wrongly convicted of a "crime" that does not exist under the actual law. Scrushy completed his sentence and was released from prison in 2012; Siegelman was free pending appeals, and now faces a sentence of more than six years.

Dana Siegelman, the former governor's daughter, is leading an effort to free her father via a presidential pardon. Her campaign has gained traction, giving birth to a Web site at free-don.org and numerous appearances in the press. But for now, Don Siegelman is every bit as much a political prisoner in Barack Obama's America as millions of political opponents were under the Gulag system of Josef Stalin's Soviet Union.

Sadly, and ironically, the Siegelman fiasco has fallen at the feet of a Democratic president, our nation's first black commander in chief. Siegelman was indicted, prosecuted, convicted, and originally sent to prison during the Bush years. But the Obama Department of Justice, under feckless Attorney General Eric Holder, argued against a Supreme Court hearing of the Siegelman case.

That means Obama now "owns" the most notorious political prosecution in American history. And it means that Vladimir Putin is standing on solid moral ground when he ends 20 years of adoptions between his country and the United States. After all, the U.S. no longer is in any position to point fingers at other countries for failing to abide by the rule of law.

On the surface, the Russian bill that includes a ban on U.S. adoptions grew from opposition to the Magnitsky Act, which Obama signed in mid December. The administration opposed the Magnitsky measure, which bars Russian citizens accused of violating human rights from traveling to the United States and from owning real estate or other assets there. But the president overcame his concerns about possible diplomatic retaliation and signed it, mainly because members of Congress were eager to press Russia over human rights abuses--and they tied the bill to another measure granting Russia new status as a full trading partner.

Paul Minor
In a deeper sense, the controversy over the Magnitsky Act indicates the United States is wearing blinders about its own human-rights abuses. Putin was quick to point that out as the Magnitsky bill made its way toward becoming law, according to a report in The New York Times:

Mr. Putin loudly accused the United States of hypocrisy, noting human rights abuses in Iraq, Afghanistan and at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and he pledged to retaliate.

Putin apparently limited his critique to international matters, but he could have gone much farther by pointing to human-rights abuses on American soil. Exhibit A could have been the political prosecution of Don Siegelman. The Paul Minor case could have served as Exhibit B.

Vladimir Putin likely has never heard of Paul Minor--or Don Siegelman, for that matter. But the Russian president was on target when he pointed out that the United States' record on human rights has been radically diminished in recent years.

When you live in Birmingham, Alabama--as I do--you don't have to look far to see evidence of that.

Here is a Russia Today report on the adoption ban and its implications:


 

Friday, December 21, 2012

New Report Hints That Alabama AG Luther Strange Is A Stooge For Those Who Write Him Paychecks

Luther Strange

Alabama State University paid Luther Strange at least $41,250 in apparent consulting fees during the 2010 campaign for state attorney general, according to a report yesterday in The Montgomery Independent. The payments raise new questions about possible conflicts of interest involving our state's chief prosecutor. And those conflicts take on heightened interest with this week's reopening of the VictoryLand casino amid renewed threats from Strange to close it down.

We have known for weeks that Strange received about $100,000 in campaign cash from the Poarch Creek Indians and seemingly has tried to reward them by targeting a prime competitor, VictoryLand, for possible raids and closure. Now the Alabama State story supplies new evidence that Strange conducts his official business by granting favors to those who supported his campaign. And it comes against the backdrop of a grand jury that Strange has convened in Montgomery, supposedly to investigate possible illegal actions of state office holders.

Is it possible that Strange himself belongs in the cross hairs of a criminal investigation? Could the attorney general be close to committing acts that meet the definition of bribery under federal law? Bob Martin, editor and publisher of The Montgomery Independent, hints that the answer is yes. I will do more than hint at it; the facts, as we know them now, strongly suggest that Strange has engaged in illegal "quid pro quos" (something for something deals) that define federal bribery. And he might have broken the law, or be in the process of breaking the law, on at least two fronts--the Poarch Creek/VictoryLand issue and the Alabama State issue.

Let's take the ASU story first: The university likely will face an investigation after placing new president Joseph Silver on administrative leave when he started asking questions about campus contracts. According to The Independent, Strange did little or no work for Alabama State, and his cozy relationship with the school should preclude his participation in any investigation of the Joseph Silver matter.

Bob Martin reports that at least $15,000 of the payments to Strange came after he had won the primary and general elections and taken office as attorney general. How can a public official who has been paid by Alabama State conduct a thorough investigation of Alabama State? Martin suggests that he can't.

If Strange tries to protect his ASU benefactors from an investigation, could that amount to a "quid pro quo" that would violate federal bribery laws? Let's consider the evidence:

The checks from ASU to Strange came between May 24, 2010, and February 8, 2011, Martin reports. With Joseph Silver having launched a potential scandal at ASU, the attorney general finds himself in a touchy situation. Writes Martin:

This revelation comes at a time when Mr. Strange should be exercising the duties of his office by investigating the potential corruption at ASU arising out of the selection of a new president; [the president's] attempted investigation into campus contracts; and his subsequent placement on leave by the university's board of trustees. 
But the acceptance of this money by Mr. Strange will, I believe, disqualify him from being involved in any ASU investigation or prosecution and may create more problems than that for him. It should, however, also mean that no "play for pay" allegations can be made in the upcoming ASU probe since the Alabama AG's office should be totally disqualified in my opinion.

The line in bold above suggests that Martin believes Strange is walking a thin ethical line. Martin then provides more information to back up his concerns:

This week I was provided a 17-page document listing nearly 700 ASU payments by check in 2010 and 2011 and involving multi-millions of dollars. The seven checks to Mr. Strange were not on this list. The first check to Mr. Strange was in the amount of $18,750, dated May 24, 2010. The remainder included one dated July 9, 2010, in the amount of $3,750; on August 16, 2010, in the amount of $3,750; on January 28, 2011, three checks each in the amount of $3,750; and on February 8, 2011, one in the amount of $3,750.

What did Strange do to earn those checks? Not much, reports Martin:

I have been told from more than one source that Strange did little or no work for ASU, which is now embroiled in a controversy over the attempted firing of its newly hired president, who was benched after he threatened to reveal bones buried on the ASU campus dealing with contracts and other matters. 
A question must then follow as to whether or not some of those bones are associated with the attorney general, and if so, will they be brought before his very own grand jury, a panel which was put together initially several months back to investigate possible illegal actions of state office holders.  

As for the Poarch Creeks, Strange appears to be earning his paychecks by harassing their competitors at VictoryLand, referring to the casino's reopening as "the path of confrontation." Writes Martin:

A few weeks ago, I reported about a $100,000 contribution Mr. Strange accepted from the Poarch Creek Indian Casinos in 2010. That should have confirmed Mr. Strange as the "gambling AG," but as he continues to threaten to close VictoryLand . . . , it merely confirms him as the newest pawn of the Poarch Creek Tribe. . . .  
The attorney general owes the citizens of Alabama an explanation of these Poarch contributions, and with regard to the principle of equal justice, a clear recusal of his office in any action that might involve the Poarch Creeks or their competitors.

It also appears that Strange needs to come clean about his connections at Alabama State, especially if the Joseph Silver case leads to a criminal investigation.

Will Luther Strange prove to be an impartial and professional prosecutor or a glorified stooge who allows justice to be bought and sold? That question might shape one of the most important Alabama stories of 2013.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Vanguard Group, Campus Crest, And Ted Rollins Form A Match Made In Privatization "Heaven"

Vanguard HQ in Malvern, PA

If you think it's a good idea to turn public facilities over to private enterprises, Vanguard Group and Campus Crest Communities are on your wavelength.

But if you carry a healthy skepticism about such public-to-private ventures, you might want to think twice about these firms. That goes double if you have serious concerns about child welfare. That's because Vanguard and Campus Crest have connections that indicate they don't take the well being of children all that seriously.

In the case of Campus Crest CEO Ted Rollins, he has a documented history as a child abuser. But that does not seem to bother Vanguard, which is the No. 1 institutional investor in Rollins' company.

What does that say about the values these firms hold, and why should the public care? Well, they might someday try to provide housing for you, especially if you are a prisoner or a college student. And they clearly intend to make large chunks of money off institutions that your tax dollars support.

Is that a good thing? The Vanguard Group, based in the Philadelphia suburb of Malvern, Pennsylvania, manages $1.7 trillion in assets and is credited with creating and popularizing index funds for individual investors. Recent events, however, raise serious questions about Vanguard's values--and the values of certain companies it supports.

As we reported yesterday, one of those companies is gun manufacturer Sturm Ruger. In the wake of last Friday's massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, stocks in gun companies are falling and some investors are distancing themselves from the industry. Vanguard, however, appears to be deeply enmeshed in a gun culture that contributed to the slaughter of 26 people, including 20 children between the ages of 5 and 10. A statement from Vanguard spokesman Doug Hoffman indicates the firm is in no hurry to alter its relationship with gun makers. Here is how Huffington Post's Chris Kirkham reports it:

A spokesman for Vanguard, David Hoffman, said the company will always appear to have a larger investment in any given corporation because it pegs investments to certain stock index funds. Therefore the investment in a company such as Sturm Ruger doesn't necessarily reflect an active position, he said. 
Hoffman added that investors who invest in actively managed funds can choose to invest in a social index fund, which screens out companies such as firearms manufacturers based on "certain social, human rights, and environmental criteria."

Vanguard's culture of index funds seems to provide a convenient explanation--some might call it an excuse--for relationships with dubious enterprises. Vanguard's dubious relationships, it turns out, are not limited to the gun industry.

A CCA prison
The firm is among the leading shareholders in Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and The GEO Group (GEO), the top private-prison operators in the country. Earlier this year, Truthout reporter Dina Rasor focused on CCA and GEO in a pair of articles with titles that say a lot about the industry. The first article is titled "Prison Industries: "Don't Let Society Improve Or We Lose Business." The second is titled "America's Top Prison Corporation: A Study In Predatory Capitalism And Cronyism."

Rasor's reports paint an unflattering picture of private prisons, which Vanguard helps underwrite. From one of the Truthout articles:

Just as I have feared that privatizing the logistics of war will encourage private war-service industries to lobby for a hot war or long occupation to keep their industries viable, there has emerged a group of prison industries, state and federal legislators, and other players who will continue to benefit from our disgraceful ranking as the world's largest warden. . . . 
This is an industry that needs misery, long sentences, rounded-up undocumented immigrants and increasing crime to flourish.

One bad actor who has tried to cash in on the prison-industrial complex is former Vice President Dick Cheney. How did he do it? Reportedly by investing $85 million in Vanguard Group. Cheney and former Bush Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez were indicted in 2008 in Willacy County, Texas, for alleged prisoner abuse in federal detention centers. The case against Cheney and Gonzalez languished when Juan Angel Guerra, the prosecutor who brought it, lost in a primary election.

Before leaving office, however, Guerra shined light on Dick Cheney and The Vanguard Group in an interview with Democracy Now! and Amy Goodman. From that interview:


AMY GOODMAN: Juan Guerra, the Vice President’s attorney says this is bizarre, that you had Cheney invested in Vanguard Group, which is a mutual fund that, yes, does invest in the private prison industry, but can you indict him for being responsible for abusive behavior in the prison? 
JUAN ANGEL GUERRA: Well, yes, because, again, you have the activities, the criminal activities, that his involvement is that he is aware with the Vanguard Group. The Vanguard Group has invested — is invested. It’s a top ten companies that are investing in the three top private prisons companies, the private prisons. So if you follow Vanguard, then he ended up investing $85 million. The problem here is that the Vanguard Group is not part of his blind trust. This is money that he has, quote, "on the side." It is reported in his income tax with his signature there. So he knows exactly where his money is invested. If this was part of his blind trust, then he would have no control. So because he has control, so now they’re trying to increase the number, the price. Instead of $80, they’re trying to go to $120, which means that these private companies are going to end up making more money, which means that Vanguard would make more money, which means that obviously the Vice President would make more money.

A skeptic might view The Vanguard Group's business model this way: Invest in companies that make guns, which all too often are used to commit crimes. Then invest in private prisons to house the criminals you helped create.

Sounds like a winner, doesn't it?

Vanguard apparently thinks it has another winner in Campus Crest Communities, which designs, builds and markets student housing near some 40 universities around the country. The Campus Crest market consists of young people, but is Vanguard concerned that company CEO Ted Rollins has a history of abusive actions toward young people? Given that Vanguard has invested almost $47.8 million in Campus Crest, it doesn't look like it.

It's not as if the ugliness in Ted Rollins is a secret, and information on it is not particularly hard to find. Public records show Rollins has a criminal record from his conviction for an assault on his 16-year-old stepson. We also know that North Carolina social-services officials, acting on a citizen complaint, investigated Rollins for child sexual abuse of the same stepson.

Why does Vanguard seem to ignore Ted Rollins' ties to criminality? Maybe it's because the investment firm and the CEO share a vision for how private enterprises can reap huge profits from operating facilities that traditionally have been public concerns.

We will take a closer look at that shared vision in upcoming posts.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Vanguard Group Invests In Guns That Kill Children And A CEO With A History Of Abusing Children

The shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary

Last Friday's mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, CT, seems to have caused many Americans to give a second thought to our nation's lax approach on gun control. Perhaps a massacre, where 20 of the 26 victims were children between the ages of 5 and 10, will lead to change in our culture of weaponry.

It already has led to attention for those who financially support gun manufacturers. Some investors are scurrying to distance themselves from companies that design, build, and market guns like the ones Adam  Lanza used to commit mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

One prominent investment company seems to be in no hurry to separate itself from America's gun industry. Perhaps that's because the company already supports at least one chief executive who has a documented history of abusing children.

With that sort of record, The Vanguard Group might be expected to react to the Newtown massacre with a collective shrug. And that is exactly what the company, based in the Philadelphia suburb of Malvern, Pennsylvania, seems to be doing.

It takes an investment firm that is callous, ill-informed, or both to support Campus Crest Communities, a Charlotte-based developer of student housing near universities around the country. After all, Campus Crest CEO Ted Rollins has a criminal record that includes an assault on his 16-year-old stepson. Rollins also was the subject of an investigation into allegations of child sexual abuse involving the same stepson.

Vanguard HQ in Malvern, PA
Those events took place in the 1990s in Franklin County, North Carolina. As happened in the case of former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, initial allegations of child sexual abuse involving Ted Rollins were more or less covered over. In the case of Sandusky, it took another 15 years or so for criminal charges to stick, and the one-time defensive coordinator under coaching icon Joe Paterno now is expected to spend the rest of life behind bars. In the case of Ted Rollins, he never has received serious scrutiny from the criminal justice system and, thanks largely to his membership in one of America's wealthiest families, Rollins has become head of a company that completed a $380-million Wall Street IPO in late 2010.

Do investors care that a chief executive has a proven history of beating a child--with clear ties to an investigation for child sexual abuse? Do investors care that their funds support gun manufacturers whose products then are turned, in a deadly fashion, on children in an elementary school?

In the case of those who invest with The Vanguard Group, the answer to both questions appears to be no. Let's consider the firm's recent history:

According to an article yesterday in the Huffington Post, one of the largest shareholders in gun manufacturer Sturm Ruger is The Vanguard Group. Sturm Ruger made the assault weapon used by Anders Breivik during a July 2011 killing spree that left 77 people, mostly teenagers, dead in Norway. Sturm Ruger is based in Southport, CT, less than 30 miles from Newtown.

The HuffPo piece is titled "Gunmaker Investments Under Review By California Teachers' Fund After Newtown Massacre." John Rudolf and Chris Kirkham report that Wall Street is backing away from the gun industry, and the California State Teachers' Retirement System is re-examining multimillion-dollar investments in two publicly traded gun companies, Smith and Wesson and Sturm Ruger.

What about other major investors in gun companies? They include The Vanguard Group, and HuffPo reports:

Other major investors in Sturm Ruger include The London Company, Allianz Global Investors Capital, Renaissance Technologies and The Vanguard Group, one of the nation's largest 401(k) providers. 
Combined, those five investors hold nearly a third of the company's stock. All but BlackRock and the Vanguard Group did not respond to requests for comment. A spokesman for the Vanguard Group said Monday that the vast majority of the company's holdings in Sturm Ruger were tied to investments in certain index funds that include Sturm, Ruger. 
A spokesman for BlackRock also said the fund's investments in the gun companies were tied to stock indexes.

The presence of index funds appears to be the explanation for Vanguard's ties to the gun industry. So how does Vanguard explain its support of Campus Crest Communities and its CEO with a history of abusing children?

We will be posing that question shortly to executives at the investment firm. But for now, the connections to Campus Crest Communities are spelled out in public documents.

Ted Rollins
Reports at Yahoo! Finance show that Vanguard is the No. 1 institutional investor in Campus Crest Communities, with a stake worth almost $47.8 million. The Vanguard Specialized REIT Index Fund has almost 2.4 million shares in Campus Crest Communities, more than any other mutual-fund holder.

What does all of this mean? The Vanguard Group is a top investor in one of the nation's leading gun manufacturers, a company whose products have helped bring countless young lives to premature ends. Vanguard also is the No. 1 investor in a company with a CEO who has documented ties to child abuse.

What kind of investment firm lends massive financial support to organizations that have proven ties to the murder and abuse of young people? Does Vanguard care only about making money, the bottom line? Does it have a social conscience of any sort?

We will be examining those questions, and more, in upcoming posts.

Meanwhile, you can check out below the Franklin County, North Carolina, court documents that prove Ted Rollins was convicted for assault on a 16-year-old boy. And by definition, such an assault amounts to child abuse under state law.

This is the kind of individual who draws financial support from The Vanguard Group:


Ted Rollins Arrested for Assault

Ted Rollins Convicted of Assault

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Bonnie Wyatt Is Released This Afternoon From Jail

Bonnie Wyatt

A central Alabama woman who has been unlawfully incarcerated for almost five months was released this afternoon from the Chilton County Jail.

Bonnie Cahalane (Knox) Wyatt had been held since July 26 because of a property-related debt from her divorce case. We have shown in a series of posts that her incarceration was unlawful, and the case recently drew the attention of examiner.com.

A Motion to Reconsider Incarceration in the Wyatt case was on the 9 a.m. docket today at the Chilton County Courthouse. Ms. Wyatt's release was not finalized until late afternoon.

Details of any agreement related to the alleged debt are not available at this time. A source told Legal Schnauzer that Ms. Wyatt likely will have to sell her house in an expedited fashion. It remains unclear if she is subject to re-arrest.

A court document ordering Ms. Wyatt's arrest found that she owed $165,000 to Harold Jay Wyatt, her ex husband, for his equity in the marital home. The order was based on a handwritten settlement agreement that did not appear to be formal or finalized, and the court file appeared to include little documentation to prove such an amount was owed.

Bonnie Wyatt owned the house before her marriage to Harold Wyatt, and the couple lived together as man and wife for only about 10 months. At the time of the marriage, Ms. Wyatt was recovering from a fire that destroyed her home and was investigated as arson. The fire hit shortly after her divorce was finalized from Bobby Knox, president of Shelby Concrete.

Harold Wyatt claimed that he spent a substantial sum to help complete the interior of the home, but it remains unclear exactly how much he spent, whether Ms. Wyatt authorized the expenditures, and why the work was not fully covered by homeowner's insurance.

When Ms. Wyatt failed to pay the $165,000 allegedly owed, Chilton County Circuit Judge Sibley Reynolds held her in contempt and ordered her arrest. Reynolds made that ruling, even though Alabama case law states that a party cannot be subject to contempt, and incarceration, for failure to pay a property-related debt from the dissolution of a marriage. Such remedies are available only if the debt involves spousal sustenance and support, such as alimony.

We will continue to follow the story, which now primarily shifts to the contents of a possible agreement and any legal avenues Ms. Wyatt might have for gross violations of her civil rights.

Our research indicates' Ms. Wyatt's incarceration probably was driven by factors that have nothing to do with an alleged debt to Harold Wyatt. What is the real reason that Bonnie Wyatt was unlawfully jailed for almost five months, and who needs to be held accountable for it? We will continue to ask that question, and others, related to this peculiar case.

Bonnie Wyatt's Attorney Appears To Have a Conflict As Judge Prepares To Rule On Incarceration

Bonnie Wyatt

A judge is scheduled today to hear arguments about the incarceration of an Alabama woman who has been in the Chilton County Jail since July 26 because of a property-related debt connected to her divorce case.

Bonnie Cahalane (Knox) Wyatt, at least in theory, could be freed in time for the Christmas holidays. But a review of court records raises serious doubts about whether Wyatt is receiving vigorous legal representation in the case.

Angie Avery Collins, Wyatt's Clanton-based attorney, filed a Motion to Reconsider Incarceration on December 6--and it is due to be heard, along with a number of other cases, on a motion docket beginning at 9 a.m. today at the Chilton County Courthouse. Collins' motion, however, might be described as "watered down" (at best) and "ineffectual" (at worst).

To muddy the waters even further, Collins is engaged in her own divorce, in the same circuit court. Might she be tempted to go soft on Bonnie Wyatt's defense in order to gain favor for her own divorce battle? Does that represent a conflict of interest that threatens Bonnie Wyatt's fundamental rights to due process?

A reasonable person could conclude that the answer to both questions is yes, especially after reading the motion that Angie Collins prepared in advance of today's hearing. It calls for Circuit Judge Sibley Reynolds to reconsider his decision to issue an arrest warrant for Bonnie Wyatt. But it includes no mention of clear-cut Alabama law--best stated in Dolberry v. Dolberry, 920 So. 2d 573 (Ala. Civ. App, 2005)--that makes it unlawful for a judge to subject a party to contempt and incarceration because of a property-related debt from the dissolution of a marriage.

Collins' motion includes no citations to law. Her primary argument is that Wyatt would be better able to secure the funds to pay her alleged debt if she was freed from jail. The motion also states that Wyatt's "health is failing due to cancer." We've seen at least one other court document that states Wyatt has been battling cancer, but we have not been able to confirm that with sources close to her family.

We have, however, established that Reynolds violated black-letter Alabama law by ordering Wyatt's incarceration. If it turns out that she is a cancer patient, her jailing becomes not only unlawful, but inhumane.

Collins, in her motion, seems to perform all sorts of contortions to avoid stating the obvious--that Judge Sibley Reynolds violated his oath to uphold the law when he order Bonnie Wyatt's arrest. The facts are these: Alabama law says Bonnie Wyatt never should have been jailed in the first place, and any demand for her release has nothing to do with her health status or her ability to pay an alleged debt to her former husband for his equity stake in the marital home.

Based on her motion, Angie Collins seems more interested in not offending Sibley Reynolds, a demonstrably corrupt judge, than she is in achieving justice for her client. Why might that be?

Well, Collins is in the midst of her own divorce case, which also is being heard in the 19th Judicial Circuit (covering Chilton, Elmore, and Autauga counties). Angie Collins filed for divorce from James Thomas Collins on September 11, 2012. The case originally was assigned to--guess who--Sibley Reynolds. It then was assigned to Ben Fuller, another judge in the 19th Circuit. When James Collins moved that all judges in the circuit recuse themselves--citing the fact that Angie Collins regularly practices before all of them--the case was assigned to District Judge George N. Sims, of Talladega County.

Collins v. Collins apparently could involve some fireworks. Angie Collins' divorce complaint cites the usual language found in such documents--the parties have grown "incompatible," the marital bonds are "irretrievably broken," etc.

But James Collins' counterclaim hints at something deeper. The document states: "Because of the course of conduct by the Plaintiff [Angie Collins], there has grown between them an incompatibility of temperament."

It goes on to state that "the bonds of trust have been severed."

What does that mean? Perhaps we will find out soon. But it seems safe to say that Angie Collins' attention is not fully on Bonnie Wyatt--a client who has serious legal needs of her own.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Does Scrutiny For House Speaker Mike Hubbard Signal A Change In Alabama's Political Climate?

Mike Hubbard

The general rule in Alabama politics for the past 12 years or so has been that a Democrat can be sent to federal prison for a "crime" that does not exist under actual law, while a Republican can participate in all sorts of malfeasance without drawing a second glance.

Multiple news reports last week show that a grand jury in Montgomery has issued subpoenas for the records of House Speaker Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn). Does this signal a major shift in the Alabama political landscape, and if so, why is it happening?

Bill Britt, of the Alabama Political Reporter, broke the story last Thursday. From Britt's report:

A Special Grand Jury has subpoenaed records concerning Alabama Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn). According to three sources with intimate knowledge of the investigation, a Special Grand Jury led by the Public Corruption Unit of the Alabama Attorney General’s Office is gathering documents related to Hubbard’s time as Chairman of the ALGOP. . . . 
Hubbard, who is credited with being the architect of the 2010 takeover of the State House, has recently come under fire in press reports related to quid-pro-quo arrangements between campaign contributions and Hubbard-owned businesses. 
It is not certain exactly what the Grand Jury is looking for, but sources speculate that it has to do with Hubbard’s business dealings, as well as money that was filtered through the RSLC.

George Talbot, of al.com in Mobile, followed with a report last Friday titled "Alabama GOP Finances Under Investigation, Chairman Tells Party Leaders." Talbot focused on a GOP steering committee meeting last Wednesday and the words of Bill Armistead, who succeeded Hubbard as party chair:

The committee convened in a conference room at the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association building near the state Capitol, and the meeting kicked off with an unexpected bang. Bill Armistead, the party’s chairman, told the group that he’d received a subpoena from the Alabama Attorney General’s office seeking GOP financial records. 
Reading from the document, Armistead said the order was part of a grand jury investigation into campaign finance activities in the 2010 election cycle, according to three committee members who participated in the meeting. A fourth committee member recounted similar remarks but said he did not recall a specific reference to a subpoena.

Brian Lyman, of the Montgomery Advertiser, produced a piece on Saturday titled "Alabama GOP To Release Report Monday On Controversial Hubbard Transaction." Hubbard tells Lyman that he welcomes release of the report--some have called it an audit--about his actions as party chair. But Hubbard and Armistead appear to be at odds about the report's contents:

Ala. GOP chairman Bill Armistead said in an interview Friday the steering committee of the state Republican Party had held the report for over a year. 
“The reason it wasn’t released earlier is we didn’t want to embarrass Speaker Hubbard with what was there,” he said. “We want unity in the party, not divisiveness.” 
However, Armistead said he and members of the steering committee felt Hubbard had been “blasting us” over previously reported accounts of the report. 
The committee, Armistead said, decided Wednesday to release it.

Both the report, and the grand-jury inquiry, apparently focus on a GOP contract with Florida-based Majority Strategies, which subcontracted much of the work to Hubbard's company in Auburn. That could lead to scrutiny for the Birmingham consulting firm of Swatek Azbell Howe and Ross. Hubbard has claimed that one of the firm's partners, John Ross, negotiated the deal with Majority Strategies. At the time, Ross was executive director of ALGOP and Hubbard's second-in-command. From Britt's report:

Ross is now a partner in the high-powered lobbying group Swatek, Azbell, Howe & Ross. According to Hubbard’s book “Storming the State House,” “[Ross] continues to work closely with the members of newly-elected Republican majority and is assisting with the efforts to help preserve those majorities in 2014.” 
Ross along with Dax Swatek, and David Azbell are key lieutenants of Speaker Hubbard and have been reported as receiving lucrative contracts from state government.

What is going on here? Have Alabama Republicans suddenly taken a genuine interest in honest government? Our sources say that is unlikely and point to the current unrest as an example of political jockeying for the 2014 elections.

One source says U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) is contemplating retirement, and Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange wants to be among the first to throw his hat into that possible ring. Strange reportedly has recused himself from the Hubbard investigation, but he is letting it move forward. Our source says Big Luther wants to be seen as "the guy who cleaned up Montgomery," in order to enhance his political resume. If that involves taking down a few of his GOP comrades, so be it.

Another source says Mobile lawyer Bradley Byrne is pondering another run at the governor's office, after losing to Robert Bentley in the 2010 primary. Byrne sees Hubbard as a rival for the governor's job, one source says, and probably is working behind the scenes to help take down the speaker.

Here is the irony: Strange, Byrne, and Hubbard all belong to the political family tree of former Alabama Governor Bob Riley and his son, Homewood attorney Rob Riley. The Swatek consulting firm is closely aligned with the Rileys. Could this be a case of Republican snakes turning on one another? It certainly looks that way.

One source points to a possible scenario that could lead to the airing of serious GOP dirty laundry: What if Mike Hubbard, distressed that the Rileys do not ride to his rescue, decides to tell what he knows about the rampant ugliness in Bob Riley's political machine?

We might be a long way from that point, but that certainly would be an interesting outcome.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Employee Suicide At Federal Courthouse Rekindles Memories Of My Days As A "Security Risk"

The scene yesterday at
Hugo Black Courthouse

For about an eight-month period beginning in May 2010, security personnel tailed me every time I visited the Hugo L. Black United States Courthouse in downtown Birmingham. If I went to the clerk's office, a security officer would take up residence right outside the door or a little ways down the hallway. If I went to the restroom, an officer suddenly had to relieve himself, too.

Memories of that period came flooding back yesterday when news broke that a courthouse employee had shot and killed himself in the clerk's office. David Lee Williams, 50, was the director of building services at the courthouse. At about 9:30 a.m. yesterday, Williams walked into the office of Clerk of Court Sharon Harris, pulled out a gun and shot himself in the head. He was pronounced dead about a half hour later at UAB Hospital.

How could anyone, even an employee, sneak a gun into a facility where weapons are strictly prohibited and metal detectors are present at all entrances? Did Williams regularly take a gun into the workplace or was this a one-time event? Why did Williams kill himself at work? Why did he go into Harris' office to shoot himself?  Was Williams suffering from mental illness and personal problems, or did issues in the workplace contribute to his demise?

We don't have answers to those questions at this hour. But the event hit home because I've spent way more hours than I care to remember in that courthouse, all because of the various legal issues that are at the heart of this blog. This question quickly came to mind yesterday: If courthouse security had spent less time tailing me, would they have been more likely to notice that one of their co-workers actually posed a threat to public safety?

The vast majority of my time at the Hugo Black Building has been spent on the first floor, in the public area of the clerk's office to the left as you take the front entrance--with an occasional pit stop at the men's room, which is just to the right of the entrance.

I've been upstairs to various courtrooms on maybe a half dozen occasions--once when I was called to jury duty, once when I attended a trial for a discrimination claim that former medical trainee Seema Gupta had filed against UAB, and about four times when U.S. District Judge William M. Acker Jr. conducted docket hearings during my employment lawsuit against UAB.

But probably 98 percent of my time in the building has been spent in the clerk's office--filing documents in various cases involving me, Mrs. Schnauzer, or both of us; or checking records on public computers. I don't recall seeing Sharon Harris' office, site of yesterday's fatal shooting. But I'm guessing it's somewhere behind the glass-encased front counter, just a few steps from where I've conducted my business.

How did I, without even a serious traffic violation on my record, come to the attention of courthouse security? In a general sense, I suspect it's partly because I became recognized as that guy who writes the inconvenient truth about judges. But my life as a "suspicious character" has more specific origins than that.

In May 2010, U.S. District Judge Abdul Kallon issued an order granting summary judgment to defendants in our case alleging unlawful actions by various debt collectors. Kallon's ruling was pure horse feces, in part because the defendants had stonewalled us on discovery, and we had notified the court that a number of discovery issues were outstanding and summary judgment could not even lawfully be considered, much less granted.

Much to my regret, we were represented at the time by a couple of con men--I mean attorneys--named Allan Armstrong and Darrell Cartwright. When Armstrong forwarded me a copy of the order, he didn't bother to give any warning about its contents; state that it was incorrect under the law; or note that we could file a Rule 59 motion to amend, seeking to have it overturned.

David Lee Williams
Armstrong's only message was that he had just received the order, had not had a chance to review it, but I should read it. With nothing to buffer me from what was ahead, I began to seethe as I read it. I responded to Armstrong with a message that expressed my anger and displeasure in blunt terms.

I didn't say anything threatening about Kallon or anyone else. But I did use language that was more harsh than usual because I knew that Armstrong was my lawyer, and our communication was protected by attorney-client privilege. He supposedly was representing the best interests for my wife and me, so I wanted him to know in no uncertain terms that we were extremely unhappy with this result and that we knew Kallon had cheated us.

What did Armstrong do? He proceeded to violate attorney-client privilege by forwarding my e-mail to the U.S. marshals service. A couple of guys showed up at our house later that afternoon, said they were from the U.S. marshals office, and wanted to talk with me about my e-mail.

Mrs. Schnauzer and I must have spoken to them for about an hour while standing in our front yard. They actually seemed to be nice guys and treated us in a professional manner. When I asked them how they came to be in possession of an e-mail that was protected by attorney-client privilege, they didn't have a good answer.

Under Rule 1.6(b)(1) of the Alabama Rules of Professional Conduct (Confidentiality of Information), a lawyer can reveal privileged information only "to prevent the client from committing a criminal act that the lawyer believes is likely to result in imminent death or substantial bodily harm."

My e-mail contained no statements pointing remotely to a criminal act of any sort, much less one likely to result in imminent or substantial harm to Kallon or anyone else. The U.S. marshal guys seemed to acknowledge that early on in our conversation.

Kallon happens to be black, having grown up in the African nation of Sierra Leone, and I suspect the marshals were dispensed to our home mainly to determine if it housed a couple of racists. Anyone who has spent any time reading this blog should know that is preposterous. In fact, one of my first statements to the marshals was that, if I seemed particularly angry toward Kallon, it's because my wife and I had voted for Barack Obama, the Democratic president who had nominated him. "We expect to get screwed by a judge who was appointed by a Republican," I told them. "But we voted for Obama, and we expect better than this from someone appointed by a Democrat."

The marshals seemed to be taken aback by our confession that we were white, suburbanites in Alabama who had voted for Barack Obama. They gathered themselves to point at two or three lines in the e-mail  and say, "What does this mean?"

I said, "It means exactly what it says. It says Kallon butchered the ruling, he probably did it intentionally to protect corporate interests, and I'm highly pissed off about it--especially when you consider that I voted for, and encouraged other people to vote for, the man who appointed him."

The marshals pondered that a moment, and I said, "Do you see a threat in there?" They shrugged their shoulders. "Is there something unlawful about voicing your displeasure, to your own lawyer, when a judge rules in a way that is contrary to law?" They shrugged their shoulders again.

Once we established that they had no real reason to be at our house, we had a pleasant conversation with them before saying our goodbyes. They left by giving us the impression that neither of us was seen as a threat to national security.

But that wasn't the end of it. Every time I visited the federal courthouse for about the next eight months, I would notice a security type following me everywhere I went. Given that I didn't go anywhere other than the clerk's office or the restroom, it was not a strenuous task.

At first, I decided to take the "I'll just ignore it" approach. But once or twice, Mrs. Schnauzer went with me to the courthouse, and they followed her, too. Given that we were only there because we could not find a lawyer to be trusted with our cases, and thus had to represent ourselves, I decided I'd had enough.

I called one of the marshals who had visited our home and told him about what we were experiencing. "When you were at our house, you indicated there was no reason for us to be seen as security risks, so we are getting tired of having someone shadow us every time we set foot in the federal courthouse."

He expressed surprise this was happening and promised to look into it. Apparently he did because the people stopped following us shortly after that. For quite some time now, I've been able to visit the courthouse, conduct my business, and leave, without feeling I was seen as some sort of shadowy figure.

As for yesterday's shooting, I'm thankful that only one person was physically harmed, and I feel bad about whatever demons drove David Lee Williams to take his own life. But I had to guffaw at the headline on one al.com article about the incident. Written by Kyle Whitmire, it was titled "Inside the Hugo Black Federal Courthouse, Justice Rolls On." The general theme was, "Hey, an employee suicide isn't going to stop us from the noble cause of dispensing justice."

Mr. Whitmire needs to remove his rose-colored journalist's glasses and realize his piece is an utter crock. For the most part, justice hasn't even started in that courthouse, so it certainly isn't going to "roll on." Experience has taught me that the corruption often starts in the clerk's office, where the notion that judges receive cases on random assignment is a joke.

When I filed my lawsuit against UAB, the woman in the clerk's office read a significant portion of the complaint, checked a white folder multiple times, and ultimately took 10 to 15 minutes before stamping it as being with Judge Acker. That is random assignment? I don't think so. Her actions indicate she assigned it to Judge Acker for a specific reason.

I later discovered a whistleblower case that a woman named Ingrid Awtrey Law had filed against Performance Group LLC, a physical therapy company owned in part by Homewood attorney Rob Riley, the son of former Governor Bob Riley. The case alleged rampant Medicare fraud in the company, and it also wound up with Acker.

There is no doubt that my unlawful termination at UAB was driven by the Riley family; loads of evidence points in that direction. Ingrid Law's complaint provides page after page of details about fraud on Rob Riley's watch.

What happened in both cases? Both wound up with Acker, an 84-year-old Reagan appointee, and he violated simple procedural law to dismiss both of them, without prejudice.

Is William Acker the designated protector for the Riley family and their buddies at big downtown law firms such as Bradley Arant and Haskell Slaughter? The answer, in my mind, is undoubtedly yes.

Was David Lee Williams aware that he worked in a fundamentally corrupt environment, and that much of the sleaze flows from the clerk's office? Did that contribute, in perhaps a slight way, to the mental distress that caused him to take his own life--in, ironically, the clerk's office?

I probably will never know the answer to that question. But the Hugo Black Courthouse is filled with people who have shaky ethics and priorities that are badly out of alignment. Most of the ugliness stays under wraps, with the public unaware of how its tax dollars are misspent.

In an indirect, tragic way, David Lee Williams shined a little light on the scene yesterday--for those who are willing to pay attention.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Alabama Woman Remains Incarcerated Because Of An Unlawful Mediation In Her Divorce Case

Bonnie Wyatt

An Alabama woman has been held in the Chilton County Jail since July 26, based on a divorce mediation that appears to have been unlawful on multiple grounds.

Circuit Judge Sibley Reynolds ordered Bonnie Cahalane (Knox) Wyatt and Harold Jay Wyatt into mediation, which ended with a settlement agreement that had Ms. Wyatt paying $165,000 for her husband's interest in the marital home--even though she owned the house prior to the marriage. When Ms. Wyatt failed to pay the amount, Reynolds found her in contempt of court and ordered her arrest.

Court records show that mediation was to be conducted on March 9, 2011, with Clanton attorney Wayne Cordery. But multiple sources tell Legal Schnauzer that the parties and their attorneys met with Cordery that day for only about an hour before they were summoned to the Chilton County Courthouse. The mediation was completed before Reynolds, in his courtroom, even though that appears to violate at least three provisions of the Alabama Civil Court Mediation Rules.

We already have shown that Ms. Wyatt's incarceration is unlawful because a case styled Dolberry v. Dolberry, 920 So. 2d 573 (Ala. Civ. App., 2005) holds that a party is not subject to contempt, and possible incarceration, because of a property-related debt connected to dissolution of a marriage.

But now we learn that the settlement agreement itself is due to be set aside because it was produced via an unlawful mediation. In almost all cases, mediation is to include only the parties, their representatives, and the mediator. The only exception is in cases of alleged domestic violence, where the victim can have a supporting person of his or her choice. The presence of any other third party can come only with the permission of the parties and the consent of the mediator.

Judges appear to specifically be excluded from the process. Why did Reynolds summon the parties in Wyatt v. Wyatt to his courtroom and participate in the mediation? That is not clear, but it appears he had no grounds for doing so.

Let's consider three relevant provisions of the Alabama Civil Court Mediation Rules:

Rule 1. Definition of Mediation and Scope of Rules

(a) Mediation is an extra judicial procedure for the resolution of disputes, provided for by statute and by the Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure.

Comment: The meaning of an "extra judicial procedure" is clear: It is outside the authority of a court. It does not take place in a judge's presence. This seems real easy to understand.


Rule 10. Privacy

Mediation sessions are private. An alleged victim of domestic or family violence may have in attendance at mediations a supporting person of his or her choice. In all other cases, persons other than the parties and their representatives may attend mediation sessions only with the permission of the parties and with the consent of the mediator.

Comment: Do you see a provision there for the presence of a judge? Neither do I. Can't get much more straightforward than this.


Rule 11. Confidentiality
(c) A court shall neither inquire into nor receive information about the positions of the parties taken in mediation proceedings; the facts elicited or presented in mediation proceedings; or the cause or responsibility for termination or failure of the mediation process.

Comment: This might be more straightforward than Rule 10. This one specifically tells judges to butt out.


How could such an unlawful mediation take place? Amanda Baxley, of Clanton, was Ms. Wyatt's attorney at the time, and we see no signs in the record that Ms. Baxley objected to the mediation. In fact, the court file shows that Ms. Baxley withdrew from the case shortly after the settlement agreement was reached.

Was Amanda Baxley out to lunch? Did she allow herself to be strong-armed by a corrupt judge? Did she feel powerless to do anything about it? We don't have answers to those questions, but it is clear that Amanda Baxley's client is paying a heavy price for a settlement agreement that was generated under unlawful conditions.

What motivation did Judge Sibley Reynolds have for inserting himself into the mediation process? Given that Ms. Wyatt wound up with the short end of the settlement-agreement stick, a reasonable person might conclude that Reynolds forced her into a bad deal.

Regardless of the judge's motivations, his participation in the mediation process was forbidden by law. And that appears to present grounds to have the settlement agreement set aside. A case styled Nero v. Chastang, 358 So. 2d 740 (Ala. Civ. App., 1978) spells it out:

When parties who are sui juris make a final settlement between themselves, such settlement is as binding on them in many respects as a decree of the court. However, such settlement may be opened for fraud, accident, or mistake. See Burks v. Parker, 192 Ala. 250, 68 So. 271 (1915).

I  would classify Reynolds' actions as fraud. But an argument could be made that they come under the heading of "accident" or "mistake." Whatever terminology is used, Bonnie Wyatt has powerful grounds for having her settlement agreement set aside. And that is one of many reasons that she should be released from jail.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Did Shelby County Circuit Clerk Mary Harris Commit A Crime In Rollins V. Rollins Divorce Case?

Mary Harris

A review of the case action summary shows that someone might have falsified court records in the Rollins v. Rollins divorce case. If the record knowingly was falsified, that would be a crime under Alabama law.

If such an unlawful act took place, it probably originated in the office of Shelby County Circuit Clerk Mary Harris. And evidence suggests it was done to cover for the corrupt actions of Circuit Judge D. Al Crowson. If Crowson directed that records be falsified, he might be at the center of a criminal conspiracy.

Under Code of Alabama 13A-10-12 (Tampering with governmental records), someone commits a crime if "he knowingly makes a false entry in or falsely alters any governmental record." A governmental record is defined as "any record, paper, document, or thing belonging to, or received or kept by, the government for information or record . . ."

A state-court record meets that description, and someone clearly entered false information in the Rollins v Rollins case action summary, which Mary Harris' office maintains. (See document at the end of this post.)

Why would someone tamper with records in a Shelby County divorce case? Well, we have called Rollins v. Rollins the No. 1 courtroom cheat job we have encountered in the civil arena--and the false entries help obscure what actually happened in the case.

The record shows, in three places, that the case was settled. Here is how the relevant section of the case action summary reads:

7/18/2005: Court Action Judge: D. Al Crowson (AV07) 
7/18/2005: ACDD Flag Set to "Y" (AV07) 
7/18/2005: Disposed On: 7/7/2005 by (Settled) (AV07) 
7/18/2005: Custody to Mother (AV07) 
7/18/2005: C001 Disposed by (Settled) on 7/7/2005 (AV07) 
7/18/2005: D001 Disposed by (Settled) on 7/7/2005 (AV07)

A reasonable person checking that file would say to himself, "Hey, this case was settled." In fact, Sherry Rollins told Legal Schnauzer that she took her file to one lawyer at some point after July 18, 2005. The man glanced briefly at the file and said, "This case was settled. Why are you here?"

Ms. Rollins' mouth must have fallen open, and with good reason. That's because the case was not settled. It was resolved by a Final Judgment of Divorce from Judge Crowson, and we have run the document in black and white right here on our blog. If you missed our earlier discussion of it, you can read it at the end of this post.

Why would the "justice infrastructure" in Shelby County benefit from having the Rollins v. Rollins fiasco listed as "settled" on the case action summary? Most anyone who reviews the case is likely, as a first step, to check the case action summary and go to the line for "disposition." If it says "settled," that pretty much closes the book on an inquiring mind.

It's the court's way of saying, "Move along, nothing to see here."

The false entry might have had the secondary benefit of costing Ms. Rollins any hope of justice on appeal. My understanding is that the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals affirmed the trial court's finding, without issuing an opinion. In other words, the appellate court rubber stamped what had been done in Shelby County. That might be because Alabama appellate courts are hideously corrupt. But it also might be because someone took one look at the case action summary, saw the case was marked "settled," and essentially said, "Well there's no reason to review this. Next."

Rollins v. Rollins has been emitting a foul odor from the moment we first started reviewing it. But with these false entries in the official record, the odor just got stronger.

Here is the information sheet/case action summary, followed by Judge Crowson's Final Judgment of Divorce. Obviously, the case was not settled:

Rollins Case Action Summary
Rollins Divorce Order

Why Might Someone Order An Assassination Attempt On Alabama Bingo Witness Jarrod Massey?

Jarrod Massey

Imprisoned lobbyist Jarrod Massey, a key government witness in the Alabama bingo trial, was assaulted recently at the Maxwell Federal Prison Camp in Montgomery. Details about the event are sketchy, but a source tells Legal Schnauzer that the beating caused Massey to be placed in intensive care. We have received no further word on his condition, and our source says the beating actually took place about a week before news of it broke in the press.

As this story unfolds, I think back to a couple of e-mails I received from Jarrod Massey a little more than a year ago. And I wonder if the contents of those e-mails might provide clues about an apparent attempt on his life.

The limited information we have at this point raises a couple of issues:

(1) A beating that was severe enough to leave the victim in intensive care sounds like an attempted assassination. Depending on Massey's current condition and chances for recovery, it still could prove to be a homicide;

(2) Given Massey's status as a high-profile prisoner, it's hard to understand why authorities were slow about releasing information.

Why would someone want to kill Jarrod Massey? Well, it's curious that the beating coincides with a grand jury that Attorney General Luther Strange has called in Houston County. The focus of the grand jury has not been publicly disclosed, but news reports hint that prosecutors likely are interested in gambling-related activity. (Things never seem to change in Alabama, do they?)

Dothan-based rickeystokesnews.com has produced two insightful posts in recent days:

* Lottery Used to Select Members of Grand Jury . . .

* Will Special Grand Jury Expand Their Investigation Into Areas of Allegations?

Could the grand jury focus on Strange's own documented ties to gambling, plus those of his ally, former Republican Governor Bob Riley? Stokes puts that question front and center:

At this time we do not know if the scope of the Grand Jury investigation will extend to the reports of the Indian money and contributions being given to former Governor Bob Riley and the current Attorney General Luther Strange. That is certainly within the discretion of the members of the Grand Jury as I understand from some legal minds.

Did someone think Jarrod Massey had damaging information that could wind up in front of the grand jury? If so, who might have been concerned about such information, and what did it involve?

I've never met or spoken with Jarrod Massey, but the assault story hit home in a personal way. I wrote last December about a pair of e-mails Massey sent me, offering to share information about Republican consultant Dax Swatek and others connected to the Riley administration. Here is the key part of what Massey wrote:

I would . . . welcome an opportunity to discuss my past associations with Dax Swatek. In summation, he is a very unscrupulous sort who is well protected by the Riley net and his linked-at-the-hip connection to Billy and Leura Canary and the Bradley Arant law firm. This of course is nothing you are not already familiar with. I can point you in the right direction for your information gathering purposes. You'll find it quite interesting.

At the time of the e-mails, Massey had pleaded guilty and testified against other defendants in the Alabama bingo trial, which ended with zero convictions in August 2011. He was set to testify again in the retrial, which started in January 2012--and again, resulted in zero convictions.

I would have been glad to meet with Mr. Massey, but given the circumstances, I thought it best not to communicate with an individual who was under the control of federal prosecutors. Visions of someone trying to frame me for witness tampering or obstruction of justice convinced me that any conversation with Jarrod Massey would have to wait for another day.

Now it sounds like Mr. Massey's life might be hanging in the balance. And I have to wonder if that might be connected to unflattering information he apparently was willing to share about those close to the Riley regime.

Am I being overly dramatic? Well, it's important to consider the toxic political environment in our state.  We have reported several times on a string of mysterious Alabama deaths during the later years of the Riley administration. Was someone trying to add to that number with the beating of Jarrod Massey?

Bob Riley no longer is in office, but the crusade he started against non-Indian gambling is ongoing--with Luther Strange now in a leading role, and Governor Robert Bentley seemingly out to lunch.

Did that ugly combination put Jarrod Massey's life in danger?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

HSBC's Banking Scandal Hits Close To Home, Thanks To The Tentacles Of Bradley Arant Law Firm


Today's biggest story in the financial world involves a record $1.9 billion in fines against British banking behemoth HSBC. The bank agreed to pay the fines to U.S. authorities for its failure to monitor illegal activities, including the laundering of drug money from Mexico.

The story has a distinct international flavor. But thanks to Birmingham-based Bradley Arant, our state's largest law firm, the story also has a taste of Dixie. That's because Bradley Arant has made it a habit to represent HSBC and other rogue financial outfits.

Bradley Arant became a major focus of our reporting because it represents Charlotte-based Campus Crest Communities and its CEO, Ted Rollins. Public records show that Rollins has engaged in all sorts of unsavory activity--perjury, child abuse, failure to pay child support, gross manipulation of a divorce case--and much of it has been centered in Alabama.

But as we reported in July, Bradley Arant is willing to bed down with a whole host of bad actors, including those who run HSBC. What kind of outfit is HSBC? Consider this from today's Reuter's report on the massive fines:

Mexico's Sinaloa cartel and Colombia's Norte del Valle cartel between them laundered $881 million through HSBC and a Mexican unit, the U.S. Justice Department said on Tuesday. . . .
Bank officials repeatedly ignored internal warnings that HSBC's monitoring systems were inadequate, the Justice Department said. In 2008, for example, the CEO of HSBC Mexico was told that Mexican law enforcement had a recording of a Mexican drug lord saying that HSBC Mexico was the place to launder money. 
Mexican traffickers used boxes specifically designed to the dimensions of an HSBC Mexico teller's window to deposit cash on a daily basis.

You might think that Bradley Arant would want to keep a considerable distance between itself and HSBC. But you would be wrong. Bradley Arant lawyers seem to welcome HSBC, and its affiliates, as clients. From our July report:

George R. Parker, one of the firm's Montgomery attorneys, represented various HSBC entities in a 2008 federal lawsuit styled George D. McCarley v. KPMG International, et al. The case involved allegations of fraud connected to a home foreclosure, and considering that it started in the Middle District of Alabama and was appealed to the U.S. Eleventh Circuit in Atlanta, it should be no surprise that the corporate defendants prevailed. 
Andrew J. Noble III and John David Owen, of Bradley Arant's Birmingham office, represented an HSBC entity in a 2011 state lawsuit styled Moore v. HSBC Mortgage Services. The complaint involved allegations of breach of contract and other wrongdoing related to construction of a new house. Once again, the corporate defendant prevailed--with Bradley Arant's assistance.

Bradley Arant's ties to banking skulduggery do not end with HSBC. Reuter's includes Wachovia among other rogue banks that are under scrutiny. And here is what we reported earlier this year about the ties between Wachovia and Bradley Arant:

Officials for Wachovia Bank admitted in 2010 that they helped move $378.4 billion for Mexican drug cartels. Wachovia, which was purchased by Wells Fargo in 2008, paid $160 million in fines and penalties, and according to Bloomberg, that amount is less than 2 percent of the bank's $12.3 billion profit for 2009. 
Wachovia had roots in Charlotte, and Wells Fargo is based in San Francisco, so where is the Birmingham connection? Well, that goes back to SouthTrust Corporation, which once was known as one of our city's "Big Four" banking institutions. 
SouthTrust had $53 billion in assets and branches in nine states (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia) when it merged with Wachovia in 2004. Wachovia was experiencing deep losses in the midst of the 2008 financial crisis when Wells Fargo plucked the bank off the scrap heap at a bargain-basement price of $12.8 billion. . . . 
Throughout the SouthTrust/Wachovia/Wells Fargo mating dance--when Birmingham was hemorrhaging banking jobs--Bradley Arant had its dirty hands in the pie. And it looks like there was plenty of dirt to go around.

We are all for rogue bankers being held accountable. But when are authorities going to take a look at the law firms that are up to their necks in these dirty deals?

Buffoons On The Bench: Alabama Judge J. Scott Vowell Takes Incompetence To Whole New Levels

Judge J. Scott Vowell

Imagine going to a doctor who did not know how to take your temperature. You would expect to see such a clod have his license yanked in short order, right?

That's not how it works in the legal "profession," at least here in my home base of Alabama. Gross incompetence seems to be openly tolerated among lawyers. In some cases, it is rewarded by giving a lawyer the title of "judge."

Consider Circuit Judge J. Scott Vowell of Jefferson County, which includes Birmingham. He has been presiding judge since 1995, which means he is largely responsible for our area having one of the nation's most corrupt domestic-relations courts. Vowell has sat idly by while certain judges and lawyers used several notorious hunting clubs as sites to fix divorce cases. Even after the scandal became known, thanks to several federal lawsuits, Vowell still has taken no noticeable corrective actions.

My wife and I recently learned that Vowell is more than just an inept administrator; he also is an inept judge. We filed a legal-malpractice complaint against Darrell Cartwright and Allan Armstrong, the two lawyers who intentionally undermined our case against unethical debt collectors. Two Jefferson County judges, Robert Vance Jr. and Tom King, recused themselves from our case, so it wound up in Vowell's lap.

How has he handled it? Well, the veteran judge apparently cannot even read a docket report and tell whether a complaint has been served or not. This is one of the first steps that happens in most any lawsuit, and the docket report should make it clear whether the defendants have or have not been served.

It's the legal equivalent of a doctor taking your temperature. That's one of the first things to happen when you get a health checkup, and it doesn't take much skill to complete the task. The same thing applies to the issue of service in a lawsuit; it happens right up front, and even the most incompetent judge should know when the step has been completed.

But that apparently is beyond J. Scott Vowell because he recently issued an order dismissing our case, without prejudice, "for lack of service." That order, dated November 26, came even though the docket sheet shows that service was completed--or "perfected," as lawyers like to say--more than four months ago.

To make matters more mind boggling, my wife and I are pro se litigants, so we don't have the advantage of checking the electronic file via alacourt.com. We have to rely on the U.S. mail to receive copies of documents in the case. At least two of Vowell's orders regarding service, either by accident or design, never reached us. That means I only learned about a supposed problem with service when I visited the Jefferson County Courthouse a few weeks back and happened to check our file on a public computer.

Service of a complaint should be relatively simple, but it can get tricky when you have a couple of defendants who happen to be lawyers and know how to avoid being served. That's the case with Cartwright and Armstrong, and it appears that Vowell is doing his best to help them get away with playing legal dodge ball.

How is the judge doing that? Well, he's claiming service has not been completed, when a simple check of the docket report shows that it has been completed. That's like being asked to read an eye chart that clearly says "H-O-R-S-E," only to have your optometrist claim it says "F-E-N-C-E."

Let me explain:

The service of process is covered under Rule 4 of the Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure (ARCP). The rule is long because it attempts to cover all sorts of potential scenarios and complications, but for most in-state cases, the procedure should go smoothly.

The No. 1 method for in-state service is for the plaintiff to pay a fee to have a sheriff's deputy deliver a copy of the summons and complaint to each defendant. That should take care of it. But with Cartwright and Armstrong, the deputy returned the material as undelivered.

Perhaps the No. 2 method for in-state service is to have the court designate a process server. We tried that method, and the server made multiple trips to the Armstrong and Cartwright homes, when they clearly were home, but service was refused.

That led us to Rule 4(e), which allows the clerk to send the summons and complaint by ordinary mail in cases where the designated server states that process has been refused. Rule 4(e) states: "Service shall be deemed complete when the fact of mailing is entered of record."

I delivered to the clerk on July 19 a copy of an alias summons, along with a signed statement from the server that process had been refused. The appropriate papers were stamped on that date, and a docket entry for July 19 states: "Clerk sent by regular mail to Darrell Cartwright" on one line, followed by "Clerk sent by regular mail to Allan Armstrong" on the next line.

Per Rule 4(e), "the fact of mailing" was "entered of record" on July 19, 2012--which is more than four months ago--and that means "service shall be deemed complete." And yet, I hold in my hand an order from Scott Vowell saying the case has been dismissed for "lack of service."

The dismissal is "without prejudice," which means the case can be reinstated--and you can rest assured that it will be. But why are we having to jump through such absurd hoops?

That question leads to this question: Is Scott Vowell really that incompetent or is he corrupt, intentionally ignoring simple rules in order to provide cover for a couple of rogue members of the legal tribe?

You probably can guess which answer to that question I would pick.

Following are documents related to service in this case. The first includes Judge Vowell's Order of Dismissal, plus papers that were filed to have service completed under Rule 4(e) ARCP. The second is a motion that includes an explanation of the facts and relevant law regarding service:


Cartwright Vowell Dismissal


Cartwright Default Judgment