|Judge Sibley Reynolds in his natural|
habitat: the Alabama hunting club
We had our share of bugs where I grew up in the Missouri Ozarks--plenty of June bugs, fireflies, mosquitoes, grasshoppers, moths, and roaches of modest size. But when I moved to Alabama, I quickly realized the state is populated with bizarre looking bugs I had never seen before--and some of them are so big they look like they could be used as military hardware. I've come to believe that you've probably never seen a real roach until you've lived in Alabama. We have roaches here that I swear could play left tackle for Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide.
But it wasn't until I had an experience in an Alabama courtroom, around 2000, that I became acquainted with the most dangerous insects in our otherwise lovely state. Judging from the mail I receive from readers, I'm not the only one to come in contact with "roaches wearing robes."
This form of insect, some call them "judges," tend to be particularly prevalent in central Alabama, although I feel certain they can be found in all corners of the state. Based on my communications with readers from coast to coast--from San Jose, California, to Weehawken, New Jersey; from St. Charles, Missouri, to St. Petersburg, Florida--"judicial roaches" can be found all over the country.
In many jurisdictions, judicial roaches roam freely because watchdog organizations are notoriously weak--and they tend to be manned by fellow lawyers, even former judges, who would rather provide cover for their corrupt brethren than flush them into the open. You probably are more likely to be struck by lightning than to see a corrupt judge held accountable. When judicial watchdogs do act, it's often with political, racial, or gender-based motives in mind.
What form do judicial roaches tend to take? Here in central Alabama, we are talking about crooked circuit judges like Sibley Reynolds in Chilton County; D. Al Crowson, G. Dan Reeves, H.L. "Sonny" Conwill, and Hub Harrington in Shelby County; and former domestic-relations judges R.A. "Sonny" Ferguson and John C. Calhoun in Jefferson County. We have learned that a healthy dose of Alabama's judicial corruption, especially in divorce courts, originates with hunting clubs, where judges and lawyers (mostly white and mostly male) gather to fix cases.
I've heard from dozens of Alabamians who have been on the receiving end of unlawful and abusive treatment from judicial roaches. In many cases, citizens filed complaints with the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission (JIC) only to receive form letters telling them that their cases would not even be investigated.
|Judge Sibley Reynolds (center) rocks|
out at an Alabama hunting club.
I'm sure it would be news to many central Alabamians that due process, as spelled out in the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, even applies here. It is news to me, after 12-plus years of appearing before various judicial roaches (both state and federal) in Shelby and Jefferson counties.
It certainly would be news to many citizens who have appeared before Sibley Reynolds in Chilton County. After all, he's the guy who unlawfully sentenced Clanton resident Bonnie Cahalane (Knox) Wyatt to five months in jail for failure to pay a property-related debt from dissolution of her marriage--even though Alabama law clearly states that a party cannot be subject to contempt or jail time under such circumstances.
The Wyatt case and the divorce case of Sherry Carroll Rollins, before Judge Al Crowson in Shelby County, probably rank as the two most notorious cases of injustice we've covered here at Legal Schnauzer--at least in the civil arena.
So why do Reynolds and Crowson seem to operate with impunity, while Dorothea Batiste lands in the JIC cross hairs? I've received e-mails from a number of readers who say they've had unpleasant experiences before Batiste, so perhaps she deserves scrutiny. But can she really be worse than Reynolds, Crowson, and their brethren? Is she on suspension mainly because she is black and female? Would she be protected if she took part in Alabama's hunting-club culture? I suspect the answer to both questions is yes.
What about the laughable language in the JIC complaint against Batiste--the words that suggest due process is taken seriously in central Alabama? The full complaint can be viewed at the end of this post, but here is the gist of it, from page 1:
This Complaint is based upon Judge Batiste's violation of the Alabama Canons of Judicial Ethics through her repeated failure in 2011 and 2012 to comply with both Alabama and federal law regarding her exercise of contempt power, and more specifically, her failure to comply with Rule 70A, Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure, Alabama case law, and the Due Process Clauses of the Alabama Constitution and the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, in a series of domestic relations cases in Jefferson County Circuit Court in which Judge Batiste entered unauthorized, unwarranted, and unlawful orders for the arrest and jailing or incarceration of litigants or witnesses.
Keep in mind that this is the same "watchdog group" that apparently has no problem with Sibley Reynolds throwing Bonnie Wyatt into the slammer for five months, contrary to black-letter Alabama law. It also is the same group that apparently has no problem with the court-ordered theft of Bonnie Wyatt's house; she has been forced to put her house up for sale, based on an alleged agreement that was reached while she was looking at a possible return to jail. Any agreement reached under such duress is legally void, but Ms. Wyatt's house currently is listed for sale with a RealtySouth agent named Amber Darnell. (See Claybrook v. Claybrook, Ala. Civ. App., 2010.)
Why is the JIC not concerned about that? Here is more from its complaint against Batiste, from pages 3 and 4:
Judge Batiste further violated state law in most of the subject cases by expressly providing in these writs of attachment that the contemnors could not be released on bond. With the exception of a limited group of persons arrested and charged with capital offenses, Section 16 of the Alabama Constitution guarantees the right to persons who are arrested to be released upon posting of bail set at a reasonable amount. See also Sullivan v. State, 939 So. 2d 58 at 64, n.4 (Ala. Civ. App., 2006): "A constructive-contempt proceeding is bondable."
Multiple sources have told me that Bonnie Wyatt never received the option of bond for the unlawful incarceration in her case. My review of the public record has revealed no signs that Judge Reynolds addressed the issue of bond.
|Judge Sibley Reynolds checks out the|
fret work at an Alabama hunting club.
Freedom from bodily restraint has always been at the core of the liberty protected by the Due Process Clause from arbitrary governmental action. Youngberg v. Romeo, 457 U.S. 307 . . . (1982). "It is clear that commitment for any purpose constitutes a significant deprivation of liberty that requires due process protection."
Where is the JIC's concern about "freedom from bodily restraint" in the Bonnie Wyatt case? Where is the concern about Judge Sibley Reynolds deprivation of Bonnie Wyatt's due process protection?
As photos interspersed throughout this post show, Judge Reynolds is deeply engaged in Alabama's hunting-club culture. Our sources say a number of the individuals with Reynolds in the hunting-club photos are lawyers who practice before the judge. (The photos come from a Web site for a hunting club called The Ridge Expedition. You can check out more photos here and here. Our understanding is that Alabama lawyer Cleveland Poole owns the property.)
Do those lawyers, and their clients, receive preferential treatment in court? Does Sibley Reynolds make any effort to avoid "the appearance of impropriety," as required by law?
If Dorothea Batiste is an abusive judge, she should be scrutinized. But there is no doubt that Sibley Reynolds and Al Crowson are abusive judges--along with any number of their white, male (and mostly Republican) brethren in central Alabama. Where is the scrutiny for them?