Tuesday, June 25, 2013
Federal Law Clerk Says, "This Conversation Is Over" When Confronted With Evidence of Glaring Conflict
How does the clerk for a federal judge respond when he's confronted with glaring evidence about a conflict of interest? Does he thank the citizen who pointed out the conflict and pledge that he will take steps to rectify the situation, ensuring that justice is done and the law is followed? Does he close the conversation by saying, "Thank you, come again"?
If the clerk in question is Michael David ("David") Waters Jr., who works for U.S. magistrate T. Michael Putnam in the Northern District of Alabama, he says, "This conversation is over" and hangs up on the citizen . . . twice. (View video at the end of this post.)
That's the response I got recently when I confronted Waters with evidence that he and Putnam had a clear conflict of interest in a case styled Carol Shuler v. Infinity Property & Casualty et al (2:11-cv-03443-TMP). That's the case where my wife--we know her here as Mrs. Schnauzer--is suing her former employer for discrimination, wrongful termination, and other torts.
So far, Putnam has overseen the case, but Mrs. S has filed a document stating that she does not consent to his jurisdiction as a magistrate. That means the case will have to be assigned to a district judge, although that has not happened yet.
Why would my wife have concerns about Putnam's office handling her case? Reason No. 1 involves Putnam's clerk, David Waters Jr. Young Mr. Waters, a 2010 graduate of the University of Alabama law school, happens to be the son of Michael David Waters Sr., a partner in the Birmingham office of the national Jones Walker law firm. Kary Bryant Wolfe, one of Waters Sr.'s associates at Jones Walker, is representing Birmingham debt-collection attorney Angie Ingram, one of the primary defendants in my wife's case.
Under 28 U.S. Code 455, a federal judge or magistrate must disqualify himself "in any proceeding where his impartiality might reasonably be questioned." Could Putnam's impartiality "reasonably be questioned" in my wife's lawsuit? Perhaps a better question: How could it not be?
Putnam's clerk is the son of a partner at a law firm that represents a key defendant in the case. As we noted in a recent post, the term "law clerk" might sound like it applies to someone who fetches coffee and does filing. But in reality, law clerks often write orders and opinions for federal judges; one of the legal professions' dirty secrets is that many judges don't do their own work, handing it over for clerks to write.
Is it possible that Michael David Waters Jr. is writing orders and opinions in my wife's lawsuit that benefit a client of his father's law firm? It sure as heck is. Even if that isn't happening, the possibility that it could be, requires Putnam's recusal--and he has not stepped down after presiding over the case for about 20 months.
When I contacted Waters Jr. by phone recently and confronted him with evidence of a conflict that clearly violates federal law, he was none too pleased. You can hear the exchange in the video below.
He admits that his father works at Jones Walker, which represents a defendant in the case, but he says there is no conflict and he had nothing to do with orders in the case. All of that, of course, is irrelevant under the law. As I try to explain that to Waters, and note that the conflict never was disclosed to my wife, he says, "This conversation is over" and hangs up.
(To be continued)
Previously in the series:
Judge Michael Putnam and Jones Walker Law Firm Try To Keep A Conflict Of Interest Under Wraps (June 18, 2013)