An Alabama blogger admits in an online forum that Birmingham attorney Bill Baxley hoodwinked him about our coverage of an extramarital affair involving Attorney General Luther Strange and former campaign aide Jessica Medeiros Garrison.
Rickey Stokes, editor of Dothan-based RickeyStokesNews.com (RSN), writes in a post dated August 17 that our reports at Legal Schnauzer on the Strange/Garrison affair are "highly questionable." Stokes said he reached that conclusion after conversations with two sources, one of whom Stokes said he "would trust with my life in his hands."
We noted in a post dated August 21 that Stokes likely fell victim to a Bill Baxley con job. What was the con? We stated that Baxley, a member of a prominent Dothan family, probably was the source for Stokes' post. We further stated that Baxley probably did not disclose that he represented Jessica Garrison and had sent two letters to me threatening a lawsuit on her behalf.
In a comment posted to wiregrasslive.com at 1:48 p.m. on September 1, Stokes confirms that our suspicions were right on target: Bill Baxley was the source of his post claiming our reporting was "highly questionable"--and Baxley did not disclose his personal stake in the matter, via his threatened lawsuit on Jessica Garrison's behalf. (See the full Stokes comment at the end of this post.)
Translation: Bill Baxley blew copious amounts of smoke up Rickey Stokes' anal cavity--and Stokes fell for it.
To my knowledge, Stokes is yet to print a retraction of a story that originated with a self-serving, ill-informed source. But Stokes did pipe up when a number of commenters at wiregrasslive.com questioned his reporting on the Strange/Garrison affair. Stokes provided background on how his post took life, and here is part of that explanation, with no editing on my part:
I have not read each post on this topic or Legal Schnauzer. I have read some of them. And yes as Catfish said I am at the lake. In fact I am sitting at boat ramp where I just unloaded my son and his friends into the river for them to take a river run towards Columbia.
As to the Dothan Baxley family contacting me about the article, the answer is NO. As to Bill Baxley and I having a telephone conversation over this matter, yes. My entire adult life I have known Bill and Wade Baxley. I started in 1977, just prior to my starting Baxley had been the District Attorney in Houston and Henry County. At the time, the political party you run on was Democrat, and Wade Baxley was Chairman of the Democractic Party in Houston County. Wade was also on the Houston County Personnel Board when I went to the and got a Cadet Deputy Sheriff Program started where you could get paid to work. I was a dispatcher with the Sheriff Department after school, worked 3 PM to 11 PM and was paid. So I have known them for years. My wife growing up lived next door to Bill and Lucy Baxley.
That relationship is what resulted in the phone call. And yes, after a conversation with Bill explaining some things to me, not that he was filing a lawsuit against anyone, but answering some questions, resulted in my article.
Another translation: When Baxley felt the need to discredit a journalist--in a case where the journalist's reporting is absolutely on target--he turned to a blogger from his hometown. Baxley probably figured that blogger would accept most everything he said at face value--and Stokes proved that Baxley was correct.
Bloggers are not real fond of admitting they were wrong--and they are even less fond of admitting they were conned. So I am not surprised that Rickey Stokes has failed to retract his bogus story. I'm guessing that Stokes feels chastened by the turn of events, and that seems apparent in his rambling, roundabout comment at wiregrasslive.com.
The bigger issue, in my view, involves the actions of Bill Baxley, who is a member of the bar and an "officer of the court." Let's consider a few questions that grow out of Baxley's behavior:
* If Baxley truly believes Jessica Garrison had no affair with Luther Strange, why was he deceptive about his connections to Ms. Garrison? Stokes makes it clear that Baxley did not tell him about his participation in a threatened lawsuit. This is less clear, but it appears that Baxley did not disclose to Stokes that he represented Garrison. We now know, for sure, that Bill Baxley was not fully up front with a blogger from his hometown. Why?
* If Baxley truly believes Jessica Garrison had no affair with Luther Strange, why did he not present Ms. Garrison for Stokes to interview? As a lawyer, political operative and former campaign manager, Jessica Garrison certainly has a voice. She has put herself in the public arena and made herself a statewide figure--and she is somewhat of a national figure via her role in the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA). Baxley could have said, "Hey Rickey, meet Jessica--and she would be glad to answer any questions you might have about her relationship with Luther Strange." Why didn't that happen?
* Baxley has leveled charges of defamation against me, but what about his own actions? What about Jessica Garrison's liability if she authorized Baxley's conversation with Rickey Stokes? What about Rickey Stokes' liability?
We don't know for sure what was said in the Baxley/Stokes discussion, but that can be revealed in the litigation process. It seems apparent, however, that Baxley claimed my reporting was inaccurate, unprofessional, and driven by malicious intent. Baxley did this while hiding some, or all, of his connection to Jessica Garrison. Stokes proceeded to write that it was "unfair" for me to "make up something that is not true."
What kind of liability might Mr. Baxley, Ms. Garrison, and Mr. Stokes have toward a journalist they have defamed?