|Scott Vowell and Henry Lynn|
at Birmningham's Lyric Theatre
First, Sterne Agee and former Chairman/CEO James Holbrook Jr. are named in the 23-count indictment against Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn). Count 17 of the Hubbard indictment alleges that the speaker unlawfully solicited or received a $150,000 investment in his company, Craftmaster Printers, from Holbrook and/or Sterne Agee. Second, Holbrook is the subject of a federal investigation related to his "possible misuse of holding company assets," including airplanes, boats, hunting clubs, and condominiums. Third, evidence suggests that individuals connected to Sterne Agee might have played a role in bookend lawsuits, from Republican political operatives Rob Riley and Jessica Medeiros Garrison, that led to my unlawful five-month incarceration and a dubious foreclosure on our home.
How could Sterne Agee intersect with the Legal Schnauzer story? Well, it starts with an unusually close relationship between J. Scott Vowell, former presiding judge of Jefferson County, and Henry Lynn Jr., former chairman and current chairman emeritus at Sterne Agee. Lynn is one of the firm's longest serving employees. It also involves Birmingham attorney Bill Baxley, who has strong family ties to Sterne Agee and just happens to represent Garrison in her defamation lawsuit against me.
In fall 2013, I received tips from multiple sources that the nature of the Vowell-Lynn relationship was well known among members of the bar in Jefferson County, and it contributed greatly to the corruption that festered on Vowell's watch. Specifically, sources said, the Vowell-Lynn relationship was one reason hunting-club corruption was allowed to run rampant in Jefferson County's domestic-relations court. (Note that the federal investigation of Holbrook relates, in part, to hunting clubs connected to Sterne Agee.)
After retiring from the bench, Vowell helped start the firm of Vowell and Goldsmith, which focuses on alternative dispute resolution, mediation, arbitration, and private judging. Vowell's wife, Cameron McDonald Vowell, is part of the Spain family for which several buildings at UAB are named. Cameron Vowell long has been a booster and powerful player in UAB circles, and our sources say she, too, has a number of unusual relationships in the Birmingham area.
Based on tips from knowledgeable sources, I began to investigate the Vowell-Lynn story and called Henry Lynn at his Sterne Agee office on August 15, 2013. My line of questioning seemed to fluster Mr. Lynn, and he hung up on me several times. (I have audio of those conversations.) Within minutes after my aborted discussion with Henry Lynn, I checked my blog statistics site and noticed someone (or several someones) from Stern Agee poring over my blog.
|James Holbrook Jr. at Sterne Agee|
Why does this matter? Louis Baxley is Bill Baxley's son. And on August 16, 2013, one day after my conversation with Henry Lynn, I received my first communication from Bill Baxley, threatening to sue me on Jessica Medeiros Garrison's behalf. Baxley alleged that I had published defamatory information about Garrison's relationship with Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange, for whom she had served as campaign manager. Baxley issued a followup letter dated August 19, 2013, so he was in rapid-fire mode for some reason. (See Baxley's August 16 and August 19 letters at the end of this post.)
Let's follow a brief timeline of events:
August 15, 2013--I conduct an aborted phone interview with Henry Lynn, of Sterne Agee, regarding his relationship with Scott Vowell and its impact on Jefferson County Court corruption.
August 16, 2013--Bill Baxley writes a letter threatening to sue me over alleged defamation of Jessica Medeiros Garrison. Baxley's son, Louis Baxley, works at Sterne Agee.
August 19, 2013--Bill Baxley writes a second threatening letter regarding Jessica Garrison.
August 27, 2013--According to a report at Alabama Political Reporter, Garrison files a lawsuit against me on this date.
Was the Garrison lawsuit really about "defamation," or did Bill Baxley file it in retaliation for my inquiries regarding Henry Lynn, Scott and Cameron Vowell, and others connected with Sterne Agee? Was Sterne Agee a particularly sensitive topic because, as we now know, the firm is part of multiple criminal investigations?
For the record, I also was investigating, at about the same time, Jessica Garrison's business connections to Erik Davis Harp, a Tuscaloosa native who was indicted as one of two ringleaders in an offshore sports gambling ring. Based in Panama, the ring reportedly was bringing in $20 million a month and had ties to the Gambino and Genovese crime families before authorities in Queens, New York, stepped in. Was my reporting on that subject making powerful Alabama interests nervous? Do some of those interests have ties to Bill Baxley, and is that why he was assigned to file a lawsuit that, on its surface is about "defamation" of Jessica Garrison, but really is about something else?
A source told me in fall 2013 that my inquiry into the Erik David Harp case, and his ties to Jessica Garrison, was causing alarm among certain Alabama elites--and that continued research on the subject could put my physical well-being at risk. Exactly seven weeks after that warning, an Alabama deputy beat me up in my own home, doused me with pepper spray, and hauled me to the Shelby County Jail for a five-month stay--supposedly because of contempt of court related to Rob Riley's defamation lawsuit.
Deputy Chris Blevins showed no warrant that night, did not say he had a warrant, and did not state his reason for being on my property. A letter from Birmingham attorney David Gespass, after he had reviewed the sealed court file in the Riley case, indicates we had not been served with either the Riley complaint or summons at the time of my arrest. That means the court had no authority to hear the case or issue any orders against me--in fact, there officially was no lawsuit, which makes my arrest a kidnapping.
How could this happen in a society that supposedly is governed by the "rule of law"? We are getting close to some answers about that, but this much is certain: My investigation into Henry Lynn, the Vowells, and Sterne Agee--and Erik Davis Harp-- is continuing. Audio of my conversation with Henry Lynn, plus digital records in the immediate aftermath of those calls, strongly suggest powerful interests found my reporting on sensitive matters to be alarming and most unwelcome.
(To be continued)