How bad is it now? Former Alabama governor Don Siegelman -- whose case involved no bribery, was overseen by a corrupt judge who now is off the bench, and was brought almost one year after the statute of limitations had expired -- was denied a commutation by outgoing President Barack Obama. If our first black president does not care about gross violations of Siegelman's civil rights . . . well, high-level officialdom can't get much more knuckle-headed than that.
As a matter of fact and law, Siegelman never should have been in prison in the first place -- and neither should his co-defendant Richard Scrushy. Without question, it's the most outrageous political prosecution in U.S. history, but our first black president can look such injustice straight in the eye and ignore it? To borrow a phrase from a great Alabamian, Charles Barkley, that's "pitiful . . . pitiful."
On a more micro level, consider the case of Wetumpka physician Mark Hayden and his wealthy, connected uncle William B. Cashion. It provides a classic example that certain Alabama judges are more interested in playing "tough guy" with bogus orders than they are in upholding the law. That's a lesson I received from firsthand experience, and the Hayden case is driving it home once again.
Let's examine the words of Jefferson County Circuit Judge Michael Graffeo, who re-issued a writ of arrest for Hayden on January 4, less than two weeks after Hayden's release from a 25-day stay in the Jeffco Jail, based on a wholly civil matter -- with no allegations of a crime. (The order is embedded at the end of this post.) In his order, Graffeo adopted the "tough guy" rhetoric that seems popular with quite a few Alabama judges:
The court makes absolutely clear that no one -- Hayden, his counsel, his family, Plaintiff Cashion, Plaintiff's counsel, or anyone reading this order -- should doubt in any way this court's resolve and determination to enforce each and every order in this litigation's long and tortured history.
Graffeo sounds like Charles Bronson with a robe. He also sounds more than a little defensive about his orders. But notice what Graffeo does NOT say: He says absolutely nothing about upholding the law, making sure that his orders -- and orders issued by any other judge in the case -- reflect the actual law.
In the Hayden matter, we know Graffeo's most recent "tough guy" stance is built on a mountain of unlawful orders. In fact, the case has a "tortured history" largely because it has involved corrupt judges at every turn -- but Graffeo wants us to believe Hayden caused it.
Just a few peculiarities in the case:
* Original judge Robert Vance Jr. took the case when it was assigned to another judge and promptly made four key rulings in favor of Cashion. Those rulings, to a considerable degree, formed the basis for Hayden's arrest.
* Vance stayed on the case, even though he had accepted campaign donations from Cashion's law firm (Maynard Cooper and Gale) that far exceeded the limit set by Alabama law. In other words, Vance was required by law to recuse himself, but he refused to step down.
* Cashion's lawyers took steps to ensure the case would be heard in the Birmingham Division of the 10th Judicial Circuit, even though none of the parties lived or operated a business in the division. Proper venue almost certainly was Elmore County or Bessemer Division of the 10th Circuit, but Vance refused to let it go. Is that because his financial supporters at the Maynard Cooper firm wanted it under his control?
* Vance took the case under a Commercial Litigation Docket, which since has been discontinued and declared unconstitutional. Why is Hayden being held to orders that were issued under an unconstitutional legal scheme? I've yet to see any citations to law that explain that one.
The tendency of certain Alabama judges to adopt a tough-guy pose when issuing dubious orders is something I've seen before -- especially in the bogus defamation lawsuit that GOP thug Rob "Uday" Riley and lobbyist Liberty Duke filed against Legal Schnauzer and me. Retired judge Claud Neilson, hand-picked to hear the case by the Alabama Supreme Court and Riley Inc., sounded then much the way Graffeo sounds now. Here are Neilson's words -- actually they almost certainly were written by "Uday" Riley or one of the underlings at his so-called law firm:
In entering this Preliminary Injunction, the court is mindful that (the Shulers) have, as of the date of the hearing on the respective Preliminary Injunctions, not complied with the TRO (temporary restraining order). The court also is mindful that (the Shulers) re-published the libelous and defamatory statements about (Riley and Duke) on October 1, 2013. (The Shulers) are forewarned that the court will not tolerate non-compliance with its orders.
I'll be darned, there is that tough-guy language again, this time highlighted in yellow. But notice that Neilson (Riley?) says nothing about upholding the law. In fact, he indicates that he's so tough (corrupt?) that he's going to spit in the face of the law.
* Neilson mentions a TRO that is prohibited under roughly 200 years of First Amendment law;
* Neilson references a preliminary injunction that forms a "prior restraint," unlawful under 200 years or so of First Amendment law.
* Neilson indicates that he alone has determined statements in my blog are libelous and defamatory, even though decades of First Amendment law have held that such findings can only be made after a trial, before a jury. The law holds that a judge cannot act as a one-man censor, but that is exactly what Neilson did.
Are judges likely to resort to tough-guy language in a case where someone has been, or will be, unlawfully arrested? That's how it looks from here; both Hayden and I were arrested, with zero lawful justification for the contempt orders that led to our incarceration.
In both cases, the judges should have been warning the other party that the law and facts did not support what they were seeking -- and that they would be subject to sanctions for bringing baseless cases. But that would have meant standing up to white elites -- Rob Riley in my case; Cashion and his Maynard Cooper lawyers in Hayden's cases -- and Neilson and Graffeo don't have the "stones" to do that.
What's the lesson here: Our courts, all too often, serve the interests of the moneyed and the connected, with no consideration for justice or the written law. And that happens in Alabama's state and federal courts. I recently encountered a federal judge who does not even try to hide his corrupt actions. It's right there in plain site, as I soon will show in a series of posts. This guy should wind up in federal prison, but we operate in an "honor system" run by dishonorable people -- with a justice department that is wildly dysfunctional, and you can bet that will only get worse as Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions take charge today.
They probably don't see anything wrong with our justice because it works for them; it just doesn't work for you. And this is a bipartisan problem. Barack Obama accomplished a lot during his eight years in office, as Rachel Maddow eloquently outlined last night on her show. But he did almost nothing to improve the justice system. In fact, he's one of the guys who repeatedly forgot to "change the oil."
The Siegelman case cried out for presidential action. But Obama, inexplicably, denied Siegelman's application for pardon. That illustrates how bad the system has been under Obama, supposedly a constitutional scholar. One tries not to imagine how bad it will be under Trump, who is an admitted practitioner of federal-funds bribery.
If Alabama citizens are parties to a court case and receive tough-guy language about enforcement of orders, they can almost bet that the orders are not based on the actual law. Mike Graffeo is teaching us that lesson, just as Claud Neilson did earlier.