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Monday, April 24, 2017

Ashley Madison customers revealed: Shawn Baker, of Blackwater Resources shopping-center development firm, appears at site for extramarital cheaters


Shawn and Sarah Vickery Baker
(From facebook.com)
A member of perhaps Birmingham's "first family" of shopping-center development appears as a paying member of the Ashley Madison (AM) extramarital-affairs Web site, records show.

Shawn D. Baker, a developer at Blackwater Resources, appears on the Alabama list for AM. Blackwater spun off from AIG Baker in 2010, as the latter's partnership with AIG cratered amid the Wall Street crash and the imploding Bush-era economy. Blackwater, headed by president and CEO Alex Baker, has its headquarters at 700 Montgomery Highway, while AIG Baker remains in business, based at The Village at Lee Branch, which it developed.

Based on the limited Alabama public records available to us here in Springfield, Missouri, it appears Shawn Baker is Alex Baker's son. And Alex Baker is one of the major figures in the history of shopping-center development in Alabama -- plus some 20 other states. From a bio of Alex Baker:

In 1993, Mr. Baker and AIG Global Real Estate Investment Corp. (AIG Global) founded AIG Baker, then A.B. Shopping Center Properties, Inc. Mr. Baker has served as President and CEO of the company since its founding. Mr. Baker previously held the office of CEO for Polar-BEK and Baker, which is the predecessor firm of AIG Baker. He has also served as Senior Vice President for Aronov Realty Company. Mr. Baker has twenty-five years experience in the real estate industry and has been responsible for the development of over 22,000,000 square feet of retail space.

Thanks largely to Alex Baker's history, it did not take Blackwater long to become a major player in the development game. From the company's Web site:

Blackwater Resources was formed in 2010 by former executives of AIG Baker Shopping Center Properties, L.L.C. During their real estate careers, the executives of Blackwater Resources, LLC developed, leased and managed in excess of 25 million square feet of property in 36 different states. Borrowing on the experience of these seasoned professionals and their unique perspective on the market, the company was founded on the principle of seeking solid investments, opportunities and partnerships that produce enduring value and relevance, firm relationship, and optimal returns and outcomes for all parties.

Upon its formation, the company immediately procured leasing and management opportunities for over 1.6 million square feet of retail property, including several properties Blackwater Resources executives originally developed. The properties include regional power centers, grocery-anchored shopping centers and neighborhood centers. It additionally added to its portfolio recreational and residential properties, and continues to add to its portfolio by actively seeking investment, development, brokerage and management opportunities.

What does Shawn Baker do? It appears he mostly rides daddy's coattails -- and those coattails apparently are strong enough that Shawn felt secure in screwing around on Ashley Madison, even though he's married and appears to have at least two children.


Shawn Baker is married to Sarah Vickery Baker, who describes herself on Facebook as "Research Associate in Child Development and Human Relations at Baker Household." Sounds like she focuses on the domestic front. They live in a house at 7061 North Highfield Drive in the exclusive Greystone section of Birmingham. According to Zillow, the house has an estimated value of $650,099.

Based on published reports, Blackwater Resources does not appear to be out of the financial woods. According to a 4/6/16 article at The Auburn Plainsman, Blackwater is planning a 700-space parking garage, a 30,000-square-foot urban grocery and a 90–130-room boutique hotel. But Susan Hunnicutt, public-relations officer for the grassroots organization Keep Auburn Lovely, questions whether the company can pull it off:

"Five years ago they had a real string of bankruptcy projects, all of which were shopping center developments throughout the Southeast," Hunnicutt said.

According to Blackwater's website, Chairman Alex Baker founded Blackwater Resources from a previous company, AIG Baker Shopping Center Properties, along with several other former executives from the company.

Blackwater was built from what was left of AIG Baker after several bankruptcy filings in 2009 and 2010 following the Great Recession and the collapse of its equity partner and backer, the American International Group Inc., or AIG.

After over a year of untangling, Baker separated his company from AIG in spring 2010, according to an AL.com article.

But that was not before AIG Baker nearly lost two shopping centers in the Birmingham area to foreclosure: the Patton Creek shopping center — which was later sold by AIG Baker to a Miami-based real estate developer — and the Vestavia Hills City Center shopping center, which was put into bankruptcy protection in 2010 to prevent foreclosure.

The Chapter 11 bankruptcy was filed after the principal holder of the debt, Huntsville's Propst Properties, attempted to foreclose on the property, according to the article.

Alex Baker's image has taken a blow, and that has followed him to his new firm. From The Plainsman:

Chapter 11 bankruptcy often forces debt holders to renegotiate and restructure the debt of the filer, according to the article.

"If he's going to run out on his employees and his lenders, he might have no qualms about running out on the City of Auburn," Hunnicutt said.

AIG Baker also put two more shopping center properties in Deptford, New Jersey, and another called Fallschase in Tallahassee, Florida, into Chapter 11 Bankruptcy, according to public records.

The predecessor to Blackwater Resources lost one of its largest properties, The Wharf in Orange Beach, Alabama, after defaulting on a loan with JP Morgan Chase Bank, according to public records.

"Once that land is gone, they can sell it to any New York or out-of-state real estate development trust," Hunnicutt said. "Those guys, they're not going to care about what's going on in Auburn. They'll put anything they want to as long as it makes money for their line-item on their investment spreadsheet."

With the family business struggling to gain footing on rocky ground, you might think Shawn Baker would be too focused on financial matters to step in personal doo-doo. But he wound up fooling around on Ashley Madison, and one can only wonder how he was stupid enough to do that.

We sought comment from Shawn Baker for this article, but he has not responded to our queries.


Previously:

Article with links to 1-20 in Ashley Madison series

(21) Craig Oliver, attorney, Springfield, MO (1/24/17)

(22) Craig Lowell, attorney, Wiggins Childs, Birmingham (1/26/17)

(23) Thomas Mancuso, tax attorney, Montgomery, AL (2/16/17)

(24) Nicholas Arciniegas, attorney, Washington, D.C. (2/21/17)

(25) Griffin McGahey, vice president, High Cotton USA, Birmingham (3/16/17)

(26) Matthew Couch, attorney, Cabaniss Johnson, Birmingham (3/23/17)

(27) Dr. Keron Vickers, chiropractor, Birmingham (4/4/17)

(28) D. Paterson Cope, president, wealth management, Birmingham (4/20/17)


Document suggests Lt. Christian Conrad was the Missouri deputy who brutalized my wife and broke her arm, but our research leaves some doubt about that


Christian Conrad
(From ozarksfirst.com)
Was Lt. Christian Conrad the Missouri deputy who brutalized my wife, Carol, and yanked so violently on her limbs that he shattered her left arm -- all during an eviction on Sept. 9, 2015, that was unlawful on at least four grounds?

A Probable Cause (PC) Statement from Deputy Debi Wade, which was used to bring bogus "cover charges" against Carol, suggests Conrad used such force against Carol that her broken arm required trauma surgery for repair. Given all the inaccurate information in Wade's PC Statement, we're not ready to take her Conrad information to the bank. Plus, we've found photos in the press of Conrad, and we are not sure he's the same guy who assaulted Carol and broke her arm.

That raises this question: Was someone, not named in Wade's PC Statement, actually responsible for Carol's injuries? Is the Greene County Sheriff's Office (GCSO) trying to protect someone, perhaps because he occupies a relatively high position in the department's chain of command?

We don't have answers to those questions at the moment, but we do have this, from the last sentence of Wade's PC Statement. This comes right after Wade had described her fantasy of Carol "barreling" into her and causing her to lose her balance. I was a witness to the event, and nothing like that happened. But something like the following did happen:

At this time, both Lt. Conrad and Deputy Harrison came in from either side to secure Carol's arms and place her in handcuffs.

This, and the preceding sentences, are peculiar for a number of reasons:

(1) Wade conveniently leaves out that one of the officers slammed Carol, butt-first, to the ground so violently that it likely caused (or added to) a concussion;

X-ray of Carol Shuler's broken arm

(2) Wade fails to mention that, upon bursting into our apartment, officers threw open the door, causing Carol to be slammed head-first against a wall. While putting handcuffs on her then, one or more officers banged her head against the wall multiple times. She might have sustained a concussion then, with the body slam outside, adding to it. But Wade claims Carol was the perpetrator of an assault, not the victim of one. Is it any wonder many people have zero trust in law-enforcement?

(3) Lt. Conrad doesn't have a first name, based on Wade's account. Every other person she mentions -- other than the "adviser," who has no name at all -- has both a first and last name. Why is Lt. Conrad's first name left out?

Wade does get one thing right in her PC statement: Carol's encounter with the cop thugs ended with her surrounded by three officers -- Wade, Scott Harrison, and (maybe) Christian Conrad. Here's our rundown on these three "public servants":

* Wade was the only female officer on the scene, we've run her photo several times, and we know she did not body slam Carol and break her arm;

* Harrison is the guy who apparently concocted the scenario that I had called 911 to threaten any cops who might try to evict us. He also was the one who, upon bursting into our apartment, pointed an assault rifle right at my head. He was the one who, after Carol had been placed in handcuffs (broken arm and all), drove her to the county jail. He was the one who, once someone at the jail noticed Carol was in agonizing pain, drove her to nearby Cox North Medical Center, where X-rays showed the bone in her upper left arm had been snapped in two, just above the elbow. Finally, Harrison gave Carol his card and said he was releasing her. That's how we know Harrison has sandy/reddish hair, and while he did bend down to help put her in handcuffs, he did not body slam her and yank on her arms.

Scott Harrison
(From facebook.com)
(Note: Harrison is a lying sack of feces. While Carol was in jail, he told her that he had heard the mythical 911, and it had been traced to our phone and our residence. That's impossible because Carol and I are the only ones who used our phone, and neither of us made such a call. I look forward to Harrison's response when he and his department are ordered to turn over tapes of said 911 call and any documents related to it.)

* Via Web research, we learned the GCSO has a Christian Conrad, apparently the only "Lt. Conrad" in the outfit. He is in the Springfield-area news fairly frequently. (See here, here, here, and here.) In every image we've found of Conrad, he is wearing a hat. The officer who broke Carol's arm was not wearing a hat that day, but he was wearing dark/reflective sunglasses, which made it impossible to see his eyes.

Bottom line: Conrad might be the guy who brutalized Carol, but we aren't 100 percent sure about that. We are dealing here with a thoroughly corrupt department, so it would not beyond them to put Conrad out as a straw man to protect a higher-ranking officer. We will need extensive discovery to sort all of that out.

The following is from Carol's Motion to Dismiss, which (with the PC Statement) is embedded at the end of this post:

Who is the real criminal here, the one who really did assault someone. It’s the unknown male officer who brutalized Carol. In the last sentence of her PC Statement, Wade mentions a “Lt. Conrad” and “Deputy Harrison,” who “came in from either side to secure Carol’s arms and place her in handcuffs. (“Secure” her arms? That must be copspeak for breaking someone’s arm.) The Shulers know Harrison has sandy/redish air, and he was not the one who yanked on Carol’s arm. Based on Wade’s fantastic version of events, that leaves only Lt. Conrad.

Published reports show a Christian Conrad with the GCSO. Is he the one who broke Carol’s arm? The Shulers aren’t certain. Conrad is wearing a hat in all the photos the Shulers have seen. The guy who broke Carol’s arm was not wearing a hat, but he was wearing sunglasses (ones that either were real dark or reflective; you could not see his eyes) and a light blue shirt. (Other officers were wearing black uniforms or civilian clothes.) At this point, it’s unclear to the Shulers if the officer was Conrad or someone else, perhaps someone Debi Wade has been told to protect in her PC Statement.







Thursday, April 20, 2017

Ashley Madison customers revealed: Head of D. Paterson Cope Wealth Management apparently checks out the wares on extramarital-affairs Web site


D. Paterson and Jennifer Miree Cope
(From facebook.com)
A Birmingham wealth manager who is pretty darned wealthy himself -- he lives in a Mountain Brook house with an appraised value of $755,000 -- appears as a paying customer at the Ashley Madison (AM) extramarital-affairs Web site, records show.

D. Paterson Cope heads a wealth-management firm that bears his name and is located on Cahaba Road, just off Highway 280 and near Colonial Brookwood Village. Quite a few wealthy Over-the-Mountain types apparently trust D. Paterson Cope Wealth Management with their money.

Should Jennifer Miree Cope, the money man's wife and mother of his two sons, trust him? Publicly available records from AM indicate the answer is no.

How does D. Paterson Cope Wealth Management help the rich get richer? He's a certified financial planner, by golly -- and he goes to church, tool! From the firm's Web site:

Pat has been providing comprehensive financial planning for his clients for more than 30 years. He has expertise in customizing financial plans designed to manage and preserve wealth consistently over the long term. He has earned the professional designation of Certified Financial Planner™ practitioner.

By being certified by the CFP® Board, Pat has taken the extra step to demonstrate his professionalism by voluntarily submitting to the rigorous CFP® certification process that includes highly demanding education, examination, experience and ethical requirements.

Pat is a graduate of the University of Alabama and a member of the Independent Presbyterian Church. Originally from Montgomery, he lives in Mountain Brook with his wife, Jennifer. They have two sons, Bobby and Charlie.

Here is more about Cope from his Facebook page:

D. Paterson Cope is a CFP and has had a great career as a financial consultant. His primarily focus has always been on Comprehensive Financial Planning. He is originally from Montgomery, Alabama and he graduated from the University of Alabama. When it comes to his career achievements, then he attained CFP designation in 1997. He always loves to provide financial consultancy, and he loves his career as a financial planner and consultant.

When it comes to his professional career, then there are a countless number of great events, and he has over 30 years of experience in the field. He has served approximately 45 families, and he is planning to serve 60 families, and that is the point when he will stop taking clients. At a glance, his professional career was a total success. D. Paterson Cope has over 30 years of experience in the brokerage industry, and he opened his practice in May of 2015. Before that, he spent over 20 years as First Vice President for Morgan Keegan and its successor, Raymond James.

He has a lot of work experiences, and presently, he is broker-dealer at Prospera Financial Services, and he is also an independent contractor with them and his own company named D. Paterson Cope Wealth Management.

That's some interesting information highlighted in yellow. Cope made his rep mainly from working for Morgan Keegan and Raymond James before striking out on his own in 2015. And get this: He has made enough to live in a house that probably would sell for close to $1 million, and yet he's only served 45 families -- with a goal of reaching 60 families, and that's the cut-off point.

I'm guessing D. Paterson Cope is a millionaire, maybe several times over, and he did it by handling the money for only 45 families. Who knew you could do that? I sure didn't. Something tells me Mr. Cope is highly selective about who he represents. I'm guessing Mrs. Schnauzer and I would not qualify. (In fact, Cope probably would take one look at our financial statements and spew water across the room; he might also break into an hours-long laughing fit.) I'm guessing most of our readers wouldn't qualify for Mr. Cope's services either.

Here is more professional and personal info about our financial hero, from Facebook:

D. Paterson Cope also worked with multiple giants of the financial world, and the few names included Lehman Brothers INC. New York, NY, the Robinson-Humphrey Company INC. Atlanta, GA, and J.C. Bradford & Co. New York, NY. He also has multiple certifications and state registrations. He has passed State Securities Law Exam and General Industry/Products Exam. He has multiple Licenses, and state registrations include Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia.

When it comes to the personal life of D. Paterson Cope, then he loves to spend time with his family. He is married to Jennifer Miree Cope, and he has two sons, Charlie and Bobby. They both are on their educational path and studying in different universities. He is also an active member of Independent Presbyterian Church. He also loves to read about the politics, and he is an avid sports fan as well.

Hmm, let's see: He loves to spend time with his family? The AM records suggest he's trying to spend time with a member of someone else's family. He loves to read about politics? Maybe he favors a certain political party. As a big-time financial planner who focuses on Birmingham's uber wealthy, I can't imagine which party that would be. And he's an avid sports fan? Is trolling for tail on Ashley Madison considered a sport now?

Here is the Facebook page for Jennifer Miree Cope, filled with family pictures and such. I'm guessing she has no idea about the "sports" her hubby engages in when he isn't trying to find new tax shelters for Mountain Brook elites.

We sought comment from D. Paterson Cope for this post, but he has not responded to our queries.

Previously:

Article with links to 1-20 in Ashley Madison series

(21) Craig Oliver, attorney, Springfield, MO (1/24/17)

(22) Craig Lowell, attorney, Wiggins Childs, Birmingham (1/26/17)

(23) Thomas Mancuso, tax attorney, Montgomery, AL (2/16/17)

(24) Nicholas Arciniegas, attorney, Washington, D.C. (2/21/17)

(25) Griffin McGahey, vice president, High Cotton USA, Birmingham (3/16/17)

(26) Matthew Couch, attorney, Cabaniss Johnson, Birmingham (3/23/17)

(27) Dr. Keron Vickers, chiropractor, Birmingham (4/4/17)


Missouri deputy claims in probable cause statement that I threatened to shoot any officers who might evict us -- but gives no clue about origins of that claim


Deputy Debi Wade
A Missouri deputy claims in a Probable Cause (PC) Statement that I had threatened to shoot any officer that attempted to evict my wife, Carol, and me. How did Deputy Debi Wade know that when you consider that I've never spoken with her, and prior to our eviction on Sept. 9, 2015, I had never spoken with anyone from the Greene County Sheriff's Office?

Maybe Wade was advised of this "fact" by the same unnamed party -- we've called him a ghost, an entity from the spirit world -- who advised her that my wife, Carol, had pushed Deputy Jeremy Lynn as he burst into our apartment to begin an eviction that was unlawful on at least four grounds.

Either way, Wade's statement raises the specter of a mythical 911 call, which I never made, but it keeps popping up in this matter anyway.

Wade's PC Statement was the basis for Carol's arrest in January on charges of trespass and assault of a law enforcement officer. Wade's account of actions regarding Carol are mostly fantasy and don't even make sense. But the deputy was not content to stop there; she also had to make false statements about me.

That raises more questions about Wade's credibility than already were present -- and it means I might have grounds for civil claims against her -- and anyone else responsible for perpetuating the myth of a 911 call. This is from Wade's PC Statement:

We were there to execute on an eviction for Roger Shuler at this address. After the initial service, Shuler made threats to shoot any officer that attempted to evict him from his residence, so we took more officer than normal to execute on the writ.

Notice that Wade seemingly pulls this statement out of the sky, from the ether, if you will. It isn't attributed to anyone, but she states it as fact, in a sworn document that plainly shows false statements are "punishable by law." A few obvious questions:

* The only way Wade could accurately testify about such a statement would be if I made it directly to her. But I didn't, and she makes no attempt to claim I did. So where did it come from?

* Is Wade claiming I said this to another officer, who then "advised" her on the matter? If so, that would be both false and hearsay?

* Is Wade saying a third party claimed to have heard me make such a statement and passed word to deputies or other authorities? Again, this would be both false and hearsay. I don't claim to be an expert on the law in this area, but I would think the lawful definition of a threat would require that the statement be communicated directly to the person or entity being threatened. If a third party -- a "friend," family member, a bus boy at a restaurant -- claims to have heard something . . . well, that does not seem to constitute a threat; it's just hearsay. In this instance, the sheriff's department took no action to investigate, never checked with me about anything, indicating they knew there was no threat or they didn't take it seriously.

As for a third party reporting such a "threat," they might be at risk of a civil claim for defamation or invasion of privacy -- or both.

We touched on the threat issue in Carol's Motion to Dismiss Charges, filed on March 14. (The motion and the PC statement are embedded at the end of this post.)

Roger Shuler states as follows: “Prior to 9/9/15, I never had been in Debi Wade’s presence, so she could not have heard such a statement from me. I’ve never owned a firearm and have no recollection of ever threatening to unlawfully shoot anyone, much less an officer. In the days leading to our eviction date, I received an email from my brother, David Shuler, a lawyer in Springfield. He stated that a Deputy Scott Harrison had contacted him and said dispatch informed him that I had placed a call to 911 and threatened to shoot anyone who tried to evict us, or words to that effect. On 9/9/15, after I had been handcuffed and led outside, several officers referenced such a 911 call. I’ve never called 911 in my life, and I certainly did not place such a call, as described by David Shuler to me. If such a call actually was made to 911, it was made by someone else, from a phone other than the one Carol and I share. I would be glad to provide an affidavit on this matter, if the court deems that necessary.”

There is the mythical 911 call again. That is where my alleged threat supposedly originated. But I never made a 911 call, and Debi Wade makes no claim that I did.

Do I have a defamation claim against Debi Wade -- and anyone else who contributed to publication of information about a threat I did not make? I'm studying Missouri law on that issue now, but I've found case law that indicates the answer is yes. In some circumstances, testimony related to court proceedings is privileged and cannot be the basis of a defamation claim. But a probable cause statement is not the same as court testimony or statements made in court documents.

Wade's statements are particularly dubious since they were made about someone who was not the subject of the PC statement. Cops were seeking to bring bogus charges against Carol, so there was no reason to mention me at all. The PC statement says I did nothing wrong during the eviction, and the only wrongful conduct alleged against Carol came from Debi Wade's fertile imagination.

We will continue our research, but I suspect Debi Wade has left herself open to a defamation charge -- as has anyone who passed false information along to her.








Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Photographer catches mystery woman Patti Austin and "Luv Guv" Bentley taking in the festivities at Donald Trump Inauguration in D.C., with "Drinking Guy"


"Luv Guv" Bentley and Patti Austin
(From Inside Alabama Politics)
We recently reported on Patti Jackson Austin, the Baldwin County real-estate agent and "mystery woman" who accompanied former Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley on a state airplane to the Trump Inauguration in January. Now, we have photographic evidence that Ms. Austin and the "Luv Guv" were mighty chummy while in Washington, D.C.

Unlike John Archibald of al.com, we don't take credit for breaking stories that others actually broke. On the Austin story, we were the first to identify her as Bentley's "guest" -- so I guess we deserve partial credit for breaking it. But we were not the first to report on the gist of the story. And we certainly were not the first to provide photographic evidence of the pair at a Washington gala.

That honor belongs to Inside Alabama Politics (IAP), the venerable subscription-based newsletter that has been dishing dirt and landing scoops on state politics for years. As you can see from images above and below, the nosy folks at IAP (I like nosy folks) landed proof that Bentley had a lovely guest on his arm. And it wasn't Rebekah Caldwell Mason -- although she and husband Jon also were on the state plane, and surely were in the immediate vicinity when these photos were snapped.

Here is one problem with the photos: A guy who seems to have a serious drinking problem is caught guzzling beer in both shots. We don't know if this was an intentional "photo bomb" or he just happens to be the "Forrest Gump of the Washington social scene."

Either way, the photo at top catches Ms. Austin looking back over Bentley's right shoulder toward the photographer. One senses that she is not thrilled to see a photographer nearby. One also senses the photographer is trying to take the snaps on the down low, perhaps explaining why he didn't tell "Drinking Guy" to get the hell out of the way.

Austin, Bentley, and "Drinking Guy"
From Inside Alabama Politics
In the second photo, Ms. Austin barely can be seen behind Bentley's left shoulder. It's as if she's doing her best to hide from the photographer. Meanwhile, "Drinking Guy" is in the foreground, apparently determined to wind up in a gutter by 2 a.m. (Maybe he's a liberal who was trying to get blotto in an effort to forget who was being inaugurated; can't blame him there.)

Here is the IAP news item that accompanied the photographs:

Last week Inside Alabama Politics broke the story Governor Robert Bentley had a date accompany him to Washington D.C. for the inauguration festivities of President Donald Trump. Also along on the flight to D.C. was the Governor’s 44-year-old alleged mistress Rebekah Mason and her husband Jon. When questioned by the media Bentley has only referred to his mystery date as an unnamed special guest and has declined to release her name. IAP has since learned she is a 54-year-old real estate agent from Orange Beach, we have decided not to identify her by name. She is pictured below (looking strikingly similar to Rebekah) at one of the inaugural parties with the Governor along with an unknown beer guzzling photo bomber.

What's with this idea of not identifying Ms. Austin, by name? IAP obviously knew who she was, name and all. What's the fun in not naming her?

We have to consider that a journalistic fumble on IAP's part, so we were happy to pick up the loose ball and run with it. But we give props to our colleagues for being the first to get the general story out there -- especially with photos.

For now, we only can hope someone has helped lift "Drinking Guy" out of the gutter.

Neil Gorsuch shows that judges' primary interest is to side with their colleagues, and Judge Virginia Emerson Hopkins is exhibiting such behavior in Alabama now


Virginia Emerson Hopkins
(From al.com)
Trump SCOTUS appointee Neil Gorsuch stated during his confirmation hearings that he had participated in 2,700 appellate cases, and 97 percent of those resulted in unanimous rulings. “I was in the majority in 99% of the cases,” he added.

Gorsuch meant this to sound good. But a leading judicial critic says it actually is bad for the public, "Gorsuch values getting along with his 'brothers and sisters in the robe' higher than getting justice done," says Dr. Richard Cordero, Esq., founder and director of New York-based Judicial Discipline Reform (JDR). The Web site is described as "A study of judges' unaccountability and consequent riskless wrongdoing; how to expose it and bring about judicial reform."

We now are seeing behavior in the Northern District of Alabama that suggests Cordero is on target -- and the self-protective behavior he describes goes way beyond the 10th Circuit, where Neil Gorsuch once resided.

Consider what has happened in our "House Case," involving wrongful foreclosure on our home of 25 years in Birmingham, multiple constitutional violations, and state-law claims such as defamation and tortious interference. District Judge R. David Proctor, with documented and long-standing ties to perjurious Trump Attorney General Jeff Sessions, summarily dismissed our case (meaning no discovery was conducted) in a memorandum opinion that includes violations of black-letter law on roughly a dozen key issues. Proctor's ruling, at least for now, has given a free pass to a number of Alabama's right-wing political operatives, several of them, like Proctor, closely tied to Sessions -- plus a number of deep-pocketed corporate entities, including Chase Mortgage and Hearst Corporation.

After issuing his dismissal order, Proctor admitted that he had a conflict. (One of his sons had worked for new U.S. Senator Luther Strange, a defendant in the case; the same son also had worked for Sessions, the man Strange replaced.)  But Proctor claimed, contrary to available evidence, that the conflict arose only after he had dismissed our case.

"The House Case," a term we use to distinguish it from "The Jail Case" (re: my wrongful arrest and five-month incarceration in Shelby County, Alabama, because of my reporting on uncomfortable truths about the state's GOP political machine), wound up in the lap of a Proctor colleague, U.S. District Judge Virginia Emerson Hopkins.

In the few weeks she's had the case, Hopkins has proven to be a female version of Neil Gorsuch -- her interests clearly are in protecting R. David Proctor, and they have nothing to do with justice. We had filed a Rule 59 Motion to Alter or Amend Proctor's dismissal, and Hopkins dismissed it with virtually no explanation. We filed a Rule 60 Motion to Vacate Proctor's orders because evidence shows he had conflicts that disqualified him from hearing our case, from the outset. Hopkins dismissed that, with a ruling that was as sloppy as it was void of any legal reasoning.

How alarming is this judicial back-scratching behavior? How does it harm the public? Dr. Richard Cordero answers those questions, and much more, with a recent article titled "How Judge Neil Gorsuch and his peers dismiss 99.83% of complaints against them and dispose of 93% of appeals with reasonless decisions." (The full article can be read via a link at the end of this post; also, Cordero participated in a 2015 international symposium on justice issues, and a related video can be viewed at the end of this post.)

Dr. Richard Cordero
(From linkedin.com)
Gorsuch, Cordero writes, confirms Administrative Office of U.S. Courts (AO) statistics "that show that circuit judges dispose of 93% of appeals in decisions “on procedural grounds [e.g., “for lack of jurisdiction or jurisdictional defect”], by consolidation, unsigned, unpublished, without comment.”

We've experienced this in the Eleventh Circuit, where both "The House Case" and "The Jail Case" are pending on appeal. We've also experienced what tends to happen with cases that wind up in appellate courts. Writes Cordero:

The majority of these decisions are reasonless, fiat-like summary orders. They fit the front side of a 5¢ form, with one rubber stamped operative word, mostly ‘the decision below is Affirmed or the motion is Denied’. They express the morphed judges’ pro-forma justice: 'However things were, we leave them so. Next!'

The rest of those 93% decisions have an opinion so arbitrary, ad-hoc to reach a convenient result, or unlawful that they may not be relied upon in other cases; so they too are marked “not-precedential,” which is anathema to our system of common law based on precedent. Only the remaining 7% of decisions are signed, published, and intended to pass the scrutiny of the media, be discussed in law journals, and included in law school casebooks to establish the author’s reputation.

How does this affect human beings, especially those parties who go before the courts without being connected to corporate, institutional, or other moneyed/powerful interests? They get cheated -- and many of them probably don't even know it. Writes Cordero, of Gorsuch's behavior on the bench:

What criteria does Gorsuch use to treat parties so unequally: dumping their appeals with a meaningless decision or sweating it out on a meaningful one?

In fact, he also bragged that in 99% of his cases he had been in the majority. This means that in only 1% of them he felt so strongly about the issues or the parties to go to the trouble of dissenting, thus being in the minority. Nevertheless, he remained a typical judge within the norm, for the 2% of cases where it was one of the other two panel members who dissented can be distributed equally by allocating 1% to each of them.

For him and his peers getting along with each other and taking it easy with 93% of appeals are more appealing attitudes than a principled discharge of their duty. The latter requires reading the briefs, doing legal research, and coming to the panel conference prepared to advocate “a result compelled by the law”, which he said a good judge pursues.

No wonder he shied away from the exacting and socially lethal action of denouncing any of his peers or even protesting publicly their systematic dismissal of complaints against them, which would have entailed a lot of controversy and led to his peers outcasting him as a traitor.

The U.S. Senate proceedings that led to Gorsuch being seated on the nation's highest court mostly involved philosophical questions that the nominee neatly sidestepped. Senators asked almost nothing about "back scratching" issues that rob the public of judges' honest services. Writes Cordero:

The Senate’s debate should concentrate on the pro-forma justice that Gorsuch and his friends provide to parties and the rest of We the People.

So the question for the senators to ask before voting on Gorsuch is not whether what got under his skin in that 1% of cases in which he stood up for something other than his camaraderie with his peers was a big corporation or a little guy.

Rather, it is how he could claim commitment to rule of law results, never mind integrity, although during the past 11.5 years on the bench he has seen his peers dismiss on average one complaint a week of those 573 against them, but has simply looked the other way or even joined the other bullies in abusing their judicial power to silence complainants by resorting to false pretenses to dump their complaints.

Why did he tolerate, or participate in, the cheating of parties out of the meaningful appellate service to which their payment of the filing fee entitled them contractually?

By ensuring his and his peers’ unaccountability, they have abused their independence to provide themselves an irresistibly tempting and impenetrable cover for their riskless wrongdoing.

Close to home, here are the questions: Were we deprived of Judge Proctor's "honest services"? Absolutely. Is Judge Hopkins covering for her colleague's corrupt actions, with no regard for justice? There is no doubt about it.

We will show you in upcoming posts exactly how she is doing it.


(To be continued)


Full article: How Judge Neil Gorsuch and his peers dismiss 99.83% of complaints against them and dispose of 93% of appeals with reasonless decisions



Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Paul Alan Levy, lawyer who works for Ralph Nader's nonprofit, helps violate my attorney-client confidentiality and proves to be a monumental asshole


Paul Alan Levy
(From rcfp.org)
Less than 24 hours after my release from jail in March 2014, I began to see signs that Birmingham lawyer David Gespass had violated attorney-client confidentiality -- and stabbed me in the back, in the process.

On March 27, 2014, the day after my release the previous evening, I sent an e-mail to Paul Alan Levy, a lawyer with Public Citizen, a D.C.-based nonprofit founded by Ralph Nader, with the stated purpose of helping regular citizens fight injustice brought by the wealthy and the powerful. It took only a few minutes for Levy to prove to me that he didn't stand for anything upon which Nader had built the organization. Here was my introductory e-mail to Levy, which I thought was lucid and well stated for someone who had just spent five months unlawfully incarcerated in the Shelby County Jail:

Mr. Levy:

I am a journalist/blogger in Alabama, and I was released from jail yesterday after being incarcerated for five months because of a preliminary injunction in a defamation case. It's all very similar to Dietz v. Perez, and I thought it might be of interest to you. I need legal representation and wanted to see if we could talk. My case has been widely covered in the NY Times, Al Jazeera, Huffington Post and many other news outlets, and even right-wing commenters seem to acknowledge that the injunction without a trial (in fact, without any discovery at all) is wildly unconstitutional.

I would appreciate any insights or guidance you can offer.

Best regards,

Roger Shuler

I thought I showed Levy plenty of respect. Did he return the favor? Not exactly, although he did take only 21 minutes to respond:

From what you say, you must be the guy who was enjoined and simply refused to comply with the injunction, and, from what I have heard from others, you were also too pigheaded to accept sound advice. Not a very attractive client for pro bono work!

In any event, we don’t handle defamation cases on the merits at the trial court level, so perhaps it depends what representation you are seeking.

As I noted in our previous post in this series, Levy came across as one of the biggest assholes I've ever encountered. You can see how I reached that conclusion. His "I have heard from others you were also too pigheaded to accept sound advice" was particularly interesting. He seemed to be referring to legal advice, and the only person who had given me legal advice regarding my incarceration was David Gespass.

Levy was not done being an ass. Here is how our conversation continued, with a response from me:

Thanks for your response. I don't think some of your assertions are correct, but I appreciate you getting back with me.

I decided I probably was showing Levy way more respect than he deserved, so I followed up:

Paul:

A few thoughts come to mind that might be worth making:

* My wife and I never were served with the temporary restraining order, and a lawyer who has seen the file indicated to me the record shows that. It's hard for me to know because the record was sealed until well after my arrest.

* We received notice of the preliminary injunction hearing barely 24 hours before it was to be held. That is insufficient notice under Alabama law, which contemplates notice that allows for calling of witnesses, introduction of evidence, etc.

* I challenged service, which seemed to be the first order of business considering that we received papers during a dubious traffic stop. I was arrested before receiving an order on the motion to quash and before having an opportunity to address the preliminary injunction.

* I assume you are referring to advice I received while in jail, just a few days after being arrested, beaten, and maced in my own home. I hope you can appreciate that meeting with an attorney under such circumstances is difficult. It also was difficult for the attorney. The file was sealed, so he had virtually nothing to review and had to go to the other side to get court papers. Everyone who has seriously looked at the case, from all political sides, seems to agree that the preliminary injunction is unconstitutional, so I was having to seek advice while unlawfully incarcerated. Imagine if Ms. Perez had been hauled into jail, and you'd had to meet with her under those circumstances. It probably would have complicated things for both of you. In my case, I think it's more a matter of being traumatized than being pigheaded.

* Finally, all the evidence I've seen indicates I was arrested on an unsigned warrant. It appears such a warrant is "utterly void" under Alabama law. From Kelley v. State, 316 So. 2d 233 (1975):

Often rules relating to arrest warrants parallel those applying to searches and vice versa. Significantly unsigned arrest warrants have been held void. Oates v. Bullock, 136 Ala. 537, 33 So. 835 (warrant utterly void).

Again, I shouldn't have been having to discuss complex, constitutional issues with a lawyer while incarcerated. It makes for a very uneven playing field. Hope you will find these thoughts worth considering.

Best regards, 
Roger

How did Levy respond to that? With absolute silence. You will notice, however, that he did not deny he was referring to legal advice I received in jail, which could only have come from David Gespass. Levy appeared to be acknowledging that my right to client-confidentiality had been violated.

That was the end of that exchange, but Paul Alan Levy and I were not finished with each other. I had occasion to communicate with him one other time -- and he proved to be as big an asshole the second time as he was the first time.


(To be continued)

Robert Bentley's claim that Paul Bryant Jr. was "using" him suggests the Crimson Tide football boss was connected to the scandal that brought down a governor


Paul Bryant Jr.
(From Bloomberg Markets)
An oblique reference to Paul Bryant Jr. in an impeachment report indicates the businessman and University of Alabama sports honcho might have been connected to the sex/money scandal that brought down Gov. Robert Bentley.

Bryant was a major financial backer when the Tuscaloosa-based Bentley ran for governor. But the relationship must have soured because a recently released impeachment report quotes Bentley as saying Bryant was among several power brokers who were "using" him. Others included in the quote were Clay Ryan, vice president for governmental affairs and special counsel at the University of Alabama, and Bill O'Connor, a political consultant and former president of the Business Council of Alabama (BCA) who became a Bentley insider, with close ties to Chief of Staff Seth Hammett.

Bentley's comment about Bryant is buried on page 86 of the impeachment report, and to my knowledge, has received no attention in the press. (The full report is embedded at the end of this post.)

The comment came after Bentley had dispatched Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) chief Spencer Collier to meet with the governor's scheduler, Linda Adams, to find out what she might know about tape recordings of a steamy conversation between Bentley and his adviser/mistress Rebekah Caldwell Mason. The meeting with Collier left Adams shaken, and Bentley brought it up with her in a subsequent meeting. From the report:

About a week later, on routine business in Governor Bentley’s office, Governor Bentley asked Adams if Collier had come to see her on election night. She replied: “Yes, sir, he did, and I don’t appreciate it.” Governor Bentley said: “I sent him.” Adams asked Governor Bentley: “Do you not trust me?” Governor Bentley replied: “Oh, no, no, no Linda, it’s nothing like that.” Adams says that Governor Bentley told her that his family was turning against him and that Paul Bryant, Clay Ryan, and Bill O’Connor were “using” him. Adams ended the conversation by telling Governor Bentley, “Governor, there are a lot of people using you.”

The governor is telling a key aide that two top-of-the-food-chain officials from the University of Alabama and a former president of the BCA are "using" him. How could those individuals "use" the governor? Were they using him for their personal benefit, for the benefit of the university and certain business interests? Did their "use" of Bentley involve Rebekah Caldwell Mason?

O'Connor reportedly told security chief Wendell Ray Lewis, ""We created Rebekah, but it wasn't to sleep with the Governor."

Who exactly is "we," and why did they create Rebekah Mason? That is one of many questions lingering over the Bentley scandal, even after he is gone from office.


Monday, April 17, 2017

John Archibald uses Rachel Maddow platform to perpetuate myth he broke "Luv Guv" Bentley story, producing LOL moments for Peter B. and me


John Archibald, discussing the Bentley scandal on MSNBC
What are the chances a print journalist would go on national television and admit he did not break a story he has been given credit for breaking? That is one of several questions related to the resignation of Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley that San Francisco-based radio host Peter B. Collins and I discussed in an interview last week.

Our questions ran from the probing to the absurd, and Collins and I decided the above question fell into the latter category. In fact, we were thinking along the same lines, and when that realization hit, it presented an LOL moment for both of us.

On a serious matter, Collins proved prescient about the direction any post-Bentley investigation might take. In fact, he essentially predicted the "no probable cause" finding on the "Luv Guv's" adviser and mistress Rebekah Caldwell Mason, two days before it happened.

At the heart of our journalism discussion was al.com columnist John Archibald, who had appeared on The Rachel Maddow Show the night before and accepted credit for breaking the Bentley-scandal story -- which, of course, we broke here at Legal Schnauzer. This is not the first time this has happened on the Maddow Show, as she has been by far the most prominent journalist to shine a regular spotlight on the state of "affairs" in the Bentley administration.

To my knowledge, Archibald never has appeared on the show and said, "I broke the Bentley/Mason "Luv Guv" story." (Perhaps that's because he knows he didn't.) But he never corrects Maddow when she gives him credit for breaking it and heaps praise on both him and his ethically challenged "news organization." That led to the following exchange between Peter B. Collins and me.

Peter B. Collins (PBC) -- Maddow gave John Archibald full credit. Archibald himself didn't bother to say, "Well, you know, there was a blogger . . . "

Legal Schnauzer (LS) -- laughing . . . I can't help laughing because I thought of this same scenario.

PB -- Go ahead and laugh all you want, you deserve it. Here's Archibald being treated like a Pulitzer Prize nominee, and he doesn't have the good judgment and generosity to say, "Well, some other people broke the story, and I'm riding on their coattails."

LS -- I've imagined that same scenario -- and knew he wouldn't do it, wouldn't have the integrity to correct Rachel on the air and say, "I have reported on it, but I didn't break it, and my organization didn't break it, and for seven months we tried to squelch it. He said [my story] was "smoke" and "no fire, no facts, no proof." That's what's really galling. He not only didn't break it, he was seven months behind the curve . . .

PB -- And he was carrying water for Bentley!

As for Peter B's ability to foretell the future, consider this comment, made two days before the "no probable cause " finding on Rebekah Caldwell Mason:

PB -- My guess is . . . the way these things typically roll, now that [Bentley] has resigned, they will put it in a steamer trunk and bury it. There is no appetite to go further.

Talk about nailing it. Here are some other highlights from our discussion, where we either nailed it, missed it, or tried to act like we knew what we were talking about:


About Heather Hannah and her role as a hero in the Bentley scandal


LS -- For your listeners who might be football fans, she's the niece of John Hannah, who played for the New England Patriots and many consider to be the best football player to come out of the University of Alabama. . . . Bentley was attacking a member of what might be called "The First Family of Alabama football." Shows how stupid Bentley was. She's a very young woman, but she stood up to [the governor] and is a real hero in this.


On similarities between Heather Hannah's experiences and those of my wife, Carol, and me

LS -- As we read about Heather Hannah's experience, it was like having flashbacks. Bentley was trying to have her arrested, and we were arrested. She had vandalism at her home, which we had in the midst of our problems with the neighbor who has a criminal record. She had a rock thrown through her window, and we had a metal measuring tape thrown through ours. She had death threats written on her car, and we had death threats. 
I thought, "My God, this sounds a lot like what we went through. The big picture is the misuse of law enforcement. This young woman did not do anything like a crime. They were trying to get her on a criminal eavesdropping statute, but Dianne Bentley was the one who placed the recording device. And she had every right to do that, as co-owner of the property. You can put an eavesdropping device in your own home.

On the roaming eyes of Southern "Christians," and how the "Luv Guv" Scandal was broken

LS -- These people, it's like they eat hypocrisy for breakfast. [Bentley] and his wife had been married for 50 years, and that's how the whole story started; she filed for divorce.  . . . I talk about breaking the story, but to be honest, it wasn't a great act of shoe-leather journalism on my part. The minute Mrs. Bentley filed the divorce complaint, I had people -- who I knew were knowledgeable on politics -- calling me. All I had to do was sit there and listen. The story came to me more than the other way around. 
Peter B. Collins
 PB -- Was it like fishing on a trout farm, Roger?
LS --  Yes! I put a worm on my hook, and next thing I know, I started reeling them in. If I did anything right in all of this, these people knew they could call me, and I would listen and take it seriously. You call al.com with a story about a Republican, and they just stick it in the desk drawer.

On my reporting about the Ashley Madison scam, and how it relates to the "Luv Guv" scandal

LS -- "I was astonished when reporting on the Ashley Madison story, how many familiar names I saw . . . "That guy's head of a bank" or "That guy's head of an engineering company. I tracked it down because I know the zip codes -- and the areas of town called Over the Mountain in Birmingham, where people with money and who vote Republican tend to live. 
"It's very two-faced. One of the first things Bentley did, on his Inauguration Day, was to say, "If you haven't been saved by Jesus, you aren't my brother, and I want to be your brother -- something outrageously stupid like that. Everybody thought, "He's a harmless grandpa, how much harm can he do?" Grandpa has impure thoughts, as it turns out."

On the price paid for reporting on conservative corruption in Alabama

LS -- I broke the Bentley story on August 31, 2015, and nine days later -- we were living here in Springfield, Missouri, by that time because our house basically had been stolen in Alabama due to a wrongful foreclosure, and we wound up here, where I grew up -- but nine days after I broke the story, we were the subjects of a terrifying eviction that was unlawful. Carol had her arm snapped like a twig, and deputies pointed an assault rifle at my head. You wonder, when that happened so close together, if the Bentley team had something to do with it. It's been reported in several places that Bentley used state and federal criminal databases to look up dirt on me. . . . That's an example of the blow back you can get. These Republicans in the South, it's a lot like organized crime. 

On possible criminal exposure for Rebekah Mason -- despite the "no probable cause"  finding

LS -- Usually, prosecutors cut a deal with the lower-level person to get them to testify against a person higher up the food chain. In this case, it seems to be working in reverse. I don't know what will happen with [Mason] or other underlings. But in a real justice system -- which Alabama does not have -- she would have significant legal exposure.
On a personal level, if someone on their behalf targeted Carol and me, we are going to be looking at a lawsuit. And they already are facing several lawsuits.
The big issue with this plea deal is they didn't respond to investigative requests. Hardly any e-mails or text messages were turned over. In the digital world, that's where many crimes now are revealed. They've gotten away with a cover up, so far. 

On the racism and classism that drive postmodern political corruption

LS -- We live in a country right now where if you are white and conservative, you get away with stuff. If you are white or black and liberal, watch out. The whole 14th Amendment stuff about equal protection and due process becomes a joke. That's been the theme of my blog for 10 years. 

Federal judge orders Justice Department to turn over documents in Siegelman prosecution, but with provisions that could extend an 11-year cover-up


Joseph Siegelman
(From wiat.com)
A federal judge has ordered the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to turn over documents related to the prosecution of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman. This could be a step forward in a decade-long effort to reveal government misconduct in perhaps the most notorious political prosecution in United States history. But the inclusion of two two-word foreign phrases in court documents, could mean it will turn out to be a hoax -- another in a long line of government efforts to hide from the public what actually happened in the Siegelman case.

U.S. District Judge Madeline Haikala (Northern District of Alabama) issued an order on March 31, 2017, for the DOJ's Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) to turn over the requested documents, many of which apparently involve the alleged recusal of former U.S. Attorney Leura Canary in the Siegelman case. OPR gave notice on April 10 that it had submitted the requested information.

That sounds encouraging. Joseph Siegelman, the former governor's son, submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request in June 2015, only to receive stonewalling from OPR. In January 2016, Joseph Siegelman filed a lawsuit in the Northern District of Alabama, leading to Haikala's order that OPR turn over the requested documents -- and OPR's notice that it had, in fact, turned them over.

What happens next? If Haikala and OPR act with integrity -- and those are big "ifs" -- it could generate one of the biggest bombshells in the history of the American justice system. It could show how Siegelman was railroaded, and who exactly was behind the scheme. It could show that the DOJ is more of a crime-producing organization than a crime-fighting outfit. It could threaten the careers of numerous lawyers, prosecutors, and political figures.

But caveats are planted within the case, which is styled Joseph Siegelman v. United States Department of Justice, et al. According to the case docket, Haikala's ruling calls for an in camera review of the OPR documents. In camera is Latin for "in the chamber," meaning the documents will be reviewed in private, with the press and public excluded. It could mean the OPR documents, no matter how much corruption they reveal, could never see the light of day.

In OPR's notice of April 10, it refers to "Submission of Ex Parte, In Camera Material." Ex Parte is Latin for "from the party," and generally refers to a decision that is made with only one party to the controversy present. Does that mean the government is seeking to keep Joseph Siegelman and his attorneys locked out of any document review? Is this some kind of "double-secret probation"? Is this a form of blatant "bad faith" from the government? Given the government's conduct in the Siegelman matter, the answer probably is yes.

In another form of "trust me" justice, the public might be forced to assume OPR actually turned over all relevant documents. In theory, OPR lawyers could be subject to serious sanctions for withholding any documents. But could they, in reality, hold back the most damning documents and get away with it? Considering the behavior of judges and prosecutors throughout the Siegelman matter, the answer clearly is "yes."

Those who have followed the Siegelman case know we have been down this road before. U.S. Magistrate Charles S. Coody (Middle District of Alabama) wrote in a June 2012 order that he had reviewed documents requested by Siegelman and codefendant Richard Scrushy and found "no exculpatory matter" that would "further their claims." Lawyers for Siegelman and Scrushy later filed documents showing Coody never even ordered the requested documents -- and he certainly never reviewed them. In other words, Coody lied -- probably to cover up for federal prosecutors.

The road to seeking government documents has been long and winding in the Siegelman case. It started with a FOIA request in 2006, a FOIA lawsuit in 2009, and years of stonewalling by both the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administration.

Are these documents sensitive? Well, the government has covered them up for 11 years, when both Republicans and Democrats controlled the White House. That has led to the current Joseph Siegelman lawsuit, with OPR supposedly turning over the documents and Haikala supposedly set to act with integrity while reviewing them outside of public view.

Madeline Haikala
Is there any reason to trust this process, to believe it will be carried out honestly? It will require a form of blind trust. Nothing in the history of the Siegelman case suggests our justice system is capable of handling this matter with integrity.

It all comes down to this: Can Judge Madeline Haikala be trusted? She is an Obama appointee, but given his dismal record on justice issues, that provides little grounds for hope.

We do not have access to the full case file, but these words from Joseph Siegelman's complaint are . . . well, we'll let you make the call. Here is what Joseph Siegelman asked for in his original complaint:

Plaintiff respectfully requests that this Honorable Court (1) issue an injunction ordering Defendant to disclose the requested documents, (2) provide for the expeditious processing of this action, (3) award Plaintiff reasonable attorney fees and other litigation costs incurred by Plaintiff in this action, exclusive of pro bono services rendered, and (4) order any other relief this court deems just and proper.

You will notice that Joseph Siegelman did not ask for an in camera review.  He asked for the requested documents to be disclosed, for "expeditious processing" of the case, and for attorney fees and litigation costs, plus any other proper relief.

Here is another key point: Joseph Siegelman included a jury demand in his complaint. We are not experts on FOIA law, but the jury demand indicates all, or many, of these issues lawfully could be determined by a jury. That suggests Siegelman is seeking transparency, while OPR probably wants no part of a jury.

We see no indication that Siegelman wants the process kept from view of the public or press, to be decided behind closed doors by a one-woman censor/judge. The in camera angle apparently entered the picture at the government's insistence -- and with Haikala's approval -- during consideration of multiple summary-judgment motions.

The potentially monumental repercussions of this case cannot be overstated. It threatens the careers of numerous legal and political figures. It could turn the DOJ upside down, bringing extensive review and much-need changes for a corroded system that is badly broken. Depending on statute-of-limitations issues, it could lead to criminal sanctions and perhaps millions of dollars in civil damages.

Our experience has been that federal judges are driven to protect the status quo. They benefit from a system that is in stasis, and they tend to rule with self-interest in mind. But if Madeline Haikala proves to have iron-clad integrity and the "stones" to invite transparency, justice might finally be on the horizon in the Siegelman case -- and the DOJ could be set for a shake-up of historic proportions.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Finding of "no probable cause" against Rebekah Mason suggests ethics commission is part of scheme to oust Bentley but keep greater wrongdoing under cover


Rebekah Caldwell Mason
The Alabama Ethics Commission has found "no probable cause" that Rebekah Caldwell Mason, adviser and mistress to former Gov. Robert Bentley, violated state ethics laws. The decision adds to the growing body of evidence that the process leading to Bentley's resignation on Monday was a sham -- "fix" would be another fitting word -- designed only to remove an embarrassing governor from office, but provide no justice for the citizens of Alabama.

The commission's inexplicable finding suggests the Bentley/Mason sex scandal is far worse than the public knows, and it likely involves far more powerful individuals than the public realizes. The finding also indicates there is hard evidence of criminal actions by Bentley, Mason, and others, but the commission doesn't have the stomach to look into it. Specifically, the commission appears to be participating in a cover-up to protect a Republican Party brand that has been riddled by corruption in the past couple of years.

State Auditor Jim Zeigler filed an ethics complaint against Mason on March 25, 2016, and received notice of the "no probable cause" finding in a letter dated Wednesday (April 12, 2017) from Thomas Allbritton, executive director of the ethics commission. One wonders how Allbritton wrote that letter with a straight face.

Here's how al.com described Zeigler's complaint in an article published roughly one year ago:

Zeigler said he filed a report with the state Ethics Commission to determine "whether Gov. Bentley and Mason are using state property in furtherance of their personal relationship, and if they have used their position to interfere with an attorney general's investigation."

In his report to State Ethics Commission Executive Director Thomas Albritton, Zeigler cited the audiotape in saying that it was "apparent that Mrs. Mason and Gov. Bentley have been using state property and resources in furtherance of their personal relationship." He was referring to the governor mentioning that "Wanda's desk" would have to be moved down the hall.

Zeigler also alleged that Mason was violating the law because she has never registered as a lobbyist -- which he claims should have been done if she's being paid by a third party and not the state. If she was considered a state official, Zeigler contended, then Mason would be violating the law by receiving private funds.

As was recently reported at the Montgomery Advertiser, "Under state law, the Alabama Ethics Commission acts as a grand jury when a public official faces accusations of breaking the state's ethics law. The commission cannot press charges but can find probable cause and refer cases to the Alabama attorney general or a district attorney -- usually the one in Montgomery County -- for prosecution. Testimony and deliberations take place in private, but votes are public."

An old joke in legal circles is that a "grand jury could indict a ham sandwich." In other words, the bar for probable cause is extremely low, as Bentley attorney William Athanas stated after the ethics commission found probable cause on four counts against his client:

"It’s a finding of probable cause, which is one of the lowest legal standards we apply in these cases," he said. "We certainly disagree there was evidence to support a probable cause finding. We definitely disagree there was enough evidence to support a finding beyond a cause of reasonable doubt."

The statement about reasonable doubt is an effort to muddy the waters. That standard applies to juries in criminal trials, but it has no connection to the ethics commission, which must find only probable cause. There is enough probable cause against Mason to sink a battleship in Mobile Bay. That the commission could not find probable cause suggests it wasn't trying very hard.

A few issues to consider:

*  Our second report on the Bentley/Mason scandal showed the governor's campaign had spent more than $400,000 with a company owned by Mason, his mistress. Bentley hired Mason's husband, Jon, to a state position that had paid him more than $390,000. That doesn't constitute probable cause of an ethics or campaign-finance violation? We're to believe Rebekah Mason had no knowledge of how her husband landed his state job or took no actions to ensure that he filled the job? Don't make me laugh.

* In our third report on the scandal, we showed the Masons had received almost $1 million in government-related payments since the beginning of the Bentley administration in 2011. During a chunk of this time, Rebekah Mason was conducting an extramarital affair with Bentley -- and taking actions to keep it under wraps, according to published reports. No probable cause of unethical activity? Don't make me laugh.

*  According to multiple published reports, Bentley allowed Mason to serve as the state's "de facto" governor. And a report at USA Today showed that former Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) chief Spencer Collier alleged both Bentley and Mason used state time and resources to pursue the affair. According to former spokesperson Jennifer Ardis, Mason's clout caused regular disruption of operations in the governor's office. "Nothing could be done in the office without Mason's sign-off," Ardis said. No probable cause? Don't make me laugh.

* A House Judiciary Report showed that Bentley, Mason, and others failed to turn over requested documents -- emails, texts, phone and financial records -- to investigators. They also failed to appear for interviews under oath. Did the Alabama Ethics Commission, deliberating in private, even seek such information? We've seen no evidence that it did. Again, no probable cause? Don't make me laugh.

* The Montgomery Advertiser yesterday reported as follows:
In a letter to State Auditor Jim Zeigler dated Wednesday, Ethics Commission Director Tom Albritton said the Ethics Commission did not find probable cause that Mason violated the Alabama Ethics Act.

Albritton’s letter did not specify the reasons why. It said the Ethics Commission received the results of the investigation April 5, the same day commissioners heard evidence against Bentley.

Did the commission conduct any independent investigation of Mason? It doesn't sound like it. Was the complaint against her completely intertwined with the Bentley case? The answer appears to be yes.

How sleazy is all this? It suggests the ethics commission itself needs to be investigated. Attorney Donald Watkins summed it up well at his Facebook page:

In the same April 5, 2017, Ethics Commission meeting that resulted in a referral of Bentley’s case to state prosecutors on four felony ethics violations, the Commission also dismissed the case against Rebekah Mason. According to investigators, they could not find any evidence that Mason had misused state property.

They did not look hard enough, if they looked at all. Rebekah Mason operated her public relations firm, RCM Communications, Inc., while working full-time as Bentley’s communications director. Rebekah also conducted RCM’s business from the governor’s office and used state resources to further her private business interests.

Also, Bentley made sure that Rebekah had unfettered access to state trooper transportation, the Governor’s mansion (at all times of the night), the state airplane, the Winton Blount mansion in Montgomery (which was donated to the state), and to any other state resource she needed to make herself fully available to the Governor for his personal and sexual pleasure. After all, Rebekah, in Bentley’s mind, was the real First Lady of Alabama.

Watkins goes on to use the "F word" to describe the ethics commission's actions:

The Commission's disposition of Rebekah’s case has the feel and smell of a political “fix”. Through back channels, Bentley apparently signaled that he would resign as governor if no charges were brought against Rebekah and if he could dispose of his felony violations by pleading guilty to two no-jail time misdemeanors. The state caved in and agreed. Bentley’s exit from the governorship played out Monday just as the governor had demanded.

This is why Robert Bentley was smiling in his mugshot. He hoodwinked them all. The only people who were not aware of: (a) the Ethics Commission’s accommodation “fix” of Rebekah’s case, (b) the prosecutor’s “sweetheart” plea deal with the governor, and (c) the “sellout” of the people’s right to the fair administration of justice, were the citizens of Alabama who are thirsty for tough law enforcement in public corruption cases. Once again, they got shafted in this debacle. Nobody gave a damn about their rights as crime victims.

As a practical matter, how does a commission find four felony counts against Bentley and none against Mason, his clear accomplice? Isn't that like indicting Clyde and letting Bonnie off the hook completely? Isn't that a sign of a commission that is wildly compromised, one the public should not trust?