Friday, June 29, 2007

Did an Alabama Judge Really Say That?

A schnauzer's ears tend to stand up when he hears something unusual, strange, or baffling.

So imagine the Legal Schnauzer's ears standing at full attention when he heard the following remark from U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller during yesterday's sentencing of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman:

"I am convinced the conduct Governor Siegelman engaged in damaged the public's confidence in the government of this state."

What rarefied planet does Judge Fuller live on? Does he really think the people of Alabama are such saps that they would have confidence in state government if it weren't for that dastardly Don Siegelman?

Perhaps Judge Fuller has forgottten a small fact: Alabama government consists of three branches--executive, legislative, and judicial. The U.S. Department of Justice, evidently at the urging of White House strategist Karl Rove, seems to be interested only in the executive branch and only when it was occupied by a Democrat, such as Siegelman. The DOJ doesn't seem to have much interest in current Governor Bob Riley's ties to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Could that be because Riley is a Republican? Hmmm.

And what about that third branch of state government, the judicial branch? In Alabama, that branch is dominated by Republicans, thanks to the electoral handiwork of Rove and Bill Canary in the 1990s. Is anyone at the DOJ interested in criminal activity by Republican state judges in Alabama?

The Legal Schnauzer will be examining that question, and many more, in the days and weeks ahead.

We can thank Judge Fuller for one thing: His comment serves as a reminder that the Siegelman trial and sentencing were about state government. Corruption trials usually focus on alleged wrongs involving money, mails, or wires, and that causes them to land in federal court. Because of the venue, and the involvement of former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy, it was easy to forget that the Siegelman case was about state government.

The Legal Schnauzer has had quite a bit of experience with Alabama state government over the past seven or eight years--all in the judicial branch. And it has not been a pretty sight.

Did Don Siegelman commit the crimes he was convicted of and did he deserve the sentence he received? Maybe. But the whole point of the evolving U.S. Attorneys scandal is that justice should cut both ways; it should be blind to party affiliation. And there is substantial evidence to indicate that is not the case in Alabama and numerous other states.

Scott Horton, of Harper's, offers reason to hope that the Siegelman case might draw the attention of Congress in its investigation of the U.S. Attorneys firings.

This blog will lay out a clear trail of criminal activity by Republican state judges, and at least one attorney, in Alabama. Bill Canary's "girls," Alabama U.S. Attorneys Leura Canary and Alice Martin, were quick to jump on the Siegelman case.

The criminal activity I will describe took place in both of their jurisdictions. Will either take action? Will either show that she is intent on restoring public confidence in Alabama's judicial branch?

Stay tuned.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Is History Repeating Itself in Alabama?

Perhaps the best in-depth reporting on Karl Rove's machinations in Alabama has been done by Joshua Green of Atlantic Monthly.

Green's November 2004
piece is the definitive report of Rove's tactics in Alabama. And remember, Rove made his national reputation in Alabama, not Texas. And he made his reputation on state court races in Alabama.

Keep in mind that federal judges are appointed, nominated by the administration in charge with oversight from the Senate. That process certainly is political. But politics of the justice system really kicks into high gear at the state level, especially in states like Alabama where judges are elected.

How did Rove go about politicizing Alabama state courts? Green recently provided more insight. In the April 2007 Atlantic, Green had a followup article about Rove's tactics in his first big Alabama race--the 1994 battle for chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. Rove's candidate won in a scenario that is strikingly similar to Bush/Gore 2000.

Note the words Rove's own staffer uses to describe Rove's tactics: The other side is to be portrayed as "liars, cheaters, stealers, immoral."

Does that sound underhanded to you? It's interesting to read Green's pieces and ask yourself this question: If Rove and company would go to these lengths to put Republican judges in office, how would Republican judges conduct themselves once they had control in Alabama? Would they favor people with ties to the Alabama Republican hierarchy? And just how far will Republican judges go to favor and protect certain parties?

I had the misfortune of discovering the answer to those questions in a highly personal way. The purpose of this blog is to lay out the story for you.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Alabama's Culture of Corruption

The culture of corruption that permeates Alabama's justice system continues to make national news.

Of course, Alabama's justice system (as in all states) actually is two systems--one based on federal courts and one based on state courts. Alabama's state courts handle far more cases than its federal courts, and this holds true across the country.

But the nation's attention is focused on Alabama federal courts, where sentencing is taking place in the corruption case of former governor Don Siegelman and former HealthSouth executive Richard Scrushy.

Reporters are focusing on the case because it is the latest example of corruption in the U.S. Justice Department, a scandal that began with the firing of eight U.S. Attorneys earlier this year. A growing body of evidence suggests that the Siegelman/Scrushy prosecution was politically motivated and driven by Alabama Republican operative Bill Canary, with assistance from White House political strategist Karl Rove. The Alabama case presents the strongest evidence to date that the politicization of the U.S. Justice Department has direct links to the White House.

The Los Angeles Times reports that even prominent Republicans, such as former Arizona attorney general Grant Woods, smell something fishy going on in Alabama.

And The New York Times reports that, according to a prominent law professor, the prosecution's case against Siegelman was so shaky it had to "adopt the garbage-can theory of RICO," a reference to the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act.

The Siegelman case has national implications, and its certainly fresh news. But for some of us who have firsthand experience with Alabama judges, the idea of corruption in the state's courts is no surprise at all. After all, Alabama's state courts were shaped into Republican playgrounds in the 1990s by none other than Karl Rove and Bill Canary, who now are at the heart of alleged wrongdoing in the Siegelman prosecution.

Alabama's state courts have been infected with a virulent strain of radical conservative politicization for more than 10 years now. And this blog will show you how that harms regular citizens and cheats taxpayers.

We will continue to keep our eyes on the stink coming from Alabama's federal courts. But the Legal Schnauzer is personally acquainted with the stink that comes from Alabama's state courts. (And you don't need an especially strong nose to smell it; heck, even a human can easily detect this odor!)

Our story will focus on state courts. And remember, that's where the vast majority of legal activity in this country takes place.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Not So Sweet Home Alabama

Scott Horton, of Harper's magazine, continues to provide brilliant reporting and analysis of the U.S. Attorney scandal in Alabama. He and Glynn Wilson of Locust Fork World News & Journal have been leading the way since Dana Jill Simpson's affidavit first came to light, alleging that Karl Rove and Bill Canary helped instigate a politically motivated prosecution of former Alabama governor Don Siegelman.

Here, Horton paints a backdrop of Alabama's ongoing struggle with justice, drawing on Harper Lee's classic, To Kill a Mockingbird. He even notes that since Simpson first took steps to go public about the Siegelman prosecution, her house has burned down and one of her vehicles has been run off the road and totaled. Kind of makes you think there's something to the allegations in her affidavit.

Here, Horton outlines the limp reporting of Alabama's mainstream press and Rove's equally limp response when asked about the scandal recently during a visit to Athens, Alabama.

Here, Horton writes that it was honest Republicans, not Democrats, who first brought the Alabama scandal to his attention. This indicates that Jill Simpson is not the only brave soul out there.

All three of the themes Horton outlines will play out here in Legal Schnauzer:

* The same Republican operatives (Rove and Canary) who evidently were at the heart of the Siegelman prosecution led the effort in the 1990s to turn Alabama's state courts into a Republican playground. Those state courts, our blog will show, have been corrupt for some time. And the Rove/Canary connections tie directly to my case. Bill Swatek, the attorney who filed the bogus lawsuit against me, is the father of Republican operative Dax Swatek, who has ties both to Canary and Jack Abramoff. Dax Swatek also has ties to current Alabama governor Bob Riley, who was Siegelman's opponent in the ultra-close 2002 election.

* As in the Siegelman case, Alabama's mainstream press has done a masterful job of ignoring corruption in Alabama's state courts. But hey, that's what Legal Schnauzer is for.

* While I don't know of any honest Republicans in my story (yet), I do know of honest people in Alabama's justice system who are willing to speak out about judicial corruption in our state courts. I will be introducing you to at least one of those people soon.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

An Honest Republican Emerges

After the corruption I've seen from "conservative" judges in Alabama courts over the past seven years, I was convinced there was no such thing as an honest Republican.

But Dana Jill Simpson has caused me to change my mind. Check out Glynn Wilson's Locust Fork Journal and read about the events that led to her affidavit, stating that Karl Rove and Bill Canary instigated a policially motivated prosecution of former Governor Don Siegelman.

Wilson's story includes some hair-raising stuff. He reports that Simpson's house has been burned and her car forced off the road and totaled in the wake of her affidavit. Sounds like someone wants to shut her up.

Whoever it is probably won't care for the tale of Republican sleaze that is unfolding on this blog.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Big Story About to Break?

Glynn Wilson of Locust Fork World News & Journal is reporting that the U.S. Attorneys story in Alabama is attracting the attention of major newspapers and might be generating big news in the next few days.

At the heart of the story is an affidavit from Jill Simpson stating that the prosecution of former Alabama governor Don Siegelman was politically motivated and instigated by White House strategist Karl Rove and Alabama Republican operative Bill Canary.

As the story of Simpson's affidavit unfolds, this blog will lay out details of similar "politicization" of Alabama's justice system. We will focus on state courts, but along the way, you will see connections between the Simpson story and the tale outlined in this blog.

Perhaps the biggest connector is Pelham, Alabama, attorney Bill Swatek, who filed a baseless lawsuit against me and then was the beneficiary of numerous unlawful rulings by Republican judges.

Swatek's son is Republican operative Dax Swatek, who has ties both to Canary and disgraced fund-raiser Jack Abramoff. Did Bill Swatek's family ties to Alabama's Republican hierarchy allow him to receive favorable treatment in court, even though he has a long history of ethical violations?

We will lay out the facts in the days ahead.

Sound familiar?

Consider this phrase: "conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation."

Has a lot of bite doesn't it? And if it sounds familiar to you, that's probably because it's been in the news lately.

It's the phrase the North Carolina State Bar used in announcing the disbarment of Mike Nifong, the prosecutor in the Duke lacrosse team rape case.

Whatever one might think of Mr. Nifong's conduct, all indications are that he will learn a serious lesson from his punishment. Has Bill Swatek learned anything from being punished for acts of "dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation" in Alabama?

Based on the lawsuit Swatek filed against me, and his handling of that lawsuit, the answer appears to be no. And has Bill Swatek been held accountable by Alabama judges or the Alabama State Bar for his latest wrongdoing? Not on your life.

In fact, just the opposite has occurred. Alabama judges, all Republicans in the lawsuit filed against me, have aided, abetted, and protected Bill Swatek. They have committed blatant and repeated judicial corruption of the worst kind. As for the Alabama State Bar, I provided a detailed written account of Swatek's actions, his repeated violations of the Alabama Code of Professional Conduct. I received a letter stating that the State Bar would not even investigate.

I will soon provide all the details on the wrongdoing that occurred in my case. But first, let's consider some broader issues that are related to the "politicization of the justice system."

Why have judges in my case acted this way? Is it because Bill Swatek's son, Dax Swatek, is a fund-raiser for Republican politicians, including our current governor and at least one state appellate judge? Is it because Dax Swatek has ties to Bill Canary, who has ties to Karl Rove--and Canary and Rove did much of the legwork in the 1990s that turned Alabama state courts into a Republican playground?

If you are an attorney with a shady history--and public records show clearly that Bill Swatek is just that--can you file baseless lawsuits against people and never have to face the consequences?
If you have family ties to the state's Republican hierarchy, as Bill Swatek does, will the state's "conservative" judges ignore your shady past and look the other way when confronted with your present shenanigans?

Is that how things are done in Karl Rove's Alabama? Is this a textbook case of politicization of our courts?

Those questions are at the heart of the story that is about to unfold.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Dishonesty, Fraud, Deceit . . .

Now what about this other person named Swatek?

His name is William E. Swatek, an attorney based in Pelham, Alabama. He is the attorney who filed the baseless lawsuit against me, leading to a string of unlawful rulings by Republican judges in Alabama. And he is the father of Dax Swatek, the Republican operative with ties to Jack Abramoff.

Recall that Dax Swatek also has close ties to Bill Canary, who is alleged to have worked with Karl Rove to instigate a politically motivated prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman. That story continues to unfold.

Is it possible that Dax Swatek did not fall far from the tree? Well, consider this: Bill Swatek has a long history of ethical problems in the Alabama legal community.

In 1980, Bill Swatek's license was suspended by the Alabama State Bar for "conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation."

In 1997, Bill Swatek received a public reprimand from the Alabama State Bar. In this instance, five complaints against Swatek were rolled into one punishment.

In 1999, Bill Swatek received a private reprimand from the Alabama State Bar.

In 2001, Bill Swatek filed a lawsuit against me on behalf of a client--my Neighbor From Hell (NFH)--who has at least eight criminal convictions in his background.

Sounds like a lawyer-client match made in heaven doesn't it?

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Connecting the Dots of Corruption

Remember this name: Swatek. It's at the heart of the wrongdoing in the lawsuit that was filed against me. And it is surfacing in reporting about the U.S. Attorneys scandal.

When the firings of eight U.S. attorneys began to receive national attention in March 2007, a new phrase was introduced to many Americans--"the politicization of the Justice Department."

The politicization of the justice system in Alabama, however, had been going on for some time. It was happening on two levels--in the state's federal courts, and more quietly, in its state courts. And we are now beginning to see that the two are connected.

First, let's look at Alabama's federal courts and how the name "Swatek" plays a role. Glynn Wilson's Locust Fork World News & Journal is the place to keep up with the evolving U.S. Attorneys scandal in Alabama. He provides facts, context, and links to reporting from a variety of sources. (He also publishes the complete affidavit of attorney Jill Simpson, who states that the prosecution of former Alabama governor Don Siegelman was politically motivated and driven by White House political guru Karl Rove. To my knowledge the Simpson affidavit has not been published anywhere else.)

One source Wilson cites is Scott Horton of Harper's magazine. In a June 9 piece, Horton examines several issues related to Simpson's affidavit. First, Horton excoriates The Birmingham News for its lame coverage of the story. Of course, the News is a "conservative" newspaper and has shown little or no interest in uncovering Republican wrongdoing that is taking place right under the paper's nose. Then Horton ties the Siegelman/Rove story to the mother of all Republican sleazefests: the Jack Abramoff scandal.

Horton notes the number of Republican operatives in Alabama who have ties to Abramoff. (These operatives also have ties to current Alabama Governor Bob Riley, who barely beat Siegelman in 2002 and now is at the heart of the Siegelman/Rove story.)

One operative drawing special attention from Horton is a Montgomery-based political consultant named Dax Swatek. Horton notes Swatek's close ties to William Canary, who is identified in Simpson's affidavit as the man who assured Riley and others in a conference call that the Justice Department would "take care of" Siegelman. Horton goes on to note Swatek's role in working with former Canary partner Pat McWhorter to form a fictitious non-profit organization in 1999 to benefit Channel One, an Abramoff client.

Journalist Russell Baker reported on the Channel One case for New Republic. The Montgomery Advertiser has profiled Swatek, noting his close ties to Canary and his work for a number of Alabama Republicans, including at least one state appellate judge.

So we have one Swatek who has played a role in the Republican "culture of corruption" story that is now unfolding on the national stage. But another Swatek has played a role in the corruption that plagues Alabama's state courts--courts which became Republican-dominated thanks to the campaign efforts of Rove and Canary in the mid 1990s.

While the problems in Alabama's federal courts are beginning to receive national coverage, corruption in Alabama's state courts has been ignored by the mainstream press.

It will not be ignored by your humble blogger, who has experienced it first hand. And just as in the federal story, a Swatek is front and center. We turn our attention to the "other" Swatek next.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Karl Rove's Alabama

Never thought I would be connected to Karl Rove in any way. But here's how it happened.

The Time article mentioned in my June 6 post noted that Rove and Republican operative William Canary launched a campaign in the mid 1990s that eventually turned Alabama's appellate courts from all-Democrat to all-Republican. In fact, as the Associated Press reported two years ago, Rove built his political reputation on Alabama court races.

By the time I was sued, Alabama's appellate courts were dominated by Republicans. In fact, by the time my case had gone to trial and I was filing an appeal, there was not a single Democrat on the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals or the Alabama Supreme Court. Incidentally, all of the judges in Shelby County (where I live) were Republican. County politics have been dominated by Republicans for years, and there is no sign of that changing.

The attorney who filed the lawsuit against me has strong family ties to the Alabama Republican Party. (He also has a long history of ethical problems with the Alabama State Bar and has been tried for perjury in criminal court. Also, his client--my neighbor from hell--has a substantial criminal record. Much more on all of that later.) This attorney's son is a close associate of William Canary and is a fund-raiser/advisor for a number of Alabama Republicans, including Gov. Bob Riley and at least one appellate-court judge.

So the political family tree goes like this: Karl Rove to Bill Canary to attorney who sued me (the attorney with a history of ethical problems and a client with criminal history) to attorney's son (who raises money for, and "advises" leading Alabama Republicans, including the governor).

Through no fault of my own, I got tied in with this crowd. And the lawsuit filed against me set off a chain of unlawful activity by Alabama judges--starting in district court and going to the Alabama Supreme Court.

Monday, June 11, 2007

What Rove has Wrought in Alabama

Here is the nutshell version of what happened in my legal nightmare:

A "neighbor from hell" (NFH) moved next door to my wife and me in December 1998. The guy seemed disgruntled and/or harried from the outset. He immediately began to try to take over our property in a variety of ways. When we sought to enforce our property rights he sassed us and threatened to sue us. Along the way, he committed a crime on multiple occasions, even after receiving a warning letter from an attorney acquaintance of mine.

Finally, after consulting an attorney, we sought to have NFH prosecuted for the crime. That led to him suing me. (Yes, you heard that right. Being the victim of a crime can lead to you--the victim--being sued. More on that legal jewel coming later.)

NFH's case was worse than baseless (fraudulent would be a better term), and by law, it had to be dismisseed (summary judgment) in a matter of six to eight months. Almost any lawsuit, I discovered--even the worst kind--takes at least that long to be resolved.

But judges in Shelby County, Alabama, where we live (just south of Birmingham) repeatedly ruled contrary to clear law, causing the case to drag on for more than five years. It even went to trial, when by law, it could not go to trial. All of this cost me, my wife, and Alabama taxpayers thousands of dollars. (Many more details coming up.)

But what does this have to do with Karl Rove and his Alabama buddy, Bill Canary? The answer is coming up next.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Crazy in Alabama

The ugly intersection of justice and politics in Alabama has been in the news recently. But the national headlines only tell part of the story.

Time magazine last Friday reported that Karl Rove, President Bush's top political strategist, has been linked to the prosecution of former Alabama governor Don Siegelman. (The New York Times also reported the story on Friday.) Siegelman, a Democrat, stands convicted of bribery and conspiracy charges, along with former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy. Siegelman long has claimed that his prosecution was driven by politically motivated, Republican-appointed U.S. attorneys. An affidavit from Dana Jill Simpson, a lifelong Republican and lawyer who practices in Alabama, supports that view.

Simpson states in her affidavit that William Canary, a senior GOP political operative and adviser to Governor Bob Riley, boasted that "his girls" would "take care of" of Siegelman. This was a reference to his wife, Leura Canary, the U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Alabama, and Alice Martin, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama. Canary further stated that he had his plan worked out with a powerful friend in Washington named "Karl." This was a reference to Rove.

The Siegelman/Rove story touches only on a portion of what is wrong with the dysfunctional courts in Alabama. The story deals only with federal courts and with defendants of substantial power and means.

What about state courts, where the vast majority of parties in Alabama end up? And what can happen to people with little power, and modest funds, in Alabama's state courts?

That's what this blog is about. It will show you that problems with justice in Alabama go way beyond anything that might have happened to Don Siegelman and Richard Scrushy.

But there are connections between the story reported in Time and the story that will unfold in this blog. After all, as Time reported, Canary and Rove worked closely together in the mid 1990s in a successful series of campaigns to get Republicans elected to Alabama state courts.

Republican judicial candidates invariably tout themselves as "strict constructionists," who rule according to the written law. But my case shows that is nothing but cheap rhetoric, and in fact, Republican jurists in Alabama practice "good old boy" justice of the worst kind.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Is "Your Honor" Really Honorable?

Imagine you are at a baseball game. You have traveled about 200 miles to watch your team play a road game.

In the top of the first inning, it seems to be a normal game. Your team gets a couple of men on base but fails to score. The umpires make the usual calls that are left to their discretion by the rules of the game. Is a pitch a ball or a strike? Is a runner safe or out? Is a batted ball fair or foul?

In the bottom of the first, things start getting strange. The home team's leadoff man swings and misses at three straight pitches. He begins to walk back to the dugout, but the home-plate umpire calls him back and tells him to get back in the batter's box.

Your manager runs out of the dugout. "That's three strikes, he's out," the manager says.

"He's not out till I say he's out," the umpire says. "If you say one more word, you're out of the game." The manager returns to the dugout with a baffled look on his face.

After swinging and missing at eight pitches, the leadoff man finally lines a single to center field. The next three batters hit easy fly balls for outs. As your team starts to run off the field, the first base umpire tells them to get back to their positions. "This inning isn't over," he says.

Your manager runs out of the dugout again, this time armed with a rule book. "Look, it says right here, three strikes and you're out. Three outs and the inning is over. What's going on?"

The first-base ump walks away. The manager turns to see the home-plate umpire lifting a thumb into the air. "You're out of the game," the ump says.

"You can't throw me out of the game for trying to have the game played by the rules," the manager says.

"I just did," the umpire says. "Now get out of here."

"But you can't just make up the rules," the manager says.

"If you don't like how you're being treated, go find somewhere else to play," the umpire says.

The manager pulls his team from the field in protest. The umpires declare the game a forfeit. "The home team wins," they say.

The manager apologizes to his players, but says he will file an appeal with the league office. "This will have to be overturned," he says. "The game will have to be replayed, hopefully with honest umpires."

But 10 days after filing an appeal, he receives a one-sentence response from the league office. "The umpires' decisions are upheld." No explanation.

If you saw this scene unfold on a baseball field, what would you think? What terms would you use to describe the umpires? Corrupt? Cheats? Frauds?

I saw a similar scene unfold in an Alabama courtroom. In fact, the "If you don't like how you're being treated . . . " quote came almost verbatim from the mouth of an Alabama judge. Only he ended it with ". . . you can get on I-65 and drive to Montgomery (home of Alabama's appellate courts)."

My research indicates that such scenes happen in courtrooms across the country on a regular basis. And my guess is that parties usually don't even know they are being cheated. I only became aware of my own victimhood after numerous bizarre judicial rulings, followed by limp and nonsensical explanations from my attorney. After many lunchtime trips to the nearest county law library, it became clear I was being, to use a high-tech legal term, "screwed."

I used to think that I probably would never be involved in a court case. And if I was somehow involved, I figured the judge (or judges) surely would rule according to the law. After all, they wear robes, we call them "your honor," we rise when they come into the courtroom. Of all people, surely a judge would be honest.

This blog will show you how wrong I was. It will show you how judges and attorneys conspire to cheat some people and favor others. It will show you how politics raises its ugly head in our courtrooms. It will show you how you can figure out if you are being cheated by a judge or an attorney (even your own!). And it will show you what you can do about it.