Tuesday, July 31, 2007
Shining Light on Siegelman Prosecution
First, Horton points out the new Birmingham Business Journal poll showing that 50 percent of respondents believe the Siegelman prosecution was politically motivated. Are these encouraging signs that Alabamians get it? Horton states that he expects that figure to rise to the 70 to 80 percent range soon.
The first step in that progression might be Horton's piece (the first in a series) on Mark Fuller, the judge in the Siegelman case. Will Fuller emerge from the Harper's series looking like an impartial, high-minded jurist? Somehow I doubt it.
Can't wait to read more.
Monday, July 30, 2007
Lessons from our Pets
Do pets have souls? Are they with us in an afterlife?
I imagine whole Web sites are devoted to such questions. A wonderful book on the subject, and many other subjects, is Are There Horses in Heaven?, by F. Morgan Roberts. Dr. Roberts was interim pastor for about three years at Independent Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, and the book is a collection of his sermons. I highly recommend it.
I don't pretend to know the answer to weighty questions about our pets. But I know what my wife and I hope--and believe. A heaven without Murphy and our other animal friends would not seem, well, all that heavenly.
Have you ever wondered about the special senses animals have? For 11 years, I knew that Murphy could see and hear and smell things in a way that I could not. But I also suspect she could sense our Creator in a way that I could not.
Many times I wonder exactly what my mission is in this time and place. I hope I'm a fairly decent husband, son, and brother, and I like to think I'm considered a reliable employee and coworker. I hope a few people consider me a friend worth having.
But I think Murphy knew exactly what her mission in this life was. And I think she sensed that from a higher power every day. Without that kind of connection from above, I don't know how she could live with the faith and trust that she displayed on a daily basis.
We humans struggle to discern our missons. And even when we think we've found them, we are easily distracted, easily turned in other directions. My sense is that Murphy never veered from the path she was meant to be on.
Here's another heavy question: Are there guardian angels, and could they take the form of our beloved pets? Again, I don't pretend to know the answer. But the thought that Murphy might be watching over us brings great comfort to my wife and me. I can't think of anyone who would take that role to heart more than Murphy would.
A shocking thought occurred to me the other day. Is it possible that even Baxter and Chloe, our lovable but (seemingly) not terribly aware kitty kats, have a special connection to the next world? This thought came to me as I read about Oscar, the cat who lives in a Rhode Island nursing home and seems to have an uncanny ability to predict which patients are about to die. He will curl up to a seriously ill patient, seemingly offering comfort in the patient's final moments of life. Even The New England Journal of Medicine wrote about Oscar. Is it possible that these patients develop a closer connection with their Creator in the moments leading up to death? Is it possible that Oscar always has a close connection with his Creator, and when he senses such a connection developing in a human, he sees it as his duty to be nearby--to help sent the person on his or her way?
I now look at Baxter and Chloe with renewed respect--and apprehension. What exactly do they know behind those baby blue eyes?
So we ask the question again: Why Legal Schnauzer? Well, Murphy represents goodness to me, and I hope something good can come out of this blog--not only for me, but for all of the Americans who are cheated and treated disrespectfully by certain judges and lawyers. I think the number of Americans who suffer because of our broken justice system is far greater than any of us knows. But it goes beyond the way these criminals treat people. They also abuse the law, the very entity they are sworn to uphold.
Young Americans are dying and being maimed in Iraq and Afghanistan, supposedly so we can promote the idea of democracy around the world. But what about our own democracy? Without honorable courts, our system of government stands on shaky footing. Shouldn't we get our own house in order before we try to sell our system of governance to others? In certain jurisdictions around the country, and certainly in Shelby County, Alabama, some parties would be just as likely to receive justice before the Taliban as they would in our "advanced" courts.
When I looked into Murphy's face, I saw (as best I could tell) a touch of God. I've looked into the faces of several judges and lawyers, and I've seen what I would call true evil. And I don't think that's too strong a term. These people lied right to my face. They knew they were lying, and they knew that I knew they were lying. And still they cheated me time and time again. And I'm convinced they do it to other people. That's pretty much a textbook definition of sociopathy. It's certainly a sign of a very sick legal culture.
This kind of systemic pathology is not eradicated unless it is confronted. And I don't believe people inside the system--lawyers, judges, paralegals, clerks--can do it. They are too close to the system. They either don't see the pathology or they lack the courage to act on it. It will take outsiders to change the system.
Judges know that, and I think that's why they almost always tell pro se parties to get an attorney. Outsiders, who might see the system for the cesspool that it really is, make judges nervous.
So is it my mission to confront our broken justice system? If it is, I can't do it alone. I was put in this position for some reason; I certainly didn't ask to be here. Perhaps I can help educate the public about the way their tax dollars are being wasted, and their constitution is being abused, by corrupt judges.
Can I discern my mission and follow it the way Murphy followed hers? We'll see.
But every time I sit down to post here, I look at the picture of Gumpie-Poo. I look at that fascinating mix of determination and joy on her face. I look at her sense of purpose. I look at her vitality.
And I think of Murphy. More than anything, I think of Murphy--and I pray that her spirit might shine through on these pages.
A Hole in Our Hearts
That's what she came to represent to us. For example, when a particularly good smell finds its way to my nose, I think of Murphy. My wife had the idea of caring for Murphy as mostly an indoor dog (except for our daily walks). I'd thought of having an "indoor-outdoor dog," with the fenced backyard and all of that, but my wife wasn't having it. "I want her to be clean so she can be close to us and be part of the family," she said. That turned out to be a great idea.
If you get a schnauzer bathed and groomed every 6-8 weeks or so, and brush their coats regularly, they have the most wonderful smell. It's like fresh laundry, only better. If heaven has a scent, it must smell something like Murphy's coat.
We think of Murphy every time we see a northern mockingbird, which is so common here in Alabama. With its gray covering, erect bearing, and alert/piercing eyes, the mocker reminds us so much of Murphy. And like Murphy, mockers don't suffer fools, cheaters, or intruders gladly. Ever seen a mocker dive bomb a cat who gets too close to the bird's nest? Like Murphy, northern mockingbirds take security issues seriously.
We find it ironic that readers throughout the world have come to associate the Alabama mockingbird with justice, through Harper Lee's classic To Kill a Mockingbird. To us, Murphy represents justice, too.
In many ways, my wife and I feel we owe our lives to Murphy. She was six years old when this legal nightmare started, and without her, I'm not sure we would have lived through it. She invariably made us laugh several times a day, and that alone did wonders for our mental health. And on the darkest days, she seemed to try extra hard to provide a positive, upbeat presence, one we desperately needed.
(We also owe a huge thank you to our family physician, Dr. Edward Childs of UAB Internal Medicine. I recall reading an article several years ago about the most stressful events that can happen in life. Death of a spouse was No. 1 and death of a child was No. 2. I don't recall the list exactly, but I'm pretty sure dealing with a lawsuit was in the top 10, maybe the top five. I would encourage anyone facing a lawsuit or other highly stressful event, to consult their physician. Modern medicine now has some wonderful treatments for stress, anxiety, and depression.)
Murphy was such a cool older dog. As adorable as she was as a puppy, she was even neater as an adult. When she was eight or nine, her vet gave her a "senior profile," which they do for all dogs of a certain age. We used to joke that they must have meant "senior puppy profile," because Murphy still looked and acted a lot like a puppy. Even her vet said that, if he didn't know better, he would think she was about five years old.
We joked that her favorite athlete must be Joe Namath because he was famous for the quote: "I can't wait till tomorrow because I get better looking every day."
So we were caught completely off guard when Murphy developed a cough on Sunday, January 11, 2004, and didn't show her usual interest in a walk on a cold day. She was always sniffing things on the ground, so we figured she must have gotten something caught in her nose or throat. But when the cough did not get any better, my wife took her to the vet on Monday.
Naturally, Murphy did not cough at the doctor's office. (Murphy was so good-natured that she liked going to the vet. The doctors and assistants almost always commented on what a good patient she was. Even when they put a thermometer up her butt to check her temperature, she would get a funny look on her face ["Oh, that's cold"], but she wouldn't jerk away or move.) With no sign of a continuing cough and her vital signs looking normal, the doctor thought she might have a type of benign, phantom cough that older dogs sometimes get. If the cough returned, he encouraged us to bring her back.
By Tuesday afternoon the cough had returned and seemed to be getting worse, so we scheduled an appointment with the vet for Wednesday morning. We went to bed that night with Murphy in her usual place, right between us with her head resting between our pillows. We never heard her cough all night long.
When my wife woke up, she noticed that Murphy had poo-pooed in the bed. I heard my wife say, "Oh, my baby doesn't feel good" and then she went into the bathroom to get some tissues to clean things up. She patted on Murphy, but Murphy didn't move, and my wife let out a scream.
Murphy's side was against my back, and I turned to look at her face. Her eyes were open, and she seemed OK, so at first I couldn't figure out why my wife was screaming. "She's not moving," she said.
Then I noticed Murphy's tongue was stuck slightly outside her mouth, and blood had come from her mouth and nose. I thought maybe she was choking, so I tried to press on her chest, thinking I could get something dislodged.
When she didn't respond, we frantically put a towel around her and carried her to the car. We drove to an emergency animal clinic that is about five miles from our house. The doctor there was wonderful and kind, but there was nothing she could do. It was January 14, 2004, Murphy's 11th birthday.
Based on the symptoms, the doctor said Murphy probably had died from a heart-related problem. Murphy had been diagnosed with a heart murmur when she was nine years old, but it had sounded mild. The emergency doctor, though, said heart murmurs, with little or no warning, can turn into a more serious valve problem and lead to sudden death. Also, there is a type of tumor that often grows in the heart or spleen and can cause sudden death in dogs. It is called hemangiosarcoma, and Murphy presented with a number of the symptoms.
Heartbroken, we took Murphy to her regular vet, Dr. Bill Christenberry at Caldwell Mill Animal Clinic, where she had an appointment scheduled that morning. We were in a daze, and there was nothing Dr. Christenberry could do, but it seemed like we should go there. When Dr. Christenberry and his colleagues were building their new building a few years earlier, we were one of many people who had bought commemorative bricks to honor our pets. Ours said "Murphy Shuler, God's gift." It just seemed natural to keep our appointment at Caldwell Mill.
The staff at the clinic must deal with death every day, but there was nothing commonplace or routine about the care and kindness they showed toward us. Dr. Christenberry agreed with the emergency vet on the probable causes of death, but explained that we could not know for sure without an autopsy. And he said even that is not always conclusive. We elected not to have an autopsy done, and the staff allowed us all the time we needed to be with Murphy. Dr. Christenberry prayed with us and thanked God for allowing Murphy to come into our lives.
The day we brought her home from Selma, we had taken Murphy to Dr. Christenberry for a checkup before we even took her home. She had been a great patient right from the start, and he knew how much she meant to us.
We elected to have Murphy cremated, and we keep her ashes in a wooden urn in our bedroom.
About a year after Murphy died, we adopted two Siamese cats (or Tonkinese, we're not sure), a brother and sister named Baxter and Chloe. A good friend of my wife's is a cat lover (I think she and her husband have seven cats), and she told us about Baxter and Chloe. They had a good home, in a family with a mom and dad and two children. But the dad developed allergies to the cats, so they needed to find them a good home.
We were happy to have them, and they've proven to be a wonderful blessing. They were about a year old when we got them, and for the first couple of weeks, they spent most of their time under the couch. But they warmed to us pretty quickly. Now we have to be careful when we turn around because one of them is likely to be following right behind us.
Murphy's tail had been docked, so we never had to worry about stepping on her tail. We quickly learned that we had to be careful around the cats and their tails. Also, Murphy was such a physical presence, with the clip clop of her feet on the floor, that you always knew when she was nearby. But the cats are so quiet that they can be right behind you, and you have no idea they are there. We've learned to move carefully.
Unlike Murphy, the cats don't seem to have a clue what we're saying when we talk to them. But they are funny and loving and comforting, in their strange, catlike ways. And we think they've decided that, all in all, they have a pretty good gig.
More on Murphy
I laughed that off. As I was growing up, my family had two mixed-breed terriers, "Peanuts" and "Barney." I remember playing with them, walking with them, loving on them. (I even remember picking ticks off of them. What fun!) But I didn't remember talking to them all that much.
We had only had Murphy a few weeks, before I realized that I was talking to her all the time. And she actually seemed to pay attention to what I said. Her eyes would lock on mine, and you could almost hear the wheels spinning in her head as she tried to figure out what was on my mind. We later heard that schnauzers are called "the dog with the human brain." And we could understand why.
Murphy was pretty much a joy from day one. But one problem cropped up early on that caused us considerable angst. Turns out our little girl liked to eat her poop. It's called coprophragia, and it's common among many young animals. But it freaked us out in a major way.
We went to our vet and got a powder to sprinkle on her food that is supposed to make the resulting poop less attractive. That didn't seem to work. We shudder to think about it now, but we actually talked for a few days about trying to find her a new home.
Fortunately, a family member had a cool head. My wife's sister had a little dog who had caused some problems in the early days. "There were times I wanted to flush her down the toilet," she said. "But be patient. This will go away."
We are eternally grateful for my sister-in-law's good sense. Murphy stopped eating her poop after about three weeks. And she soon became the center of our lives.
People often say the best day of their lives was the day they got married or the day their children were born. For us, it was the day we got Murphy.
We don't mean to diss wedding days in general, or ours in particular. And of course, we never would have found Murphy if we hadn't found each other. But the truth is, any marriage, even one that has worked pretty well for almost 18 years, is work. You see each other at your best, but also at your worst--when you're sick, angry, frustrated, afraid, moody. My wife has seen all of that and more from me, so I don't take offense when she says, "The day we got Murphy was the best day of my life." Only shows my wife is honest and has good sense--traits I admire in anyone.
Having Murphy was one of those rarities in life, with almost all ups and no downs. She was never grouchy, never aloof, never unreasonable, never unpleasant, never selfish, never dishonest. She never displayed any of those "charming" traits we so often see in humans. And except for two days, she always seemed to feel great.
I find it interesting that, as a society, our love for pets seems to be increasing at the same time that the amount of courtesy, kindness, and decency is decreasing. I think people cling to their pets because they find traits in them that are becoming increasingly scarce in the human world.
I know that was the case for us. Folks who are familiar with the Bible probably are aware of the fruits of the spirit as described in Galatians 5:22-23--love, joy, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness. I wasn't consulted on the writing of the Bible, but if I had been, I might have added a few more fruits--honesty, fairness, a sense of justice. Murphy had all of these fruits in ample supply.
I remember the minister at our church giving a wonderful talk to those of us who were preparing to be ushers. "Don't just hand out the bulletins or pass the offering plates," he said. "Look into the face of people. You'll be surprised at how often you find yourself looking into the face of God."
This might sound ridiculous to some people, but when my eyes locked on Murphy's, I felt I was looking into the face of God. No matter how bad life could get, and we were dealing with a number of health concerns and this godawful lawsuit, there always seemed to be a touch of holiness nearby as long as Murphy was around.
I like to think that God has a sense of humor. If that's the case, Murphy certainly spread the good news in her own distinctive way. I never knew a dog could be so funny. We called her our "little court jester." She would often drop both front legs into that classic "play" position that dogs do. Then when she knew she had our attention, she would get up, lower her rump and run from room to room in what we came to call the "scrunch run." It's like she was running in a semi-crouch, and she knew we thought it was hysterical, so she seemed to take special pleasure in doing it.
She also loved to play an indoor version of hide-and-seek. In fact, she taught me how she wanted to play it. I was to toss a tennis ball, and while she chased it, I was to hide in one of about five good hiding spots in our house. You could see her clicking off the hiding spots in her head until she came to the one where I was hiding. Then she would drop to the play position, let out a bark, and run to fetch the ball, ready for another round.
As she grew older, it became hard to believe that Murphy had actually been the quiet one of the two female schnauzers we saw. We've often wondered what kind of little pistol that other schnauzer must have turned into.
Schnauzers are known to be "barky," and Murphy certainly could let out a "war whoop" when a jogger or bicyclist came to her attention. (She particularly got fired up about crows. We would often have these huge crows come roam in our yard, doing that funky crow walk of theirs. Murphy would go nuts, and the crows seemed to ignore her completely.) But we managed to keep her barking to a minimum. For one thing, she almost never barked for no apparent reason. She barked because she considered herself "director of security" for our household (a job she took very seriously), and it was her calling to notify us when unfamiliar beings were nearby. Simply closing the blinds usually calmed her down.
Not only did we talk to Murphy all the time, but we wound up singing to her, too. She weighed 18 to 20 pounds, and it was almost solid muscle. We liked to say that she was built like a brick ****house, so naturally, the Commodores "Brick House" became one of her signature tunes.
As natives of the Bavaria region in Germany, schnauzers love cold weather. On steamy summer days in Alabama, Murphy wouldn't mind cutting her walks short. But on a cold, wintry night, we almost had to drag her back inside. Our joke was that she could "walk 500 miles," so the old Proclaimers tune, "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)," became another signature tune for the Murph. For nostalgia's sake, you can listen to the song here.
Let's see, what other songs were there? One was "We All Live With a Little Gray Schnauzer," to the tune of the Beatles' "Yellow Submarine." And there was one to the Bee Gees "Lonely Days" ("Lonely days, lonely nights, where would I be without my schnauzer?")
Everybody likes to think their dog is smart. But we truly were amazed by Murphy's vocabulary. Lunch was one word she picked up on real fast. We started spelling it, l-u-n-c-h, and darn if she didn't figure that out, too.
One of her favorite activities was going with us to the Sonic drive-in for supper. We would gather up a bag of paper plates, napkins etc., and Murphy quickly learned that meant she was going with us to Sonic. She would start getting so excited, so early, that we decided to spell that, too--S-o-n-i-c. Naturally, she learned that spelling, too.
We wouldn't feed her human food, but she seemed totally at peace in her taxi in the backseat as we chowed down on Supersonic cheeseburger combos (not recommended by your cardiologist). Our nearest Sonic tends to play songs from the 50s and 60s while you eat in your car, stuff by Elvis, the Beatles, Chuck Berry, Herman's Hermits, the Beach Boys, Johnny Rivers, the Dave Clark Five. Murphy seemed to really dig those classic tunes. We decided she had an old soul, the best kind.
For some reason, we developed this "conservative" political persona for Murphy. I guess it was because of that serious look schnauzers tend to have on their faces. And maybe, since my wife and I are moderate/liberals, we figured we needed to balance things out by making Murphy a "conservative." Our joke was that "Bullet" Bob Dornan, the former firebrand congressman from California, was the only politician who was conservative enough for Murphy's taste. And I often told her that, with her distinctive schnauzer beard, she looked like that great Republican president Rutherford B. Hayes. ("Just the thing every girl wants to hear, daddy," she would say.) Maybe we just wanted to believe it's possible for a conservative to be loving and funny. Maybe that's why we gave Murphy her "conservative" persona. But given how the conservative train has gone off the tracks under our current administration, we hope Murphy will forgive us for ever labeling her a conservative--even as a joke. She was much too smart to fall for the modern-day conservative agenda.
One of our fondest memories of Murphy was the night when she was a few months old and decided it was time for her to be a "big girl." She had been sleeping in her pet taxi, with a towel draped over it, in our bedroom. The towel seemed to keep her in a peaceful state, but one night at about 3 a.m., she let out a series of barks. It was her way of announcing that she was ready to sleep with the "grown ups."
We picked her up and placed her in our bed to see what she would do. She started "snurting" around, lifting up the covers with her snout. Then she decided to dig around for a while, as if there was something buried in our mattress that she desperately needed to uncover. (We called this "digging to China," and she always did it at bedtime.)
Once she was convinced that everything was in order, she curled up between us and went right to sleep. She slept between us every night for the rest of her life.
Why Legal Schnauzer?
So after we had been married two or three years, we decided to get a dog. We both had mixed breeds growing up, and we love a wonderful "mutt." But for some reason, we were driven to get a pure bred dog. We were both partial to small dogs, particularly in the terrier group. So that's where we began to look.
My wife has long had a fascination with Scotland, and she was interested in a Scottish terrier. But while flipping through a dog book one day, she came across the entry for miniature schnauzers. It said the schnauzer is a hardy, active, playful dog that tends to get along well with people of all ages and other pets. It generally is an indoor dog, but loves to take one or two nice walks a day. The schnauzer's wiry coat does require grooming every six to eight weeks, but it does not shed, making it an ideal dog for people with allergies (like my wife). All in all, the book said, "the miniature schnauzer is a great little character in the world of dogs."
We were sold. But as luck would have it, we were at a pet store one night when a young couple walked in with a schnauzer puppy. They let us pet him, and we were smitten even more.
My wife talked to several breeders over the phone and particularly liked a woman who lived near Selma. The woman seemed to genuinely care about her dogs, and she had two female salt-and-pepper schnauzers, which is what we were looking for. (Schnauzers also come in black, silver, and I think white.) The woman said one of the females was quiet and calm, while the other was more rambunctious.
We set off for Selma one March day in 1993. We had already picked out a name. The Dan Quayle/Murphy Brown/"family values" debate was going on about that time. We thought Dan Quayle was, for lack of a better term, a douche bag. And the notion of a Republican trying to claim some high ground on family values was, to us, laughable. So we sided with Murphy Brown, and we liked her feistiness and honesty.
We decided to name our dog Murphy. For a middle name, we chose Abigail. "Murphy Abigail Shuler." Had a nice ring, we thought.
The woman's home actually was about 15 to 20 miles south of Selma in the heart of Alabama's Black Belt. I recall a sign by the road that said Sardis, so I'm assuming that was the nearest town, although I never saw any indication that Sardis actually exists.
My wife had pictured the woman living in a neat white farmhouse, with pristine conditions all around. It wasn't quite that way. Many areas of Alabama are prospering, but "sub-Selma" is not one of them. Dallas, Wilcox, and surrounding counties make up one of the poorest areas in the state--and the country.
It turns out that Murphy and her littermates were born outside a trailer at the end of a dirt road. No white farmhouse was in sight, but the woman did seem to care for her dogs, and they all looked healthy and happy.
As advertised, one of the females was relatively quiet and the other was a spitfire. We wish we could have taken both of them home. But somehow, the quiet one particularly grabbed our hearts. She sat in the palm of our hands and immediately seemed to feel at home. I had never seen a schnauzer at such a young age and was surprised how much she looked like a raccoon.
As we held the quiet one, we noticed a couple of fleas on her, and that freaked my wife out. We talked for a while, and I told my wife this dog was everything we were looking for. We could give her a bath, get rid of the fleas, and she would be fine. Besides, I knew if we got back to Birmingham without this little dog, my wife would immediately want to turn around and head back to Selma to get her.
We paid the woman $150, got the papers, put Murphy in a pet taxi in the backseat of our car, and headed back to Birmingham. We stopped a couple of times to give Murphy a drink, let her walk around and do her "business." Then she was content to go back in her taxi. She never made a peep on the way to her new home.
Sunday, July 29, 2007
Thanks to Our Aussie Friends
I thought readers might be interested in the story behind the title of this blog.
As you might have guessed, my wife and I are big fans of dogs, cats, and other critters in general--and miniature schnauzers in particular. In fact, this blog is dedicated to the memory of a miniature schnauzer who enriched our lives in profound ways.
I'll tell you about her in a moment. But first, it's not often here at Legal Schnauzer that we get to give an international shout out. One is due to the fine folks at Valley View Dog Breeders of Gippsland, Victoria, Australia.
Our cover schnauzer, "Gumpie-Poo," is one of Valley View's dogs. (I wonder if she barks with an Aussie accent; I'm assuming she's a 'she'; don't see any 'equipment' in the photo.)
When I was planning this blog, I searched a number of image sites on the Web, and found many wonderful shots of miniature schnauzers. But my wife and I fell in love with the photo of Gumpie-Poo.
To us, the photo captures so much that is wonderful about schnauzers (and many dogs). Gumpie-Poo is playful, vibrant, happy, and a little bit of a showboat (in the best kind of way). You can almost see her thinking, "Gee, these people seem to love it when I jump over this thing. So I'm going to do it again and again."
A number of writers have described the schnauzer's playful spirit. One called them "little court jesters." That fits perfectly.
Anyway, the folks at Valley View were kind enough to grant us permission to use Gumpie-Poo's photo. So thank you, mates.
And yes, there is one other reason we adore the picture of Gumpie-Poo. She looks an awful lot like our precious girl.
Alice Martin: Queen of Schemes
The Associated Press reports that U.S. District Judge William M. Acker will seek prosecution of Mississippi lawyer Richard Scruggs on criminal contempt charges. Acker's announcement Friday came after Martin declined without explanation to prosecute Scruggs.
Scruggs, who represents Hurrican Katrina victims disputing their insurance coverage, had been ordered to return documents to an adjusting firm that was working for State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. Acker found that Scruggs had not complied with the order and appointed special prosecutors to handle the case once Martin declined to prosecute.
Why would Alice Martin, a Republican appointee, decline to prosecute a plaintiff's attorney such as Richard Scruggs? Shouldn't a "conservative" prosecutor be anxious to go after one of those evil trial lawyers?
Well, it turns out that Richard Scruggs is the brother-in-law of U.S. Senator Trent Lott, R-MS. That of course is the same Trent Lott who lost his position as senate majority leader after making racially charged remarks regarding the long-ago presidential campaign of Strom Thurmond.
In fact, Scruggs served as attorney for Lott, whose home was destroyed by Katrina. Interesting that Lott, long an advocate of tort reform, turns to a trial lawyer when he feels an insurance company is giving him the runaround. I guess a Republican's support of corporations only goes so far. Can we say hypocrisy?
And can we say selective prosecution? Would Scruggs's ties to a GOP heavyweight have anything to do with the free pass he received from Ms. Martin?
Actually, the evidence continues to pile up that Alice Martin is a prime practitioner of selective prosecution, the subject of a planned investigation by the U.S. House Judiciary Committee.
Interestingly, I've received evidence of Alice Martin's underhanded prosecutorial tactics in an up-close way the past few days. I will be providing details in the days and weeks ahead.
Friday, July 27, 2007
Portrait of Financial Terrorists
But how does a regular person handle such legal expenses? What if you are regular middle-class folks who get sued and your homeowner's insurance will not cover it? That's what my wife and I faced.
When I was sued, I called a Birmingham lawyer who was well known for handling property-related matters. He was a partner at a downtown Birmingham firm and took the case. An associate handled most of the work, but the costs were still steep. The partner charged $200 an hour and the associate charged $150. That was seven years ago, so I'm sure their rates have gone up.
(By the way, this pair has since moved to a different firm; much more about them in future posts. I used to think that if you went to a reputable firm and paid major bucks, you would get honest and whole-hearted legal representation. Boy, was I wrong about that.)
Considering how long legal proceedings draw out, and how much time it takes to prepare major documents such as motions for summary judgment, you are talking serious dollars in a hurry.
And the dollars get really serious when the judge is cheating you, causing a bogus case to last five or six times longer than it should have, by law.
How does this affect a regular person? It can ruin your financial picture and put you at risk of losing your home. I remember getting monthly legal bills that were in the four figures. And my wife and I both got almost physically ill when we had to go to the mailbox. What's coming today, we wondered, a godawful bill or another bogus ruling from this so-called judge?
I recently summoned the courage to look back at the monthly legal bills we received during the time I was represented by this firm. Four bills were in the quadruple digits, with one over $2,000 and another just shy of that mark. One included a charge of $800 for "research" that I never authorized and was never told about in advance. It also was for research that would have been totally unnecessary if we'd had an honest judge.
In all, we spent almost $12,000 with this firm, and they could not manage to get a clearly fraudulent case dismissed. Heck, Chucky the ground squirrel who lives in our backyard could have gotten this case dismissed. He told me so just the other day. "Man, you have the worst luck with lawyers," he said, as he dug his 35th hole in our yard. "Remind me not to get a recommendation from you next time I need a pre-nup." (I gather Chucky's had bad luck with the ladies. Thank God, I've been pretty lucky in that regard. At least my wife tells me so on a regular basis.)
What did I get from my "high-class" lawyers? Well, they refused to file a clear counterclaim and lied to me about it in the process. When it became clear that these "barristers" were more interested in pleasing a corrupt judge than representing me, I fired them and went with a solo practitioner. He charged $4,500 up front and wound up doing almost nothing on the case, telling copious lies as well. By the time I wised up and figured out how to represent myself, we were almost $17,000 in the hole, with zero to show for it.
I will provide many more details on these lawyers and their "non-actions" on my behalf in future posts. But for now, my point is to show the devastating financial consequences the most bogus of lawsuits can have for middle-class people. And the whole thing can do a number on your mental and physical health--not to mention your credit report.
Judges, I'm sure, are well aware of how expensive it is to hire a lawyer. And I'm sure these judges knew, based on our address, that we are not wealthy. I'm convinced that the whole point of the multiple unlawful rulings in my case was this: The judges, J. Michael Joiner and G. Dan Reeves of Shelby County, wanted to put so much financial stress on my wife and me that we would cave and give them whatever twisted outcome they wanted. I'm also convinced that the lawyers we were paying so handsomely knew all about it--and did nothing.I call it financial terrorism, and my research indicates a lot of state judges practice it. One of my goals with Legal Schnauzer is to show that terrorists come in many varieties. They don't all have dark skin and names like Osama or Abdul. Some of them are unctuous white guys wearing robes, with good old American names like Mike and Dan and Ron. And some of them are regular lawyers, with common names like Bill and Jesse and Michael and Richard.
You already know how some terrorists operate. We'll soon be showing you exactly how judicial terrorists conduct their dirty deeds.
We'll also show you the financial devastation they leave in their wake.
Thursday, July 26, 2007
Is Eddie Curran for Real?
I'm hoping the commenter is an impostor. As a journalist with almost 30 years of experience myself, I hate to think that the profession has sunk to the level of sophomoric thinking exhibited by our "Eddie Curran."
But considering published reports that the real Eddie Curran has a tendency to behave like an ass in public, I can only assume that our "Eddie Curran" is the real article. With that in mind, I have a few questions for Mr. Curran:
* In your initial comment, you seemed disturbed that I had written that I e-mailed you regarding governmental wrongdoing of a statewide nature and never received a response. You challenged me to post the e-mail to prove I had sent it and wasn't, to use your terms, "making this up." When I published the e-mail, you didn't respond to it again. To refresh your memory of the issues at hand, I recited them in my post and invited you to contact me so that you could report the story for your readers. Your only response was some ramblings about conspiracy theories, the Trilateral Commission, and Karl Rove. Why don't you reply, either to my original e-mail or yesterday's post, with a professional response?
* I assume something or someone tipped you off regarding wrongdoing in the Siegelman administration, and you acted on that information. Good for you; that's what investigative reporters are supposed to do. But what's different about that tip and the tip I have been trying to provide you for quite some time now? Why act on one and not the other?
* The heart of the Siegelman matter seemed to be that certain people were granted improper favors (economic or otherwise) based on their political ties to the administration. In the course of that activity, the U.S. mails were used, and according to prosecutors, that constituted honest services mail fraud under 18 U.S. Code 1346. Counts related to section 1346 amounted to approximately two-thirds of the case against Siegelman. The same activity is involved in the case I've witnessed, only it involves the judicial branch (with probable connections to the executive branch). The heart of the matter? Certain people receive favors in Alabama courts based on their political ties to the state GOP and the governor's office, and the U.S. mails have been repeatedly used in furtherance of that scheme. That's honest services mail fraud. So again, why intense interest in one instance of governmental wrongdoing and no interest in another?
* Are judges somehow immune from scrutiny? Do the robes and the "Your Honor" business somehow give them a free pass. As a reporter, you are trained to be skeptical. Why not take a critical look at our judicial branch and see if they really are as high-minded as they claim to be? Republican judicial candidates almost invariably style themselves as "strict constructionists" who follow the true written law. Do they live up to those words? Why don't you check it out? And if you come across corrupt Democrats in the judiciary, check them out too.
* None of my earlier e-mails nor my post of yesterday had anything to do with Don Siegelman. So why the snarky comments that seemed to refer to conspiracies regarding the former governor's prosecution? You seem to be a bit sensitive about that subject. As for me, I'm for investigation and (if merited) prosecution of wrongdoers from either party. Our government in Alabama stinks to high heavens most of the time. But the judicial branch seems to get a free pass. I have irrefutable information that shows the judiciary's free pass is not deserved.
* Finally, why get all exorcised over my statement that you had not responded to my e-mail? Based on what I've seen, you make a happen out of not responding to e-mails, so why get worked up over it?
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
A Response to Eddie Curran
Curran is the reporter whose investigative work broke the Don Siegelman story. In a press release last week, Louis Franklin (acting U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama) said it was Curran's reporting, not any push from the White House, that instigated the investigation and prosecution of Siegelman.
As you can tell from reading his comment, Curran does not seem to be pleased with my July 22 post. He takes a shot or two at the Legal Schnauzer blog and asks me to provide evidence that I ever e-mailed him, and did not receive a response, about the judicial wrongdoing I have witnessed in Alabama.
Under the assumption that the person who left the comment actually is Eddie Curran, I will respond to his remarks:
I e-mailed Mr. Curran on January, 23, 2007, and here are the contents of that e-mail:
I e-mailed you a few months back about a possible article on judicial wrongdoing in Alabama. You evidently were not able to pursue the story at that time, but I wanted to update you on my story idea, particularly in light of the recent national coverage (Adam Cohen in The New York Times) about the Jack Cline case in Alabama.
The Cline story is a sad case of a man becoming ill, apparently due to exposure to toxins in the workplace, but being unable to successfully sue because of poorly reasoned statutory and case law. Mr. Cline died earlier this week, prompting national coverage on his case.
As sad as the Cline story is, it evidently does not involve wrongdoing by judges. They seem to have simply applied the law as it is written--even though the law makes no sense.
My case is a matter of multiple trial-court judges repeatedly making unlawful rulings, and Alabama appellate courts allowing it to stand (misusing the state's "no opinion affirmance" rule). So far, I've been pretty much a lone voice crying in the wilderness on this issue. But I've become aware of a prominent attorney in Montgomery who is willing to speak out about it. He says numerous attorneys have told him of having unlawful trial rulings upheld with no-opinion affirmances by the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals (exactly what happened to me.) The attorney I know says most lawyers are unwilling to speak out for fear of judicial retribution. But the lawyer I know says he is willing to speak out. And he seems to think the problem is widespread.
If you are interested, I would be glad to provide his contact information. Of course, I also would be glad to provide information about my case, which could be Exhibit A of how Alabama courts abuse the constitutional rights of average citizens.
I never received a response to this e-mail. As you can tell from the first sentence, I had e-mailed him a few months prior to this and received no response. I'm looking for that e-mail, but I have changed e-mail accounts since then, and I may not be able to find it. (Note: This copy above is from a draft of the January 23 e-mail I wrote to Mr. Curran. I also have the sent version, which appears to be identical, but in the e-mail account I used at the time I'm not sure how to cut and paste copy out of a sent e-mail. If anyone knows how to do that, I'm all ears.)
I believe the e-mail I can't find was sent between January and May 2006. Mr. Curran might be able to find it in his records. I will continue looking for any other e-mails related to Mr. Curran.
For the record, I've also e-mailed Register reporters Ben Rains and Brendan Kirby. Never heard from Mr. Rains. Did hear from Mr. Kirby, and we had 2-3 e-mail exchanges. He seemed to have some interest, but never did anything, to my knowledge.
As for Mr. Curran, I assume he would agree that it's rather unimportant who sent what e-mail when at this point. The more important issue is that there is a major story out there showing that one third of Alabama's government (the judicial branch) is corrupt from the district and circuit levels up to the Supreme Court. It involves federal crimes (mail fraud), and U.S. law enforcement agencies have been notified of it repeatedly and done nothing about it to my knowledge. This is precisely the kind of "selective prosecution" that Democrats say they will investigate in the U.S. House. On a state level, this all started when an attorney named Bill Swatek (who has a long history of ethical problems with the Alabama State Bar) filed a bogus lawsuit against me. Under Alabama law, the lawsuit had to be dismissed (summary judgment) in a matter of 6-8 months, and Mr. Swatek should have been held accountable for filing a lawsuit with no basis in law or fact. Instead the lawsuit dragged on for about five years, costing me and Alabama taxpayers thousands of dollars--and Mr. Swatek got away without a scratch.
It might help that Mr. Swatek's son, Dax Swatek, is a fund-raiser/consultant for a number of GOP politicians, including Gov. Bob Riley. That seems to protect Bill Swatek from having to answer for his abuse of the justice system. So you see this appears to have ties to the executive branch, too.
If you are, in fact, Eddie Curran, and if you are interested in pursuing another important story, please contact me here at Legal Schnauzer. I would be glad to show you what I'm talking about. The law involved is so simple, and the wrongdoing is so blatant, that it is not hard to explain.
Mobile Press-Register: A Class Act
If selective prosecution is going on, based on politics, the Register evidently has no problem with it. And the paper evidently does not even view the subject worthy of investigation. Nice to see the watchdog press cozy up to folks in position of power.
Of course, the Register might have to be excused. The editorial came one day after Louis Franklin, acting U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Alabama, issued a press release heaping praise on the paper and reporter Eddie Curran for their role in breaking the Siegelman story. Guess the Register folks are still swooning from Franklin's bouquets.
Here is a story about Curran's behavior during the Siegelman investigation. Didn't notice any mention of this in the Register editorial--or in Franklin's press release.
Remember, the Register, Birmingham News, and Huntsville Times all are owned by the Newhouse newspaper chain. The Register editorial probably provides a glimpse into the mindset at all three papers regarding the DOJ scandal. If you are waiting for aggressive reporting from any of these papers on the DOJ scandal and how it has touched Alabama, I wouldn't hold your breath.
After all, it's only the biggest domestic story in the country right now. And over the past several weeks, it has focused on Alabama. Hey, why would they want to look into a story like that?
Still wonder if concerns about the corporate press are justified?
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
A Little Crime Hides a Big Crime
Kimberly Jean Snow, a 27-year-old assistant prosecutor in the Shelby County District Attorney's Office, has resigned her position after being arrested for stealing $70 worth of nutrition bars from a Wal-Mart on U.S. 280 in Birmingham.
Snow is charged with third-degree theft, a misdemeanor, and could face up to a year in jail. But her boss, Shelby County DA Robert Owens, said there usually is no jail time on a first offense.
Snow self-reported the incident to the Alabama State Bar, which could take disciplinary action regarding her license to practice law if she is convicted.
The Legal Schnauzer has had many unpleasant encounters in the Shelby County Courthouse in general, and the DA's office in particular, so this story hits close to home for me. A few thoughts:
* I hope Ms. Snow gets her personal and professional life back on track. Would be a shame if this incident caused permanent damage to her career.
* When I signed a complaint against my Neighbor From Hell (NFH) for criminal trespass, third degree back in 1999, Ms. Snow probably was just getting out of high school or entering college. I've never met her, but I'm familiar with the challenges assistant DAs face in Shelby County District Court. Shelby County is the fastest growing county in Alabama, and that has an effect on the courthouse. The young attorney on my case was Jeff Hester (now in private practice), and he was swamped with cases and could barely give my little trespass case any attention. He also had to deal with, I know now, judges who are corrupt and DA superiors who also like to play fast and loose with the law. My guess is that Ms. Snow faced tremendous stress on her job, and that might have contributed to this shoplifting incident.
* Any crime that Ms. Snow might have committed is the least of the problems in the Shelby County DA's office. As I mentioned in a post a few days ago, I was assaulted by NFH back in October 2006. He hit me in the back with a roadside sign and left a bloody welt on my back. The law in Alabama is abundantly clear: You hit someone with a dangerous instrument (can be anything from a pencil to a club, depending on how it's used) and you cause an injury, it's a felony. (If NFH had hit me with his fist, causing the same injury, it would have been a misdemeanor; but the law strongly discourages hitting people with objects.) Bill Bostick, Owens' chief assistant in the DA's office, told me on the phone that my case was a misdemeanor. When I cited to him what the law actually says, he wasn't swayed. Because it's a misdemeanor, he said, I would have to sign a complaint myself and the case would be heard in district court before Judge Ron Jackson. (I've been down that road before, on the criminal trespass case. Have no desire to go there again. I suspect the braintrust at the courthouse wants a case like this in district court because you have bench trials there. No jury involved, so it's much easier for them. Felony cases involve juries, as I understand it.)
* A brief word about Judge Jackson. He's the "jurist" who found NFH not guilty of criminal trespass, which led to the lawsuit against me. What kind of judge is Jackson? Well, in my NFH case, he acquitted a defendant who actually confessed to the crime during the trial. (I'm not making this up, I have the trial transcript!) NFH, of course, did not mean to confess. But he evidently had no clue what the law actually says about criminal trespass--and neither did the judge. Jackson created law, pulling it from some dark crevice beneath his robe, to justify NFH's acquittal. So much for Republicans not legislating from the bench. (Many more details coming on this in future posts.)
* After being told by Bostick that the assault against me was a misdemeanor, I sent a letter to Owens, the DA. I outlined the facts and the actual law, and I noted that I had an eye witness who saw the incident. I even sent him pictures of the bloody welt on my back. I asked Owens to contact me so that the case could be prosecuted for the felony that it is. I'm still waiting for his call.
* The Birmingham News put the story of Ms. Snow on the front page. That's great isn't it? A 27-year-old junior prosecutor makes a mistake, and it winds up on the front page. I have undeniable evidence that circuit judges J. Michael Joiner and G. Dan Reeves have repeatedly committed honest services mail fraud, a federal crime, and the News won't even look into it. The paper certainly has its priorities in order.
* I worked for several years with Nancy Wilstach, the reporter who wrote the article on Ms. Snow. I know Nancy to be a hard-working, conscientious reporter. In fact, she was on hand when I argued my third motion for summary judgment before Judge Reeves. I had presented my properly supported motion, and NFH's attorney (Bill Swatek) had presented nothing--no response, no evidence, nada. I told Reeves that, under those circumstances, the law required him to grant summary judgment. It became obvious that Reeves was not going to act as he was required to act under the law, so I again said summary judgment had to be granted. Reeves then threatened to hold me in contempt and throw me in jail. For good measure, he said, "Mr. Shuler, you don't have an attorney, and that's why all the rulings keep going against you." Nancy Wilstach sat right there for the whole thing and never wrote a word. I'm sure she knew her superiors at the News wouldn't allow it.
* One final thought: Reeves and Joiner told me on probably a half dozen occasions that I needed to get an attorney. Of course, I had already hired two different attorneys, and neither was able to get a bogus case dismissed. It wasn't until later that I realized why the judges wanted me to have a lawyer, as opposed to representing myself. They would use my own lawyer against me, continuing to unlawfully deny summary judgment and applying financial pressure until I caved in to some kind of bad agreement. And I'm convinced they were doing that all along with my attorneys. (I bet many attorneys have experienced this kind of extortion from judges, and they can't say anything about it to their clients. The Alabama Code of Professional Conduct requires lawyers to report wrongdoing by other lawyers and judges. But if a lawyer did report this kind of stuff, he could kiss his career goodbye. He would be blackballed by judges and could not represent any clients effectively. It's the dirty little secret of the legal business, and most clients have no idea that it happens. They write their monthly checks to pay their lawyers, and meanwhile their lawyers are being forced by judges to work against them.)
* Nothing like a schnauzer to pull the mask off this dirty little charade. Stay tuned.
Monday, July 23, 2007
An Indictment of The Birmingham News
Why is this important? Several reasons.
For one, the major domestic story in the country at the moment is the U.S. Attorneys/Department of Justice scandal. For weeks now, Alabama has been at the center of the scandal, thanks to the prosecution of former Governor Don Siegelman and Dana Jill Simpson's affidavit indicating the prosecution was politically motivated. For another, The Birmingham News is not just another newspaper. It recently received the Pulitzer Prize, the highest award in journalism, for its reporting on the two-year-colleges scandal in Alabama (which involves mostly Democrats). A paper of the News' stature should cover wrongdoing aggressively, whether it involves Democrats for Republicans. But recent evidence strongly suggests that is not the case with the News.
* Horton points out the misleading nature of a News article about the Simpson affidavit.
* Horton labels the News the official apologists for the conservative slant on the Siegelman story. And he presents evidence that shows why the paper deserves that title.
* Horton shows how the News and other Alabama newspapers seem to want the Simpson affidavit story to just go away.
* Horton points out errors in a column by Robin DeMonia, criticizing U.S. Rep. Artur Davis for seeking a Congressional inquiry into the Siegelman prosecution.
* Finally, Horton compares the Alabama press, led by the News, to the press in Albania and Zimbabwe.
Your humble Legal Schnauzer has added to the equation by offering evidence of the double standard The News' holds in its coverage of local issues:* We note the paper's bizarre story, by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Brett Blackledge, purporting to show that the Simpson affidavit might or might not show White House involvement in the Siegelman prosecution.
* We provide an insider's view of the News' response to tips about wrongdoing by Republican judges in Alabama, citing a half dozen reporters and editors who never bothered to even look into the matter.
* We present a copy of a letter to the editor that the News refused to print on the subject of judicial wrongdoing.
* We compare the News' response to tips about wrongdoing in Alabama's two-year-colleges system (involving mostly Democrats in the state legislature) to its response to our tips about wrongdoing by state judges (all Republicans).
* We show the News' hypocrisy when it comes to Alabama's judicial system. On the one hand, the paper editorializes about the perception that the state's courts are corrupt. It even admits that such a perception equals reality in some cases. But in its news coverage, the paper ignores the subject, even when an insider offers clear-cut proof of wrongdoing.
* Finally, Horton and the Schnauzer combine to show that The Birmingham News is not alone in its two-faced reporting. The Huntsville Times and Mobile Press-Register (both Newhouse papers, like The News) and the Montgomery Advertiser also have shown double standards when it comes to reporting wrongdoing by Democrats as opposed to wrongdoing by Republicans.
So what's our final word on this indictment of The Birmingham News?
Pontificating about the obvious corruption in Alabama's courts? Easy.
Actually doing a little digging to report on the corruption? Hard.
Sticking head in sand to protect right-wing constituents? Priceless.
A Certain Kind of Thief
Archibald was at the downtown YMCA one day when someone evidently broke into his locker and stole his wallet and cell phone. Archibald wrote a column about it under the headline "They stole from me, and I'm furious." He calls the thieves "pigs," and I can't say I blame him. I've had items stolen, and it's infuriating.
My guess is that when most people read Archibald's column, they pictured a sneaky guy (maybe someone of color) using crude tools to violate Archibald and commit a crime. I thought of a different kind of thief, the kind that has ripped me off most recently.
I thought of thieves who have law degrees. Some of them wear robes and go by the title "Your Honor."
The corrupt judges and lawyers I will focus on in Legal Schnauzer are no better than the slimeball who ripped off Archibald. In fact, in my mind, they are far worse. Alabama lawyers are "officers of the court" and are supposed to adhere to strict standards of professionalism. When they possess information about wrongdoing by other lawyers or judges, they are required by the Alabama Rules of Professional Conduct to report it to a tribunal or proper authority.
Judges take an oath to uphold the law, and they make mighty fine livings on taxpayer dollars. In fact, state judges in Alabama are among the highest paid in the nation.
Archibald did not state a value of the items that were stolen from his locker. But consider how much judges and lawyers have stolen from my wife and me. Just in legal fees alone, it amounts to almost $20,000. When other costs are factored in, it runs into the $30,000 to $40,000 range. And consider the time it has cost me, especially since I was forced to represent myself in court. If I were paid $100 an hour for the time I spent on this bogus lawsuit (and $100/hour is cheaper than you could find any lawyer), the total price tag would run well into the six figures. And that doesn't include emotional distress we have suffered or punitive damages that should be awarded in a case of intentional fraud, such as this one.
So why is it The Birmingham News devotes a full column to the theft that Archibald experienced, while ignoring the judicial thieves that I have encountered? And I am not the only Alabamian that judicial thieves prey upon. Ray Vaughan, a prominent Montgomery attorney and former candidate for a seat on the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals, has written in public documents that it is not unusual for trial courts to make unlawful rulings in favor of certain parties--and for appeals courts to let the rulings stand. In other words, Alabamians get cheated all the time, and the press just lets it go on.
I don't mean to make light of Archibald's misfortune. I've communicated with him via e-mail previously, and he impresses me as a competent, honorable journalist. Given the opportunity, I think he would expose wrongdoing in Alabama's courts.
But it appears the higher ups at the News, probably concerned that my story in particular would shine a bad light on Briarwood Presbyterian Church/School, won't allow Archibald, or any other reporter, to touch it. They would rather focus attention on a petty thief, as opposed to the judicial thieves who steal thousands both from litigants and from Alabama taxpayers.
And so the hypocritical right-wing world turns.
Sunday, July 22, 2007
Alabama's Incestuous Press
The Birmingham News, Huntsville Times, and Mobile Press-Register all come under the Newhouse flag. They all come under the Alabama Live Web site (Al.com). And they all come under blistering fire from Scott Horton of Harper's who says the papers' coverage shaped the Don Siegelman prosecution.
In fact, the recent press release from Louis Franklin, acting U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama, confirmed the importance of Newhouse papers in the Siegelman saga. Franklin said several times that it was investigative reporting by Eddie Curran, of the Mobile Press-Register, that sparked the Siegelman investigation, not any pushing from Karl Rove or the White House.
Now, I have no problem with aggressive reporting, of Republicans or Democrats. In fact, I welcome it. But Horton makes a good point when he states that Alabama newspapers are curiously timid now that the U.S. Attorneys scandal is focusing on Alabama, thanks largely to Dana Jill Simpson's affidavit related to the Siegelman case.
As Horton states, the U.S. Attorneys scandal is the biggest domestic story in the country at the moment. And it is focused right here in Alabama. But the state's three Newhouse papers have hardly distinguished themselves with aggressive reporting. Horton notes that he currently is in Great Britain, and the U.S. Attorneys story is receiving major play there.
I would add a couple of points about the Alabama press, based on my experience from contacting papers regarding the wrongdoing I've witnessed by multiple Republican judges:
* I would add the Montgomery Advertiser to Horton's list of dishonor. That paper is owned by Ganett, and it too seems to have no stomach for even looking into Republican wrongdoing that is right under its nose. About two years ago, I contacted veteran reporter Bob Lowry and executive editor Wanda Lloyd. Neither showed any interest in looking into the story, which by that point, included unlawful rulings by the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals, which is in Montgomery. Ms. Lloyd is an African-American woman with an impressive resume (stints at Washington Post, USA Today), and her hiring was hailed as a positive sign of change. But I see no evidence that she has put any bite into the Advertiser's news coverage. More recently, I contacted reporter Mike Linn at the Advertiser, and he seemed interested in the story. But he quickly quit returning my e-mails, making me think he was told to let it go.
* I've e-mailed Eddie Curran at least twice about my story. I'm still waiting for a response. I know at least one of the e-mails was after unlawful rulings in my case by the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals and the Alabama Supreme Court, making it a statewide story. Perhaps Mr. Curran was tied up with other things at the time. I will give him another chance to sink his teeth into a meaty story, much like he did with the Siegelman story. By the way, here is an interesting story that gives an idea of the intensity with which Curran approached the Siegelman story.
Saturday, July 21, 2007
Simpson Returns Fire
Scott Horton of Harper's reports on Simpson's reply here.
Simpson refers to "false and gross distortions" in Franklin's press release. She also wonders if Franklin's statements violate ethical standards, particularly related to a case that is on appeal. She says she knew the Riley people would come after her and is reminded of a quote from her grandfather: "Only a hit dog hollers."
Simpson also raises an issue that will become a key part of our story here at Legal Schnauzer. Under the Alabama Rules of Professional Conduct, an attorney who becomes aware of unethical conduct on the part of another lawyer or judge is required to report it. Simpson says this is a key reason she came forward in the Siegelman matter.
Attorneys in my case repeatedly failed in their duty to report wrongdoing by other lawyers and judges. We will be dealing with this issue in detail here at Legal Schnauzer.
Simpson affidavit revisited
The article states that most of Simpson's affidavit is devoted to matters other than possible wrongdoing by GOP operatives in the prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman. The affidavit, AP states, primarily deals with a possible Democratic party dirty trick (placing Bob Riley signs at a KKK rally) and how the threat to expose the scheme forced Siegelman to concede the 2002 election to Riley. Simpson quotes Terry Butts as saying he would confront Siegelman about the dirty trick and get him to withdraw.
AP's story goes on to quote two former Siegelman aides, Joe Espy and Rip Andrews, saying they don't recall any discussion of a KKK rally. Espy says he recalls Siegelman dropping the election challenge for several reasons. Espy gives no indication that a threat to expose the Democrat dirty trick had anything to do with it. Siegelman himself, in a separate article, has said he dropped out because he did not want a repeat of Al Gore's challenge to the 2000 presidential race.
A few thoughts on these latest developments releated to the Simpson affidavit:
* The AP article appears to have grown out of the nine-page press release issued last week by Louis Franklin, acting U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama. Franklin asserted several times that even the Siegelman side contradicted portions of the Simpson affidavit.
* The AP article states that Simpson's affidavit deals mostly with the KKK-related dirty trick. In terms of space devoted to one subject in the affidavit, the AP is correct. But the KKK-related dirty trick is hardly the main intellectual point of the affidavit. The main point is summed up in the final statement in Simpson's affidavit: That she believes everyone has a sixth-amendment right to have an attorney who does not have a conflict, and she believed Terry Butts did have a conflict in the Siegelman matter.
* The headline on the AP story is misleading. Neither Espy nor Andrews truly contradicts the Simpson affidavit. They simply say they do not remember any discussion in their circles about a Klan rally. Andrews goes on to say that he doesn't discount the substance of Simpson's affidavit. The headline makes no mention of this.
* Both the AP and Franklin's press release indicate that Simpson's affidavit says something it does not say. In her affidavit, Simpson says she was called by Rob Riley on November 18, 2002, and told Terry Butts had talked with Siegelman and that Siegelman would be resigning before the ten o'clock news. She goes on to state that Siegelman gave up his election contest that night. Simpson states that she called Art Leach, an attorney for Richard Scrushy, and "told him why I believed Don Siegelman had conceded and Mr. Butts role in getting Mr. Siegelman to concede." Simpson is stating what she believes happened regarding Siegelman's concession, based on what she has heard from people involved in the conference call that is at the heart of her affidavit. Recall that Simpson was (and apparently still is) a Republican, on the opposing side of Siegelman. She never claims to have first-hand knowledge of what was happening on the Siegelman side. But she does have first-hand knowledge of Butts' conflict, and that is the point of her affidavit. She never claims to know what caused Siegelman to concede.
* I have to give credit to Louis Franklin. My guess is that he hoped his press release would muddy the waters and somehow discredit Simpson's affidavit. And the press release evidently accomplished that, at least in the minds of some. But if you read what Simpson's affidavit actually says, and what the former Siegelman aides actually say in the AP story, there is no contradiction taking place.
* In terms of matters to which she had first-hand knowledge, Simpson's affidavit still looks rock solid from here. By the way, the Simpson affidavit is available here.
* Until someone truly contradicts the key points of Simpon's affidavit--that Terry Butts had a conflict and a conference call involving Republican operatives indicated that the Siegelman prosecution was politically motivated (with ties to the Bush White House)--folks on the right might want to keep looking for something of substance to latch on to.
Thursday, July 19, 2007
The Pathetic Press in Alabama
Horton writes the No Comment blog for Harper's magazine. And today's post, "Lieutenant Gustl Visits Alabama, is one for the ages.
"It's hard to think of a place where the press is quite so blighted as Alabama," Horton writes. "Albania perhaps? Zimbabwe?"
Then he goes on to dissect today's Birmingham News editorial on the Don Siegelman prosecution and the prospect of a Congressional investigation.
Horton's piece has too many highlights to mention. But perhaps my favorite comes when The News states (as it has several times previously) that the alleged conversation outlined in Simpson's affidavit took place months after the federal investigation of Siegelman became public knowledge. The News makes this assertion as if it somehow proves that Karl Rove and the Bush Administration had nothing to do with the Siegelman case. And Horton is just the guy to call them on it.
"Of course, her affidavit said that," he writes. "It said that Rove had previously discussed the case with Justice."
Watching someone of Horton's intellect take on The Birmingham News is like watching George Foreman battle Gary Coleman in the boxing ring. It seems hopelessly unfair, but you can't help but watch.
As for the Legal Schnauzer case, it almost makes me glad the Alabama press has ignored it. I'm not sure there is a mainstream Alabama media outfit that has the curiosity, ability, and intellectual honesty to pursue a story like the one you will see unfold on this blog.
Actually, I think there are some quite capable individual reporters in Alabama. But leadership at the state's news outlets seems to be sorely lacking. In that regard, Alabama's press is a lot like its courts.
At the lower levels of the Alabama justice system--the law libraries, the clerk's offices--you will find some outstanding people. But the higher up you go, the worse it gets. And the stench is most foul at the top, where the judges reside.
A Republican to Admire
The more I learn about the north Alabama lawyer, the more I find to admire. Since taking steps to reveal the political motivations behind the Don Siegelman prosecution, Simpson has experienced a house fire, an automobile wreck, and a persistent public thrashing from various Republicans and prosecutors connected to the Siegelman case.
But in spite of it all, Simpson is standing by her affidavit related to the Siegelman case, according to TPM Muckraker. She is even straightening out some misleading reporting by The Birmingham News.
In case you missed it, here is the text of Simpson's recent press release, which was pretty much ignored by the Alabama press.
Sounds like Simpson is ready to go to war. Will Congress give her a platform?
A Prosecutor's Lament
That's how I used to look at it. But after being a victim of a crime, and seeing up close how prosecutors actually work (at least the ones in Shelby County, Alabama), my opinion of them has plummeted.
Now comes Louis Franklin, acting U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama, issuing a bizarre press release about media coverage of the Don Siegelman prosecution and tarnishing the reputation of his profession even further.
Franklin seems exorcised at the growing spectre of a congressional inquiry into the Siegelman prosecution. And you have to wonder why. Franklin got the conviction he wanted, and Siegelman and Scrushy are in federal prison. Franklin claims to be confident that the prosecution was just and the jury came to the correct decision. So why is he so worked up over media coverage of the matter?
It's not all media coverage that troubles Franklin. He seems to take every word printed by the right-leaning Birmingham News and Mobile Press-Register as gospel. But he can barely control his venom for Time magazine and The New York Times, the ones who raise questions about the motives of the Bush Justice Department.
In all of the emotion of his statement, Franklin seems to have trouble with some facts. Scott Horton of Harper's provides insight into the prosecutor's misstatements. Horton follows up with a classic critique of Alabama newspapers, the very ones that Franklin seems to admire so.
It's fascinating to get a glimpse of Franklin's mindset. He repeatedly equates Dana Jill Simpson's affidavit (signed under oath) with the media denials of Bill Canary, Terry Butts and company (which, of course, are unsworn). Not only does Franklin not seem to see any difference between the two, he thinks the unsworn statements hold much more water than Simpson's sworn statements. If that's how he thinks, you do have to wonder about the handling of the Siegelman case.
One can only guess at what Franklin hoped to achieve by issuing his nine-page missive. But if he wanted to calm charges of politicization in the U.S. Justice Department, he failed miserably.
Franklin's statement is filled with partisan rants. Whatever happened to the notion of a prosecutor as even-tempered, objective, above-the-fray? If any of that was left, Franklin did his best to obliterate it.
The whole tone of Franklin's press release leaves one thinking, "Methinks thou dost protest too much."
This will not be the last time we see the mask pulled off a prosecutor here at Legal Schnauzer. In my experience in Shelby County, Alabama, I saw stunning incompetence, corruption, and hypocrisy from the district attorney's office.
First, when I was the victim of a relatively minor crime (criminal trespass), the DA's office butchered the prosecution, which led to an acquittal, which led to the lawsuit against me.
More recently, I was the victim of a serious crime--my Neighbor From Hell (NFH) assaulted me, hitting me in the back with a roadside sign. I will go into much more detail on this soon, but hitting someone with a dangerous object, causing injury (a bloody welt) is clearly a felony under Alabama law. But folks in the office of Shelby County DA Robert Owens have insisted that it would have to be prosecuted as a misdemeanor. That has left me with no choice, for now, but to let NFH get away with another crime. Owens, of course, is a Republican who consistently touts his tough-on-crime credentials.
If you hold prosecutors in high regard, try becoming a crime victim. There's a good chance your opinion will change.
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
Heating Up in the House
Scott Horton of Harper's sees increasing signs that the truth might actually come out in the investigation of the U.S. Attorneys scandal. Alabama will be at the center of it all, and Horton says truth is on the march.
Clarifying: Summary Judgment, Babec
I stated that Shelby County circuit judges J. Michael Joiner and G. Dan Reeves both denied motions for summary judgment (MSJ) that, by law, had to be granted because the opposing party did not respond.
I need to add a bit more specific information. I was the moving party, and my MSJs were properly supported. That is what shifted the burden to the nonmoving party to present substantial evidence creating a genuine issue of material fact (a reason to go to trial). When the opposing party failed to respond three times to a properly supported MSJ, that is what required the judges to find that the evidence of the movant (me) was uncontroverted and summary judgment must be granted. (Note: On my first MSJ, the opposing party did file a response and an affidavit as evidence. But the affidavit made no statement to controvert the evidence I presented. The affidavit also was filed well past the deadline for filing [it had to be filed two days prior to the hearing and was filed some eight days after the hearing], so it was invalid anyway.)
We are in the very early stages with Legal Schnauzer, and my goal is to present a general view of the issues at hand before going into specifics of procedure, statutory law, case law, etc.
I soon will provide details showing that my MSJs were properly supported. I encourage readers not to fear being swamped with legal jargon. There will be some of that. But showing that my MSJs were properly supported will be very easy. And showing the wrongdoing in this case also will be quite easy. Some law might be complicated, but this case is hardly the legal equivalent of neuroscience.
I took some comedic license with my July 16 post. But I was not stretching things a lot when I stated that Chucky the ground squirrel and Babec the lowland gorilla could have gotten this case right.
One other note: My first two MSJs were prepared by attorneys from a major Birmingham firm, and they charged a combined $350 an hour. If they could not prepare a properly supported MSJ on a case this simple, I had a heckuva case for legal malpractice. (Actually I did have a heckuva case for legal malpractice, but for reasons other than my lawyers' abilities to prepare an MSJ; more on that later.)
One other clarification, and this is much more important than the legal specifics noted above. It has come to my attention that Babec, the lowland gorilla at the Birmingham Zoo, is a guy. I referred to him as she. Check out this picture of Babec (along with an interesting story about his heart condition), and you will see why I offer my deepest apologies to this extremely manly dude. Sorry, big guy. Very, very, very sorry.
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
More Fast Times at Hoover High
Former federal judge Sam Pointer is leading an investigation into charges that grades were changed to beneift football players at Hoover, the school famed for the MTV reality series "Two a Days."
After only five days of work, guess how much Pointer and company have billed the Hoover School System? The answer is $16,665.
Yikes. That could make an awfully nice supplement for some of Hoover's underpaid teachers.
And it raises this question: Why do people turn to lawyers when they supposedly want to find out the truth about something? Based on my experience, the last person you should turn to when you want the truth is a lawyer. They are trained to be advocates, not factfinders.
I suspect Hoover is essentially paying big bucks for the public-relations value of having a former federal judge leading the investigation. But that assumes that judges are honest, upstanding people. Mr. Pointer might be--and for Hoover's sake, I hope he is.
But you will learn here on Legal Schnauzer that many of Mr. Pointer's colleagues in the judicial fraternity are anything but honest and trustworthy. And they also have a penchant for spending taxpayer dollars like drunken sailors.
The only honest people I've encountered in the legal profession are law librarians and lower-level clerks (not so sure about the folks who head county clerk's offices). Later in this blog, I will extol the virtues of law librarians.
But for now, remember this: If you really want to know the truth about something, particularly as it pertains to the law, the last person you want to seek out is a lawyer. You might get lucky and find a good one. But I'd say your chances of doing that are not good.
Want my prediction on the Hoover affair? I bet the school system spends a ton of money and gets very little out of it--other than a classy looking coverup.
Fast Times at Hoover High
Readers who live in Alabama and follow football (which means pretty much everybody in Alabama) almost certainly have heard of Hoover High School. And many folks around the country are familiar with Hoover High and its powerful football program, which was portrayed in the MTV program "Two a Days."
Several teachers at Hoover have claimed they were pressured to enhance the grades of athletes, ensuring their eligibility for college sports. In response to the charges, the superintendent of Hoover schools announced that he has hired former federal judge Sam C. Pointer Jr. to investigate the matter. Pointer now is with the Birmingham firm of Lightfoot, Franklin & White.
The story made Legal Schnauzer's ears stand up when it described the amounts Hoover will be charged for legal services.
Pointer normally charges $600 an hour, but is giving Hoover the low-low rate of $350 an hour. He will be working with three associates from his firm, and they will charge $325, $290, and $250 an hour, respectively. If my math is correct, Hoover will be paying $1,215 an hour for lawyers to handle this investigation--at least when all four attorneys are working on it at the same time.
That kind of cash can pay for an awful lot of books, band equipment, computers, etc.
Just wanted to give readers an idea of how expensive a problem can become when lawyers get involved. My guess is that the Hoover school system has some kind of insurance that will cover all or part of the cost of this investigation. But what if you are not a large organization or corporation? What if you are just an individual getting hit with legal bills? And what if your insurance does not cover it?
Alabama and the DOJ Scandal
The latest salvo comes from 44 former state attorneys general who request that Congress look into the prosecution of former Alabama governor Don Siegelman.
Here at Legal Schnauzer, we are pleased to see demands for investigations into politically motivated investigations and prosecutions. But we hope the inquiry will included another component of this scandal--politically motivated coverups.
We are learning more about Democrats, like Siegelman, who may have been prosecuted for political reasons. But what about Republicans who get away with wrongdoing--for political reasons?
Our case here at Legal Schnauzer is a perfect example of this second form of selective prosecution. You might call it prosecutorial neglect. And it appears that Alice Martin, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama and a leading player in the Siegelman saga, is practicing prosecutorial neglect in our saga of corrupt Republican judges and attorneys.
Ms. Martin, and Carmen Adams of the FBI's Birmingham office, have been presented with ample written evidence of the wrongdoing in the Schnauzer case. Are they investigating? If they are, the Schnauzer is not aware of it. And schnauzers don't like being kept in the dark.
Therefore, this schnauzer will keep his nose to the ground and his paws on the keyboard, exposing the "conservative" cockroaches that infest Alabama's state courts. (Schnauzers prefer to go after rats; that's why they call us ratters. But since cockroaches seem to be the problem in Alabama courts, here is one schnauzer reporting for duty, sir!)
Monday, July 16, 2007
Republican Hypocrisy: Up Close and Personal
Let's start with Shelby County circuit judge J. Michael Joiner, who appears to be the ringleader of the judicial cesspool that is based in Columbiana, Alabama. Joiner evidently professes to be a devout Christian. He attends The Church at Brook Hills, a megachurch in the Birmingham suburbs, and has taught Sunday school there. Joiner and his wife, Cathy, have a daughter named Christy Joiner. According to my research, Christy Joiner has attended Briarwood Christian School, and my guess is that she still attends Briarwood, probably in the 11th or 12th grade.
In earlier posts, I noted that Briarwood Presbyterian Church is a deeply conservative, wealthy, and politically active congregation in the Birmingham suburbs, and its members include former Birmingham News publisher Victor Hanson II. I noted that Briarwood Christian School, a ministry of Briarwood Presbyterian Church, seems to have some peculiar connections to the judicial wrongdoing I've encountered. Joiner, who repeatedly made unlawful rulings in the lawsuit against me (and committed honest services mail fraud in the process), has clear connections to Briarwood. His daughter, Christy, did go to Briarwood and probably still does. Also, Bill Swatek (the corrupt attorney who was the beneficiary of Joiner's unlawful rulings) has a son named Chace who is a Briarwood graduate. You will recall that another of Swatek's sons, Dax, is a Republican operative in Alabama with ties to the disgraced Jack Abramoff.
After Joiner had repeatedly cheated me, I discovered that he and Bill Swatek used to be longtime neighbors and were frequent golf partners. I moved for Joiner's recusal, and Joiner admitted his cozy relationship with Swatek in open court. (Why would such a fine Christian be buds with a lawyer of Swatek's sleazy pedigree?) I asked Joiner in open court why he had denied two motions for summary judgment (MSJ) that, by law, had to be granted because the opposing party did not respond. His answer? "I thought it was the right thing to do." (I'm not making this up! A judge in Alabama says he violated his oath to uphold the law because he thought it was the right things to do! Don't you just love it? What do they teach in law school?)
Joiner also said, "Mr. Shuler, if you don't like the way you're being treated here, you can get on I-65 and go to Montgomery (home of Alabama's appellate courts). Of course, Alabama's appellate courts are dominated by Republicans, and they proved just as corrupt as the Shelby County courts did. (And doesn't Joiner's snarky comment just radiate Christian warmth and charity?)
Joiner did recuse himself, but his unlawful rulings stood (contrary to clear written law), thanks to the new judge, one G. Dan Reeves. Talk about a judicial hack. This guy used to be the court clerk in Shelby County. Somehow he got a law degree and became a judge. I don't know if he's ever tried a case in his life. So much for high standards on the Alabama bench.
Like Joiner, Reeves made multiple unlawful rulings (and used the U.S. mails to send them; that's mail fraud, Danny Boy! Look it up!) One day while standing in front of Reeves' throne to argue a motion (talk about an exercise in futility), I noticed some type of Christian keepsake that Reeves keeps in front of him. It appeared to be made of stone and contained a number of sayings about Jesus and justice, etc. Then he proceeded to cheat me, denying a third motion for summary judgment that again, by law, had to be granted because the opposing party failed to respond.
For good measure, Reeves even lied in court documents while offering a lame excuse for his unlawful ruling. He stated that summary judgment was denied because I had offered no fact or law that had not already been cited in my two previous MSJs.
Now I like to think I'm relatively well educated; after all, an upstanding midwestern institution of higher learning conferred upon me a degree almost 30 years ago. When my wife sometimes questions my knowledge of a particular subject, I like to quote the immortal Jethro Bodine: "Uncah Jed, I dun gradjeeated sixth grade." To which she responds, "Eeee doggie, that boy sure nuff got the brains in the famlee."
Anyway, my sixth-grade education gives me the ability to read simple declarative sentences and compare information printed on one page to that printed on another page. I was certain that my third MSJ contained law and facts not present in my first two MSJs. It wasn't hard to write it that way, given that the case had to be dismissed on probably 10 to 12 different grounds.
But just to make sure, I consulted a buddy of mine. His name is Chucky, and he's a ground squirrel who lives in a hole (several holes actually) in our backyard. I see him just about every morning when I go out to the get the newspaper. "How's it going, Chucky," I say. "When you going to mow the grass again?" he says. "A guy could get lost out here."
One morning, I got down on all fours and showed Chucky my three MSJs, plus Reeves' ruling saying the third MSJ cited no law or fact different from the first two MSJs. Chucky put on his reading glasses and glanced back and forth from one document to the next. It didn't take him long to make a pronouncement. "You're getting screwed, dude," he said.
So there, you have it. Chucky the ground squirrel is smarter than a Shelby County judge.
For good measure, I took the motions and the Reeves ruling to the Birmingham Zoo and showed them to Babec, a lowland gorilla who lives there. "I agree with Counselor Chucky," she said. So a lowland gorilla is smarter than a Shelby County judge, too. And Babec even has a heart condition, bless her soul.
Back to people. My favorite Republican hypocrite has to be Drayton Nabers, former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. Nabers, an appointee of Republican governor Bob Riley, was chief justice and administrator of the entire court system while my case was ongoing. Nabers has written a book about the importance of character. It's called The Case for Character: Looking at Character from a Biblical Perspective. What a high-minded title! What a wonderful man Drayton Nabers must be!Apparently, Justice Nabers left his character at home while presiding over the Alabama Supreme Court. The Alabama Rules of Appellate Procedure state that the Supreme Court must grant certiorari review when a lower-court ruling contradicts a previous finding of the Alabama Supreme Court or the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals. My petition for a writ of certiorari pointed out multiple lower-court rulings that contradicted established Alabama law. Did the Nabers court grant certiorari review and overturn the unlawful rulings as it was required to do by law? Nope.
I guess politics trumps character every time. At least in the tangled web of humanity.
Chucky and Babec show us that character counts in the animal kingdom. And that's one of the reasons we call this blog Legal Schnauzer. It's in honor of our animal friends who have so much to teach us about honesty and trust.