Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Reality of Recusal

Yesterday's post about the Don Siegelman case and the strange "recusal" of Leura Canary, U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Alabama, raises an issue that deserves more attention.

The post was based on superb reporting by Scott Horton, of Harper's, showing that there is little, if any, evidence that Canary actually recused herself from the Siegelman case. Canary stated publicly that she had recused herself, but no recusal papers have surfaced.

Perhaps most importantly, Horton showed that the Justice Department evidently did not follow the usual process for the recusal of a U.S. attorney. When a U.S. attorney recuses him or herself from a case, it normally is assigned to a U.S. attorney from a neighboring district. That only makes sense. How is the cause of justice furthered if the recused attorney, Canary in this case, merely passes the case along to one of her underlings? The case is still handled in the same office where the potential prejudice exists, only now it is being handled by someone who answers to the recused U.S. attorney.

We citizens might be pretty dim sometimes. But even the dimmest among us can see that doesn't smell right.

This is just one of many cases in our justice system where a recusal is made merely for show. It does not necessarily provide the complaining party with a more impartial judge.

Consider my own case. After I discovered that J. Michael Joiner, circuit judge in Shelby County, Alabama, was regular golf buds with opposing counsel Bill Swatek, I moved for Joiner's recusal. Joiner admitted in open court that he and Swatek played golf together regularly and had been neighbors for many years. The record clearly showed Joiner's prejudice in the case; almost every ruling he made was contrary to Alabama law, and every one of them went in favor of Swatek and his client (the one with the lengthy criminal record).

By law, Joiner never should have taken the case to begin with; his history with Swatek disqualified him from the outset. But Joiner took it and made multiple biased rulings--including the denial of two motions for summary judgment that, by law, had to be granted--before granting recusal only after I brought it up.

(By the way, I brought it up after I was representing myself. The two attorneys I had hired, and been forced to fire, had to know about Joiner's conflict--and they surely knew Joiner was cheating me--but they did nothing about it. That's one of the dirty secrets of the legal profession--many lawyers are more loyal to judges than they are their own clients. If a judge wants a lawyer to do something--no matter how unethical--the lawyer is likely to do it or risk having his or her career ruined.)

When Joiner recused himself, who did the case go to? Well, it went right to another Shelby County judge, G. Dan Reeves, who apparently is Joiner's bud and was more than willing to continue with the same kind of unlawful rulings in Swatek's favor. I suspect Joiner was pulling the strings all along behind the curtain, like the Wizard of Oz.

In fact, I suspect Joiner was pulling strings on the criminal-trespass case that led to the lawsuit against me. In that case, my Neighbor from Hell (NFH) was charged with third degree criminal trespass against me, and the trial transcript shows that he unknowingly confessed to the crime, based on Alabama law as it's actually written. But Shelby County District Judge Ron Jackson read NFH the riot act but acquitted, citing law that doesn't exist.

Now Judge Jackson is either an idiot (a distinct possibility) or he was being influenced by someone up the chain of command (Joiner?) to let Bill Swatek's client off, setting up Swatek to file a bogus malicious-prosecution lawsuit against me, the victim of a crime.

This all illustrates the kind of incestuous relationship that exists among judges in the real world. Having a disqualified judge recuse himself, only to see it go to another judge in the same circuit who probably is influenced by the recused judge, makes no sense.

And I've found that judges are like the mafia. They all seem to be connected, watching each other's backs. For example, I've seen evidence that judges in Jefferson County, Alabama, have been influenced to make unlawful rulings by judges in Shelby County. And I've got overwhelming evidence that appellate judges in Alabama are more interested in protecting their Republican brethren at the trial-court level than they are in correcting trial judges' gross mistakes.

A recusal did absolutely nothing to help yours truly get justice. I suspect the same thing happened with Don Siegelman.

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