Wednesday, October 31, 2007
The News, also known as "Pravda of the South" (thanks to Scott Horton, of Harper's.org), has been on a relentless campaign to show that the prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman was not politically motivated. The News also has done just about everything in its power to try to discredit Rainsville attorney Jill Simpson, who has testified under oath that Republican operatives devised a plan to "take care of" Siegelman.
The latest entry in the News' "We Would Never Question the Bush Justice Department World Tour" comes today from ace reporter Brett Blackledge, he of Pulitzer Prize fame.
We've ripped Blackledge several news ones here at Legal Schnauzer recently, but his effort today is so over the top that it almost leaves you breathless. If journalists had to be licensed, Blackledge would deserve to be charged with malpractice and have his license yanked. At the very least, the Pulitzer folks should reclaim their prize and say, "You have brought us shame."
Today's Blackledge masterpiece focuses on Charles Niven, a 26-year career prosecutor who served as acting U.S. attorney in Montgomery, supervising an investigation of the Siegelman administration from the summer of 2002 until 2003. Niven tells us that he is certain no political shenanigans were behind the investigation and prosecution of Siegelman.
To get a sense of just how absurd this story is, follow me on the timeline:
* Niven retires from the U.S. attorney's office in January 2003.
* At the time of his retirement, Niven says, he saw no evidence that would link Siegelman to any wrongdoing. But he adds: "There could have been a tremendous amount of evidence uncovered after I left."
* The Siegelman trial begins in May 2006.
So there you have it: Niven swears there was no political pressure involving the Siegelman case, Niven retires in January 2003, the Siegelman trial begins in May 2006 (a fact the News conveniently doesn't mention until well into the story jump). If my math is correct, we have a 3 1/2-year gap, a gap during which Niven admits he knows nothing about the Siegelman case.
Niven says he doesn't know what new evidence might have been uncovered in 3 1/2 years. But here's what the News doesn't tell you: He also could not know about any political pressure that might have come from the Bush White House during that time.
Oops, big hole in story. Never mind, we'll run it anyway.
I know I'm sounding like a parrot with Tourette syndrome, but I've just got to mention this again. For about the sixth or eighth time in a row, the News uses the same strategy on these puff pieces about the Bush DOJ: Start story in lower right-hand corner of front page, slap on dramatic headline and misleading lead graph, jump to inside page, and hope non-comatose readers don't notice the story is limp (at best).
The honchos at the News must figure readers will look at the headline and the lead graph, then stop reading and say, "Dang, that crook Siegelman shore got what was a comin' to him."
Here's what I figure: The News honchos must think their readers are stupid, real stupid.
Propst led Hoover to spectacular success on the field, with five state championships and a No. 1 national ranking. And he made Hoover High a national brand, thanks to MTV's popular Two A Days program. But Propst stepped down in the wake of apparent academic, financial, and personal wrongdoing, leaving the Hoover community swirling in controversy.
Hoover and Propst are hardly alone among Alabama prep football programs struggling to stay within ethical boundaries:
* Powerful Oxford High School had to forfeit seven games and was fined $300 by the Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA) for using ineligible players. Oxford also was placed on one year probation. Interestingly, Oxford coach Josh Niblett has been mentioned as a possible successor to Propst at Hoover.
* Bill Clark, head coach at Prattville High School, has agreed to amend his annual disclosure forms with the Alabama Ethics Commission. Prattville beat Hoover in last year's Class 6A championship game, and Clark's move came two weeks after Propst resubmitted a more complete 2002 income form and filed disclosure forms for the years 2003 through 2006. Clark described his primarily public-sector job as "consultant" to the city of Prattville on his 2005 form. Only on an inside page does he reveal that he also is coach and athletic director at Prattville High.
* Huffman High School in Birmingham forfeited four wins and was fined $500 for use of ineligible players. Also, the Huffman principal was placed on administrative leave, and the school was placed on one year probation.
Sure looks like folks in Alabama will go to serious extremes in efforts to win high-school football games. And that's a subject that has drawn your humble blogger's attention.
Our blog primarily is about justice-related issues, particularly the problem of judicial and prosecutorial corruption in courts--at both the state and federal level. But my long and unpleasant encounter with Alabama's "justice" system started, I believe, because some folks wanted to make sure their high-school football program would remain stout.
The program in question, the one at Briarwood Christian High School, has indeed remained stout--the Lions are undefeated and ranked No. 1 in Alabama's Class 5A. But what steps were taken to help the Briarwood team reach such heights? And whose rights were trampled in the process? And what has been the response by both Briarwood and governmental officials to the notion that the school might have committed some wrongful acts in furtherance of Lions football? Do officials at a Christian school "Do What Jesus Would Do" when confronted with evidence that their actions have caused innocent people serious harm?
We will examine these questions and more in the coming days at Legal Schnauzer. And as we've already noted, there are apparent connections between curious activities involving Briarwood football, Hoover High's previous search for a new coach, and the onset of my legal woes. All three commenced in late November, early December of 1998.
Coincidence? We'll take a look.
And speaking of questions, here is one: All of the schools cited above for various violations are public schools. But what about private schools who also are members of the AHSAA, schools such as Briarwood Christian? Do they ever draw scrutiny? Do all of their football players pay full tuition like regular kids, and if not, is that OK? Is it OK for the school to engineer a real-estate transaction to help its coach financially? Would a public school get away with such dealings?
I don't know the answer to these questions. Perhaps someone else does.
The large newspapers tend to take a pro-corporate viewpoint, and they have no interest in shining a light on wrongdoing by Alabama's GOP hierarchy. Small newspapers tend to be short-staffed and don't have the manpower to take on statewide investigative projects.
And television? Several stations have supposed "investigators" or "we're on your side" kinds of segments. But they are more into exposing some heating and air conditioning guy who didn't install the right filter than they are looking at corrupt public officials. I've seen little if any indication that they are willing to look at serious stories that truly would serve the public interest.
So how bad is it? Scott Horton, of Harper's, presented a vignette the other day that many readers might have missed. It was in a post about a reissue of Liberty and the News, a book by the great American journalist Walter Lippmann.
Horton contrasts Lippmann's work in the 1920s with the prevailing attitude in many newsrooms today. At the heart of Horton's story is a recent conversation he had with a reporter at an important medium-sized city newspaper in north Alabama.
The reporter's colleague had done a series of hard-hitting reports on corruption in the administration of public contracts in Alabama. Our state's Republican governor (Horton doesn't name him, but it clearly is Bob Riley) called the paper's publisher to complain about the articles and say he wanted such reporting to stop.
The publisher summoned the reporter in question from Montgomery and advised him that he had a "fixation with contract corruption," and stories on the subject were to cease.
If had to guess, I would say the newspaper in question was the Huntsville Times, and the offending reporter was Bob Lowry. I guess we won't be seeing more of the strong stories Lowry had produced on the awarding of state contracts.
"Alabama's descent into the status of an American banana republic has much to do with the mortally corrupted standards of its major papers," Horton writes, "with only a couple of notable exceptions in the small cities."
It's interesting that Horton used the term "banana republic" because that is precisely the phrase my wife and I finally came up after months and years of trying to come up with a concise description of the mind-numbing corruption we have experienced in Shelby County, Alabama, and its nasty little county seat, Columbiana.
"Lippmann tells us that you can hardly have a real democracy without a functioning press," Horton writes.
And that tells us why Alabama's democracy is in a shambles.
I see no sign that Alabama's major news outlets are going to change. So we can all thank God for the Internet. And we can thank God that an "outsider," Scott Horton, has used the Web to alert the public to the sleaze that permeates government and justice in our state.
Will it ultimately make a difference? There is reason to hope. But the process probably won't be fast and it definitely won't be easy.
The Hoover School Board has approved an agreement that states, after the playoffs, Propst will be transferred to an administrative assistant job until his resignation takes effect August 31, 2008. His pay will remain at $100,678, and the school board agreed to give Propst a $120,000 annuity by August 31 and pay $21,000 to transfer credit for one year of service from the Georgia to the Alabama retirement system.
In speaking at last night's meeting, Propst admitted to an affair that had produced a child, although he said, "I don't admit wrongdoing inside the halls of Hoover High School."
The Propst story has drawn a variety of interesting responses:
Birmingham News sports columnist Kevin Scarbinsky said the move to oust Propst was best for Hoover. But he noted that, privately, Propst has been saying for months that he would not go quietly, that he would not "leave the building without trying to burn it down behind him." That seems to imply that Propst is aware of widespread wrongdoing, the kind that goes way beyond him. Will that wrongdoing surface publicly in the weeks ahead? Is Hoover essentially buying Rush Propst's silence?
One letter writer to the News says: "We don't allow coaches to pay for players in college so why should it be legal in high school? Rush (Propst) has been bringing in recruits from everywhere to win state titles. The man would sell his own mama to win at football."
My take? I don't think Rush Propst and Hoover are the only ones who might stretch ethical boundaries in an effort to win football games. I've noted on this blog previously that it appears my legal woes grew largely from the desire to win high-school football games.
The school in question is Briarwood Christian, currently undefeated and ranked No. 1 in Class 5A in Alabama. Sources have told me that officials with Briarwood took steps to instigate a real-estate transaction in late 1998 that helped them secure a championship-winning coach. Ironically, that transaction came just as Hoover was conducting its last head-coaching search, the one that ended with Rush Propst getting the job.
Are there connections between the two? Do the fine Christians at Briarwood care one iota that their actions apparently have caused an innocent couple to suffer terribly?
We will return to that story of football intrigue in a bit.
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
I knew my friend leans to the right politically, so I was not surprised that he might hold a Democrat in fairly low regard. But I wondered why Obama was of such concern.
The reason, my friend said, was Obama's Islamic background.
I've known this friend for almost 30 years. While our opinions differ on some things, I hold him in very high regard. We've had a number of lengthy conversations over the years on some fairly weighty subjects (religion, politics, etc.), and I've always found him to be thoughtful and well informed.
The comment about Obama seemed a bit wacky, which was out of character for my friend. And I was baffled as to where it came from.
Now, I think I know where it came from.
In "The New Right-Wing Smear Machine," Christopher Hayes of The Nation describes the right wing's use of the e-mail "forward" function to spread all manner of false and misleading political information.
There's the story of Hillary Clinton stiffing the American Gold Star Mothers, an organization of women who've lost sons or daughters in combat. Only one problem with the story. It isn't true.
There's the story about Oliver North offering an impassioned warning about Osama bin Laden in a 1980s Senate committee hearing, only to be dismissed by a Democratic senator (Al Gore in one version; John Kerry in the other). Either way, it's not true.
And then there is the Obama tale, which has him taking great pains to hide the fact he is a Muslim. According to the story, he attended a Wahabi school in Jakarta, with Wahabism being the radical teaching followed by Muslim terrorists. Of course, it isn't true; Obama attended a run-of-the-mill public elementary school.
But a lot of people, including those of good will and good sense, believe these tales. I'm betting my friend either has received an Obama e-mail or talked with someone who has.
Want to keep up with the latest in right-wing smear tactics? Try starting at MyRightWingDad.
School board president Donna Frazier says today that she wants this Friday's game to be Propst's last as head coach. The Bucs recently had to forfeit four games because of use of an ineligible player, but they still have qualified for the state playoffs.
If Frazier has her way, someone other than Propst will be in control when Hoover goes to the playoffs. She says negotiations have been ongoing between school officials and Propst, with input from the Alabama Education Association. Propst said he was unaware of any negotiations to end his tenure as head coach.
Frazier said she assumes the delay in determining Propst's future is due to negotiations over a financial settlement.
If Propst indeed is terminated, that means Hoover will be embarking on its first football coaching search since late 1998. Shortly after that search began, your humble blogger began to witness a series of events that would turn my family's life upside down.
We have been examining possible connections between Hoover's previous search and the beginnings of my legal woes. That examination will continue very soon.
Monday, October 29, 2007
The Hoover search concluded with the hiring of Rush Propst, who has had spectacular success on the field, leading the Bucs to five Class 6A state championships and two second-place finishes. Propst also brought the school unprecedented attention, through No. 1 national rankings and the popular MTV series Two A Days.
But the downside of the Rush Propst regime has recently bubbled to the surface, with the school embroiled in an ugly controversy that involves alleged academic, financial, and personal wrongdoing connected to the football program.
Hoover High is again in the spotlight, with Sports Illustrated, USA Today, and The New York Times among the national publications covering the story. Attention this time is coming in a negative wave, and many Hoover residents are concerned about what it means to their school system and the overall community, both of which have long enjoyed stellar reputations.
So why do I think my tale of legal intrigue--what we've come to call the Legal Schnauzer case--has anything to do with the hiring of a football coach at Hoover High School?
Well, here's the story. See what you think.
In November 1998, there was unrest over the football program at Hoover High. Longtime coach Bob Finley had died unexpectedly in 1994, and Gerald Gann, one of his former assistants, had not been able to restore the Bucs to their usual lofty status. Hoover had gone 4-6 and lost several years in a row to arch-rival, and next-door neighbor, Vestavia Hills.
To fire a high-school football coach after a 4-6 season might have been unheard of 10 or 20 years earlier. It probably still would be unheard of today, in some places. But in many towns around Alabama, especially in the suburbs surrounding Birmingham, the line between high school and college athletics was becoming blurry. Coaches were expected to do more than manage the team and teach several classes of gym or driver's ed. They were expected to win.
Gerald Gann, cut very much from the Bob Finley mold, had started with an 11-2 season. But good will from that season had washed away with three straight losing seasons. Gann was summarily canned, and the relatively young Hoover School System went looking for a coach who could win big.
About this time, your humble blogger was living peacefully with his wife and miniature schnauzer in north Shelby County, just 2-3 miles from the winding Hoover city limits. My two main concerns in life were trying to figure out how to keep crabgrass out of my yard and wondering if my alma mater (the University of Missouri) ever would be competitive in football again. (Answers: Mizzou is UNDEFEATED and nationally ranked right now; my yard still has crabgrass.)
Life for my little family unit was about to get much more complicated.
My next-door neighbor to the east was a fellow named Fred Yancey. My wife and I bought our house (our one and, we hope, only) in 1989. Fred and his wife, Sharon, and their two teen-aged children moved in a few months later. Fred had been hired as head football coach at Briarwood Christian High School, just a chip-shot field goal from where we lived.
We didn't see a lot of Fred. As a former sportswriter myself, I was familiar with the coaching lifestyle. If Fred was any kind of coach at all, I knew he would be spending lots of time watching film and otherwise trying to figure out how to win games.
So even though we weren't "big buds" with the Yanceys, we considered them very good neighbors. They were always quick with a warm hello. We helped each other through the occasional neighborhood crisis, storm damage, falling trees, and such. And their kids were so straight-arrow and well-behaved that you hardly knew they were around.
In fact, in the eight years or so the Yanceys lived next door I really had no idea where the boundary line to our property was; I never had any reason to think about it.
That was about to change.
And one reason it changed, I think, is that Fred Yancey proved to be one heck of a football coach. (I can't tell you how many times since late 1998 I've looked to the sky and said: "Sweet Jesus, why couldn't Fred Yancey have been a sorry-ass football coach?" My hair probably would still be brown. My wallet would be thicker. And if I hadn't used crude language with the Lord, maybe He would have helped me.)
As Hoover High football was struggling, the Lions of Briarwood Christian were turning into a powerhouse. And this was a new development on the Birmingham sports scene.
I had worked for 11 years in the city as a sportswriter, much of it spent covering high-school sports, and I don't recall writing a single word about Briarwood Christian athletics. We all knew the school was connected to Briarwood Presybyterian Church, a massive, wealthy, evangelical, conservative congregation in Birmingham's suburbs. Sometimes you would hear about a conservative politician, say a Dan Quayle, visiting the church. And members occasionally made news by getting involved in an anti-abortion protest. But sports? Briarwood Christian was pretty much off the radar screen.
Fred Yancey changed all of that, in a major way. He immediately turned the Lions into winners, and by 1998, his team was pushing for a state championship.
One reason the Lions were so good that year was a multitalented offensive star named Tim Castille, and he was only an eighth grader. And a year or two behind him was his brother Simeon, and people said he would be even better than Tim. The Castilles came by their talent honestly. Their father, Jeremiah, had been a star defensive back at the University of Alabama under Bear Bryant and gone on to have a distinguished career in the National Football League.
My understanding is that Briarwood was pretty much an all-white school at one time. Of course with the coming of integration, church-affiliated "seg academies" sprung up across the South. It might be unfair to call Briarwood a "seg academy." But in the '70s and '80s, I think it's safe to say that Parliament and Funkadelic were seldom heard on the school sound system. In fact, Lionel Richie probably would have caused serious consternation.
The Castilles, and a few other black players, added diversity--and some serious athletic talent--to the Briarwood mix. With Fred Yancey at the controls, and Jeremiah Castille joining him on the coaching staff, the Christians no longer were everybody's favorite Homecoming opponent. In fact, they were whuppin' some major Friday-night butt.
It culminated on December 10, 1998 (a Thursday) when the Lions won the Class 3A title, the school's first state championship in football (and probably in any sport).
I remember reading about the game in the newspaper the next morning and feeling happy for Fred. In fact, I hollered upstairs to my wife, "Hey, we've got a state-championship football coach living next door."
Two days later, our lives would turn upside down.
The affidavit, alleging possible unethical and criminal conduct by U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller (Middle District of Alabama), came to light recently, thanks to the reporting of Harper's Scott Horton. Our post here at Legal Schnauzer outlined the key charges, including embezzlement, theft of government funds, perjury, conspiracy, and fraud upon the U.S. Senate.
These charges of corruption were aimed at the judge who oversaw a trial that ended with the conviction of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman on corruption charges. That trial now is at the heart of a Congressional investigation into politically motivated prosecutions by the Bush Justice Department.
Our original post did not touch on all of the issues raised in Weeks' affidavit. And those issues are of profound importance to everyday Alabamians.
Consider, for example, Fuller's actions in a lawsuit involving the Retirement Systems of Alabama (RSA) and Texas-based energy giant Enron.
Weeks visited Alabama in February 2003 to look into Fuller's background. The judge had been assigned a civil case, Murray et al. v. Scott & Sevier, in which officials at Montgomery-based B.A.S.S. are alleged to have stolen more than $75 million in funds from the nonprofit organization. Weeks was a lawyer for the plaintiffs and wanted to know what kind of judge he and his clients were facing, particularly since the case had been transferred from Kansas to Alabama.
The trail quickly led to RSA, where Weeks learned details about Fuller's efforts to boost the state pension of Bruce DeVane, who had worked for Fuller as chief investigator in the district attorney's office of Coffee and Pike counties.
One RSA official told Weeks that Fuller had committed perjury when testifying under oath before the RSA appeal board. A second official said RSA had lost a lot of money in the Enron scandal and had filed a lawsuit to recover its losses, a case that was pending in federal court before Judge Fuller.
"This was shocking news," Weeks writes in his affidavit. "The first RSA official had told me, pointblank, that Fuller and DeVane had tried to defraud the RSA. Now, the second RSA official was telling me that the RSA had a huge case against Enron pending in front of the very federal judge who had recently lied to and attempted to defraud RSA."
Weeks later learned that RSA had asked Fuller to recuse himself and been turned down.
Scott Horton, of Harper's, reported on Fuller's actions and cited an article written by David G. Bronner, CEO of the RSA. Horton noted that Bronner drew a connection between the DeVane case and the fact that Fuller later refused to grant RSA the ability to sue Enron in Alabama state court. Bronner wrote:
"I do not like U.S. District Judge Fuller nor does he like me. The RSA had to go through the entire state court system to prevent Judge Fuller's buddy from ripping off the RSA. Shortly thereafter, Judge Fuller tried to sandbag the RSA by preventing our claim (by doing nothing) against the ultimate crook--Enron! Fortunately, the RSA prevailed on both issues."
Indeed, RSA came out OK. Five financial advisors and fund-raisers for Enron (Merrill Lynch, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, etc.) agreed to pay RSA $49 million to settle the lawsuit. The settlement allowed RSA to recoup the vast majority of the $57 million it lost when Enron stocks and bonds collapsed in 2001, leading to what was then the largest corporate bankruptcy in U.S. history.
The settlement came about primarily because the financial advisors were facing a trial in state court in Montgomery, Alabama. According to published reports, Mark Fuller had done his darnedest to keep the case in federal court, where Enron was likely to have fared better. Other judges evidently did not agree with Fuller, finding that Alabama state court was the proper venue.
The Enron debacle, of course, came on the watch of the late and disgraced CEO Ken Lay, famous for being called "Kenny Boy" by President George W. Bush.
Reading Weeks' affidavit, one comes away with the impression that Judge Fuller was little more than Ken Lay with a robe in the Enron lawsuit. In fact, maybe Fuller deserves the nickname "Marky Boy."
Thousands of Alabamians rely on RSA for their pensions. And yet Week's affidavit presents overwhelming evidence that Fuller first tried to defraud RSA and then wrongfully ruled against RSA in retaliation for the pension fund having the audacity to defend itself from an attempt at fraud.
Does Mark Fuller sound like the kind of person who should be in any position of authority? Does he sounds like the kind of person who should have been overseeing the trial of former Governor Don Siegelman?
In this space a couple of weeks ago, we offered the following unsolicited advice to "Sweet Lou" Franklin: Keep your mouth shut and leave public relations to the professionals.
But Sweet Lou just can't resist opening his yap. And every time he does it in a public forum, Scott Horton of Harper's takes him apart.
A considerable amount of fun can be had by reading along as Horton dissects significant portions of the Alabama conservative hierarchy--Franklin, Leura Canary, Alice Martin and other prosecutors; reporters from The Birmingham News and Mobile Press-Register; Judge Mark Fuller, and so on.
But Horton's pieces always deal with serious matters, and that certainly is the case with today's post on Franklin and his interview in Sunday's Birmingham News.
Perhaps most disturbing is that a career prosecutor can't keep his story straight. Horton notes that Franklin now has presented three accounts of how the Don Siegelman prosecution unfolded.
But here is where it really gets serious: Franklin's recent statements to the News conflict with two statements he made to the court under oath, in February and April 2006. A prosecutor who says one thing under oath and something else entirely in published accounts? And we're supposed to have faith that the prosecution of Don Siegelman, led by Louis Franklin supposedly, was properly handled?
The key point of the most recent News article? Franklin called all of the shots.
But this conflicts with Franklin's public statements. In March 2006, he said decisions came jointly from career employees in the Middle District of Alabama and the Public Integrity Section in Washington. In a February 2006 sworn affidavit, he said those two entities were joined in the decision-making process by the Alabama Attorney General's Office.
It reminds you of the old "Who's on First" routine.
I know nothing about Louis Franklin's politics. He could be a liberal for all I know in his personal life. But he works under conservatives. And it appears that he is being swallowed up in a vortex of conservative deceit.
I've seen this kind of thing in my own legal situation. Certain dishonest conservatives apparently think people who don't share their belief systems are stupid. They think we can't see clear wrongdoing and deceit and contradictions and misdirection. Trying to pull that stuff over on someone of Scott Horton's intellectual capacity is not such a good idea.
Another key point: Horton notes that the shenanigans couldn't have happened without a cooperative judge. And the prosecution certainly had that in U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller. Thanks to Missouri attorney Paul Benton Weeks, we now know that the Public Integrity Section should have been investigating serious criminal allegations against Fuller at the time it was signing off on him handling the Siegelman case.
More on Judge Fuller, and the Weeks affidavit, coming up.
Sunday, October 28, 2007
My first real job, when I was 21 and right out of college, was as a sportswriter at the late, and sometimes great, Birmingham Post-Herald. I wound up working there for 11 years (1978-89), and my primary assignment in the early years was coverage of high-school sports.
I had grown up in Missouri, where high-school football was not a particularly big deal. I saw many a game under the "Friday night lights," but basketball and baseball seemed to capture the Midwest's imagination more than the gridiron.
But I quickly learned that football was king in the Deep South. I was shocked when I saw how good the high-school teams were in Alabama. It was not so much that the athletes were better than those in Missouri (although they probably were). But the coaching was light years ahead of what I was used to. Buddy Anderson at Vestavia Hills, Robert Higginbotham at Shades Valley, Bill Sparks at Midfield, Danny Ridgeway at Banks, Ray Williams at West End, Ed Bruce at Gardendale, Bobby Johns at Erwin, Billy Livings at Jeff Davis in Montgomery . . . they were just a few of the many superb coaches I enjoyed covering.
But the coach who made the deepest impression on me was Bob Finley at W.A. Berry High School in Hoover. Berry was the forerunner to Hoover High, which would go on to fame on MTV's Two A Days and win numerous state championships under Coach Rush Propst, now the center of much controversy.
Bob Finley's Bucs also played championship football, and they did it in old-school style. Hand the ball to the tailback 25-30 times a game, commit very few penalties, win field position with a solid kicking game. It wasn't dazzling, but it worked.
I'm sure I'm forgetting some folks, but I recall only a handful of Berry players who went on to play major-college football. Linebacker Ricky Gilliland, tight end Bart Krout, and kicker Terry Sanders played at Alabama. I think former Auburn great Mike Kolen went to Berry.
But most of the guys I saw play were average high-school types who didn't particularly stand out in the hallways. I remember a tough tailback named Brian Blankenship. A slippery quarterback named Jimmy Dozier. A little noseguard named Jay Zito. Not sure any of them played a down of college football.
The most interesting guy, though, was the head coach. Finley seemed more like a minister than a football coach. If he had been a minister, I wouldn't have seen him as a fire-breathing evangelical sort. He would have been more of a "quiet" minister, a Presbyterian, a Methodist, an Episcopalian.
A recent letter writer to The Birmingham News, commenting on the current woes at Hoover High, recalled Finley's days as coach and remembered him "as one of the most decent Christian men I've ever known." I would second that statement, but Finley did not seem to be "out there" about his Christianity. He lived his faith, best I could tell, by example.
I once did a long feature story on Coach Finley. One of his former assistants said the thing he remembered most about Coach Finley was his willingness to do the little things--stopping to pick up a piece of paper in the parking lot, sweeping the gymnasium floor. He remembered that Finley coached girls' basketball at a time when girls' sports received very little attention.
When I interviewed Finley for the story, I told him that he almost seemed too nice to be a football coach. "It's hard to imagine you yelling at anybody," I said. The coach smiled and said he had tried the emotional locker room bit with his guys a few times, but it had fallen flat. "Being basically a dull person," he said, it was best for him to stick to the quieter approach. I still laugh thinking about that.
The key, Finley said, was knowing your players. He often learned a lot from listening to parents. He recalled learning that one player would go into a shell if you criticized him. But if you could find something to praise him about, the young man would give a wholehearted effort.
A few years ago, I interviewed a former Berry player who had gone on to become an ophthalmologist. The point of my story was eye surgery, and we probably talked about that for about half an hour. But we must have spent twice that long talking about Coach Finley and Berry football.
I also laugh when I think about how Finley used to call me "sir" during interviews. And I was 22 or 23 years old. But the funny thing was, it didn't seem phony coming from him. In fact, if there was anything phony about Bob Finley, I never saw it.
I've thought a lot about Bob Finley in the past seven or eight years, since my legal woes began--the legal woes that are at the heart of this blog. You see, the core problem with our justice system--whether you are talking about circuit court in Shelby County, Alabama appellate courts, or the cowboys in the Bush Justice Department--is dishonesty.
Bob Finley was a superb coach, and I think he would have been an excellent minister. I also think he would have been a very good judge, the kind we desperately need. He always impressed me as a fundamentally honest and fair person. And he had a keen intellect. Unlike the sleazebag judges I've encountered, Finley would have valued the law and applied it correctly.
My encounters with Alabama courts have been the most disheartening experience of my life. It has shown me an ugly side of human nature that I never knew existed. In an effort to maintain my mental health through the ordeal, I've tried regularly to think of the genuinely good people I've been privileged to know over the years. One of those was Bob Finley.
Unfortunately, Coach Finley is no longer with us. He died of a heart attack in 1994, while doing one of those simple things--mowing a field at the school.
A Web site, Hooverbuc.com, has information about the tradition of football in Hoover. It includes records under Finley and other coaches, including Rush Propst.
When Finley died, two of his former assistants tried to carry on his legacy. Mike Thorsen coached the Bucs for one year and went 4-5. Gerald Gann took over and went 11-2, 3-7, 3-7, 4-6. Gann is now head coach at John Carroll High School in Birmingham, and from everything I've heard, he's an outstanding person, very much in the Finley mold. But Gann's record evidently was not good enough, and he was fired after the 1998 season.
Hoover's search for a new coach started in late 1998. My legal problems also started in late 1998. I've often wondered if there was a connection between the two.
More on that in a bit.
Simpson has testified under oath that she heard Republican operatives discussing a plan to "take care of" former Alabama governor Don Siegelman, a Democrat. The News has tried its darnedest to discredit Simpson, and the latest effort comes in today's edition, in a familiar format.
As usual, the story starts on the lower right-hand corner of the front page, with an inflammatory headline and a misleading lead graph or two. Then it jumps inside, where you learn there pretty much is nothing to the story.
Today, we again have Assistant U.S. Attorney Louis Franklin telling us the Siegelman case was driven by career prosecutors in Montgomery, not Department of Justice officials in Washington.
The story really isn't much different from the two press releases Franklin has issued over the past couple of months. Pretty much the only new information is that John W. Scott, a senior DOJ trial lawyer, disagreed with plans to request a special grand jury. This is supposed to prove, Franklin says, that Alabama prosecutors such as Steve Feaga and himself were driving the case.
Interestingly, the News tells us that repeated attempts to reach Scott last week failed. Guess we're just supposed to take "Sweet Lou" Franklin's word on things. Why would the News run this story without comment from Scott? It's not like we haven't heard Franklin's take on things before.
The story couldn't wait a day or two, or even a week, to get Scott's comments? Hmmm.
"Sweet Lou" Franklin, by the way, tells us U.S. Rep. Artur Davis (D-AL) is assuming incorrectly that Department of Justice officials controlled the case. From where I sit, it doesn't appear that Davis is assuming anything. He is relying on Simpson's sworn statement, her 143-page sworn testimony, and other evidence. Where's the evidence that Davis needs to assume anything? Of course, the News reporters never asks this question.
They also don't ask Franklin why investigators never followed up on allegations from witness Lanny Young that he bribed Alabama Republicans Jeff Sessions and Bill Pryor. And they don't ask Franklin why investigators haven't followed up on Time magazine charges that Young's activities with Sessions and Pryor amounted to money laundering.
The News does tell us this: Scott disagreed with Franklin and Feaga on the idea of a special grand jury, and he did it through a series of e-mails. The U.S. House Judiciary Committee has asked that these e-mails and other evidence be turned over. But that hasn't happened.
Did the News ask Franklin why his office has not turned over these documents to Congress? Not on your life.
And we are supposed to believe most anything "Sweet Lou" Franklin says? Not on your life.
Saturday, October 27, 2007
Scott Horton, of Harper's, tells us today in a fascinating analysis of Riley's reaction to Tuesday's U.S. House Judiciary Committee hearing on selective prosecution.
We have noted the irrational, even disturbing, nature of Riley's attack on U.S. Rep. Artur Davis (D-AL). We tied it to the fact that Davis produced phone-record evidence showing that an affidavit from Rob Riley, Big Bob's son, was highly suspect.
But Horton goes deeper, showing that Riley's outrage probably goes back to the low poll numbers that had him in dire trouble in early 2005. The first-term governor had a voter-approval rating of 36 percent, which usually means a governor is certain not to get a second term.
But Jill Simpson's sworn testimony states that Bob Riley went to Washington at about this point to encourage the Justice Department to pursue the Don Siegelman case more aggressively. At this point, polls showed Siegelman leading his closest Democratic challenger by 30 points, so it was looking like a rematch of the 2002 election--and it was one that Big Bob was not likely to win, given he needed a "miracle" in Baldwin County to pull it out the first time.
Riley's effort apparently worked. An indictment and prosecution came, knocking Siegelman out of the race. Riley wound up steamrolling Lucy Baxley to claim a second term.
"Riley owes his second term to the indictment and prosecution of Siegelman," Horton writes.
So why is Riley attacking Artur Davis in such a nutty way, attributing words to Davis that Davis never spoke? Riley, Horton says, was having a Hamlet moment, becoming a gentleman who "dost protest too much."
And why would Riley protest too much? Probably, Horton says, because he really did go to Washington to sic the feds on Siegelman, just as Jill Simpson said he did.
The Anniston Star expertly administers the spanking in response to Hubbard's press release, "Artur Davis and his Carnival of Conspiracy."
The Star calls Hubbard's missive "a load of utter nonsense."
"Let's get this straight," the Star states. "The issue is bigger than Siegelman's guilt or innocence; it's about the potential stain of politics on the U.S. legal system.
The Star chastises Hubbard for painting U.S. Rep. Artur Davis (D-AL) as a partisan, "pandering to that horrible bunch of heathens, the liberal left."
Then the Star cuts to the chase:
"What's at play is nothing more than a clunky attempt by the state GOP to push back at a potentially big problem."
The Star is right on target. But I would invite the newspaper to take a broader look at our justice system. The problem goes beyond federal cases, such as those being investigated by the U.S. House Judiciary Committee. Alabama's state courts, dominated by the Republicans that Mike Hubbard so cherishes, also have serious problems. The stain of politics is present there, too, and I can prove it.
Here is a key point: Corruption in Alabama's state courts also has a strong federal connection, and that's part of the DOJ story that has not been covered. Republican state judges have repeatedly violated a federal statute in the Legal Schnauzer case, which is at the heart of this blog. The federal statute in question is 18 U.S. Code 1346, honest-services mail fraud. It involves use of the U.S. mails to perpetuate a fraudulent scheme.
Just how important is this statute? Look back at this press release about the Don Siegelman indictment. Honest-services mail fraud is cited throughout. In fact, 1346 made up two-thirds of the charges against Siegelman. Remember, Don Siegelman's case was in federal court, but the charges came from his activities as a state official. Federal funds and the U.S. mails and wires allegedly were involved, and that's what made it a federal matter.
But what happens when Republican judges, acting as state officials, commit federal crimes? In my case, the victim reports it repeatedly to the FBI and to Alice Martin, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama. And what happens? Nothing. In fact, I have clear evidence of Alice Martin intentionally trying to sweep the Legal Schnauzer case under the rug.
Would she do that because the complaint doesn't have merit? Of course not. If it had no merit, she would merely ignore it or tell me why it had no merit. But she intentionally covers it up because she knows it does have merit. And Republicans have enough trouble on their hands with so much attention focused on the Bush Justice Department. They really would have problems if the Alabama public were shown the extent of corruption among state Republican judges.
So kudos to the Star for its editorial. But the paper needs to get an enterprising reporter out there looking at Alabama state courts.
Conyers, chairman of the committee, said the transcript was leaked to some members of the Alabama media without his authorization. Simpson said she had an agreement with committee members that she would be notified before the statement was released. She said the early release of the transcript allowed her to be "attacked by surprise."
The transcript was released by the committee's Republican counsel. But ranking Republican member Lamar Smith (R-TX) denied there was a leak. Smith said the transcript already had been given to Time magazine prior to its release.
The complete text of Conyers' letter is available at Glynn Wilson's Locust Fork News.
An investigation into alleged academic, financial, and personal improprieties connected to the football program is drawing a different sort of national attention. And members of the community are concerned about it.
This week's Sports Illustrated includes an article about the Hoover mess, focusing on head coach Rush Propst. Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, an investigative series on HBO, has expressed interest in the topic. USA Today, The New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram are among the newspapers around the country who have covered it.
While Hoover officials are not thrilled about the national attention for a negative story, they seem to be more concerned about attention from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). SACS is Hoover High's accrediting body, and it has expressed interest in the school's institutional integrity and fiscal management.
"When you start involving SACS, then things start getting scary," Hoover City Councilman Gene Smith said.
And here's maybe an even scarier possibility for Hooverites. Their community long has been viewed as an attractive place to live, especially by upper- and upper-middle-class families with children. The city includes numerous attractive, high-end neighborhoods where property values have consistently risen over the years. And Hoover is a shopping mecca, featuring The Galleria and numerous other major retail centers, drawing shoppers from around the region.
School board member Suzy Baker says she is concerned that some parents will move to neighboring cities, such as Homewood and Vestavia Hills, because of their distrust of the school system. "What we're trying to do is re-establish the level of trust by putting our priorities in the right place," Baker says.
There is some interesting history to all of this. Hoover used to be part of the Jefferson County School System. But the city formed its own school system, evidently in an effort to compete with independent systems in cities such as Homewood, Vestavia Hills, and Mountain Brook.
During the Jefferson County days, Hoover's high school was known as Berry High School, and it had an excellent football program then. The coach was a gentleman named Bob Finley, who was as low key and humble as Rush Propst is outspoken and controversial. Finley took a bunch of mostly average athletes and consistently produced outstanding teams. In fact, the stadium at the old Berry High location bears his name.
I have some fond personal and professional memories of Coach Finley and old Berry High School. I also have some not-so-fond concerns about how my legal woes, which are at the heart of this blog, might have some indirect connections to Hoover High and its search for a football coach in late 1998, early 1999--a search that wound up with the hiring of Rush Propst.
I don't think anyone connected to Hoover High did anything wrong in my case. But another school in the Birmingham area, one that has become a football powerhouse in recent years, took some curious steps connected to its football program at that time. And it all wound up with yours truly having some major legal headaches, which continue to this day.
We'll have more on that soon.
Friday, October 26, 2007
Judge Wingate Revisited
We've noted two critical decisions that U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate made that virtually ensured the defendants would be found guilty in the Paul Minor case. One was his decision not to allow expert testimony for the defense. The second was his jury instruction finding that the defendants could be convicted of bribery even if no quid pro quo existed. This instruction was based in Mississippi state law, even though federal law in the Fifth Circuit clearly requires a quid pro quo for a bribery conviction.
We've presented substantial evidence to show that these two rulings were incorrect under the law. But the wrongheadedness in the Minor trial did not stop there. Some other examples:
The government's indictment, alleging various forms of corruption against attorney Paul Minor and judges Wes Teel and John Whitfield, used language that does not exist under any federal statute--or state statute for that matter.
The indictment alleged that Minor bribed the judges in order to receive an "unfair advantage." It alleged that the judges gave him "favorable" rulings. No such language is found in the federal statutes. Under the actual law, the key word is that something of value was "corruptly" given, with knowledge that it was "unlawful." Since Mississippi campaign-finance laws allow the loan guarantees Minor provided to the judges, the key issue became: Did the judges make unlawful rulings? Whether Minor received "favorable" rulings, or whether he sought an "unfair advantage, was irrelevant. And as we showed earlier in our series, in the two underlying lawsuits at the heart of the government's case--Archie Marks and Accu-Fab--the law and the facts indicated that Minor's clients should prevail. In other words, Judges Wes Teel and John Whitfield ruled correctly.
In essence, "unfair advantage" and "favorable rulings" are layman's terms with no legal meaning in the Minor case. But prosecutors surely knew those phrases would resonate with a jury. And that language would ensure that there would be no messy testimony from expert witnesses showing that the judges' rulings were not unlawful.
Defense attorneys filed several motions challenging the language in the indictment. Wingate allowed it to stand. The judge's decision essentially means that Minor is in prison, and Teel and Whitfield soon are heading to prison, for convictions based on language that doesn't exist in the law.
Standards of evidence
There was a dramatic change in the evidence that was allowed from the first to the second trial. A source close to the case estimates that about 75 percent of the defense evidence allowed in the first trial was not allowed in the second trial. We will go into this in more detail later, but some examples include:
* Minor could not present "good works" evidence, including his military service in Vietnam, his Bronze Star, his charitable work, and his work with low-income individuals through the Legal Services Foundation in south Mississippi.
* Minor could not produce evidence that he could have filed more than 500 cases before Teel and Whitfield--cases which resulted in gross judgments of more than $75 million and attorneys' fees to Minor's firm of more than $13 million--but filed them in other jurisdictions instead. Does that sound like the actions of a corrupt attorney? No. Is that why Wingate didn't allow the testimony? Yes.
The jury and paperwork
Sources report that Wingate allowed jurors to have copies of the government indictment throughout the trial. And yet, once he had read the jury instructions, he did not allow jurors to take copies with them to the jury room. Our sources say both of these procedures are most unusual.
Quid pro quo
We've noted that Wingate did not require a finding of a quid pro quo on the bribery charge in the second trial. Sources tell us that he did require a quid pro quo in the first trial. The first trial resulted in acquittals on several counts, with the jury deadlocking on other counts, leading to the retrial.
As we showed in our previous post, Fifth Circuit law clearly requires a quid pro quo for conviction on a bribery charge under 18 U.S. Code 666, the statute upon which the Minor prosecution was based.
The key judicial precedent that Wingate should have followed was U.S. v. Duvall 846, F.2d 916 (1988). But he conveniently chose to ignore Duvall and cobbled together a jury instruction based mostly in Mississippi state law. The defendants, of course, were not charged with violating state law. But that's essentially what they were convicted on.
Maybe Judge Wingate was so worried about the vacancy on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals that he neglected to concern himself with the small issue of justice for Paul Minor, Wes Teel, and John Whitfield. As it turned out, Minor, Teel and Whitfield got cheated by our federal courts, and Wingate didn't get the job he evidently so cherished. Nicely orchestrated by the judge--a lose-lose-lose-lose situation.
Kudos for Cohen
U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) deserves applause for presenting the Minor case to the U.S. House Judiciary Committee at Tuesday's hearing in Washington. The Minor case now seems to join the Don Siegelman (Alabama), Cyril Wecht (Pennsylvania), and Georgia Thompson (Wisconsin) cases on the selective-prosecution front burner.
Ana Radelat covered the Minor story for the Jackson Clarion-Ledger's Washington Bureau. An interesting quote near the end of her story from U.S. Attorney Dunn Lampton, who directed the prosecution. "When someone is tried and convicted by a jury, that's a pretty good indication that he's guilty," Lampton said. Actually, that's not an indication of anything, particularly when the judge in this case (Republican appointee Henry Wingate) butchered the law repeatedly--giving improper jury instructions related to the two key charges (bribery and honest-services mail fraud), improperly rejecting expert testimony, ignoring Fifth-Circuit law that requires a quid pro quo be present for a bribery conviction . . . and on and on.
Anita Lee covered the story for the Biloxi Sun Herald. James Park, legislative counsel for Rep. Cohen, said the case came to the representative's attention through recent articles in The New York Times and Harper's.org.
An Objective Judge?
The Jackson Clarion-Ledger reported that U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate would allow attorney Paul Minor no reprieve from immediately paying $4.25 million in fines and restitution stemming from his conviction on bribery-related charges.
According to court documents, the fine is more than 15 times what the district court's Guideline calculation would require and Probation recommended. It is more than 11 times what the Guidelines provide for in cases involving the worst of offenders.
Julie Epps, one of Minor's attorneys, asked that Minor be allowed to post the money in an interest-bearing court account until his appeal is decided. Minor has been moved several times within the prison system, making it difficult for him to make arrangements for the money. But Wingate insisted the fine be paid now.
Why would a judge impose a fine that is 15 times beyond the level called for by federal guidelines? Why would a judge insist that such a huge fine be paid prior to a decision on appeal? Why would a judge repeatedly butcher the law, leading to the conviction of a lawyer and two judges who clearly violated no federal laws?
This next item might give some insight to those questions.
Fifth Circuit Seat is Filled
The U.S. Senate this week confirmed the appointment of Mississippi state judge Leslie Southwick to a seat on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is based in New Orleans and covers Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas.
The vacant seat had been a source of controversy for several years. Congressional Democrats blocked President Bush's first two nominees, Charles Pickering and Mike Wallace. Civil Rights groups had pushed for the appointment of a black judge, and U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate (who oversaw the Minor case) was considered a prime candidate.
For unclear reasons, Wingate did not meet with favor from the Bush administration. And some observers have wondered if his bizarre and improper handling of the Minor trial was an effort to draw support from the White House.
U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy was among those leading the charge for Wingate. Ironically, the push by Democrats and Civil Rights groups for a black judge might have caused Wingate to put his personal ambitions ahead of justice, leading to the convictions of an attorney and two judges (one of them black) who were seen as champions of Democratic causes
Why would Blowhard Bob, Alabama's Republican governor, go after Davis so aggressively? Evidently it's because Davis actually takes his role on the U.S. House Judiciary Committee seriously and is taking an open-minded look at charges of selective prosecution in the case of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman and other Democrats. It probably didn't help that Davis entered phone-record evidence to show that an affidavit from Rob Riley, Blowhard Bob's son, was highly suspect.
Turnham called Bob Riley's rant "shrill and unprofessional" and noted Davis' qualifications for looking into selective prosecution. "Not only is he uniquely qualified to speak to these issues, but he has a sworn duty to pursue truth, justice and to see that the rule of law through our constitution is followed. His remarks and actions in those roles have been only professional and indeed courageous. He does not deserve the personal, partisan attacks from Alabama's top Republicans (including party chair Mike Hubbard) that are akin to 'killing the messenger' who seeks the truth."
If Riley wants to be a blowhard, why doesn't he discuss issues related to the lawsuit brought against him by Montgomery insurance executive John W. Goff? And perhaps Riley could explain why, less than a month after Scott Horton of Harper's reported that Riley tried to get the U.S. Attorney's Office to make the lawsuit "go away," Goff now is facing possible indictment on mysterious charges related to a dispute that is four years old and was long ago settled.
No wonder Riley doesn't want people looking into issues related to abuse of the Justice Department.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
The headline is "Riley Angered by Davis Remarks About GOP Plot: Governor Calls Claims in Siegelman case 'far-fetched'" The story is in the usual spot the News has picked out for stories attacking Jill Simpson's credibility. That's the lower right-hand corner of the front page, with an inflammatory headline, a misleading introduction, and a large amount of copy jumped inside where things usually peter out.
Some thoughts about this latest effort from "The Pravda of the South."
* Riley attacks U.S. Rep. Artur Davis (D-AL) right off the bat. "When it gets to the point where he (Davis) says he believes that the governor of Alabama went to Washington, met with the Justice Department, convinced them to put resources into a conspiracy to get Don Siegelman, that is so far-fetched, that is so totally wrong that I'm disappointed that someone like Artur Davis could possibly believe that." Perhaps I missed something, but I don't recall Davis saying the words that Riley attributes to him. In fact, to its credit, the News gets a response from Davis, and he says he's never said those words.
* From here, the piece has the scent of damage control. The theme seems to be: "Little Rob's affidavit gamble didn't go over so well in Washington, so it's time to bring out Big Bob to attack Artur Davis." One gets the feeling that Big Bob can't believe Artur Davis had the temerity to produce phone-record evidence that contradicted the main point in Little Rob's affidavit.
* Big Bob evidently is so upset that his son got shown up on Washington's big stage that be comes off as irrational. He calls Davis' words at Tuesday's U.S. House Judiciary Committee hearing "absurd." And then he says that he and Davis won't be pals any longer. "It's going to be hard for me to have the respect I have had for him . . . because now he is accusing me, he is accusing the governor of something that I think in his heart he knows never happened." Excuse me again, but I don't recall Artur Davis accusing Bob Riley of anything. Riley seems to have Davis and Jill Simpson mixed up.
* You have to admire Davis' ability to keep his cool in the face of such nutty statements. Davis points out that his statement about politics being used to destroy opponents was about Karl Rove, not Riley. "If the governor views that as a reference to him, I would ask the governor to look closely at the whole statement," Davis said.
* We've noted the tendency of Riley spokespeople to brush off questions about uncomfortable charges with words like "ridiculous," "ludicrous," and "absurd." Big Bob does the same thing in today's article, repeatedly using such language. Why? I suspect it's because those are what I call "show stopper" words. They are big, harsh, dismissive words that tend to cut off dialogue. And the last thing the Riley camp wants is dialogue on this issue. I kept wondering if News reporter Brett Blackledge was ever going to ask, "Governor, what is ridiculous or absurd about the information presented at Tuesday's hearing? What specifically do you find ridiculous and why?" Of course, that question never came from the paper's "Attack Chihuahua."
* The disturbing part comes when Riley seems to cast a thinly veiled threat Davis' way and uses the race card to do it. And in the process, Riley clearly insults the integrity of Alabama voters. "Riley said Davis risks damaging himself in the eyes of Alabama voters," Blackledge writes. Hmmm, so Bob Riley is concerned about Artur Davis' political future? And Alabama voters won't like it if a politician actually asks serious questions about the conduct of the Bush Justice Department? And Alabama voters are too stupid to notice that Justice Department officials are not turning over requested documents and Bush Administration officials are refusing to testify on the DOJ scandal? And what voters would Davis be losing credibility with? The reference clearly seems to be to white voters. Big Bob's message to Davis: "If you want to be Alabama governor someday, you'll shut up and be quiet. White Alabamians can't handle it if you unmask conservatives and show them who we really are. And if you upset white Alabamians, they will make a young black fellow like yourself pay."
* We can't finish our commentary without noting this amazing line from Blackledge. He writes: "The affidavits disputing Simpson's description of the phone call don't say the call didn't take place, only that Rob Riley and others don't remember talking to Simpson that day and that a conversation about Rove, Siegelman's prosecution and his concession never took place." AC (Attack Chihuahua) evidently thinks Alabamians are stupid, too. Rob Riley's affidavit clearly says: " . . . I do not believe a phone call occurred that involved Ms. Simpson . . . " In lawyerly, hedged language, that says a phone call didn't take place. Butts' affidavit says, " . . . nor do I believe any such call/conversation as alleged ever took place." And Matthew Lembke's affidavit says, "I do not recall the phone call that Ms. Simpson claims took place . . . "All three of them said the phone call didn't take place. What's so hard to understand?
In "A Whistleblower's Tale," Wilson notes that Tuesday's U.S. House Judiciary Committee hearing probably never would have taken place if Simpson had not signed a sworn affidavit that quoted Republican operatives discussing a plan to "take care of" former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman.
In addition to the Siegelman case, Congress is looking at cases in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. And U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) on Tuesday introduced evidence regarding the Paul Minor case in Mississippi, which has received considerable attention here at Legal Schnauzer.
It's very likely that none of those cases would have received scrutiny if Simpson had not come forward. And Wilson provides the most comprehensive, and most personal, account of a whistleblower who has taken considerable personal and professional risks.
Since taking steps to shine a light on Republican wrongdoing in the Siegelman matter, Simpson has seen her house burn down, her car forced off the road, and her law business dry up. "Any time you speak truth to power, there are great risks," she says.
Wilson's piece is an excellent read. And while the main focus is on Simpson, the article also says a lot about Rob Riley, son of Alabama Governor Bob Riley and victor over Siegelman in a bitterly fought 2002 election. Rob Riley filed an affidavit to counter Simpson's story and has repeatedly tried to attack her credibility in news accounts.
But what about Riley's credibility? Wilson reports that Riley told a Birmingham News reporter that he had not seen Simpson in years and had never tried cases with her. But Simpson has boxes of records proving they tried many cases together over the years, and she provided some of those records to the House Judiciary Committee.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
It's not the usual suspects--Louis Franklin or Steve Feaga. It's Julia Weller.
Who? you might ask. Scott Horton, of Harper's, has the answer.
Weller is a former assistant U.S. attorney, who once held the top staff position under Leura Canary in Montgomery. Weller left the USA office under mysterious circumstances and wound up in her current role, administrative law judge, courtesy of Alabama Attorney General Troy King.
The News digs up Weller to offer an explanation for the government's decision not to pursue allegations by Alabama developer Lanny Young that he had offered bribes to Republicans William Pryor and Jeff Sessions. Of course, the government took similar allegations against Democrat Don Siegelman and ran with them, all the way to conviction.
Weller tells us that the USA office checked out Young's allegations regarding Sessions and Pryor, but just couldn't find any quid pro quo that would amount to federal bribery.
The News tells us virtually nothing about Weller's background. But Horton is more than happy to shine some light on that subject. Weller is a longtime friend of Leura Canary, and Weller's husband is well-known Montgomery tax attorney Christopher Weller. Among Christopher Weller's close friends are none other than William Pryor and Jeff Sessions--not to mention Karl Rove.
Makes you think the government's investigation of the Pryor/Sessions allegations was pretty exhaustive doesn't it?
It is a brilliant analysis of yesterday's U.S. House Judiciary Committee hearing on selective prosecution by the Bush Justice Department. After reading Horton's description of the general Republican approach to the proceedings, the word that seems to best describe large segments of the modern GOP is "vacuous."
Another couple of words come to mind: "tone deaf." Certain GOPers do not seem capable of grasping what has gone wrong in our nation's justice department and why it's a problem. They seem void of any sense of fair play, of right and wrong, of justice. As Horton writes, they can't even seem to take the subject seriously. And what could be more serious than the notion that certain Americans are being held prisoner because of their political beliefs? Have the GOPers ever heard of Stalin?
Anyone who has read Horton for any length of time knows that he holds contempt for much of what passes for modern conservatism. But I think even Horton was taken aback by the crudity on display in the GOP camp yesterday.
Some Horton highlights:
* He describes the behavior of several GOP committee members as "infantile." They approached the proceeding with a cavalier attitude, attacked a respected former GOP attorney general (Richard Thornburgh), and showed a shocking lack of knowledge about the matters at hand.
* He noted the testimony of University of Missouri faculty member Donald C. Shields, co-author of a study showing that the Bush DOJ has prosecuted 5.6 Democrats for every one Republican. The chance of that ratio coming from random selection? "One in 10,000," Shields said.
* Horton describes in wonderful detail the embarrassing performance of committee member Randy Forbes (R-VA), who noted the affidavits of three Alabamians (Rob Riley & Co.) and declared Jill Simpson should be investigated. (She probably already is, Horton writes.) At that, Artur Davis (D-AL) presented phone records showing a phone call to Rob Riley's law firm at exactly the time Simpson had said all along. Gulp! This, Horton writes, turned Forbes into a "greasespot."
* Was the Bush DOJ offering a defense? Not yesterday, Horton writes.
* The GOP was tripped up by its reliance on the spotty coverage of The Birmingham News, which had reported that Simpson had no documents to back up her story. The supporting evidence existed all along, Horton writes, but the News' stellar reporters evidently never bothered to check it out. Horton says his research indicates that more supporting evidence and corroborating witnesses are out there.
Some highlights from the summary:
* Questions from GOP committee members seemed to adhere to key points in an editorial from yesterday's edition of The Birmingham News.
* The Paul Minor case in Mississippi was introduced, highlighting the prosecution of an individual who was a major contributor to John Edwards' presidential campaign. "We may be seeing a new class of people investigated for political activities--Edwards donors," Mooncat writes.
* And most fascinating of all: On more than one occasion, a GOP committee member tried to make connections between the War on Terror and selective prosecution. What the *!@*% . I'd love to hear that part. Were they pretty much admitting that selective prosecution of political figures in Alabama, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin was going on--and somehow it was advancing the cause of national security? Oh, now I get it: Don Siegelman, Paul Minor & Co. are terror suspects. And Cyril Wecht? That name sounds Muslim doesn't it?
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Rob Riley said he was going to produce affidavits to counter Jill Simpson's contention that the Don Siegelman prosecution was politically motivated. And by golly, Riley came through--sort of.
He produced an affidavit for today's U.S. House Judiciary Committee hearing, and so did retired Alabama Supreme Court Justice Terry Butts and Birmingham attorney Matthew Lembke.
Riley was true to his word, but did the affidavits effectively counter Simpson's sworn testimony? That might be another matter. As we noted in our previous post, Rep. Artur Davis (D-AL) did not seem to be swayed.
So what to make of the Riley affidavits, which can be read here?
I'm hardly an expert, but I have encountered more affidavits than I ever dreamed I'd have any reason to see in the past few years. So here is one layman's thoughts:
* All three affidavits have a fair amount of what I would call "hedge" language in them--
"I have no memory of being on a phone call . . ."
"I do not believe a phone call occurred . . ."
"I do not believe that I have ever met or spoken with Judge Mark Fuller . . ."
". . . nor do I recall, any conference call occurring with Ms. Simpson . . . "
"As I recall, none of us were ever outside each other's presence on that day . . . "
"Again, I neither recall any such call, nor do I believe any such call/conversation . . . ever took place."
"I do not recall the phone call that Ms. Simpson claims took place between her . . . "
"I do not believe that I was out of Justice Butts' and Rob Riley's presence for 11 consecutive minutes . . . "
I suspect students learn this kind of language on the first day of law school. It's a good way to convey a message without risking a false statement under oath. Doesn't mean there is anything improper with the affidavits. But I suspect most reasonably objective laypeople would find Simpson's language more definitive and convincing than that in the Riley affidavits.
* Riley is not so "hedgey" on certain matters:
"I have never been told by Mr. Butts, or anyone else, that Mr. Butts spoke with Mr. Siegelman on November 18, 2002, and convinced Mr. Siegelman to concede . . ."
"I have never requested Karl Rove's (Mr. Rove's) assistance to 'speed up' checks for any of Ms. Simpson's clients, or his assistance on any other federal matter . . . "
* Perhaps the most interesting definitive statements come from Butts and Lembke, both about Bill Canary. Both state clearly that Canary was not with them at Rob Riley's office on the date of the alleged conference call. Perhaps the most famous line of Simpson's affidavit was Canary's statement that "his girls" were going to "take care of" Siegelman. So do Butts and Lembke score major points with their sworn statements that Canary was not present with them on the date in question? Well, I'm not sure. Perhaps someone with technical knowledge about conference calls could answer that question. Would Canary have to be present with Riley & Co. in order to be on a conference call? Could he be at another location and still take part in the conference call, as Simpson says? Has Simpson ever stated that all of the other parties on the call were in one location?
* Maybe the most interesting line from the affidavits is this from Butts: "While there is much that can be said about that trial, I continue to believe that both Richard Scrushy and Don Siegelman were erroneously convicted and that their respective convictions should be reversed on appeal for many trial errors." Hmmm, would be interesting to hear a former Supreme Court justice elaborate on the errors that he feels were made in the trial.
Politics and a Prosecution
Former U.S. attorney Doug Jones testified today that there is no question in his mind that the Siegelman prosecution was "driven by politics."
Glynn Wilson, of Locust Fork World News & Journal, has this report on today's hearing. Jones, who now practices law in Birmingham, said the Siegelman case was part of a "disturbing trend" of selective prosecutions on the part of the Bush Justice Department.
Jones, who began representing Siegelman in 2003, testified that he was assured in spring 2004 that Siegelman would not be charged in the federal investigation. Then in summer 2004, he was told that a meeting was held in Washington and a top-to-bottom review of the Siegelman cases was ordered, with Siegelman "all of a sudden" being indicted in November 2004, one month after another case against the former governor was dropped "with prejudice" in Birmingham.
A Matter of Justice
A leading national association of advocacy groups has issued a statement concerning improper conduct by three federal judges in connection with the Siegelman case. Scott Horton, of Harper's, notes that the Alliance for Justice has particularly harsh words for U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller, the subject of a scathing affidavit that came to light recently from Missouri attorney Paul Benton Weeks.
Judges William Pryor and Noel Hillman also receive criticism from AFJ. The complete statement is available here.
Rob Riley was true to his word. He indeed presented an affidavit for the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, as did retired Alabama Supreme Court Justice Terry Butts, and Birmingham attorney Matthew Lembke of Bradley Arant Rose & White. According to Simpson's testimony, Riley and Butts were on a conference call in which plans to "take care of" Siegelman were discussed. Lembke served as counsel to the Riley for governor campaign in the fall of 2002.
Affidavits from Rob Riley, Butts, and Lembke are available here, along with other documents presented for today's hearing on selective prosecution and the Bush Justice Department.
Did Riley & Co. make a wise move by presenting the affidavits? It's probably too early to know for sure, but early reports indicate it might not have been such a good idea. And that's mainly because Rep. Artur Davis (D-AL) had a hard time buying what the three men were selling.
TPM Muckraker reports that Davis said Simpson had presented phone records contradicting Riley & Co.'s claims that the phone call never happened.
Left in Alabama presented a live blog of today's event, and that shines considerable light on what transpired. Rep. Randy Forbes (R-VA) evidently referred to the affidavits from Riley & Co. and concluded that Simpson's testimony had been conclusively debunked.
Davis responded by entering Exhibit 4, which was a copy of Ms. Simpson's phone records, showing an 11-minute call on November 18, 2002, to (205) 870-9866, the number for the Riley Jackson law firm.
Was this a "gotcha" moment, one that trumps the Riley affidavits? We probably will be hearing more from Riley & Co. in the days ahead, but Simpson's phone records seem to present a problem for them.
Scott Horton, of Harper's, has an intriguing post today about The Birmingham News' recent series of articles that seemed to be a pretty clear attempt to cast doubt on Simpson's sworn statements.
Of particular note, Horton points out, is this line from a story by News reporter Brett Blackledge, whom Horton has labeled the "Attack Chihuahua:"
"Simpson told congressional lawyers last month she has no records, documents or other materials to corroborate her recollection of telephone calls and meetings with Rob Riley . . . "
That line immediately draws Horton's attention:
"Small problem with this series of statements. They're all untrue. Not only did she demonstrate that she had the records, she showed them to the journalists who asked for them. It seems that our ace reporter never bothered to ask her for them when he conducted his tape-recorded interview."
This raises a question: Did Riley & Co., acting on bad information from Blackledge, write their affidavits under the assumption that Simpson had no hard evidence to support her claims?
Did Davis essentially pull an October Surprise on the Riley camp?
With news reports telling us that thousands of blogs are started every day, I wasn't sure if Legal Schnauzer would make any sound at all. I certainly never dreamed that it might play a role in a Congressional investigation.
But it appears that our work is playing a role in the U.S. House Judiciary Committee's investigation into possible selective prosecution by the Bush Justice Department.
The Legal Schnauzer, it seems, has made a sound after all. And hopefully those sounds will continue so that we can do our part in fixing a justice system that has gone horribly off the tracks.
Today's subcommittee hearing has focused primarily on the prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman, a subject we have followed closely here at Legal Schnauzer. But the committee also has information regarding the Paul Minor case in Mississippi, another case we have followed closely on the blog.
The House Judiciary Committee's Web site includes links to a number of documents it is reviewing in its probe of the Bush Justice Department. Among those documents is a letter from Paul Minor that makes numerous citations to our reporting here at Legal Schnauzer.
The Minor letter provides an excellent overview of the case that involved him, Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz and former state judges Wes Teel and John Whitfield. It's a fascinating first-person account of what it is like to be pursued by a justice department run amok.
Legal Schnauzer started primarily as a blog about my own experience with corrupt state judges in Alabama. And indeed we have written about that case, so far in fairly general terms. But it became apparent early on that the problems in our courts are both state and federal in scope--and they also go well beyond my little neck of the woods, to Mississippi, other Southern states, and beyond.
In time, we will get into heavy detail about my case, what we've come to call the Legal Schnauzer case. But for now, the nation is focused on an entire Justice Department that has lost its way. I'm pleased that we are able to play a small part in a process that I hope will expose those who have corrupted our courts and eventually lead to justice for those who have been wronged.
There is much more to write about the Paul Minor case, and we will continue to weigh in on the Siegelman proceedings. And eventually, we will shine a spotlight on my case, and hopefully others, that involve just regular folks.
The House Judiciary hearings might seem far away for many folks. The cases being investigated generally involved people of substantial means and power. But a corrupted justice system can hit very close to home--sometimes when you least expect it.
I'm hearing from numerous Alabamians who have a sense that they have somehow been wronged in state courts. Many of my correspondents have been involved in family-law courts, with issues of a highly personal and emotional nature--child custody, child well-being etc.
I have a feeling that many of the people I've heard from are correct in their feelings that justice was not served in Alabama courts. My hope is that their voices, and the voices of others who are victims of injustice, will eventually be heard.
Monday, October 22, 2007
It's not a favorite topic in the sense that it's something I enjoy; in fact, I've had personal experience with it that is downright frightening, and it's certainly to avoid if possible. But the subject is fascinating simply because it is so important, and I think, explains so much that has gone wrong in our society over the past 25-30 years--from the S&L scandal, to supply-side economics and its huge deficits, to the phony abortion-rights debate, to the hijacking of Christianity, to the Iraq war, to the U.S. attorneys firings, to the Don Siegelman case, to the Paul Minor case, to Larry Craig and his "wide stance" . . .
Well, you get the idea. Strong evidence suggests there are some serious nut jobs running around disguised as what we might call "postmodern conservatives." These people don't look like nut jobs at first glance. They are overwhelmingly white, male, Republican, church-going, married (with children), and by God, they support our troops. What could be more wholesome?
But come across them in an up close and personal way, as I have, and you are likely to see thought processes that have jumped the tracks in a serious way. If they perceive that you have crossed them, even if you are in the right and they are in the wrong, they will do their best to make you pay.
And the scary thing about sociopaths? They, and the people who share their beliefs, are the last ones to realize something is wrong with them.
I wonder if John W. Goff thinks something is wrong with them. He's the Alabama insurance executive who filed a lawsuit in March against Alabama Governor Bob Riley and others, claiming they conspired to drive him out of the insurance business.
Important background on the Goff case is available at the Insurance Journal.
Through his lawsuit, Goff was seeking to have Riley answer questions under oath about sources of funds to the governor's campaign. Less than a month ago, Scott Horton of Harper's reported that the Goff lawsuit was causing serious heartburn in the Riley camp, and Riley had gone to U.S. Attorney Leura Canary in an effort to make it "go away."
Remember, it was Canary's office that brought the case against former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman, which will be the focal point of a Congressional hearing today. Is that kind of scrutiny of concern to Canary & Co. Evidently not. Published reports indicate her office is preparing to indict Goff.
This comes just seven months after Goff filed a lawsuit against Riley and a month or so after Riley reportedly was trying to find a way to make the suit "go away."
Now I'm a psychiatrist in the way Lucy is a psychiatrist in the Peanuts comic strips. I can give you my unprofessional opinion for five cents, and it may not be worth a whole lot. But if you read a little about sociopathy and then read about the Goff story, the Siegelman story, the Paul Minor story (and many others), the objective mind tends to see tell-tale signs that something's amiss.
Want to know more about sociopathy? Here's a good story at Salon, an interview with Martha Stout, author of The Sociopath Next Door.
Who is a sociopath? It's someone without a conscience, someone who cannot empathize with others. Stout estimates that four percent of the U.S. population are sociopaths, and she says that estimate is conservative.
"Conceptually, for the purposes of the book, I'm talking about people who have exhibited symptoms such as extreme deceitfulness, lack of remorse, lack of personal responsibility, and a general desire to control people and make them jump," Stout says.
Do most sociopaths commit really heinous crimes?
"No," Stout says. "Most sociopaths are not violent and probably never will be. They are the people you see every day: The boss who likes to ridicule people. The seduce-and-abandon lover who does this mainly for fun. The person who marries for money or prestige and no apparent other reason. These people aren't necessarily serial killers, but they cause a lot of harm."
How do you spot a sociopath?
"If someone lies to you once or twice, it could be a misunderstanding. If someone lies to you three times, then chances are you're dealing with a liar. And deceit is the central behavior of sociopathy."
Deceit also is a central theme in the cases we've discussed on this blog. The latest of those involves John W. Goff.
Is someone abusing the justice system in order to silence Mr. Goff and deprive him of his legal rights? In essence, is someone trying to shut Mr. Goff up? We can't know for sure at the moment, but evidence certainly suggests that.
And interestingly, the Legal Schnauzer recently had an experience similar to that of Mr. Goff, the kind where someone seems interested in shutting someone up.
More on that in a bit.
It's hard to top that as a nickname for Alabama's largest newspaper, but I might suggest a supplemental nickname: The Rob Riley Gazette.
The News certainly seems to be Riley's mouthpiece of choice leading up to today's U.S. House Judiciary Committee hearing on the Don Siegelman prosecution. The News last week devoted copious amounts of space to stories seeking to discredit Rainsville lawyer Jill Simpson, who testified under oath that the Siegelman prosecution was politically motivated and driven by the Bush White House.
The latest entry in the Trash-Jill-Simpson-Sweepstakes might be the strangest tale of all.
News' reporter Brett Blackledge informs us that a 2002 affidavit accused Siegelman supporters of vote fraud. The one-page affidavit was filed by Eddie Spivey, who had worked with a consulting group on the Siegelman campaign. Spivey claimed that Siegelman supporters had manipulated votes at ballot boxes.
Rob Riley, son of Alabama governor Bob Riley, was so concerned about the affidavit that he took it to the state attorney general's office and showed it to Troy King. Blackledge says Rob Riley also showed it to a female reporter for The Birmingham News, who evidently wrote nothing about it at the time. Curiously, Blackledge does not mention the reporter's name.
Even more curiously, Spivey could not be reached for comment, even though he wound up getting a state job handling security at the governor's mansion.
For good measure, Rob Riley could not give the News a copy of the affidavit, saying it was in storage.
As for Troy King, now Alabama's attorney general, he turned the affidavit over to state investigators, who closed the case after conducting initial interviews.
This story has more holes than the Oakland Raiders' offensive line. But the News goes with it anyway, following its usual strategy: Start it on the front page, with an ominous sounding headline and lead paragraph, and then reveal on the jump that there is little, if anything, to it.
But, hey, at least Blackledge got to tell us that Simpson, in her affidavit, made no mention of the voter-fraud affidavit that captured the attention of the Riley campaign team. I guess that's supposed to call her credibility into question.
She also failed to mention that the Eagles are about to release Long Road out of Eden, their first studio album in almost 30 years. And she failed to provide a review of Alice Cooper's show Saturday night at the Alabama Theater. Gee, there must be a story there somewhere.
Blackledge did provide this nugget: Rob Riley and others mentioned in Simpson's affidavit are preparing affidavits to submit to the committee for Tuesday's hearing. Can't wait to read those.
Speaking of today's hearings, U.S. Representative Artur Davis (D-AL), a member of the House Judiciary Committee, weighs in with an article today in the Montgomery Advertiser.