Thursday, January 31, 2008

Is a Legislative Purge Afoot?

State Rep. Sue Schmitz (D-Toney) was indicted today in federal court and accused of receiving $177,000 for work she did not perform. Schmitz, a former high-school government teacher, is accused of fraud in a nine-count indictment announced by U.S. Attorney Alice Martin in Birmingham.

What is going on here? Is this part of a noble federal effort to clean up Alabama's two-year college system? Is it part of a plan to help Republicans take over the state legislature by 2010? Is it a bit of both?

Given what we've learned about the highly partisan nature of U.S. Attorney offices in Alabama--remember it was Martin who first went after former Democratic Governor Don Siegelman--one must wonder about the motivations behind this investigation.

I particularly wonder because I have first-hand experience with Alice Martin's approach to handling allegations of wrongdoing by Republican public officials. I sent her reams of information about federal crimes (honest-services mail fraud, conspiracy) I had witnessed by Republican judges in Alabama state courts.

Martin assured me that if I sent her detailed information, she would send it to the appropriate investigative agency. When I did just that, what did she do with the information? She sent it to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, which does not even have jurisdiction to investigate the primary alleged crime--honest-services mail fraud under 18 U.S. Code 1346.

In other words, Alice Martin sent my allegations of Republican wrongdoing off to an obscure place where they could quietly die. Doesn't sound like she took that approach to allegations of wrongdoing by Rep. Schmitz. Wonder why.

And that makes me think all of this is another example of the Bush Justice Department playing politics with our courts.

I know very little about Rep. Schmitz and her work as an educator and a legislator. I have read this unflattering portrayal of her in The Birmingham News. But I also have first-hand experience with the News' partisan coverage of justice-related matters. I've notified more than a half dozen editors and reporters at the paper about the wrongdoing I've witnessed in Alabama courts, and they've all ignored it.

So excuse me if I don't take the News as the last word on Rep. Schmitz' integrity.

Based on what we know at this point, the two-year colleges story does not look good for Democrats in Alabama. It looked particularly bad last week when former Chancellor Roy Johnson pled guilty to various corruption charges and agreed to cooperate with the government's investigation.

Upon learning that, you knew more bad news was coming for Democrats. And it came today with the Schmitz story, one day after the high of James Fields' historic special-election victory for a legislative seat representing Cullman County.

As I try to digest the two-year colleges story, I can't help but balance it with what we've learned over the past six to eight months about the behavior of the Bush Justice Department in the Siegelman case.

And I can't help but ask this question: Is Sue Schmitz really a crook or is she just the latest victim of a politically motivated prosecution in Alabama?

I don't know the answer to that question. But I do know this: Alice Martin will definitely play politics with her office. When she ran for public office in 2000, her campaign manager was Dax Swatek, who later would serve as manager of Bob Riley's campaign for governor in 2006. Now Riley is leading a fundraising effort to help Republicans gain control of the state legislature in 2010. And having Sue Schmitz in federal prison would be a nice step toward achieving that goal.

Is Alice Martin playing politics with the Schmitz case? I don't know. But there is no doubt that she is suppressing an investigation of wrongdoing by Republican judges in Alabama state courts, and I've got the conclusive evidence to prove it.

We will be reporting that story in the weeks ahead. We also will be following the Schmitz case with great interest.

Fallout From ExxonMobil Ruling?

The Alabama Supreme Court actually made an intelligent, well-reasoned ruling the other day. But one might wonder if this positive development was an effort by the court's Republican majority to make nice after a wretched and extremely costly ruling the court issued a few weeks ago.

In the earlier case, the Alabama Supreme Court overturned almost all of a $3.6 billion jury verdict in favor of the state against oil giant ExxonMobil. So what did that have to do with a ruling announced this week in a case involving exposure to toxic chemicals at work?

First, a few details about the latest case. In a 5-4 decision, the court overturned a 29-year precedent that said people have two years after their last exposure to a toxic chemical to seek money damages for resulting medical problems. In Griffin v. Unocal, the court held that now people will have two years to file suit after the medical problem becomes apparent, such as after a doctor's diagnosis.

Just one year ago, the Supreme Court upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit filed by Jack Cline over leukemia he developed after exposure to benzene at work in Bessemer. The court found the dismissal was proper because Cline had filed his suit six years after his first exposure but less than two years after he was diagnosed with cancer. Cline died nine days after the ruling.

The Griffin ruling applies only to new cases and will not be applied retroactively, so it comes too late for Cline's family.

But the question persists: What caused the court to change its mind?

For one, Sue Bell Cobb defeated Chief Justice Drayton Nabers to become the court's only Democrat. It's not a surprise that Cobb would side with the plaintiff in a toxic-exposure case. But the court's other new member, Republican Glenn Murdock, also sided with the plaintiff. In fact, it was Murdock's vote that truly tipped the scales of justice.

If my memory is correct, Murdock has consistently portrayed himself as a pro-business conservative. In fact, the Montgomery Advertiser has reported that Republican "consultant" Dax Swatek has raised money for Murdock. Swatek is a long-time associate of Bill Canary, head of the Business Council of Alabama and famed for his "my girls are going to take care of Don Siegelman" quote as reported by whistleblower Jill Simpson. And Swatek's father, William E. Swatek of Pelham, is the slimeball attorney who fired a bogus lawsuit against yours truly and led to this blog.

With that kind of background, and those kind of connections, it's hard to imagine that Murdock really wanted to side with the victim of exposure to toxic chemicals. So why would he side with a plaintiff against a large corporation?

Could his vote have come partly as an effort to soothe public feelings over the $3.6 billion screw job the court's Republicans administered in the ExxonMobil case?

Keep in mind that Dax Swatek also was campaign manager in 2006 for Alabama Governor Bob Riley. And we know that Riley is leading a major fundraising effort to help Republicans take over the Alabama Legislature by 2010. That effort took a blow earlier this week when black Democrat James Fields won a special election over white Republican Wayne Willingham to fill a house seat representing overwhelmingly white Cullman County.

But I'm guessing that part of Riley's plan for a total Republican takeover of Alabama includes an effort to make the corrupt GOPers on our high court look warm and fuzzy. And what better way to do it than by having them appear to support victims of exposure to toxic chemicals? And what better way to get the public to forget the $3.6 million shaft job those same Republicans pulled off in the ExxonMobil case?

Let's hope Alabamians have a much better memory than Riley & Co. give them credit for.

You've got to love Republican judges. Even when they actually make a just ruling, you still get the sense that they are using the courts for political purposes.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Folo the Law in the Deep South

I've become a fan of a blog called folo. If you are interested in legal and justice issues in the South, especially in Mississippi and Alabama, the blog is well worth a look.

Folo has a distinct Mississippi flavor to it, but it also touches on the Don Siegelman case and the broader Bush Department of Justice scandal, noting the starring role of U.S. Rep. Artur Davis (D-AL).

As we've noted many times here at Legal Schnauzer, the Republican mindset that led to the putrid Siegelman case in Alabama also seems to be present in Mississippi, as evidenced by the Paul Minor case. And one gets the distinct impression that underhanded GOPers in Alabama are quite cozy with their brethren in the Magnolia State.

Let's see, how many connections can we think of? We had Bob Riley evidently receiving Mississippi Choctaw gambling money (via Jack Abramoff) to fund his campaign for governor of Alabama. We had former Riley aide Michael Scanlon, a convicted felon along with Abramoff, working in Mississippi. Another former Riley aide, Dan Gans, has ties to Mississippi. Heck, even our old friend Dax Swatek--Riley's former campaign manager and son of Alabama attorney William E. Swatek (a central "bad guy" in our Legal Schnauzer story)--got his law degree at Mississippi College School of Law.

The folks at folo are serious about their legal issues. In fact, the site might have too much of an "inside baseball" feel for some tastes. The site appears to be written and read mostly by lawyers, or folks with strong legal backgrounds. But don't let that intimidate you. If you dig in, you will find some good stuff.

For example, a recent post examined the issue of flimsy prosecutions, citing the Siegelman case in Alabama.

In another post, the folo folks, shared our dismay over Artur Davis' recent weak comments about the Congressional investigation of the Bush Justice Department. The writer long has admired Davis' ability to get to the heart of matters through the use of crisp, solid questioning. So that made Davis' recent comments to Tommy Stevenson of the Tuscaloosa News particularly baffling.

Regular readers of Legal Schnauzer know that I generally don't hold lawyers in high regard. But I get the feeling that the writers and readers at folo are legal types who genuinely want to see justice done. I think they know the justice system has serious problems, and they would like to see it improved.

Alabama Makes Some Positive Racial History

It is being called the most important special election in the history of the Alabama Legislature. And some are hoping that it signals a new day of enlightened thinking in our state.

James Fields, a black Democrat, handily defeated Wayne Willingham, a white Republican, in a special election yesterday to fill the District 12 seat in the Alabama House of Representatives.

District 12 is not just any district in Alabama. It encompasses Cullman County, an area filled with racial symbolism.

Cullman County is more than 96 percent white and 1 percent black, according to statistics from the Cullman Economic Development Agency. The city of Cullman long has been known as a "sundown town," meaning people of color are advised to be out of town once the sun goes down.

Willingham's family reportedly has ties to the Ku Klux Klan, but that did not keep Alabama Governor Bob Riley from campaigning for him. Riley's pleas, however, fell mostly on deaf, white ears.

Fields' victory seems to show that even in an overwhelmingly white county in the Deep South, a quality candidate with a strong, well-articulated message can overcome any divisions that might exist over race.

Doc's Political Parlor, a top resource for political news in Alabama, has an excellent analysis of the special election in Cullman County.

Does this truly signal the beginning of a more enlightened age in Alabama politics? I think it certainly says good things about the electorate. But as we noted in a recent post, the Republican Party hierarchy has launched a two-pronged plan for taking over the Alabama Legislature. The two prongs? Raising tons of money and using the U.S. Department of Justice to go after Democratic legislators who might have run afoul of the law in the state's two-year colleges scandal.

Roy Johnson, former chancellor of the two-year system, has pled guilty to multiple corruption-related charges. And as part of his plea, he has agreed to assist the Justice Department in pursuing state legislators and state school board members. The scandal has focused almost entirely on Democrats, and with Bush appointee Alice Martin at the investigative controls, look for a number of Democratic legislators to wind up with indictments.

News reports indicate that Republicans were counting on the Cullman County race to give their plans momentum. Instead, James Fields threw a serious wrench into those plans.

Don't look for the GOP to take that defeat with good cheer.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A Plan for Democrats to Take Back the South

Birmingham is to the Southeastern Conference what Mecca is to Islam.

SEC headquarters are in Birmingham, and while Alabama and Auburn are the top draws for area sports fans, other SEC schools are a source of considerable pride, too. The SEC is strong in pretty much all sports, but it is the league's achievements in football that make area chests swell with pride.

For the past two Januarys, local sports talk shows have been abuzz after SEC schools--first Florida and then LSU--won the college football national championship game. In both cases, the victim of the SEC schools was Ohio State, of the Big 10 Conference.

Birmingham sports fans love to crow about how the SEC is superior to the Big 10 and other college sports leagues. And I would say the locals are right--the SEC probably is the best conference in college sports, particularly football (which is all most Alabamians really care about anyway).

But I find some irony in the local pride over SEC football. And that's because I have to ask this question: Why is the SEC superior in football to leagues from other regions of the country? And I think the answer is obvious: Southern states have a higher percentage of black athletes than non-Southern states. And when it comes to sports that require speed, quickness, explosiveness, and jumping ability, blacks are superior to whites.

I know I'm walking on the same turf that caused Jimmy the Greek to crash and burn. But while the Greek was a bit crude in making his point, he was essentially correct. And I think most any college coach who recruits would say the same thing: Black athletes, in general, can run faster, move quicker, and jump higher than whites.

Thanks to the South's unfortunate history with slavery, we have a higher percentage of black residents than most states to the north. And that is very good indeed for college football in our region. If you follow the sport, you probably have heard college coaches talk about Florida as a particularly talent-rich state. They ain't talking about white boys. (Although Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow is a pretty talented white boy from Florida.)

Now that I've offended a fair number of people, let's turn this discussion to politics--and what I find to be rich irony. White Southerners love to brag about strong SEC football teams, which are strong mainly because of superior black athletes. But when it comes to election day, white Southerners tend to vote for the Republican Party, which since the 1964 presidential election, has been lukewarm at best on the issue of civil rights and efforts to level the playing field for blacks in America. That's why blacks have come to overwhelmingly support the Democratic Party--the party that has consistently stood for civil rights.

The SEC stretches from LSU in the west to South Carolina in the east, from Florida in the south to Kentucky in the north. And in recent years, all of those states have trended red--as in the Republican Party. In other words, white Southerners support blacks on Saturday afternoon. But the rest of the time, they support their own white interests.

Which leads me to this thought: If there is one thing that white Southerners love more than college football, it's college-football recruiting. We are in the midst of recruiting season right now, with national signing day on Feb. 6. (That, of course, is one day after the Super Tuesday primary elections, which this year includes Alabama; I guarantee you many white Southern guys--and gals, for that matter--will be far more interested in the outcome on Feb. 6 than the one on Feb. 5.)

Democrats need to take the Southern love for college-football recruiting and turn it to the party's advantage. And here's how they can do it:

Get a list of the top 1,000 college football recruits in the Deep South. Shouldn't he hard; there are lists all over the Internet. My guess is that about 75 percent of that list will be black. Take out the offensive linemen and the kickers, and the list is probably close to 90 percent black.

The majority of these young black males probably are Democrats. And the majority of their parents almost certainly are Democrats.

So here is what Democrats need to do: Contact these players and their families and try to form a coalition. And the platform of the coalition, in the voice of the players' parents, will say, "As long as Southern states tend to favor the Republican party, and oppose the interests of black Americans, our sons will sign college football scholarships with northern schools. When Southern states begin to vote Democratic, supporting the interest of black Americans, our sons will be happy to play for Southern schools. In the meantime, we hope you enjoy watching Ohio State, Michigan, Missouri (go Tigers!) and others whip your Southern butts."

I can think of nothing that would turn the South blue faster than that. Heck, Southerners would be naming their baby girls "Hillary" and their boys "Barack" one after another.

So there you have it, the Legal Schnauzer plan for turning the South blue--one football prospect at a time.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Bad Judges and Cockroaches, Part II

In a post the other day, I recounted my most recent encounter with what appears to be a bad judge. Now we return to that topic.

Let's say that I am wrong about my legal-malpractice lawsuit not being a "claim" under bankruptcy law. Let's say that Judge Allwin Horn is correct in his assessment that my lawsuit accrued prior to Richard Poff's bankruptcy petition, and therefore I should have to seek leave from bankruptcy court before proceeding.

I still think Horn is a bad judge, and here is why.

In his ruling, Horn gives me (nor Poff, for that matter) no clue as to what he based his decision on. And I have found this to be common practice among judges. A judge will simply rule that a motion is denied, or a party must do such and such, while giving absolutely no reason for the ruling.

If Horn had said his ruling was based on this case law, or that procedural rule, I could look up the law and be satisfied that I was being treated fairly and correctly under the law. But his written ruling gives no indication that it is based on anything.

And you know what? He and other Alabama judges get away with this all of the time. Why? Because Rule 52 of the Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure allows them to. Without going into too much detail, the rule essentially says that it is not necessary for judges to explain most of their rulings on motions. This is one of many, many things wrong with our justice system, but that's a subject for another day.

There is nothing to keep Horn, or any other judge, from explaining what he based a ruling on. It just is not required.

Since Horn gave no clues in his written ruling, I asked him during a hearing what he based his ruling on. Know what the judge said? He said it was "his impression" that the law required me to seek leave from the bankruptcy court. It was "his impression" that my lawsuit was considered a claim for bankruptcy purposes.

Translation: He didn't know what the frick the law really is, and he wasn't going to bother to find out.

Then he threw out this little pearl: "If I'm wrong, you can appeal me."

I've heard that from two other judges, J. Michael Joiner and G. Dan Reeves in Shelby County, and they both have been bad--criminal, in fact. So you can see why I don't think much of Allwin Horn at this point.

And here's another reason. Even if the term "claim" applied to my lawsuit, it still is not barred under bankruptcy law. Under 11 U.S. Code 523, several exceptions are listed to discharge of debts in a bankruptcy case. The section states that an individual debtor will not be discharged from any debt for money that was obtained by "false pretenses, a false representation, or actual fraud" or "for willful and malicious injury by the debtor to another entity or to the property of another entity."

My lawsuit, filed before I ever was notified that Poff had filed for bankruptcy, alleges fraud and willful and malicious injury. Therefore, it is not barred.

Does Allwin Horn make any mention of this in his ruling. Nope.

I will keep you posted on the latest happenings in this installment of "As the Judges Turn . . . "

And by the way, upon conducting further research, I am even more convinced that I am correct about my professional-malpractice lawsuit not being a claim under bankruptcy law. In fact, I've uncovered real strong indicators that another Republican judge, in this case Allwin Horn, is blowing serious smoke up my fanny.

More on that coming up.

Before we go, let's look at a case that has some similarities to mine--except this one has been in the national news and involves a whole lot more money. It's the case of Mike Nifong, the "Duke lacrosse" prosecutor who recently filed for bankruptcy.

In his filing, Nifong listed assets of $243,898 and debt of $180.3 million, including $30 million to each of the six lacrosse players who have sued him. Legal experts said Nifong might have to pay damages despite his bankruptcy filing if the player's can prove "malicious and willful" injury.

It's interesting that Nifong listed the six $30 million lawsuits filed against him in his bankruptcy filing. Richard Poff never listed my lawsuit against him in his filing.

Henry Wingate: Portrait of a Corrupt Judge

Let's return for a moment to the subject of U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate, who ramrodded the Paul Minor case in Mississippi.

Scott Horton, of Harper's, recently completed a two-part series on the Minor case, focusing on former Mississippi state judge Wes Teel (one of three defendants in the Minor case). Horton's searing account reveals to a national audience what we have shown to our Legal Schnauzer audience--that Judge Wingate butchered the Minor case in a way that almost had to be intentional.

Horton called some of Wingate's rulings "breathtaking" and "unconscionable." Given that three innocent men are in federal prison because of Wingate's actions, I would say Horton was being charitable. Terms such as "malicious," "despicable," "corrupt," and "wicked" might be a better fit. Give me time, and I will think of a few more adjectives.

But here is the point: Henry Wingate, because of his unlawful rulings in the Paul Minor case, has become a truly historic figure.

I've been a professional journalist for almost 30 years, and before that, I was an inveterate newspaper reader. (OK, I admit my "pre-professional" newspaper-reading days consisted mostly of reading the sports section, the comics, and Ann Landers. But hey, that's a start, right?)

I certainly don't claim to have perfect knowledge when it comes to news coverage of justice matters. But I don't ever recall reading a story where a judge has so clearly been shown to be corrupt in his actions on the bench.

Oh sure, there have been cases where judges have been shown to be "on the take" in behind-the-scenes ways. The Operation Greylord case in Chicago comes to mind.

But I don't recall another case where a judge was so clearly, and almost certainly so intentionally, committing fraud right there in the broad daylight of open court. And in a high-profile case, no less.

How did Wingate do it? By making unlawful rulings that essentially prevented defendants Minor, Teel, and John Whitfield from putting on a defense. And by giving jury instructions on bribery and honest-services mail fraud that did not even come close to reflecting what the law actually is. The end result? Paul Minor, Wes Teel, and John Whitfield are political prisoners--in the good ole US of A.

Eventually, I think U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller, who oversaw/ramrodded the Don Siegelman case in Alabama, will be shown to be Wingate's equal when it comes to corruption. But so far, because no trial transcript exists, it's impossible to know just what hanky-panky Fuller might have pulled.

Most of the criticism of Fuller has come because of his many apparent conflicts in the Siegelman case--and because the case had what appears to be an unlawful result. But I'm not aware of anyone showing that Fuller repeatedly made unlawful rulings throughout the trial. (Although I expect that will be shown.)

Wingate, though, is another matter. It's clear as day that he made mucho unlawful rulings. And we have a transcript to prove it. So just how profound is this? What does it mean that a federal judge would do this, under the supposedly bright lights of open court? I have a few thoughts:

* It shows that Henry Wingate thinks the press, and the public in general, are a bunch of saps. In regards to the mainstream press, he might be right about that. Not that mainstream reporters are saps, actually. But the folks who run mainstream news outfits can be controlled these days. I think folks like Wingate and Fuller understand this all too well. A few pesky bloggers have not been so easily controlled. Just how much trouble those bloggers will wind up causing Wingate and Fuller remains to be seen.

* Judges like Henry Wingate have utter disregard for our constitution, our form of government, our very way of life. What exactly is our form of government? Well, that has been a matter for debate for many years. Some call it a representative democracy. Others prefer the term constitutional republic. Whatever you call it, our system does not involve "king judges," judges who can do whatever they want. Our judges take an oath to uphold the law--law that is written by our elected representatives and interpreted by appellate courts. Trial-court judges such as Henry Wingate have a duty to follow the law that is passed down by those above them. They do not have endless discretion. In fact, in this country, we have a place for those who see themselves as "king judges." It's called federal prison.

* Henry Wingate holds a place in history, and he also holds a key place here at Legal Schnauzer. For he is the first judge that we have clearly shown to be corrupt. And he is the first instance where we have shown exactly how a corrupt judge operates. But he will not be the last. Numerous Alabama state judges will be unmasked in the same way.

* Finally, here is a truly disturbing thought about Henry Wingate. He duped the members of the jury in the Paul Minor case. The dictionary defines "dupe" as someone who is easily deceived or cheated. And that's exactly how Henry Wingate saw the Minor jurors. Wonder what those jurors would think if they knew that. In fact, you might try asking yourself this question: What if you had served on a jury and voted to convict, only to find out you did so based on unlawful instructions from the judge? Would you be horrified to learn that you had unlawfully put an innocent person in prison? I know I would be horrified to learn that. Wonder how the jurors in the Minor case would feel about it.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Focusing on Family Favors

A two-pronged Republican plan seems to be under way to take over the Alabama Legislature. Sadly, Democrats appear to be providing plenty of assistance on one part of the plan.

Prong No. 1 comes with news that Governor Bob Riley is chair of a campaign that is designed to raise $7 million for the 2010 elections. Riley and Republican Party chair Mike Hubbard say 68 people have pledged to contribute $10,000 each over four years. Democratic Party chair Joe Turnham wonders what these donors might expect from a sitting governor in exchange for their pledge. Regardless of the answer to that question, it's clear that the GOP is making a big financial push to take over the legislature.

Prong No. 2 of the GOP push is more complex, more familiar, and perhaps more disturbing (in several ways) than prong No. 1. It involves the ongoing two-year colleges scandal in Alabama, which has produced big news in recent days. Roy Johnson, former chancellor of the two-year system, has pled guilty to 15 federal counts of bribery, conspiracy, money laundering, obstruction and witness tampering.

As part of his plea deal, Johnson has agreed to assist prosecutors who apparently are targeting members of the state legislature and the Alabama Board of Education.

From the outset, the two-year colleges scandal has appeared to focus on Democrats. And it appears that future targets will be mostly Democrats. The central issue is this: A number of officials appear to have used the two-year system as a place to provide jobs for family members and friends.

The Schnauzer's take? Democrats who have been involved in such wrongdoing should be held accountable. And it looks like Johnson is going to be used to take a number of folks down with him. If this leads to a Republican takeover of the legislature, well Democrats have only themselves to blame.

But another side of this story is familiar and disturbing. We seem to have the state Republican hierarchy, the federal justice department, and Alabama's largest newspaper (The Birmingham News) joining forces to effect a takeover of a branch of state government. That already appears to have occurred with the executive branch, resulting in the federal prosecution of Democrat Don Siegelman and the elevation of Republican Bob Riley to the governor's office.

Is something similar happening with the legislative branch? Well, we seem to have some significant differences. Evidence is overwhelming that the Siegelman prosecution was politically motivated and he was not actually guilty of criminal behavior. In the two-year colleges story, we appear to have legitimate wrongdoing by Democrats. If a long string of Democrats wind up being convicted of true federal crimes, I would recommend that the party not bother trying to stand up for them. Democrats should stand for honest government, and if that means purging corrupt folks in the party, so be it.

But here is what I find disturbing: When evidence surfaces that Republicans are providing favors to family, friends, and constituents, where are the prosecutors and The Birmingham News then?

Where are the prosecutors and the News when:

* We have evidence that Bob Riley's children, Rob and Minda, have benefited from state contracts under their father's administration;

* We have evidence that Bob Riley forced a second law firm, one with ties to his son, to be used in the state's lawsuit against ExxonMobil;

* We have evidence, presented in detail on this blog, that the father of Riley campaign chair Dax Swatek has repeatedly received unlawfully favorable treatment by Republican judges in Alabama state court. In fact, William E. Swatek has been repeatedly protected from facing the consequences of filing a fraudulent lawsuit, and this is apparently due to his family connections to the Riley administration.

And speaking of the ExxonMobil decision, I couldn't help but think about that when I read the editorial in today's News by editor Tom Scarritt. The News' head honcho focuses on the financial cost of corruption, noting that prosecutors have identified $18.3 million in the corruption scheme involving Roy Johnson.

Where was Scarritt when Republicans on the Alabama Supreme Court unlawfully overturned a judgment against ExxonMobil, costing the state $3.6 billion? We will show in future posts that the Supreme Court's actions were every bit as corrupt as anything Roy Johnson did. And the damage to the state? Harm done by the ExxonMobil ruling far overshadows anything that might come from the two-year colleges investigation.

So while we all should say "good riddance" to any corrupt Democrats who might surface in the legislature--or elsewhere in state government--we should be deeply alarmed that a double standard remains firmly in place when it comes to justice in Alabama.

Deep Schnauzer Thoughts

Siegelman and the Servile Press
Mark Crispin Miller, a professor of culture and communications at New York University, says the press is doing a dismal job of informing the public about important governmental issues. Miller, the author of None Dare Call it Stolen: Ohio, the Election, and America's Servile Press, is particularly alarmed that the press continues to ignore signs that recent national elections have involved fraud. And he says the press intentionally ignores wrongdoing in the name of reportorial "balance."

"A friend of mine at ABC has told me that the newsfolk there are strongly disinclined" to look into possible wrongdoing by politicians," Miller says in an interview with Scott Horton, of Harper' "Doing so, they fear, would open them to charges of a party bias (which no doubt means 'liberal bias'). If that's the case, it means that our Free Press has failed disastrously to do its constitutional duty as a watchdog on the actions of the government, which evidently can jail anyone it wants, and as improperly or groundlessly as it sees fit, and the reporters will just sit there.

"Whatever they may tell themselves at ABC or any other network, what we have here is a corporate press that kowtows to the right, and does it mainly by adhering to the noxious paradigm of 'balance,' which requires going blind to any crime or wrong that can't be said to have been perpetrated on both sides."

Miller cites the case of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman as an example. "The fact that Siegelman clearly has been the victim of a punitive Republican cabal is not a fact that our reporters will report, as there is nothing on the Democratic side remotely comparable to the machine that has been persecuting him (and several other Democrats); nor is there any case of a Republican being treated by the opposition in that way. Thus unable to deplore bipartisan malfeasance, the journalists simply look the other way."

A Little Balance from The Birmingham News?
Glynn Wilson, of Locust Fork World News, presents a detailed analysis of The Birmingham News' most recent coverage of the Don Siegelman/Richard Scrushy case.

Wilson concludes that the News is unusually balanced in its reporting on the case. In fact, he wonders why the story ran in Saturday's edition instead of being held for a prime spot on the Sunday front page.

But that's not to say the story is without serious flaws. Wilson notes that the News continues to pretty much ignore the issue of alleged juror misconduct. And perhaps most importantly, the paper has done no serious reporting on the improper "dynamite charge" from U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller when the jury appeared to be hopelessly deadlocked.

Both of these issues indicate that Fuller was determined there would be no mistrial in the case, justice be damned.

Should Democrats Be More Aggressive on Impeachment?
The answer is a resounding yes, according to David Swanson, writing at

Swanson is referring to possible impeachment proceedings against Vice President Dick Cheney. He supports his argument with some compelling history-based reasoning. "For 230 years, the party that brings impeachment wins, and the party that fails to do so when it's called for loses. (John) Conyers was there when the Democrats moved to impeach Nixon and then won big. He was there when they refused to impeach Reagan and then lost. And most of the current committee was there when the Republicans impeached Clinton against the will of the public for a non-impeachable offense and still won both houses of Congress and the White House. . . .

"Parties that seek to impeach are not punished at the next election. In fact, they frequently improve their positions--as evidenced by the Democrats in 1974, Republicans in 1952, and all the way back to the Whigs of the last century."

Why is the GOP Pro Life?
Have you ever wondered why the Republican Party goes to such great pains to proclaim itself "pro life" and "pro family?"

I think I've figured it out. The more children people have, and the bigger families they have, the more likely they are to be too distracted to notice that Republican leaders are lying to them--and probably robbing them blind, in the process.

This thought came to mind upon reading about a recent study showing the Bush Administration made more than 900 false statements regarding national security in the two years leading up the war in Iraq.

E-Mail Woes Plague the GOP
If distracting the public doesn't work, you can always try deleting e-mails. The latest Republican to develop an e-mail problem is Missouri Governor Matt Blunt, who stunned observers by saying he would quit his re-election campaign. No specific event prompted him to make this announcement, Blunt said, with a straight face. Right, right. And a recent lawsuit alleging destruction of state e-mails had nothing to do with it.

Are Teens the Only Bad Drivers?
Alabama is considering a number of bills that are designed to enhance the safety of teen drivers. One proposal would ban the use of cell phones by drivers younger than 18.

Does anyone seriously think that teens are the only ones who shouldn't be talking on cell phones while they drive? I can't count the number of times I've almost been run off the road by adults who are too busy blabbing on cell phones to pay attention while they drive. Why don't we address that problem while we're at it? Oh, the cell-phone lobby doesn't want us to address that problem, does it?

Ever wonder why we can't come to grips with difficult problems like national health-care insurance and global warming? It's because we can't even get the easy problems solved. Research has conclusively shown that driving while talking on a cell phone is the equivalent of driving while drunk. And yet we still allow it to go on.

Are Hispanics the Only Bad Drivers?
Alabama formed a commission last year to study immigration, and a recent public hearing in Hoover drew a boisterous crowd that supported a crackdown on illegal immigration.

One participant said an illegal immigrant from Honduras crashed into his car last year, causing back injuries that forced him to miss months of work.

I'm sympathetic to anyone who has been injured in a car crash. But I think we need to address bad driving across the board and not focus only on illegal immigrants.

The biggest threats I see on the road are white suburban men and women driving SUVs while talking on cell phones, weaving in and out of lanes, violating speed limits, and tailgating--all, quite often, while sporting a "pro life" bumper sticker.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

The GOP Myth Machine

You've got to hand it to conservatives. With almost eight years of George W. Bush behind us, we now can conclusively say that conservatives can't govern. Yet numerous myths persist, indicating that good government and conservatism can go hand in hand--and an alarming number of Americans still buy these myths.

Here are three of my favorite myths about conservatives:

* We are strong on foreign affairs. (After Dubya's Debacle in Iraq, does anyone still take this seriously?)

* Our judges are "strict constructionists" who treat the written law with reverence. (Guffaw, guffaw.)

* We are careful, indeed conservative, with your tax dollars.

Let's ponder this last one for a moment because two recent news item bring it to mind.

First, we learned that Alabama Governor Bob Riley's efforts to appoint George Bowman to a seat on the Jefferson County Commission were unlawful. A three-judge federal panel ruled that Riley should have obtained federal approval before filling the seat, and now it looks like Bowman's short-lived appointment will end February 5, the date set for a special election. No one, least of all Riley, should be surprised by this outcome. The case is almost identical to a 2005 case in which Riley made an appointment to the Mobile County Commission, and a panel of federal judges ruled that he had violated the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965. Riley already is appealing the Mobile case to the U.S. Supreme Court and might also appeal the Jefferson County case. How much money is Riley spending on this effort to prove that his appointment power transcends the rights of the public to elect county commissioners? Is that really a good use of taxpayer funds?

Second, we learn that Sue Bell Cobb, chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, says our court system will need an extra $9.2 million next year to avoid layoffs. Now, I'm a Sue Bell Cobb fan. She's the only Democrat on the high court and also probably the only honest justice. But our court system is awash in waste, and now Cobb is forced to claim taxpayers should feed the beast with even more money. My own Legal Schnauzer case is a classic example of waste in our courts. The case started with a fraudulent lawsuit that, by law, had to be dismissed in a few months time. Instead it dragged on for five years and even went to a bogus trial. My sources in Montgomery tell me that such cases of butchery by trial-court judges are common. My guess is that this costs the state millions of dollars a year, and the problem doesn't end with trial courts. The Alabama Supreme Court proved it is corrupt with its ruling to overturn almost all of a $3.6 billion award for the state and against oil giant ExxonMobil. Cobb issued a stinging dissent in that case, all but calling her colleagues on the court a bunch of crooks. But now she wants us to send them more money.

Sue Bell Cobb is only one person, and it is unfair to think that she alone can clean up the sewage that emanates from our court system. But Alabamians should write their state legislators and demand that action be taken to clean up our courts before another dime is spent.

Let's hope citizens will remember these stories the next time they hear a conservative crowing about being careful with tax dollars.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Bad Judges and Cockroaches

It might be an urban legend, but I've always heard a disturbing tale about cockroaches. If you see one, the story goes, you can rest assured that others are nearby.

Do cockroaches like to travel in armies? Do they reproduce at a rate that would make rabbits jealous? Whatever the thought is behind this little "truism," I've always had a hair-raising thought upon seeing a single cockroach: "Oh my God, there's an army of 'em about to come from behind that wall! Call Orkin, stat!"

This thought came to me recently as I was thinking about bad judges. (If you don't think of cockroaches and bad judges in the same sentence, then you probably haven't spent much time around bad judges.)

Bad judges seem to share a trait (actually several traits) with cockroaches. If you see one bad judge, you are almost sure to see several others.

Sure has happened with me. Started with Shelby County District Judge Ron Jackson, who "oversaw" a case where I was victim of a minor crime. That led to circuit judges J. Michael Joiner and G. Dan Reeves, and then the "high and mighty" (and corrupt) GOPers on Alabama's appellate courts.

My latest encounter with a judge comes courtesy of Allwin Horn, a Republican (natch) from Jefferson County. Horn is hearing a pending legal-malpractice claim I have against my second attorney, a solo practitioner named Richard Poff.

(My first attorney was Jesse P. Evans III, who at the time was with the large Birmingham firm Adams & Reese/Lange Simpson. Evans was a partner in the firm and his associate, Michael Odom, did most of the work on my case. Evans and Odom have since bolted for another Birmingham firm, Haskell Slaughter. You will be hearing much more about Evans, Odom, and Poff--and their actions and inactions on my case--in the near future.)

Is Horn another bad judge? I'm seeing overwhelming signs that the answer to that question is yes.

And why do I say that? Well, my legal-malpractice claim has been complicated by the fact that Richard Poff, subsequent to "representing" me and being fired by me, filed for bankruptcy. (He also went through what appears to have been a rather nasty divorce. Much more about Poff's bankruptcy and divorce coming down the road. Oh and by the way, Jesse Evans was sued for divorce while he was representing me. That was dismissed, but he was sued again a year or two later--and that one went through. Much more on that coming up, too. I seem to have a "positive" effect on my lawyers' marriages--and their financial status. Only fair since they certainly have had a "positive" impact on my financial status.)

Now, here is where I have a problem with Horn. Poff filed a motion to dismiss my lawsuit, stating that it should be discharged along with his other debts in bankruptcy court. Poff claims this even though my lawsuit was filed after his bankruptcy petition, and he did not list me as a creditor on the petition.

Poff, however, claims that my lawsuit against him "accrued" prior to his May 19, 2005, bankruptcy filing. Horn seems to be going along with this and has ruled that my lawsuit is a "contingency claim." Therefore, he states, I must seek leave in bankruptcy court in order to proceed with my litigation in state court. Horn says this even though Poff's bankruptcy case was completed some two years ago, and his debts were discharged (prior to the change in federal law making it more difficult to file for bankruptcy; pretty slick on Poff's part.)

Now, I don't claim to be an expert on bankruptcy law. It's a complex area of the law, and many lawyers specialize only in that. But I do have some gray matter between my ears, and I fail to see the point in me going off on a glorified "snipe hunt" at the bankruptcy court. (To which, I'm sure the bankruptcy folks will say, "What the hell are you doing here?)

You see, Poff is saying that I am a "creditor" and my lawsuit against him is a "claim" for bankruptcy purposes. Horn seems to be buying that.

But I fail to see how that is correct. The definition of a "claim" under bankruptcy law is pretty simple and can be found in Johnson v. Home State Bank, 501 U.S. 78 (1991). That case states that a claim in a bankruptcy case is a "right to payment." And the case goes on: "a right to payment [means] nothing more nor less than an enforceable obligation."

Well, I have no right to payment from Richard Poff. I have no enforceable obligation. He doesn't owe me a dime. (Actually, he should owe me quite a few dimes. But under the law, at this moment, he doesn't owe me a dime.) So how is my unresolved lawsuit for professional malpractice, which hasn't even gotten off the ground, considered a "claim?"

I don't think it is, and I think Judge Allwin Horn is wrong for apparently stating that it is. But that's not what makes me lean toward putting Horn in the pantheon with other bad judges I've encountered. That judgment is based on something else. Details on that are coming.

Oh, and by the way, Richard Poff has a most interesting history in the Birmingham legal community. You will want to stay tuned for details on that.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Still Trying to Muzzle the Schnauzer?

My wife and I received holiday greetings from an unexpected source on December 20. His name is Bubba Caldwell, a deputy with the Shelby County Sheriff's Department. (Actually, his last name might be Caldell. Had trouble understanding his voice message.)

Anyway, our guy Bubba (I'm not making this name up, folks; this is Alabama after all) left the message on my wife's cell phone. Why Bubba and his buddy, Eddie Moore, keep leaving messages on my wife's cell phone is beyond me. They are calling about a lawsuit to which my wife was not a party; it involved only me.

I noted in an earlier post the efforts of Shelby County's finest to harass us over a document called a writ of execution. We've received at least six phone messages about it, and it all seems part of a concerted effort to get me to quit blogging.

There is no evidence to suggest anyone is serious about the writ because it is improperly executed and thus invalid under the law. I've got an old Three Dog Night album at home (vinyl--ah, the good old days) that has more legal potency than Bubba's worthless piece of paper.

But Bubba's out for blood. Here is the contents of his voice message of December 20:

"Officer Eddie Moore has made contact with your wife pertaining to a debt that we have a writ of execution for, from Mike McGarity (my neighbor with the criminal record). I think you're familiar with it. They've listed your automobile to be picked up, and we've not had any return calls on it. We're getting ready to pick up this automobile from yo house. So you need to call me--Officer Bubba Caldwell (?) at 670-6039."

I might need to translate those words "yo house" for those of you who do not speak Redneck as a first language. In English, I believe that means "your house." In this case, I believe Bubba is saying he is going to pick up my car at my house.

This all raises a number of questions:

* How is Bubba planning to get our cars, which we keep in our garage? Is he planning to break in?

* If Bubba breaks into our home based on a document that is worthless as a cup of warm spit, could he be charged with a criminal offense?

* If I happened to be home, and noticed someone unlawfully breaking into my home and attempting to take my property, would I be justified in clubbing Bubba over the head with the nearest weapon--say, my tennis racket?

* Which is harder, Bubba's head or my tennis racket?

* Could Bubba's phone call, based on a worthless document, constitute harassing communications under Alabama's criminal code?

* It's been more than a month since Bubba left his message saying he was about to come and pick up our car. No sign of Bubba. What's keeping him? Is Bubba lost? I'm deeply concerned.

* Is this a sign of Alabama's taxpayer dollars at work? Is this a sign of how corrupt judges and lawyers use taxpayer resources in a pathetic effort to perpetuate fraud and cover their criminal asses? What about this: Shelby County, probably at the very moment Bubba placed his call, had someone cooking crystal meth, someone abusing a child, someone abusing a spouse, someone stealing something, someone violating traffic laws, and on and on. But what was Bubba doing? Wasting our tax dollars trying to "execute" a fraudulent document.

I would suggest that readers contact Bubba at (205) 670-6039 and ask him what in the hell he is doing.

Or better yet, contact Shelby County Circuit Clerk Mary Harris at (205) 669-3760 or She issued the bogus writ of execution. You might ask her why she issued a writ of execution that is invalid under the law. Does she just do anything my neighbor's attorney Bill Swatek wants, even though Swatek has a 30-year record of unethical activity in the legal profession.

I should note this: These phone calls from deputies started after I complained to Harris that her office was unlawfully classifying a felony assault against me as a misdemeanor. You might ask Harris this: Is this how you treat a citizen who complains about your office's conduct? You hit them with a fraudulent writ of execution?

And here are some of Bubba's superiors. Maybe they would like to explain why Bubba is wasting your tax dollars on an invalid document.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Would Clintons Give Bush a Free Pass?

I am a Bill Clinton fan. And I'm married to an even bigger Bill Clinton fan.

I was born in 1956, and my wife was born in 1960, and we both consider Bill Clinton--in terms of governance--to be the best president of our lifetimes. In fact, we don't think it's a particularly close call.

With that in mind, we are open to a Hillary Clinton presidency.

But I also have some beefs with Bill. And one of those beefs makes me wonder if it's best for our country right now to have a Clinton II presidency.

My first beef with Bill is this: How could you come within a million miles of Paula Jones and Monica Lewinsky? If you hadn't, Al Gore would be winding down a successful second term as president, and our nation and world would be infinitely better off than we have been under George W. Bush. (By the way, Bill, if you just have to have affairs, learn from George H.W. "Poppy" Bush. He chose to have an affair with Jennifer Fitzgerald, a career diplomat who had a lot to lose if word got out about her extracurricular activities. But Monica Lewinsky? She couldn't wait to flap her gums about your trysts with her. Dumb, Bill, very dumb.)

My second beef with Bill is this: Why do you persist on being all palsy with Poppy Bush? I realize that former presidents form an exclusive club, and it's natural to be cordial to Bush 41. But now we have your wife saying that, if elected, she wants to send the two of you off on a "worldwide fence-mending tour" in an effort to clear up the mess left by Bush II. (First, did it ever occur to you and the missus that Bush I might not like the sound of that?)

But here is the bigger concern, as expertly laid out recently by Mark Crispin Miller at News From the Underground. Miller is among a growing number of folks, including your humble blogger, who strongly suspect Bush II has been the most corrupt administration in the nation's history. And he worries that the Clintons' overtures to Bush I indicate that Dubya and his cronies will get a free pass if Hillary becomes president. Miller also is concerned that Barack Obama's repeated talk of bipartisanship indicates he, too, would be soft on Dubya.

"Now, I'm as keen on civilized relations as the next man," Miller writes. "But if the next man is a fascist, it would be foolish to expect him to reciprocate. And if that fascist and his goons have broken laws, they should be prosecuted, not embraced."

And here's a key point from Miller: "One reason why there's such intense 'anger at Washington' is that the Democrats have passively colluded with the Bush Republicans, and let the latter get away with murder (among other things)."

Miller draws heavily on an interview with investigative journalist Robert Parry at Democracy Now. Parry, the editor of, notes that when Bill Clinton first took office, he had an opportunity to lead the effort to get to the bottom of several GOP scandals--Iran-Contra, Iraqgate, the October Surprise, and Passportgate.

Investigations already were under way, but Clinton chose not to support them. Other Democrats went along. "Essentially, they swept much of this very important history and these very serious issues of wrongdoing by the Reagan-Bush administrations under the rug," Parry says.

And that led to the disastrous second Bush administration. "The result was to essentially establish Reagan's legacy in a very positive light, to establish George H.W. Bush's legacy quite well, and that opened the door for the restoration of the Bush dynasty in 2000," Parry says.

Alabama's primary is coming soon, on February 5, and this is one Democrat who is not sure who he will vote for. I've yet to receive any indication that Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama are serious about getting to the bottom of corruption in the Bush II administration, especially its sewer-like justice department.

I agree with the great singer-songwriter John Fogerty--I think we need a Gunslinger. I want to know who is going to take that kind of attitude into the White House.

Based on what I've seen so far, I'm starting to think John Edwards might be the most likely Gunslinger. My theory is that, within the GOP, corporate greed and political corruption go hand in hand. Edwards has vowed to take on corporate fat cats, and my hope is that would lead him to go after political corruption, as well.

Edwards certainly should be interested in getting to the bottom of corruption in the Bush Justice Department. One of Edwards' strongest supporters in the Deep South, Mississippi attorney Paul Minor, currently is in federal prison for crimes we have shown he did not commit. Mississippi judges Wes Teel and John Whitfield also are political prisoners from the Minor case.

Thanks to the reporting of Harper's Scott Horton we know that not long after George W. Bush took office in 2001, his political team started thinking about the 2004 election. And the person they considered most likely to be Dubya's opponent was John Edwards. It wasn't long before government officials conducted raids on the offices of several attorneys who supported Edwards. Was this a blatant effort to cut off funds to Edwards? Was that why Paul Minor was targeted?

Clinton and Obama have been strangely quiet about the issue of corruption in the Bush Justice Department. Many observers are saying that Edwards won the Democratic debate on Monday night, strengthening his prospects in the South Carolina primary. I would suggest that Edwards could make his case even stronger by raising the issue of corruption in the Bush DOJ.

Americans understand the concepts of cheats and crooks. It's time that one of the Democratic presidential candidates clearly lays out the case for going after the people who have turned our Justice Department into a cesspool.

It's also time that a Democratic candidate makes it clear to the American people that we have at least four true political prisoners in federal custody--the three Minor defendants and former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman. Most Americans think of a political prisoners as someone who suffered in the history books, under someone like Josef Stalin.

But it's happening right now, under someone named George W. Bush.

Who will make the case to the American people that something must be done about it? Is John Edwards the candidate to do it?

Good Dirt is Coming--Someday

Robby Scott Hill, at Novationeering, is one of my favorite Alabama bloggers, and I wish him a long, healthy life. But one of his recent posts almost has me wishing he would hurry up and croak. (Just kidding, Rob.)

Hill says he is writing a lengthy series of blog posts about corrupt lawyers and public officials in Alabama. But there is only one problem. Due to the attorney-client privilege, the goodies will be published by the executor of Hill's estate only upon Hill's death.

Hill says he hopes the Alabama State Bar and Alabama Ethics Commission will use the information to make our fair state a less corrupt place.

And what about the crooks who are the subject of said posts? "I will be posting about their misdeeds from the grave, so to speak," Hill writes.

Perhaps Hill will start a trend. "I encourage any lawyer or law enforcement officer who has similar knowledge of public corruption to do the same," he writes.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Abortion Battle Still Hot After 35 Years

As a white male who can't get pregnant, I've always felt I should remain a sideline observer in the heated debate over abortion rights in this country.

I certainly have opinions on the subject. But my main observation is this: If you believe in a Creator God, as most Americans apparently do, it seems clear that said God took pregnancy and gave it exclusively to females. To me, that means pregnancy, and issues related to it, should remain in the hands of females--not government officials, not protesters, not televangelists, and certainly not politicians.

So call me pro choice. But even if I had "pro life" leanings, I don't think I could stomach the tactics of the pro-life movement. And I've been too close for comfort to the tactics used by some who oppose abortion rights.

All of this comes to mind as the nation marks the 35th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision that struck down state laws restricting abortion. Birmingham has been a hot spot in the abortion-rights debate for some time, and demonstrators/protesters on both sides of the issue held events yesterday in the city.

Reading about those activities took me back to the morning of January 29, 1998. I was sitting in my car reading the newspaper before going into work when I heard an explosion that seemed to come several blocks to the southeast. I thought perhaps there had been an accident at a construction site, and I remember thinking, "I hope no one got hurt."

I had been at work only a few minutes when word quickly spread that a bomb had gone off at the New Woman, All Women health clinic, which is three blocks south and two blocks east of where I had been sitting in my car. The clinic is probably less than 100 yards from Purple Onion, one of my favorite Southside lunch spots.

The blast killed police officer Robert Sanderson and critically injured nurse Emily Lyons. Thanks mainly to the remarkably alert actions of Jermaine J. Hughes, a student at nearby UAB (University of Alabama at Birmingham), authorities were able to track down Eric Robert Rudolph.

Rudolph wound up confessing to the Birmingham bombing, the Atlanta Olympic Park bombing, and a bombing at a gay night club in Atlanta. None of those crimes probably would have been solved without the actions of Hughes, who in the shocking moments after the Birmingham bomb saw a man walking away from the area and followed him, leading to detection of the license-plate number on Rudolph's truck.

Where are we in the abortion-rights debate? The Los Angeles Times reported last week that the number of abortions in the United States has dropped to 1.2 million a year, down 25 percent from 1990. Experts attribute part of the drop in surgical abortions to an increase in medical abortions, in which two pills are taken under a doctor's supervision to induce miscarriage.

Abortion-rights advocates say women are more likely now to avoid unwanted pregnancies, thanks in part to emergency contraception, known as the morning-after pill, which is sold without a prescription to women 18 and older.

Another study reported last week found that about half of the women who have abortions each year are 25 or older. Only about 17 percent are teens, and about 60 percent have given birth to at least one child prior to getting an abortion. A disproportionately high number are black or Hispanic, and regardless of race, high abortion rates are linked to financial difficulties.

We now know that abortion rates are falling, and the typical abortion patient is different from what many of us might have thought.

The tone of the abortion-rights debate remains disturbing. Consider conservative columnist Cal Thomas, who takes a "pro life" stance. Like many conservatives, Thomas blames abortion for all sorts of societal ills--from divorce to illegal immigration to the heartbreak of psoriasis. Of course, one is hard pressed to find any reputable social-science studies that show abortion contributes to any of these problems. One prominent social scientist has shown that legalized abortion has actually helped reduce crime rates.

Some social indicators seem to have gotten worse since Roe was decided in 1973. But the same problems have gotten worse since the rise of the Religious Right and the dominance of the Republican Party. Did those trends cause social breakdown? And what about the decline of blue laws, a trend that has caused Sunday to become just another shopping day? That, I would argue, is more likely to cause social decay than Roe v. Wade.

Like many "pro lifers," Thomas plays fast and loose with the language. "One does not begin to kill babies until other dominoes have fallen," he writes. And here's another line: "After 35 years of slaughtering our young, isn't it time to stop."

This is the kind of language, I suspect, that helps produce nut jobs like Eric Rudolph. And Cal Thomas should know better. Most of us can agree, I think, that an abortion is not a desirable outcome. But an abortion is an abortion--nothing more or less. It is not "killing," it is not "murder," and a fetus is not a "baby."

Pro lifers have so mangled the language over the past 35 years that many people no longer even blink at nonsensical statements like "abortion is murder."

It's interesting that conservatives who oppose gay marriage say we must not mess with the traditional "man-woman" meaning of marriage. (I would agree that the definition of marriage should not be changed; but I support the rights of gays to have the exact equivalent of marriage, under whatever term would be appropriate.) When it comes to abortion rights, conservatives have been changing the definition of "baby" and "child" and "murder" and other terms for years.

My hope is that Americans will quit wasting so much energy on the abortion-rights debate. In my view, abortion is not even an issue; it's a symptom of an issue. The real issue is unwanted pregnancy. If we deal with the causes of unwanted pregnancy, the abortion rate will shrink to almost nothing.

You cannot deal with the issue of unwanted pregnancy without examining the sometimes irresponsible sexual behavior of males/men/guys/dudes. Pro lifers, interestingly, seem comfortable giving guys a free pass in the abortion-rights debate.

Here's a suggestion for pro lifers: Next time you are at a clinic, politely ask the women going in (assuming they actually are pregnant and seeking an abortion) for the name, phone number, and address of the guy who is responsible for their pregnancy. Then, go to his home or place of business and protest there. Wonder if that would change the nature of the debate.

And here's another thought: How much damage is done by the constant portrayal in movies and television shows of sexual activity without consequences? When's the last time you saw a fictional character have sex and then have to deal with an unwanted pregnancy? Or when have you seen a character have sex and then go to the doctor with a strange rash on his or her privates only to be told that he/she has a sexually transmitted disease that cannot be cured?

I wonder how many young people soak up our sex-obsessed culture and come away thinking they can have all kinds of carnal romps without having it come back to bite them on the butt.

If we really want to reduce abortion rates, these are some of the issues we need to address.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

What in the Heck is Artur Davis Up To?

Tommy Stevenson, of the Tuscaloosa News, reports that the 60 Minutes story on the prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman is completed and will air when the network's coverage of the National Football League playoffs is over. But the bigger news in Stevenson's report is his bizarre interview with U.S. Rep. Artur Davis (D-AL).

Up till now, Davis has appeared to be a leader in investigating blatant corruption in the Bush Department of Justice (DOJ). But in his interview with Stevenson, Davis seems to be saying he and his Congressional colleagues are pretty much packing it in on the DOJ scandal. The tone is this: Bushies don't want to cooperate by testifying and turning over documents, and that's fine with us. We see no reason to push any harder in our "fact finding."

I hope I'm wrong, but that's how I interpret Davis' interview. And if I'm right, you have to wonder what is behind Davis' change in tone.

Davis said he was interviewed by 60 Minutes and was critical of the Birmingham media's coverage of the Siegelman case. But then he turns around and sounds just as weak-willed and lazy as The Birmingham News.

"The point we tried to make," Davis said, "is the court of public opinion is ultimately going to decide, is going to evaluate what they think happened to Don Siegelman."

This is just one of several comments Davis makes in the Stevenson interview that I find troubling.

The court of public opinion is going to decide? What in the heck does public opinion have to do with anything? This is a totally different tone from the one Davis took last fall when the Bush (DOJ) first began to stonewall the House Judiciary Committee's attempts to investigate the Siegelman case and others that appeared to have been politically motivated.

In a press release last fall, Davis cited Congress' constitutionally derived authority of oversight, noting that the DOJ is funded by Congress and is bound to enforce laws that are passed by Congress. On that occasion, Davis spoke with toughness and determination. Now, in the Stevenson interview, he sounds wishy-washy and weak.

Another example: "I think all of us are waiting to see what the 11th Circuit does," Davis says. "Gov. Siegelman has filed an appeal, and an appeal is not something that Congress can influence."
What? Congress' role is not about influencing Siegelman's appeal. It is about investigating possible wrongdoing by members of the Bush DOJ--and there is overwhelming evidence of wrongdoing--and to take steps to hold people accountable. The Siegelman appeal will only determine whether Siegelman was unlawfully convicted or not; it will only look at issues that are in the official trial record. It will not examine what went on behind the scenes, what led up to the Siegelman prosecution. It will not examine the issue of prosecutorial misconduct and selective prosecution, the whole point of a Congressional hearing last fall. For the life of me, I can't understand why Davis and his fellow members of the Judiciary Committee are waiting on the 11th Circuit.

And then, get a load of this quote: "I think Congress rightly believed that we needed to try to do some fact-finding around the question of whether there was some pervasive politicization of the process. I think it's good that Congress had a hearing, I think it's good that Congress did fact-finding."

And that's it? By his repeated use of the past tense, Davis seems to be saying there will be no more fact-finding, there will be no more hearings. Sounds to me like Artur Davis is issuing a "get out of jail free" card to Karl Rove, Leura and Bill Canary, Alabama prosecutors Louis Franklin and Steve Feaga, Mississippi prosecutor Dunn Lampton (of the Paul Minor case), and God knows who else.

What about the blatant corruption of Judge Mark Fuller in the Siegelman case and Judge Henry Wingate in the Paul Minor case? And what about GOP stonewalling? Are Davis and Co. just going to shrug their shoulders and let that go?

Alabama Republican whistleblower Jill Simpson put her life and career at risk for this? Scott Horton, of Harper', has presented an extraordinary series of investigative posts for this? Larissa Alexandrovna and Raw Story are in the midst of a five-part series on the Siegelman case only to have Congress walk away?

I've conducted enough interviews in my time to know it is an imperfect process. Perhaps Davis did not express himself in the way that he intended. Perhaps Stevenson misunderstood some of what Davis said.

But if this interview is complete and on target, I think Davis is saying that he and his Democratic colleagues on the Judiciary Committee are going to tuck tail and let perhaps the worst scandal in American history pass. No search for truth, no accountability, no punishment for wrongdoers, nothing.

Evidence strongly suggests the DOJ scandal far surpasses Watergate. As a result of this scandal, we actually have at least four political prisoners in America right now. I'm talking about Siegelman from Alabama and Paul Minor, Wes Teel, and John Whitfield from Mississippi.

I believe Davis needs to issue an immediate statement to clarify his intentions, and those of the House Judiciary Committee. And if that group truly plans to play softball as Davis' comments indicate, Democrats, moderates, and anyone else who cares about justice should be outraged.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Bob Riley Plays Naked Politics

Those of us who live in Alabama should never be terribly surprised at any political stunt Republican Governor Bob Riley might pull.

But Riley pulls one today that took even your humble blogger aback.

Riley is proposing a series of tax cuts that supposedly would help lower-income and middle-income families and stimulate a sagging economy. "Tax relief for working families" is what Riley calls it.

But here's a little problem with Riley's plan. We already know that a looming recession is expected to cause a drop of at least $500 million in Alabama's Education Trust Fund for the 2008-09 fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1.

And where would Riley's tax cuts reduce revenue? In the Education Trust Fund. Riley's own spokeswoman admits that. She also lets the ball drop that the tax proposal includes reductions in corporate income taxes. Wow, big surprise there.

Who is Riley thinking about more here, his corporate buddies or "working families?" If you really have to think about the answer to that one, well, I'm afraid I can't help you.

If Riley really was interested in "working families," perhaps he would try to get the Alabama Supreme Court's unlawful ExxonMobil decision overturned. That of course is the ruling that will cost the state about $3.6 billion (that's billion with a "b"). Maybe that money would help "working families." But Riley has said he won't even try to go after it.

Riley also has been remarkably quiet about Lt. Gov. Jim Folsom Jr.'s proposal to revise the state's tax law governing payments by oil giants such as Exxon. Folsom, of course, is a Democrat, and his plan actually might do something for "working families." It would require corporations to pay a fair price for making themselves rich off Alabama's natural resources. Wonder why Goober Riley is so quiet about that idea.

So here is Riley's plan: We've got an Education Trust Fund that we already know is facing a major shortage next fiscal year, and the Guv is proposing that we take even more money from that fund--a fund by the way that is used to educate the children of, you guessed it, "hard working families."

And here's something else to consider about Goober Riley: Remember when Don Siegelman was governor and the crash caused economic hard times in the second half of his term. In the 2002 governor's race, Riley crowed about how he would create jobs and handle the economy much better than Siegelman did. Well, now we have another recession on its way--this one caused by the policies of a GOP administration--and Riley is proposing that we take money from the fund that is supposed to educate our children. You know, the children Republicans refer to when they go all "pro life" and "pro family" on us.

By comparison, what was Don Siegelman's approach? He tried to start an education lottery that would have actually improved education in Alabama. And what did Siegelman get for his troubles? A nice federal prison sentence on bogus charges trumped up by the corrupt Bush Justice Department.

How long will Alabamians, mostly white ones, continue to mindlessly pull the lever for corrupt Republicans like Riley? How many more years of that kind of mindless voting can we afford?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Firing Back at ExxonMobil

The fraudsters at ExxonMobil must have some tightness in their jockey shorts today, thanks to Alabama Lt. Gov. Jim Folsom Jr.

Folsom, a Democrat, has proposed changes in the state's tax on oil and gas production in the wake of the Alabama Supreme Court's recent ruling that cost the state almost all of a $3.6 billion court judgment against Exxon.

The Supreme Court ruling split along party lines, with eight Republicans voting to overturn the jury verdict and the lone Democrat offering a stinging dissent.

Alabama's tax on natural gas is currently a percentage of the value of the gas after it has been processed. Folsom said the Legislature should look at changing it in the upcoming session to a volume-based tax levied when the natural gas comes out of the ground.

"If something is not done, the recent decision by the Alabama Supreme Court siding with Exxon and reversing an Alabama's jury's multibillion-dollar verdict will have devastating consequences on the people of Alabama," Folsom said.

A volume-based system would erase issues that came up in the court case about what costs of production the company could write off, Folsom said. "That way Exxon will have to pay the same way you do--based on what you pump."

Had the judgment stood, Folsom said, it could have helped fund Medicaid, state troopers, prisons, and many other state agencies--at a time when the state is looking at a serious budget shortfall for the 2008-09 fiscal year.

An Exxon spokesman admitted a number of states use a volume-based tax like the one Folsom recommended. But he still was not high on the idea.

"Clear thinking has prevailed in severance taxation since production began," Dean Peeler said. "Changing the metrics of the relationship would create disincentives for producers considering making risk-reward investment decisions."

Can't figure out what Peeler is saying? Allow me to translate for you: "We like the way the current system works because it allows us to cheat the state and commit fraud, and the Alabama Supreme Court let's us get away with it. Of course, we have given tons of money to the campaigns of the GOP justices, and that investment certainly paid off for us. We look forward to it paying off more in the future."

Those are the "metrics" Peeler does not want to see changed.

What about the "metrics" of the actual Exxon ruling? Folsom did not go into that. But here's the truth: The Alabama Supreme Court acted unlawfully and corruptly in making its decision. We've already touched on one way the court acted unlawfully. And we soon will be shining light on other fast moves by the state high court, moves that cost Alabama citizens dearly.

And where was Alabama's Republican Governor, Bob Riley, in all of this? Oh, he says it's not worth even trying to have the unlawful ruling overturned. Interesting isn't it that the lieutenant governor, a Democrat, is the one who has to do the heavy lifting for the people of Alabama?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Think We Need a Gunslinger

You might say we have adopted 2006 American Idol Taylor Hicks as the official musician of Legal Schnauzer. As a Birmingham-based blog, we think it makes sense to honor a "local boy done good."

But our appreciation for Hicks goes beyond the fact that he's from these parts. We like his rootsy music, his "up-by-the-bootstraps" back story, and his appreciation for those who came before him. Perhaps more than any other contestant on Idol, Hicks seemed to understand that modern music is built on the greats of yesteryear. When he sang "Levon" by Elton John or "Living for the City" by Stevie Wonder, you got the impression he wasn't just covering a song. You got the feeling he really "knew" those songs, that he had listened to them perhaps hundreds of times.

Hicks has not sold as many albums, or had as many hit singles, as some Idol products. But I think time will show that Hicks is not only an engaging performer but also a songwriter of signficant talent.

With that in mind, I believe Taylor Hicks would approve of starting off 2008 with a tribute to one of the greatest songwriters of this, or any other, era. And I'm talking about an artist I suspect Taylor Hicks greatly admires.

After all, this artist grew up in California, but his music has its roots in the blues, gospel, and soul of the Deep South. He was inspired to create his "swamp rock" sound from listening to blues legends such as Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, and Howlin' Wolf. In fact, one could make a strong argument that this artist is the most distinctive vocalist of the rock-and-roll era. And he developed his vocal style from listening to Howlin' Wolf.

What caused me to think of this artist? Well, it's hard not to think of this artist almost every day. He's been writing and recording great music for more than 40 years, and hardly a day goes by that you don't hear his classics on the radio.

But I have special reasons for thinking about this artist right now. The main theme of this blog is justice, and as we head into 2008, I think those of us who care about justice in America need a theme song.

I have just the ticket. It's a song called "Gunslinger," from the new CD Revival by John Fogerty, an American treasure.

Fogerty first came to attention as the driving force behind the '60s super group Creedence Clearwater Revival. The band broke up in the early 1970s, but Fogerty has gone on to produce a number of acclaimed solo albums.

Revival is one of his best. It has been nominated for a Grammy and has made many of the "Best of 2007" lists.

"Gunslinger" is the second song on the CD, and you can read the lyrics here. It's a terrific tune, and Fogerty has said in interviews that he sees it as an anthem about the need to restore justice in our country.

The song easily could be misinterpreted, much as Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA" was misused by the Reagan crowd in the 1980s.

Fogerty is not saying that guns literally are the answer to issues of justice. He is saying that those who care about justice will need the toughness of a gunslinger in order to wrest control from those who have perverted our justice system. You can check out a video of the song here.

By the way, Fogerty is an outspoken liberal, which irritates many of his fans on the right side of things. Revival includes "Long Dark Night" and "I Can't Take it No More," two blistering condemnations of the Bush administration. These are in the spirit of the CCR classics "Fortunate Son" and "Who'll Stop the Rain," two of the great protest songs ever written.

Fogerty recently did a medley of the two new songs on the Letterman show.

While we're at it, let's include a video of "Don't You Wish It Was True," the first single from Revival. It's a song of hope, and that's something we all could use in 2008.

For good measure, I want to include a song from Fogerty's superb Blue Moon Swamp CD, which was released about 10 years ago. The song is called "Rambunctious Boy." It's not well known, but for my wife and me, it is one of our all-time favorites. And it would make a good theme song for 2008, too. It's a bit on the country side, but I bet Taylor Hicks would have a lot of fun with it. Here is a video with Fogerty and Keith Urban singing "Rambunctious Boy" live. Enjoy.

Citizen Journalism in Alabama and Beyond

David Hazinski, an associate professor of telecommunications at the University of Georgia, recently wrote that the news industry should find some way to monitor and regulate the growing trend of citizen journalism (of which this blog is a prime example).

"While 'citizen journalism' has its place, the reality is it really isn't journalism at all, and it opens up information flow to the strong probability of fraud and abuse."

Hazinski's piece in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution drew a quick and fiery response from Dan Gillmor, director of the Center for Citizen Media and a longtime supporter of the role regular folks can play in the dissemination of news.

"The regulator of speech should be all of us, collectively voting with our eyes, ears, and dollars in the fabled marketplace of ideas," Gillmor writes. "New tools coming along will give us better ways to do that in a Digital Age than we've had in the analog one . . . "

Gillmor is quick to acknowledge that accuracy and reliability are areas that need improvement in citizen journalism. And he says traditional media outlets should insist that citizen reports that go out under their banner be done in honorable and journalistically sound ways.

But he says Hazinski is wrong to imply that the notion of a citizen journalist is as nutty as the notion of a "citizen surgeon" or a "citizen lawyer." (Although I would argue that some citizen lawyers, if they are at least honest, are better than the real deal.) Journalism, Gillmor says, has never had the kind of rigorous standards for entry that exist in professions such as medicine or law.

We need more education, not more regulation, Gillmor says. "For journalists, citizen or otherwise, it is very much about principles, and ultimately honor. For the audiences, we need to instill deep, critical thinking and a solid grasp of media techniques.

"Let's regulate ourselves to end up with a diverse, vibrant journalism ecosystem that serves and informs us."

I'm definitely with Gillmor on this one. And I would like to see him, Hazinski, and perhaps others address a related question: How important are citizen journalists in reporting stories that traditional media--through fear, laziness, partisan thinking, or all of the above--simply refuse to touch.

We are in the midst of such a story here at Legal Schnauzer. Our tale of judicial corruption among state judges in Alabama--with its close connections to our current Republican governor and the larger story of selective prosecution by the Bush Department of Justice (DOJ)--has been ignored by the mainstream press. So can a blogger, a citizen journalist such as yours truly, contribute? Well, our reporting on justice-related matters in the Deep South has been cited by Scott Horton, of Harper's, at his No Comment blog. And thanks to Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN), our reporting has been cited in documents filed at the U.S. House Judiciary Committee's hearing last fall on selective prosecution.

So we have shown that citizens certainly can contribute to the understanding of important stories. And we are hardly alone. In fact, corruption in the Bush DOJ might be the single most important domestic issue in our country--and it has its roots in Alabama, thanks to the prosecution of former Governor Don Siegelman. But the state's major newspapers--the Newhouse-owned Birmingham News, Huntsville Times, and Mobile Press-Register--have done their best to pretend it doesn't exist.

Inside the borders of Alabama, the story has been driven by blogs and Web sites such as Locust Fork World News, Left in Alabama, and Novationeering. And while Scott Horton's credentials place him well beyond the realm of a citizen journalist, he has used a nontraditional method--the blog--to lead reporting of the DOJ story at the national level. Glynn Wilson, at Locust Fork News, would fit into the category of a professional who uses nontraditional media to shine light in places the mainstreamers don't want to go.

Two other critical stories are taking place in Alabama right now--both with strong ties to citizen or alternative journalism.

One story involves Governor Bob Riley's apparent violation of state campaign-finance law in both 2002 and 2006. The weekly Montgomery Independent and reporter Bob Gambacurta broke the story. But bloggers have played a key role in providing context and analysis and spreading the story beyond the state capital.

The second story involves the Alabama Supreme Court's decision to throw out most of a $3.6 billion jury verdict in favor of the state and against oil giant ExxonMobil. The mainstream media has taken an "aw, shucks" approach to the story, in essence saying it's too bad the state will lose all that money, but gosh, the Supreme Court must be right about this. Bloggers have said, "Not so fast." They have raised questions about the correctness of the ruling, given the facts and the law in the case. (Kudos to Robby Scott Hill at Novationeering in this area.) And they have noted the huge amount of campaign contributions that went from oil interests to the eight justices who voted to overturn the Exxon verdict.

Let's hope that Dan Gillmor and others who care about citizen journalism will keep an eye on our state. Important things are happening here.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Taking Another Look at the Fuller Shuffle

We have shown in a series of posts that U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller presents an extremely weak argument in his memorandum opinion that is designed to show that former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman should remain imprisoned pending appeal.

Scott Horton, a Columbia University law professor who writes at Harper', calls Fuller's opinion "farcical" and says it "reflects a third-rate legal mind."

One of the many weaknesses in Fuller's opinion is that he does not make it clear that 11th Circuit precedent, in fact law in pretty much all federal circuits, requires the showing of a quid pro quo in order to produce a conviction on bribery.

Fuller is guilty of poor legal research, poor legal reasoning, and poor legal writing--quite a trifecta--in his opinion. I don't have the first day of law school, and I could quickly find multiple cases showing that the 11th Circuit requires proof of a "something-for-something" arrangement--also known as a quid pro quo.

A federal judge should be able to find such information. And it isn't complicated stuff, so he should be able to make the law clear in a memorandum opinion. Fuller is unable to do that, either because he is lazy and disinterested or because he knows the Siegelman prosecution is grounded on shaky legal footing and he's trying to cover that fact up.

All Fuller had to do in his opinion is cite the exact language in the relevant law. But he evidently didn't want to do that because it doesn't support his desired result--which would be to see Don Siegelman behind bars for years.

So Fuller tries to pull the equivalent of a cute card trick by mixing up the language found in the case law. He borrows language from the evidence requirements for a bribery conviction and mixes it with language from the fundamental definition of the crime itself. The result is this: The judge finds that Siegelman has not shown that the law requires an "explicit quid pro quo."

The phrase "explicit quid pro quo" appears to be a Fuller concoction, one that I suspect is designed to confuse readers and muddy the legal waters. It's a phrase that I have not found anywhere in the actual law.

The truth of the matter is this: The law does require, in a specific way, a quid pro quo. But it does not require the government to show "direct evidence" of a verbal or written agreement.

Two cases, one of which we already have explored, illustrate the requirements for a bribery conviction.

As we have seen in U.S. v. McCarter, 219 Fed. Appx. 921 (2007), the law clearly requires a quid pro quo, "a specific intent to give or receive something of value in exchange for an official act."

But what kind of evidence must the government present to prove the quid pro quo? That is addressed in another 11th Circuit case, U.S. v. Massey, 89 F. 3d 1433 (1996):

"Direct evidence of a verbal or written agreement to support a bribery conviction is unnecessary. Proof of such an agreement may rest upon inferences drawn from relevant and competent circumstantial evidence. To hold otherwise, would allow defendants to escape liability with winks and nods, even when the evidence as a whole proves that there is a meeting of the minds to exchange official action for money."

That last sentence is key. The law does not allow defendants to get off by saying, "Hey, the government has presented no written agreement between us or no tape recording of a verbal agreement between us. Therefore, we're not guilty." It's not that easy for defendants.

But the government still has a strict burden. The "evidence as a whole" must prove that there was a "meeting of the minds" to exchange something of value for official action. That "meeting of the minds" is a quid pro quo. And it must be present.

It's important to keep this mind: At this point, we're not talking about overturning Siegelman's conviction--although the evidence strongly suggests to me that it should be overturned. We are talking about whether Siegelman has presented a substantial question of law or fact that would merit his release pending appeal.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals twice asked Fuller to explain his decision to immediately send Siegelman to prison, and that makes me think Siegelman's attorneys have done a pretty good job of showing substantial questions of law or fact exist. That's why Fuller essentially is being forced to defend his actions, something he seems to have a hard time doing.

If Siegelman's prosecution were based on solid legal footing, Fuller's memorandum should not have been necessary. And if the appellate courts asked for one just for the heck of it, Fuller should have easily and clearly been able to state why he took the action he did.

The fact Fuller was unable to do that indicates that Siegelman should be released pending appeal. And I suspect it means that the entire prosecution was built on revenge and raw, ugly politics--that it had little, if anything, to do with the law.