Thursday, February 28, 2008
Part two is vastly different from part once, which we dissected here. Part one was a solo job, Eddie Curran unfiltered, and consisted mostly of name calling and bomb throwing directed at Republican whistleblower Jill Simpson and Harper's legal-affairs contributor Scott Horton. In the end, Curran landed no substantive blows, and part one went nowhere.
Part two might actually shed some light on events in the Siegelman case. Be warned: This is a lengthy piece of work, taking up 18 Web pages on the Montgomery Independent site. But I suspect it will be worth the effort to read it closely, and here is why: This is not an Eddie Curran solo piece.
I haven't been able to read the piece in its entirety. But the headline alone tells you this is different: "Did Siegelman Get a Fair Trial? Curran, Horton Square Off."
Part two appears to focus mainly on U.S. Judge Mark Fuller and his handling of the trial. We get a heavy dose of Curran, but we also get Horton's responses. Editor Bob Martin weighs in with several salient editor's notes.
Don't want to comment much without having read the entire piece. But I think the give-and-take format--between the reporter credited with breaking the Siegelman story and the legal analyst who has led the charge in questioning the prosecution--is a good idea.
Also, Martin weighs in with an insightful column about the past week's activities in the Siegelman saga. I particularly like this line about Karl Rove:
Then Tuesday on Fox News, Rove admitted he had spoken with Simpson. Rove told Fox that he'd never met Jill Simpson, then he recanted on that , saying well, maybe he did. But added that he "never asked her to do a darn thing." .
Martin has this about former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods:
Perhaps the most persuasive statements on Siegelman's behalf came from former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods, a lifelong Republican. He was one of 52 active or former state attorney generals who petitioned Congress to investigate the Siegelman indictment and trial. "The case should have never gone to trial," Woods said. "There was no quid pro quo (this for that transaction between Siegelman and Richard Scrushy). The jury was deadlocked twice and the judge ordered them back."
Then, Martin has this about the response of the Alabama Republican Party and chair Mike Hubbard:
Simpson is akin to a person with a contagious disease. Nobody wants to associate with her and her party is even trying to publicly disown her. Here's what State GOP Chair Mike Hubbard has to say about Simpson:
"Our staff has done an exhaustive search of Alabama Republican Party
records going back several years, and we can find not one instance of Dana
Jill Simpson volunteering or working on behalf of the Alabama Republican
Party - as stated by 60 Minutes. Nor can we find anyone within the Republican Party leadership in Alabama who has ever so much as heard of Dana Jill Simpson until she made her first wave of accusations last summer."
I would suggest that Rep. Hubbard check her local county where I believe he will find Ms. Simpson is (or was) listed as GOP Co-chair. I talked at length with Ms. Simpson a few months ago and found her to be very precise and knowledgeable about this situation. Frankly, I would not want to be on her list. She has a lot of records in her filing cabinets.
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
"Karl Rove in a Corner," an article by Joshua Green of The Atlantic, probably is the definitive account of Rove's campaign tactics.
Green writes about some of Rove's darkest tricks:
One constant throughout his career is the prevalence of whisper campaigns against opponents. The 2000 primary campaign, for example, featured a widely disseminated rumor that John McCain, tortured as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, had betrayed his country under interrogation and been rendered mentally unfit for office. More often a Rove campaign questions an opponent's sexual orientation. Bush's 1994 race against Ann Richards featured a rumor that she was a lesbian, along with a rare instance of such a tactic's making it into the public record—when a regional chairman of the Bush campaign allowed himself, perhaps inadvertently, to be quoted criticizing Richards for "appointing avowed homosexual activists" to state jobs.
One of Rove's earliest hit jobs was against fellow Texas political consultant John Weaver, who went on to manage John McCain's campaign in 2000. In the 1980s, Rove and Weaver were locked in a battled to become the dominant Republican strategist in Texas. When it appeared that Weaver's star was rising faster than Rove's, something interesting happened:
The details vary slightly according to which insider tells the story, but the main point is always the same: after Weaver went into business for himself and lured away one of Rove's top employees, Rove spread a rumor that Weaver had made a pass at a young man at a state Republican function. Weaver won't reply to the smear, but those close to him told me of their outrage at the nearly two-decades-old lie. Weaver was first made unwelcome in some Texas Republican circles, and eventually, following McCain's 2000 campaign, he left the Republican Party altogether.
Perhaps Rove's most vicious whisper campaign came in one of his early Alabama contests. It was a judicial race between Republican Harold See and Democratic incumbent Mark Kennedy, which proved to be a rare loss for a Rove candidate in a close race. But Kennedy paid a high price for his victory.
When Kennedy's term was up, he decided not to run again. And it had much to do with vicious rumors he'd had to fight during the campaign against See and Rove. A former juvenile and family-court judge, Kennedy long had held an interest in aiding abused children. In fact, he served as president of the National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse. So naturally, according to Green, the See campaign started a rumor that Kennedy was a pedophile. Green provides insight on how the Rove rumor machine works.
Some of Kennedy's campaign commercials touted his volunteer work, including one that showed him holding hands with children. "We were trying to counter the positives from that ad," a former Rove staffer told me, explaining that some within the See camp initiated a whisper campaign that Kennedy was a pedophile. "It was our standard practice to use the University of Alabama Law School to disseminate whisper-campaign information," the staffer went on. "That was a major device we used for the transmission of this stuff. The students at the law school are from all over the state, and that's one of the ways that Karl got the information out—he knew the law students would take it back to their home towns and it would get out." This would create the impression that the lie was in fact common knowledge across the state. "What Rove does," says Joe Perkins, "is try to make something so bad for a family that the candidate will not subject the family to the hardship. Mark is not your typical Alabama macho, beer-drinkin', tobacco-chewin', pickup-drivin' kind of guy. He is a small, well-groomed, well-educated family man, and what they tried to do was make him look like a homosexual pedophile. That was really, really hard to take."
This gives you an idea of just how low Karl Rove will go in an attempt to win a campaign. And he honed his craft in Alabama. Perhaps Siegelman was too well known for a rumor campaign to be effective if spread through the University of Alabama law school. Maybe that's why Rove wanted intelligence from Jill Simpson.
All of which reminds me to raise a question we addressed earlier: If this is the kind of ethics that drove Karl Rove's judicial campaigns in Alabama, campaigns that proved to be highly successful, what kind of ethics are found in Alabama state courts now?
We hope you stay tuned to Legal Schnauzer as we shine a light into the dark corners of the Courts that Karl Built.
Let me explain:
The juiciest part of 60 Minutes' story on the prosecution of former Alabama governor Don Siegelman came when Jill Simpson revealed that Rove asked her to come up with evidence that Siegelman was "cheating on his wife."
I imagine the overwhelming majority of viewers, including yours truly, thought that meant Rove wanted evidence of Siegelman fooling around with a female aide.
But Wilson reports today that Rove actually wanted proof that Siegelman was gay, that he was having an affair with a male aide, Nick Bailey. The 60 Minutes report featured footage of Bailey in federal prison, where he is serving a sentence after pleading guilty and agreeing to testify against Siegelman.
Here is what Wilson writes about Rove's intentions:
The CBS News magazine show “60 Minutes” liked the part of the story about how Mr. Rove wanted Ms. Simpson to look into Don Siegelman’s sex life. It was what we call in the business “something new” or a “new angle” or “advancing the story” or “new details.” It’s not only sensational and scintillating. It’s downright sleazy. And of course it helped get the national audience interested, and I’m told it worked. The show’s ratings were off the charts - except in that part of North Alabama and Southern Tennessee where it was blacked out, of course.
Quite frankly, I did not want to report on that part of the story because it opened the door to bring out all of the other Karl Rove allegations about Mr. Siegelman, a tactic he’s used in every political race he’s ever been involved in. That is to say, what the “60 Minutes” story points to, without revealing it, was that what Rove wanted Ms. Simpson to investigate was this: Whether Don Siegelman was gay.
Wilson goes on to provide perspective on Rove's previous use of whisper campaigns and the ugly history of such rumors in Alabama politics:
Rove did it to Ann Richards in Texas when he was running George W. Bush’s first campaign for governor, and it worked on her. Bush won. That is well documented. He has already done it to Hillary Clinton.
And this part is lost on the reporters and producers in New York. The same sort of rumor in Alabama helped George Wallace defeat George McMillan in the 1982 race for governor, the next closest election in the state before the 2002 race between Siegelman and Riley. If memory serves, Wallace won by something like 30 votes per precinct in Alabama’s 67 counties. I know for a fact the gay rumor was floating around about McMillan from the Wallace crowd, because I heard it myself and even repeated it to then Birmingham News managing editor Tom Bailey.
Wilson talks about his own struggles as a reporter on the receiving end of ugly rumors.
Apparently, in addition to just not liking Mr. Siegelman, the Birmingham News and Mobile Press-Register reporters actually believed the rumors. And maybe they still do. I heard those rumors in the bars of Montgomery myself back in 2004 while researching Bush’s time in Alabama in 1972, when he was AWOL from the Air National Guard and working for Red Blount’s campaign for governor.
Another reason I didn’t report it initially was because it is a long and complicated story with way too many characters to get down in a newspaper or magazine story. It would take a book to document Don Siegelman’s story--and now Jill Simpson’s role in it.
The other reason is that Ms. Simpson failed to find any evidence of a homosexual relationship between Mr. Siegelman and his long-time aide Nick Bailey. So why bring that to light at all?
This is just the latest example of Rove using a well-worn page in his playbook. He's used the nasty whisper campaign in Texas. And he's used it before in Alabama, long before the Don Siegelman case hit the national stage.
More on that coming up.
You can check out the Alabama GOP's version of truth and fiction related to the 60 Minutes story here. It involves six "fictions" the GOP claims was part of the report. Let's examine the GOP's fictions a little closer:
GOP: Reporter Scott Pelley identified William Canary as "campaign manager" for Bob Riley in 2002. The actual campaign director was Toby Roth. Canary was an "informal advisor."
Legal Schnauzer: We'll give the GOPers half a point here. Technically, 60 Minutes got this wrong. But Pelley's key point was this: Canary was involved with the Riley campaign while his wife, Leura Canary, was overseeing the investigation of Riley's opponent, Siegelman. That is true, and it represents a pretty clear conflict of interest.
GOP: Pelley stated that Jill Simpson had "worked for" the Republican Party and was a GOP "operative." Mike Hubbard, Alabama Republican Party chair, says "we can find not one instance of Dana Jill Simpson volunteering on behalf of the Alabama Republican Party."
LS: Simpson stated under oath that she volunteered for Republican causes and was in regular contact with Rob Riley, son of Alabama Governor Bob Riley. Simpson also has submitted letters and phone records to support her claims of contact with Riley. Hubbard's statement in a news release hardly compares to Simpson's sworn statements that were subject to questioning in Congress. No points for the GOP here.
GOP: Simpson presented zero evidence to support her claim that she was asked to do opposition research by Karl Rove. Simpson never offered these claims about Rove when testifying before the House Judiciary Committee staff.
LS: When testifying before Congressional staff, Simpson was responding to questions and was required to stick to subjects that were put before her. Multiple journalists have reported that Simpson told them of her involvement with Rove well before she was interviewed by 60 Minutes. Also, Simpson's attorney says her client has proof of communication with Rove but is withholding it while Rove refuses to answer questions under oath about the Siegelman case. No points for GOP.
GOP: Simpson alleged that William Canary told her she would "not have to do more intelligence work." This was the first time she had made this statement.
LS: This was reported in connection with Canary's statement that "his girls" would take care of Siegelman--a reference to U.S. attorneys Leura Canary (Bill Canary's wife) and Alice Martin. GOPers can't seem to get it through their skulls that there is a difference between making an affidavit, answering questions under oath before Congressional staffers, and answering questions in a television interview. In the first two circumstances, the goal is to make a narrow statement or give a narrow answer to the question asked. In a televised interview, not under oath, the interviewee has more freedom to provide details. The fact that Simpson added some details in an interview situation does nothing to hurt her credibility. No points for GOP.
GOP: The cases against Siegelman in the northern district and the southern district were the same.
LS: Now it's the GOP having trouble with facts--serious facts. Pelley never said this, and a look at the show's transcript proves it. Pelley said the first trial, in the northern district, involved an alleged Medicaid scam. On the second case, in the southern district, Pelley says Siegelman was indicted on "new charges." And Pelley correctly states that the primary charge for which Siegelman was convicted was bribery. GOP loses two points for this substantive misstatement.
GOP: Pelley said Siegelman was convicted only for the bribery related parts of his indictment. But the former governor also was convicted of obstruction of justice.
LS: The GOP scores no points with this weak effort. I'm not a lawyer, but I'm pretty sure obstruction of justice is what might be called a "piggyback" charge, one that can be brought only in conjunction with something else. In that sense, it is similar to conspiracy. You can't have a conspiracy unless it involves a conspiracy to commit another crime. And you can't have obstruction of justice unless it involves someone trying to interfere with investigation of another crime. The obstruction of justice charge was directly related to the bribery charge, so Pelley's statement was correct.
The verdict? The GOP's effort to take on 60 Minutes results in a loss, by 1 1/2 points. And I would say I was using a pretty generous scoring system for the GOPers.
The Republican campaign guru has taken to friendly media outlets--Fox News, The Birmingham News--to deny that he ever sought help with "opposition research" from Alabama lawyer and whistleblower Jill Simpson.
Rove tells The Birmingham News that he has no recollection of ever meeting with, or talking to, Simpson. But in the same article, Simpson attorney Priscilla Duncan makes a statement that could be ominous for Rove:
"In her telephone records, there are calls to Rove and calls to Twinkle Andress," said Priscilla Duncan, Simpson's attorney. Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh is the former Alabama Republican Party chairwoman and now an adviser to Republican Gov. Bob Riley.
Glynn Wilson, at Locust Fork News, goes a step further in writing about documentation that supports Simpson's story:
For the record, and I’ve already indicated my willingness to testify to this, I have heard from Ms. Simpson all about her dealings directly with Karl Rove, over and over again and late into the night on the telephone on many occasions. I have seen the documents which back them up.
But Ms. Simpson and her lawyer in Montgomery are not going to release any more documents until Karl Rove and the other participants in this scandal, including assistant U.S. Attorney Louis Franklin, are called to testify under oath. And for good reason. They have a pretty good case building up that might land some people around here in some pretty hot legal water themselves, including the new head of the Alabama Republican Party, and Mr. Franklin at the so-called Justice department down in Montgomery.
A number of Republican pundits have stated that Simpson has presented little, if any, corroborating evidence to support her story. Rove himself, in The Birmingham News, said he was frustrated that national media accounts have not pressed Simpson for proof or details of when she says she met with him and where, or what work she might have produced as a result.
But Wilson says Simpson and her attorney have decided to withhold certain documents until Rove and others are forced to testify under oath--as she has done. Sounds fair to me.
The story seems to be this: Just because Rove and his supporters haven't seen certain documents does not mean they don't exist.
Rove & Co. also seem to forget that Simpson has presented both written and oral testimony under oath and submitted herself to questioning from Congressional staffers representing both Democrats and Republicans. She also submitted herself to the scrutiny of the nation's premier broadcast news program. Rove has yet to do any of these things, and I suspect reasonable Americans must be asking themselves why that is.
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
We posted a few weeks back about the transcript and the late Jimmy Dickens, who was the court reporter for the Siegelman case.
When I wrote this post, I must confess that the paranoid, conspiracy-minded part of me was in overdrive. But at the last minute, I toned the post down and held off on writing what I really was thinking.
Since then, I've discovered--from reading comments on a number of blogs-- that quite a few folks are thinking the same thing I was thinking. Most recently I noticed this on a post and comments at the always interesting firedoglake.
Here is what folks are asking: What caused the death of Jimmy Dickens? Did he die of natural causes?
Those folks clearly are wondering what I was wondering when I wrote the original post on Mr. Dickens and the mystery transcript: Is it possible that Mr. Dickens refused to tamper with the transcript and wound up being killed because of it?
Now perhaps I watched too many Barnaby Jones episodes in my youth. But evidence strongly suggests that a certain faction of the modern Republican Party can play awfully rough. We also know that, when under duress, they can turn on folks who are pretty much in their inner circle.
I know nothing about Jimmy Dickens' politics. But from reading his obituary, he sure sounds like an upstanding guy. Here is the obituary, and as far as I know, it's the only thing that has been written about his passing--even though he was a central figure in one of the nation's most controversial criminal cases:
DICKENS, Sr., James Raymond, 59, a resident of Montgomery, Alabama, died Friday, August 24, 2007. Funeral services will be held on Sunday, August 26, 2007 at 2:00 P.M. from Frazer United Methodist Church with Dr. John Ed Mathison officiating. Burial will follow in Alabama Heritage Cemetery. Mr. Dickens served in the United States AirForce from 1968 until 1972. He was a Court Reporter for the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama. He is survived by his wife, Pamela Duncan Dickens; three sons, Dr. Frank Eric Dickens (Peggy), Joel Scott Dickens (Jane), James Raymond Dickens, Jr. (Becky); six grandchildren, Michael James Dickens, Hayden Scott Dickens, Caroline Chappell Dickens, Sean Patrick Dickens, Elizabeth Ann Dickens, and Katherine Elizabeth Dickens; two brothers, Danny Dickens (Vicki) and Bob Dickens (Jerri). Visitation will beheld Sunday, August 26, 2007,from 1:00 P.M. until 2:00 P.M. at the church.
Funeral Home: GREENWOOD & SERENITYPublication Date: 08/26/2007
Mr. Dickens certainly sounds like the kind of guy you would enjoy having as a neighbor, and my condolences go out to his family. He evidently was a member of Frazer United Methodist Church in Montgomery, which I'm guessing is a pretty large congregation. From checking the Web, it looks like one of his sons, Dr. Frank Dickens is an OB/GYN in Montgomery.
More than likely, Mr. Dickens died of natural causes. But I guess my curiosity about the transcript in general, and Mr. Dickens in particular, is driven by own experiences in court.
I don't fully understand all the procedures surrounding a transcript, although a lawyer source has filled me in some and I hope to post about that soon. But as a layperson, it seems impossible to overstate the importance of a transcript in any legal proceeding. And the keeper of that all-important official record is the court reporter.
Here's an example of just how important a court reporter can be: When I was the victim of a crime (criminal trespass) and sought to have it prosecuted--starting the legal sojourn that led to this blog--a court reporter was present for the case (which is unusual, I understand, in district court). My wife and I were wrongfully kept outside the courtroom for much of the proceedings, so when the judge found my troublesome neighbor "not guilty" (a decision which led to the lawsuit against me) we had no idea what that was based on.
But my wife and I got a copy of the transcript, and that's when we first began to understand how corrupt Alabama state courts are. You might say the scales began to fall from our eyes. The transcript revealed--and I'm not joking--that the defendant had admitted to committing the crime and still was found not guilty!
Without a court reporter, I never would have known that. Later in my case, after my neighbor had sued me for malicious prosecution, I employed a court reporter to take the neighbor's deposition. (That's expensive, by the way; set us back $900.) But it yielded some most interesting information, much of which you will read later on this blog.
For example, in that deposition I caught an individual making a statement that was contradictory to a statement I had taped another neighbor making regarding a certain issue in the case. This statement clearly shows that a motion that had been filed in the case was fraudulent and was designed to scare me into some kind of settlement. Because the U.S. mails were used to send the motion, this individual clearly committed a federal crime-honest-services mail fraud. This is one of numerous facts that U.S. Attorney Alice Martin, Northern District of Alabama, is trying to keep under wraps.
Anyway, you can see how important court reporters can be and why they hold a special place in my heart. My impression is that, in general, court reporters are noble people.
Unfortunately, I've also learned that our justice system is filled with many less-than-noble people. And many of those folks outrank court reporters.
It's not hard at all for me to imagine someone pressuring a court reporter to alter a transcript just enough--and it probably wouldn't take much in many cases--to ensure that a trial-court judgment held up on appeal. And that could ensure that someone like Don Siegelman stayed in prison for a very long time.
How would someone accomplish this, say if we were writing a John Grisham novel? Well, I don't know. I welcome any input from readers who are familiar with, or curious about, court reporting.
We've seen reports that more than 100 hours of material had to be left out of the story. Could CBS return to the Siegelman story? Sounds like the network certainly has plenty of ammunition if it decides to use it. (With modern video technology on the Web, 60 Minutes really needs to explore the idea of at least providing expanded Web casts.)
Based on the quality of its report on Sunday night, it's safe to assume that CBS has material that would break new ground in the case. It's not unusual for 60 Minutes to revisit stories and update them. The Siegelman case cries out for that kind of treatment--particularly because it is not just an "Alabama" story. This goes to the heart of wrongdoing in the Bush Department of Justice, which involves all Americans.
Just consider a few angles that 60 Minutes was not able to touch:
* The apparent electronic manipulation of votes in Baldwin County that gave Bob Riley the 2002 election over Siegelman.
* The myriad conflicts of interests involving U.S. Judge Mark Fuller and the possible criminal activity Fuller has been engaged in--as laid out in a scorching affidavit by Missouri attorney Paul Benton Weeks.
* The fact that key prosecution witness Lanny Young also provided damning testimony about Republicans Jeff Sessions and William Pryor, which federal investigators evidently ignored.
* The strong connections, driven home in recent days by Huffington Post, between Bob Riley and Jack Abramoff--and how money funneled through Abramoff helped Riley beat Siegelman.
* The stunningly weak memorandum opinion that Fuller issued as an "explanation" for denying bond pending Siegelman's appeal.
* The fact that, so far, no transcript exists in the Siegelman case, supposedly because the original court reporter died.
* The influence that Karl Rove has had on Alabama state courts, starting in the mid 1990s, and the untold damage he has done to the state's overall justice apparatus.
* The peculiar reporting methods of the Birmingham and Mobile newspapers in the case and their apparent close ties to prosecutors.
Alabama is essentially ground zero for corruption in the Bush DOJ. Our state is to justice-based terrorism what lower Manhattan is to Islamic terrorism. It's where a disturbing and profoundly important story had its genesis.
It's where the nation first learned about modern-day American political prisoners. (And there are others--at least three we know of, connected to the Paul Minor case in Mississippi. That case, too, would make a superb 60 Minutes story.)
CBS has done a splendid job of providing an overview of the Siegelman case and what it represents. Let's hope Scott Pelley and crew are allowed to finish the job.
Stein's scoop should go way beyond the borders of Alabama. In fact, it should become a major issue in the presidential campaign because it casts presumptive Republican nominee John McCain in a most unfavorable light.
For good measure, Stein's story also touches on our Legal Schnauzer case.
McCain led a 2006 Senate investigation into the activities of disgraced Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff. But Stein reports that McCain left information out of the report that detailed how Alabama Governor Bob Riley was targeted by Abramoff's influence-peddling scheme.
Huffington Post obtained a copy of a 2002 e-mail in which Abramoff explains to an aide what he would like to see Riley do in return for the "help" he received from Abramoff's tribal clients:
An official with the Mississippi Choctaws "definitely wants Riley to shut down the Poarch Creek operation," Abramoff wrote, including his announcing that anyone caught gambling there can't qualify for a state contract or something like that."
McCain and his staff had access to this information before issuing their report--showing a direct link between Abramoff and Riley. But McCain's committee sat on the information.
Stein notes the political implications of the committee's failure to expose the Abramoff-Riley connection. Word leaked prior to the 2002 election that Siegelman was under federal investigation, and he lost the Alabama gubernatorial race to Riley by fewer than 3,000 votes.
Riley took office in January 2003 and won re-election in 2006, while McCain kept the Abramoff connection safely under wraps.
Would the prosecution that landed Siegelman in prison have ever happened if McCain had not provided cover for Riley? That is one of many interesting questions raised by Stein's story.
The tie to our Legal Schnauzer case, as often happens in our tale of intrigue, is provided by Alabama GOP "consultant" Dax Swatek. Swatek's ethically challenged father, Pelham, Alabama, attorney William E. Swatek, filed the fraudulent lawsuit against me that is at the heart of this blog. And Alabama Republican judges made numerous unlawful rulings in the case, making sure that Bill Swatek was not held accountable for filing a lawsuit that had no basis in fact or law.
Dax Swatek, after serving as Bob Riley's campaign manager in 2006, was hired as an advisor for McCain's exploratory committee in Alabama. Swatek wound up getting dumped when the McCain campaign had financial difficulties. (Interestingly, Dax Swatek also was campaign manager for the failed 2000 judicial race of Alice Martin, now U.S. attorney in Alabama and the first prosecutor to go after Don Siegelman.)
Now that the resurgent McCain appears headed to the GOP nomination, the Arizonan's ties to Bob Riley and Dax Swatek merit special scrutiny. Not surprisingly, those ties appear to involve questionable ethics.
Here's the irony in all of this: Evidence strongly suggests that Bob Riley and Alice Martin, along with Republican judges, have taken steps to protect Dax Swatek's father from the repercussions of filing a bogus lawsuit in Alabama state courts. That sounds very similar to the kind of cover John McCain provided for Bob Riley back in 2002.
Covering one another seems to be a prime hobby of Alabama Republicans. Now we know that John McCain is part of a pretty sleazy crowd.
Monday, February 25, 2008
Instead of watching and talking about a football game, justice hounds have been engrossed in last night's 60 Minutes piece on the prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman.
The story clearly hit a nerve. At last check almost 1,700 comments about the story had been left at the 60 Minutes Web site. And the Web and progressive e-mail lists have been abuzz since the broadcast. We even have the story of a mysterious "blackout" at a television station in Huntsville, Alabama, one whose owners evidently have connections to the Bush family. Hmmm.
As victims of Republican corruption in Alabama state courts, my wife and I took a special interest in the 60 Minutes story. We spent pretty much the whole evening talking about it. Today, someone told me an awards show of some kind was on TV last night.
Which got me to thinking: In the spirit of the Oscars and that little football game that was played a few weeks back, maybe we should present our own awards based on the 60 Minutes story. We'll call them the Schnauzers:
* MVP (Most Valuable Player)--Grant Woods, former attorney general of Arizona. He was authoritative, direct, splendid all the way around. And his comment about what's best for America being more important than what's best for the Republican Party was a classic. Maybe a few statesmen still exist. My God, if this guy ran for office in a place where I cast a ballot, I might actually consider voting Republican!
* MCP (Most Courageous Player)--Jill Simpson, Republican whistleblower. The woman has stuck her personal and professional neck on the line. And her credibility remains rock solid, I suspect, with most rational viewers.
* MVQ (Most Valuable Questioner)--Scott Pelley proved to be a pro's pro. His reporting was solid, fair, and compelling. One thought I had as I watched: Wonder if folks in North Dakota care about this? Thanks to Pelley and his crew, I bet they do.
* BTG (Best Tour Guides)--Producers Joel Bach and David Gelber. They guided the story masterfully. And they packed a ton of information into a 14-minute slot.
* MVSS (Most Valuable Siegelman Supporter)--Attorney Doug Jones. His point about Nick Bailey's story regarding the check--and how it didn't add up--was key. Perhaps that point has been reported before, but Jones drove it home expertly.
* MVB (Most Valuable Behind-the-Scenes-Source)--Harper's Scott Horton. I suspect this story never would have happened without Horton's work at his No Comment blog. When a Columbia University law professor talks about a court case, people listen. If I'm ever held a political prisoner--and given my recent experiences in Shelby County, Alabama, that's not out of the question--I hope someone like Horton takes up my cause.
* MVPh (Most Valuable Photographer)--Whoever got the shot of Don Siegelman emptying mop buckets at a Louisiana prison. Fantastic work. If anyone changed channels after that, I'd be amazed.
* MVPr (Most Valuable Prisoner)--Off-camera interview with Nick Bailey was critical. Showed just how uncertain Bailey's testimony was and highlighted chicanery by prosecution in failing to produce Bailey's writings.
* MAC (Most Amazing Coincidence)--Technical difficulties at Huntsville station just happen to hit as Siegelman piece is going on the air. And station owners are Bush supporters!
* MDP (Most Despicable Prickhead)--Rove attorney who suggested his client deserved an apology from CBS. Hey Bub, your client had every opportunity to appear and be interviewed on the program. He chose not to. He's had every opportunity to testify under oath in Congress, as Jill Simpson has done. He's chosen not to. Your client owes American an apology for what he's done to our country.
* MSAG (Most Slimy Alabama GOPer)--Party chair Mike Hubbard. Claims hardly anyone in the party knows who Jill Simpson is? Last time a Republican tried to pull that kind of stunt, Artur Davis made him look like a fool on the floor of the House. I suspect history will do the same to Hubbard.
Sunday, February 24, 2008
I've read a fair chunk of Curran's multipart investigative series in the Mobile Press-Register on the administration of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman. Curran is credited with sparking the federal investigation that led to Siegelman's indictment and conviction on corruption charges. A national audience tonight, courtesy of 60 Minutes, will learn some of the details that have caused quite a few observers to conclude that the Siegelman prosecution was politically motivated and legally unjust.
Curran's original series appeared to be presented in a professional way. Siegelman insiders probably would quibble with some of the facts and certainly would take issue with the conclusions drawn. But I've been in journalism myself, in one form or another, for almost 30 years and, on its face, the Mobile series comes across as the work of a solid investigative reporter.
Curran's op-ed piece, which hit the Web yesterday, is another matter. The journalist comes across as a petulant fifth grader, firing spitballs at kids he doesn't like. In this case, the kids he doesn't like are named Jill Simpson (Republican whistleblower who will be at the heart of the 60 Minutes piece) and Scott Horton (legal-affairs reporter for Harper's). Curran fires plenty of spitballs at his targets, but his aim is way off line.
The goal of Curran's op-ed apparently is to convince readers that the Siegelman prosecutors were ethical, U.S. Judge Mark Fuller was honorable, Siegelman was criminal, Simpson is delusional, and Horton is, well, a stain on Harper's considerable legacy.
Curran fails on all counts. And that might be partly because, as Independent editor Bob Martin takes pains to point out in a lengthy editor's note, the piece was published without editing. (You can almost hear the soap and water running over Martin's hands as he attempts to cleanse himself following the decision to run Curran's piece.)
This all makes me think the Mobile Press-Register must have some outstanding copy editors on board. In fact, if I were a copy editor at a major newspaper, I would save Curran's op-ed and take it with me the next time I go to my boss asking for a raise. I would plop the article on my boss' desk and say, "Without people like me, this is the kind of stuff you would have running in your newspaper every day. So pay up, bub."
Based on Curran's op-ed, I can only assume that copy editors had a lot to do with the professional presentation of his work in the Mobile paper. In the Montgomery Independent, we get Eddie Curran raw. And it's not a pretty sight.
In fact, I have to wonder: Where was the editor of the Mobile Press-Register when the deal to run Curran's op-ed was going down? Curran states that he is on unpaid sabbatical from the paper in order to write a book about the Siegelman case. That means he still should be answerable to the editor of the Press-Register. And I know more than one newspaper editor who would consider a sophomoric op-ed such as Curran's to be grounds for dismissal.
I assume folks at the Press-Register care, at least a little bit, about their reputation. After checking out Curran's op-ed, a reasonable reader might ask: If this is the P-R's ace investigative reporter, unfiltered, what kind of editorial judgment does the paper have? And wouldn't they be wise to keep a fairly tight leash on him?
It's not breaking news that Eddie Curran is, to put it charitably, an eccentric fellow. We've had our own interesting encounters with him at Legal Schnauzer. You can check out our posts mentioning Mr. Curran here. If you want to get a flavor for what it's like to have Mr. Curran as an e-mail buddy, scroll to the bottom post and work your way up. You'll see some comments that are so off the wall that I, at first, thought it had to be an impostor. But Curran made it clear that it was indeed him, hair follicles and all.
Now, I've known a few wacky reporters in my time. Investigative reporting is tough, risky work, the kind that doesn't necessarily attract "9 to 5, church deacon" types. But even the nuttiest reporters usually know when to dial it back and let their work speak for itself. They also know that their credibility is strongest when they stick to the facts at hand. And perhaps most importantly, they know that copy editors, managing editors, executive editors, and others are important parts of the reporting process. Going solo might be an attractive option if you are Paul McCartney or Paul Simon, but an investigative reporter should be humble and calm enough to know that it's a good idea to stay within the team framework--to rely on people to check and question and enhance your raw material.
And that seems to be the greatest failing of Curran's op-ed--it is pure Eddie, all bluster and cockiness, with one smart-alecky remark coming after another. It is full of name calling and bomb throwing. But the piece never really goes anywhere. And that's because Curran didn't have an editor to force him to support his assertions--or maybe he just doesn't have a leg to stand on.
Here's one example of Curran making serious charges but not backing them up. He opens by noting that a friend had sent him a copy of a Scott Horton article that ran in the Jan. 21 issue of the Independent. The friend had found it "disturbing," and Curran tells us that he, too, was disturbed by it. "The article is laden with factual error, innuendo and a level of sourcing that would not be permitted in the lowest rank of newspapers."
But Curran gives no examples of factual error or innuendo or poor sourcing in the story. "Unlike my Montgomery friend, I knew something about the subject of the piece--Mark Fuller--as well as its author." But Curran gives us little, if any, information to support his claim that he is knowledgeable about Fuller and Horton.
Curran observed Fuller during the Siegelman trial and gives him high marks for being a "neutral arbiter." Can Curran present any facts that helped him form this conclusion? Evidently not. Curran also likes the fact that Fuller "never grandstanded or tried to make himself the focus of the trial." That's nice, but what does it mean? You could say the same thing about a department-store mannequin conducting a trial.
As for the two targets of his spitballs, Curran doesn't lay a glove on either Simpson or Horton. He takes healthy swings at some matters on the periphery of Simpson's sworn statements and testimony. But he has no answer for her main point: That she overheard Republican operatives saying they were going to work with the U.S. Justice Department to "take care of" Don Siegelman.
As U.S. Rep. Artur Davis (D-AL) pointed out in a Congressional hearing on selective prosecution, Simpson has records that show a phone call to the office of Rob Riley (son of Alabama Governor Bob Riley) at the time she says it took place. How does Curran deal with this? It "could be explained by Simpson being placed on hold."
Oh, really. Says who? Why doesn't he quote Rob Riley on this matter?
Interestingly, Curran did talk to Rob Riley before writing his piece. But he never points out the highly hedged language in the affidavit Riley filed with Congress.
And Curran seems to have a double standard when it comes to seeking comment from subjects before writing a story. He goes apoplectic when noting that Horton did not seek comment from him for a piece in Harper's. But he gives no indication that he sought comment from either Simpson or Horton for his own op-ed piece.
As for Horton, Curran makes it clear that he doesn't much care for the Harper's columnist. And he levels all sorts of charges against Horton, calling him a "bully, liar, phony and pompous ass."
Does Curran provide any facts to support his claim that Horton is just an old meany? Nope. The closest he comes is mocking Horton's tendency to use literary references in his work. (By the way, Curran tells us only that Horton is an "Internet columnist." No mention of the fact that Horton is a law professor at an Ivy League school, Columbia University.)
In an apparent effort to contrast himself with this learned Horton fellow, Curran throws in a reference in his own work to the old Scooby Doo cartoon. That'll teach that uppity Horton fellow.
After comparing Horton to Rush Limbaugh (bet Horton never thought he would see that comparison), Curran does tell us this:
I will limit my critique of Horton's work primarily to the article sent me by my friend, and even then will not be able to address all the falsehoods presented there. Such a critique requires considerable length because the lies are so vast and based upon other lies, bogus coincidences and innuendo requiring them, too, to be placed in perspective.
But he proceeds to not critique Horton's work at all--at least not in part one. Curran seems to be doing a "trust me" op-ed, saying, in essence, "This Horton guy is a sorry excuse for a columnist. I'm not going to give you any examples of his sorry work. But trust me, he's bad."
Perhaps Curran will offer some legitimate critique in part two, which apparently will come next Friday. But for all of the sound and fury about Curran's distaste for Horton, you would think our guy Eddie would offer up at least a morsel of fact-based criticism in part one.
Curran does tell us that the title of part two will be "Who's Lying?" That sounds like a screed focused on Jill Simpson. After all, she's the person in the Siegelman saga who has most put her credibility on the line. (And based on part one of Curran's op-ed, I'd say her credibility still stands strong.)
Will Curran ever get down to telling us exactly what it is that causes him to find Scott Horton so distasteful? Guess we'll have to wait for part two.
Perhaps Curran unwittingly shines some light on the real reasons for his pique at Simpson and Horton. "If anyone should declare I have a conflict in writing this piece, let them."
OK, Eddie, I'll take you up on that. Seems to me you have a conflict when it comes to criticizing Simpson and Horton, and here's why: They are casting serious doubts on the Siegelman prosecution, and in so doing, they clearly are causing problems for your plans to write a book. If Siegelman's prosecution is overturned, the market for your book will dry up. You have a vested interest in seeing that Don Siegelman remains in federal prison. And now Jill Simpson and Scott Horton have gone and even helped get 60 Minutes raising questions about the Siegelman case.
No wonder you're pissed. If I were in your shoes, I would be pissed, too. Of course, if I were in your shoes, I might have held off on writing a book about the Siegelman case until it was over--until after the appeal.
And here's another thought: If the Siegelman verdict is overturned, and a Congressional investigation shows that he truly was a political prisoner, now that will be a book.
But that's evidently not the book you want to write. Maybe Scott Horton will write it.
Coming up: Deconstructing Eddie Curran, Part II
For its powerhouse reputation in broadcast journalism--and 60 Minutes' reputation is about as strong as it gets--we must remember this about the show: A standard episode runs about 42 minutes, excluding ads, so that means a segment goes about 14 minutes. That's not much time for a tale as complicated as the Siegelman case.
So 60 Minutes will be able to focus narrowly on certain aspects of the case. I'm sure large chunks of interviews will be left on the editing-room floor. So here are some background issues to keep in mind:
* The piece evidently will focus heavily on the role of White House advisor Karl Rove in the Siegelman case. Folks outside of Alabama might wonder: Why would a national figure like Karl Rove care about the governor of Alabama? Well, before Karl Rove was a national figure, he built his reputation on judicial races in Alabama, turning our courts from all-Democratic to virtually all-Republican. In fact, Rove built his national reputation in Alabama, not in Texas. We have posted about Rove's Alabama connections here.
* Based on previews of the 60 Minutes piece, it appears that Rove will be portrayed as an individual with serious ethical shortcomings. And yet, he and Bill Canary (who also will probably come off as being ethically challenged) played a huge role in shaping today's state courts in Alabama. So as you watch the show, I encourage you to ask this question: If these two gentlemen are so unethical, what kind of state courts must Alabama have?
That is the story that continues to go unreported in the mainstream press. Long before Don Siegelman was prosecuted for political reasons, long before George W. Bush took over the U.S. Department of Justice, Karl Rove was turning Alabama state courts into a political cesspool. And they remain a political cesspool today.
The most well known example of the sleaze in Alabama courts is the ExxonMobil case, in which our Supreme Court unlawfully overturned a $3.6 billion judgment for the state and against the oil giant. But our Legal Schnauzer case has been handled just as unlawfully, and we will lay it all out for you in the weeks and months ahead--in spite of recent threats by Alabama Republican honchos to steal my house. That, of course, is a blatant attempt to shut down this blog, and I strongly suspect it originates with some key players in the Siegelman case. More on that is coming up very soon.
The bottom line? If you truly want to understand the mindset that led to the Don Siegelman case and the firings of U.S. attorneys across the country, you need to understand Alabama state courts. That's where Karl Rove's grand power grab began.
And that's the primary point behind this blog: to shine light on the corruption that still runs wild in Karl Rove's Alabama court system.
Saturday, February 23, 2008
The article can be read in its entirety here.
Haven't had a chance to fully digest the piece yet. But you can tell right off that it comes with an interesting editor's note. In fact, it seems that Editor Bob Martin is trying his darnedest to distance himself from Curran's work.
Why was the story run? It is well documented that Scott Horton, of Harper's, has been highly critical of Alabama's three Newhouse newspapers--in Birmingham, Mobile, and Huntsville. As a reporter for the Mobile Press-Register, Curran evidently took issue with Horton's work and felt he deserved an opportunity to respond.
The Independent decided to give him that opportunity and publishes the article without editing.
The story evidently was published Friday in the Independent's print edition and has not appeared yet on the Web. I haven't seen Curran's piece, but it sounds like it is a critical take on the testimony of Republican whistleblower Jill Simpson and the reporting Harper's legal-affairs analyst Scott Horton.
The Independent seems like an odd venue for Curran's analysis. By Alabama standards, the Independent appears to be unusually fair-minded and progressive and has even run Horton's pieces on occasion.
Editor and Publisher Bob Martin showed significant courage a few weeks back when he allowed reporter Bob Gambacurta to shine light on possible campaign-finance violations by Alabama Governor Bob Riley. The story seemed to grow from Gambacurta's reporting on the dispute between Riley and Montgomery insurance executive John W. Goff.
At the time, Martin wrote in an editorial that if Riley was not able to provide sufficient explanation for the apparent violations, he was prepared to call for legal action. Martin said he considered the alleged violations by Riley to be every bit as serious as the charges that landed previous governor Don Siegelman in federal prison.
To my knowledge, neither Riley nor anyone on his staff, has offered any legitimate explanation for the apparent violations in his campaign--which, by the way, was managed by Dax Swatek, son of Pelham attorney Bill Swatek, the ethically challenged attorney who filed a bogus lawsuit against your humble blogger. Despite the lack of any defense from Riley, the Independent seemingly has allowed the story to drop.
And we now have the paper running what seems to be a two-part attack on those who have testified or written about the apparent political motivations behind the Siegelman prosecution.
Here is one possible factor: The Independent and Bob Martin recently came under fire from the Flashpoint blog. A post at Flashpoint indicated that Martin might have a conflict of interest connected to coverage of the Alabama two-year college scandal.
Did someone with a rightward agenda unearth information in order to get the Independent off the John Goff/Riley story and onto stories written by Eddie Curran?
Does the Independent, for some reason, feel the need to balance the Scott Horton pieces it has run with a couple of pieces from Eddie Curran?
If it comes down to a contest between Scott Horton and Eddie Curran on reporting about legal affairs, I would put my money on Scott Horton every time.
Eddie Curran, who wrote an extensive series of articles that sparked the Siegelman investigation, apparently has a new piece in the Montgomery Independent. According to a number of reports on the Web, Curran's article is in the print version of the Independent, which was published Friday, but evidently is not available yet on the Web.
I haven't seen Curran's latest piece, but I understand that it attacks the testimony of Republican whistleblower Jill Simpson and the reporting of Harper's Scott Horton.
Curran normally writes for the Mobile Press-Register. But he has been on sabbatical from the paper in order to finish a book on the Siegelman case.
We've had some interaction with Curran and found him to be quite a character. You can read about our experiences with Mr. Curran here and here.
From reading this account, some might call Mr. Curran a flake. Some might call him a meathead. Some might call him an ass. Some might call him a hero.
I understand that Curran has sent numerous wacky e-mails to Scott Horton. If Horton decides to share those e-mails with the world, it should be highly entertaining.
I've been a journalist for almost 30 years, and I've known a few reporters in my time. Some of the best ones are fruitcakes, and Mr. Curran might be keeping with this fine tradition. A reporter can be plenty eccentric and still be a fine reporter.
But I think it's fair to ask just how objective Curran might be at this point regarding Ms. Simpson's testimony and Scott Horton's reporting. It is well documented that Curran is indeed writing a book about the Siegelman case.
How much interest would there be in Curran's book if, through Simpson's testimony and Horton's reporting, it is shown that the prosecution was politically motivated and Siegelman was, in fact, not guilty. If I were in Curran's shoes, I very much would want the Siegelman conviction to stand. If it doesn't, I would fear that my book either would never be published or would sell about six copies.
I've spoken with a number of sources who have questioned Curran's objectivity all along regarding Don Siegelman. Larissa Alexandrovna, of at-Largely, seems to be getting at this when she notes that Curran's father, a Mobile attorney, has a particularly close relationship with U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions.
Of course, we learned a few weeks back that Lanny Young, a prime witness against Siegelman, also presented evidence about improper gifts he made to Sessions. Those allegations, however, apparently were never seriously investigated, while Siegelman was not only investigated but prosecuted.
On the subject of Eddie Curran's objectivity, I can only add this: I sent him at least two e-mails about the wrongdoing I had witnessed by Republican judges in Alabama state courts. I also had about a 10- to 12-minute phone conversation with him one day. He has yet to ask me the first question about what I witnessed. That might be because he's tied up with the Siegelman book. It might be because he thinks I'm a nutjob. But I would have been more impressed with his objectivity if he had at least referred me to another Press-Register reporter or editor and encouraged them to question me in a serious way. I would welcome such an inquiry. But I suspect Mr. Curran knows that no one at his paper wants to know the truth of what happened in my case.
As for Alexandrovna, she notes that American Spectator writer Quin Hillyer has attacked 60 Minutes in advance for its reporting on the Siegelman case. Alexandrovna does a nice job of counterpunching Mr. Hilyer here.
But as you watch the 60 Minutes piece, I would encourage you to keep in mind the other, less publicized, side of political prosecution: instances where someone who appears to be guilty is not prosecuted for political reasons.
Scott Horton, of Harper's, raised this issue in a recent post about former Senate Republican leader Trent Lott and his possibly improper intervention with federal investigators on behalf of his brother-in-law Dickie Scruggs. Horton builds his post around a Wall Street Journal story late last week reporting that federal agents are investigating whether Lott knowingly played a role in an alleged conspiracy in 2006 to influence a Mississippi judge presiding over a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against Scruggs.
The Journal story focuses on Scruggs' problems in Mississippi, but Horton's sources say the probe might be more focused on Birmingham, Alabama. That's because Alice Martin, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, has refused to prosecute Scruggs for violation of a court order in insurance litigation. In refusing to prosecute Scruggs, Martin ignored the recommendation of U.S. Judge William Acker. Could that have Martin, Lott, and Scruggs all in the crosshairs? Horton provides some insight:
Here’s one scenario, which two senior law enforcement figures in Mississippi told me was “more than simply plausible.” The FBI had secured warrants to monitor Scruggs’s phone calls early in the course of the case, during the summer or early fall. In some of those conversations Dickie Scruggs asked for his brother-in-law’s help in fighting off Judge Acker’s attempts to have him prosecuted. Trent Lott picked up the phone and spoke with a few friends in the Justice Department–or perhaps even directly with a U.S. Attorney or two in Alabama, or a senator from Alabama–and asked them to lay off his misbehaving brother-in-law.
My bet is that the investigators are looking very carefully at whether the decision by the U.S. Attorney in Birmingham not to charge Dickie Scruggs had anything to do with intervention by Senator Lott.
Horton goes on to connect Scruggs' situation to the Paul Minor case, the subject of numerous posts here at Legal Schnauzer:
Of course, the other point that the Journal failed to pick up on is that Lott had a history of intervening with prosecutors to protect his extremely wealthy brother-in-law. I documented this in connection with the prosecution brought against Paul Minor. No matter how you cut it, Dickie Scruggs comes out smack in the middle of that case, playing a substantial role. Yet he was not charged with anything, and indeed, prosecutors treated him with tremendous deference.
So what do we have? We have Paul Minor, a supporter of Democratic candidates in federal prison, and Dickie Scruggs, whose brother-in-law is a Republican senator, is not prosecuted in two different cases. That gets to the crux of Horton's post:
All of this suggests that in the Birmingham U.S. Attorney’s office, it’s not just the decisions to bring charges that may reveal political motivation, but also the decisions not to bring charges.
This also gets to the crux of a series of posts we have coming here at Legal Schnauzer about my experience in trying to report Republican wrongdoing to Alice Martin. Just as occurred in the Dickie Scruggs case, considerations of family, friends, and politics easily trumped justice. Not only does the wrongdoing I witnessed reflect poorly on the Republican Party, but it also reflects very poorly on Pelham, Alabama, attorney William E. Swatek, whose son Dax was former campaign manager both for Alice Martin and Alabama Governor Bob Riley.
Bill Swatek and his Shelby County judicial buddies are involved in federal crimes? Alice Martin doesn't want to hear it. And we will show you the steps she took to intentionally try to keep the case under wraps.
A certain breed of Republican, like the cockroach, fears the light. This breed of GOPer strongly prefers dark places, states like Alabama and Mississippi, where an obedient mainstream press is not likely to shine a flashlight in their direction.
But a national news program, CBS' 60 Minutes, will use its prime slot tomorrow night to shine light on a dark corner of the Republican Party. And that appears to have the King Cockroach himself, Karl Rove, scurrying for cover.
Teasers released about the 60 Minutes piece indicate it will focus on Republican whistleblower Jill Simpson and her statements that Rove asked her to get evidence of marital infidelity by former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman.
Team Rove fired back on Friday evening with a statement to the Associated Press. But as seems to be typical for Team Rove, its statements don't seem to square with the facts.
Scott Horton, of Harper's, notes that Rove attorney Robert Luskin presents two key defenses for his client--neither of which has any connection to the truth.
First, Luskin asserts that Simpson had never said before that Rove pressed her for evidence of marital infidelity on Siegelman's part. It was pretty clear this would be one line of attack by Rove because, indeed, such statements by Simpson have not been previously reported. But Horton states that she made such statements to him last July in an off-the-record conversation. And he says she evidently made similar statements to at least two other reporters.
Second, Luskin asserts that 60 Minutes ran the story without talking to Rove. Again, this isn't true. CBS' own teaser says that Rove refused to talk with them for the story. Actually, according to Horton, Rove did talk with 60 Minutes at some length, but insisted that his comments not be used without his prior permission.
In other words, it was an off-the-record conversation, but Rove was not willing to go on camera or on the record. Interesting that he also is not willing to go before Congress to testify about such justice-related matters.
Thursday, February 21, 2008
Republican whistleblower Jill Simpson says Rove asked her to get proof of Siegelman's infidelity in an effort to harm the former Alabama governor politically. Glynn Wilson, of Locust Fork News, reports that Simpson told 60 Minutes' Scott Pelley that she found no evidence of infidelity despite months of observation.
Video teasers for the 60 Minutes report are available at Larissa Alexandrovna's at-Largely blog here.
Larisa Alexandrovna, of at-Largely and Raw Story, reports that several progressive journalists and a central character in the Siegelman drama are going to be targets of a printed smear campaign.
The targets include Scott Horton of Harper's, Glynn Wilson of Locust Fork News, Alexandrovna herself, and Republican whistleblower Jill Simpson.
My understanding is that the whistle-blower, Dana Jill Simpson, Scott Horton of Harper's, Glyn Wilson of Locust Fork, and possibly (this I have only heard from one person) 60 Minutes are going to be smeared from here to eternity. I don't know the exact form the slander will take, but what I do know is that this will constitute an act of political war using an Alabama publication, possibly two - willingly I might add - to attack reporters.
I am not going to name the publication(s) at this point. I am hoping that they have some sense of ethics and refuse to run the hit piece. But, I will say this and openly, any publication that acts as the personal attack dog of a group of corrupt politicians needs to be run out of business. Or let me put it another way, none of us are going to stand by and allow slander as intimidation.
I ask that everyone - who believes in a free press; who depends on publications like Harper's, Raw Story, and TV shows like 60 Minutes for truth; everyone who believes in whistle-blower protection; everyone who does not want Soviet style justice in this country; and everyone who believes that this is still a country of laws - to please be ready to shame any publication that prints this hit piece into non-existence.
Defend your reporters people, because they are all you have standing between you and an all-powerful authoritarian state. You want a free press? Fight for it. So, I ask you to ready yourselves for this assault. If any Alabama publication runs this hit piece, I want to know you will stand with me - with us really.
I will keep everyone posted on what happens. Let's hope there is still some integrity left in the two major newspapers in Alabama. Certainly the citizens of Alabama deserve honest brokers in the news business.
Meanwhile, Glynn Wilson at Locust Fork News reports that legal sources in Montgomery say U.S. Attorney Alice Martin, a Bush appointee, plans to issue and serve more indictments on Democrats in the Alabama Legislature in the days after the 60 Minutes report airs.
Wilson's sources say perhaps nine Democrats will be dragged from the floor of the Legislature in handcuffs, and that the Alabama Bushies hope to include one Republican lawmaker to make it appear that the two-year college investigation is non-partisan.
If Alabama GOPers are indeed feeling unstable, I hope I can add to that feeling when I present firsthand written proof that Alice Martin indeed conducts her office in a partisan fashion. We already have begun to lay the groundwork for that report, which should be starting in the next week to 10 days.
Joe McAdory, editor of the O-A News, now confirms that a version of the story did disappear from the paper's Web site for a while. Here is McAdory's explanation:
I have since learned the fate of the story that "disappeared" from our Web site. There was a temporary story in place there until the complete story -- the one that remained on the Web site since it was finished -- was ready. The first story was written in the afternoon to get something on the Web ASAP. It was nothing more than a plug until Amy Weaver's complete story was ready to go that night. That said, you were right all along. There was a story that disappeared, but it was intended for that purpose all along. It's been fun tracing this whole matter. I will now return to the opinion page and leave the investigative work to intrepid bloggers.
PS -- Still love that schnauzer logo
By the way, I told Mr. McAdory that I would be more than happy to make myself available to him or one of his reporters for a story about judicial corruption in Alabama. Have no indication that he is going to take me up on that offer. Will keep you posted.
If you would like to encourage Mr. McAdory to devote attention to the corruption I've witnessed from Republican judges in Alabama, his e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
All of the judges in the main portion of my case have been Republicans. And I had this quaint notion that Democrats might like to know about the sleazy activities of their rivals. Isn't that called "opposition research?"
I also had this notion that Democrats might take my information and use it--both to educate the public about the deplorable conditions of their courts and to help get Democratic judges (hopefully honest ones) elected.
But if any Democrats are willing to stand up and be counted on the issue of judicial corruption, I sure haven't found them. I've contacted probably six to 10 Democratic public officials about my experiences. Only two replied at all.
Only one engaged me in a substantive dialogue about the issue. Interestingly, that Democrat--a candidate for statewide office--told me the problem of judicial corruption is even worse than I thought it was. And he tried to make the issue a centerpiece of his campaign. Unfortunately, the media ignored the issue (surprise, surprise), and this Democrat lost.
So imagine my surprise when I checked the Fort Payne Times-Journal today and read about a Democrat who appears to have some fire in his belly. Rep. Jack Page (D-Gadsden) wasn't talking about judicial corruption. But he was talking about Governor Bob Riley, U.S. Attorney Alice Martin, and their apparent collaboration in the investigation of the Alabama two-year college system.
Specifically, Page was defending his legislative colleague Todd Greeson (R-Ider), who is the subject of a federal investigation.
Page, who like Greeson is employed by the two-year college system, had some choice words about what Greeson, and others, are going through. He called the investigation a "a glorious witch hunt." And he was just warming up:
“These efforts and money could be used so much better on fighting the war on meth or sex offenders. Instead, they choose to make a mockery of the Justice Department.”
And what did Page think of the investigative tactics?
“The two-year system seizes the hard drive and the FBI subpoenas the co-workers. I have a word for that. It’s called collusion. Why are they working so closely together?
"If they are after Todd’s hard drive and someone touched it between Todd and the FBI, someone could have tampered with it. They could have put anything they wanted into it.”
Gasp! Someone is questioning the ethics of the Bush Justice Department. And Page still wasn't done:
“I think anybody employed by the two-year system is under scrutiny. Innocent until proven guilty has long since gone out the window in this case. Officials are being tried and convicted in the media.”
Why, in Page's opinion, is Greeson a target?
“Todd refused to march in good step with Republicans on a procedural vote and was threatened. Todd voted the way he felt best represented his district.
And finally, what kind of environment do we have in Alabama now?
“[Gov. Bob] Riley and his henchmen have brought the worst form of Karl Rove brand of beltway politics into Alabama. That is his legacy. It feels like we are in the Alabama McCarthy era.”
I didn't know a thing about Jack Page until today. But I like the guy. He's feisty, and we need more feisty Democrats in this world. That last comment, about Riley and his henchmen, is the boldest and most truthful, statement I've seen from an Alabama Democrat in I don't know when.
Way to go, Jack! Are any other Democrats willing to fight back?
And by the way, kudos to the Fort Payne Times-Journal and reporter Jared Felkins. Maybe there's hope for journalism in Alabama yet.
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
We noted in an earlier post that Circuit Judge J. Michael Joiner had recently granted Amy Holley's motion for a new trial. She, along with her husband, had been convicted by a Shelby County jury last fall.
Joiner is the judge who repeatedly made unlawful rulings in my Legal Schnauzer case, favoring an attorney who has practiced for many years in Shelby County and has a long-standing friendship with the judge. The attorney in my case, William E. Swatek, also has an almost 30-year history of unethical actions in the legal profession.
Joiner has proven in my case that he is more than happy to let politics triumph over the law and the facts in a case before him. And that raises questions about his handling of any case that comes before him--even one involving something as dreadful as alleged child abuse.
With all of that in mind, let's ponder some issues raised by the Holley case:
* Child sexual abuse cases must be among the most difficult that come before a court. Here is a Web site that focuses on child sexual abuse cases. Here is an article about media reporting of such cases, noting that child sexual abuse is one of the most under-reported crimes. Obviously victims of child sexual abuse are highly sympathetic. But here's the flipside: Numerous adults have seen their lives turned upside down by allegations of child sexual abuse that proved to be highly questionable or downright false. Here's a Web site for a firm that specializes in assisting adults who have been falsely accused of child sexual abuse.
* Comments left by readers of the Shelby County Reporter reflect the conflicting emotions that come from child sexual abuse cases. Friends, acquaintances, and family members wrote that they knew the Holleys and could not imagine that they had actually committed such crimes. Someone claiming to be a social worker in the case said the jury had made the right decision, and the children had been through "devastating" circumstances. Someone claiming to be a juror said there was not enough evidence to convict on some counts, but evidence was strong on others, and the jury stood by its decision.
* I was not present for the Holley trial, and I have not reviewed the case file. I do know that a jury convicted both Amy Holley and her husband, Charles, on child sexual abuse charges. And I know that a judge, J. Michael Joiner, who has a history of ignoring the law and facts and playing politics with cases before him, has set aside Amy Holley's guilty verdict and ordered a new trial. Charles Holley has asked for a new trial, and a hearing on that motion is set for February 27.
* My interest is not so much in the actions of the Holleys, but the actions of Judge Joiner. I know from firsthand experience that Mike Joiner is a corrupt judge. That he is allowed to serve on the bench at all is a disgrace. But that he is overseeing matters as important as those raised by the Holley case is truly horrifying.
*According to an account from The Birmingham News, the Holleys were foster parents to two children, a brother and sister who were 5 and 4, respectively, at the time. According to a motion by Amy Holley's lawyer, Mickey Johnson, the boy accused only Charles Holley, and the boy did not waver in his story from the first investigative interview through the trial. The girl, according to Johnson, denied anyone had abused her through three investigative interviews. The girl's story changed, and according to Johnson, eventually included a tale of swimming in a river of snakes.
* Recall in our previous post on this subject that even The Birmingham News reporter called Joiner's actions "unusual." An attorney who teaches criminal law said he had never seen a judge make such a decision in his 20 years in practice. Joiner would not comment on his action, and the News gave no indication that he had issued a written explanation, so we don't know his reasoning. But a look at the Alabama Rules of Criminal Procedure sure makes you wonder what was going through his mind.
* Let's consider just the case against Amy Holley for a moment. According to the Alabama Rules of Criminal Procedure, Joiner probably had at least three opportunities to find that there was insufficient evidence to convict Amy Holley. Mickey Johnson, Ms. Holley's attorney, almost certainly made motions for judgment of acquittal at three stages--at the close of the state's evidence, at the close of all evidence, and after the verdict. Evidently Joiner denied motions at all three stages. The court, on its own motion, may grant a judgment of acquittal. Joiner did not do that.
* Amy Holley was convicted of sexual abuse, and Joiner sentenced her in November to five years in prison. Charles Holley was convicted of sodomy and two counts of sexual abuse. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
* A motion for a new trial must be filed no later than 30 days after sentence is pronounced. Such a motion was filed for Amy Holley, and Judge Joiner granted it. Why did a newspaper reporter call this unusual? Why did a law professor say he had never seen such a ruling in 20 years of practice? Probably because Joiner almost certainly had three times ruled during the case that Ms. Holley was not due a motion of acquittal.
* Why would a judge, who had heard all the evidence and three times denied motions for judgment of acquittal, suddenly decide a few months later that Amy Holley should receive a new trial? Joiner is not talking, so we can only assume that he agreed with long-time Shelby County attorney Mickey Johnson that there was not sufficient evidence to support the jury's guilty verdict. But why did he repeatedly find during the trial itself that the evidence was sufficient to move the case forward, eventually going to a jury?
* Here's a curious thing about Joiner's actions: When he repeatedly denied motions for a judgment of acquittal, a jury was on hand. But when the motion for a new trial was made, the jury had long since done its duty and was nowhere to be found? Did Joiner feel more free, at that point, to do whatever the heck he wanted to do?
* Here is something else curious about this case: The Shelby County Reporter, at least based on a review of its Web site, has written nothing about Joiner's decision to grant Amy Holley a new trial. Recall that numerous readers had responded on the paper's Web site about a story on the Holleys' conviction. Those readers included someone claiming to be a social worker in the case and someone claiming to be a juror. Both of those readers indicated they felt the jury's decision had been correct. Is it possible that the Shelby County Reporter, at the urging of judges who operate across the street from the paper, has intentionally not reported on the new-trial ruling so as to not give a forum for knowledgeable readers to express their displeasure?
* I wonder how jurors in the Holley case feel about Joiner suddenly deciding to override their finding, apparently giving no explanation for his decision. It's safe to assume that those jurors took several days out of their lives in order to fulfill their public duty and hear what had to be a most unpleasant case. I think it's also safe to assume that a jury in "conservative" Shelby County was not chomping at the bit to find a foster mother guilty of child sexual abuse. The jury must have found something in the evidence to be compelling, and yet the very judge who three times had allowed the case to move forward has now overridden their work. Again, I don't have any information regarding Amy Holley's guilt or innocence. But if I had served on that jury, I would wonder what was behind Joiner's "unusual" actions.
* By the way, the Holley case is not the only criminal matter in Shelby County where politics appears to have reared its ugly head. I'm aware of a case of animal cruelty where politics might have trumped the law, resulting in a most curious acquittal. We will look at that case in a future post.As for the Holley case, we will follow it closely. And we will keep in mind the words of Martin Luther King in his Letter from the Birmingham Jail: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
At Legal Schnauzer, we have a slightly different take on that famous quote: A judge who perpetuates injustice in one case, is a threat to perpetuate injustice in any case. J. Michael Joiner is just that kind of judge.
Joe McAdory, editor of the O-A News, sends word that the story never did disappear from the paper's site and is available here.
Monday, February 18, 2008
It is well known that Riley's campaign manager in 2006 was Montgomery-based political "consultant" Dax Swatek.
Guess who served as Alice Martin's campaign manager in 2000 when she ran for a seat on the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals? None other than Dax Swatek.
Regular readers of Legal Schnauzer will recognize that last name. That's because Dax Swatek's father, Pelham, Alabama, attorney William E. Swatek, is the ethically challenged barrister who sued me on behalf of my criminally inclined neighbor, Mike McGarity.
So you have Alice Martin in the Northern District of Alabama and Bob Riley in Montgomery and your humble blogger in Shelby County--all tied together by the unholy duo of Bill and Dax Swatek.
And we can make that an unholy trinity by adding GOP operative Bill Canary to the mix. Dax Swatek is a longtime associate of Mr. Canary, who has become famed for his "my girls will take care of Don Siegelman" quote, courtesy of Republican whistleblower Jill Simpson. One of Bill Canary's girls, of course was Alice Martin; the other was his wife, Leura Canary, U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Alabama.
So you can see how the Swateks wind their way through both the Siegelman and Legal Schnauzer cases--kind of like a two-headed snake.
In fact, the Swateks are like snakes in a number of ways--although I hate to give snakes a bad name by comparing them to this pair. We will show that Bill Swatek has a record of unethical behavior in the legal profession that dates back almost 30 years. This includes a suspension of his license for acts of "dishonesty, fraud, deceit, and misrepresentation" and a criminal prosecution for perjury.
And what about Dax Swatek? Well, he appears to be an apple who didn't fall far from the tree. Scott Horton, of Harper's, has reported on Dax Swatek's connections to disgraced Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
And Dax Swatek's slippery ways came to light when he served as Alice Martin's campaign manager. (By the way, Martin lost that race to Sue Bell Cobb, now chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court.)
What happened in that 2000 race? The Martin campaign produced a circular that said Martin "has been a conservative law and order judge with 19 years experience." An official with a judicial-campaign oversight group said the circular was misleading. ("Judicial Panel Says Circular Misleading," Birmingham News, October 31, 2000.)
"Ms. Martin, a Florence lawyer, said in an interview that she has 19 years of legal experience, including eight years as a prosecutor, five years as a criminal defense attorney, and six years as a judge," the story says.
The circular, though, clearly gives the impression that Martin has 19 years experience as a judge. "We really think it's misleading," said Montgomery attorney Maury Smith, co-chairman of the Alabama Judicial Campaign Oversight Committee. "That's misleading. We think it's improper. We will notify her of that."
What did Dax Swatek have to say about the matter. He said he had no intention of asking the Republican Party to correct the circular "because I do not consider it misleading."
He probably doesn't consider his father a disreputable attorney, either, even though Bill Swatek has a disciplinary file at the Alabama State Bar that is about a foot thick.
So now we know that Alice Martin's problems with the truth go back several years. And we also know that her connections to the family that has caused me all kinds of legal headaches go back several years.
No wonder Ms. Martin doesn't want to look into the federal crimes that have been committed by Bill Swatek and his judicial cronies at the Shelby County Courthouse.
Shelby County, of course, is where your humble blogger resides and where our Legal Schnauzer case originated. It's possible that some readers have read about my legal travails and thought, "Hey, it's a civil case involving unfamiliar legal theories and relatively small amounts of money. What's the big deal? And besides, it's probably an isolated case."
Well, one of the key themes of this blog is that my experience is not isolated, that many people get cheated in Alabama's trial courts, in Shelby County and beyond. And perhaps most alarmingly, our Republican-dominated appellate courts have a habit of abusing the state's no-opinion affirmance rule to uphold unlawful trial-court rulings and sweep judicial corruption at the trial-court level safely out of public view.
Another theme is that judicial shenanigans can go beyond civil cases over what might seem to be relatively mundane matters. If a judge will tinker with the law in a civil case, what is to keep him from tinkering with the law in a criminal case--perhaps a case involving serious and disturbing charges?
The first story I want to spotlight from Shelby County received scant attention in the Birmingham press. But it's a case that all Alabamians should scrutinize closely.
It involves a highly emotional subject--child sexual abuse. And it involves someone who is central to our tale of judicial corruption here at Legal Schnauzer--Shelby County Circuit Judge J. Michael Joiner.
Joiner recently set aside a jury's guilty verdict against a woman in a child sex case when her lawyer sought a new trial for her. Amy Holley, 28, no longer stands convicted of sexual abuse following Joiner's action. She had been sentenced in November to five years in prison. Her lawyer is Mickey Johnson, who has practiced in Shelby County for many years.
Holley, a former assistant city clerk at Columbiana City Hall, and her husband, Charles Holley, 39, had been convicted last September. Charles Holley still stands convicted of sodomy and two counts of sexual abuse and is free on bond pending appeal. Joiner sentenced him to 15 years in prison. (By the way, isn't it interesting that someone convicted of sodomy and two counts of sexual abuse of a child is free on appeal, but former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman is in federal prison while his conviction is appealed?)
The Holleys were foster parents to two children, and their conviction was reported here by the Shelby County Reporter.
Even The Birmingham News, a staunchly conservative newspaper, called Joiner's decision to set aside the verdict "unusual." All of the judges in Shelby County are Republicans.
John Lentine, who teaches criminal law at the Birmingham School of Law, said: "I have been in practice for 20 years and have not been a part of a case where this has happened."
Lentine went on to say it took "courage" for Joiner to say "there is not ample evidence to support the jury's verdict."
But that is not Lentine's only mind-boggling quote. He went on to describe Joiner as "a very conservative judge and very law-and-order oriented. He follows rules scrupulously."
I was eating breakfast at a local Hardee's when I read that, and I almost spewed biscuits and gravy across the restaurant.
I've written numerous posts here at Legal Schnauzer about the utter disregard for the law that Mike Joiner displayed in handling the bogus lawsuit that was filed against me in Shelby County. Here is a post that summarizes what Joiner did, and I will be writing many more with gruesome details about this corrupt "public servant." If you want to read more posts about Joiner's handling of my case, just type J. Michael Joiner into the search window at the top of this blog.
We're going to consider the Holley case in more detail and take a look at some of the troubling questions it raises. But for now, let's consider this: We recently celebrated the birthday of Martin Luther King, who wrote in his famous letter from the Birmingham jail, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
Those words are profoundly true, and they have an even broader meaning than many people might realize.
We will show with absolute certainty on this blog that Shelby County Judge J. Michael Joiner acted corruptly in his handling of a bogus lawsuit that was filed against me by a neighbor with a lengthy criminal record. And we will show that Joiner repeatedly made unlawful rulings in favor of this neighbor and his attorney, William E. Swatek, who himself has an almost 30-year record of unethical behavior in the legal profession.
We already have shown that Joiner admitted that he and Swatek were longtime golf buddies and had been neighbors for many years and that by finally recusing himself (upon my motion), Joiner was showing that he never should have taken the case in the first place. We also have shown that, under the law, Joiner was required to recuse himself from the outset, but he failed to do it and proceeded to allow his numerous unlawful rulings to stand. In short, we will show that Mike Joiner was about as corrupt as a judge can be in his handling of my case, repeatedly favoring and providing protection for an attorney--Bill Swatek--who is a disgrace to the profession. And that is not a matter of my opinion. It's a matter of public record. Anyone can visit the Alabama State Bar and view its file on Swatek, which is almost a foot thick.
Swatek's background, and the pathetic lawsuit he filed against me, didn't matter with Judge Joiner. All that seemed to matter was that Bill Swatek has practiced in Shelby County for many years and is buddies with the judge.
Interestingly, Amy Holley's lawyer, Mickey Johnson, also has practiced in Shelby County for many years, and I'm told he also is quite friendly with Joiner. Now I don't want to imply that Mickey Johnson resides in the same legal depths as Bill Swatek. A number of people have told me that Mr. Johnson is a fine attorney. I don't know that he needs help from judges on the Shelby County bench.
But I've talked with probably 20 local attorneys about my experiences, and the vast majority of them said this about law in Shelby County: The judges are notorious for playing favorites with certain "local counsel" who appear before them on a regular basis. And these lawyers say it is well known, and pretty much accepted, that "good old boy" politics will trump the law on more than a few cases in Shelby County.
All of this gets to the core of why I am writing Legal Schnauzer. You see, my wife and I have told our tale of legal woe to numerous people, and we tend to get curious reactions. Some people just don't get it--they don't understand the legal aspects of it and don't want to invest the energy it would take to understand it. Other people seem to get it, but they also seem to think, "Hey, it was just a civil case over relatively minor issues, and sure it cost you some money, but now it's over, so get on with your life."
But those folks don't understand the point Martin Luther King was making: If a judge allows an injustice in one case, how can we be sure he won't allow an injustice in another case? In other words: If we can't trust Mike Joiner to get it right on a simple civil case involving property-related issues, how can we trust him to get it right on a criminal case involving sexual abuse of a child?
If Mike Joiner played politics with my case--and we will show that he unquestionably did--would he play politics on a child sexual abuse case?
More on this subject, which is disturbing on many levels, coming up.