Monday, April 14, 2008

Schnauzer to the Washington Post

To: Carrie Johnson, staff writer

From: Legal Schnauzer

Re: "Former Ala. Governor Turns Tables on Justice Department"

Ms. Johnson:
I was pleased to see your report on the case of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman and the broad issue of political prosecutions by the Bush Department of Justice (DOJ).

As a resident of Birmingham, Alabama, and the target of an ongoing campaign by Republican authorities to unlawfully seize and auction my house, I can tell you that your story only skims the surface of problems in our justice system.

The Deep South, particularly Alabama and Mississippi, has become Ground Zero in the evolving Bush DOJ scandal, which started with the firings of nine U.S. attorneys in December 2006. Siegelman is the best known target of the Bush DOJ. But a case in Mississippi involving attorney Paul Minor, a prominent donor to numerous Democratic candidates, might be an even more alarming and clear example of a political prosecution.

Why is the Deep South important in this story? Well, former White House advisor Karl Rove built his national reputation on Alabama state court races in the mid 1990s and maintains close ties to the state's GOP hierarchy, including campaign consultant Bill Canary. Canary, of course, is reported to have played a central role in launching the Siegelman investigation. Rove also is close to high-level Repulblicans in Mississippi, including sitting governor Haley Barbour.

My experience proves that the GOP does not limit its targets to the powerful (Siegelman) or the wealthy (Minor). I've been forced to fight a baseless lawsuit, filed by a neighbor over a property-related matter, in Alabama state courts. By law, the case had to be dismissed (summary judgment) in a matter of six to eight months. (Almost all lawsuits, even the worst ones, take at least that long to be resolved.) But repeated unlawful rulings by Republican judges caused the case to drag on for more than seven years, costing my wife and me--and Alabama taxpayers--thousands of dollars.

Even though the case by law could not go to trial, I was forced to go to trial and wound up with a judgment of $1,525 against me.

Why did Republican judges handle the case in an unlawful manner? The answer seems clear: My neighbor's attorney was William E. Swatek, whose office is based in Pelham, Alabama. Bill Swatek has family ties to the Alabama GOP hierarchy, and those ties appear to reach all the way to the Bush White House.

Swatek's son, Dax Swatek, is a Montgomery-based campaign consultant whose clients have included Alice Martin, now U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, and Bob Riley, current governor of Alabama. Dax Swatek also has worked for Bill Canary, he of the close ties to Karl Rove. Hence the Bush White House connection in my case.

Alabama law provides several mechanisms for punishing an attorney who files a lawsuit that has no basis in law or fact. But GOP judges have made sure that Bill Swatek was not held accountable for the baseless lawsuit he filed against me.

In the process, these judges (and Bill Swatek himself) have committed federal crimes, specifically honest-services mail fraud and conspiracy. I have reported these crimes to the FBI and the Birmingham U.S. Attorney's Office, but they have taken no action and Alice Martin even has taken steps to keep my complaint under wraps. It seems clear that she is trying to protect Bill Swatek, the father of her former campaign manager.

By the way, I should mention that Bill Swatek has an unsavory background. He has been disciplined three times by the Alabama State Bar, including a suspension of his license for acts of "dishonesty, fraud, deceit, and misrepresentation." The State Bar also found that Swatek's actions "reflected adversely on his fitness for the practice of law." Swatek also has been tried for perjury in criminal court. For good measure, Swatek's client--my neighbor, Mike McGarity--has a substantial criminal record. He has at least eight criminal convictions in his background, including violence-related and sex-related offenses.

When it became clear that I would never receive justice in Alabama courts, I decided to start a blog called Legal Schnauzer. My goal was to educate the public about corruption in Alabama state courts and to connect my experience to broader justice issues, such as the Siegelman and Minor cases.

In the more than three years since the trial in my case, Bill Swatek had made no attempt to collect the $1,525 "judgment." But when I started my blog, Swatek and Republican authorities in Shelby County (where I live) suddenly got interested in the judgment. They clearly, however, weren't interested in collecting the money. They issued a writ of execution threatening to seize our cars and our home. Then they issued a notice of levy, saying that our home was going to be auctioned to satisfy this "judgment" in the amount of $1,525.

A sheriff's sale of our home was scheduled for April 7, but that was postponed due to an error in the ad that is required to run for three weeks in a general circulation newspaper. We've received word from the sheriff's department that the ad has been corrected, and our house evidently will be auctioned in about a month.

The actions of Republican officials--judges, county clerk, sheriff, etc.--have been unlawful from start to finish. The "judgment" against me was obtained by unlawful means, with my rights to due process butchered at every turn. The writ of execution itself is invalid because it did not include a "Notice of Right to Claim Exemptions," as required by law.

Since no one ever has asked me simply to pay the judgment, or in the alternative tried to garnish my wages for a relatively small amount of money, it's clear GOP authorities have an ulterior motive: They want to force me to quit blogging. Evidently truthful reporting about what really goes on in Alabama courts makes some folks uncomfortable.

So there you have it: One regular guy's up-close-and-personal experience with GOP corruption in Alabama. Many of the same characters involved in my case also appear in the Siegelman case. And as I noted earlier, they have a direct pipeline to Karl Rove.

Because of my experience in Alabama state courts, I've been caused to study the Siegelman and Minor cases closely, and I've written extensively about both cases on Legal Schnauzer.

I should mention that I approach my blog from the background of a journalist. I have a bachelor's degree in journalism and almost 30 years of professional experience in the field. I worked at a daily newspaper for 11 years before going into the education environment.

The Washington Post is famed for its groundbreaking reporting on Watergate. I think your story of April 13, 2008, touches on a scandal that might prove to be worse than Watergate.

My goal is to examine your story closely and illustrate some avenues for further investigation into the Bush DOJ's unlawful activities in the Deep South.

This letter is getting a bit lengthy, so I will address these issues in Part II. That is coming soon.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Let us know if you get an answer. As a matter of fact, you should send a copy to the Alabama papers too.