Thursday, August 21, 2008

Is Alice Martin in Bed With The Birmingham News?

How big a scumbucket is Alice Martin, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama? How weak is the case she is currently trying against Alabama Rep. Sue Schmitz, a Democrat? How cozy is Martin's relationship with The Birmingham News? And how has the paper's coverage of the Schmitz case--and the entire two-year colleges scandal--been colored by its pro-prosecution agenda?

Reporter David Fiderer provides answers to these questions with a splendid piece today at Huffington Post.

By focusing on what we are NOT reading in The Birmingham News, Fiderer provides the most compelling analysis I've seen about the Schmitz case. And it adds evidence to support what many of us have suspected for some time: Certain Alabama newspapers are actively engaged in helping prosecutors and Republican politicians execute a politically driven form of "justice" in our state.

How tight is the Martin/News lovefest?

In April 2006, The Birmingham News began running a series of articles on "corruption" within Alabama's two-year college system. The reporting focused on a number of House Democrats who were engaged in "double-dipping" at the expense of Alabama taxpayers. "Double-dipping" became a political catchphrase in Alabama. What wasn't The Birmingham News talking about? The outside employment and business interests of Republican politicians, among other things.

A few weeks after The Birmingham News started going after Democratic representatives who "double-dipped" within the two-year college system, U.S. Attorney Alice Martin started hauling in witnesses for her grand jury investigation. The first case she brought to trial, over two years later, is against Sue Schmitz.

Who knows how the Schmitz case will turn out? Who knows what is motivating the judge and what kind of jury instructions he might concoct? But Fiderer reveals the weakness of the case against Schmitz:

Prosecutor Martin isn't alleging that Schmitz pulled strings to get a cushy part-time job and then failed to perform. That isn't a crime. Instead, Martin alleges that Schmitz had the specific intent, before she ever got a job offer, to take the money and in return do nothing. And Martin says she can prove this beyond a reasonable doubt. Again, at the risk of being didactic, beyond a reasonable doubt means there can be no plausible alternative explanation.

The Birmingham News fails to acknowledge this critical legal distinction, and thereby misleads its readers:

"The prosecutor told jurors the case will boil down to a few questions. 'Did Sue Schmitz do the things she told the CITY program she did? Did she work the number of hours she said she worked? Did she perform the tasks she said she did? The answer to those questions is no, she didn't.'"

If it boils down to those questions, then the prosecution's case is fatally flawed and the judge was bound to dismiss the case. More likely, the reporting at The Birmingham News is fatally flawed.

Again, unsatisfactory job performance is not a crime. Martin is engaged in the type of prosecutorial overreaching that mirrors the case against Don Siegelman, where the prosecutor essentially argued that a political donation was the same thing as a bribe.

Martin's actions also are reminiscent of the Paul Minor case in Mississippi. In that case, prosecutors argued for exclusion of evidence that was critical to the defense; in fact, the evidence went to the fundamental defense that was available, and by law, had to be allowed. But the judge sided with prosecutors.

Will the judge in the Schmitz case side with prosecutors? Martin evidently is counting on it. She wants to exclude any references to a lawsuit in which Schmitz was found to have been wrongfully terminated:

Here's the giveaway of the prosecution's bad faith. Alice Martin wants the judge to, "prohibit the defendant from referencing this lawsuit at any fashion at trial, including its filings as well as any rulings or determinations issued." She says that the lawsuit isn't relevant, and that "the admission of such evidence will only serve to confuse, distract, and mislead the jury." Martin is shamelessly insulting the intelligence of everyone involved. Schmitz' willingness to invite judicial scrutiny into the circumstances of her employment reflects her state of mind, which is central to the government's case.

The prior lawsuit also touches on another point. It's impossible for someone to be employed in a phantom job for three years without the supervisor being similarly culpable. Schmitz' employer would not have willingly invited judicial scrutiny if this were part of some criminal enterprise.

But Martin does not stop there:

Martin wants the judge to "prohibit the defendant from suggesting to the jury that Schmitz could fulfill her obligations to the CITY Program by advocating on its behalf, or providing any advice or assistance on matters concerning the Legislature." Even though Schmitz' written job responsibilities included:

"II. External Affairs
A. "Develop and maintain a positive working relationship with members of the State of Alabama legislative delegation, various city and county officials relative to CITY locations.

B. "Establish a positive working relationship with various state service providers (i.e. Department of Human Resources, Department of Mental Health, and Department of Youth Services."

Hmmm, seems Schmitz got in trouble for doing her job, and Alice Martin played a major role in the whole affair. Boy, does that sound familiar.

Fiderer's conclusion?

The foregoing is what The Birmingham News is not talking about. The paper's coverage has essentially been spoon fed by Martin.

"Prosecutors outlined the case they'll present against Schmitz in a 41-page trial memorandum. After it was reviewed by The Birmingham News, that document was sealed by a federal judge."

Wonder how the News came to possess the trial memorandum.

I'm not too familiar with the alleged facts and the relevant law in the Schmitz case. But I am intimately familiar with the facts and the law in the Paul Minor case. And as I read material related to the Minor case, I remember thinking to myself, "Good God, these prosecutors are arguing for the judge to make rulings that they know are not lawful. These people are interested in convictions, not justice. If they had been interested in justice, this case never would have been brought."

I sense the same thing happening in the Sue Schmitz case. It's shocking to think that public prosecutors, people who are paid by taxpayers to do the people's business, intentionally try to bastardize the law in order to win politically driven cases.

Even as the George W. Bush era draws mercifully to a close, his Justice Department still is conducting its business in shockingly unethical ways.


Anonymous said...


i know you've kept an eye on mississippi's judicial shenanigans . . . have you seen this?

sorry to drop this on an unrelated post, but it just keeps getting weirder and weirder . . .

legalschnauzer said...

Thanks for sending. Look forward to checking this out.