Monday, December 1, 2008

UAB and the Influence of a Drunk-Driving Republican

A major donor to my former employer, the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), today will appeal his conviction for driving 112 miles per hour in a 55 zone.

William Cobb "Chip" Hazelrig was convicted of drunk driving, speeding, and driving with an improper tag on May 7, 2008, in Mountain Brook Municipal Court. Hazelrig appealed the conviction to Jefferson County Circuit Court, and that case is scheduled to be heard today before Judge David N. Lichtenstein.

I have identified Hazelrig as a "person of interest" (POI) in my unlawful termination from UAB, after 19 years of service. Hazelrig is a POI because he has given $5 million to UAB, which is believed to be the largest individual gift in university history. Also, Hazelrig has extensive business and political connections to influential Alabama Republicans, several of whom have been the subject of unfavorable (and truthful) reporting on this blog.

We will go into detail about Hazelrig's connections in an upcoming post. But for now, let's say he has ties to Alabama Governor Bob Riley, Homewood attorney Rob Riley (Bob Riley's son), GOP consultant Dax Swatek (former campaign manager for Bob Riley and U.S. Attorney Alice Martin), and Alabama Supreme Court Justice Glenn Murdock.

Dax Swatek, of course, is the son of William E. Swatek, the corrupt Pelham, Alabama, attorney who filed the fraudulent lawsuit against me that started our Legal Schnauzer story.

Perhaps most interesting are Hazelrig's ties to the gambling industry. He is a founder of Paragon Gaming, which focuses on Indian gaming. (Can anyone say, "Jack Abramoff?") And he has ties to a company called Crimsonica, which is headed by Robert M. Sigler and based in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Sigler has been involved with an effort to initiate a national lottery in Russia and has served on the advisory board of the University of Alabama School of Business.

Hazelrig apparently is quite familiar with risk, particularly when he is behind the wheel of a vehicle.

Court records indicate that from 1992 to 2006, Hazelrig had some 20 convictions for traffic-related offenses. He's been convicted at least nine times of driving 20 mph or more over the speed limit.

In that same time frame, Hazelrig's driver's license was suspended five times. And that does not include a suspension for his most recent offense--when he was clocked driving 112 mph in a 55 zone on Highway 280 in the Birmingham suburb of Mountain Brook.

Mountain Brook Police Officer Jerry S. Smith stopped Hazelrig at 11:56 p.m. on August 10, 2007. While stationed at the site of the old Mountain Brook Inn, Smith observed Hazelrig's black Mercedes SL 65 driving at a high rate of speed--112 mph to be precise.

Smith activated his emergency lights and pulled Hazelrig over. When the officer approached the vehicle, he detected a strong odor of alcohol.

Hazelrig failed several field sobriety tests and then refused to take a breath test.

This all is reminiscent of the recent DUI case involving former University of Alabama and Oakland Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler. A municipal judge in Robertsdale, Alabama, acquitted Stabler even though the former football star had nearly swerved into a police officer who had stopped another motorist by the side of the road. Stabler, like Hazelrig, refused to take a breath test.

The judge reasoned that the officer had not given Stabler the required 20-minute deprivation period before providing the first breath sample. Legal experts have noted that the deprivation rule generally does not apply to suspects who refuse to take the test. The whole point of the deprivation period is that it allows for an accurate breath test.

The Stabler case raised questions about the impact of celebrity on justice. The Hazelrig case might raise questions about the impact of money on justice.

Let's consider the facts of the Hazelrig case as presented in court documents:

* He was clocked going 112 mph in a 55 zone;

* His vehicle smelled strongly of alcohol;

* He failed field sobriety tests;

* He refused to take a breath test;

* He was convicted in municipal court.

Tommy Spina is Hazelrig's attorney, and a rational person might ask: "What arguments can Spina possibly come up with to get this guy acquitted on appeal to circuit court?"

By the way, the 20-minute deprivation rule shouldn't work in the Hazelrig case. The Certificate of Breath Alcohol Analysis says his time of offense was 23:56:00 (military time) and time of test was 00:28:51. The officer observed the 20-minute rule--and then some.

So what is Hazelrig's best hope for acquittal? Well, he has demanded a trial by struck jury. But we know from following the Don Siegelman and Paul Minor cases that a jury can come up with all kinds of preposterous findings if the judge makes improper evidentiary rulings and presents unlawful jury instructions.

Remember we noted Hazelrig's ties to Alabama Supreme Court Justice Glenn Murdock? Hazelrig gave $10,000, the second largest donation, to Murdock's 2000 race for a seat on the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals. A consultant to that campaign just happened to be Dax Swatek, who has gone on to run a campaign for Governor Bob Riley.

Since that 2000 campaign, Hazelrig has developed business interests with Rob Riley, the governor's son.

Has Chip Hazelrig bought enough influence with government officials to help him get away with a gross violation of law, an offense that puts the lives of innocent people at risk?

Legal Schnauzer will be on hand to report on the proceedings.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Rob Riley and his law partner are on the board of Crimsonica, and are involved in seceral other companies headed by Robert M. Sigler. They are also attorneys for the s0ome companies.