Thursday, January 29, 2009

Lilly Ledbetter And The Toxicity of Talk Radio

Today is a big day for American workers as President Barack Obama signs the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. The law's roots are firmly planted in Alabama soil.

The act is named for Lilly Ledbetter, a 70-year-old widow and former employee at a Goodyear Tire & Rubber plant in Gadsden, Alabama. The law grew from a U.S. Supreme Court decision that deprived Ledbetter of compensation for the gender discrimination she experienced for years.

The Ledbetter case touches on many of our major themes here at Legal Schnauzer--employment law, discrimination, judicial corruption, political shenanigans, and more. We're going to take a "rest of the story" look at the case shortly. But first, I would like to use the case as an example of how our political discourse has been tainted.

I was driving home from a college football game on a Saturday evening back in October. The presidential election was on the horizon, but I had more important things on my mind. So I decided to scan the AM dial for a college-football scoreboard show.

(You know you are a certified Southerner when it isn't enough to spend five or six hours at a stadium on Saturday; no, you have to hear scores of other games on the way home.)

I was amazed when I couldn't find a scoreboard show, but came across all sorts of right-wing talkfests. At 8 o'clock on a Saturday night!

"Obama's father was in a terrorist organization," a genius on one station was saying.

"William Ayers is an unofficial advisor to the Obama campaign," said a wise guy on another station.

"Dear God," I thought, "do these people ever give it a rest?"

That was my first thought. My second thought was, "Jo Lynn Orr was right."

Jo Lynn is one of my favorite former colleagues at UAB. I grew up in the Ozarks of southwest Missouri, and Jo Lynn grew up partly in the Ozarks of northwest Arkansas, so we have that connection. And I've always appreciated the fact that Jo Lynn has a backstory that is, well, "different."

She is in her early 60s and actually knew Elvis--and as Dave Barry would say, I'm not making this up. Jo Lynn lived in Memphis for a time, and Elvis' family lived in the same apartment complex. If I remember the story correctly, Elvis was friends with Jo Lynn's older brother.

Jo Lynn lived in LA for many years--that's Los Angeles, not Lower Alabama--before returning to her Southern roots. Along the way, she became a Buddhist. And she became such a liberal that she makes me look like Grover Norquist.

Suffice to say that Jo Lynn is not a standard-issue Southerner, and I seem to have an affinity for those types--heck, I married one.

Anyway, one of the many wise things I've heard Jo Lynn say is that the demise of the Fairness Doctrine during the Reagan years was one of the worst things that ever happened to our democracy. Jo Lynn's theory was that, under the Fairness Doctrine, broadcasters had to present both sides of an issue, and that led to balanced, educational programming. Without the Fairness Doctrine, right-wing radio took over because it was attractive to sponsors, and millions of Americans began to form opinions based largely on the spewings of talkmeisters like Rush Limbaugh. The airwaves became less about education and more about ideology--and the electorate seems to have been dumbed down as a result.

A few days after my failed effort to find a scoreboard show, I was reminded again about what I call "Jo Lynn's Theory of Modern Broadcasting." I came across a Birmingham talk show hosted by Lee Davis.

I've known Lee for many years, mainly because we both used to be sportswriters, and always considered him a likable fellow. Only recently did I become aware that he is afflicted with a right-wing political mindset.

On this afternoon, Lee was talking with a lawyer who apparently had worked on the management side of the Lilly Ledbetter employment-discrimination case. The equal-pay issue had come up in a presidential debate a night or two earlier, and Barack Obama had mentioned that he was concerned about the U.S. Supreme Court's finding in the Ledbetter case.

Lee and his guest ran with that, essentially saying that Obama was misguided and the Ledbetter case had been correctly decided. At issue in the case was whether Ledbetter had filed her discrimination claim within the prescribed statute of limitations and how that limitations period was to be applied in an equal-pay case.

Lee's guest said that Ledbetter had testified in a deposition that she had known she was receiving unequal pay long before filing her complaint. This meant, the guest said, that the high court was correct in ruling that Ledbetter's claim was barred by the statute of limitations.

As I listened to this, I was reminded of "Jo Lynn's Theory of Modern Broadcasting." And as has become commonplace in broadcasting today, Lee Davis did not present the "pro worker" side of the story. He did not interview, for example, a lawyer who had represented Lilly Ledbetter.

I, and other listeners I'm sure, were left with the impression that the Supreme Court got it right when it kicked out the Ledbetter claim.

But with Jo Lynn's words echoing in my head, I thought, "Is that the whole story? Did Lee Davis and his guest present the full picture?"

With that, I vowed to conduct a little Legal Schnauzer research on the Lilly Ledbetter case. And guess what I found out?

Let's just say the Bush v. Gore case of 2000 is not the only case the U.S. Supremes have butchered lately.

(To be continued)

As the Legal World Turns

Some curious cases are making their way through the briar patch of American justice. Here is a Schnauzer wrapup:

A Stripper's Story
I'm not the savviest blogger in cyberspace, but even I pretty quickly grasped one of the truths of the trade: If you want to increase traffic to your site, figure out a way to write something--anything--that has to do with sex.

We recently wrote about the growing incidence of online porn in the workplace (here and here) and immediately saw our traffic shoot up. That's why Legal Schnauzer readers can look forward to upcoming posts about "Online Porn and the Crisis in Gaza," "Online Porn and the Music of Gilbert O'Sullivan," and "Online Porn and the Heartbreak of Psoriasis."

But seriously folks, we have a sex-related legal case in Birmingham that demands discussion. Patsy Hamaker, a dancer at a local strip club called The Furnace, claims that mandatory on-the-job drinking led to a drunken car crash that left her disfigured and with a broken back.

Hamaker sued The Furnace, seeking compensation for medical and vehicle-repair bills, lost income, and punitive damages. The club says Hamaker is responsible for her injuries. A judge recently refused to dismiss the lawsuit, and the case is set for trial in October 2009.

Court papers offer a behind-the-scene glimpse at the stripping business. Consider these insights:

* Dancers must enter the club from a side door--never using the front entrance--and surrender their car keys when they arrive;

* Under house rules, dancers are to subtly encourage customers to buy them "dancer drinks," ranging in price from $12 to $2,500. (What on earth is in a $2,500 drink?!) Dancers get the drink and $5 to $900 from each sale;

* Dancers must pass a breathalyzer test before receiving their car keys, the house rules say. But Hamaker and a former manager filed sworn statements saying they never saw the breathalyzer used for dancers;

* A "house mother" inspects the dancers to ensure that no body parts are exposed that the law requires to be covered;

* Dancers pay a series of fees after work, including $3 to the house mother, $10 to the DJ, and a $35 "house fee." Security is supposed to escort dancers to their cars after work;

* The club has a dancers' manual that takes a pep-rally approach to the business at hand. It's all part of what the club calls "Showtime." And here's a shocking revelation: Women taking off their clothes is the prime attraction at The Furnace. "We make the difference," the manual says in all capital letters. "Not the tables, not the chairs, not the bars, and not the lights."

Gee, I could have sworn that guys go to strip clubs to check out the furniture.

A Coach is Charged with Homicide?
A high-school football coach in Kentucky has been charged with reckless homicide in the heat-related death of a 15-year-old player who collapsed while running sprints in August heat.

David Jason Stinson, head coach at Pleasure Ridge Park High School in Louisville, pleaded not guilty in the death of offensive lineman Max Gilpin.

It is believed to be the first case in the nation where a coach faces criminal charges for the death of a player on his team.

Gilpin's parents have filed a lawsuit against Stinson and his coaching staff. The case has generated national attention and strong emotions in Louisville.

Unfortunately, heat-related deaths connected to August football practices are not uncommon. The mainstream media has addressed the issue, and academic researchers in Alabama have studied it. During my newspaper days, I covered the funeral of a University of Alabama defensive tackle who died during a practice in the mid 1980s.

Lawsuits, against coaches, trainers, school officials, are to be expected in cases like these. But to charge the coach with a crime? That has the smell of grandstanding on the part of David Stengel, the Jefferson County Commonwealth attorney who is handling the case.

The reckless homicide statute from the Kentucky Code is short and to the point. I'm sure the full statute and the case law provide more details about the elements of the crime.

Even if the prosecution is successful at the trial level, our research indicates that reckless-homicide convictions often do not hold up on appeal.

In a 2001 Kentucky case, a father was convicted of reckless homicide based partly on his failure to obey the state's seatbelt-restraint law in an accident that caused the death of his daughter. The conviction was overturned.

In a 2007 Kentucky case, a man was convicted of reckless homicide based partly on the fact that his vehicle had worn tires when he was involved in an accident that led to a death. The conviction was overturned.

State of mind is a critical component in this crime. And Kentucky statute states in pertinent part:

A person acts recklessly with respect to a result or to a circumstance described by a statute defining an offense when he fails to perceive a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the result will occur or that the circumstance exists. The risk must be of such a nature and degree that failure to perceive it constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would observe in the situation.

The heat index on the day in question was reported to be 94, which means the temperature probably was in the high 80s. That's not excessively hot, and it's hard to see how a coach conducting football practice in such weather would have a state of mind that could justify a criminal indictment. Did Stinson exhibit a "gross deviation from the standard of care" that a reasonable person would observe? I don't see it, and I don't understand how a prosecutor could see it?

I'm sure more information will be coming out on this case. But for now, the prosecutor's actions smell like those of Mike Nifong in the Duke lacrosse rape case.

Victims of Sexual Harassment Receive Added Protection
Here's a case that will make you ask: "Why did this have to go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court before what should have been an obvious standard was settled law?"

Believe it or not, an employee who voiced complaints about a supervisor in a sexual-harassment case had no protection against being dismissed or demoted. Protection did exist for an employee who made discrimination complaints. But an employee who was interviewed as part of an investigation was vulnerable to being fired or demoted.

A 9-0 U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Monday changed that. The case involves a woman who was fired after she agreed to be interviewed by a human-resources officer as part of a sexual-harassment investigation. The officer asked if she had witnessed inappropriate behavior, and the woman said she had seen a male supervisor grab his crotch and make crude comments to several women.

The woman now will be able to sue on grounds that she was fired in retaliation for speaking candidly in the sexual-harassment investigation. It's mind-boggling that the right to sue under such conditions was granted only four days ago.

Cheerleading Becomes a Contact Sport
High-school cheerleading is a contact sport, and its participants cannot be sued for accidentally causing injuries, according to a ruling from the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

The court ruled that a former cheerleader cannot sue a teammate who failed to stop her fall while she was practicing a stunt. The court also said the cheerleader cannot sue her school district.

Brittany Noffke fell backwards off the shoulders of another cheerleader and suffered a serious head injury. She sued a male teammate who was supposed to be her spotter but failed to catch her.

Noffke's attorney argued that contact sports should include only aggressive sports such as football and hockey. But the court found that contact sports include any sport that includes "physical contact between persons."

This brought back frightening memories for your humble blogger. I was covering a college basketball game in the early 1980s when a cheerleader fell backward off a pyramid. A single male teammate was the spotter, but he wasn't looking and failed to catch her. She crashed to the floor, about 15 to 20 feet from where I was sitting. Thankfully, I was looking down and didn't see the accident. But I still remember the sickening thud of the young woman hitting the floor. Remarkably, she was shaken but not badly hurt. Even after she was examined, I believe doctors found that she did not even have a concussion. Being in good shape, and hitting the floor in the best possible position, probably saved her from a catastrophic injury or death.

I'm still amazed that cheerleaders are allowed to do some of the dangerous stunts they try. Whatever happened to "rah, rah, sis, boom bah?"

A Quarterback and the World's Dumbest Criminals
It's Super Bowl week, so we need to conclude with a legal case involving football.

This one comes from Donovan McNabb, the star quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles who has an off-season home in Chandler, Arizona. When McNabb's Eagles were about to play the Arizona Cardinals in the NFL playoffs, a couple of Arizona fans decided to have a little fun with the opposing QB.

First, the fans hung a Cardinals flag in one of McNabb's trees. McNabb laughed it off and even left the flag hanging.

The fans returned and left a cardboard box in McNabb's driveway, with "Go Cards" written on one side and "Beat Philly" on the other. McNabb thought that was funny, too.

But the quarterback stopped laughing when he went outside one morning, smelled diesel fuel, and realized someone had burned Cardinals cheers into his lawn, causing about $2,000 in damage.

Here's the great part: Police checked the box that had been left on McNabb's driveway and found an address. That led them to 37-year-old Chandler resident Rex Perkins, who later admitted to the pranks. Perkins helpfully admitted that a co-worker, 28-year-old Ryan Hanlon also was involved.

Memo to stupid criminals: Don't leave your address at the crime scene.

Some of our favorite stories here at Legal Schnauzer involve the incredibly dumb things people do while committing crimes. Who is the world's dumbest criminal? Well, the Arizona brainiacs will have to go a ways to top this guy:

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

UAB's President Wastes Money As She Asks For More

UAB's Carol Garrison is doing something that university presidents spend a lot of time doing--asking taxpayers and legislators for more money.

Garrison recently addressed Birmingham-area legislators and urged them to take it easy on UAB when they consider budget cuts forced by the ongoing Bush recession.

But legislators might want to ask Garrison a few questions next time they see her coming with her hand out. And citizens, whose state and federal tax dollars support UAB, might want to ask Garrison the same questions.

One question is this: What are you doing with the money you already have? Answer: Garrison is wasting sizable chunks of it.

Poor human-resources practices that lead to needless legal actions are one way that UAB wastes money. We recently outlined some of the employment-related legal actions that almost certainly could have been avoided. We are researching other such cases. A few cases, which either are pending or have recently been settled, include:

* School of Business faculty member Susan Key;

* School of Engineering faculty member Rosalia Scripa;

* Department of History faculty member Horace Huntley.

We're not talking about malcontents or incompetents here. Scripa and Huntley have been at UAB for 30-plus years. Key has been there about 20 years. I have studied the case files, and it seems clear that litigation could have been avoided in all three cases.

As we have noted a couple of times, several medical trainees from India are taking, or considering, legal action against UAB because of problems in the school's Huntsville program. Much more is coming on that story here at Legal Schnauzer.

Then we have my case, which might be the biggest waste of time and funds of all. UAB literally fired me for doing my job. And like Key, Scripa, and Huntley, I was not a Johnny-come-lately; I had been at UAB for 19 years.

Evidence is overwhelming that I was fired because my personal blog, which I wrote on my own time, made some Alabama Republicans uncomfortable. And that's because I was writing accurately about their unsavory activities. As Scott Horton of Harper's recently wrote, UAB's attempts to explain this case can only be described as Orwellian.

Here's a question that Democratic legislators should be asking Garrison: Why is a UAB employee who expresses liberal/progressive ideas on his personal blog fired, even though he wrote the blog on his own time? And why are UAB employees who have used state-owned equipment to send anti-gay and racist messages still employed?

Actually, legislators and taxpayers of all persuasions should be asking Garrison hard questions. What's next? Is UAB going to start firing employees who practice certain religions on their own time? Will employees who subscribe to certain magazines or check out certain books be fired? Will employees risk their jobs if they join certain civic or social organizations?

Carol Garrison is president of a large institution, one that is happy to take tax dollars from people of all shapes, sizes, colors, religions, and political persuasions. As such, she has an obligation under state and federal law to ensure that her organization does not discriminate.

Evidence is mounting that she is failing miserably in that regard.

In short, Carol Garrison is president of a public institution, which belongs to everyone. Isn't it time she started acting like someone who understands what that role means?

Pets Lose Their Homes in Bush Recession

George W. Bush was a lousy president for humans, but he might have been an even worse president for pets.

Alabama animal shelters report that a growing number of people are dropping off pets that they no longer can afford, thanks to the recession brought on by Bush's wrongheaded economic policies.

A spokesman for the Greater Birmingham Humane Society (GBHS) pointed to several dogs that were brought in after their owners went through foreclosures.

Even more pets are being brought in from owners who are struggling to pay for their rental housing.

The GBHS said that in 2007 about 7 percent of people who surrendered pets listed money-related issues--"couldn't afford normal care" or "couldn't afford pet deposit at apartment complex"--as the reason. That number jumped to 16 percent in 2008.

The director of a shelter in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, said her facility is packed. "I've been doing this for 15 years, and I don't remember a January where we haven't had a cage."

In Montgomery, shelters have seen a significant spike in pet surrenders. Says one director: "The No. 1 reason is 'can't afford.'"

By the way, the statement about Bush's "wrongheaded economic policies" is not just a careless slap at W from a progressive blogger. Some conservatives would have you believe that this recession is a "downturn in the business cycle," that nothing could have been done to prevent it. But the foreclosures, bankruptcies, layoffs, business failures, and financial fraud are a direct consequence of Bush's economic policies. Consider a few economic trends that worsened under Bush:

* Income disparity--Way too much of our national wealth is in the hands of too few people. This is largely a result of Bush's tax cuts favoring the wealthiest Americans. This inevitably causes our economy to bog down. That's what is happening now;

* Deregulation--What happens when no one is watching the hen house? The fox wanders in and helps himself. This contributed greatly to the collapse of numerous Wall Street titans;

* Speculation--Republicans claim to be against gambling with chips and such. But they are all for gambling with risky financial instruments. A GOP-fueled culture of speculation led to the mortgage crisis;

* Erosion of Workers' Rights--GOP policies consistently favor executives over workers, managers over people who actually do things or make things. But spending by executives and managers is not enough to drive our economy. We need a strong middle class to drive the economy, and most middle-class folks are wage earners. When their wages stagnate, or they see their jobs being threatened, they cut back on spending. And that results in "ghost malls" and other retail nightmares.

This was all predictable, but Americans who voted for George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004 did not bother educating themselves about our economic history. Those who want to avoid making the same mistake again should read The Politics of Rich and Poor by Kevin Phillips.

I've touted Phillips' work several times on this blog. In fact, I've called Rich and Poor perhaps the most important public-affairs book of the past 50 years. The book is getting to be about 18 years old now, but its message is as powerful today as it was when it came out--just before Bill Clinton was elected president in the early 1990s and had to bail us out of a mess created by Ronald Reagan and the first George Bush. Now, Barack Obama is trying to save us from an even bigger economic mess, this one caused by the second George Bush. When will we ever learn that electing Bushes and their brethren is not a good idea?

If you want to understand why we are in our current economic fix, I encourage you to check out Kevin Phillips' work. His criticism of GOP economic policies is compelling because he used to be one of them. Phillips served in the Nixon administration and remembers a time when at least some Republicans cared about regular folks and the greater good. Those days were ushered out with the "Reagan Revolution," and the GOP has been swirling down the toilet ever since.

Many Republicans now hate Phillips, but he is hardly a wild-eyed liberal (whatever that is). In fact, Phillips identifies himself as an independent. More importantly, Phillips is a clear-eyed historian and analyst who has repeatedly warned us about the danger of the "supply-side" economics that has come to dominate conservative thought over the past 25 to 30 years.

This economic crisis was not an accident or a case of bad timing for W. His own policies caused it, and more Americans should have known this was coming.

Unfortunately, we humans aren't the only ones paying a stiff price. Our animal friends are suffering, too.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Alabama Reaction to the Rove Subpoena

News that the U.S. House Judiciary Committee has issued a second subpoena to former Bush White House strategist Karl Rove continues to reverberate around the country.

The story particularly resonates here in Alabama, which has been "Ground Zero" for corruption in the Bush Justice Department. Alabama attained its prominent status in the DOJ story for two reasons:

* Rove built his national reputation from working on Alabama state-court races in the 1990s, helping turn the state's appellate courts from Democratic to Republican control. Also, Rove and his close associate Bill Canary helped select "loyal Bushies" Alice Martin and Leura Canary as U.S. attorneys in Birmingham and Montgomery, respectively.

* The case of former Democratic Governor Don Siegelman is perhaps the best-known example of an apparent political prosecution under Bush.

Rove rebuffed a subpoena last May, and the new order compels him to appear for questioning at 10 a.m. on February 2 at the Rayburn House Office Building. Some legal experts have suggested that Barack Obama's executive order last week regarding presidential records could make it easier for citizens and lawmakers to gather information about possible criminal activity in the Bush administration.

Siegelman had a strong reaction to news that Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), chair of the Judiciary Committee, seems to be following through on his promise to investigate possible wrongdoing by Rove and others:

Chairman Conyers and the House Judiciary Committee's subpoena of Karl Rove gives hope to those who want to know the extent of Karl Rove's abuse of power and his misuse of the Department of Justice as a way to win elections.

Chairman Conyers' action gives meaning to the change that has been ushered in by the election of President Obama.

I am sure that I speak for millions of U. S. citizens when I say that I am grateful for Mr. Conyers' determination to seek the truth.

Those who abused their power must be held accountable otherwise their misuse of power will be more likely to happen again. Our democracy has been threatened by the use of the Department of Justice as a political weapon. Chairman Conyers' action will serve to protect our democracy and restore people's faith that no man is above the law.

Glynn Wilson has an excellent overview of Alabama reaction at Locust Fork World News. Wilson's piece includes thoughts from Jill Simpson, a central figure in the Siegelman case:

North Alabama attorney Jill Simpson, who came forward as a whistle-blower last summer and provided the key evidence for starting an investigation showing Siegelman’s case was political, said she was happy to hear about the subpoena.

“Martin Luther King Jr. in the Birmingham jail on April 16, 1963, said in a letter: ‘An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ I am glad that John Conyers understands what Dr. King meant, because it is important for our country that no man be above the law.”

And the fact is, she said: “An injustice occurred in the summer when Mr. Rove was allowed to thumb his nose at a Congressional subpoena. It has been a threat to justice ever since.”

Maybe now, she said, “Mr. Rove will raise his right hand and swear to God to tell the truth — as any normal citizen is required to do when facing a subpoena. It is my hope that justice is restored to the justice system in this country.”

What could be the legal consequences of Rove ignoring a second Congressional subpoena? Scott Horton, of Harper's, examines that question at his No Comment blog.

Small Alabama Town Stands Up for Sammy the Cat

One of the unfortunate byproducts of this blog is that we sometimes give the impression that Alabama is an utter hellhole.

That's a shame because I actually like many things about my adopted home state. No one forced me to come here 30-plus years ago, and no one has forced me to stay, so obviously I feel Alabama has quite a bit to recommend it.

Our justice system might be a cesspool, and our leaders can be a spineless, feckless bunch, but everyday Alabamians tend to be pretty fine folks--even many of the ones who disagree with me politically, which is most of them. Sometimes, small acts of kindness to the "least of these" say an awful lot about a people. Several citizens in the small Alabama town of Notasulga recently committed such an act, and they had a good time doing it.

Notasulga is a town of about 1,000 residents in east central Alabama, not far from the Opelika-Auburn area. The town gained national attention recently when a controversy erupted over Sammy the Cat, a local orange tabby who made a habit of hanging out at the local post office.

Sammy lives about a block from the post office, but he likes to meander over to the postal facility and stretch out in a sunny sport on a table inside. Residents enjoy loving on him and treating him like a regular postal employee.

But someone with too much time on her hands complained, saying that Sammy did not belong in the facility because he did not pay federal taxes. When a sign went up that Sammy no longer would be allowed in the building because of the complaint, about 15 Notasulgans came to the aide of their feline friend.

They started a media campaign and enlisted the help of one of Alabama's most famous citizens, former Auburn University football coach Pat Dye, who lives in the area. The group decided that the best solution was to get Sammy his own post-office box. That would mean he had reason to be in the post office.

Sammy's fans from around the country have responded. In a recent five-day period, he received 68 pieces of mail and two packages.

So the Notasulga post office is a fun, peaceful place again. And Sammy is there most every day to greet his growing band of admirers. A 10-year-old tabby has found happiness and affection in rural Alabama--more evidence that our state can't be all bad.

Here's the television story that turned Sammy into an international star:

Sammy's story touched our hearts here at Legal Schnauzer. Our blog is inspired by, and devoted to the memory of, Murphy, our much-loved miniature schnauzer from 1993 to 2004. But our house now is home to two Tonkinese kitty kats, a brother and sister named Baxter and Chloe. No one could ever replace Murphy in our hearts, but Baxter and Chloe have been true blessings. They give our home its soul--sort of what Sammy seems to do for the Notasulga post office. And like Sammy, they know the value of a good sunny spot to lay in.

Here's a video we did a few months back, featuring Baxter and Chloe:

Monday, January 26, 2009

Alice Martin's Last Stand

We have reported on Alice Martin's efforts to stay on as U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama under a Barack Obama administration.

Now we have a report that Martin, a Bush appointee, is refusing to give up her post. The Wayne Madsen Report (WMR) writes that Martin intends to force the Obama administration to fire her.

This is not a surprise to regular Alice Martin watchers. Her reign has long been about drama and politics, not rules, protocol, or justice. Apparently, Queen Alice's last act will be to play the martyr for the cause of "justice" under Bush.

WMR provides important background on Martin, particularly her role in the prosecutions of former Alabama Democratic Governor Don Siegelman:

On February 12, 2008, WMR reported: "Perhaps no one in the Siegelman affair is more corrupt than the US Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama Alice H. Martin. Martin has been accused of providing false evidence against Siegelman in his trial. Former Jefferson County Commissioner Gary White, a Republican, was reportedly prosecuted by Martin for corruption because White would not testify against Siegelman and former Health South chairman Richard Scrushy. Martin tried to compel White to present false evidence against Siegelman in his trial.

WMR also notes Martin's curious methods for choosing the cases she pursues. She went after former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy and others in a corporate financial fraud case under the Sarbanes-Oxley Law. Martin, by the way, failed to secure a conviction against Scrushy in a case where many observers thought evidence against the CEO was overwhelming.

But WMR points out that Martin was not always so interested in pursuing cases of possible financial wrongdoing. In fact, she conveniently ignored a major bankruptcy case that took place right under her nose--literally:

Martin Industries, a manufacturer of grills, gas heaters, and hearths, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the US Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Alabama in Decatur, Alabama on December 27, 2002. Martin Industries was eventually bought by a Canadian company, Monessen Hearth Systems Company.

Although Martin Industries had amassed a reported $63 million in debt, Martin and her 44 lawyers and 104 assistants, including those who liaise with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and FBI, did not see fit to investigate what caused the massive debt in the firm pursuant to the provision of Sarbox.

Why would Alice Martin not be interested in that bankruptcy case. WMR has the answer:

Perhaps it is because Martin is married to Louis J. Martin II, a vice president of Martin Industries who retired at the age of 48 in 2003 after the firm declared bankruptcy.

How convenient. Martin's husband helps get a company into $63 million worth of do-d0, and the feds don't bother checking into possible financial irregularities.

Wayne Madsen's reporting goes to a point we have raised repeatedly here at Legal Schnauzer: Corruption in the Bush Justice Department is not just about who does get prosecuted; it also is about who does not get prosecuted.

If you are a corrupt Republican judge in Alabama state courts, with ties to loyal Bushies, you can butcher the law without fear. If you are married to a loyal Bushie--in this case, Alice Martin herself--you don't have to worry about anyone checking into your curious financial practices.

If Martin wants the Obama team to fire her, that should be no problem. There almost certainly are plenty of grounds for firing her, beyond the mere fact that she is a Bush appointee.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Are Alabama GOPers Nervous About Obama's Executive Order?

A number of experts are saying that Barack Obama's executive order last week on presidential records could be a key first step toward unlocking information about possible criminal activity in the Bush administration.

Obama's order, some observers are saying, is making certain Republicans very nervous. If that's the case, several of those Republicans are likely to be in Alabama.

What does the Obama executive order mean? Neil Eggleston, a White House counsel in the Clinton administration, told TPM Muckraker that the order appears to have been issued with ongoing cases in mind. These could include efforts to obtain records regarding the firings of U.S. attorneys and political prosecutions in the Bush Justice Department:

At its heart, said Eggleston, Obama's order is about "who gets to assert executive privilege." It says that former presidents can claim such privilege, but they have no automatic ability to prevent the release of their records if the current administration deems it to be in the national interest. . . .

In a sense, said Eggleston, it's a directive to the National Archivist. "It says: 'Archivist -- if Bush calls up and says don't release certain papers, don't listen to what he says, listen to what I say.'"

How concerned are Republicans about the order? Within minutes of its release, they announced that they would hold up the confirmation of attorney-general nominee Eric Holder for at least a week.

Daily Kos diarist "dengre" is an authority on the Jack Abramoff scandal, and he said the confirmation of Holder, plus the Obama executive order, could shine significant light on the Abramoff case and its many tentacles--which spread deeply into Alabama and Mississippi.

Speaking of Alabama, "dengre" notes that a Holder confirmation, on top of the Obama executive order, could lead to the truth about apparent political prosecutions, such as the one involving former Democratic Governor Don Siegelman.

What if Holder is confirmed, and he is able to use the Obama executive order to unearth documents about possible criminal activity connected to the Bush administration? Who are some of the Alabama Republicans who might find this news distressing?

The list is lengthy, and it includes some of our central characters at Legal Schnauzer:

* Gov. Bob Riley, whose campaign was found to have received $13 million in Mississippi Choctaw gambling money from Abramoff;

* Business Council of Alabama head Bill Canary and Rob Riley (Bob Riley's son), who according to sworn testimony from whistleblower Jill Simpson, were involved in a conspiracy to arrange a bogus prosecution of Siegelman;

* U.S. attorneys Alice Martin and Leura Canary (Bill Canary's wife), who both initiated prosecutions against Siegelman that appear to have been politically motivated;

* GOP "consultant" Dax Swatek who served as campaign manager both for Alice Martin and Bob Riley and has documented ties to Abramoff. For good measure, Dax Swatek is the "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" character in our Legal Schnauzer story. His fingerprints are everywhere on this blog, mainly because his father, William E. Swatek, is the corrupt Alabama lawyer who filed the bogus lawsuit against me that started my legal sojourn. I started this blog in order to expose the dirty deeds of Bill Swatek and corrupt GOP judges in Alabama state courts. As a result, Alabama authorities threatened to seize my home and did place an unlawful sheriff's deed on it. Also, evidence clearly shows that someone pressured UAB to fire me because of my blog--which I wrote on my own time, with my own resources, and it had nothing to do with UAB.

Was Dax Swatek involved in my unlawful termination at UAB? Does he, at the very least, know who is behind it? We will be examining those questions closely in the days and weeks ahead.

Meanwhile, perhaps Eric Holder will be giving Dax and his GOP cohorts a case of tighty whities.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Why I'm P----d Off At Artur Davis

U.S. Rep. Artur Davis (D-AL) has long tried to align himself with Barack Obama. So it is ironic that Davis' thoughtless comments in a book about Obama might have derailed any hopes the congressman had of being elected Alabama's governor in 2010.

Quotes in Gwen Ifill's The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama reveal Davis to be a calculating politician who cares more about his career arc than matters of right and wrong. And they indicate that Davis' high-profile service on the U.S. House Judiciary Committee was done mostly for show rather than from a genuine desire to get to the bottom of the apparent politicization of the U.S. Justice Department under George W. Bush.

Perhaps most disturbing is the indication that Davis isn't remotely interested in ensuring that wrongdoers in the Bush administration are held accountable.

As someone who has suffered greatly because of Republican goons associated with the Bush DOJ, I find Davis' words patently offensive. And from where I sit, it appears that Davis has spent so much time in the rarefied air of Washington, D.C., that he's lost all sense of how public corruption harms real people--not to mention our very democracy.

It's hard to determine which of Davis' statements is most offensive. But here are two that jump out to me:

* He expects most Alabamians to ignore the Siegelman "controversy"--Let's see, Congressman, let's consider other issues Alabamians are likely to ignore: global warming, war crimes, gun violence, Middle East unrest, income disparity, growing rates of obesity and infant mortality, regressive taxation, an antiquated and racist constitution, insufficient funding of basic state services . . . we could go on and on. But you get the idea; Alabamians ignore a lot of issues. Does that mean none of them are worthy of your attention? Have you ever heard of leadership, of trying to education the public about issues that should be important to them? And by the way, the Siegelman case is not a "controversy." The alleged transaction between Siegelman and Richard Scrushy was not a bribe under the law, the judge gave the jury unlawful instructions, and the whole charade was orchestrated by Karl Rove, Bill Canary and other GOP goons to imprison a Democrat they could not beat at the ballot box. Evidence, public documents, and sworn statements show that there is nothing "controversial" about the Siegelman case; he was railroaded, simple as that. The only controversy is whether congressmen like you are going to make a serious attempt to get at the truth.

* He is counting on the Siegelman case to "fade away" well before 2010--Is Davis serious? The Siegelman case is the best known example of political prosecution, but it is hardly the only one. The Paul Minor case in Mississippi, the Georgia Thompson case in Wisconsin, and Cyril Wecht case in Pennsylvania are among many others. And that doesn't even get into the Bush administration's firings of nine U.S. attorneys for political reasons. The Siegelman case is part of a much larger criminal pattern that cannot possibly be resolved well before 2010. Is your solution to public wrongs to hope they "fade away," Congressman? Should Americans hope that memories of Watergate fade away? Should Jews let memories of the Holocaust fade away? Was Martin Luther King driven by a desire to see that wrongs committed against blacks would "fade away?" Your shallowness and self-centeredness is sickening at a time when Barack Obama is trying to bring real change to America, to appeal to our better natures, to hold government and individuals accountable. You apparently just appeal to what is convenient and expedient--for you.

By the way, what's with this statement that you "barely know" Don Siegelman? Are you so desperate to win favor with white conservative voters that you will sell out one of the state's most popular Democrats? Don't think that's a smart track toward gaining your party's nomination for governor.

And what does it matter that you "barely know" Don Siegelman? How is that relevant? Crimes committed by Bush officials only matter if the victim is someone you know well?

I imagine you don't know Huntsville defense contractor Alex Latifi at all. But prosecutors under the direction of Bush goon Alice Martin intentionally ruined his prosperous business with a bogus investigation, apparently because Mr. Latifi is of Iranian descent and a supporter of the Democratic Party. Does the pain Mr. Latifi has suffered matter to you? What about his employees who have been put out of work because of Alice Martin? Do they matter?

You certainly don't know me and my wife, Mrs. Schnauzer. But it might be interesting for you to meet with us, so we could show you what we've experienced from our efforts to expose corruption in Alabama state courts and tie it in with the larger Bush DOJ story. Here are just a few things we could show you:

* A copy of the case file in which a neighbor with a lengthy criminal record filed a lawsuit against me that was so bogus it had to be dismissed in a few months time. The file would show you how Republican judges in Shelby County repeatedly made unlawful rulings to keep the case going, costing us and taxpayers thousands of dollars.

* A copy of the disciplinary history of William E. Swatek, the attorney who filed the bogus lawsuit. Swatek has a 30-year history of unethical actions, including a suspension of his license, but Alabama judges protect him like fine china. Why? Because his son, Dax Swatek, is a GOP "consultant" with ties to Bill Canary and Karl Rove.

* A copy of the bogus sheriff's deed Bill Swatek had placed on our house in an effort to stop me from blogging about GOP corruption in Alabama.

* Copies of numerous anonymous threats I've received on my blog, including one specifically threatening my job at UAB.

* Documents that I was unlawfully terminated at UAB, and it was driven by pressure from Alabama GOP powerbrokers.

* A copy of our credit history before these legal problems began and copies of the charming communications we now receive from third-party debt buyers because our lives' savings have been essentially stolen by corrupt lawyers and judges in Alabama.

This is just a small portion of what we could show you. It would illustrate what can happen to real people when they stand up to the corrupt Bushies who have turned our justice system into a political weapon.

But you probably aren't interested, are you? Your weak attempt at an explanation in today's Birmingham News falls terribly flat with me. You say you want to avoid any confusion over your views on "an important matter." If the matter is so important, why do you want it to fade away?

I agree that Ifill's book is "insightful"--very insightful on what you are really all about.

Don Siegelman has repeatedly said his case is not just about him. It is about a broken justice system that can harm any citizen. "If they can do this to me, as former governor of the state, they can do it to you," Siegelman has said.

That's not just a theoretical statement here at Legal Schnauzer. We know from firsthand experience that Siegelman is right on target.

So Congressman, what about the regular people whose lives have been brought to the edge of ruin by a corrupt Justice Department? Do they matter to you? Or do you hope we will fade away?

Do you have the spine required to actually lead the people of Alabama? Doesn't look like it at this point.

Here's an idea: If you get tired of serving in Congress and can't earn the governorship, why don't you try to become president of UAB. The university's current leaders take their directions from the Bill Canary/Bob Riley/Alice Martin axis of evil.

Heck, the University of Alabama System's chancellor, Malcolm Portera, is a prominent member of Canary's Business Council of Alabama. Based on the testimony of Republican whistleblower Jill Simpson, Canary has turned the BCA into little more than a criminal syndicate. But does that concern Portera? Nah.

UAB's leaders have proven they have no conscience, and your statements to Gwen Ifill indicate you don't have much of a conscience either. You should fit right in with the UAB crowd.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Does Artur Davis Care More About Politics Than Justice?

Some disturbing comments from U.S. Rep. Artur Davis (D-AL) come to light today, raising this question: Does Davis really care about getting to the bottom of corruption in the Bush Justice Department?

A number of Alabama Democrats have raised questions about Davis' commitment to ensuring that justice is done in the Don Siegelman case and other apparent political prosecutions under Bush. Critics also have pointed out that Davis has taken money from business interests in an apparent effort to seek favor with white voters for a possible run at the governor's office in 2010.

Davis' comments, published in Gwen Ifill's new book The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama, add fuel to charges that he is less a man of principle and more a political opportunist.

According to Ifill, Davis seems concerned that the Siegelman case could harm his chances at running for governor, apparently because it would anger white, pro-business voters. Davis says he expects most Alabamians to ignore the Siegelman case, and he is "counting on it to fade away well before 2010."

Fade away? Doesn't exactly sound like a guy who is determined to see that justice is done and wrongdoers in the Bush DOJ are held accountable does it?

Davis claims he had no choice but to support a congressional inquiry into the Siegelman case and other apparent political prosecutions. As for Siegelman himself, Davis says, "Barely know him, barely know him."

Is Davis presenting a profile in courage here? Not hardly.

Alabama blogger and cyber journalist Glynn Wilson has raised questions about Davis' commitment to progressive ideas and the cause of justice. Davis' comments in the Ifill book indicate that Wilson is onto something.

Consider these stinging words from a Wilson post at the Locust Fork Journal in December 2008:

Some Democrats say Davis had to be “dragged kicking and screaming” into the (Siegelman) investigation, and to get a green light from Alabama Power Company to do it. Davis said the committee did ask for a contempt citation against Karl Rove, but he blamed it on “the leadership” in the House for not scheduling a vote in the full Congress. He said there would be time in the next Congress to continue the investigation, as indicated by the Senate Judiciary Committee press secretary in a recent story. But he would not give a clear indication he is pushing the issue.

“Look, I think everybody — except The Birmingham News – knew there was a taint and a cloud of suspicion around the Siegelman prosecution all along,” Davis said. He said “it will be up to the Eleventh U.S. Circuit of Appeals in Atlanta to decide the fate of Siegelman and Scrushy,” although he indicated the court’s decision could influence Congress in its investigation.

For his lack of a clear stance on that, and the recent information that has come to light about his close ties to Bill and Leura Canary in Montgomery, Davis has angered many of Siegelman’s supporters. And now charges are flying that Davis actually protected both Bill Canary, the head of the conservative Business Council of Alabama, and his wife Leura, the U.S. attorney who brought charges against Siegelman in Montgomery, by not pushing for them to be called or subpoenaed to testify before the committee in Washington. Attorneys across the state are still talking about the allegation that Davis is trying to figure out a way to help keep Canary on as U.S. attorney in Montgomery, even though Davis recently denied it on a left-wing political blog rather than offer direct answers to our questions.

Financial disclosure forms show that Davis has taken thousands of dollars in campaign contributions form the Canarys over the years, far more than other Democrats. An analysis of his campaign contributions also reveals that only 8 percent of his money comes from Alabama, while much of it comes from New York and the lobby associated with the PAC advocating for the State of Israel.

Davis fired back on some of these charges at Left in Alabama. But his comments in Ifill's book leave us with these questions: Does Artur Davis really stand for something, other than seeking business support so he can become governor of Alabama? Were his actions on the U.S. House Judiciary Committee intentionally limited and intended for show?

One thing is certain: With his comments in Ifill's book, Davis has seriously alienated a number of progressives, liberals, and Siegelman supporters in Alabama. That alienation is chronicled in a Glynn Wilson post this afternoon at Locust Fork Journal.

Davis seems to have positioned himself as the "Barack Obama of Alabama." And many progressives have held high hopes for him. But more and more, he seems like a mushy middle-of-the-roader who is eager to kiss up to the business and political interests who have turned Alabama into a corrupt cesspool.

Perhaps Artur Davis needs to give some thought to whose side he really is on--and what he really believes.

Did Alice Martin Win a Case and Lose Her Mind?

Alabama State Sen. E.B. McClain and the Rev. Samuel Pettagrue each were convicted on corruption charges yesterday in federal court in Birmingham.

But the big story of the day was a comment from Alice Martin, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, a Bush appointee, and the lead prosecutor in the case.

"This sends a very strong message that these kinds of cases will be dealt with (through) tough prosecutions," Martin said after the verdict was announced. "We look forward to trying to clean up the Alabama Senate."

Martin's comment is curious on several levels. As we have reported on a couple of occasions, she apparently has no intention of submitting her resignation, as is customary for U.S. attorneys when presidential administration's change hands. And Scott Horton reported at The Daily Beast that Pennsylvania U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan has joined Martin in trying to stay on during a Barack Obama administration.

Martin's statement about trying "to clean up the Alabama Senate" indicates that she plans to be in office for quite some time. Has no one told Martin that she is a Bush appointee, and the Bush administration ended on Tuesday? Is Martin delusional or have she and U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions (D-AL) figured out a way to hoodwink the Obama crowd into keeping Martin on for another year or more?

Here's another question raised by Martin's quote: Has she suddenly obtained jurisdiction over all of Alabama? Last time I checked, Alabama has three U.S. attorneys-- in a Northern District, Middle District, and Southern District. Only a portion of Alabama state senators reside in Martin's district--I'm guessing roughly a third of them. So how is Martin going to clean out the State Senate on her own?

Such a plan would require cooperation from the other two U.S. attorneys. And that raises this question: If such a statewide plan exists, who put it together? Who has the authority to develop a strategy to clean up the Alabama Senate? If Martin & Co. are interested in cleaning up state government, why is only the legislative branch in their cross hairs? What about the executive and judicial branches?

Oh wait, those branches are controlled by Republicans.

What about McClain and Pettagrue? It's possible they are scoundrels who got what they deserved. But regardless of how strong the evidence might have been against them, it seems clear they will have strong grounds for appeal.

As we noted in a recent post, there are hazards to having federal prosecutors with questionable ethics. Martin is under investigation by multiple federal agencies. What if it is found that she indeed targeted Democratic officials for political prosecutions? What if she faces professional sanctions, such as disbarment? What if she is found to have participated in a criminal conspiracy?

This would mean the McClain/Pettagrue case was one of several tainted prosecutions in Martin's district, and it would give them strong grounds for having the verdict overturned.

While we're at it, let's compare the apparent wrongdoing involving McClain and Pettagrue to possible wrongdoing committed by Martin. McClain and Pettagrue were convicted for engaging in a bribery scheme involving about $300,000. At least two investigations by Martin--one involving former Governor Don Siegelman and one involving Huntsville businessman Alex Latifi--have already been found to be bogus in courts of law.

How many hundreds of thousands of dollars--more likely millions--have been wasted on such investigations under Martin? Who really is cheating the taxpayer here?

One final point: From my experience with corrupt Republicans, I've learned that they are stupid crooks. They don't even make decent attempts to hide their tracks. For example, Alice Martin pretty much admits in her quotes after the McClain trial that she has targeted the Alabama Senate, which is controlled by Democrats. And she hints that this is a statewide,
coordinated effort. Whoever is behind that almost certainly is using the U.S. Justice Department in an unlawful manner, for political purposes.

So while trumpeting her conviction of E.B. McClain, Alice Martin reveals an awful lot about herself.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Bushies Who Came to Dinner--And Wouldn't Leave

We recently reported about U.S. Attorney Alice Martin and her efforts to stay on under the Barack Obama administration so she can lead prosecutions against Democratic evildoers in her Alabama district.

Now we learn that Martin is not the only Bush prosecutor who is clinging to the reigns of power for dear life. Scott Horton, of The Daily Beast, reports that Pennsylvania U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan also is refusing to leave office.

Buchanan is borrowing a page from the Martin playbook, arguing that her district around Pittsburgh is so beset with crooked Democrats that she has to stay on to clean out the vermin.

Traditionally, U.S. attorneys serve at the pleasure of the president, and those who are on board turn in their resignations when administrations change hands. Word of that tradition apparently never reached Martin and Buchanan. Reports Horton:

U.S. attorneys Buchanan and Martin appear girded to make a last stand like Japanese soldiers who never got word that the war was over.

I don't normally laugh when reading about corrupt Bush appointees. But that line made me guffaw. Horton reports that last month Buchanan released a letter stating that she had no intention of submitting her resignation.

So what gives with Buchanan? Horton clues us in:

An ideologically committed Federalist Society member, Buchanan is close to former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who actively promoted her as U.S. attorney. Following her appointment in 2001, Buchanan quickly gained the favor and approval of the White House. In the key period of 2004-05, while groundwork was laid for what later became the U.S. attorney's scandal, Buchanan served as director of the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, the key position at Justice that oversaw all the 94 U.S. attorneys. A later internal Justice Department probe, in which Buchanan figures prominently, highlights the role played by that office in Karl Rove’s plan to sack U.S. attorneys.

Buchanan is best known for two cases. One involved the prosecution of Tommy Chong, of Cheech and Chong fame, because of a company founded and run by his son. Never mind that Chong had no criminal record and his activities were not considered criminal by many legal experts. The case was the subject of a popular 2005 documentary titled a/k/a Tommy Chong.

The second case involved Dr. Cyril Wecht, one of the country's most prominent medical examiners and a frequent guest on news shows. The case against Wecht involves, among other things, allegations that he used his office phone and fax machine for personal matters. We're not making this up, folks!

Wecht's first trial ended in a hung jury, and Buchanan cites the need to prosecute him again as one reason for staying on.

As for Martin, Horton notes her thirst for political-corruption cases--as long as the targets are Democrats. Some of her most high-profile cases involve Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford, state representative Sue Schmitz, and state senator E.B. McClain. "She is reported to be preparing charges against as many as a dozen other Democratic members of the state legislature," Horton reports.

This would appear to dovetail nicely with the Alabama Republican Party's stated plans to take over the state legislature in 2010. But the clock seems to have struck midnight on Queen Alice's plan to rid Alabama of people who might be a little bit liberal. So many Democrats, so little time!

As you might expect from a loyal Bushie, Martin appears to be playing politics up to the last minute--and beyond:

Martin previously coveted an appointment as a federal judge, but her efforts fell flat, largely as a result of mounting questions over her prosecutorial record. With the new administration approaching, she made clear her desire to hold on to her post as U.S. attorney for another year of prosecutions. Her Kafkaesque argument: she is targeting corrupt Democratic politicians and investigating others. Therefore, her removal under these circumstances and replacement by an Obama appointee would be “unseemly.” Martin has enlisted the support of Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions, a member of the Judiciary Committee, in her bid to become a holdover. Alabama Democrats, however, led by Cong. Artur Davis do not cotton to Martin’s scheme. They recently sent the Obama transition team a slate of recommendations, focusing on candidates with strong federal prosecutorial experience and a minimum of political baggage.

Like the true believers in a misguided crusade, Martin and Buchanan are hunkering down for one final battle:

Buchanan and Martin seem to be bucking for a fight. Do they want to be fired? So far, it looks like they’re daring Obama to fire them. The fireworks may last beyond Inauguration Day.

If the Obama crowd is reluctant to pull the switch on these two, I'm guessing they will find no shortage of volunteers willing to do it for them. In fact, I know of a certain Legal Schnauzer who would battle for a spot near the front of the line.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Barack Obama and the Audacity of Hoops

As Americans watched the inauguration today of our 44th president, many probably wondered: "What is this guy all about?"

The sense of mystery is heightened by the fact that Barack Obama has a peculiar name, and he is our first African-American president.

So what is Barack Obama all about? Many words already have been written on that subject. And many more undoubtedly will be written in the months and years ahead.

But my favorite article about the "essence" of our new president can be found in, of all places, the most recent issue of Sports Illustrated. "The Audacity of Hoops," by longtime SI staff writer Alexander Wolff, is a superb piece of reporting and analysis, mixing personal and national history, psychology, sociology, geography, politics, and, yes, sports--in this case, Obama's long fascination with basketball.

Basketball has played a central role in Obama's development, and Craig Robinson has held a front-row seat. Robinson is Michelle Obama's older brother and our new president's brother-in-law. He also has some serious hoops "cred." The 6-6 Robinson was a two-time Ivy League Player of the Year at Princeton University and played professionally in Europe. He was head coach at Brown University before taking over at Oregon State last April.

What has basketball meant to Obama. The sport, Robinson says, is why Obama is "sitting where he's sitting."

Here's how Wolff puts it:

The game provided space in which the young Obama explored his identity as an African-American. He won a reputation as a consensus builder while playing recreationally in college and law school. A pickup game with Robinson did nothing less than confirm Obama as a worthy suitor to his wife-to-be. In Chicago, basketball helped him connect with the South Siders he worked with as a community organizer and with the circle of professionals who would help launch his political career. He began to scratch out notes for his 2004 Democratic Convention speech, the one that loosed his career from the D league of state politics, while in a hotel room watching the NBA on TNT.

As for the two reddest states Obama flipped in the '08 general election, Indiana and North Carolina, each narrowly chose him after he made a basketball lover's case to basketball-loving people.

All of this has special resonance here at Legal Schnauzer. Regular readers know that I am a sports fan and a former sportswriter. Basketball is, by far, my favorite team sport. In my mind, basketball is the greatest team sport ever invented, in part because it's the only one I can think of where every player, at some point, is going to have to apply every skill. Basketball has positions but no specialists. You might be a 7-foot center, but at some point you are going to have to handle the ball. You might be a 5-5 point guard, but at some point you are going to have to battle for rebounds under the hoop.

Basketball is perhaps our most democratic sport. No wonder Obama was drawn to it.

Like Obama, I had a modest high-school "career." He was a reserve on a 1979 state-championship team at Punahou School in Hawaii. I played four years of high-school ball, the last three at Kickapoo High School in Springfield, Missouri. For much of that time, my fanny was firmly planted on the bench. During my two-year varsity career, I started six games, and those came only because a couple of guys got kicked off the team. My high-water mark was a 14-point outing against Jefferson City in 1974. When I did crack the scoreboard, my normal range was four to eight points.

Perhaps my greatest hoops accomplishment was scoring the first two baskets in Kickapoo High School history. I spent my freshman year at Glendale High School, and then was rezoned when our city's new school was built. Our first game was in November 1971 at Fort Smith Southside High School in Arkansas. As a sophomore, I was on the junior varsity, and we played before the varsity game that night.

For some reason, Southside left me wide open in the right corner on two of our first trips down the floor, and I hit both shots. Southside decided to guard me after that, and I didn't score again the rest of the game. In fact, I didn't start again the rest of that season.

To tell the whole story, my name probably is not in the Kickapoo High School record books. When folks think of the first basket in school history, they probably think of the varsity. And I think that basket was made by a fellow named Kirk May, who I think was a good enough athlete to play a little football at Duke University.

But chronologically speaking, the first two hoops in Kickapoo history belong to your very own Legal Schnauzer. Some might say I haven't accomplished a whole lot since that night, but that distinction will stay with me forever.

(Probably a more important distinction is that I went to the same high school as Brad Pitt. Brad is a 1982 Kickapoo grad, and both of my younger brothers knew him fairly well--or at least they claim they did. Brad might have had romances with Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Anniston. But I still have my historic two baskets, and I cling to them for dear life.)

While I treasure my time in organized basketball, my favorite memories are of countless pickup games--playing on driveways with neighborhood kids, playing on playgrounds or local gyms with high-school chums, playing in campus gyms with dorm friends in college, getting together on Saturday mornings with coworkers.

Obama, too, seems to cherish his times in "pickup" games. Wolff writes expertly about the social nature of pick-up basketball--and what Obama might have drawn from the game:

Pickup ballplayers don't talk as much as golfers during a round, but they more quickly reach judgments about temperament and collaborative aptitude. And there's the emotional containment that ballers learn to bring to the court, even if only to ensure that no one can sneak up behind you to see emotions... you didn't want them to see. Asked the boxers-versus-briefs question, Obama gave the pitch-perfect pickup baller's reply: "I don't answer those humiliating questions, but whichever one it is, I look good in 'em."

Organized basketball, particularly in high school, is an exercise in submission to social control. Pickup ball, by contrast, involves collective governance and constant conflict resolution. It is, to borrow Sarah Palin's phrase, community organizing in which everyone has "actual responsibilities." For all its associations with inner-city pathologies, pickup ball harks back to a traditional time, when kids weren't squired to playdates or stashed with third parties but made their way to the park on their own, picked teams and -- as Obama did -- grew up along the way.

I, too, did a lot of growing up in pickup basketball games. And I learned that the give and take of playground hoops can teach a lot about right and wrong.

So what is our new president really like? I think Craig Robinson makes an important point:

"There's an ethical undertone in pickup that people miss," Robinson says. "The game has to be played fairly or it breaks down. You practice an honor code, making your own calls and giving them up. If Barack travels, he'll give it up, not sneak it by you. You play with hundreds of guys who'd never do that. It all gets back to how you can tell a guy's character on the court."

Obama's character now is playing out on a world stage. But when it comes to the "crunch time" of politics, remember that Obama already has experienced crunch time on the basketball court. And it shaped who he is.

Want to check out the future president in action? Here he is, making a layup and missing a free throw, in that 1979 Hawaii state championship game:

And here is Obama in pickup action on the campaign trail in Indiana:

Monday, January 19, 2009

Coach's Sex Life Takes Center Stage in Assault Case

Lawsuits are piling up in the assault case of University of Mississippi men's basketball coach Andy Kennedy. Even Kennedy's wife, Kimber, has joined the fray, making the couple's sex life--or lack thereof--an issue.

Andy Kennedy took the case into the civil realm by filing a defamation lawsuit against Mohamed Jiddou, the cab driver who claimed Kennedy assaulted him around 1 a.m. in mid December on a downtown Cincinnati street. For good measure, Kennedy also sued Michael Strother, a valet who backed up Jiddou's version of events.

Jiddou returned fire late last week by asking that Kennedy's lawsuit be dismissed and countersuing Kennedy for assault, ethnic intimidation, and filing of a frivolous lawsuit. My guess is that Strother also will file a countersuit any day.

The most intriguing entrant in the lawsuit fray is Kimber Kennedy, the coach's wife. She filed a loss-of-consortium lawsuit against Jiddou and Strother, claiming their statements regarding the criminal case have so distracted the coach that his "performance" at home has, ahem, suffered.

Kimber Kennedy's lawsuit has been a gift from heaven for headline writers and Web-site commenters. "Coach's Wife Sues, Claiming Lack of Playing Time" trumpets one headline. "Andy Kennedy's Wife has Lost That Loving Feeling" blares another.

One or two sites have run photos of Kimber Kennedy and raised the question: How could things possibly be so bad that he could lose interest in her? Suffice to say that Mrs. Kennedy is easy on the eyes.

At this point, perhaps I should state that our interest in the Kennedy case arises partly from the fact that I know a number of the central characters, including the coach himself. Andy Kennedy and two members of his staff are alumni of the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), my former employer.

Kimber Kennedy, I believe, also has a degree from UAB, and she was a regular at Blazer games during Andy's playing days and a stint as an assistant coach. As numerous Web commenters have noted, she is an attractive woman, to put it mildly.

Andy Kennedy has known a lot of success on the basketball court, but let's say he is a major overachiever in the wife department. As a red-blooded American guy, I can think of quite a few adjectives to describe Kimber Kennedy and "scorching" is one of them.

In fact, I was telling Mrs. Schnauzer the other day about the loss-of-consortium lawsuit, and she was less than enthralled. "Why don't you tell me again how hot Kimber is," she said. "I didn't the get the idea the first 47 times you mentioned it."

Mrs. Schnauzer has a good sense of humor, thank God. Without that, I would have had a skillet firmly implanted in my cranium a long time ago.

Aside from the fact that Mrs. Kennedy looks good--did I mention that she's hot?--this case raises a number of interesting issues for us here at Legal Schnauzer. I like Andy Kennedy and have pulled for him in his coaching career. I've interviewed him numerous times and always found him to be engaging and thoughtful. But from where I sit, it appears the coach has screwed up big time.

A source with strong connections in college athletics tells me that Ole Miss officials had warned Kennedy about his drinking. I don't think it's so much a matter of Kennedy being a drunk. But he apparently had developed a habit of meeting friends for drinks after home games, and the sessions would sometimes become quite loud and boisterous. Oxford, Mississippi, is a small college town, and word had gotten back to administrators that Kennedy's behavior didn't look good.

The Kennedy case hits close to home for me, on several levels. I was the victim of a crime and then faced a bogus lawsuit because I sought to have it prosecuted. I also was the victim of an assault, and I know that is not a pleasant experience.

From where I sit, it appears the cab driver simply was trying to do his job and wound up with major legal headaches because of it. Likewise, Mrs. Schnauzer and I were trying to protect our property rights and wound up with legal headaches that eventually led to me losing my job at UAB.

Perhaps you can understand why my sympathies lie with the cab driver here. Andy Kennedy has shown a lot of promise as a basketball coach, and it would be unfortunate to see his career derailed by this incident. But I suspect the coach knows he's got a serious problem on his hands.

My guess is that the Kimber Kennedy lawsuit is an attempt at damage control.

A Cincinnati judge last week set a trial date of April 20 in the criminal case. But I feel certain Kennedy wants to make sure there never is a criminal trial. That's probably why he filed the lawsuit against Jiddou and Strother. The goal, I suspect, is to get the case into the civil arena and try to pay Jiddou and Strother enough settlement money that they will ask for the criminal case to be dropped. If that happens, Cincinnati prosecutors probably will go along with it and drop criminal charges.

So why the Kimber Kennedy lawsuit? Well, I'm not a lawyer--and I welcome insight from anyone who is a lawyer--but here's what I think is happening: Andy Kennedy knows that if a civil case is settled in his name, that might hurt him with future employers. And if he did ignore warnings from superiors about drinking, he might know that his job is in grave danger at Ole Miss.

If Kennedy suspects that he will be looking for another job come spring 2009, his wife's lawsuit might be geared toward helping keep his record clean for potential employers. For example, I'm guessing that Jiddou and Strother now will be forced to countersue Kimber Kennedy. That means that any settlement could be made in her name, and the Kennedys lawyer might insist that both the criminal and civil cases against Andy be dropped.

The lawyer probably made sure that Kimber Kennedy had liability insurance that would cover a settlement in her name. Without such coverage, the Kennedys would have to pay out of pocket, which might be worth it to save his coaching career.

Experience has taught me that lawsuits rarely are about truth and justice. They might start out that way, but they usually evolve into struggles about money, power, public relations, and positioning.

That's what appears to be happening in the Kennedy case. I wouldn't be surprised if Ole Miss has a new basketball coach in 2009-10. But if Kimber Kennedy helps her husband clear his name criminally and civilly, he can reach a better settlement with the school and improve his chances at getting another coaching job.

Meanwhile, Jiddou and Strother should get a nice chunk of change for their troubles. From where I sit, they deserve it.

Heroes On the Hudson--And the Rest of the Story

News reports have been filled in recent days with stories about US Airways pilot Chesley Sullenberger and his heroic landing of a passenger jet on the Hudson River, saving the lives of all 155 people on board.

But the mainstream media has not focused on the backstory of these remarkable events. So let's take a behind-the-scenes look at what allowed the "Miracle on the Hudson" to take place.

The blog emptywheel expertly pointed out that almost all of the heroes in this story are union members. Ironic, isn't it, in an age when union membership is in steep decline and a certain political party routinely bashes unions in its campaign rhetoric.

Perhaps the next time we hear a round of union bashing, we should consider these points from emptywheel:

The pilots, the flight attendants, the air-traffic controllers, the ferry workers, the cops and firefighters . . . all were union members. In fact, the splendid headline on the post said it all: "This Miracle Brought to You By America's Unions."

And emptywheel notes just two of the Congressmen, including our very own Richard Shelby of Alabama, who have made a career from bashing unions:

Bob Corker and Richard Shelby like to claim that unions are a failed business model. But I haven't heard much about Bob Corker and Richard Shelby saving 155 people's lives.

In a similar vein, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow had a thought-provoking report about the "Miracle on the Hudson." In fact, Maddow's key point was that these heroic actions were not necessarily a miracle at all. They came about because of people who had been trained, because of competence, and regulation, and investment in infrastructures and safety systems that are designed to react in times of peril.

Maddow's guest was Stephen Flynn, homeland-security expert and author of The Edge of Disaster: Rebuilding a Resilient Nation, a book about the need to fortify our nation's security.

You can check out the Maddow piece below. It is excellent viewing.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Why We Must Hold The Bush Crowd Accountable

President-Elect Barack Obama and attorney general-designate Eric Holder both have indicated in the past week that they are not anxious to investigate and prosecute possible crimes committed by members of the George W. Bush administration.

But three of our most eloquent voices on matters of justice say Obama and Holder are sending the wrong signals, particularly for an administration that purports to be about change. More importantly, they will be neglecting their duties if they let Bush & Co. get away with crimes.

Georgetown University law professor Jonathan Turley put it beautifully in an interview with Keith Olbermann on Friday night about the Holder confirmation hearings.

"Mr. Holder seems to be trying to find an exit where he won't have to apply the law to the former president," Turley said.

Turley was speaking primarily about war crimes, but his words could apply to any number of other possible misdeeds committed by members of the Bush administration. "This is one of the most transformative moments in our history," Turley said. "If we do nothing in the face of now-confirmed war crimes, they won't be Bush crimes; they'll be our crimes. . . . It becomes our shame."

Both Obama and Holder have said that no one is above the law. But they also seem to be saying that this is an inconvenient time to be looking into war crimes and other wrongdoing by the Bush administration. "War crimes are always inconvenient," Turley said. "If you say no one is above the law, you have to apply the law. . . . If you don't prosecute this president, it means some people are above the law."

Here is the complete Turley interview:

Scott Horton, Columbia University law professor and legal-affairs contributor at Harper's magazine, echoes Turley's sentiments in a piece titled "An Epitaph for the Bush Years." Comparing the Bush administration to a criminal enterprise, Horton writes:

What is the message to be carved over this massive cesspool of a failed presidency? I turn to Augustine, the early church father whose writings represent the first effort by a Christian theologian to come to grips with the duties of civil governance. "If it does not do justice," he writes in the City of God, "what is the government but a great criminal enterprise?" That fits the Bush Administration perfectly, for it shows its key failing and it serves as admonishment to the government that follows him.

Horton draws again on Augustine to drive home a critical point about the past eight years, focusing on the political prosecutions of the Bush years:

This provides one of the more spectacular demonstrations of Augustine's notion in modern American history, namely, when justice and the fidelity to law that manifests it is cast aside, political actors begin to behave increasingly like a band of thugs. That the Justice Department should emerge as the beating heart of a criminal enterprise is shocking, but that fact becomes more and more apparent with each successive disclosure.
Still more horrible are the political prosecutions brought abusing the good name of the United States. Today in the final hundred hours of the age of Bush, America has political prisoners—men like Paul Minor, Wes Teel, and John Whitfield, and for a while, Don Siegelman, locked away and silenced because they constituted a political threat to the Bush team, or simply because they held political offices that Karl Rove coveted. Rove steered these cases. Political prosecutions occurred in Alabama and Mississippi, in Michigan, and Pennsylvania; politically perverted investigations occurred in New York and elsewhere. And U.S. attorneys who failed to understand that the criminal justice process was now no more than a partisan weapon in the hands of Karl Rove quickly were dismissed.

What to do with the Bush crowd now? We should listen to Horton carefully--as should Obama and Holder:

Is it time now to "move on" and forget the Bush years? We must move on, but in so doing, our first steps start with remembrance. We must correct the mistakes and injustices of the past, and we must chart the damage which has been done. This week House Judiciary Chair John Conyers released a 486-page report entitled "Reining in the Imperial Presidency." Conyers hits just the right note:
"I understand that many feel we should just move on. They worry that addressing these actions by the Bush Administration will divert precious energy from the serious challenges facing our nation. I understand the power of that impulse. Indeed, I want to move on as well — there are so many things that I would rather work on than further review of Bush's presidency. But in my view it would not be responsible to start our journey forward without first knowing exactly where we are."

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman takes Obama to task for his statement that we need to "look forward as opposed to looking backwards."

Krugman notes that at least six important government agencies experienced major scandals over the past eight years—in most cases, scandals that were never properly investigated:

Why, then, shouldn't we have an official inquiry into abuses during the Bush years? One answer you hear is that pursuing the truth would be divisive, that it would exacerbate partisanship. But if partisanship is so terrible, shouldn't there be some penalty for the Bush administration's politicization of every aspect of government?

Alternatively, we're told that we don't have to dwell on past abuses, because we won't repeat them. But no important figure in the Bush administration, or among that administration's political allies, has expressed remorse for breaking the law. What makes anyone think that they or their political heirs won't do it all over again, given the chance?

Then Krugman cuts to the heart of what this means for Obama--and our country:

If we whitewash the abuses of the past eight years, we'll guarantee that they will happen again. Meanwhile, about Mr. Obama: while it's probably in his short-term political interests to forgive and forget, next week he's going to swear to "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States." That's not a conditional oath to be honored only when it's convenient.

And to protect and defend the Constitution, a president must do more than obey the Constitution himself; he must hold those who violate the Constitution accountable.

So Mr. Obama should reconsider his apparent decision to let the previous administration get away with crime. Consequences aside, that's not a decision he has the right to make.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Are Alabama Democrats Playing Politics With Prosecutors?

At least one Alabama Democratic Party nominee for U.S. attorney would be no better than her Republican predecessor, according to a source inside the Department of Justice.

A state Democratic Party advisory council this week recommended Anna Clark Morris as U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama. The Middle District, under the George W. Bush administration, was headed by Leura Canary, and her office handled the prosecution of former Democratic governor Don Siegelman.

Morris is an assistant U.S. attorney in the Montgomery-based office, with almost 11 years of experience as a federal prosecutor. She is the daughter of Alexander City trial attorney Larry Morris, a major Democratic Party contributor.

The appointment of Anna Clark Morris would be "disastrous," a Department of Justice source told Legal Schnauzer.

"She currently works in the criminal division in the U.S. Attorney's Office, where she is heavily invested in the culture of gossip, support-staff abuses, and maintaining the status quo," the source said. "An appointment of Clark Morris as U.S. attorney would be disastrous--four more years of the same."

The Alabama Democratic Party advisory council is one of two groups making recommendations for key federal positions to the incoming Barack Obama administration. U.S. Rep. Artur Davis (D-AL) heads a second group that has made recommendations, and the two groups' findings differ substantially.

The Democratic Party council touted Joyce White Vance for the Birmingham-based Northern District position and Barrown Lankster for the Mobile-based Southern District. Vance has been an assistant U.S. attorney in Birmingham since 1991 and has been chief of the appellate division since 2005. Lankster is a former district attorney in Demopolis.

Davis' group also recommended Vance in the Northern District. But it went with Michel Nicrosi in the Middle District and Vicki Davis (no relation to Artur Davis) in the Southern District. Nicrosi is a former U.S. attorney from Daphne, now in private practice. Davis is an assistant U.S. attorney in the Mobile office.

An appointment of Clark Morris would smack of the kind of partisan politics that resulted in Leura Canary's appointment, our source said. Canary was appointed after she and her husband, Business Council of Alabama head Bill Canary, made substantial contributions to the Bush campaign and the Republican Party.

Our source also noted the irony of Democrats pushing Clark Morris to lead an office that prosecuted Siegelman for an alleged "pay to play" scheme involving a political appointment in exchange for campaign support.

A Clark Morris appointment would look like a "classic quid pro quo," the source said, "what federal prosecutors call 'white-collar crime' or 'corruption,' yet when it involves a DOJ insider, it is perfectly fine. Am I missing something here?"

What kind of person should serve as a federal prosecutor in Alabama? The source gives an example.

Christa D. Deegan, who had 16 years as a federal prosecutor in Cleveland, Ohio, moved to the Montgomery office in March 2007. "She was an excellent prosecutor, a mover and a shaker, very competent--too competent for such a mediocre office," the source says. "More importantly, she conducted herself in a professional manner and worked very hard. She immediately opposed the hostile work environment, refused to participate in the afternoon gossip sessions, and refused to conform to the toxic culture of the office."

After about seven months on the job, Deegan was fired because she "didn't fit in." Said our source: "She was replaced by Clark Morris, who was more than willing to conform, even embrace the culture."

Deegan now is Ohio's director of industrial relations, where she took over an office that was plagued with allegations of racial discrimination and retaliation. Deegan has vowed to restore staff morale in the Ohio agency. "Except for her experience in Montgomery, Alabama, she has a spotless record for competency, ethical conduct, and professionalism," the source said.

We wondered in an earlier post if U.S. attorneys should have substantial experience outside the districts where they will serve. For example, we noted that two leading candidates to lead the Birmingham office--Vance and Jim Sturdivant--have deep social and professional ties in Birmingham. Can they possibly have the kind of objectivity needed in a federal prosecutor?

Deegan sounds like the kind of person Alabama needs to be attracting, not running off.

And let's hope someone takes a second look at the Clark Morris recommendation.