Thursday, April 30, 2009

Good Riddance to a Bad Judge--One Who Has Ties to the Siegelman Case

News came recently that Alabamians soon will have one less bad judge to worry about. That's because Jefferson County Circuit Judge Allwin Horn is retiring, effective June 1.

That's good news because we've seen Horn in action, and he's a lousy judge. It's frightening to think Horn has played a major role in a multimillion-dollar lawsuit, one that has connections to the prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman.

Former HealthSouth Corp. CEO Richard Scrushy, the codefendant in Siegelman's criminal case, has long been embroiled in a civil case in state court. The case is styled Tucker v. Scrushy, and Horn has been right in the middle of it.

Tucker v. Scrushy started in 2002 when HealthSouth shareholder Wade Tucker filed a derivative claim on behalf of the company in state court. Several settlements have been announced in the consolidated case, but I believe it still has not been fully resolved.

Will Horn take more more action in the case prior to his June 1 retirement date? Stay tuned.

How do I know Horn is a bad judge? I've had the misfortune of watching him work in an up-close-and-personal way. I've been in his office two or three times for "conferences." Just thinking about that experience makes me want to take a shower.

How bad is Horn? So bad that he can't even follow his own orders. Here's the story:

Horn "handled" my legal malpractice case against Birmingham attorney Richard Poff. The case shouldn't have been all that difficult. Poff took $4,500 of my money, did virtually no work on my underlying case, and lied to me about how he planned to handle the matter.

Specifically, Poff had assured me that we would conduct discovery in the lawsuit involving my troublesome neighbor, Mike McGarity. We would conduct depositions to provide information both for my defense and for the countersuit I had filed against McGarity.

After assuring me of that, Poff then became incommunicado for months. He failed to return numerous phone messages. He quit responding to e-mail messages. Finally, as the trial date was just a week or two away, Poff informed me that we didn't need to conduct any discovery, that we would go to trial without it.

For a lawyer to say he is going to trial without conducting discovery is like a football coach saying he's going to play a game without his offense. He will just let the other team have the ball all the time and try to win only with a defense. It's preposterous, and if Poff's actions don't amount to legal malpractice, it's hard to imagine what would.

I found out later that Poff was going through an ugly divorce at about the time he was representing me, and court papers in the divorce case indicate he had a gambling problem. Maybe that's where my $4,500 went.

In addition to his divorce, Poff also was going through bankruptcy, which complicated my legal-malpractice case against him. Court documents in the bankruptcy case also indicated Poff had a gambling problem. Yep, that's probably where my money went.

Poff sought to have my malpractice claim discharged as part of his bankruptcy case and, contrary to law, Horn let him get away with it.

How could that happen? Poff is pretty much a loathed figure in Birmingham legal circles because he blew the whistle on what appeared to be a corrupt local law firm in the 1990s. That tells you a lot about the legal profession. One of its members brings unethical behavior to light and winds up being hated for it.

I hired Poff strictly because of his role in the whistleblower case. I had already had one lawyer (Jesse P. Evans III and his sidekick Michael Odom) cheat me, so I was determined to get an honest lawyer this time. I figured Poff was the most honest guy around.

Looks like I was wrong about that. Perhaps Poff had tired of beating his head against the legal establishment and decided it was better to join them than to fight them. You can read about my experiences with Evans/Odom and Poff at this post, titled "Lawyers Take Money, Don't Take Responsibility." That title also tells you a lot about the legal profession.

Allwin Horn taught me how far the legal establishment will go to protect one of its own--even one of its own who is largely despised.

Horn insisted that I had to go to bankruptcy court and get permission to proceed with my legal-malpractice claim in state court. But Poff had not included me as a creditor in his bankruptcy case, so I had no standing to do anything in that court.

In fact, as we showed in a post about one year ago, Horn stood the actual law on its head. Under Watson v. Parker (264 B.R., 685, 2001), the burden was on Poff, not me, to reopen his case in bankruptcy court if he wanted to try to have my claim discharged. If Poff didn't do that, under the law, my case was to proceed in state court.

When I pointed out the actual case law to Horn, he said it was his "impression" that I needed to seek permission in bankruptcy court. And if I didn't like that, I could appeal him.

Isn't that impressive? Horn essentially was saying, "I don't know what the law is, and I'm too lazy to look it up, so I'm going to guess. And if you don't like the results of my guess, you can waste taxpayer money by filing an appeal to a court that almost certainly won't bother to look up the law either."

Justice in America. Ain't it grand?

At one point, Horn looked like he had been persuaded by my arguments and was actually going to follow the law in my case against Poff. I had filed a motion, citing Watson v. Parker and asking the court to correct its order
that I had to get permission in bankruptcy court to proceed with my state claim. My motion stated in part:

Watson outlines the procedure for reopening a bankruptcy case: "Only a debtor, creditor, or trustee has standing to move for the reopening of a the case." (See Bankruptcy Rule 5010, Fed R. Bankr. P.5010 or Alpex, 71 F. 3d 356.) Shuler obviously is not a debtor or trustee in Poff's case, and Shuler is not listed as a creditor. Therefore, Shuler does not have standing to do anything regarding Poff's bankruptcy case.

The law was clear, and even Poff didn't dispute it, so it appeared that Horn was going to actually do the right thing. In an order dated April 24, 2008, Horn wrote:

This matter comes before the Court on Motion for Correction of Order filed by Plaintiff on March 26, 2008. As the Court file does not clearly reflect that Plaintiff's legal malpractice claim was listed by Defendant as a potential claim in Defendant's bankruptcy proceeding, Plaintiff's referenced motion is hereby set for Hearing before the undersigned on May 28, 2008 at 8:30 A.M. in Room 350 of the Jefferson County Courthouse. At the Hearing, Defendant is hereby ORDERED to present to the Court certified copies of Defendant 's bankruptcy case so the Court may determine whether the Plaintiff's legal malpractice claim was included in said bankruptcy filing.

Horn's order was strange because Poff had already admitted in court documents that my legal-malpractice claim was not listed in his bankruptcy proceeding. I wasn't sure why a certified copy of the bankruptcy documents was necessary to prove something Poff had already admitted. The judge seemed to finally recognize that I couldn't go to bankruptcy court and do anything, and I'm guessing Horn knew that all along.

I figured I would show up for the May 28 hearing and go along for the ride. Things finally seemed to be moving in a lawful direction, and I'd seen judges make all sorts of bizarre rulings, so I decided not to worry about the hints of nuttiness in Horn's order.

Little did I know that the nuttiness with Horn was just beginning.

When I showed up at Horn's office last May 28, the first sign that something was up came when I noticed that Poff was nowhere to be found. When I was ushered into Horn's office, along with some apparent staff member I'd never seen before, the judge informed me that he was sticking with his "impression" that I had to seek permission in bankruptcy court to pursue my state case.

Even after all the crap I'd been through with judges, I was dumbfounded.

"What about the certified material you had ordered Poff to produce?"

Horn indicated that his mind was made up.

"Why does Poff not have to do what you ordered him to do?"

Horn indicated that he wasn't going to give any explanations.

"My claim was not included in his bankruptcy case--Poff has already admitted that--so you know I can't go to that court and seek permission for anything. You indicated in your order that you know what the law is. Why aren't you following the law?"

Horn didn't like the tone of that question. And he hinted that if I asked more questions, I was likely to be introduced to a security guard.

Was the mysterious staff member present because Horn thought he needed "security" in case I reacted badly to being cheated? That's how it looked.

Horn wound up dismissing my case, without prejudice, which means the case can be re-filed in the future. Meanwhile, I had to give Horn points for creativity. I had seen judges abuse the law in a variety of ways, but I'd never seen one that couldn't even follow his own order. That was a new one.

As for Poff, he has a variety of legal troubles. He is battling a legal-malpractice claim from another former client, a Mobile man named Gregory Dennis. Jefferson County Circuit Judge Robert Vance, a Democrat by the way and a Don Siegelman appointee, has handled Dennis' case. And Vance apparently pulled the same stunt on Dennis that Horn tried to pull on me.

(By the way, I've had an experience with Vance, too, and I came away extremely unimpressed. So you folks who think I only pick on Republicans, here is one for you: Robert Vance is one sorry judge, too, and he's a Democrat. The fact that Vance's wife, Joyce White Vance, probably will be the next U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama doesn't fill me with hope regarding the Obama administration. She's part of the Alabama legal establishment, and if she's anything like her husband, she is part of the problem, not the solution.)

Dennis went to bankruptcy court and tried to get Poff's case reopened. I've checked the court file several times, and it appears that officials in bankruptcy court have cheated Dennis every step of the way. It's mind-boggling stuff, and we will be providing many more details down the road.

As for Horn's change of heart last May 28, contradicting his own order, it was a case of curious timing. I had been wrongfully terminated from my job at UAB just nine days earlier, on May 19. Makes me wonder if the forces who cost me my job also influenced Horn to cheat me.

Was Horn doing more than just trying to protect Richard Poff? I think the answer might be yes.

We've noted in a recent series of posts that a growing body of evidence indicates my termination might have been tied to stories I had written about HealthSouth litigation in federal court. And Horn is overseeing HealthSouth litigation in state court? What a coincidence.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Republicans Will Steal You Blind in Alabama

Shelby County, where I live, is the fastest-growing county in Alabama, so you might think it would be governed with some level of dignity and respect for the law. But you would be wrong.

Republicans who dominate the county, just south of Birmingham, run it like a third-world banana republic. I've known that for about nine years. Now one of my fellow citizens, Gary Franklin of Montevallo, seems to be learning the same thing.

Franklin has filed a lawsuit challenging the way Shelby County sells property for unpaid taxes. Richard Rosenthal, an attorney for Franklin, says the county has been improperly holding funds that belong to thousands of people who had their property sold in the past 13 years.

Sounds like this could turn into a class action. Reports The Birmingham News:

The suit seeks to represent anyone who falls in that category. It names Tax Commissioner Don Armstrong and Finance Director Butch Burbage as defendants in their official capacities.

The suit also seeks to have the court declare unconstitutional the way the county uses a state law that allows bidders to pay more money than the taxes owed on properties . . . .

"The county is holding onto taxpayers' money that they're not entitled to," Rosenthal said. "They ought to be giving it back to the individual taxpayers."

This all might sound familiar to longtime readers of Legal Schnauzer. We spent a lot of time last spring writing about Shelby County Sheriff Chris Curry and his efforts to conduct a bogus sheriff's auction of our house. This involved a couple of legal instruments called a writ of execution and notice of levy, both of which have to be handled a certain way under the law.

We showed that the bozos of Shelby County butchered the process from start to finish. But that did not stop them from conducting a fraudulent sheriff's sale of our house, which we caught live and in color on tape.

The result is that we have an unlawful sheriff's deed, which is similar to a lien, sitting on our property. It cannot be there, by law, but it is there because Shelby County is run by a pack of glorified thieves.

Maybe Gary Franklin and his lawyers will show the public what kind of shysters really run Shelby County.

Blogger Files Lawsuit After Being Outed by Mega-Church

A blogger in Jacksonville, Florida, has filed a lawsuit after a mega-church and law-enforcement officials took steps to determine his identity.

Thomas Rich, author of a blog that is critical of leaders at First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, filed a lawsuit earlier this week claiming police and state prosecutors violated his constitutional rights to anonymity and free speech.

We noted in a previous post that Rich's case has a number of parallels to our Legal Schnauzer story.

Rich claims law-enforcement officials “fabricated” a 2008 criminal case solely to uncover his identity for First Baptist Church. Rich started an anonymous blog, FBC Jax Watchdog, to voice his concerns about a number of issues at the church, particularly the money management of Pastor Mac Brunson. Law-enforcement officers initiated a criminal investigation, at the church's urging, and then turned over Rich's identity to church leaders.

The investigation turned up no criminal wrongdoing, but the church issued a trespassing warning against Rich and his wife.

Jeff Brumley, of the Florida Times-Union, provides details about Rich's civil case:

The lawsuit also claims the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and State Attorney’s Office violated the First Amendment’s establishment clause by disclosing the blogger’s name to the downtown megachurch. Doing so amounted to taking sides in a religious dispute between the blogger, Thomas Rich, and the church, according the suit.

The suit does not name First Baptist as a defendant because only government agencies can be held accountable for the violation of citizens’ free speech rights, said Rich’s attorney, Michael Roberts.

The suit seeks damages of at least $15,000 — the minimum required to file a case in Duval County — for what it describes as the ongoing “emotional anguish, emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment of life” as a result of Rich and his wife being barred from the church they had attended for 20 years. The couple joined another Southern Baptist church as a result.

Church officials said they contacted law enforcement after mail was stolen from Brunson's home and a stalker took photos of Brunson's wife. No police reports were filed on those incidents, but the church said it wanted to know if the blog, letters, and photos were connected.

The Times-Union reports:

Rich said Monday he wanted to remain anonymous partly to keep the focus on the issues and he feared retribution.

The suit rejects police’s assertion the investigation was meant to protect the congregation’s safety.

“The criminal investigation was fabricated to create the illusion of legitimacy but was, in fact, a mere pretext for the disclosure” of Rich’s identity to the church, the lawsuit says.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

An Alabama Angle to the AIG Mess

We recently reported that the mess at financial giant AIG might be far worse than most of us now can imagine. And we noted that the story has an angle that hits pretty close to our backyard.

Where do Birmingham and Alabama come into play? How is even my former employer, the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), connected?

The report originated with Michael Hirsh of Newsweek, based on the analysis of a Mississippi-based forensic accountant named Thomas Gober.

Does Gober know what he is talking about? You can check out his Web site, which includes biographical information.

I've never met Tom Gober, but our paths have nearly crossed numerous times. He worked for two years at the University of Alabama Health Services Foundation, the umbrella organization for outpatient care at UAB.

He then became director of research compliance at UAB itself. That's where I first became familiar with his name. When you help oversee the research enterprise at a research-intensive university such as UAB, your name becomes well known on campus.

After I was unlawfully terminated at UAB last May, I started taking a closer look at the university's activities. That led me to the U.S. Courthouse in Birmingham and a case where two whistleblowers alleged that UAB had engaged in massive research fraud.

One of those whistleblowers was Tom Gober. He filed a complaint in April 2001. That was followed by another complaint by Dr. Jay Meythaler, a specialist in rehabilitation medicine, in June 2004.

Gober left UAB and joined a private forensic-accounting firm before starting his own company in 2004. Meythaler now is on the faculty at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan.

We will be going into great detail about the UAB research-fraud case. But here is the crux of it: According to court documents, Gober alleges that UAB engaged in research fraud that totaled at least $300 million for a 10-year period. And that doesn't include the fraud outlined in Meythaler's complaint, which included three years after Gober had left the university.

Gober's complaint goes into signficant detail, showing the various methods UAB used to defraud federal health-care programs such as Medicare. Did the Bush Justice Department, led by local U.S. attorney Alice Martin, take the charges seriously? Doesn't look like it.

UAB and the Bush DOJ announced the case had been "settled" in 2005 for a little more than $3 million, a fraction of the actual fraud as detailed in the two complaints.

Gober's background suggests that he knows financial fraud when he sees it. In the late 1990s, he helped prosecute a Pennsylvania case involving an executive named Allen W. Stewart. That wound up being one of the government's largest and most successful prosecutions for reinsurance fraud.

By the way, an Alabama reinsurance company was heavily implicated in the Stewart case. In fact, that's why Gober and prosecutors from Alabama were involved. But the DOJ never followed up with a case against the Alabama company, which just happens to be owned by one of the most best-known members of the University of Alabama Board of Trustees.

Much more about that Alabama company, and its ties to the Stewart case in Pennsylvania, will be coming at Legal Schnauzer.

I've studied Gober's work enough to believe he is the real deal when it comes to detecting financial fraud. The government, unfortunately, has a mixed record when it comes to following up on his work.

The government acted decisively in the Stewart case in the 1990s.

In the early 2000s, Gober called attention to research fraud at UAB, and the Bush Justice Department largely covered the problem up.

Now, Gober is sounding an alarm about AIG. Will someone pay attention?

Here is a video from his Web site in which Gober addresses corporate fraud in general, with some specifics about AIG:

Keeping It Real With Our Animal Friends

We learned some time ago that writing a blog about corrupt judges, shyster lawyers, a sleazy Justice Department, and cheating employers can get a bit heavy.

In fact, I recently got a jolt from a comment left at one of my cross posts on Daily Kos:

Roger, your reports are consistently the most depressing news this side of Darfur. I include Guantanamo in that arc.

The commenter meant that as compliment (I think), noting my willingness to address serious, prickly issues about justice. But after getting that comment, I thought, "Maybe it's getting too dark around here. Jeepers, it's time to lighten things up."

I can think of no better way to do that than by turning to our animal friends.

As you can tell from the title of our blog, we are dog lovers. In fact, this blog would not exist without Murphy, our wonderful miniature schnauzer who brought us so much joy from 1993 to 2004. Murphy is no longer with us physically, but our prayer is that her spirit comes through in these pages. I never sit down to write a post without thinking of her.

We now have two kitty kats, Baxter and Chloe, a brother and sister who sort of fell into our laps about five years ago, when they were one year old. We've discovered that cats can be pretty cool, too, and here is a video we did about our brother-sister combo a few months back:

Like a lot of folks, we have become big fans of and similar sites that project human qualities onto our furry friends, to great comic effect. Even the Wall Street Journal has covered the LOL Cats phenomenon.

This is how Baxter and Chloe would be if they were let out into the wild:


Cats and computers are always a good combination:


We all know how curiosity can get cats in trouble:


The LOL Cats world even has developed a faith system, where "ceiling cat" represents God and "basement cat" represents that guy who stays down there. Here's one of my all-time favorites. Enjoy:


Unmasking a "Giant" of Journalism

If someone had asked me two or three years ago to name the most respected reporters in journalism, I probably would have put David Broder of The Washington Post near the top of the list.

Why? Gosh, I'm not sure. Broder's been around forever. He long has worked for one of the great "brand names" in journalism. He seems knowledgeable and deliberative. And he comes across as so darn serious about things.

Scott Horton, of Harper's magazine, is doing a bang up job of convincing me that Broder's lofty reputation is not deserved. In fact, I'm starting to think Broder is little more than a lofty shill for the Beltway status quo.

The latest evidence comes from Broder's Sunday column, calling for a halt to pesky questions about the Bush administration's torture program. Horton dissects the piece with a sharp scalpel, leaving Broder's reputation in a crumpled heap.

Broder goes so far as to question the psychological makeup of those who would dare seek to hold the Bush regime accountable. That doesn't sit well with Horton:
Since I am an advocate of accountability, and Broder presumes to question my mental health, I’ll offer a personal response. I have no interest in vengeance or retribution, but I have a strong interest in upholding the rule of law and in stopping torture. Unlike Broder, I do not consider the law to be a political plaything but rather a repository of our highest values. The United States has a series of criminal statutes which apply to this situation and which were violated. Further, the United States signed a very important international convention under which it promised to open a criminal investigation into any credible allegations of torture. At this point there is a uniform consensus that the United States is in breach of its treaty obligation. (A matter of indifference to Broder, apparently). Moreover, its conduct is sending a clear message around the world: the prohibition on torture is a trivial matter which can be defeated by a tyrant in any corner of the world. All he needs to do is hire a lawyer and have him issue an opinion that when he tortures, it’s completely lawful.

The issue of torture hits home in a personal way for Horton. Apparently it does not for Broder. He's been too busy eating quail with Karl Rove. Just shows you how easily journalists are "bought off" these days:

In the frivolous world of David Broder, flitting between corporate-sponsored vacations and eating quail with his old friend Karl Rove, the question is just about a “policy difference.” In the real world, it’s about whether people will be beaten brutally in the Congo, boiled to death in a police station in Uzbekistan, or have their genitals slit in a prison in Morocco. The international prohibition on torture makes a vital difference in the lives of thousands around the world today and tomorrow. Coming from an Air Force family, I also think about the fate of an American airman captured behind enemy lines in a conflict of the future. The likelihood that this serviceman will be tortured has been greatly heightened by the Bush Administration’s reach to torture, and the failure of any subsequent administration to hold them accountable adds to that risk. But David Broder doesn’t see this. He can’t fathom the world outside the cocktail lounges, restaurants, and ballrooms of Beltwelt. Apparently, unlike Bill Clinton’s affair with an intern, the issue of torture is not a truly serious matter that affects the moral climate of Washington and the world beyond it.

Horton zeroes in on Broder's bizarre notion that President Obama should soft-pedal torture issues himself, without bothering to involve the Justice Department:

And note the means that Broder sees for resolving the matter. President Obama should resolve the question of criminal accountability himself, Broder says, bypassing the Justice Department. This surely is advice Broder has taken straight from his friend Karl Rove’s playbook. But just think about this for a while. Do we really want to live in a country in which the president is the constant arbiter of who is and who is not criminally investigated? That is the very hallmark of a banana republic, a practice that the Founding Fathers worked very hard to insulate us against. But for Broder, all the talk of independent judgment exercised by professional prosecutors is rubbish. No Washington pundit worth his salt really believes any of this. The White House calls the shots, Broder tells us, and that’s the way it should be. Broder is so deeply steeped in Beltway cynicism he hardly knows how to disguise it.

Looks like I've had my head in the sand about David Broder. Not anymore. Thanks to Scott Horton for shining light on what the "dean" of the Washington press corps is all about.

Monday, April 27, 2009

AIG Mess Might Get a Whole Lot Messier

An expert in forensic accounting, according to a recent report in Newsweek, says the AIG scandal might get considerably worse than it already is. And that should concern most every American.

Interestingly, this possibly huge story has connections to Alabama and my former employer, the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). We will examine those connections in a bit, but first let's look at the meat and potatoes.

They are served up by Thomas Gober, a former Mississippi state insurance examiner who has tracked fraud in the industry for 23 years and served previously as a consultant to the FBI and the Department of Justice.

In a report by Newsweek's Michael Hirsh, Gober says he believes AIG's supposedly solvent insurance business might be at least as troubled as its reckless financial-products unit. Reports Hirsh:

Far from being "healthy," as state insurance regulators, ratings agencies and other experts have repeatedly described the insurance side, Gober calls it "a house of cards." Citing numerous documents he has obtained from state insurance regulators and obscure data buried in AIG's own 300-page annual reports, Gober argues that AIG's 71 interlocking domestic U.S. insurance subsidiaries are in hock to each other to an astonishing degree.

What is at the heart of this financial volcano that might erupt at any moment? Gober sums it up in one word: reinsurance.

What is reinsurance? It allows one insurance company to insure the liabilities of another so that the latter doesn't have to carry all of the risk on its books. Why could this be a problem for AIG? Hirsh explains:

Most major insurance companies use outside firms to reinsure, but the vast majority of AIG's reinsurance contracts are negotiated internally among its affiliates, Gober says, and these internal balance sheets don't add up. The annual report of one major AIG subsidiary, American Home Assurance, shows that it owes $25 billion to another AIG affiliate, National Union Fire, Gober maintains. But American has only $22 billion of total invested assets on its balance sheet, he says, and it has issued another $22 billion in guarantees to the other companies. "The American Home assets and liquidity raise serious questions about their ability to make good on their promise to National Union Fire," says Gober.

Gober has a vested interest in keeping up with such matters. He has a consulting business in Mississippi devoted to protecting policyholders. He doesn't like what he sees under the surface at AIG:

Gober says there are numerous other examples of "cooked books" between AIG subsidiaries. Based on the state insurance regulators' own reports detailing unanswered questions, the tally in losses could be hundreds of billions of dollars more than AIG is now acknowledging.

If Gober is right, things could get ugly. As Hirsh reports, perhaps things already are getting ugly:

One early sign of trouble came when Christian Milton, AIG's vice president of reinsurance from 1982 to 2005, was convicted last year in federal district court of conspiracy, securities fraud, mail fraud and making false statements to the Securities and Exchange Commission. (Milton was sentenced in January; his lawyers have indicated plans to appeal.)

Gober has brought his concerns to the attention of the House Financial Services Committee, chaired by Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA). What could it all mean?

If Gober is right, the implications are almost too awful to contemplate. Despite its troubles on Wall Street, AIG is still the largest insurance company in the United States, controlling both the largest life and health insurer and the second-largest property and casualty insurer. It has 30 million U.S. customers. AIG is also a major provider of guaranteed investment contracts and products that protect people in 401(k) plans, as well as being the leading commercial insurer in the U.S. It is one of the largest insurance companies in the world, with insurance and financial operations in more than 130 countries. These insurance businesses were once thought to be so solid that AIG was able to use the triple-A rating it was routinely awarded to start up its vast credit-default-swap business.

Tom Gober's history suggests that he knows what he's talking about. And that's where Alabama and UAB come into play. More on that coming up.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Siegelman Case: Why Obama Must Get It Right on Justice Issues

Pressure seems to be growing on the Obama administration to support complete investigations and accountability regarding apparent wrongdoing in the George W. Bush Department of Justice (DOJ).

Obama needs to be listening. The long-term success of his presidency might depend on it.

The New York Times on Saturday opined that Attorney General Eric Holder should take a fresh look at the prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman. Such a review becomes even more imperative, the Times notes, now that Holder has asked that charges be dismissed against former U.S. Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) because of prosecutorial misconduct in his case. Wrongdoing by prosecutors probably was at least as grave in the Siegelman case, probably more so, the Times notes:

Many aspects of the case require further scrutiny. United States Attorney Leura Canary is the wife of a prominent Republican political operative who was a strong opponent of Mr. Siegelman. Her office prosecuted Mr. Siegelman. Ms. Canary said that she recused herself from the prosecution, but questions have been raised about whether she actually did.

Mr. Siegelman’s supporters have long argued that he was targeted by the Justice Department because he was Alabama’s leading Democratic politician and stood a good chance of once again being elected governor. A Republican lawyer in Alabama, Jill Simpson, has said that she heard Ms. Canary’s husband, William Canary, say that he had discussed the prosecution with Karl Rove, the senior White House political adviser.

Sources say The New York Times is not just writing editorials on the Siegelman case. Times reporters also are checking into the curious relationship between two Alabama newspapers--The Birmingham News and the Mobile Press-Register--and prosecutors in the Siegelman case. And Justice Department investigators, checking into the same issue, have found substantial evidence of improper connections between prosecutors and Alabama journalists regarding the Siegelman case.

Christine Bowman, at BuzzFlash, writes that Holder must build on momentum from the recent release of Bush torture memos to conduct a thorough cleansing at the DOJ. Like the Times, Bowman focuses on the Siegelman case:

One DOJ conservative ideologue who needs to be dumped immediately is Leura Canary, the US Attorney in Alabama who prosecuted and jailed Democratic Gov. Don Siegelman. (He's out and mounting an appeal now.) Thom Hartmann urged listeners to his April 21 radio show to call Eric Holder's office at 202-514-2001 and politely urge him to replace her.

Why is it critical that Obama pay attention to these calls for justice at Justice? Much of the good he is likely to accomplish in his presidency could go down the drain if he doesn't.

Veteran journalist Robert Parry has written that perhaps the biggest mistake of Bill Clinton's presidency was his decision to give the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations free passes on corruption. That caused Americans to view the Reagan and Bush legacies in a much more favorable light than they would have if wrongdoing had been exposed.

In business lingo, Clinton allowed the Reagan/Bush "brand" to not be tarnished. And that led to the disastrous presidency of George W. Bush, which undid much of what Clinton had accomplished.

What does the Reagan/Bush "brand" of Republicanism stand for? It personifies greed, graft, corruption, income inequality, financial speculation, lax regulation, international recklessness, economic decay, environmental degradation, and more.

Obama has said he wants to look forward and not backward. But if he doesn't look back and make sure wrongdoing is exposed, another president in the Reagan/Bush mold will come along and undo much of what Obama now is working to achieve.

The bottom line? If Obama doesn't get it right on justice issues, much of his effort in other areas is going to be wasted.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Did UAB Fudge Its Numbers on Salary Study for Women?

A recent national survey showed that the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) pays female professors higher than the national average and higher than the University of Alabama and Auburn University.

But an ongoing lawsuit in Birmingham federal court alleges that UAB has a history of attempting to misrepresent its statistics on gender-related salary studies.

The lawsuit, filed by longtime UAB faculty member Rosalia Scripa, states that university officials once instructed her to alter the methods for collecting salary information in order to show the data in a more favorable light.

In the recent national survey, conducted by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), UAB pays female full-time, full professors 92 percent as much as men. The figure is 90 percent at the University of Alabama and Auburn University, and the national average is 89 percent.

Scripa's lawsuit, however, indicates that UAB's figures might not be reliable. As recently as 2006, Scripa alleges, UAB officials tried to alter the results of a salary study to make it appear that female faculty members were being paid better than they actually were, compared to their male counterparts.

In late 2005, Scripa became the principal investigator on UAB's National Science Foundation ADVANCE (Advancement of Women in Math and Sciences) grant.

After working on the grant for several months, Scripa saw that female faculty members in UAB's School of Social and Behavioral Sciences and the School of Business were not being paid in the same manner as their male counterparts.

Scripa brought the discrepancies to the attention of Provost Eli Capilouto and Director of Human Resources Cheryl E.H. Locke. According to the lawsuit, Capilouto and Locke "decided that it would be in UAB's best interest not to provide the data as it existed in the Human Resources file."

Scripa was told to go back and look at salaries using "matched pairs" to see if they would show the salary data in a more favorable light.

The lawsuit states:

A "matched pair" would have been a male and female faculty member, in the same school, in the same department; with an analysis of the same factors, such as time since their Ph.D. was earned, time since they were tenured, and etc.

In most cases, no matched pairs could be found in order to compare salaries.

Even when a matched pair could be found, the number of faculty was so tiny, no statistically significant conclusions could be drawn.

Scripa alleges that UAB retaliated against her for raising concerns about discrimination against female faculty members. After pointing out gender-based pay discrepancies to Capilouto and Locke, Scripa says, she was demoted and saw her salary reduced.

Locke since has left UAB for a position at Wake Forest University.

Is it possible that UAB still is trying to fudge its numbers on gender-based salary studies? The Scripa lawsuit indicates the answer is yes:

Since this time, the Commission on the Status of Women at UAB has asked for faculty salaries to check for inequities, but upon information and belief, the aforementioned salary data has not been provided to the Commission.

Why Are White Southerners Hostile Toward AIG?

Birmingham is home to a company called AIG Baker Shopping Center Properties. The first three letters of that name are proving to be bad both for business and public relations in the Bush recession.

In fact, the company's president says his workers have received threats from people who now recognize AIG as the poster child for bad corporate behavior.

Given that most of AIG Baker's properties are located in prosperous suburban areas, our guess is that those threats came from white folks. And given that white suburbanites tend to vote GOP, particularly in the Deep South, our guess is that those threats came from Republicans.

All of which means the threats make no sense. More on that in a moment.

But first, a few words about AIG Baker's problems, as reported in The Birmingham News. The shopping-center developer has a relatively loose connection to AIG, the insurance giant that has received $182.5 billion in government bailout funds. AIG's problems became national news when it started running out cash after its complicated derivatives deals imploded.

An agreement calls for the insurer's AIG Global Real Estate unit to provide cash for overhead and tenant improvements at AIG Baker's retail developments. The partnership used to be a hit, and it helped AIG Baker develop more than 20 million square feet of projects in 25 states. In fact, Mrs. Schnauzer and I can almost throw a rock from our house and hit two AIG Baker developments--The Village at Lee Branch and Brook Highland Plaza.

But the AIG partnership turned sour when the insurer started hemorrhaging cash and stopped funding subsidiaries as it had in the past. AIG Baker has been forced to lay off 60 percent of its employees, delay new projects, and forgo tenant improvements.

"Because the AIG funding has not been there, we have not been able to make many lease deals that require tenant improvements," President Alex Baker said.

Which brings us back to those threats that have been directed at AIG Baker employees, apparently because of pent-up hostility toward AIG.

If I were an AIG Baker employee on the receiving end of such a threat, I think I would have a few words for my tormentor. I would say something like this:

"Excuse me, but did you vote Republican in the past eight years? Specifically, did you vote for George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004?"

My tormentor, probably a white suburbanite, almost certainly would croak, "Yes."

"Well then," I would say, "what's your beef? AIG did what corporations always do when conservative Republicans are in charge. They took advantage of lax regulation and pro-greed policies and screwed regular Americans to the wall.

"You should have known this would happen when you voted for Bush. The same stuff happened with the savings-and-loan scandals in the 1980s under Reagan. It happened in the lead-up to the Great Depression under Calvin Coolidge in the 1920s. It happened under several conservative administrations in the late 1800s."

Assuming this might cause my tormentor some pause, I would fire one last dagger.

"Instead of threatening me, why don't you take time to consider the real reason we are in this mess. You can do that by going home and looking in the mirror."

If I worked for AIG Baker, such comments probably would get me fired. But I'm sure I would feel better from getting that load off my chest.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

UAB Joins Our Rob Riley/HealthSouth Puzzle

We recently have focused on an intriguing puzzle involving Alabama attorney Rob Riley and Birmingham-based HealthSouth Corp. Now we have discovered a new piece to the puzzle, and it involves the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), my former employer.

How does this all fit together? Let's take a look:

* First, we noted that Riley apparently had used his status as Governor Bob Riley's son, and his insider connections to the Don Siegelman/Richard Scrushy criminal case, to gain a front-and-center position in the massive HealthSouth fraud litigation. We also reported that Riley, while apparently fighting fraud in the HealthSouth case, is owner of a company that reportedly is engaging in health-care fraud. How ironic.

* Second, we learned that Riley's Company, Performance Group LLC, engages in rehabilitation medicine. This just happens to be the field in which HealthSouth became a national leader. We also reported that Riley and his partners had enlisted some 20 physicians as owners in Performance Group, apparently with plans to grow the company into a substantial organization--one that could perhaps fill a market vacuum left by a weakened HealthSouth. How curious.

So, where does UAB fit into the picture? Sources tell Legal Schnauzer that two of Riley's primary partners in Performance Group are Dr. Thomas G. Spurlock and Dr. Francois Michel Blaudeau.

Spurlock, a chiropractor, is an owner and officer in Performance Group. He also happens to be an associate professor in UAB's Department of Surgery.

Blaudeau has a law degree and works in Riley's firm, Riley & Jackson, where he focuses on medical-malpractice cases and health-care litigation and business development. Blaudeau also is a physician, specializing in obstetrics and gynecology. And where is his practice based? At UAB Medical West in Bessemer.

So what have we learned?

Rob Riley is playing a starring role in the HealthSouth litigation that already has produced more than $500 million in settlements. The governor's son stands to profit nicely when all the dust settles at HealthSouth.

Riley and several partners are trying to build a company called Performance Group into a significant player in the field of rehabilitation medicine, the same field in which HealthSouth made its name.

Two of Riley's partners are affiliated with UAB.

Could all of this have had something to do with my unlawful termination at UAB? Could something I wrote on this blog have sparked folks in the HealthSouth/Performance Group/UAB vortex to decide that a certain Schnauzer had to be separated from his job?

Could I have been fired because someone--or several someones--saw this little blog as a threat (however slight) to their plans to rake in big bucks in the lucrative field of rehabilitation medicine?

We will be addressing those questions in upcoming posts.

In fact, as the first anniversary of my unlawful termination nears, we will be taking a close look at a number of clues about what really caused me to be unlawfully terminated at UAB. In the process, we will be shining light on several justice-related matters that go way beyond my employment situation.

Former AGs Seek a Stevens-Like Review of Siegelman Case

A group of former top law-enforcement officials is asking Attorney General Eric Holder to conduct a review of the Don Siegelman case similar to the one that resulted in dismissed charges against former U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK).

Seventy-five former state attorneys general from both parties sent a letter to Holder stating that prosecutorial misconduct similar to that found in the Stevens case likely occurred in the Siegelman case. Siegelman, the former Democratic governor of Alabama, was convicted three years ago on bribery and corruption charges:

“We believe that if prosecutorial misconduct is found, as in the case of Senator Ted Stevens, then dismissal should follow in this case as well,” the group said in the letter, which was organized by Robert Abrams, a former attorney general of New York.

Parallels between the Stevens and Siegelman cases go beyond procedural matters. Siegelman lawyer Vince Kilborn says three federal prosecutors who are accused of wrongdoing in the Stevens case also played roles in the Siegelman case.

They include Patty Merkamp Stemler, the chief of the appellate section of the criminal division at the Justice Department, who is being held in contempt in the Stevens case over documents demanded by the judge that were not produced.

What role did Stemler play in the Siegelman case? The Times reports:

Mr. Kilborn wrote a letter to Mr. Holder on April 3 laying out several of his charges of misconduct by prosecutors. He said Ms. Stemler sent a letter to lawyers on both sides concerning accusations that emerged in the appeals process that jurors had exchanged improper e-mail messages during the trial.

The letter revealed a private communication between United States marshals and the judge in the case that Mr. Kilborn characterized as inappropriate. The letter from Ms. Stemler came so late in the process, he said, that it limited options for the defense.

Ms. Stemler’s letter stated that the communication between the judge and the marshals had no effect on the case, however, and that it was only being revealed “out of an abundance of caution.” Mr. Kilborn scoffed at that logic, saying that any private dealings with the judge should have been noted at the time.

The Stevens-Siegelman connections do not end with Stemler. Kilborn told the Times that William Welch, chief of the DOJ's Public Integrity Section, and his principal deputy, Brenda Morris, were held in contempt in the Stevens case and had a measure of involvement in the Siegelman case.

The former state attorneys general have been consistent in their support of Siegelman, who once held that position in Alabama:

This is the third effort by Mr. Abrams to organize former attorneys general to help Mr. Siegelman, and the largest yet, with at least 10 Republicans signing their names. Grant Woods, a Republican and former attorney general from Arizona, said “nobody who signed that letter did so lightly,” especially those in his party. The issues transcended politics, he said, and the Kilborn letter raised serious questions.

“We think there’s something there to investigate,” he said. “This is not a desperate appeal by a convicted criminal defendant — these are substantial allegations that have great weight.”

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Make a Film Exposing Rove, Then Get Indicted

Hollywood director John McTiernan (Die Hard, Predator, The Hunt for Red October) must be wondering about the curious timing of recent events in his life.

His latest work, a documentary called The Political Prosecutions of Karl Rove, recently became available for viewing at Mark Crispin Miller, at News from Underground, calls the film "staggering." The 52-minute film shows in stark detail that the depradations of the Bush Justice Department went well beyond the well-known case of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman.

But guess what happened to McTiernan once his latest work became widely available. He was indicted. A grand jury issued an indictment against McTiernan last Friday in a wiretapping case involving private investigator Anthony Pellicano.

S. Todd Neal, McTiernan's attorney, raised the issue of retribution in his client's case:
"The prosecutor has taken one count and tried to expand it into more charges in a new indictment," he said. "There seems to be retribution because John refused to play ball the way the prosecutors wanted and because we were successful on appeal."
This causes a couple of questions to come to mind:

* Did the retribution come partly because of McTiernan's film that is highly critical of Karl Rove?

* Even though Barack Obama has been in office roughly three months now, has anything changed in the Department of Justice? Is it still just as corrupt and abusive as it was under George W. Bush?

Are politics involved in the McTiernan and Pellicano case? The answer appears to be yes, apparently because they have ties to Bill and Hillary Clinton. Deadline Hollywood lays it out.

How important is McTiernan's film about Rove? Let's listen to Mark Crispin Miller:

Although McTiernan is a master of suspense and horror (he directed Predator and Die Hard), this 52-minute film is certainly the scariest he’s ever made, since its story isn't fiction, and concerns a massive strike against the rule of law, and democratic government, right here in the USA. This documentary lays it out as clear as day: Karl Rove’s careful orchestration of at least six hundred partisan prosecutions by the Department of Justice, so as to give the GOP a big leg up on this or that Election Day.

Miller also addresses the dangers Obama will face if his administration tries to sweep Rove's massive wrongdoing under the rug:

Now, every time Obama pulls some stunt like this on Bush & Co.’s behalf, his defenders tell us that it’s merely “tactical,” and that he’s doing it in order to accomplish this or that Good Thing, etc. But what Good Thing could possibly outweigh, or justify, acceptance of a government that just keeps winking at enormous violations of the law? And, to speak in more pragmatic terms, what exactly does Obama think the right will give him in return for such surrenders? If he thinks they’re going to cut him any slack, he is radically misjudging them–and that’s why they have not been rightly judged.

So what about the McTiernan indictment? Is its timing just a coincidence or did it happen for a reason? Consider this scary thought: Alabama attorney Jill Simpson, the whistleblower in the Don Siegelman case, has been raising concerns for weeks about Obama White House Counsel Greg Craig. Simpson says Craig's former D.C. law firm, Williams & Connolly, represents numerous former Bush administration officials, including Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Karl Rove, and Dubya himself. Craig's ties to Williams & Connolly represent a massive conflict of interest, Simpson says, and might explain why the Obama administration has shown little inclination to hold former Bush officials accountable for their wrongdoing.

Simpson, by the way, is hardly a backbencher when it comes to Craig. She's had extensive professional interactions with him, and does not like what she has seen. In fact, she suspects that Craig might have tipped off Rove, one of Craig's personal clients, about the probable contents of her testimony before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee.

Also, Simpson is not alone in raising questions about the Obama administration's tendency to embrace policies once touted by Bush officials, particularly on justice and terrorism matters. Scott Horton, of Harper's magazine, has raised similar concerns.

It should be noted that in the roughly three months of the Obama administration, the main beneficiary of the new justice regime has been former U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK), a Williams & Connolly client. Meanwhile, Attorney General Eric Holder has shown no inclination to review cases that appear to involve political prosecution of Democrats, such as Don Siegelman in Alabama and Paul Minor in Mississippi. Siegelman and Minor, of course, are not clients of Williams & Connolly. And a serious review of their cases is likely to cast a very bad light on Karl Rove. That is something Greg Craig probably does not want to happen, Simpson says.

Want a thought that will make you lose your breakfast? Did the McTiernan indictment, coming after the release of the director's film about Rove, happen for a reason? Is someone in the Obama administration, namely Greg Craig, looking out for Karl Rove's best interests and not the interests of justice? Could the Obama administration, as of now, be practicing a brand of "justice" that isn't a whole lot different from what Bush officials practiced?

Mississippi Coach's Criminal Case Ends With Guilty Plea

University of Mississippi basketball coach Andy Kennedy will keep his job after pleading guilty to disorderly conduct in a Cincinnati courtroom yesterday.

Kennedy had been charged with assault following an altercation with a cab driver last December while the Rebels were in Cincinnati for a game. He was allowed to plead guilty to a lesser charge and sentenced to six months probation, a $100 fine, and 40 hours of community service.

We have followed the Kennedy case for several reasons. Kennedy is an alumnus of, and a former star player at, the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), my former employer. Two of his assistants, Torrey Ward and Bill Armstrong, are UAB alums. (Armstrong also plead guilty to disorderly conduct yesterday, related to the Kennedy incident.) Having been a victim of a felony assault myself, stemming from the butchery of a lawsuit in Shelby County, Alabama, that issue hits close to home here at Legal Schnauzer.

Finally, the Kennedy case took all kinds of legal twists and turns, showing how a relatively straightforward event can take up all kinds of space on a court docket. Several lawsuits and countersuits remain, and aren't expected to be resolved for 18 months or so.

Kennedy's Ole Miss team had a solid season, despite a rash of injuries. Athletics Director Pete Boone said the coach would be retained but would not receive a contract extension:

“Coach Kennedy’s on-the-court performance this season warranted a contract extension,” Boone said in the statement. “Nevertheless, coach Kennedy knows that any conduct that is detrimental to the image of Ole Miss is unacceptable. Therefore, coach Kennedy and I have mutually agreed that an extension will not be consummated at this time.

“Adversity brings opportunity. Coach Kennedy and our program will emerge from this stronger. We look forward to next season.”

Monday, April 20, 2009

Did Eric Holder Sell Paul Minor Down the River?

Imprisoned Mississippi attorney Paul Minor was not allowed to attend his wife's funeral last Friday, and news reports suggested that Attorney General Eric Holder was powerless to do anything about it.

Even Hiram Eastland, Minor's attorney, suggested the blame should fall at the feet of the Federal Bureau of Prisons and said a number of people have stopped him on the street to express their outrage about the Minor situation.

"This is a story of man's inhumanity to man," Eastland said, referring to the Bureau of Prisons.

But a check of the organizational chart in the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) indicates Holder should not be let off easily on this one. The Bureau of Prisons is part of the DOJ and answers to Eric Holder.

In short, the people who made the decision to keep Paul Minor from attending his wife's funeral work for Eric Holder. So why was Holder not able to instruct his subordinates to give Minor an emergency release?

Alabama attorney Jill Simpson, the key Republican whistleblower in the Don Siegelman case, thinks she knows the reason. Simpson has been saying for weeks now that White House Counsel Greg Craig has essentially been leading Holder and President Barack Obama around by their noses on justice matters.

Simpson says that Craig is more interested in protecting clients of his former law firm, Williams & Connolly, than he is in seeing that justice is achieved. And those clients include a Who's Who of Bush administration officials--Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and George W. Bush himself.

Mounting evidence suggests that Simpson is right on target about Craig.

Simpson is not a backbencher when it comes to the White House counsel. Before Simpson testified in Congress about the Siegelman case, Craig expressed an interest in representing her. Simpson presented her full story to Craig, and he withdrew from consideration, citing a conflict.

In a letter dated February 22, 2009, Simpson outlined a number of charges against Craig, including the possibility that he shared privileged information with Rove. Craig has not responded to the charges.

The decision to keep Paul Minor from attending his wife's funeral has Craig's influence all over it, Simpson says. And that makes one wonder if Holder has the spine needed for the job he holds:

"Don't buy that Mr Holder couldn't have picked up the telephone and let Mr Minor go to the funeral. He could have, and that is why he remained silent. In fact, the buck stops with him and he is too much of a coward to admit it, so he is playing games by not responding to the request and trying to claim it was the Bureau of Prisons' decision. In fact, he is the head guy over them."

Simpson does not look for Holder to help any of the victims of the Bush Justice Department:

"Holder just needs to go ahead and admit he's not going to do anything to help Mr. Minor, Mr. Siegelman, Mr. Teel, or Mr. Scrushy. The time has come to admit the only folks he has helped have been Republicans, like Senator Ted Stevens. Amazingly he found the time to respond to those pleas for help, but not to answer all the calls of the Democrats who put his boss in office.

"One has to wonder what kind of file Karl Rove has on Mr. Holder, since it was recently revealed by the press that Karl keeps files even on his GOP friends. Maybe we should check Holder out ourselves. If Karl Rove can find (damaging information), I bet we can, too."

Blogger Draws the Ire of a Southern Mega-Church

A bizarre blogging story is unfolding in Jacksonville, Florida, and it has a number of parallels to our Legal Schnauzer tale.

The moral of both stories? Conservatives of all varieties (political, social, religious) don't much like it when their unsavory deeds are exposed. And conservatives are not shy about using law enforcement in an abusive fashion to achieve their goals, particularly when those goals involve money--as they almost always do.

Thomas A. Rich started a blog to voice his concerns about actions of leaders at First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, where Rich was a longtime member. Rich started his blog in August 2007 because of what he calls pastor Mac Brunson's "abusive preaching," especially during fund-raising campaigns.

Rich wrote the blog anonymously, but his words must have struck a nerve. Church officials prompted the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office to conduct a criminal investigation that unearthed Rich's identify. Even though Rich was found to have committed no criminal acts, sheriff's officials told the church about his identity. That prompted the church to issue a trespass warning against Rich and his wife.

The blog in question is called FBC Jax Watchdog, and its criticisms go well beyond Brunson's words from the pulpit. Here is how Florida Times-Union reporter Jeff Brumley characterizes Rich's concerns:

The blog has included criticisms of Brunson’s $300,000 salary, his plan to open a church school, his construction of a “lavish” office suite, accepting a $307,000 land gift from church members for his home and putting his wife on the payroll.
In other words, Rich primarily raised questions about Brunson's management of money. And that apparently caused the church to strike back by using law enforcement in a highly questionable way.

Detective Robert Hinson, who opened the probe of the blog, also happens to serve on the minister's security detail. (Since when do ministers have security details?) Rich also wants to know why his name was revealed to the church, even though he was found to have done nothing wrong.

Mark Woods, a columnist for the Florida Times-Union and the son of a minister, said the case raises a number of troubling issues:

It's important to note that the blog never threatened violence. Was it harshly critical? Sarcastic? Unfair? That's a matter of opinion. But it never threatened violence. And the detective closed the investigation, finding no criminal wrongdoing.

He also provided the church, his church, the identity of the blogger.

The church then issued a trespass warning against Thomas A. Rich and his wife.

Most chilling about all of this: Those in power--from the police to the church leaders--not only defend this chain of events, they say it's how things should work.

The Sheriff's Office says there wasn't a conflict of interest and that the detective did the right thing by passing along the blogger's identity to the church.

The State Attorney's Office says there wasn't anything unusual about the subpoena, which made it possible to figure out who was tapping away at a computer keyboard. Happens all the time. Not just with blogs. With e-mails, text messages, etc.

I can identify with what Rich has been through, although there are a number of differences between his case and mine. He blogged anonymously, and I've used my real name from day one. He blogged about suspected wrongdoing in the religious realm, and I blogged about clear-cut criminal activity in the political and "justice" worlds. He was made to feel unwelcome in his church; I was cheated out of my job.

But there a number of similarities, as well. As in Rich's case, a prominent mega-church (Briarwood Christian) has played a curious role in my situation. Both cases involve actions by sheriff's offices that are unethical or downright unlawful. A subpoena to Google played a major role in revealing Rich's identify; such a document should reveal the senders of numerous anonymous threats to my blog, including one that specifically threatened my job about a month before I was fired. Finally, trespassing played a major part in both stories. In my case, it was a difficult neighbor with a criminal record who ignored repeated warnings to stay off our property. In Rich's case, his church has issued a trespassing warning against him, now that they know he is the author of the critical blog.

(By the way, I see no way the church can enforce this trespassing warning against Rich. The church is open to the public for worship services and other events, so under the law, Rich has every right to be there. Under those conditions, he becomes a trespasser only if he is causing a disturbance and refuses to leave when asked.)

Did Rich have reasons to be concerned about the pastor at First Baptist Church? Check out this post from Rich's blog, along with the videos and the comments, and I think you will find some pretty disturbing stuff.

Here's one other thing Rich and I have in common. People who don't like what we have written have tried to portray us as "nuts." The Florida Times-Union reports:
Brunson said Rich’s persistent criticism over nearly two years indicates the writer has an “obsessive compulsive problem” and is “not very stable at all,” Brunson said. “What you’re dealing with is a sociopath."

Rich doesn't seem surprised that the church would attack him in this way:

Rich said his blog gets about 1,000 hits a day and that he regularly hears from people who agree with his criticisms but are afraid to come forward.

“(Brunson's) been trying to convince his administration that I am some kind of a nut,” he said. “I am not a nut … and the things I have raised on the blog are valid concerns.”

Rich is consulting an attorney to determine if his First Amendment and privacy rights have been violated.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Paul Minor Is Not Allowed to Attend His Wife's Funeral

Sylvia Minor's funeral was on Friday in New Orleans. Her husband of 41 years, Mississippi attorney Paul Minor, was not allowed to attend.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons ruled that Minor could not be released. And the U.S. Department of Justice refused to intervene.

Minor is in federal prison on corruption charges similar to those brought against former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman. Like Siegelman, Minor is a Democrat who was the victim of a political prosecution carried out by the Bush Justice Department.

A highly successful plaintiff's attorney, Minor was a generous supporter of Democratic Party causes and candidates. Minor was one of the largest contributors to the presidential campaign of John Edwards, who once was considered to be the biggest threat to George W. Bush's re-election in 2004.

In a 25-part series called "Mississippi Churning," we have shown on this blog that Minor was the victim of a bogus prosecution brought by U.S. Attorney Dunn Lampton, a George W. Bush appointee. Larisa Alexandrovna at Raw Story and Scott Horton at Harper's magazine also have written extensively about the case.

Minor and former state judges Wes Teel and John Whitfield were convicted only because of a series of unlawful rulings by U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate, a Ronald Reagan appointee.

In all, we probably have written close to 100 posts about the Minor case. Why has the case attracted our attention? In our view, it's probably the most blatant of all the political prosecutions under the Bush DOJ.

Siegelman was the victim of a bogus prosecution, but some of the underlying actions in that case happened out of public view, behind closed doors. The corruption on the part of prosecutors is somewhat obscured. And Judge Mark Fuller at least tried to come close on his unlawful jury instructions.

In the Minor case, the corruption of our justice system is plain for anyone who cares to look. The two underlying lawsuits, in which Minor was alleged to have bribed judges in return for favorable results, are matters of public record. And the record shows they were decided correctly, under the law, so there can be no "corrupt act" required for a bribery conviction. And the public was not actually deprived of anyone's honest services, a requirement for a fraud conviction in the case.

As for Judge Henry Wingate, he made no effort to hide the fact that he was giving bogus jury instructions and making other unlawful rulings, essentially denying Minor & Co. an opportunity to defend themselves. In fact, Wingate's jury instructions were pretty much the opposite of what the law actually says, meaning that Minor and his codefendants were convicted for offenses that do not exist--except in Henry Wingate's warped mind.

So much for that old canard about the United States being "a nation of laws, not of men."

That Paul Minor could have been convicted under such circumstances is mind blowing. That he was denied an opportunity to attend his wife's funeral is inhumane. Reports Associated Press:

The denial capped weeks of legal maneuvering through the courts, prison system and U.S. Justice Department for Minor to get out of prison to be with his wife in her last days. After her death from brain cancer Monday, Minor sought a pass to attend the funeral.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons denied the request apparently because Minor had already been allowed a brief visit in February, but Minor's attorney wrote an urgent letter Thursday to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder asking him to intervene. Holder replied in an e-mail to attorney Hiram Eastland Jr. late Thursday that Minor wouldn't be allowed to go.

Holder apparently determined that he was powerless to intervene in the case:

"I do not in any way fault the attorney general or the Justice Department for this denial," Eastland said.

He said Holder and the agency brought "this entire bizarre issue front and center with the Bureau of Prisons."

"The Bureau of Prisons, however, would not budge and based their denial on an antiquated, Draconian, anti-family policy of forcing a prisoner to choose between being with their wife while they are dying or after they have already passed away," he said.

Bob Riley, Don Siegelman, and a Case of Funny Numbers

How bad is journalism in Alabama? So bad that bad journalists around the globe must turn toward Birmingham several times a day to pray.

Consider a stunning editorial from The Birmingham News about the need for transparency in campaign funding. The staunchly conservative newspaper actually acknowledges (sort of) that Republican Governor Bob Riley received Indian gaming money for his 2002 campaign, as laundered through disgraced GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff (although Abramoff's name isn't mentioned.)

But the News decides it must pull off some creative math to cushion the blow for its conservative readers, lest they get a case of the vapors upon learning that Riley is somewhat less than pure. Behold this paragraph:

Riley got at least a half million dollars during his 2002 gubernatorial race that surely looks like it came from a lobbyist for Indian casinos. But it went through such a wash-and-rinse cycle, nobody can say for sure. The lobbyist (who later pleaded guilty to swindling his Indian clients) gave money to one group, which gave money to another group, which gave money to Riley.

Notice how the News concocts some funny numbers. The Associated Press, quoting a U.S. Senate report directed by John McCain, reports that Mississippi Choctaws spent $13 million to help get Riley elected.

Notice how the newspaper focuses on the "at least $500,000" figure while leaving out the $13 million figure. "At least," indeed.

Why the funny numbers? And where does the $500,000 figure come from? Perhaps it comes from the paper's recent article about Riley's opposition to a bingo bill currently before the Alabama Legislature. That article notes the financial help Riley received from Abramoff sidekick Michael Scanlon:

Mississippi Choctaw lobby­ist Michael Scanlon, who briefly worked for Riley as a congressional aide in 1997, gave money to four groups that in turn gave to Riley's 2002 campaign for governor.

Scanlon's lobbying firm gave $500,000 in October 2002 to the Republican Governors' Association, which soon after transferred the money to a re­lated Republican committee. The committee donated $650,000 to Riley and $150,000 to the Alabama Republican Party the same month. But RGA officials said the Scanlon money did not go to Riley.

By focusing on the $500,000 figure for Riley, the News came up with the exact amount that former Democratic Governor Don Siegelman received from former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy for an education-lottery campaign.

That transaction, even though it clearly was within the law, led to Siegelman and Scrushy's prosecution and conviction on corruption charges. The News repeatedly has stated that the prosecution appears to be just and not driven by political motivations.

On the other hand, the newspaper admits (sort of) that Riley received at least $500,000 that was laundered through a couple of confessed felons. I don't claim to be an expert on the U.S. Code, but that surely would involve federal crimes, would it not? Election fraud, honest-services mail/wire fraud, conspiracy, something? And if Riley agreed to protect Mississippi gaming interests in exchange for the money--which he appears to be doing by opposing gambling in Alabama--that would smell an awful lot like bribery.

Is Alabama's largest newspaper calling for an investigation? Nope.

Is this a matter of funny math, funny journalism, or both?

And newspapers wonder why their business is crumbling.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Is Artur Davis Trying to Pull a Fast One?

U.S. Rep. Artur Davis (D-AL) tries to style himself as a new kind of Democrat. But he seems to be practicing the slippery politics of yesteryear.

The latest questionable move by Davis comes with news that he has spent $120,000 in federal campaign funds without registering as a gubernatorial candidate with the Secretary of State's office. Alabama law requires anyone spending $25,000 or more on a state campaign to file papers with the Secretary of State within five days.

Davis' campaign struggled to come up with creative explanations for the spending. The campaign said Davis is not officially running for governor, and he is living up to a pledge he made in February not to start spending his leftover congressional campaign money on the governor's race until other state candidates can start fundraising on June 1.

"We have a legal opinion on that," campaign spokeswoman Anna Ruth Williams said. "Congressman Davis did not explicitly say, 'I am not running for Congress; I'm running for governor.' He said, 'I intend to run for governor.'"

Associated Press reports that Davis, a three-term congressman from Birmingham who announced his gubernatorial bid in February, has not yet filed papers with the Secretary of State, even though he has been traveling the state to build support and hiring a small staff and outside consultants to run his campaign.

Reports AP:

Although state candidates can't start fundraising until June 1, Davis had about $1.1 million left in his congressional campaign account. His most recent finance report shows he spent $120,477 from the account from January through the end of March, while raising about $110,649.

Much of the spending appears to have gone toward gubernatorial activities, including his campaign staff salaries, for example, and the $205 rental fee for the hall in Birmingham where he announced his intention to run.

So how is Davis apparently getting around the law? His campaign spokesperson noted that Davis' campaign signs say only "Artur Davis 2010," without specifying an office.

Umm hmmm.

This is one of several apparent missteps Davis has made in recent weeks.

In a book by journalist Gwen Ifill, Davis indicated that he never was serious about holding members of the Bush administration accountable for politicizing the U.S. Department of Justice. Davis said he thought most Alabamians didn't care about the issue, and he thought the Don Siegelman case would fade from view by 2010.

Davis has shown a fondness for accepting campaign cash from people and organizations connected to Alabama Business Council President Bill Canary, the very individual who apparently was at the heart of plans to corrupt the justice system in the Siegelman case.

Many Alabama progressives, who once saw Davis as a shining star in the Barack Obama mold, now seem to be wondering if he is deserving of their support.

And one political expert says the latest news won't help Davis' standing among those looking for a new kind of politician. Reports AP:

David Lanoue, chairman of the political science department at the University of Alabama, said the campaign's position that Davis is not running for governor "strains credulity."

"He's obviously running for governor," Lanoue said. "I guess it depends on what you think the meaning of the word 'technically' is."

"This is the political world basically," he added. "Candidates are very good at distinguishing circumstances and explaining in very arcane detail why what they're doing now doesn't contradict what they said they were going to do."

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Paul Minor Might Not Be Allowed to Attend His Wife's Funeral

Sources close to Paul Minor say the incarcerated Mississippi attorney is being told by federal prison officials that he will not be able to attend the funeral for his wife, Syliva, who died late Monday after a long battle with breast cancer.

The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals denied Minor an emergency release to be with his wife of 41 years in her final days. His attorneys sought an emergency furlough from the Department of Justice, but Mrs. Minor died before any action could be taken.

Now sources tell us that Minor probably will not be allowed to attend his wife's funeral.

The Minor case has been filled with outrages, many of which we have chronicled here at Legal Schnauzer. The biggest outrage is that he was prosecuted, convicted, and sent to prison for a crime he clearly did not commit.

But the notion that Minor might be kept from his wife's funeral is sickening--and appalling--in what is supposed to be the world's foremost democracy.

What was Paul Minor's real "crime"? Being a generous supporter of Democratic causes and candidates in a state where Karl Rove had deep ties and was determined to join with pro-business forces to take over the state courts.

What was Paul Minor's greatest misfortune? Having his case assigned to a corrupt judge, Reagan appointee Henry Wingate, who pulled jury instructions out of thin air and made numerous unlawful rulings, causing Minor and codefendants Wes Teel and John Whitfield to be convicted for "crimes" that do not exist under the law.

Hopefully, Henry Wingate will be impeached and sent to prison for the federal crimes he committed in the Minor case. That he hasn't already been removed from the bench for gross misconduct and criminal behavior is symbolic of the lack of oversight in our justice system.

Federal judges--all judges really--are accountable to almost no one. And because of that, a human tragedy is taking place right under our noses.

Try to wrap your mind around this: An innocent man might be kept from attending his wife's funeral--after he was kept from seeing her in her final days.

I can't help but think that Attorney General Eric Holder has the authority to do something about this. But where is he when rampant abuse is going on under his department? Is he asleep at the switch?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A UAB Icon Faces Battle With Cancer

No one on the planet has done more to make the letters "UAB" known than Gene Bartow.

Many people at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) did more important work than Bartow, the university's retired athletics director and head men's basketball coach. After all, the university is, and has been, home to renowned heart surgeons, cancer specialists, biomedical researchers, and more.

But because of the public nature of sports--and the remarkable success Bartow had in building a program at UAB--he gave the university a positive identity in places where it had no identity at all before.

We learned from news reports yesterday and today that Bartow, 78, now is facing a battle with stomach cancer. Long-time associates say the prognosis is not good. But they know about the competitive fire that made Bartow a hall-of-fame coach and helped him build a comprehensive athletics program at a university that didn't even own a basketball upon his arrival.

They fully expect the coach to give cancer one heck of a battle, perhaps even taking it deep into overtime.

The Bartow story is one that touches us deeply here at Legal Schnauzer. If we are lucky, many of us have good parents to give us solid foundations for moving forward in life. And I certainly had that.

But if Hillary Clinton is right about the importance of a "village" in raising a child--and I believe she is--most of us need special people from outside the family structure to make us whole. Many people can point to teachers, ministers, coaches, mentors, bosses, coworkers, or friends who made profound (and maybe unexpected) differences in their lives.

Gene Bartow is one of those difference-makers for me.

I remember the day in 1977, during my junior year at the University of Missouri, when I picked up the newspaper and read that Bartow was leaving famed UCLA to start a new athletics program in Alabama. "Hey," I told my roommate, also a big sports fan, "did you know Gene Bartow is leaving UCLA for this school I've never heard of in Alabama?" Neither one of us could believe it.

A little more than a year later, diploma in hand, I would be on my way to Birmingham, where the city's morning newspaper (the now extinct Post-Herald) had won a major bidding war for my services. If my memory is correct, the Post-Herald paid me the princely sum of $160 a week, causing me to turn down offers from newspapers in such garden spots as Bartlesville, Oklahoma; Midland, Texas (yikes, George W. Bush Country!); Fort Smith, Arkansas; and Anderson, South Carolina.

My first assignment at the Post-Herald was covering high-school sports, and that's what I was doing when UAB played its first-ever game on a Friday night in November 1978, against the University of Nebraska. The Blazers played their second game the next night, against San Francisco State, and I bought a ticket and watched UAB get its first victory.

We didn't have a full-time UAB beat man that first year, mainly because I was the only guy on the staff who was really interested in them--and my assignment was high schools. The more veteran writers were mostly interested in college football and NASCAR.

By the time UAB's second season rolled around, we had a new executive sports editor named Tom Lindley. Like me, Tom was a Midwesterner (from Indiana) and a big hoops fan. I told him that the Blazers were amazingly good for such a young program, and I guess since I seemed genuinely excited about UAB, he put me on the beat.

I would go on to cover UAB for 11 years, getting to watch the upstart program beat such national powerhouses as Kentucky, Indiana, Virginia, Villanova, Michigan State, Missouri, Michigan, and more. I also got to travel all over the Southeast, plus trips to Los Angeles (twice), San Diego, Alaska, and Utah.

But the best thing about covering UAB was getting to know Bartow--and the many good people he hired to help get Blazer athletics rolling.

Dealing with Bartow was always a treat, and Kevin Scarbinsky of The Birmingham News does a nice job in today's paper of capturing the coach's personal side.

I learned early on about Bartow's quirks. He was a fussy eater and never drank anything stronger than orange juice, which had to be "fresh squeezed." I don't think I ever saw him even drink a Coke.

He could be paranoid--particularly about the University of Alabama program 60 miles down the road--and loved to complain about the coverage (or lack thereof) UAB received in its home city. "In Memphis they cover Memphis, in Louisville they cover Louisville, in Birmingham they cover Auburn," he would say. "I don't get it." I can't tell you how many times I've heard some version of that comment.

Bartow could work a crowd, but he was at his best in one-on-one situations. Even though Bartow was known from coast to coast, he was about as unpretentious as a famous person can be. He always returned phone calls. He often answered his own phone. And when I interviewed him, he tended to ask me as many questions as I asked him.

He always ended our sessions with, "Sure do appreciate everything you're doing for the program." And the funny thing was, I think he really did appreciate it.

As he came to trust me, our interviews got more and more entertaining. There was the on the record stuff that would show up in the next day's newspaper. But we developed several levels of juicy stuff that wasn't for print. Bartow had "off the record," "way off the record," and "we're talking brother to brother now." The "brother to brother" stuff was always the best.
Bartow clearly cared about his players, and he particularly grew fond of them after they were gone, when their shortcomings had faded from memory.

UAB had one player named Marvin Ray Johnson, who had some pretty obvious deficiencies on defense. "Marvin Ray couldn't guard that tree," Bartow would say, pointing to a plant that appeared to be dying in the corner of his office. But after Johnson had graduated, and had a pretty good career, Bartow missed him terribly. "We sure could use Marvin Ray," the coach would say. "These guys we've got now can't do the things he could do."

I came to Birmingham thinking I would stay four or five years and probably move on, perhaps somewhere closer to home. But I enjoyed covering UAB so much that I couldn't bring myself to leave. And besides, my Post-Herald salary got up over $200 a week, so how could I give up that? I actually turned down one or two job possibilities, ones I hadn't sought, because I wanted to keep covering the Blazers.

Bartow was not the only good thing about covering UAB. He had a knack for surrounding himself with good folks, who were fired up about putting an unknown school on the nation's sports map. They were a joy to be around. There was Lee Hunt, Pete Derzis, Joe Davidson, Oscar Catlin, Robert Corn, Judy Willis, Drew Ferguson, Barbara Walker, Bobby Staub, Roz Ervin, Gary Sanders, Grant Shingleton, Dennis Rancont, Harry Walker, Joe Evans, John Prince, Reid Adair, Allen Brown, Murry Bartow, and many more. Even my competitor, Birmingham News beat man Wayne Martin, was (and is) a great guy.

And the good folks included the guys in uniforms, the ones who actually played the games. I enjoyed my interactions with almost all of UAB's players, especially Oliver Robinson, Steve Mitchell, Chris Giles, Donnie Speer, Archie Johnson, Scott Simcik, Stan Scales, James Ponder, Andy Kennedy, Jack Kramer, Jerome Mincy, Tim Richards, Bill McCammon, Glenn Marcus, Jonath Nicholas, Lex Drum, Greg Leet, Raymond "The" Gause, Tracy Foster, Alan Ogg, Larry Rembert, Reginald "Sir Slam" Turner, Tony Mabry, Bruce Baker, George Jones, Larry Spicer, Daryl Braden . . . and the list goes on. Marvin Ray Johnson was a great guy, by the way.

I enjoyed covering UAB so much that I wound up putting down roots in Birmingham and staying for 30 years--and counting. In fact, I tell Mrs. Schnauzer from time to time, "If it weren't for Gene Bartow, you and I would have never met." She usually responds by getting this quizzical look on her face as if to say, "I'm not sure if I should be thankful for that or not."

Actually, we are among hundreds and hundreds of people--in Birmingham and beyond--who are grateful for the positive impact Gene Bartow has had on our lives.

My friend Paul Finebaum had me on his show yesterday to talk about Coach Bartow, and I hope I was able to provide some perspective on what Coach has meant to me and so many others. You can hear the interview by going to the Finebaum Network Web page, scrolling to the archives for 4/15 and clicking on Hour 1.

I've watched Gene Bartow overcome great odds to win a number of tough battles over the years. The battle he faces now is the one I want him to win the most.