Monday, July 27, 2009

Southern Democrats Can't Tell Friend From Foe

Why have Republicans come to dominate the South over the past 40 years or so?

The No. 1 reason almost certainly is the GOP's willingness to play on the race-based fears of many white folks. But ineffectual leadership from Democrats has not helped matters.

In Alabama, prominent Democrats spend a fair amount of time attacking people they should recognize as friends. I know because I've been the target of such attacks.

First, came pot shots on a progressive listserv from G. Douglas Jones, former U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama under Bill Clinton. Jones took exception to one of our posts questioning the role of Rob Riley, son of Republican Governor Bob Riley, in a massive federal lawsuit against a number of entities and individuals connected to Birmingham-based HealthSouth Corp. Jones and Riley serve as co-liaison counsel for plaintiffs in the HealthSouth case, even though both had prominent connections to the Don Siegelman criminal case--in which the former Alabama governor's codefendant was former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy.

Now we have another listserv pot shot from a Democrat. This time it's from C. Redding Pitt, a former U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Alabama and a former chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party.

Pitt apparently didn't much care for a couple of our posts that raised this question: Did Doug Jones have a conflict of interest when he represented Siegelman in a criminal matter while helping to sue the former governor's codefendant in a civil matter? Our posts were titled:

Did Former Siegelman Lawyer Have a Glaring Conflict?

Who Are the Biggest Fraudsters in Scrushy Civil Cases?

Is Key Figure in Siegelman Case Walking An Ethical Tightrope?

Here is Pitt's reaction to our posts:

There is no connection factually, or in any other respect, between the Richard Scrushy civil fraud cases currently being litigated, and the matter involving Richard Scrushy's raising and contributing money to the lottery proposed in 1999 by Governor Siegelman to provide college scholarships for Alabama's youth.

Any suggestion that Doug Jones, by virtue of representing Don Siegelman at any point in time, gained knowledge of internal operations at HealthSouth is pure fabrication, and defamation. Any intimation that Don Siegelman himself had any knowledge whatsoever of the internal operations of HealthSouth is utter fabrication.

These articles are inaccurate. I don't know the writer's intentions regarding Doug Jones, but it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that this article is dishonest as well. It is, at an absolute minimum, misinformed.

This is a peculiar missive from Pitt. First, I'm hardly alone in raising questions about possible attorney conflicts between the Siegelman/Scrushy criminal case and the HealthSouth/Scrushy civil case; Sam Stein, of Huffington Post, first raised the issue more than a year ago. Second, as a lawyer, Pitt should be careful about throwing around terms like defamation. That word has a specific legal meaning, and Pitt should know that there is nothing defamatory about my posts regarding Jones and Riley. Third, Pitt's statement about Siegelman is beyond bizarre; I never said a thing about Siegelman having internal knowledge of HealthSouth operations.

Why would Pitt make such a ridiculous statement and send it to a progressive listserv in Alabama? My guess is that, on behalf of his pal Jones, Pitt wanted to turn Siegelman supporters against me.

Here is the paragraph from Legal Schnauzer that probably irritated Pitt and Jones the most:

Do Riley and Jones stand to benefit financially from those possible conflicts? Sure looks like it, based on a motion for attorney fees they recently helped file in the federal HealthSouth litigation.

Jones seems to like his image as a lawyer who cares about civil rights, the guy who successfully prosecuted the 16th Street Baptist Church case. In fact, an article in today's Birmingham News furthers Jones' image as a guy who cares about victims of injustice.

Jones probably is less enthused about reports, such as ours, that make him look like a money-grubbing lawyer. In fact, my guess is that Pitt and Jones are uncomfortable with the public having any sense of how much money plaintiffs' attorneys stand to make from the HealthSouth case. They also are likely displeased that I raised legitimate questions about Jones' possible conflicts in the Siegelman case.

So what do they do? They attack a blogger who has been one of the most consistent voices in support of Don Siegelman.

Maybe that's because they want to take the focus away from these questions: Why did Doug Jones stay on the Siegelman defense team for roughly 18 months after learning that Richard Scrushy would be a key part of the government's case against Siegelman? Was Siegelman immediately informed that Jones was leading a lawsuit against the man who was likely to become the former governor's codefendant?

It's interesting that Jones and Pitt never seem to address such questions in their listserv pot shots. Maybe that's why they choose that format, as opposed to writing or calling me directly.

Also, a fellow Alabama blogger has been trying to arrange interviews with Jones and Pitt on a variety of topics and, so far, they keep wiggling off the hook.

As for party affiliations, Legal Schnauzer never has been about that. Our very first post, which serves as a sort of mission statement, says nothing about supporting a political party, campaign, or candidate. It says our intent is to shine light on a broken justice system--and that remains our goal.

It certainly would be fair to describe our political leanings as progressive. And with the Democratic Party generally considered the home for progressive ideas, you might expect us to be in good standing with Alabama Democrats.

So what is it with Jones and Pitt? Do their progressive ideals go out the window when millions of dollars in attorney fees are at stake?

On a personal level, I will raise this question: Does Doug Jones know anything about my unlawful termination at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB)? I find it interesting that I was fired roughly one month after first writing about Rob Riley's curious involvement in the HealthSouth lawsuit. We now know that's a topic Doug Jones doesn't like to see raised.

We also know that Doug Jones has represented UAB administrators in perhaps the ugliest legal case in school history. (Jones portrays himself as a friend of civil-rights advocates, but he defended UAB in a civil-rights lawsuit that involved allegations the university allowed a 14-year-old female student to be used as a sexual plaything by Blazer athletes.)

Finally, we know that Jones' current law firm--the Republican-oriented Haskell Slaughter--has extensive ties to UAB. Much more on that coming up.

Jones and Haskell Slaughter stand to make a killing off the HealthSouth lawsuit. But a little more than a year ago, they had a UAB employee writing an unfavorable article on his personal blog about plaintiff's lawyers in that case. Is it possible that Haskell Slaughter used its influence at UAB to get said employee unlawfully fired?

Now that's an interesting question. It's one of many that Doug Jones and Redding Pitt don't seem to want to answer these days. They are more interested in taking pot shots at a blogger who really does care about progressive ideas.

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