One of the most interesting paths, in my mind, involves Birmingham attorney Doug Jones and his firm, Haskell Slaughter. In fact, I came right out in a recent post and asked the question: Did Haskell Slaughter, well known in Alabama legal circles as a Republican firm, use its influence at UAB to get me fired?
Why would I ask that question? It has to do with a curious chain of events over the past 16-17 months. It also has to do with a very cozy relationship between Wyatt Haskell, a founding member at Haskell Slaughter, and UAB.
Let's examine those two subjects. First, the chain of events:
* I write a post on March 13, 2008, about the curious role of attorney Rob Riley (Governor Bob Riley's son) in a massive federal lawsuit against a number of individuals and entities connected to HealthSouth Corp.
* For all intents and purposes, I was fired at UAB about one month later. My actual termination didn't come until May 19, 2008. But on April 15, 2008, I received a bogus written warning from my supervisor, Pam Powell. And on about the same date, I received an anonymous comment on my blog, threatening my job at UAB. About eight days later, I complained to Dale Turnbough, Powell's superior, about the discriminatory treatment (based on my age) that I had been experiencing for about five months and filed a formal grievance in UAB Human Resources. An employee is supposed to be able to complain of unlawful treatment, and file a grievance, without fear of retaliation. But I was placed on administrative leave about two weeks later, and then fired. My guess is that my termination was set in stone on April 15, and probably earlier than that. Was it connected to the post about the HealthSouth lawsuit? The timing certainly is curious.
* The timing became even more curious in May 2009, when Jones took a written pot shot at me on a progressive Alabama listserv for daring to question again the role of Rob Riley in the HealthSouth lawsuit. Jones' missive made it clear that he didn't like my original post about Riley and the HealthSouth case. And it also was clear that Jones was sensitive about the fact that he and Riley both had ties to the Don Siegelman/Richard Scrushy criminal case, but they served as co-liaison counsel in the HealthSouth civil case, which also involved Scrushy. Jones and Riley had pretty clear conflicts of interest, and Jones didn't much care for me helping to shine light on them.
* Let's back up a moment: Jones became involved in the HealthSouth securities-fraud lawsuit from its inception in August 2002, long before he became part of Siegelman's defense team in the criminal case. Jones initially was with the Birmingham firm of Whatley Drake & Kallas and still was with that firm at the time of my termination. But a source in the legal community says Jones was negotiating with Haskell Slaughter for quite some time before officially making the jump in November 2008--and taking the multimillion-dollar HealthSouth case with him.
You undoubtedly have heard the phrase "follow the money." Well, there is an awful lot of money to follow in the HealthSouth lawsuit. As of March 2009, the case had generated more than $500 million in settlements--and it was a long way from over.
A motion for attorney fees indicates that plaintiff lawyers are seeking 18.49 percent of the settlement fund--plus expenses. Quite a few plaintiff lawyers are involved, but with Jones and Riley serving as co-liaison counsel, their firms figure to make some serious bucks on the case.
Is it possible that my posts were somehow considered a threat to the gold rush that a number of local law firms are counting on? Well, it's clear Jones didn't like my reporting.
And it's clear that the founding partner of his firm, Wyatt Haskell, is very close to UAB, my former employer. Let's consider this nugget from Haskell's bio:
He is a lifetime member of the University of Alabama at Birmingham's Presidents Society and a member of the Friends of the University of Alabama at Birmingham's Legislative Network. In 2005, he and his wife Susan received the "Outstanding Philanthropist" Award from the Alabama Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals.
That last honor came mostly because of his fundraising on behalf of UAB. I know because I wrote an article about Haskell for a UAB publication--before someone got me fired, that is.
Haskell and his wife, Susan, have made gifts for the Alys Stephens Center for the Performing Arts at UAB. And an endowed professorship in the School of Medicine has been created in their names.
Does Wyatt Haskell have the ears of UAB President Carol Garrison and members of the University of Alabama Board of Trustees? The answer unquestionably is yes.
And could a conversation like this have taken place? "You know, my law firm stands to make an awful lot of money from the HealthSouth lawsuit, some of which I might donate to UAB, but one of your employees is writing things on his gosh-darned blog that we don't much care for. Sure would be nice if this guy would suddenly find himself unemployed."
Are there holes to fill in with this scenario? Oh, yes. But you can bet our Schnauzer nose will be close to the ground along the Haskell Slaughter trail.