I didn't know the judge was cheating me until I conducted research at my local law library and discovered that almost every ruling in my case was contrary to the applicable law. But the first strong hint that I was being cheated came when my wife and I found out that the judge was a regular golf buddy with opposing counsel in our case.
I eventually cited this information in a motion to recuse, stating that Shelby County Circuit Judge J. Michael Joiner should step down from the case. Joiner granted the motion, essentially admitting that his cozy relationship with lawyer William E. Swatek presented an appearance of impropriety.
We recently discovered, however, that Joiner and Swatek still play golf together. And my guess is that Joiner still hears cases involving Swatek. The judge probably only recuses himself if the party being cheated challenges him, as we did. But I bet that almost never happens.
That's how "justice" is practiced in our country, folks. A judge admits he has a conflict of interest, but he doesn't disclose it himself from the outset--as he's required by law to do. Then he probably continues to hear other cases in which the same conflict exists--all without saying a word. Parties who come before him continue to get cheated, and they don't even know what's happening.
Our corrupt judge, Mike Joiner, is so blase about his conflicts that he didn't mind them being advertised in our local newspaper. Consider an item that showed up recently in the sports section of The Birmingham News. It was under "Aces," spotlighting holes-in-one made on area golf courses:
Mike Joiner--Timberline Golf Club; No. 10; 189 yards; 5-wood; witnessed by Ferris Ritchey, Bill Swatek, Danny Crowson and Jonathan Spann.
That's the same Mike Joiner who was the judge in my case. And you will notice that his playing partners still include Bill Swatek, opposing counsel in my case. As we have reported previously, Bill Swatek is not just any lawyer. He is one of the sleaziest lawyers in Alabama--and that's saying something--with a 30-year history of ethics problems with the Alabama State Bar. We outlined his legacy of sleaze in posts here and here.
The other three guys in the group are lawyers, too. Ferris Ritchey appears to have his eye on a judgeship. (Playing golf with a guy who's already a judge? Smart guy, that Ferris.) Crowson and Spann are partners in Crowson Morrison & Spann, a firm on Main Street in Columbiana, Alabama, just a stone's throw from the courthouse. They probably have cases before Joiner all the time. And you apparently can catch them on the golf course with the judge on a regular basis.
Some readers might ask, "C'mon, Schnauzer, what's the problem with a judge enjoying a few rounds of golf with lawyers?"
Here's the problem: A guy like Mike Joiner wants to have it both ways. He wants to be a judge, but he also wants to be buddies with the lawyers who come before him. That's not how it's supposed to work. Once Joiner becomes a judge, the law holds him to a higher standard: Does his behavior present the appearance of impropriety?
In my case, Joiner admitted that playing golf regularly with opposing counsel called his impartiality into question. And in fact, he repeatedly ruled unlawfully in the other side's favor--stopping only when I called him on it.
Yet, our little sports item proves that Joiner still ignores the standards that are placed on him, by law, as a judge.
What should a citizen do? If you find yourself in Shelby County court before Judge Mike Joiner--and the opposing party is represented by Swatek, Ritchey, Crowson, or Spann--you should promptly file a motion to get Joiner off the case.
Joiner, by law, should take himself off the case. But history indicates that he won't do it--unless you make him do it.
My guess is that numerous judges around the country behave in the same unethical manner.