In the roughly 2 1/2 years since I started this blog, I've written about a number of corrupt judges--in Alabama and beyond. And it's interesting that I've received relatively few attempts, via comments or e-mail, to defend bad judges.
For example, I've exposed Shelby County judges J. Michael Joiner and G. Dan Reeves and Jefferson County judge Allwin Horn--all Republicans--and I've had no serious efforts to dispute what I've written. I suspect that's because many folks around the Birmingham legal community know these judges are corrupt.
Jefferson County Judge Robert Vance Jr. is a different story. I've received a lot of correspondence, much of it seemingly from lawyers, sticking up for Vance. You can read some of it in the comments section at this post.
Why has the reaction been different regarding Vance? One reason, I suspect, is that Vance is part of Alabama's "legal royalty." His father, Robert Vance Sr., was a federal judge who was killed by a mail bomb in 1989. His wife, Joyce White Vance, is the current U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, appointed by President Barack Obama.
Another reason, I suspect, is that Vance is a Democrat, originally appointed to office by former Governor Don Siegelman (of all people). My blog has a generally progressive tone, and I've been a consistent voice stating that Siegelman was wrongfully prosecuted and convicted by the Bush Justice Department. Because of that, my criticism of Vance has probably been a surprise to some readers.
Finally, it's possible that Vance usually is a good judge. That's in stark contrast to Joiner, Reeves, and Horn. In my conversations with a number of Birmingham-area lawyers, the consensus seems to be that the "Three Amigos" are held in low regard.
Vance, on the other hand, seems to be held in generally high regard. And that might be why defenders have tried to come to his rescue on this blog. The sad truth, unfortunately, is that Vance acted corruptly in my case--and I find it hard to believe mine was the only case where he's ever ruled contrary to law. In my book, that makes him a corrupt judge, regardless of his pedigree or party affiliation.
Maybe Vance only rules unlawfully when a member of the legal community needs to be protected. But that is no excuse. Lawyers who commit malpractice should be held accountable. Rogue doctors certainly don't seem to get away with much in our justice system. In fact, many good doctors--ones who simply have bad outcomes--probably go through the legal wringer.
So how do my correspondents generally try to defend Vance? The main argument seems to be this: He might have made a mistake in my case, but that doesn't mean he's corrupt. In other words, they seem to be saying, Vance is incompetent, but not corrupt--so go easy on him.
Sorry, but that argument doesn't wash with me. The applicable law in my case was so simple that no honest judge could have gotten it wrong. It would be like a mathematician getting 2 + 2 incorrect. It could only happen if he was impaired or intentionally screwing up.
Plus, Vance's actions show that he clearly did not make a mistake. After Vance unlawfully granted the defense's Motion to Dismiss, I filed a Motion to Alter, Amend, or Vacate a Judgment under Rule 59 (e) of the Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure (ARCP). That essentially gave Vance a second crack at it, another chance to get the ruling correct under the law. But he blew it again, and I see no way that can happen unless a judge is intentionally cheating.
Actually, Vance probably still could get the ruling correct--if he was interested in seeing that justice is served. Under Rule 60 ARCP, Relief From Judgement or Order, parties appear to have considerable leeway to seek correction of erroneous orders or judgments. Based on my research, the rule is not clear on this, but it also appears that the court, on its own motion, can correct such errors.
If Vance really is an honest judge, who simply made a mistake, it appears he has the authority--on his own--to go back and correct that mistake. But he hasn't done it.
What does that tell us? Here's my guess: My lawsuit was against Jesse P. Evans III and Michael B. Odom, who have been with two major Birmingham law firms. They were with Adams & Reese/Lange Simpson when I hired them, and they are with Haskell Slaughter now. Robert Vance Jr., as part of Birmingham's legal establishment, probably feels it is necessary to protect rogue lawyers, no matter how badly they violated their duty to a client.
In the process, Vance cheats the public, the very taxpayers who pay his salary. He also violates the oath he took to uphold the law.
The law gives Robert Vance Jr. a vehicle by which he could correct his "mistake." But he hasn't done it yet. And I see no sign that he ever will.