Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Debt Collectors Have A History Of Costing People Their Jobs

When Congress passed the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act (FDCPA) in 1978, it outlined a number of societal problems that seemed to stem from abusive debt-collection practices.

One of those problems was loss of jobs. More than 30 years later, has the FDCPA succeeded in keeping unethical debt collectors from cheating consumers out of their jobs? Based on my experience, the answer is no.

My wife and I first started hearing from debt collectors in the spring of 2007. Is it coincidence that both of us, since that time, have lost our jobs--me at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) and her at Infinity Property & Casualty?

Evidence strongly suggests that it is not a coincidence. And we suspect that even with the FDCPA, debt collectors still have the means to cost people their jobs--especially in a state like Alabama, with a toxic, "pro business" political environment.

Abusive debt collectors have a proud history of screwing up people's lives. Consider section 1692 of the FDCPA, which outlines Congressional findings and the purposes of the law:

There is abundant evidence of the use of abusive, deceptive, and unfair debt collection practices by many debt collectors. Abusive debt collection practices contribute to the number of personal bankruptcies, to marital instability, to the loss of jobs, and to invasions of individual privacy.

Let's ponder that list of societal ills to which debt collectors contribute:

* Personal bankruptcies

* Marital instability

* Loss of Jobs

* Invasions of individual privacy

That's serious stuff. How have debt collectors traditionally cost people their jobs? Congress does not say. But we live in a society where most states have "at will" work laws, meaning your employer can fire you for a good reason, a bad reason, or no reason at all--as long as they don't violate federal anti-discrimination laws.

Our guess is that calls from debt collectors to employers--combined with efforts to garnish wages--probably led many workplaces to fire employees. As we know from personal experience, debt collectors often have little or no proof that a debt is even owed.

How do debt collectors cheat people out of their jobs these days? Well, our experience suggests they can do it in multiple ways. My wife and I filed a lawsuit in July 2008 against two debt-collection outfits--NCO and Ingram & Associates--alleging multiple violations of the FDCPA and various state-law claims. It appears that my wife's unlawful termination at Infinity Property & Casualty is tied to our discovery efforts in that lawsuit.

My termination at UAB predates the lawsuit we filed. But it dovetails almost perfectly with original calls we received from debt collectors and the eventual selling of our house on the courthouse steps in Shelby County.

We find it mighty curious that it was debt collectors who originally threatened the sale of our house "on the courthouse steps." And it was corrupt Alabama attorney William E. Swatek who eventually carried out that threat, under the guise of seeking a judgment on behalf of our troublesome neighbor, Mike McGarity.

Is it possible that Swatek became aligned with debt collectors in a scheme that resulted in the loss of my job? We will be examining that question in detail in upcoming posts.

But for now, consider this: It's highly possible that debt collectors cheated both my wife and me out of our jobs--and it was over an alleged debt to American Express that they cannot even prove I owed. In fact, we learned in discovery that they don't have proof that I ever had an American Express card.

Recall this passage from an earlier post, regarding Ingram & Associates:

During the discovery process in the lawsuit, our attorneys (Darrell Cartwright and Allan Armstrong), made a number of simple requests that produced stunning replies from the defendants.

Our No. 1 request for production of documents from Ingram & Associates asks for the following:

Each and every document relating to any debt, allegedly owed by plaintiffs to American Express or NCO, including, but not limited to, any cardholder agreements signed by the plaintiff.

In other words, just show us the documents you have that prove Roger Shuler owes the debt--and that Roger Shuler signed a cardholder agreement with American Express. Sounds simple, right? Here was the response from Ingram & Associates:

Ingram & Associates does not have any documents from American Express.

Now let's digest that for a moment. Ingram & Associates called me and repeatedly said they had "been hired by American Express" to sue me. They repeatedly said that I owed a debt, and they could garnish my wages or have our house sold on the courthouse steps to satisfy that debt. (You will be hearing audiotapes of these conversations.) They called my wife and talked to her for roughly an hour, even though she had nothing to do with the alleged debt. All of these are violations of the FDCPA.

But Ingram & Associates had no documents from American Express proving that I owed the debt! They didn't even have a cardholder agreement showing I ever had an American Express card, much less one for which I owed a debt!

NCO didn't have any proof that I owed the debt either:

Now let's consider NCO, the folks who hired Ingram & Associates. No. 28 in our request for production of documents from NCO reads as follows:

A copy of any and all documents which you allege create an obligation by the plaintiffs for the account you are attempting to collect.

It couldn't be more simple. Just show us the documents upon which you base your allegation that Roger Shuler owes a debt to American Express. Here is the answer:

NCO objects to this request to the extent plaintiffs are seeking documents outside NCO's custody or control. Notwithstanding said objections, none.

Now let's digest that for a moment. NCO sicced Ingram & Associates on us because I allegedly owed a debt to American Express. But when asked to produce documents from American Express that show I owed the debt, NCO says they don't have any.

So not only will debt collectors cost you a job, but they apparently will do it even when it involves a "debt" that they can't prove you owe.

Thirty-plus years after the passage of the FDCPA, it's hard to go much lower than that.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Obama Should Makes This Recess Appointment Pronto

President Barack Obama has announced 15 recess appointments, sidestepping Republican obstructionism in the U.S. Senate, which is on vacation until April 12.

Hopefully, Obama is just getting warmed up with recess appointments. And he needs to quickly turn his attention to the U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Alabama, where corrupt Bush appointee Leura Canary remains in place.

Canary oversaw the blatantly political Don Siegelman prosecution and supposedly is under Justice Department investigation. That she remains in place some 14 months into the Obama administration is a disgrace. Obama should toss Canary out on her ear and replace her with Michel Nicrosi, who our sources say is far and away the best candidate for the job.

Our idea has only one flaw: Nicrosi has announced that she is running as a Democrat for attorney general of Alabama. But she only joined that race after U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) scuttled her possible nomination for the U.S. attorney position--and the Obama administration refused to fight for her.

Why did Sessions try to nix Nicrosi? Probably because he's afraid of her. And that's because the last thing he and GOP compadre Richard Shelby want is a tough, competent U.S. attorney in Montgomery, Alabama--someone who might unearth the considerable dirt Sessions and Shelby (not to mention Republican Governor Bob Riley) have left behind in Alabama's capital city.

Our sources say Michel Nicrosi would make an excellent attorney general of Alabama. But she would make an even better U.S. attorney. And her appointment would send a signal that the Obama administration, now that health-care reform has been passed, finally is getting serious about justice issues.

Ground Zero for Bush-era corruption in the U.S. Justice Department was Montgomery, Alabama. Obama could make a profoundly important move by appointing Michel Nicrosi to clean up the cesspool.

It would tell his progressive base that, "We hear your concerns about justice issues, and we will address them." More importantly, it would signal that Obama intends to appoint U.S. attorneys based on qualifications and competence--and he's not going to let the likes of Jeff Sessions keep him from it.

If the Obama administration had chosen to fight for the Nicrosi nomination, she could have been on the job months ago. Now is the time to correct that mistake. And it's time to start cleaning house in Montgomery, Alabama.

The Joy of Being a Schnauzer "Parent"

Most endeavors in life, even the most rewarding ones, are a mixture of good moments and bad.

My wife and I, however, found that being the "parents" of a miniature schnauzer was one of those rarities that involves almost all good and no bad.

Murphy Abigail Shuler (1993-2004), the schnauzer who inspires this blog, was an unmitigated joy to have around. Except for a brief bout with coprophagia (quite common in puppies; usually a brief phase), Murphy never caused us a concern--and brightened our lives in ways that I can't begin to put into words.

In fact, we've often said that the only regret we have about our 11 years with Murphy was that we never got to see her as a newborn. We adopted her from a breeder who lived about 20 miles south of Selma, Alabama, and Murphy was the standard eight weeks old when she came into our lives.

But we've often wondered what Murphy and her littermates were like when they were freshly baked--"right out of the oven," if you will. When we imagine that scene, the words "impossibly cute" come to mind. And we recently discovered a couple of videos that confirm our suspicion.

The videos are from a site,, which appears to be based in Spain. I say "appears" because it's written in Spanish, and like most Americans, I've become a dunderhead when it comes to other languages.

That's doubly perplexing for me because, at one time, I was more or less fluent in Spanish. In order to get into the School of Journalism at the University of Missouri back in the 1970s, you had to take 13 hours of a foreign language.

Now that I've graduated, I think it's a good requirement because learning another language forces you to really think about how you use your original language. And a journalist should know a thing or two about the use of words.

At the time, however, I suspected the requirement was just a way to weed out candidates for J-school. And it worked. I knew a bunch of people who changed majors because they didn't want to deal with the foreign-language requirement.

As for me, I was just glad that journalism didn't have a math requirement, and I wound up liking foreign languages. I had great Spanish teachers, and they inspired me to take an additional three-hour conversation class--for 16 hours in all. At the time, I could read any Spanish newspaper or magazine and carry on a conversation on most any topic. It pains me to realize how I've let that skill slip--to the point that I can discern the subject matter of only because it includes numerous pictures of dogs. (Still pretty clever, aren't I?)

As for schnauzer newborns, check out this video. I think this is a mother standard schnauzer, with her "freshly baked" babies. Looks like they are keeping her busy.

Want your heart to thoroughly melt? Check out this box of miniature schnauzer pups from Spain:

We can't leave this subject without showing you one of the schnauzer's many talents. They can sing. If this doesn't make you smile, your smiler must be broken. Enjoy.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Should Suicide Ruling Leave Bashinsky Family Feeling Safe?

The brother of deceased Alabama attorney Major Bashinsky wrote last week that family members should not have to feel concerned for their safety now that the death has been ruled a suicide.

But what if you don't buy the ruling that Major Bashinsky waded into a golf-course pond and shot himself in the head, trying to make it look like a homicide? What if incompetence or corruption, or a combination of both, caused Jefferson County law-enforcement officials to get it wrong? Given what we know about the "justice system" in Alabama, is there reason to believe it can get anything right?

Sloan Y. Bashinsky Jr., Major's older brother, has written on his blog that he accepts the suicide ruling. But we have followed news coverage of the case closely, and it has left us with serious doubts about the findings of the coroner's office. And we suspect some members of the Bashinsky family share those doubts.

So does that mean family members still should be concerned for their safety? We doubt it. If Major Bashinsky was murdered, it probably was a gruesome "calling card," a threat of the most terrifying kind. The message, we suspect, was, "If certain information remains under wraps, there will be no more unfortunate incidents such as this one. But should you consider divulging certain information, this should be taken as notice that serious repercussions could occur."

If Major Bashinsky was murdered, our guess is that only a small handful of people connected to his family know about the existence of the hot-button information. Most of the family members have no way of revealing what they don't even know. Given what happened to Major Bashinsky, we suspect the few in the know will remain extremely tight-lipped.

We already have pointed to several issues that cause us to question the finding of suicide. Many other puzzling questions remain:

* Why did authorities wait until after Bashinsky's memorial service to announce their findings?

The body was recovered on March 15, the memorial service was held on March 23, and the suicide ruling was made on the morning of March 24. Public statements from law-enforcement officials indicate they considered it a pretty clear suicide, a case that did not require extensive investigation. So why the delay? One take might be that it was out of respect for the family. Another take might be that officials knew the finding would be viewed as questionable, and they didn't want anyone speaking out before the television cameras that were sure to be present at the memorial service.

* What was the purpose of a second dive and investigation at the golf course on March 24, nine days after the original dive and investigation? And why was it delayed until the morning after the memorial service?

In a post at 8:30 a.m. on March 24, reported that authorities had found a set of Toyota car keys, scissors, and a roll of tape in the pond. In a post at 9:40 a.m., just 1 hour and 10 minutes later, reported that the death had been ruled a suicide?

Boy, that didn't take long. A cause of death had been unknown for nine days, but the entire mystery was solved only 1 hour and 10 minutes after car keys, scissors, and a roll of tape had been found? Seems that somebody was in a rush to wrap this case up. And press reports do not indicate that the keys matched Major Bashinsky's car. But hey, case closed.

So why the second investigation/dive? Here's a theory: It seems clear that someone on the original investigation/dive team had loose lips. Sloan Bashinsky reported on his blog, accurately it turns out, that Major had been shot in the head and that his hands had been bound. Was the purpose of the second investigation to make sure that any loose lips had been purged from the team and a finding could be a released before a new set of loose lips could develop?

* Why did law-enforcement officials rely on a blurry photo of Major Bashinsky in an effort to get identification from a hardware-store employee who said he had sold scissors and duct tape to a customer?

Recent, crystal-clear photos of Major Bashinsky are all over the Internet. Why did officials use a blurry photo, taken from a security camera, to try to get identification? As it turns out, the store employee told a reporter he could not identify the customer as Major Bashinsky.

But authorities proceeded to treat it as established fact that the man was Bashinsky? "All of our evidence supports (suicide)," Jefferson County Chief Deputy Coroner Pat Curry said.

Really? A key part of your story is that Major Bashinsky walked into a hardware store and bought duct tape and scissors. But the man who sold the items said he could not positively identify the man as Bashinsky.

Sounds like your evidence isn't all that strong, Mr. Deputy Coroner. But hey, case closed.

* Who identified Major Bashinsky at a coffee shop, and how did that identification come about?

Authorities say Bashinsky stopped at a Southside coffee shop and bought coffee before going to a nearby hardware store. How do authorities know the man at the coffee shop was Bashinsky? Did they use the same blurry photo they used to try to identify the man at the hardware store? If the clerk at the hardware store was uncertain about Bashinsky's identity, how can we be certain about the man at the coffee shop? Is it common for a person to stop for a cup of coffee before proceeding to "off" himself?

The case is a long way from being closed in our book. We might eventually learn that Major Bashinsky committed suicide--and why. But the "proof" we've seen so far is a long way from being convincing.

And here is the No. 1 reason we have doubts about the findings in this case: Since we started this blog in June 2007, we have presented a mountain of evidence that raises doubts about the integrity of our justice system--in Alabama and beyond.

Just in Alabama, we have shown that federal prosecutors in Montgomery and Birmingham have acted corruptly, that federal judges in Montgomery and Birmingham have acted corruptly or in highly irregular ways, that federal juries have reached questionable conclusions, that state judges in Shelby and Jefferson counties have acted unlawfully, that the sheriff of Shelby County makes little effort to hide his unlawful actions, and domestic-relations court in Jefferson County is a sleaze pit of monstrous proportions.

To top it off, our governor appears to be bought and paid for by Mississippi gambling interests, he has documented ties to disgraced GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff, his family treats Alabama like their personal piggy bank, and substantial evidence indicates the governor is in office only because of a stolen election in 2002. This governor, who might go down as the most corrupt chief executive in our state's history, has considerable sway over the state's justice apparatus.

This is the environment in which we learned last week that Major Bashinsky supposedly killed himself--even though his widow, Leslie Hewett Bashinsky, had stated publicly that such a notion was beyond her "realm."

We're supposed to believe that authorities in Alabama got it right?

Bush League "Justice": Punishing Those Who Refuse to Lie Under Oath

Those who have closely followed the criminal activities of the Bush-era Justice Department, probably know that former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy was prosecuted after he refused to give false testimony against former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman. Scrushy was unlawfully convicted and now is in federal prison.

Less known is the case of former Jefferson County Commissioner Gary White, who might be facing a similar fate. White, a Republican, refused to give the testimony that federal prosecutors wanted about Siegelman and Scrushy--and wound up being prosecuted and convicted on corruption charges. White and his wife, Judy, have been devastated financially--and White recently asked a judge to appoint an attorney because he could not afford one.

Siegelman, released from federal prison pending final appeal of his own conviction, is trying to shine a spotlight on the Whites' situation.

We first learned of the extraordinary pressure federal investigators placed on Gary White from the reporting of Scott Horton at Harper's. And now Judy White has released a statement that reveals how low our Justice Department has fallen since George W. Bush became president:

"My husband, while serving as an elected county commissioner, was subpoenaed to give grand jury testimony against former Governor Don Siegelman and Richard Scrushy, because he assisted in arranging the meeting between them at which federal prosecutors contend crimes were committed that resulted in Governor Siegelman's and Mr. Scrushy's convictions. Please understand that I was present when my husband was questioned by federal officials, and I witnessed their demands that my husband testify as he was told, regardless of his insistence that he could not. Following his refusal to comply, the Office of the U.S. Attorney began investigating him, and obtained an indictment and a conviction, which was overturned by the trial judge.

The U.S. Attorney appealed the reversal. My husband got on the wrong side by refusing to commit perjury for their benefit. We have complained to the Office of Professional Responsibility and to the Department of Justice, to no avail, of numerous and verifiable instances of wrongdoing in this matter.

On one day we were highly respected, productive citizens, taking care of our family, and contributing to our community in numerous ways, serving on the boards of non-profits and raising awareness and money for worthy causes, aside from my husband's public service. Then, after my husband refused to commit perjury at the direction of federal officials, they have viciously focused on causing destruction, including the loss of employment, our home, relationships, and any and every resource we might have to fight back, to the point my husband is even unable to retain counsel.

Please help us, and please continue to help change a broken system.

If I did nothing, we would continue as we have since that fateful day when my husband refused to lie as demanded. Ultimately, I understand someone has to speak out and speaking out brings exposure. But if everyone with knowledge of the corruption spoke out, it would have to end, so I have chosen to not be part of the conspiracy of silence."

Siegelman encourages those who are concerned about justice issues to consider helping the Whites:

And now, they need some help. My heart goes out to them.

Please send a contribution to Gary White so that he can obtain counsel:

Mr. Gary White
7032 Greenwood Lane
Leeds, AL 35094

Siegelman also provides perspective on the state of our justice system since George W. Bush and Karl Rove came to power:

There is no doubt in my mind that if (Gary White) had lied, as they apparently asked, he would have never been hassled. This is the sad state that this Rove inspired investigation sank to in my case.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Is UAB Violating Federal Health-Care Referral Laws?

Two faculty members at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) recently published an article encouraging neurosurgeons to refer patients to chiropractors for therapy.

The article is curious because one of the UAB faculty members involved has been accused in a whistleblower lawsuit of violating federal laws that govern patient referrals. Also accused in the whistleblower case is attorney Rob Riley (son of Alabama Governor Bob Riley), who joined forces with several UAB health-care providers to form a company called Performance Group LLC.

Central to the lawsuit are allegations that physicians referred patients to an entity, Performance Group, in which they held a "compensation relationship." This would be a violation of the federal Stark Laws, and the lawsuit alleges that Dr. Thomas Spurlock, a chiropractor who is on UAB's neurosurgery faculty, engaged in such activity.

Spurlock helped write an article titled "Socioeconomic Impact of Networking with Chiropractic Providers," which ran in the August 2009 issue of The Journal of Neurosurgery. Spurlock's co-author on the paper was Dr. Mark Hadley, director of UAB's Department of Neurosurgery.

What was at the heart of the research study? The article explains:

A chiropractic clinician was hired to develop, promote, and market a reciprocal referral network between chiropractors and UAB. The network consists of 54 chiropractic clinicians. Review of the database revealed the scope of services provided by the UAB physicians and the hospital. The services provided by each department were categorized and dollar amounts were calculated. Referrals to chiropractic clinicians were recorded.

What did the researchers conclude?

Our results reveal that networking with chiropractic providers has a positive economic impact and the potential for increased economic growth.

That's fine and dandy. But if a physician refers patients to an entity in which he has a compensation relationship, it is a violation of federal law. And that's exactly what the whistleblower lawsuit accuses Spurlock, Riley, and others of doing.

According to the lawsuit, some 20 Alabama defendants purchased ownership interest in Performance Group for the purpose of referring patients and sharing in the profits. Did these physicians include anyone from UAB, perhaps Hadley? The lawsuit does not say, and the Bush-era Department of Justice refused to join the case. But the case can be refiled, and the allegations remain on the table.

Why does this matter? The lawsuit explains the purpose of the Stark Laws:

The Stark Laws (and specifically Stark II, which became effective January 1, 1995) ("Stark"), prohibit physicians from referring Medicare, Tricare, or Medicaid patients to an entity for certain "designated health services," including radiology services, if the physician has a non-exempt "financial relationship," including a "compensation relationship," with such entity. 42 U.S.C. 1395 (nn)(a)(1), (h)(6).

Stark's prohibition is not limited to situations where the physician
directly refers the patient to a particular entity. Stark prohibits a physician from requesting an item or service for a patient which is performed by a provider of a designated health service with which the physician has a compensation relationship.

Entities and persons, such as Defendants, may not present or cause to be presented to Medicare Tricare, or any state Medicaid program claims for services furnished pursuant to a prohibited referral, and Stark II expressly prohibits payments of claims for services rendered in violation of its provisions. 42 U.S.C 1395 (nn)(a)(1), (g)(1).

In short, it's a violation of federal law for a physician to refer a patient to an entity in which he holds a financial interest--or for anyone to cause such a referral to be made.

Public documents, however, indicate that Thomas Spurlock and Rob Riley--perhaps with the help of Dr. Mark Hadley and other UAB physicians--have engaged in such behavior.

Now we have Spurlock and Hadley writing an article that appears to be encouraging other physicians to engage in similar behavior because it has "potential for increased economic growth."

We bet it does. Never mind that it might violate federal law.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Should We Doubt A Finding of Suicide in Major Bashinsky's Death?

Law-enforcement officials have ruled Major Bashinsky's death a suicide. But we see reasons to doubt that conclusion in the disappearance and death of the prominent Alabama attorney.

Particularly surprising is the officials' finding that Bashinsky died on March 3, the day he disappeared. That means his body remained in a shallow golf-course water hazard for 12 days, in a heavily trafficked area, without being noticed.

Will members of Bashinsky's family question the suicide finding? We suspect they will. Comments in the press about a week ago from Leslie Hewett Bashinsky, Major's widow, and her brother, Steve Hewett, indicate that they saw no signs pointing to suicide.

Sloan Y. Bashinsky Jr., Major's older brother, states in a post this morning that he accepts the suicide finding. But Sloan says he suspects someone pressured Major about something--perhaps disclosure that he had Peyroine's disease and was bisexual--and that drove Major to suicide.

Previously, Sloan had written that he thought Major might have felt business pressures, possibly from improper sales of securities. But Sloan quotes a business associate who says Major was fully licensed to sell securities. Via e-mail, the person wrote:

Good morning,

I have been following your blog since the whole story broke and I have enjoyed reading your past blogs.

I did want to comment on your blog today (3/24). Major did have all securities licenses needed to sell any kind of investment he wanted. Even though he was an attorney, his main business was an investment advisor practice thru First Protective, a subsidiary of Protective Life. Although I do not know for sure, his business seemed to be legit, so I would lean more towards his personal life for the reasons behind his suicide. I just thought you should know.

I hope you find closure and peace.

Because of that note, Sloan writes, he believes Major was pressured about something personal, not involving the law or business, that drove him to suicide.

We admire Sloan's efforts to sort out the truth about a painful chapter in his family's history, through his blog. But we're not sure we agree with either of his findings, so far. We have doubts about the suicide finding, and we suspect Major Bashinsky's concerns might have been more professional than personal.

This much is clear: Many questions remain about Major Bashinsky's disappearance and death, and we suspect many of those questions might never be answered now that his death has been ruled a suicide. Consider just a few questions that seemingly have not been properly addressed:

* If Major Bashinsky waded into the golf-course water hazard on March 3 and shot himself, how could his body go unnoticed for 12 days?

An article in the print version of today's Birmingham News provides the official account. (The same version does not appear to be available online.)

Authorities said they believe Bashinsky died March 3, the day he disappeared from his Mountain Brook office. His Toyota Camry was found in Southside, in the 2100 block of 11th Court, on March 7. His body was found March 15 in the golf course pond.

Here's what investigators believe happened:

The day he disappeared, Bashinsky went into a Southside coffee shop and bought coffee, then went to a nearby hardware store and purchased rope and duct tape.

A clerk at that store told The Birmingham News he sold duct tape and rope to a man that day. He said investigators visited him, showed him a picture of Bashinsky and asked if that was who he sold it to. The clerk said the picture, taken from a surveillance camera at the shop, was blurry and he would need to see a better photo.

Authorities say Bashinsky wrapped rope around parts of his body and attached a bottle that contained a copy of the note they found in his car. He stuck a label from a Golden Flake bag in the roof of his mouth and loosely bound his mouth with duct tape and his hands with rope. He then walked into the pond and shot himself.

If he waded into the water, obviously the water was shallow. Being in Alabama in early March, the water probably was not terribly cold. This was on a public golf course where many people come and go. And yet the body remained submerged and unnoticed for roughly 12 days?

I don't pretend to be a forensic pathologist, but this seems unlikely--and officials gave no indication that the body was weighted down by any object.

In a post dated March 23, Sloan Bashinsky shined light on this issue, quoting a relative named Charles "Bubba" Major, who is a well known golfer in the Birmingham area. In an e-mail, Bubba Major wrote:

You probably did not know that I ran Highland Golf Course for 15 yrs 83-98 and thought it was ironic that they found Major’s body at Highland Golf Course, still have not heard the cause of death, but guess it will come out soon. For the record there is no way the body could have been there several days, without being seen because Hooters had golf tourney there Sat and had over 120 people going by that pond every 3 minutes.

After disclosing that e-mail, Sloan Bashinsky writes:

Background note: Major’s body was spotted by golfers Monday following the Hooters tournament. He went missing 12 days before his body was found. He was alive most of that time. There was no ransom demand. There was no note to law enforcement or the family or the media. There was only silence.

But now law-enforcement officials are saying Major was not alive all that time. In fact, they are saying that 120 people could have been going by that pond every three minutes and not noticed his corpse.

* Has anyone checked for evidence that Major Bashinsky might have been abducted?

I've seen nothing in the press that indicates this question even has been asked. Major's office was in the Luckie Building, off Highway 280. It's a nice, modern-looking building. Does it have security cameras? Were there any signs of unexpected visitors to Major Bashinsky's office?

* Has anyone looked into circumstances surrounding a lawsuit, Estate of Sloan Bashinsky v. W & H Investments, which involved a dispute over money the late Sloan Bashinsky Sr. had invested in oil wells?

Sources tell Legal Schnauzer that the lawsuit was settled just a few days before Major Bashinsky disappeared. Was the settlement amicable and satisfactory to all parties involved? What about parties who were not directly involved? I know from personal experience that discovery in lawsuits can be wide ranging and can include information that might not be admissible in court. For example, in a lawsuit against an investment firm, plaintiff's might seek information about other accounts at the firm, not just the one in question--and a judge might be inclined to allow such an inquiry. That could unearth information that might make someone very uncomfortable.

* In a post dated March 14, Sloan Bashinsky Jr. wrote about an unnamed visitor who showed up in Key West, Florida, tracked him down, and talked with him for about an hour on matters related to the senior Bashinsky's business. Who was this person?

Here is how Sloan Bashinsky describes the encounter:

Five minutes after returning to Key West I received a phone call showing a 205 (Birmingham, Alabama) area code on my cell phone display. The caller asked if he had reached Sloan Bashinsky? Ascertaining he had, he identified himself as having given my father investment advice for twenty years. He was in Key West with a friend who was out fishing. Could we get together? I ascertained where he was, a coin toss from Sloppy Joes, and said to hang there and I’d be along shortly.

We left Sloppy Joe’s because of the noise, and found a quiet place in the shade to sit and talk for maybe an hour and a half. He told me a lot of things I didn’t know about my father’s business affairs and his dealings with my father’s widow, my father’s lawyer, my father’s accountant, and the fellow who had run my father’s company before he went into semi-retirment and then became ill. Maybe all I should say now is that my sentiments that my father had surrounded himself with somewhat less than the sharpest pencils on the block, and more than somewhat greedy, were confirmed.

Then Sloan writes:

Most interesting, I suppose, was how this fellow got my cell phone number. He went into Irish Kevin’s, a popular bar just up the street from Sloppy Joe’s, and asked the first man he saw if he knew Sloan Bashinsky? Yes. Did he know Sloan’s phone number? No, but he knew someone one who probably did, and called him and got my phone number.

It sounds like Sloan and the fellow from Birmingham had a pleasant visit. But the blog post indicates they met on March 13. That's 10 days after Major Bashinsky's disappearance and two days before his body would be discovered.

The fellow from Birmingham just happened to appear in Key West, Florida, at this time, looking for Sloan Bashinsky and wanting to discuss the senior Bashinsky's business affairs? This doesn't sound like a chance encounter. Who was this person and why did he go to considerable trouble to find Sloan Bashinsky Jr.?

There might be reasonable and logical answers to all of these questions--and more.

Perhaps the strongest sign pointing to suicide is a statement from officials that a computer flash drive recovered from Bashinsky's car had drafts of a letter that had been sent to Golden Enterprises just before he disappeared. The letter, like the copies in the car and the bottle, was critical of the Bashinsky family's business practices.

But here is our concern: Now that Major Bashinsky's death has been ruled a suicide, will many questions even be asked?

Alabama's First Family Believes in Self-Enrichment

Alabama Governor Bob Riley recently summoned his inner Vito Corleone to warn those who might "get too close to the families."

Why would Riley make such a threat? Possibly it's because members of his family have treated Alabama like their personal piggy bank for the almost eight years of the Riley regime.

Recent news reports provide the latest evidence of the Riley family benefiting financially from having Big Bob in the governor's mansion. Even the mainstream press in Alabama, long a cheerleader for Bob Riley, is starting to question the governor's actions.

The Montgomery Advertiser reports that the governor's office has spent more than $500,000 in legal fees in its effort to shut down electronic bingo in the state. Those fees went to the Birmingham firm of Bradley Arant Boult & Cummings, where Riley's son-in-law, Rob Campbell, just happens to be a partner. Writes the Advertiser's Sebastian Kitchen:

Riley formed his task force in December 2008 in an effort to rid the state of the machines. He incorporated the legal help of attorneys Matt Lembke and Michael Pennington of Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP, which has its headquarters in Birmingham.

The total paid to Bradley Arant to help the task force is $536,115, according to numbers released by the governor's office on Monday following a verbal request from the Montgomery Advertiser in early February and a written request Feb. 16. The governor's office originally requested a contract with Bradley Arant for up to $250,000 and then amended it twice to increase the total to $650,000.

Riley's son-in-law, Rob Campbell, is a partner at Bradley Arant. Spokesmen for Riley have insisted repeatedly that Campbell does not handle work associated with state business and that he does not benefit financially from work his firm performs for the state.

Rebecca Abrahams writes at Huffington Post about Alabama GOP gubernatorial candidate Bill Johnson and his efforts to shine light on the Riley administration's questionable activities. Specifically, Johnson says Riley received money from Mississippi gaming interests for his 2002 campaign against Democrat Don Siegelman. That money apparently was funneled through disgraced GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Writes Abrahams:

It is interesting to note, many of Riley's business associates and former staffers either worked for or have ties to the Mississippi Choctaw Indian Tribe. Dan Gans left Alabama to work for the Alexander Strategy Group, (ASG) alongside Jack Abramoff. The Mississippi Choctaw Indian tribe was one of ASG's main clients. Riley's former governor's office chief of staff Toby Roth, took a lobbying job at Capitol Resources, which represented the Mississippi Indian casino interests and his former deputy chief of staff Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh, also worked there.

Johnson went on to file a formal complaint against Riley with Alabama Attorney General Troy King, including a 500-page dossier of alleged wrongdoing. The complaint focuses on four areas, Abrahams reports:

* Complaint #1--Conflicts of Interest between Governor Bob Riley, his son Rob Riley and the Jefferson County Occupational Tax;

* Complaint #2--Conflicts of interest between Governor Bob Riley, his son-in-law Rob Campbell and the law firm Bradley, Arant, Rose & White LLP., where Campbell is a senior partner;

* Complaint #3--Governor Bob Riley's attempts to revise state law to ethics statutes by altering clauses regarding "family members." Riley attempted to change statute wording to "household" members, which would exclude his son Rob Riley and his son-in-law Rob Campbell from being considered conflicts of interest; and

* Complaint #4--Governor Rob Riley received illegal campaign contributions during his 2002 gubernatorial campaign from the Mississippi Choctaw Indian Tribe. Johnson says, according to Dan Gans, the campaign was to receive some $3 million dollars from Choctaw gambling interests.

You can check out a summary of Johnson's complaint against the Riley administration at the Bill Johnson for Governor Web site.

What is the status of Johnson's complaint? Writes Abrahams:

Johnson has yet to receive a response from King and says his lawyers had hoped the Alabama attorney general would have found probable cause and taken the complaint to a circuit judge who would then appoint a special grand jury to review the documents.

When reached for comment, King's office responded, "It is a general policy of this office to neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation." An odd response considering attorney generals across the country routinely hold press conferences to announce major investigations and indictments. The Alabama attorney general is no different. In December 2009, King publicly announced he was leading an investigation into Senator Ben Nelson's trade off for health care reform vote. King also seemed to violate his office's policy when he announced his ban and subsequent investigation of those using "immoral sex toys."

Johnson said the U.S. Department of Justice also has shown little interest in investigating Bob Riley. Joyce White Vance, President Obama's new U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, has been quiet on the subject. Writes Abrahams:

The Department of Justice's seeming lack of interest in Johnson's complaints could be related to Governor Bob Riley and Karl Rove's ties to Attorney General Eric Holder. Holder's former law firm Covington Burling represented George W. Bush during the 2000 Florida recount and the Republican National Committee during the White House email scandal. Rove used the RNC email system for 95-percent of his email communication. This may also explain why Holder's solicitor general Elena Kagan filed a petition, urging the U.S. Supreme Court to deny hearing Siegelman's appeal.

Bill Johnson's circumstance is not the first case of political injustice in Alabama and many critics suspect, won't be the last. Johnson points out, not all Alabama Republicans support such chicanery but few take action:

"Republicans are not holding other Republicans' feet to the fire for ethics violations. Even if it was a conflict of interest, Governor Riley is on our team and he's making us look bad. What I did is first of all, morally right and what I'm legally obligated to do. It's an absolute injustice. It's government for sale."

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Officials Rule Major Bashinsky's Death a Suicide

Law-enforcement officials are ruling the death of attorney Major Bashinsky a suicide, according to a report today on

Bashinsky was reported missing on March 3, and his body was discovered in a water hazard at Birmingham's Highland Park Golf Course on March 15. Sloan Y. Bashinsky Jr., Major's older brother who lives in Key West, Florida, reported on his blog that Major had been shot in the head at the golf course.

Authorities now say the wound was self-inflicted. Reports

Authorities today ruled the death of Major Bashinsky a suicide, according to Jefferson County Chief Deputy Coroner Pat Curry.

"All of our evidence supports that,'' Curry said.

Authorities said Bashinsky shot himself in the head, but tried to stage his death to look like murder.

Here is how authorities have pieced together the event:

The Mountain Brook father of four loosely bound his mouth with duct tape and his hands with rope before walking into a golf course pond and shooting himself.

Rope also was wrapped around parts of his body and was attached to a bottle, which contained a note that was similar to a note found in Bashinsky's abandoned car that was discovered three days after his disappearance.

A label off of a Golden Flake bag was stuck to the roof of his mouth.

There were no signs of a struggle against the tape or the rope.

Bashinsky's whereabouts during the 12 days he was missing remain missing. But did report:

Investigators have recovered the gun believed to have been used in the death. They also think they know where Bashinsky bought the duct tape and rope on the same day he disappeared.

A clerk at that Birmingham hardware store told The Birmingham News he sold duct tape and rope to a man on that day. He said investigators have visited him, showed him a picture of Bashinsky and asked if that was who he sold it to.

The store worker said the picture was blurry and he would need to see a better photo.

Authorities today said the death certificate will be officially signed off as a suicide later this week.

A second dive search of the water hazard was conducted this morning. Reports

Investigators this morning found a set of Toyota car keys, a pair of scissors and a roll of tape in the pond at Highland Park Golf Course where the body of a missing Mountain Brook man was discovered earlier this month.

Divers from Birmingham police and Southern Skin Divers Supply, a local dive business whose owners are trained in artifact search and recovery, looked in the pond today for clues in the death of Ma­jor Bashinsky, a 63-year-old lawyer and financial adviser.

He disappeared March 3. His body was found in the pond on March 15. It is the second dive in connection with the Ba­shinsky's disappearance and death.

Evidence was retrieved from the pond during the first dive, but authorities haven't disclosed the nature of those items fished from the pond.

Does Evidence Point to Suicide in Major Bashinsky's Death?

The brother of a prominent Alabama lawyer writes today that he believes Major Bashinsky committed suicide. Law-enforcement officials still have not announced a cause of death, more than a week after Bashinsky's body was recovered from a golf-course water hazard and positively identified.

We admire Sloan Y. Bashinsky Jr.'s efforts to get at the truth through his blog In a piece posted this morning, Sloan provides more details about why he believes his younger brother took his own life.

We're not sure we agree with Sloan's conclusions, partly because suicide seems to conflict with other information reported on Sloan's blog. Also, in the ugly political and legal environment that has enveloped Alabama over the past eight to 10 years, we would not be at all surprised to find that someone could commit murder in an effort to keep certain information from coming to light.

We will get to the conflicts that we think point toward homicide, not suicide. But first, let's consider Sloan Bashinsky's latest revelations about his brother.

Sloan says Major was a tormented man who suffered from a physical deformity:

He was desperate and felt trapped, and all signs point toward suicide. I was contacted by one of Major’s former girlfriends, who dated him a short while, before he met his first wife to be. She said he was unable to penetrate and have intercourse sex because of a physical deformity (Peyroine’s disease) that severely affected his erection. She was reluctant to reveal this and does not want to be dragged into it. I looked up Peyroine’s disease online. In severe cases, which this woman described Major having had when she dated him, it has no good medical outcome. I found myself seeing how that could have pushed Major to be bisexual. I saw how someone could hang the condition and/or Major being bisexual over his head, and how, faced with public disclosure and humiliation, he could have killed himself and perhaps done it in a way to make it look like someone else may have done it.

Sloan writes that he has received information indicating Major might have had problems with his business affairs:

I have heard it was reported in the news that Major was talking with the FBI about something before he disappeared. Perhaps he was under investigation and it was about to become public. I was told by someone who ought to know, of Major having charged commissions for security transactions he made for one of his clients. He had no securities license and could not charge commissions. Perhaps the FBI was involved in that. If you knew Major as I knew him, as others knew him, you would have no qualms thinking something happened he could not handle and he killed himself. What still puzzles me is why the FBI never contacted Major’s first wife or me, to develop a profile? I can only imagine the FBI knew something all along that caused them to feel they didn’t need to canvass people beyond Major’s immediate family, and all they did not know was where he was. Either that, or they are not very good FBI agents.

As for the conflicts, the signs that do not point to suicide, here are a few that come to mind:

* Sloan has written that a private source told him that Major was shot in the head, beside the golf-course water hazard where his body was found, and a pistol was recovered. Also, Sloan has written that the body did not appear to have been at the golf course for a long time. If Major shot himself beside the water hazard, how would his body wind up in the water? Wouldn't someone have had to push or throw his body into the water?

* Sloan writes of a report that Major was shot in the left temple and acknowledges that Major was not left-handed. Sloan writes that Major could have shot himself in the left temple to make it look like someone else did it. Certainly possible, but it seems unlikely to us.

* Sloan writes of a report that Major was found with his hands tied behind his back, which would seem to rule out suicide. If that's the case, Sloan writes, he can't understand why law enforcement would say they weren't sure if it was homicide or suicide. Perhaps it's a case of incompetence or corruption among law-enforcement officials. I wouldn't have a hard time believing that one.

* If Major committed suicide, where was he during the roughly 12 days that he was missing? News reports have indicated that he did not use credit cards or withdraw cash. So where was he, and how did he survive? And if he indeed was shot at the golf course, and his body had not been there long, why did he wait so long to commit suicide?

Sloan has written that he and Major had become estranged in recent years, but it seems clear that he still cared deeply about his brother and other family members. Sloan now lives in Key West, Florida, but like many who live in Birmingham and have been familiar with the Bashinskys for years, he is puzzled about what could have happened:

In deference to Sherlock Holmes, what dog did not bark? There was no contact from a kidnapper. No ransom demand. There was only silence until Major’s body was noticed by golfers on a Monday, 12 days after he disappeared, in a shallow pond at Highland Golf Course. The course had been heavily used by golfers and a tournament crowd the Saturday before. Ergo, the body got into the pond after the golf tournament ended on Saturday. 10 days ago, the body was found. Yet still nothing from the coronor’s office when I checked this morning. Why hasn’t that dog barked? Was it waiting on the Memorial service to be held, out of respect to the family? Or is that dog still scratching its head?

Is Rahm Emanuel Providing Cover for Karl Rove and GOP thugs?

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel has led efforts to prevent investigations of political prosecutions during the George W. Bush administration, according to a recent Web report.

Brendan DeMelle, at Huffington Post, writes that the Obama administration's decision to turn a blind eye to politicization of the U.S. Justice Department has profound implications for the country--not to mention the victims of political prosecutions, such as Don Siegelman in Alabama, Paul Minor in Mississippi, and Charles Walker in Georgia.

Veteran investigative reporter Wayne Madsen reported earlier this week that it was Emanuel, not former White House Counsel Greg Craig, who nixed support for new trials or investigations in the apparent political prosecutions. From the Wayne Madsen Report (WMR):

WMR has learned from sources close to ousted White House chief counsel Greg Craig that it was not President Obama’s top legal adviser who balked at ordering the Justice Department to review the politically-motivated criminal cases brought by the Bush administration against three top Democrats in the South, but it was White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel who made the decision to nix any White House backing for new trials for the southern Democratic officials involved -- former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman, former Georgia state Senate leader Charles Walker, and Mississippi attorney Paul Minor.

Walker and Minor are currently incarcerated in federal prisons while Siegelman was freed from prison pending an appeal of his conviction in a trial headed by a corrupt Bush-appointed federal judge and former Republican operative, Mark Fuller.

Madsen says the new information essentially puts Emanuel as providing cover for Karl Rove:

Craig announced his resignation as chief counsel last November. Although press reports indicated that Craig was forced out by Emanuel over Craig’s determination to close the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, prison and to release Bush administration Justice Department memos on harsh interrogation techniques, the new information suggests that Craig and Emanuel also differed over Bush-era Justice Department prosecutions of Siegelman, Walker, and Minor, with Craig favoring a Justice Department review of the cases and possible new trials.

The involvement of Emanuel in blocking Justice Department review of the cases against Siegelman, Walker, and Minor is the first evidence that ties Obama’s chief of staff to the continuation of the political prosecutions of a number of Democrats that was brought about largely by President Bush’s top political adviser Karl Rove.

DeMelle, understandably, reacts to the news with a sense of outrage:

With friends like Rahm Emanuel, who needs Karl Rove to destroy the Democrats? Rove is widely reported to have been the mastermind behind the politically-motivated criminal cases brought by the Bush administration against three top Democrats in the South--Paul Minor, Don Siegelman and Charles Walker--and many more nationwide.

Assuming the Wayne Madsen Report is accurate, we now know that Rahm Emanuel is a willing accomplice in that distortion of justice, turning a blind eye to the shameless political prosecutions waged by the Bush administration. Why?

DeMelle also provides an update on the Paul Minor case and what it could mean for America's political system:

Paul Minor, the former Mississippi attorney turned political prisoner, is set to file a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court to address the central issue in his case - whether a U.S. citizen can be convicted and imprisoned for donating to a political campaign without the court requiring any evidence of an explicit quid pro quo agreement between the candidate running for elected office and the campaign contributor.

This may be the most important case of the 21st century. If the court decides against Paul Minor, then every U.S. citizen--even corporations, despite the inherent fallacy of corporate personhood-- could be convicted for bribery and thrown in jail simply for donating to a political campaign.

Just let that sink in for a moment. Every single donor--and even the candidates themselves--could be accused, tried, convicted and jailed simply for taking part in democratic elections. This isn't happening in the Soviet Union or a repressive Middle Eastern dictatorship. It is happening right here in the United States, in plain sight, although very few people seem to understand the repercussions given the mainstream media's lack of coverage of Mr. Minor's plight.

Who got in the way of possible justice in the Paul Minor case and other political prosecutions? DeMelle makes that clear:

We now also know that President Obama's top legal advisers were ready and willing to review Paul Minor's case, that is until Rahm Emanuel put his foot down to unilaterally stop the White House from urging the Justice Department to review the case of Paul Minor and the others.

That a chief of staff in a Democratic administration could take such a wrongheaded stance is hard to comprehend. DeMelle outlines the implications for all Americans-including Rahm Emanuel, who might someday learn that he isn't above the fray:

Paul Minor's appeal to the Supreme Court represents an incredibly significant moment in the history of participatory democracy. It is critical for the Supreme Court to enforce the requirement for proof of an explicit quid pro quo in cases involving campaign contributions.

If the Supreme Court Justices provide that clarity by ruling the honest services statute unconstitutionally vague, or even simply enforcing the quid pro quo requirement, then Paul Minor must be freed.

In any event, if the Supreme Court fails to require a clear quid pro quo agreement, then every campaign contributor - citizen and corporation alike - should be concerned about his or her freedom to participate in our democracy. Whether it's an ExxonMobil or U.S. Chamber of Commerce executive, a wealthy trial lawyer, or even Rahm Emanuel, nobody deserves the injustice endured by Paul Minor. Let his be the last partisan political prosecution to tarnish our democracy, and set him free to be with his children.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Major Bashinsky and the Curious Actions of the Alabama State Bar

A memorial service is being held this morning for Birmingham attorney Major Bashinsky at Canterbury United Methodist Church in Mountain Brook. Judging by the actions of the Alabama State Bar, it's as if Bashinsky already has been buried for several days.

Bashinsky's body was positively identified last Tuesday after it was recovered from a water hazard at the Highland Park Golf Course in Birmingham. Law-enforcement officials still have not released a cause of death. But Sloan Y. Bashinsky Jr., Major's older brother, has written on his blog that a private source told him that Major was shot in the head beside the golf-course pond--and a pistol was recovered.

Where does the Alabama State Bar enter the picture? While conducting research for a post, I checked the Bar's online directory last Thursday evening for information about Major Bashinsky. This was about 48 hours after his body had been positively identified and roughly three days before an obituary would appear in the local newspaper. But Major Bashinsky's record on the Alabama State Bar Web site already had been wiped clean.

It's possible that an official death certificate had not even been prepared at that point. But it was already as if Major Bashinsky never existed for the Alabama State Bar.

A source with close connections to the Alabama legal community tells Legal Schnauzer that he knows of at least one other situation where the Bar acted in a similar fashion. That involved Guntersville lawyer Jeff Carr, who died in February 2009 under mysterious circumstances at age 38. In that case, the Bar wiped Carr's record clean immediately and did not run an obituary about him in the Alabama Lawyer.

Is the Alabama State Bar trying to distance itself as quickly as possible from the death of Major Bashinsky? Does someone at the State Bar know something about the case that the rest of us do not know?

The answers to those questions remain unclear, but I know from first-hand experience that the Alabama State Bar is a sham organization that is more interested in covering up legal wrongdoing than in exposing it.

I filed a bar complaint against William E. Swatek, the Pelham attorney who started our legal headaches and has a 30-year record of unethical activities in the legal profession. Swatek has been disciplined three times by the Alabama State Bar, including a suspension of his license for acts of fraud and deceit, and that is supposed to make him subject to extra scrutiny in the future. But the Bar did not even investigate my complaint against Swatek.

More recently, I timely filed a bar complaint against Jesse Evans and Michael Odom, the two attorneys I originally hired to defend the bogus lawsuit Swatek brought on behalf of my criminally inclined neighbor, Mike McGarity.

Evans and Odom, who were then with the Birmingham firm of Adams & Reese/Lange Simpson and now are at Haskell Slaughter, took almost $12,000 of my money and proceeded to keep their mouths shut while Shelby County Judge J. Michael Joiner cheated me raw.

Not only did Evans and Odom engage in gross legal malpractice, they probably participated in a criminal conspiracy. They had to know that Joiner was committing honest-services mail fraud, intentionally ruling unlawfully in my case, and they did nothing--violating their duty to report such wrongdoing to the proper tribunal.

When I filed my bar complaint against Evans and Odom, Alabama State Bar General Counsel Tony McLain tried to claim that I had failed to meet the six-year statute of limitations. (I waited to the last minute to file because I didn't want the State Bar's confidentiality rules to interfere with writing about my experiences on this blog.) When I made it clear that I had followed the Alabama Rules of Disciplinary Procedure to the letter, McLain said that he would place my complaint with the Bar's Client Security Fund, which is designed to reimburse people who have been cheated by their own lawyers.

By placing my case with the Client Security Fund, McLain seemed to be admitting that the complaint was filed in a timely fashion. It's now more than a year later, and I still haven't heard anything from the Alabama State Bar.

Jesse Odom and Michael Odom are with a large Birmingham firm, and the Alabama State Bar seems to be doing its best to make sure they are not held accountable.

Experience has taught me that the State Bar has a "cover-up mentality." And I wonder if Major Bashinsky's mysterious death has caused that mentality to click into high gear.

Tiger Woods and the Hazards of Modern Technology

What do Tiger Woods, lying lawyers, sleazy debt collectors, corrupt judges, unethical university administrators, and possibly murderers have in common?

All of them seem to have a hard time grasping this simple truth: If you are going to cheat and violate society's norms, modern technology greatly enhances the likelihood that you will get caught.

Consider the latest news from Tiger's tawdry tale. Joslyn James, a porn star who claims to be one of Woods' numerous mistresses, says she has more than 1,000 text messages that the world's most famous golfer sent her. Some of the messages show a desire for rough sex, indicating that Woods wants to "spank," "slap," and "choke" James.

A Web site called reportedly includes roughly 100 of the text messages from Woods. James promises that more will be released soon. We can't wait.

All of which raises this question: How can a guy be smart enough to win 14 major golf titles and be stupid enough to: (a) Have an affair with a porn star; and (b) Send her hundreds of text messages, leaving a digital footprint of exactly what he has been up to?

Did this thought ever occur to our guy Tiger: "Hmmm, I wonder if women who make their living in porn are discreet about their activities?" Or how about this one: "I wonder if one of my mistresses might keep my texts or voice messages, blowing out of the water any excuse I might come up with should this story start to become public?"

Woods was smart enough to get into Stanford University. But he wasn't smart enough to see this train wreck coming.

Tiger, however, is hardly alone in failing to realize that technology poses major hazards for those who can't keep themselves from cheating others.

Consider our little Legal Schnauzer story. We posted last week about a local lawyer who had filed a motion claiming he had not received a copy of an audiotape that is key evidence in a lawsuit my wife and I have filed against debt collectors. Because he didn't have a copy of the audio file, the lawyer argued, it had to be excluded as evidence. Did it ever occur to the lawyer that I could obtain e-mail evidence that proves he did, in fact, receive the audio file? Did it ever occur to the lawyer that I could use a magical new Web site called Scribd to run the lawyer's motion and the e-mail refuting it, in their entirety, on my blog? Did it ever occur to the lawyer that I could prove, for anyone who cares to read it, that he has been intentionally filing fraudulent documents in federal court, violating numerous tenets of the legal profession and perhaps federal law?

The answer to all of these questions apparently is no. And how did the lawyer in question, Wayne Morse of Waldrep Stewart & Kendrick, react upon realizing that he had been unmasked as a fraud? He left a message with one of my attorneys, threatening a defamation lawsuit. For what, telling the unvarnished truth about him and his client?

What about the debt-collection outfits themselves, Pennsylvania-based NCO and Birmingham-based Ingram & Associates? Did they ever dream that I would tape record my conversations with their representatives, gathering indisputable evidence that they violated the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act (FDCPA) on multiple occasions? Did they think I could convert those tapes to digital files and run those on my blog? Did they think I could run a word-for-word transcript on my blog? Well, they should of thought of that because that's exactly what I'm going to do.

Consider the myriad corrupt judges we've introduced here at Legal Schnauzer.
Did any of them ever think that a party before them might realize he was being cheated, and with the help of modern technology, conduct the research necessary to prove it? Did any of these judges think that said party might start a blog and reveal that they are essentially criminals in black robes?

As for university administrators, consider University of Alabama Trustee Paul Bryant Jr. and UAB President Carol Garrison. Did Bryant ever consider that a citizen journalist could use technology to uncover information about massive insurance fraud involving one of Bryant's companies, Alabama Reassurance? Did Garrison ever consider that, after cheating yours truly out of his job, that I could use the Interwebs to uncover evidence of large-scale research fraud that has happened on her watch? And that's not to mention an upcoming series of posts about her profligate spending of taxpayer dollars while jetting about the Southeast with her boyfriend, the former president of the University of Tennessee?

What about murderers? Consider the mysterious death of Alabama attorney Major Bashinsky, whose body was found floating in a golf-course water hazard last week in Birmingham. The cause of death still has not been released, but it is looking more and more like a homicide.

If that proves to be the case, I suspect the perpetrators never dreamed that Bashinsky's older brother, Sloan Y. Bashinsky Jr., would be writing about the case on his blog, revealing information long before it has been released by law enforcement.

Some readers might say, "Schnauzer, big shots don't care what little people write on blogs or Web sites." And they might have a point.

But I suspect Tiger Woods and his sponsors care quite a bit about what Joslyn James is sharing with the world.

I know for a fact--let's just say that I have "spies"--that a number of the villains in our Legal Schnauzer story are concerned with what we write on this blog.

And if Major Bashinsky indeed was murdered, I would bet enough to make Bob Riley blush that the perpetrators are a bit nervous about Sloan Bashinsky and his quirky blog.

Early in life, most of us learn the old saw, "Honesty is the best policy." Thankfully, that simple phrase has a way of sticking--and most of us go through life trying pretty hard to behave in honest and honorable ways.

For some people, though, simple phrases don't seem to stick. They have a penchant for cheating others, perhaps because they think they can get away with it.

But here's a lesson for Tiger Woods and his ilk: Honesty always has been the best policy, but it's even more so now. That's because of a new simple phrase that many of us are learning: "Technology is the best sunlight--and the best disinfectant."

Thanks to technology, everybody has eyes and ears--and ways to communicate what they see and hear. Cheaters should proceed with caution.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Lying Lawyers Come Out of the Woodwork to Protect Debt Collectors

We already have caught one group of lawyers filing fraudulent court documents in an effort to unlawfully exclude evidence in a lawsuit against debt collectors.

Now we've caught a second group of lawyers doing the same thing--in the same case. Is there any level to which debt collectors, and their lawyers, will not stoop in an effort to hide serial violations of the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act (FDCPA)?

This all is connected to a lawsuit my wife and I filed against Pennsylvania-based NCO and Birmingham-based Ingram & Associates, alleging multiple violations of the FDCPA and various state-law claims.

Wayne Morse, an attorney for Ingram & Associates, had filed a motion claiming he never received an audio file of my conversation with one of his client's representatives. Morse, who is with the Birmingham firm Waldrep Stewart & Kendrick, alleged that I had "withheld" the evidence, and it therefore should be excluded. There is a slight problem with Morse's claims--they aren't true. And our lawyers have filed e-mails with the court showing that Morse indeed received the audio files.

Now, lawyers for NCO have joined Morse's bogus motion, claiming that they also did not receive the audio files. Never mind that our lawyers have filed e-mails with the court showing that NCO's lawyers did receive the audio files.

Laura Nettles, an attorney for the Birmingham firm Lloyd Gray & Whitehead, wrote the motion for NCO. In it, she states:

Plaintiff's previous counsel, Robert Kreitlein, referred several times to a possible third recording, but despite repeated requests from counsel for NCO and this court's May 13, 2009, order compelling plaintiffs' discovery responses, plaintiffs never provided the recording allegedly transcribed in their Exhibit A.

Now, keep in mind that Laura Nettles is an "officer of the court." She has a duty to uphold the law, to deal candidly with the tribunal, and to deal fairly with the opposing party.

But in her motion, she tells a flat-out lie. How do we know? Because we have filed an e-mail with the court, showing that Robert Kreitlein sent all three audio files in question to Dayle Van Hoose, a lawyer for NCO in Tampa, Florida. And on that e-mail, Kreitlein copied . . . Laura Nettles.

You can check out the NCO motion and Kreitlein's e-mail below.

First, let's ponder the mind-blowing qualities of what we have learned--and what it says about the legal profession. You have lawyers from two well-known Birmingham firms filing documents in federal court that they had to know were false. Evidence that the documents were false should have been in their e-mail folders, and they should have been able to find them by doing a simple search for our names--or Robert Kreitlein's name.

Instead, they filed documents claiming that I had withheld evidence, when they knew that wasn't true. How desperate are these lawyers, and their clients, to obscure the truth about how debt collectors conduct business?

Claims from Morse and Nettles that I withheld evidence are comically ironic because, in fact, they have not responded to hardly any of our requests in discovery--providing one bogus excuse after another. Just what are these people trying to hide?

These actions by Morse and Nettles should result in serious sanctions from the court and perhaps suspensions of their licenses from the Alabama State Bar. A gutsy federal prosecutor possibly could make a strong case that they have engaged in criminal activity--specifically mail and wire fraud.

Morse and Nettles know that they are unlikely to be held accountable because the Alabama State Bar is a pathetic excuse for a "watchdog" organization. The Bar has shown that it is more interested in providing cover for bad lawyers than in exposing them. As for a gutsy federal prosecutor, I'm not sure such a creature exists these days.

Here at Legal Schnauzer, we have no problem exposing bad lawyers; in fact, it has sort of become our mission in life--at least for now. So we encourage you to check out the motion from Laura Nettles, followed by an e-mail from Robert Kreitlein proving that Nettles is trying to perpetrate a fraud on the court. It's pretty damning stuff:

NCO--Joinder on Audio Files

Kreitlein e-mail2

"Perversion Files" Might Unveil Some Horrific Truths About The Boy Scouts

When I was a little fellow, the general rule in our elementary school seemed to be that you could be involved in sports or scouting--but it was pretty hard to do both.

Scouting events tended to take place after school and on weekends, the same time that sports practices and games took place. I'm sure some kids found a way to do both, but it always seemed like an either/or proposition for me.

Since I was always more into playing ball than hanging out in forests, it was an easy decision to choose sports. After reading the latest news about The Boy Scouts of America, I think that was a wise choice.

As an adult, and a progressive who supports equal rights for gays, I'm blown away by the hypocrisy that seems to permeate Scouting in America.

An Oregon lawsuit has uncovered evidence that the Boy Scouts have long kept an extensive archive of secret documents that chronicle the sexual abuse of young boys by Scout leaders over the years. Scouts officials reportedly gave the documents the charming name of the "perversion files."

Attorney Kelly Clark represents a 37-year-old Oregon man who is seeking $14 million in damages, saying he was sexually molested in the early 1980s by an assistant Scoutmaster named Timur Dykes. Reports The New York Daily News:

Clark said the victim suffered mental health problems, bad grades in school, drug use, anxiety, difficulty maintaining relationships and lost several jobs over the years because of the abuse.

Dykes was convicted three times between 1983 and 1994 of sexually abusing boys, most of them Scouts.

Although there have been dozens of lawsuits against the organization over sex abuse allegations, judges for the most part have either denied requests for the files or the lawsuits have been settled before they went to trial.

The Boy Scouts had fought to keep the files being used in the Portland trial confidential. But they lost a pretrial legal battle when the Oregon Supreme Court rejected their argument that opening the files could damage the lives and reputations of people not a party to the lawsuit.

Could the Boy Scouts wind up with a scandal similar to the one that has enveloped the Catholic Church? And what about the Scouts' long-held contention that homosexuality is inconsistent with their values?

My impression has been that Scout leaders tend to be parents of boys who are Scouts. In other words, Scout leaders tend to be married and therefore not homosexual--at least by appearances.

So isn't it curious, and more than a little sickening, that an organization standing against homosexuality would for years tolerate child molesters among its leaders--especially when quite a few of those molesters probably were married men?

My guess is that most rational people long have concluded that there is no link between homosexuality and child molestation. Isn't it ironic that a case involving the Boy Scouts now seems to provide more proof that there is no such link? If parents want to cast a wary eye toward someone, the "perversion files" seem to suggest they should look toward a married man who has children.

The stakes are high in the Oregon case. Writes The New York Daily News:

The Portland trial comes as the Boy Scouts are marking their 100th anniversary.

"They spent a century building the Boy Scout brand," said Patrick Boyle, author of a book about sex abuse in the Boy Scouts. "It's one of the most respected organizations in the world."

The trial "can only erode what they have been doing for 100 years," he said

Friday, March 19, 2010

Searching for Clues in the Death of a Prominent Alabama Lawyer

Law-enforcement officials have been quiet since attorney Major Bashinsky's body was identified on Tuesday after it was recovered from a water hazard on a Birmingham public golf course.

The circumstances surrounding Bashinsky's death remain a mystery. But Sloan Bashinsky, Major's older brother, is using a blog called to shine light on a case that has drawn national attention to Birmingham.

As we reported in a post yesterday, Sloan Bashinsky says a private source told him that Major was shot in the head at the golf course where his body was found. Sloan also writes that his brother was bisexual and wonders if that played a role in his disappearance and death.

Sloan Bashinsky, a lawyer who lives in Key West, Florida, is using his blog to address a number of issues surrounding his brother's death:

The role of the FBI
In a post dated March 14, Sloan Bashinsky writes that Major's wife, Leslie, had stated publicly that the FBI had met with her husband before his disappearance. Addressing a conversation he'd had with a man from Birmingham, Sloan writes:

I told the fellow from Birmingham that I had heard Major’s wife had publicly stated the FBI was talking with Major before his disappearance. Before that, I had heard maybe Major had done something illegal, but held back saying it was taking commissions on investments he had made for his law clients, which he could not do unless he was a licensed and registered securities dealer.

Sloan also writes that he wonders about the FBI's motives in the case:

I said the FBI had yet to contact me. And, as far as I knew, the FBI had yet to contact Major’s and my sister, and Major’s first wife. I said seemed really weird to me, because one would think the FBI would go straight to people who might know Major best, to get a fuller picture of him. The fellow from Birmingham agreed. In that instant came the first insight, and I said the FBI knows something that has caused it not to feel it needs to speak with people who know major. Much the same thing had been suggested yesterday morning by an old friend I called in Birmingham to see if there had been any new developments, but it went over my head when he said it.

A Coverup in Birmingham?
The Birmingham News has become known in recent years as a mouthpiece for the corporate and political elites who run Alabama. The newspaper often slants its coverage to avoid anything that might upset the state's conservative power structure. So it is interesting to learn the following from Sloan Bashinsky, in a post dated March 11. Sloan says a reporter from the News had contacted him two days earlier, in the midst of Major's disappearance:

He conducted a lengthy interview by telephone, which led to him writing an article, which was to run in yesterday’s edition, but was held by higher-ups at the News. The article was about my brother and my father’s company, and included my thoughts about both situations.

This is the biggest story in Birmingham at the moment, involving one of Alabama's best-known business families. Why did the newspaper cut the story with Sloan Bashinsky's thoughts about his brother's disappearance?

Could Major Bashinsky have arranged his own death?
Sloan, noting that his brother was deeply conscious of his image, says the answer is yes:

Major was a deeply conflicted man. It started when he nearly died of double pneumonia at age 6 months. All hope was lost, until a new drug, penicillin, was tried, and it saved him. Make no mistake, that dark hole into which Major plunged in infancy shaped and drove him for the rest of his life.

As did his being bisexual, which caused him a great deal of internal stress when he lived in Birmingham and tried to hide it.

Maintaining appearances was important to Major, Sloan writes:

Plenty of people will extol Major’s virtues. The keeper of the family skeletons. I have to rattle them sometimes.

Major was perfectly capable, if he faced massive public mortification, of hiring someone do him in and make it look like someone at my father’s company did it.

What about the letter critical of the family and its company, Golden Enterprises?
In a post dated March 11, Sloan says the author of the letter has an insider's knowledge:

Whoever wrote the letter knew exactly what is going in the company. Whoever wrote the letter knew how to write and how get the point across in few memorable words. Whoever wrote it expressed my own sentiments to a T, and made me wish I had written it myself. Nearly one-half of the dividends, maybe around 47 percent, I read in the Birmingham News, are going to the SYB family trust set up by my father around 1980, to save estate taxes. During her life, all income from that trust goes to my father’s widow, Joann. Around $650,000 a year, according to the Birmingham New article. Dividends also go to the employee profit-sharing trust, which owns a good bit of the company stock. Dividends go to management and former management employees, who own a good bit of the company stock. The rest of the dividends go to independent investors. Joann is well-fixed through other inheritances from my father.

Then, in a post dated March 17, Sloan publishes the full content of the letter:

Greedy and Harmful Dividends paid to the Bashinskys and the other owners force us to act with urgency to render justice for your terrible business decisions that favor our company’s owners over our loyal workers.

Stop your Dividend payments today. Our company’s cash must be saved from this stupid policy. Vampires kill by sucking people dry of their blood. The Owners and Managers must stop sucking the cash out of our company during these very difficult times.

STD - STD - Stop The Dividends - STD - STD

The blog notes that the spelling and punctuation in the letter are correct, seemingly the work of an educated individual.

Sloan writes that Golden Enterprises finances have seen better days:

The company lost money three out of the last four years. It has $710,000 in cash. It recently went $8,000,000 in debt, to replace worn-out cars and trucks, and an obsolete computer operating system — very needed expenditures, I was told by one of my company “spies.” The spy said the company historically has avoided debt, except to cover short-term situations. This $8,000,000 debt is not short-term, and it will really stretch the company to repay it, and continue paying out dividends. An investment banker friend, with whom I attended college a million years ago, said yesterday that the $8,000,000 could be repaid by cutting out the dividend. If the SYB family trust, which Joann controls, declined to accept dividends from the company, the savings could be used to repay the $8,000,000, without affecting another other stockholders, especially the employee profit-sharing trust.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Brother Says Major Bashinsky was Shot in the Head at Golf Course

The older brother of a deceased Alabama lawyer writes on his blog that a private source told him Major Bashinsky was shot in the head next to the golf-course water hazard where his body was found.

Sloan Bashinsky, writing at his blog, also says Major Bashinsky was bisexual and wonders if that might have played a role in his recent disappearance and death.

Law-enforcement officials in the Birmingham area have not released information about cause of death in the Major Bashinsky case. But Sloan Bashinsky, in a post dated today, writes:

I learned through private sources last night that Major was shot in the head by a pistol, beside the golf course pond. The pistol was found. It appeared Major’s body had not been there long, before it was found.

Sloan Bashinsky is the namesake of the renowned late Alabama businessman who became CEO of Golden Enterprises, maker of Golden Flake potato chips and other snack foods.

While the senior Bashinsky was known for his business acumen, his two sons both went into the law. Major had a solo practice in Birmingham, focusing on wills, estates, trusts, and financial planning. He was reported missing on March 3 after failing to return home from work as usual.

Sloan has written five books about the law, including The High Legal Road: A New Approach to Legal Problems (1990); Kill All the Lawyers: A Client's Guide to Hiring, Firing, Using, and Suing Lawyers (1986); and Home Buyers: Lambs to the Slaughter? (1984).

I've read two of Sloan Bashinsky's books and found them to be well written and exceedingly helpful to the layperson. It appears that Sloan Bashinsky is the rare lawyer who writes and speaks truthfully about his profession. My guess is that several of his books have made him an unpopular figure in the Alabama legal community. That makes me think I would like Sloan Bashinsky a whole lot.

Sloan now lives in Key West, Florida, where he produces a Web site called as a companion to his blog, which appears to be updated daily. Both sites make for fascinating reading, even the parts that precede the disappearance and death of Major Bashinsky.

Sloan appears to be a straight shooter about his family's difficulties, and writes that his brother was deeply conflicted on a number of fronts:

In yesterday’s post, I disclosed my deceased brother had been bi-sexual, and he had struggled with that when he lived in Birmingham.

Received this feedback by email from an old Birmingham friend:

Well, if you wanted to further embarrass the B family in the light of everything else going on, you have certainly accomplished it.

My reply back to him:

As long as you have known me, do you really think I want to do something to embarrass the B family?

If I had my way, I wouldn’t even be involved in this.

If law enforcement had talked with me, I may never have been put to write anything about Major. Or at the very least, it might have been written very differently.

Sloan then writes about where his own instincts are taking him regarding Major's death:

About a week ago, I was shown in a dream that Major’s sexual orientation was somehow in play in his disappearance. I learned yesterday through a private source that law enforcement became aware of that early in its investigation. Perhaps that explains why law enforcement has been so tight-lipped. Perhaps that explains why the news reports have said nothing about it. Perhaps it was hoped the keep the whole subject under wraps, to save the Bashinsky family further embarrassment.

I had a dream around 6 a.m. this morning, to the effect that my family, in particular, and Birmingham people, in general, need to rise above their Puritan attitude about people whose sexual orientation is different from what they perceive to be God’s plan. The dream specifically targeted Puritans.

Sloan writes that he was accepting of Major's sexuality:

Major once lived in San Francisco. Later, he lived in Key West. Both cities are well-known to be gay-friendly. Some years ago, the Key West City Commission adopted the gay creed, One Human Family, as the city’s own creed.

That is not, however, why I live in Key West. I am straight. All seven of my wives and several girlfriends, including a Birmingham gay woman, who is like a sister to me today, would all attest to that. As would they attest to my acceptance of men and women with gay or bisexual orientation. It never was a factor for me with Major. And it still isn’t.

Sloan provides insight about the area where Major's body was found:

Highland Avenue, which runs from 5 Points South, where Major’s car was found by his oldest daughter, Sloan (who was named after me), all the way to and down the side of the golf course, is heavily populated with gays. The city park next to Independent Presbyterian Church is widely-known as a pickup station for gays. The pond is about two blocks east of the church.

We all are children of God, every last one of us. None of us are going to hell because of our sexual orientation. None of us. St. Paul proved it.

Sloan Bashinsky writes powerful words about homosexuality and religion:

I want law enforcement to leave no stone unturned. I want law enforcement to get to the rock bottom of what happened to Major. And if God uses Major’s sexual orientation to try to shift Birmingham, and more specifically, Mountain Brook and Major’s relatives and friends out of their Puritan prejudice, then good for God.

Every Christian I know seems to have placed St. Paul on the same pedestal as Jesus, and only a few of them know Paul was homosexual, and that is why he condemned it and preached celibacy.

It was that very perspective that enabled me to convince a number of gay men to attend a very different kind of Sunday school class at Southside Baptist Church in Birmingham, which all of my family attended when I was young. A Sunday school class who accepted those gay men with open arms and love. In 1996, this happened.

If Major had felt safe being openly bi-sexual in Birmingham, maybe he would still be alive. Please give that possibility serious consideration as you go through your own soul-searching over what happened to him, and to his wife and four children, who are in a living hell right now over his death.