Friday, July 30, 2010

Richard Shelby's Pork Parade Helps Fund Discrimination on Alabama Campuses

U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) has steered more than $250 million in earmarks over the past two years to organizations whose lobbyists used to work in Shelby's office, according to a new report at Politico.

A huge chunk of that pork has gone to the University of Alabama System, which we have shown at Legal Schnauzer has rampant problems with discrimination in employment. We also have shown that the UA System is a terrible steward of federal funds, with widespread financial and scientific fraud on its Birmingham campus (UAB) alone.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, codified at 42 U.S.C. 2000d, prohibits the use of federal funds for organizations that discriminate. That means Richard Shelby has sent millions of federal dollars to a university system that does not qualify, under the law, to receive them.

It's not just our opinion, by the way, that the UA System discriminates. A federal jury found that UA discriminated against former medical resident Seema Gupta based on her Hindu religion. Numerous other lawsuits have been settled or are currently in litigation.

Politico's report is based on a study, "Senator Shelby's Pork Parade," by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).

Eight staffers have left Shelby's office to create or join lobbying firms, CREW reports, and Shelby has earmarked $266,524,500 for their clients. In a case of classic political back-scratching, those clients clearly return the favor. The lobbying firms have earned $10,075,000 in fees. And the firms and clients have sent $999,471 to Shelby's campaign committee and leadership PAC since 1999. Reports Politico:

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a government watchdog group that compiled the data on Shelby’s earmarks and campaign contributions, believes that Shelby’s actions are similar to the favor trading that clouded the tenure of late Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. John Murtha.

“Sen. Shelby, like Rep. Murtha before him, takes trading earmarks for campaign dollars to a level most members of Congress can only dream about,” said Melanie Sloan, executive director of the organization. “Also like Murtha, Shelby earmarks for the benefit of his former-staffers-turned-lobbyists.”

Even some of Shelby's Republican colleagues have raised questions about such tactics. Reports Politico:

Shelby’s earmarking doesn’t appear to run afoul of Senate rules or federal ethics laws. But critics said his tactics are part of a Washington culture in which lawmakers direct money back home to narrow interests, which, in turn, hire well-connected lobbyists — often former congressional aides — who enjoy special access on Capitol Hill.

“It is a system that is in direct conflict of interest with our oath of office because it’s parochial,” said Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), an earmark critic who declined to comment on Shelby directly.

While lobbyists, their clients, and Shelby himself clearly are winners in this charade, taxpayers appear to be the big losers. Consider the dollars that former Shelby staffer Ray Cole has raked in for the University of Alabama System:

A former Shelby state director and campaign manager, Cole is registered to lobby for The University of Alabama System, which has received $175 million in Shelby earmarks since 2008, the first year lawmakers had to publicly declare their sponsorship of pet projects. The earmarks have included $30 million for a state-of-the-art science center, $10.5 million for Gulf of Mexico weather research and $10.2 million for facilities and equipment at the Tuscaloosa campus.

Alabama universities love to tout their ties to Shelby--and they are happy to return the favors. Reports Politico:

Shelby’s influence is hard to miss at Alabama campuses. There’s Shelby Hall at The University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa. In 2008, the Huntsville campus opened the Shelby Center for Science and Technology at a cost of $60 million — two-thirds of it built with federal dollars. The University of Alabama at Birmingham is home to the Richard C. and Annette N. Shelby Interdisciplinary Biomedical Research Building.

Employees of The University of Alabama System contributed more than $153,000 to Shelby's campaigns since 1999. And since that time, Cole’s firm has received $3.5 million from the University of Alabama System in lobbying fees.

Does this produce good government? Not exactly. Here is how we recently described the situation at the UA campus in Birmingham:

Under the the "leadership" of President Carol Garrison, with an assist from Provost Eli Capilouto, UAB has a longstanding pattern of mistreating faculty and staff--and mishandling federal funds. In fact, UAB has seen so many scandals and lawsuits that we summed them up in a post titled "Has UAB Become a Hotbed for Mismanagement and Corruption."

In short, UAB rakes in millions of dollars from Sen. Shelby while blatantly violating federal laws. Here is a recent summary from a post titled "UAB Dysfunction Doesn't Happen in a Vacuum":

It's difficult to keep up with all the UAB sleaze under Garrison, but here is our best effort at an updated and comprehensive list. . . .

* Nine papers written by scientist H.M. Krishna Murthy are retracted because of concerns about academic fraud;

* Researchers Juan R. Contreras and Judith M. Thomas are barred from receiving federal funds after falsifying results from animal studies;

* School of Medicine Dean Robert Rich steps down under mysterious circumstances, in the wake of multiple reports about fraud and discrimination that took place on his watch;

* A University of Louisville dean, who has ties to UAB 's Carol Garrison from her days as provost at U of L, pleads guilty to fraud-related charges and is sentenced to 63 months in federal prison;

* Longtime engineering professor Rosalia Scripa files a discrimination lawsuit;

* Longtime history professor Horace Huntley files a discrimination lawsuit;

* Longtime business professor Susan Key files a discrimination lawsuit;

* Former trainee Seema Gupta files a lawsuit claiming widespread discrimination against international medical graduates in UAB's Family Medicine Residency Program in Huntsville;

* A company owned by a member of the University of Alabama Board of Trustees, is found to have been involved in insurance fraud;

* An office associate uses a university computer to send a hate-filled e-mail to a California gay-rights group. UAB announces no disciplinary action against the female employee;

* A financial associate uses a university computer to send a racist e-mail that mocks President Obama and other major Democrats. UAB announces no disciplinary action against the female employee;

* A federal lawsuit alleges that UAB's Office of Public Relations and Marketing unlawfully used copyrighted illustrations in various print publications and on the university's Web site.

* A prominent donor, with strong ties to Republican Party politics, has a lengthy history of driving-related arrests and questionable business practices;

* Several UAB medical professionals have ties to a company owned by attorney Rob Riley (son of GOP Governor Bob Riley), which has been accused in federal-court documents of practicing health-care fraud;

* UAB settles a federal whistleblower lawsuit that alleges some $600 million in fraud over a 10-year period;

* In her first year on the job, President Garrison embarrasses the university by playing a prominent role in a scandal that led to the ouster of University of Tennessee President John Shumaker.

That list doesn't include the ongoing case of business professor Glenn Feldman who has faced unlawful harassment and discrimination largely because of his ties to organized labor and Democratic Party politics. Feldman's academic specialty is labor economics and history.

It also doesn't include by own case, where I was unlawfully terminated from my job as an editor in the UAB Office of Publications after 19 years at the university. Evidence strongly indicates that I was fired largely because of my reporting on this blog about the prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman.

Is it a coincidence that a university that relies so heavily on pork from a Republican senator is hostile to those who express progressive views? Maybe not.

Are taxpayers being well served by Richard Shelby's back-scratching pork campaign? Definitely not.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Did Bush DOJ Intentionally Appoint Tainted Special Prosecutors?

Two of the biggest scandals during the George W. Bush presidency involved the firings of nine U.S. attorneys and possible torture coverups.

Michael Mukasey, Bush's attorney general at the time, appointed Nora Dannehy and John Durham, respectively, to investigate the matters. Now we have learned, thanks to reporting by Andrew Kreig at the Justice Integrity Project, that both Dannehy and Durham were connected to prosecutorial misconduct in an earlier Connecticut criminal case.

Did the Bush administration intentionally appoint compromised prosecutors to help ensure that they would not get at the truth on the U.S. attorney and torture investigations? Scott Horton, legal affairs contributor for Harper's magazine, addresses that question in a new post at his No Comment blog.

The charges against Dannehy and Durham involve suppression of exculpatory evidence. In a case of curious timing, Dannehy was appointed to lead the U.S. attorney investigation just four days after her connections to evidence suppression were addressed in a court proceeding. Writes Horton:

It’s striking that the court ruling about the unlawful suppression occurred just four days before Dannehy’s appointment as special prosecutor to handle the U.S. attorneys case was announced. This makes it likely that Mukasey was fully aware of the suppression findings before he finalized his decision. Did Mukasey tap Dannehy, and later her colleague John Durham, because he could count on both of them to take the probes nowhere and emerge with the conclusion that none of the political appointees could be prosecuted? In any event, that was Mukasey’s own predisposition, articulated in a number of speeches.

In other words, did Mukasey appoint Dannehy and Durham because he knew they faced serious ethical charges and could be counted on to deliver whitewashed investigations in order to save their own careers?

That Dannehy would run into problems over evidence suppression is supremely ironic, Horton writes:

The issue of nondisclosure of exculpatory materials was right at the heart of the U.S. attorney’s scandal, playing a particularly prominent role in the case of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman. As I noted previously, the Justice Department’s report makes clear that Dannehy neglected investigation of the entire sprawling scandal, electing instead to focus down on a single case, involving New Mexico U.S. Attorney David Iglesias. He was threatened with firing and then was in fact fired because he would not bring a high-profile prosecution of a Democratic officeholder in the heat of an election campaign in a manner calculated to benefit a specific Republican candidate, Heather Wilson. Dannehy reached the farcical conclusion that threats against Iglesias, accompanied by melodramatic gestures like slamming down a receiver, and followed by his actual firing, did not constitute efforts to “influence, obstruct, or impede” a criminal case. A District of Columbia jury might have viewed the evidence quite differently from Dannehy. Her decision to take no action probably protected figures involved in her own appointment as a U.S. attorney.

So evidence strongly suggests that Nora Dannehy, a tainted prosecutor, produced a bogus report in order to protect those who had boosted her career. The question now is this: Will the Obama Justice Department let this kind of skulduggery stand?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Obama's Justice Department Appears to be Participating in a Coverup

Until last week, the best that could be said of the U.S. Department of Justice under Barack Obama was, well . . . nothing. That's because the DOJ, under Attorney General Eric Holder, had pretty much done . . . nothing.

But things changed last week with reports that the DOJ had found no criminal charges were warranted against Bush administration officials for the firings of nine U.S. attorneys.

The news came in the form of a letter from DOJ official Ronald Weich to House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-MI). In those six pages, the Obama DOJ moved into dark territory. No longer was it just ignoring possible criminal acts by Bush officials; it was engaging in active deceit of the American public.

On top of that, we now know that the "investigation" was handled by a special prosecutor with ties to evidence suppression in an earlier criminal case. What, if anything, will the Obama DOJ do about this latest news, which comes courtesy of some splendid reporting by Andrew Kreig, of the Justice Integrity Project?

Scott Horton, of Harper's, called the findings a whitewash--and he was being charitable. I would call it a coverup. Our unsolicited advice for Conyers: Don't just quietly accept this steaming pile of horse feces.

The investigation into the U.S. attorney firings has emitted a foul odor from the outset. It was conducted by Nora Dannehy, who was appointed to a U.S. attorney position by . . . George W. Bush. Dannehy was tapped to lead the investigation by Michael Mukasey, who was attorney general for . . . George W. Bush. Did these apparent conflicts cause any concern for Eric Holder? Apparently not, because he allowed Dannehy to proceed--and accepted her findings seemingly without any questions.

The entire scandal involved the firings of nine U.S. attorneys. But Dannehy investigated only one case, that of New Mexico's David Iglesias. How can a scandal involving nine cases be declared resolved with the investigation of only one case? Eric Holder isn't saying.

Weich's letter about Dannehy's findings reeks because of what it says--and what it does not say.

A reasonable person might expect that such a letter would outline, right up front, the legal standard Dannehy was using to determine whether crimes were or were not committed in the firings. But the Weich letter says nothing about it.

A prosecutor's normal standard is called "probable cause." Here is one definition of probable cause:

Apparent facts discovered through logical inquiry that would lead a reasonably intelligent and prudent person to believe that an accused person has committed a crime, thereby warranting his or her prosecution.

How important is this concept to a prosecutor? The American Bar Association's Model Rules of Professional Conduct state:

The prosecutor in a criminal case shall:

(a) refrain from prosecuting a charge that the prosecutor knows is not supported by probable cause;

Dannehy's findings, as spelled out in Weich's letter, are filled with enough probable cause to choke an elephant. But Dannehy apparently was looking for more than probable cause, the usual prosecutorial standard. She appointed herself judge and jury, too, ensuring that the American people would be forever hoodwinked on at least one chapter in the book of Bush-era sleaze.

A reasonable person might also expect that Dannehy's findings, as relayed by Weich, would include some citations to applicable law. After all, the letter is filled with conclusions of law. But she and Weich never tell us what that law is, never cite case law to support their findings. That's almost certainly because there is no case law to support the findings.

What is a citizen to do? We are to take the word of Nora "Trust Me" Dannehy. And we are to do that even though we now know there is reason to question Dannehy's supposedly impeccable credentials.

How might Dannehy's findings be summarized? Here is our best shot: Were the firings politically motivated? Yes. Did they violate department principles? Yes. Were they possibly criminal? No.

If those findings seem contradictory to you, join the crowd.

Absurdities pile one on top of another as you get into the specifics of Dannehy's findings. Consider just three findings, involving the possible criminal charges in the case--obstruction of justice (18 U.S. Code 1503), theft of honest services (18 U.S. Code 1346), and false statements (18 U.S. Code 1001):

* Causing a U.S. attorney to be fired for political reasons is not an impediment to his official duties--Dannehy/Weich say the statute on obstruction of justice penalizes only forward-looking conduct that endeavors to "influence, obstruct, or impede." But they conclude that causing David Iglesias to be fired did not impede his work. We can only assume that Dannehy/Weich actually wrote this with a straight face.

* Bushies did not engage in undisclosed, biased decision making--Dannehy/Weich found the effort to remove Iglesias from office was not "a scheme to get him to use his Office in return for anything of value, including his continued employment." That, however, is not the standard set out for honest-services fraud. In fact, honest-services case law specifically states that it does not hinge on whether "anything of value" changes hands. The actual standard, the one Dannehy/Weich obviously don't want regular Americans to know about is this: Did public officials, in this case members and allies of the Bush administration, engage in "undisclosed, biased decision making" when they sacked David Iglesias? Given that Dannehy admits their motivations were political, the answer obviously is yes.

* You can make statements to Congress that are "inaccurate" and "misleading" but are not "knowingly false"--This is what Dannehy/Weich found regarding Bush-era Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez and his apparent false statements to Congress. How absurd is this conclusion? If a person makes a statement that is both inaccurate and misleading, that means it was made with intent, correct? After all, you can't unintentionally mislead someone. That means the statement was not just innocently inaccurate--it was knowingly false. And such statements are criminal.

For more details on Dannehy's legal conclusions please check out our earlier post:

Report on U.S. Attorney Firings Reads Like a Farce

All of this raises a disturbing question: Do Obama and Holder even want to be taken seriously on justice matters? Will Holder go down as "the most laughable attorney general in U.S. history"?

It could happen. But these are not laughing matters. And John Conyers should not treat them as such.

We don't pretend to be experts on Congressional authority, but it's our understanding that Conyers could decide to conduct his own investigation--looking not only into the U.S. attorney firings, but also political prosecutions under the Bush DOJ. Conyers already has indicated that he has serious problems with Dannehy's handiwork.

Congress has both oversight authority and the "power of the purse." Through much of the Bush presidency, evidence strongly indicates that taxpayer dollars were used not for legitimate justice matters but for political matters. Regardless of what "Trust Me" Dannehy wants us to believe, those actions were almost certainly criminal--there clearly is probable cause to bring criminal charges.

Conyers owes it to taxpayers and to Congress to conduct a broad and thorough investigation. If members of the Obama administration indeed have engaged in a coverup, that means some Democrats could get caught in Conyers' net?

Our response to that possibility? So be it.

The Obama administration has had some 19 months to show that it takes justice matters seriously. It has failed at every turn--and John Conyers should hold them accountable.

Americans simply must know the truth about the ugly deeds of the Bush Justice Department. It's critically important for us now, and it will be even more important for generations to come.

Scott Horton says Holder has helped set up a formula for disaster. And it must not be allowed to stand:

Dannehy’s decision not to proceed is an open invitation to future administrations: the White House is free to manipulate the Department for political purposes, and Justice Department officials are free to lie to Congress.

TV Shrink Provides Insights On Our Insecurities

When you write a blog about legal issues, your "beat" essentially is human dysfunction.

No doubt, a fair number of legal cases are generated by mistakes--someone accidentally does something that harms another person. But I would wager that a very large number are driven by sheer human meanness--cases where someone intentionally harms another.

What causes that kind of dysfunction? The longer I'm on this earth, the more I think life revolves around insecurities. Perhaps as a coping mechanism, I've tried to appreciate both the serious and the comic sides of insecurities.

We all have insecurities, of course. Those who generally treat others in an honorable fashion, I suspect, tend to deal with their insecurities in a healthy fashion. Those who mistreat other people--and other living beings, for that matter--probably do it out of an inability to deal with their insecurities.

I'm not sure if professionals would back me up on this. But I've had quite a bit of experience in being cheated over the past few years, and I've come to believe that some of the most destructive people you are likely to encounter are those who cannot keep their insecurities in check.

For purposes of this blog, we're generally not talking about people who are likely to do you immediate physical harm. We're talking about people who intentionally hurt others in the professional setting, who cause emotional, financial, and psychological destruction--and that, of course, eventually can lead to physical damage.

A book has been written about such people. It's called Snakes in Suits and focuses on people who exhibit psychopathic traits in the professional arena. If you are interested in what makes dangerous people tick, I highly recommend it.

Robert D. Hare co-wrote Snakes in Suits, and I highly recommend any of his books. He is an international authority on psychopathy, and trust me, you never know when you will need his insights.

Obviously, we are dealing with a serious subject here. But what about the comic side of insecurities? For that, we turn to our TV favorite, Scrubs. In addition to being one of the funniest shows ever, Scrubs provides sharp observations on the human condition.

Some of our favorite episodes involve Molly Clock, a spacey psychiatrist played by the exceedingly fetching Heather Graham. Dr. Clock's own life shows signs of being a train wreck. But when it comes to observing others, she can be stunningly insightful.

For example, our gal Molly has an uncanny ability to discern the insecurities of others--especially when it comes to physical imperfections. What impact does this have on others? Well, let's check out this clip, which goes down as a Scrubs classic.

As someone who has a rather noticeable Adam's apple himself, this scene has always hit home for me. Just thinking about it makes me want to get out my turtleneck--even though it's July in Alabama.


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Prosecutor Who Cleared Bush Officials Has Connections to Misconduct

The special prosecutor who last week cleared Bush administration officials of criminal acts in the firings of nine U.S. attorneys was connected to evidence suppression in an earlier case.

Nora Dannehy led a team of lawyers that was found to have suppressed evidence in a major political-corruption case in Connecticut, according to a new report by Andrew Kreig at Nieman Watchdog and OpEd News.

The finding of evidence suppression against Dannehy's team dovetails closely with her appointment as special prosecutor in the U.S. attorney firings case. It also raises questions about a Justice Department investigation into a possible Bush-era coverup on torture.

Kreig, a veteran journalist and lawyer, is executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Justice Integrity Project. He reports:

In September 2008, the Bush Justice Department appointed career federal prosecutor Nora Dannehy to investigate allegations that Bush officials in 2006 illegally fired nine U.S. attorneys who wouldn’t politicize official corruption investigations.

But just four days before her appointment, a federal appeals court had ruled that a team of prosecutors led by Dannehy illegally suppressed evidence in a major political corruption case in Connecticut. The prosecutors’ misconduct was so serious that the court vacated seven of the eight convictions in the case.

The evidence-suppression story was covered in the Connecticut press, but it apparently never received scrutiny when Bush Attorney General Michael Mukasey named Dannehy a special prosecutor. Does the public have reason to doubt Dannehy's judgment now that she has found criminal charges were not warranted in the U.S. attorney firings? The Connecticut case indicates the answer is yes. Writes Kreig:

The ruling didn’t cite Dannehy by name, and although it was publicly reported it apparently never came up in the news coverage of her appointment.

But it now calls into question the integrity of her investigation by raising serious concerns about her credibility--and about whether she was particularly vulnerable to political pressure from within the Justice Department.

Kreig puts the profoundly important U.S. attorneys story in perspective:

Now, almost two years later, Dannehy has provided arguably the most important blanket exoneration for high-level U.S. criminal targets since President George H.W. Bush pardoned six Iran-Contra convicts post-election in late 1992.

The DOJ announced on July 21 that it has “closed the case” on the nine unprecedented mid-term firings because Dannehy found no criminal wrongdoing by DOJ or White House officials.

But the official description of her inquiry indicates that she either placed or acceded to constraints on the scope of her probe that restricted it to the firing of just one of the ousted U.S. attorneys, not the others--and not to the conduct of the U.S. attorneys who weren't ousted because they met whatever tests DOJ and the White House created.

Some observers have called Dannehy's findings a "whitewash"--or worse. Reports Kreig:

“This is an outrageous act of cowardice and cover-up!” former Alabama governor and alleged political prosecution victim Don Siegelman emailed me regarding DOJ’s decision and the failure to interview him.

Given what Kreig has revealed about Dannehy's background, perhaps we should have been expecting such a result all along. Reports Kreig:

Dannehy’s probe, my reporting suggests, was compromised from the beginning.

She was appointed by Bush Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey on Sept. 29, 2008. On Sept. 25, the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City found misconduct in a 2003 trial she had led.

The court found that the prosecution suppressed evidence that could have benefited the defendant, Connecticut businessman Charles B. Spadoni. Spadoni had been convicted of bribing former state Treasurer Paul Silvester to invest $200 million of state pension money with his firm.

But the appeals court found that prosecutors had failed to turn over to the defense an FBI agent’s notes of a key interview they conducted with Silvester's attorney. In doing so, the court ruled, “the government deprived Spadoni of exculpatory evidence going to the core of its bribery case against him.”

The court reversed Spadoni’s convictions on seven counts of racketeering, racketeering conspiracy, bribery and wire fraud, leaving intact only an obstruction of justice conviction.

Where does the ongoing torture investigation enter the picture? Kreig provides the answer:

As it happens, the Spadoni case also raises concerns relative to the ongoing federal probe of potential Bush administration wrongdoing in covering up torture that is being led by John H. Durham, another prosecutor from Connecticut. Durham supervised Dannehy’s decade-long prosecution of Spadoni.

He also was appointed by Mukasey in 2008. Durham’s initial charge was to investigate suspected destruction of torture tapes by CIA personnel. In 2009, Holder expanded that probe to other decision-making, including by DOJ personnel.

Until now, neither DOJ nor anyone else has linked Dannehy and Durham by name to the prosecutorial misconduct against Spadoni, as far as I can determine. The court decision doesn’t cite specific actions by the two. But it clearly refers to their case, and the information is readily available online in Lexis and in any good law library.

Have Dannehy and Durham faced any repercussions for their actions in the Spadoni case? That remains unclear:

Prosecutors found by a court to have committed misconduct typically face some sort of internal investigation within the Justice Department. Whether there was any such investigation, and why or why not, is not publicly known.

For now, it appears that compromised special prosecutors were in charge of investigations into both the U.S. attorney firings and possible torture-related coverups. In the case of Dannehy, we know that her investigation was cursory, at best. And that, Kreig says, should give all Americans pause:

Dannehy never contacted obvious witnesses who may have been victimized by wrongdoing. Is there a good reason for that, or is it part of a pattern in which prosecutors tend to find scant wrongdoing against their colleagues? A question reporters need to pursue is whether a culture of error and cover-up prevailed in the Department of Justice under Bush and continues under President Obama. It is one thing to want to look forward, as Obama stated as he took office. But it is wrong and immoral for our criminal system not to examine what appear to be obvious abuses that discredit the justice system, local and regional politics, and, indeed, our nation’s standing in the world as a beacon of democracy and civil rights.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Is an Alabama University Trying to Cash in on Disaster in the Gulf of Mexico?

In the wake of the BP oil spill, an Alabama university has announced it is starting a new master's degree program in engineering that is designed to help prevent such disasters.

Are the motives of the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) as pure as they sound in a press release? When UAB's actions are considered in context, the answer appears to be no. In fact, considerable evidence indicates UAB simply is trying to cash in on the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.

The new program also raises questions about the quality of the engineering programs UAB already was offering.

UAB touts its new Master of Engineering degree track in Advanced Safety Engineering and Management (ASEM) as the first program of its kind in the country. The program, which will be offered totally online, will begin with the fall 2010 semester.

According to an article in The Birmingham News, the degree "has been in the works for about a year and isn't a direct response to the BP spill." Uh, right. And UAB's current administration has a history of dealing "truthfully" with the public, not to mention its own faculty, staff, and students. If this statement is truthful, why does UAB's own press release about the program mention the oil spill in the first paragraph?

The article also says the new program is "part of a national trend toward using engineering to prevent workplace injuries, environmental disasters and other problems." Based on what's currently taking place in the Gulf of Mexico, I'd say this "trend" is a little slow in developing.

UAB announced the program's formation on June 21, almost two months to the day after the Deepwater Horizon explosion that led to the massive BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Almost sounds like UAB was trying to beat other university's to the punch. And that's probably because the university expects substantial federal dollars to flow into disaster-related programs because of the BP spill.

Before the Deepwater Horizon explosion, had UAB's current administration shown an interest in disaster prevention and recovery? Not exactly. In fact, UAB administrators went to great lengths to get rid of such a program they already had.

That was the Workplace Safety Training (WST) program that had been a part of UAB's Center for Labor Education and Research (CLEAR) for almost 20 years. WST personnel had extensive experience in dealing with all kinds of disasters, from Hurricane Katrina to the handling of hazardous materials.

In other words, it offered exactly the kind of training that now is needed in the Gulf of Mexico. But what did UAB officials do? They closed down WST in fall 2009, kicking away a five-year, $3-million grant from the National Institute of Environmental and Health Services.

Why was this action taken? According to a lawsuit filed by Glenn Feldman, a professor in the UAB School of Business, it's because WST was affiliated with a labor center. And UAB wanted to get rid of CLEAR in an effort to help appeal to white, suburban, conservative students and build support from the "pro business" community.

What happened to WST and CLEAR? Both have been relocated to Jefferson State Community College in Birmingham. Consider this portion of WST's mission statement from its new Jefferson State Web site:

CLEAR's Workplace Safety Training program is committed to training first responders to respond safely and effectively to emergencies involving hazardous materials.

Hmmm . . . this program is designed to train first responders to respond "safely and effectively to emergencies involving hazardous materials."

Would those hazardous materials include oil spilled in the Gulf of Mexico? The answer almost certainly is yes. Could UAB have touted its WST program and used it to actually help clean up BP's mess in the Gulf? Again, the answer is yes . . . except for one small detail--UAB got rid of its WST program about six months before the Deepwater Horizon exploded.

How's that for visionary leadership? UAB had a program that enjoyed a national reputation for helping respond to environmental disasters. But it got rid of the program roughly six months before the worst environmental disaster in the nation's history.

So what do UAB's leaders do then? Having missed an opportunity to garner loads of positive publicity through the WST program, they decide to concoct a new program out of thin air, one that supposedly will help prevent such disasters in the future.

What will the new program actually achieve? Other than bringing federal dollars into UAB's coffers, it remains unclear. The new program, however, has accomplished this much--it's raised questions about the quality of engineering education UAB already was offering.

According to UAB's press release, the new program will "educate engineers and safety, health and environmental professionals across industries in the best practices to prevent expansive disasters like the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and Upper Big Branch Mine explosion in West Virginia."

Does that mean UAB was not already educating engineers about safety issues and disaster prevention? Sure sounds like it.

One wonders if BP has been hiring UAB graduates to help design its oil rigs. Maybe that's what started this disaster in the first place.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Is BP Oil Spill Already Producing Acid Rain at Inland Locations?

A new video from Alabama conservationist John Wathen raises questions about the possibility of acid rain from the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Wathen has produced perhaps the most compelling evidence of damage from the BP spill in the form of aerial videos that can be seen here and here. His latest video was shot on July 19, and after a five-hour trip to the spill's Ground Zero and back, the airplane was largely covered with an orange, oil sheen.

Wathen discusses e-mails from several residents of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, which is about 300 miles from the coast, who say they recently were caught in a rainstorm and wound up with burning skin, vomiting, headaches, diarrhea, and other symptoms. One correspondent tested the rain water and found it to have high levels of acidity.

What do these reports mean? Wathen is quick to say that he is not a scientist and is not qualified to make a determination. But he does raise alarming questions about the BP spill and its possible effects on air quality:

It seems to me that if it's thick enough to accumulate on an aircraft, it's thick enough to be evaporated into the clouds and rain back down in other parts of the country. We need scientific exploration into this. We need to know if, in fact, the acid rain that was measured in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, came from the Gulf of Mexico and what we can expect from long-term implications to our health.

You can check out the latest Wathen video below:

Friday, July 23, 2010

Report on U.S. Attorney Firings Reads Like a Farce

After reading this week's report on the U.S. attorney firings during the Bush administration, I immediately checked the calendar to see if it was April Fool's Day.

The report, in the form of a letter from Justice Department official Ronald Weich to Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-MI), found that no criminal charges were warranted against Bush administration officials for the firings of nine U.S. attorneys.

A person who has tried to stay reasonably informed about the scandal is likely to read the report and say, "Is this a joke? Is it meant to be taken seriously?" The report, of course, is about matters of utmost seriousness. That should raise profound questions about the motivations and competence of the Barack Obama administration, especially Attorney General Eric Holder.

Scott Horton, legal affairs contributor for Harper's magazine, does not mince words about the report, which focused heavily on Bush-era attorney general Alberto Gonzalez. Horton calls the report a whitewash. Writes Horton:

The DOJ criminal review didn’t exonerate Gonzales and his team–far from it. The Justice Department’s letter to the Judiciary Committee explained that they clearly engaged in improper conduct, but it focused on an absence of clear-cut evidence that would make out a criminal case. That’s curious. In a series of high-profile public-integrity prosecutions brought by the Bush Justice Department–those against Alabama Governor Don Siegelman, Mississippi attorney Paul Minor, and Georgia Senate Minority Leader Charles Walker, for instance–prosecutors also acknowledged they lacked the direct evidence to make out their case in full. But they said the facts were enough to allow jurors to decide for themselves, based on inference, whether corrupt motives were in play. When the tables are turned on the Bush Justice officials who drove those very decisions, we discover that the evidentiary bar has been dramatically raised.

Want to get heavily into "theater of the absurd"? Check out the full six-page letter that outlined the findings. Possible criminal charges in the case included obstruction of justice (18 U.S. Code 1503), theft of honest services (18 U.S. Code 1346), and false statements (18 U.S. Code 1001). Here are a few lowlights:

* Pressure is bad, firing is fine--On obstruction of justice, Dannehy found that the statute penalizes only forward-looking conduct that endeavors to "influence, obstruct, or impede." According to Dannehy, firing someone does not amount to an effort to impede their work. As Dave Barry would say, "I'm not making this up!" Here are actual words from the report:

There was insufficient evidence that former Senator Pete V. Domenici, other New Mexico Republicans, persons in the White House, or anyone at DOJ attempted to prospectively influence Iglesias's actions. The weight of the evidence established not an attempt to influence but rather an attempt to remove David Iglesias from office, in other words, to eliminate the possibility of any future action or inaction by him.

If you can read that without spewing water across the room, you have a stronger constitution than I do. Nora Dannehy actually determined that an effort "to eliminate the possibility of any future action or inaction" by David Iglesias was not an impediment to his work.

* A Dishonest Take On Honest Services--On theft of honest services, Dannehy found the effort to remove Iglesias from office was not "a scheme to get him to use his Office in return for anything of value, including his continued employment." Unfortunately, that's not what the statutory or case law on honest-services fraud says. We summed up the actual law in an earlier post titled "Mail Fraud: A Primer." Here is a key segment:

What about the "honest services" component included under Sec. 1346? Courts have stated that a public official has a duty to disclose information regarding a personal interest that may affect his judgment and therefore "undisclosed, biased decision making . . . regardless of tangible loss to the public . . . constitutes a deprivation of honest services." U.S. v.Lopez-Lukis, 102 F.3d 1164, (1997)

Did Bush officials exhibit undisclosed, biased decision-making in taking out David Iglesias? Considering that Dannehy admits their motivations were political, the answer obviously is yes.

Also, Dannehy found the following:

Additionally, honest services fraud does not embrace allegations that purely political interests may have influenced a public official's performance of his duty.

Where does Dannehy come up with this? It's impossible to say because the letter does not offer a citation to case law. Based on our research of honest-services fraud, that's probably because no such citation exists.

* "Inaccurate" and "Misleading" Do Not Equal "False"--Dannehy says the statute requires that statements "actually be false." Dannehy's report acknowledges that former Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez made statements to Congress and DOJ investigators that were "inaccurate and misleading." But get this conclusion from the report:

Based on a consideration of all the evidence and the legal standards, Ms. Dannehy concluded that there was insufficient evidence to establish that persons knowingly made material false statements to OIG/OPR or Congress or corruptly endeavored to obstruct justice.

Now let's use just a tad of common sense. Certainly a person can make an inaccurate statement that is innocent--he simply is mistaken about something. But Dannehy admits Gonzalez' statements were not just inaccurate; they were misleading. And that indicates the statements were made with intent. How can you unintentionally mislead someone? Answer: You can't. That means Gonzalez' statements were knowingly false --and that clearly is a criminal act under the statute.

What does it all mean? The emptywheel blog at firedoglake puts the report in disturbing perspective:

I don’t think anyone would have predicted the cavalier way in which Holder’s DOJ reaches its seemingly predetermined decision, while providing a roadmap to other legislators who’d also like to get a prosecutor fired for political convenience. Dannehy and Holder explain to Members of Congress – if a Federal prosecutor isn’t filing or refraining from filing the cases you want, feel free to covertly conspire to get him fired. As long as you don’t make any misguided attempt to “influence” him before you get him fired, you’re good to go. Oh, and btw, phone calls to him at home to fume over his handling – not to worry, those doesn’t count as an attempt to influence.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Shirley Sherrod Is Not The Only One Who Has Been "Put Through Hell"

The Obama administration has offered to rehire Shirley Sherrod, the black U.S. Department of Agriculture employee in Georgia whose abrupt dismissal sparked a political firestorm over race.

In making the offer, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack acknowledged that Sherrod has been "put through hell." Sherrod has indicated that she is inclined to turn down the offer of an outreach job.

A former U.S. Department of Justice whistleblower in Alabama, who has been without a job for more than a year, says the Sherrod story presents evidence of an ugly double standard from the White House.

Tamarah Grimes, in essence, is saying, "Hey, Shirley Sherrod is not the only one who has been put through hell. What about the rest of us?" We think Grimes has a good point.

Grimes was fired in June 2009 from her job as a paralegal in the Middle District of Alabama, eight days after writing a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder outlining misconduct in the prosecution of former Governor Don Siegelman. Grimes remains without a job and says she has faced significant financial and emotional stress.

In other words, she's been "put through hell"--as have Siegelman, Paul Minor, and other victims of Bush-era political prosecutions. But have they received the kind of helping hand that was extended to Sherrod? No, they have not.

In a statement to Legal Schnauzer, Grimes says:

I find the hypocrisy of the White House in its apology to an ousted USDA worker--and immediate "unique" offer of employment--appalling. What about the injustices perpetrated upon defendants and whistleblowers?

AG Secretary Tom Vilsack is quoted as saying, "She's been put through hell and I could have done, and should have done, a better job." White House spokesman Robert Gibbs described the situation as an "injustice" and apologized on behalf of the entire Obama Administration.

In the Department of Justice, meanwhile, the silence is deafening. The injustices perpetrated by the U.S. Department of Justice continue. While Bush-era political appointee Leura Canary continues to accrue time in federal service toward full federal retirement benefits, political prisoners continue to suffer.

Grimes is quick to say that Vilsack deserves praise for trying to correct a wrong that was heaped upon Sherrod. But she says others in the administration are willing to ignore serious, justice-related wrongs:

Shame on the Obama Administration and Attorney General Eric Holder, for these injustices could not continue on their watch without their support. AG Secretary Vilsack did the right thing by his admission that an injustice had occurred, one in which he could have, and should have, done a better job.

Tamarah Grimes has an important message for the Obama administration. It did, to its credit, try to get things right in the Shirley Sherrod matter. But its double standard on matters of "injustice" is glaring:

Note to the White House: Many have been "put through hell" by selective and political prosecutions. Many have suffered, and continue to suffer, without a voice, a fair trial, or any due process at all. When is something going to be done for these victims? Where are the apologies to these victims who have been put through hell for a lot longer than two days?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Toyota's Threats Fail When a University Shows Some Spine

Toyota Pictures, Images and Photos

An ongoing theme of this blog involves the price citizens can pay when they reveal wrongdoing by those in positions of power.

The story of U.S. Justice Department whistleblower Tamarah Grimes is one such story. My own experience at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) is another. In both of those cases, individuals lost their jobs for revealing misconduct by members of the justice system.

So imagine our surprise upon learning that Toyota had tried to punish the University of Southern Illinois (SIU) at Carbondale for the role one of its professors had played in determining the cause of acceleration problems in Toyota vehicles--and the university didn't cave in.

Can you believe that an institution actually stood up for an employee who was trying to shine light on an important public issue?

David W. Gilbert, an associate professor of automotive technology at SIU, played a pivotal role in determining that electronics were the likely cause of sudden-acceleration problems in Toyota vehicles.

Did Toyota appreciate Gilbert's insights? Not exactly. A recent report indicates that one Toyota employee suggested Gilbert should not be employed at SIU, which has long been the recipient of company donations. Reports Jim Suhr, of the Associated Press:

Electronic messages obtained by The Associated Press show the automaker grew increasingly frustrated with Gilbert's work and made its displeasure clear to his bosses at the 20,000-student school.

"It did kind of catch us off-guard," university spokesman Rod Sievers said.

So did the fallout. Two Toyota employees quickly resigned from an advisory board of the school's auto-technology program, and the company withdrew offers to fund two spring-break internships.

Gilbert and others at SIU felt the pressure from Toyota:

"I didn't really set out to take on Toyota. I set out to tell the truth, and I felt very strongly about that," said Gilbert, who was among the first to suggest that electronics, not sticky gas pedals or badly designed floor mats, caused the acceleration that required the Japanese automaker to recall millions of vehicles.

Pressure from the automaker came in several forms. Reports AP:

On March 8, Mark Thompson--identifying himself as an SIU alum and, without elaboration, a Toyota Motor Sales employee--voiced in an e-mail to the university's then-chancellor, Sam Goldman, his "great concern and disappointment" about Gilbert. Thompson said he was "deeply disturbed" by what he called Gilbert's false accusations about the automaker.

Thompson reminded Goldman that he and Toyota regularly contributed to the university--including a $100,000 check to the auto-tech program in late 2008--and "due to the outstanding reputation your automotive technology program has, we donate much more than money," including cars.

"I ask you why your organization allows such activities to be performed by one of your professors and most importantly allowed to be reported to the media in a false manner," Thompson wrote. "I believe he should not be an employee of our fine university."

As an associate professor, Gilbert probably has tenure--and that might be what saved his job. But as we have learned in the case of UAB business professor Glenn Feldman, tenure will not always protect academicians from being the target of administrative torment.

So we suspect SIU deserves credit for showing at least some spine in the face of pressure from a powerful corporation:

Gilbert insists he never felt his job was threatened, though "there were some moments where I kind of felt I was standing alone."

Still, he said, if his work "can somehow make a car safer in the very narrow scope of electronic throttle controls ... then to me it's worth it. Because that could be someone's life that I could be saving."

Here is an interview where Gilbert discusses his research on the Toyota problem:

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A State Actually Takes Judicial Ethics Seriously--And It's Not Alabama

Based on our experience, judges violate ethical standards all of the time. It's routine for judges to improperly help their friends, strong arm certain parties or lawyers, exhibit unprofessional conduct, and generally treat the law like a personal plaything.

So imagine our amazement when discovering that a state judge in Nebraska has been removed from the bench for the kind of misconduct that is tolerated, even condoned, in Alabama and many other states.

The Nebraska Supreme Court removed Lincoln County Judge Kent Florom from the bench for violations of ethical standards. Florom is appealing the ruling.

How did Florom get into hot water? Reports the North Platte Bulletin:

Florom, who has served 19 years as a judge, was removed for violating ethical standards required of judges in Nebraska. Florom was accused of improperly involving himself in the case of Sharon Kramer, a North Platte teacher and North Platte Sensations softball coach convicted of stealing money from the high school booster club concession stand. Florom helped coach the team.

Then, came this paragraph that made our jaw drop:

In its decision, the Supreme Court said a judge should not allow family, social, political, or other relationships to influence the judge’s judicial conduct or judgment.

The Supreme Court also said Florom “abused his judicial position to interfere in two different cases, over the course of several months, for entirely personal reasons.”

The Alabama Canons of Judicial Ethics have similar language about a judge not allowing outside factors to influence his judgment. But do you think anyone takes that seriously? Don't make me laugh.

In Nebraska, people apparently don't have much to do in between Cornhusker football seasons. So they keep judges on their toes by taking judicial ethics seriously. Kind of makes the prairie seem sort of appealing--if it didn't get so darned cold in the winter.

I don't condone Florom's actions. But compared to what I've witnessed in Alabama state courts, Florom is a model of judicial acumen. Heck, our legal nightmare started largely because Judge J. Michael Joiner repeatedly ruled unlawfully in favor of attorney William E. Swatek, the judge's regular golfing buddy.

Joiner had better thank his lucky stars he doesn't sit on the bench in Nebraska. He would wind up as a greeter at Wal-Mart. And it probably gets cold standing in the doorway of Nebraska Wal-Marts.

Misconduct is not limited to state courthouses, of course. Consider what we have reported about federal judges, such as Mark Fuller in Alabama and Henry Wingate in Mississippi. They are largely responsible for multiple individuals going to federal prison for "crimes" they did not commit--in the Don Siegelman and Paul Minor cases. And yet, Fuller and Wingate continue to serve, and it appears that they have not been investigated.

Heck, I see no indication that the state judge in Nebraska even made an unlawful ruling from the bench. He apparently acted in a heavy-handed, clod-headed manner, but there is no sign that he violated the fundamental oath of a judge--to rule according to the law. And he still got canned.

I've filed complaints with the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission, offering irrefutable evidence that judges had intentionally and repeatedly ruled unlawfully from the bench. My charges were never investigated. I doubt that they were even read.

The Nebraska Supreme Court sure as heck did not ignore allegations against Florom:

The court said Florom used his judicial power to bully attorneys and “not only threatened members of the bar with abuse of judicial power, but repeated his threat, after ample time for reflection, and after having been dissuaded from doing so by the good advice of a fellow judge.”

“There is no excuse for (Florom’s) conduct, and it is hard to imagine conduct that, coming from a judge, could be more damaging to the reputation of the judiciary,” the decision said.

It's hard to imagine conduct that . . . could be more damaging to the reputation of the judiciary? Are you kidding me? Try coming to Alabama, and I'll give you a tour of courtrooms where judges routinely rule unlawfully--and act as if they are proud of it. That's because they know they will suffer no consequences.

Our point is not to defend Judge Florom. Under a strict interpretation of judicial canons, he probably deserves what he got. But talk about unequal application of ethical standards.

Compared to what I've seen in Alabama courtrooms--and read about in other states--the Nebraska judge sounds like a paragon of virtue.

Moral of the story? If you are going to be a corrupt judge--and there are a whole lot of them--don't ply your sleazy trade in Nebraska. The Cornhuskers will make you pay.

Monday, July 19, 2010

University of Alabama and Its Buddies Gang Up on Artist in Court

The University of Alabama has not been able to beat Daniel Moore fair and square in a courtroom. So the university apparently has enlisted the help of its higher-education buddies in an effort to overwhelm the Birmingham-based artist and his First Amendment rights.

Twenty-seven universities have asked the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals to allow them to file a brief supporting Alabama's lawsuit against Moore, one of the best known sports artists in the nation.

Alabama apparently thinks there is strength in numbers. But the law seems to be squarely on Moore's side. Federal District Judge Robert Propst ruled last November that Moore's paintings of classic moments in University of Alabama football history do not violate trademark law.

It's hard to see how the 11th Circuit could not agree. After all, Moore's paintings, of public events, clearly appear to be protected by the First Amendment right to free expression.

That makes you wonder why Alabama picked this fight by filing a lawsuit against Moore almost six years ago--and why it is continuing the fight by
ganging up on one of its own graduates, who happens to be one of the most beloved artists in state history.

We've presented voluminous evidence that the University of Alabama System is run these days by a bunch of blockheads. And the Daniel Moore case is an ongoing example of cluelessness on the loose in higher education.

At first glance, the fact that 27 other universities would join Alabama's fight, seems impressive. But Moore points out in a press release that even that is not what it seems. It turns out that the schools have a common licensing affiliation:

Recently, 27 other schools have petitioned the court to jointly file a single amicus brief in support of the University's position, asserting that Propst erred by noting that the University's crimson and white colors make for a weak trademark.

Recent news reports have noted that Mississippi State is not among the "amici" schools siding with UA. Moore suggests that Collegiate Licensing Company ("CLC"), UA's licensing agent and that CLC, or its lawyers, are most likely the ones who rounded up the newly-joined 27 universities. Mississippi State is not one of the 160 schools represented by CLC. Each one of the 27 schools is a client of CLC. There are 133 other schools that CLC also represents, plus numerous other schools across the nation not represented by CLC, who did not side with UA.

Why did the vast majority of CLC schools decide not to join Alabama's battle? Moore has some thoughts on that issue:

"It makes you wonder how it is that they only got 17% of CLC's client base to sign on," Moore suggested. "It would stand to reason that the vast majority of CLC's schools just don't see enough merit in the University of Alabama's lawsuit to justify having their names attached to something that amounts to an attack upon every citizen's First Amendment right of free speech and expression. It can't be that the CLC attorneys focused only on those schools in the 11th Circuit because most of the 27 fall outside of the 11th Circuit's territory. I think anyone can easily figure out that CLC stands to make money from each of their 160 schools through the licensing and control of artwork and has much more to gain from licensing artwork in the long run than does the University of Alabama."

And then we have this piece of information, which should alarm all Alabama taxpayers:

Moore said that according to CLC's contract with the University, if CLC insisted that the University file a trademark infringement suit against anyone, then the school would be forced to comply. And, there is testimony in the case records that confirms CLC has helped fund the lawsuit. Joe Espy, past President Pro Tem of the University of Alabama Board of Trustees, confirmed under oath that the University's legal fees are being paid with public money.

What's at the heart of the University of Alabama's argument. Here is how we summed it up in a previous post:

UA contended that Moore's paintings violated trademark law because they included football uniforms with the university's distinctive crimson and white colors. We're not making this up, folks. The University of Alabama actually claimed that Moore's paintings--of a public event--violated trademark law because they included accurate depictions of football uniforms.

What would it mean to the public if a court sided with Alabama in the Moore case? For one, it would set the stage for turning the publishing industry upside down. Ed Mullins and Jim Stovall, two former University of Alabama journalism professors, recognized the powerful issues at hand. In a 2002 letter to Moore, Stovall wrote:

"I believe that you should have as much freedom to do what you do as any photojournalist. That is to say, a photojournalist will attend a football game, shoot pictures and run them in a newspaper—which is then sold to the public. The University does not make a claim against the newspaper because it has run pictures of the University's football team. You paint pictures, have them printed and then sell them to the public. What makes you different from the newspaper? Nothing that I can discern.

"To my mind, the University is attempting to exercise a power that it does not have, based on a claim that cannot be upheld. If such a claim were upheld by the courts, it would cause serious damage to the free expression that the First Amendment is supposed to protect."

BP Oil Cap Drives Republican Lunacy Into High Gear

We already have noted the irony of Christian groups calling for prayer to help resolve the BP oil spill. After all, Christian groups tend to vote Republican these days, and it was a Republican administration--led by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney--that pushed for the lax regulation that led to disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

With hopes that a cap might get the leak under control, irony seems to have become overwhelming--especially here in Alabama, where oil has been present on or near our beaches for weeks.

A group gathered in Mobile on Sunday for a dawn service that was part of the National Day of Prayer for the Gulf. And guess who it included? The man who probably has done more than anyone in history to harm Alabama at the behest of Big Oil.

We're talking about Tom Parker, a justice on the Alabama Supreme Court. That's the same Alabama Supreme Court that overturned most of a $3.6-billion fraud verdict against ExxonMobil and for the State of Alabama. Guess who wrote the 8-1 opinion, with the court's one Democrat casting the lone dissent? None other than Tom Parker.

In doing so, Parker and his GOP buddies violated fundamental procedural law and ignored decades of case-law precedent.

That's how badly Parker & Co. wanted to screw Alabama citizens on behalf of Big Oil. But there was Parker at yesterday's prayer service, calling on the Almighty for relief. Reports the Mobile Press-Register:

Tom Parker, Alabama Supreme Court Justice, asked God to "make the cap permanent" and "send Gulf breezes to blow (oil) out the other way."

I wonder if anyone at the prayer gathering even thought about Parker's breath-taking hypocrisy. Parker probably made an appearance because he's up for re-election in November, with Democrat Mac Parsons gunning for his seat.

Here at Legal Schnauzer, we're all for the power of prayer--when times are troubled or when times are good. In fact, we've become quite fond of imprecatory prayer--the theological term for praying that bad things happen to bad people. Mrs. Schnauzer and I have suffered great harm in recent years at the hands of bad people--they have helped cheat both of us out of our jobs--so imprecatory prayer has become a favorite in our household.

If you happen to hear about a busload of certain people driving over a cliff, you will know that we prayed for it.

On a more serious note, experience has taught us that prayer doesn't do much good when you turn around and make stupid decisions--like electing Tom Parker, and his Republican mates, to the Alabama Supreme Court.

It will be interesting to see if the BP oil spill helps Alabamians begin to wise up in November. We aren't holding our breath.

Friday, July 16, 2010

UAB Dysfunction Doesn't Happen In A Vacuum

Readers of The Chronicle of Higher Education are a hard bunch to shock. Many of them have been at colleges and universities long enough to witness some pretty bizarre behavior from deans, provosts, presidents, trustees, and the like.

But even Chronicle readers seemed stunned this week by the paper's report on efforts by the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) to oust Glenn Feldman, a tenured business professor who has ties to labor unions and Democratic Party politics.

Our Legal Schnauzer team, unfortunately, was not stunned by the Feldman story. I've been closely associated with UAB for 21 years--19 as an employee and two as a former employee who was unlawfully cheated out of his job largely for daring to exercise his First Amendment rights on this blog. We've reported on a long list of UAB scandals and embarrassments, so we know the Feldman story did not arise from a vacuum. It was the natural by-product of an administration that has been dysfunctional for years.

Why would UAB be concerned about Feldman's ties to organized labor? Feldman has those ties because his academic specialty is labor economics and history--and it's pretty hard to understand that subject without researching the connections between unions and the political party that has tended to support them.

In a federal lawsuit, Feldman alleges that UAB is trying to unlawfully terminate him because it wants to appeal to a white, conservative, "pro-business" market. UAB is so desperate to rid itself of any ties to organized labor, the Chronicle reports, that it asked the Alabama Legislature to withdraw a $650,000 line-item appropriation and kicked away more than $3 million in federal grants.

That prompted Chronicle readers to respond with comments such as "this might be the first time in history . . . " and "I've never heard of that happening anywhere."

Under the the "leadership" of President Carol Garrison, with an assist from Provost Eli Capilouto, UAB has a longstanding pattern of mistreating faculty and staff--and mishandling federal funds. In fact, UAB has seen so many scandals and lawsuits that we summed them up in a post titled "Has UAB Become a Hotbed for Mismanagement and Corruption."

A number of new embarrassments have surfaced since we wrote that post in December 2008, including three cases of academic fraud. It's difficult to keep up with all the UAB sleaze under Garrison, but here is our best effort at an updated and comprehensive list. It doesn't include two or three cases we are aware of that are still in the developing stage. And while I try to be a diligent Schnauzer, UAB is a big place, and I'm sure it has brewing scandals that I've not yet heard about:

* Nine papers written by scientist H.M. Krishna Murthy are retracted because of concerns about academic fraud;

* Researchers Juan R. Contreras and Judith M. Thomas are barred from receiving federal funds after falsifying results from animal studies;

* School of Medicine Dean Robert Rich steps down under mysterious circumstances, in the wake of multiple reports about fraud and discrimination that took place on his watch;

* A University of Louisville dean, who has ties to UAB 's Carol Garrison from her days as provost at U of L, pleads guilty to fraud-related charges and is sentenced to 63 months in federal prison;

* Longtime engineering professor Rosalia Scripa files a discrimination lawsuit;

* Longtime history professor Horace Huntley files a discrimination lawsuit;

* Longtime business professor Susan Key files a discrimination lawsuit;

* Former trainee Seema Gupta files a lawsuit claiming widespread discrimination against international medical graduates in UAB's Family Medicine Residency Program in Huntsville;

* A company owned by a member of the University of Alabama Board of Trustees is found to have been involved in insurance fraud;

* An office associate uses a university computer to send a hate-filled e-mail to a California gay-rights group. UAB announces no disciplinary action against the female employee;

* A financial associate uses a university computer to send a racist e-mail that mocks President Obama and other major Democrats. UAB announces no disciplinary action against the female employee;

* A federal lawsuit alleges that UAB's Office of Public Relations and Marketing unlawfully used copyrighted illustrations in various print publications and on the university's Web site.

* A prominent donor, with strong ties to Republican Party politics, has a lengthy history of driving-related arrests and questionable business practices;

* Several UAB medical professionals have ties to a company owned by attorney Rob Riley (son of GOP Governor Bob Riley), which has been accused in federal-court documents of practicing health-care fraud;

* UAB settles a federal whistleblower lawsuit that alleges some $600-million in fraud over a 10-year period;

* I am unlawfully terminated from my job as an editor in the UAB Office of Publications after 19 years at the university. Evidence strongly indicates that I was fired largely because of my reporting on this blog about the prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman;

* In her first year on the job, President Garrison embarrasses the university by playing a prominent role in a scandal that led to the ouster of University of Tennessee President John Shumaker.

UAB is not alone in being run by administrators who are clueless, incompetent, corrupt--or all of the above. Marc Bousquet, author of, presents an interview with Cary Nelson, president of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP).

Nelson says universities increasingly are relying on "contingent faculty members," those who have no tenure and, thus, no job protection. This development, Nelson says, presents an ongoing threat to academic freedom and the quality of instruction in university classrooms:

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Spotlight Shines On An Alabama University and Its Shenanigans

The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) is back in the national news--for all of the wrong reasons.

The Chronicle of Higher Education, the premier source for news about colleges and universities, reports this week about UAB's ham-handed efforts to oust Glenn Feldman, a tenured professor in the School of Business.

Feldman, the author of seven books and almost 100 articles, has a stellar record as a scholar. So why does UAB want to get rid of him? As a specialist in labor economics and history, Feldman has ties to the union movement and Democratic Party politics. Apparently that interferes with UAB's efforts to appeal to a white, conservative, "pro business" market.

In both the Chronicle's main article, and a followup opinion piece, experts say they are not surprised at what Feldman is experiencing. And they say taxpayers who support public institutions should be concerned about serious threats to academic freedom. Writes Chronicle reporter Peter Schmidt:

Mr. Feldman is unusual in his zeal, but he is hardly alone in suspecting college administrators' motives and their willingness to respect tenure. William F. Trimble, a professor of history at Auburn University and president of the AAUP's Alabama state conference, argues that tenured faculty members feel especially backed into a corner in Gulf Coast states, where they watched several colleges cite the financial hardship brought on by Hurricane Katrina's devastation in 2005 as justification for jettisoning academic programs and faculty positions.

"We now have a situation where there is a budget crisis all over the country," especially at public colleges, Mr. Trimble says. "Tenured faculty members have found themselves in a vulnerable position."

Under the "leadership" of President Carol Garrison, UAB has become a breeding ground for dysfunction. We summarized the universities scandals and embarrassments in a post titled "Has UAB Become a Hotbed for Mismanagement and Corruption." A number of new embarrassments have surfaced since we wrote that post in December 2008, including three cases of academic fraud.

Feldman's problems started when David R. Klock arrived as UAB's new business dean, after a brief stay at Cal Poly Pomona. Feldman was not the only one who quickly sensed Klock's antipathy toward labor studies, the Chronicle reports:

Mr. Feldman's complaints against the university argue that it very quickly became apparent to him that the center's work was not valued by Dean Klock, a former chief executive of CompBenefits Corporation—a major health-benefits provider—who had spent the previous two-and-a-half years as dean of the college of business administration at California State Polytechnic University at Pomona.

The idea that Mr. Klock was no fan of the center's work is seconded by Marc T. Cryer, who worked under Mr. Feldman as an assistant professor and now directs the center at its new location, at Jefferson State Community College, in Birmingham. In an interview, Mr. Cryer called Mr. Klock "very business-oriented" and "certainly not a friend of labor."

"He was pretty clear that he did not feel that the labor movement had any business in academe or that academe had any business spending time on the labor movement," Mr. Cryer said.

How badly did Klock and other administrators want to get rid of Feldman and the Center for Labor Education and Research (CLEAR) that he served as director? They asked the Alabama Legislature to withdraw a $650,000 line-item appropriation and kicked away more than $3 million in federal grants by shipping the center off to Jefferson State Community College.

When the labor center was jettisoned, UAB officials said Feldman would need to take 18 hours of graduate courses to become "academically qualified" to teach economics--even though he had been teaching economics, and was academically qualified, for years. Reports the Chronicle:

Last month, Mr. Trimble of the state AAUP sent university officials a letter disputing the idea that accreditors would deem Mr. Feldman academically unqualified to teach economics. He called the university's request that the professor obtain graduate credits in that field "at best curious," asserting that Mr. Feldman had already long taught economics courses and has "an impressive publication record."

A number of commenters at the Chronicle's Web site were astonished by UAB's actions. Wrote one:

This may be the first time in history that a public university asked a state legislature to cut its funding. And the notion that a full professor in the business school must take the equivalent of a year's worth of full-time classes in order to be qualified to teach is completely unprecedented. I've never heard of that happening anywhere.

As has become their practice, UAB administrators went into hiding when serious questions were raised. Klock, President Carol Garrison, and Provost Eli Capilouto apparently declined to be interviewed for the Chronicle article. Instead they trotted out public-relations chief Dale Turnbough to issue a statement, saying UAB "disputes what Professor Feldman alleges."

On what grounds does UAB dispute Feldman's allegations? What specifically about them is not accurate? Turnbough doesn't say because she, too, apparently is not taking questions. That's why UAB likes to issue "statements"--to avoid pesky questions.

Marc Bousquet, a prominent writer on academic issues, says in a piece titled "The United States of Alabama" that Feldman's situation is a sign of broader problems across the country. Bousquet, the author of the Web site, writes:

. . . the UAB business-school dean (Klock) responsible for pushing first practiced his hatcheting ways here in California. It's not a regional issue at all or even restricted to higher-education workplaces.

The many things that should concern us about Feldman's experience in Alabama are all things happening in schools at every level across the country:

+ Administrator pro-business bias

+ Consolidation of administrator power

+ Declining faculty power and declining faculty solidarity

+ Abuse of credentialing (UAB has demanded that full-professor Feldman go back to school and earn a year's worth of credits to retain his tenure)

+ Ever-closer ties between corporations, politics, and the campus

+ Business influence on curriculum

+ The culture-struggle practice of administration, designed to produce compliant subjectivities and expel dissenters

+ A growing legal web that muzzles faculty governance speech at public institutions

+ The abuse of standards of civility and collegiality to paint an understandably upset victim as unreasonable, a tendency in which I have to say that Peter Schmidt's reporting unfortunately participates (though to be fair to Schmidt I haven't seen the documents he characterizes).

Bousquet closes by siding with a commenter who goes by the handle "mchag12":

"The relationship with the faculty at public universities is just becoming untenable as faculty are treated as line items to be dispensed with at will by high paid administrators. What would you do, azprof, if your department was slated for demolition and your university actually asked the state legislature to defund it? Back out of the room shuffling and bowing and repeating thank you, thank you? If you think you are safe, you're not."

That last line by mchag says it all.

Victim of Bush DOJ Is Still Being Victimized Under Obama

A victim of a Bush-era political prosecution is being held in a federal prison, even though he has no sentence.

You did not misread that. Wes Teel, a former Mississippi judge who was convicted in the Paul Minor case, is being held without a sentence.

Teel and codefendants Paul Minor and John Whitfield stand a heightened chance of having their convictions overturned after the U.S. Supreme Court's recent ruling on honest-services fraud. The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals already had overturned the bribery convictions in the case.

But that process could take months, and it doesn't answer this question: Why is Wes Teel in prison, at this moment, when he has no sentence? Can our "justice system" get any more absurd than that?

In a recent letter from the Federal Prison Camp in Atlanta, Georgia, Teel explains the situation:

In my case, the Fifth Circuit did something unusual--they vacated all of my sentence and remanded the charge they left standing to Judge (Henry) Wingate for resentencing, suggesting that the sentence was too long. We have filed a Motion for Bond Pending Appeal, but expect this to be denied.

Thus, I am sitting here in federal prison without a sentence. Yes, that's right. I have no sentence.

Teel has legal options, but he and his codefendants face a dilemma that is familiar to those who have followed the Don Siegelman case in Alabama. In the Siegelman matter, the case keeps rolling back to federal judge Mark Fuller, who has proven beyond all doubt that he is corrupt. The same situation exists with the Minor case and Judge Henry Wingate.

What's it like to deal with a judge who simply refuses to follow the law? In his letter, which was written before the release of the recent honest-services opinion, Wes Teel tells us:

I could ask Wingate to go ahead and resentence me, but (1) I don't trust him, and (2) I have no desire to be shackled like an animal, bused to the Hines County (MS) Jail, and left there to await the "pleasure" of Henry Wingate. I would rather stay here, where I am in familiar surroundings, and wait for the Supreme Court to rule.

In other words, a secure spot in prison is preferable to dealing with a corrupt federal judge. Having dealt with a few corrupt judges myself, I can understand that sentiment.

The bottom line? Wes Teel holds a unique place in American society, perhaps in American history. And no one in the U.S. Department of Justice, now run by a supposedly enlightened Barack Obama administration, seems to notice. Teel writes:

I am the only person I know who is in jail without any sentence or holding order.

We've asked these question before, and we will ask them again: Is anyone in the Obama administration paying the least bit of attention to justice matters? Is Attorney General Eric Holder completely asleep at the switch?