Thursday, October 28, 2010

Going On the Attack Against the Thugs Who Stole Our House

William E. Swatek

The nation's attention has been riveted in recent days on video of a woman being stomped at a Rand Paul rally in Kentucky. The thuggish behavior of Paul's tea-party supporters was captured on tape for the entire nation to see.

Republican thuggery is not new for my wife and me. We've been dealing with it in Alabama for roughly 10 years, long before most people had heard of Rand Paul.

One of the more unusual moments in our legal travails came in May 2008 when Republican thugs in Alabama caused our house to be unlawfully auctioned. We still live in the house, but our full ownership rights were essentially stolen. My wife and I now are fighting to get them back.

We have filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court alleging that attorney William E. Swatek and Shelby County Sheriff Chris Curry led a conspiracy to violate our equal-protection rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. Other named defendants include Mike McGarity, our criminally inclined neighbor; Sheriff Deputy Bubba Caudill; and Alabama Circuit Judge Hub Harrington. (See the complaint at the end of this post.)

Long-time readers might recall that we captured the bizarre sheriff's sale on video for our Legal Schnauzer audience. You can relive those memories here:

Showdown in Shelby County, Part II

What is the gist of the lawsuit? This section of the complaint pretty well sums it up:

The sale allegedly was for the purpose of satisfying a judgment against Roger Shuler in the amount of $1,525. The judgment had been entered in Shelby County Circuit Court in June 2004, in favor of Mike McGarity, who was represented by Attorney William E. Swatek.

Swatek made the only bid on the property, and he was awarded rights to the Shulers’ property. A sheriff’s deed was placed on the Shulers’ property in Swatek’s name, and the deed remains in place.

The sheriff’s sale was conducted without due process of law and violated Alabama statutory, procedural, and case law in multiple respects.

The "auction" was a legal fiasco, apparently designed to threaten me into discontinuing my blog. It took place on May 12, 2008 (while I was on administrative leave from my job at UAB), and I was fired on May 19. That strongly suggests that the sheriff's sale and my unlawful termination are connected.

Swatek's son, Dax Swatek, is a Montgomery-based political consultant for the Republican Party and was Gov. Bob Riley's campaign manager in 2006. Dax Swatek's mentor is Bill Canary, president of the Business Council of Alabama and husband of corrupt U.S. Attorney Leura Canary (of Don Siegelman-case infamy). Bill Canary, of course, is a close associate of Tom Donohue, head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Karl Rove, Bush White House and GOP fund-raising strategist.

Bill and Dax Swatek are the Kevin Bacon characters in our Legal Schnauzer story, providing "six degrees" of connections to some of the sleaziest Republicans in American history. Does all of this suggest that my unlawful termination at UAB and the bogus auction of our house were driven, at least in part, by GOP political operatives? Does it suggest that our problems with debt collectors also might involve GOP politicos? We think the answer to both questions is yes.

(By the way, the photo of Bill Swatek above is not a gag. That's really him, and he really is an "officer of the court" in Alabama. Comforting isn't it? The photo is from the Web site If you have some time on your hands and want to have a little fun, try this: Check out the Alabama Rules of Professional Conduct and then peruse the Swatek Web site. See how many violations of ethics rules you can find.)

How big a joke was the process leading up to the auction of our house--and why does it appear connected to my blog? The complaint states:

As of fall 2007, more than three years had passed, with McGarity making no effort to collect on the judgment. Neither Swatek nor McGarity ever sent a demand letter regarding the judgment. But roughly three months after Shuler started writing about the case on his blog—and also writing about debt collectors who had repeatedly violated federal law—McGarity and Swatek suddenly became interested in collecting the judgment.

In September 2007, Swatek applied for a writ of execution on McGarity’s behalf, threatening seizure of the Shulers’ cars and house. The writ was issued by Clerk Mary Harris on September 21, 2007. On February 8, 2008, the Shulers received a notice of levy, signed by Sheriff Chris Curry, stating that the house and property at 5204 Logan Drive would be advertised and sold. Over a period of several weeks, the Shulers received approximately 25 phone messages from Deputies Bubba Caudill and Eddie Moore. The tone of the calls was “we’re fixing to sell that property” and “have you worked something out with the other side?”

In a phone conversation with Bubba Caudill, Roger Shuler stated there was nothing to work out. The judgment itself was void, Shuler said, and he had filed a claim of exemption with the sheriff’s office—and McGarity had not contested it, meaning the property was exempt from levy and no sale could took place. Caudill told Shuler that Judge Harrington had ordered that the sale proceed, and the court file shows that Harrington indeed signed off on the sale. This occurred even though Alabama law holds that a sheriff’s sale is recognized by statute and does not require any action by a judge. (Ex Parte Arthur Lynn, Ala. Civ. App. 1999.) In fact, that court found that a sheriff’s sale is not a judicial sale, so Harrington acted outside his official capacity as a judge in causing the Shulers’ property rights to be unlawfully auctioned.

What has been the fallout?

As a result of the unlawful auction, a sheriff’s deed now is recorded in Shelby County Probate Court, falsely asserting that Bill Swatek has legal rights to the Shulers’ property. The Shulers now frequently receive mail at their home, addressed to William E. Swatek, as if he is the owner of the property.

Imagine that you are outside on a 90-degree summer day in Alabama, mowing your yard, pulling weeds, trimming shrubs--doing the kinds of things that homeowners do to try to keep their property looking nice. Imagine that sweat is pouring down your face, and your shirt is thoroughly soaked.

Then this thought comes into your head: Thanks to a neighbor with a long criminal record and his lawyer with a long history of ethical violations and corrupt public officials, you are working your ass off on property that you don't fully own.

Imagine how that would make you feel. Mrs. Schnauzer and I don't have to imagine it. We know how it makes you feel. It makes you so pissed off that you are tempted to take the bogus sheriff's deed and jam it up someone's orifice. It makes you want to take Bill Swatek's "hog" and drive it over a cliff--with him on it.

We try to be civilized folks, so we are going about things in the proper manner. But to say we are determined to get justice in this matter would be a vast understatement.

Shuler-Swatek Lawsuit2

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Going On the Attack Against the Thugs Who Cheated Me Out of My Job

We recently posted about our experiences with adult bullies and noted that the bullying phenomenon, so much in the news recently, does not end with youth.

So what is a victim to do? Well, the only recourse we know of is to fight back. And that's exactly what my wife and I are doing.

Regular readers know that I was unlawfully terminated from my job at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). Much the same thing happened to Mrs. Schnauzer at Infinity Property and Casualty. And we had the full rights to our house unlawfully auctioned by the sheriff's office in Shelby County, Alabama. We officially have begun to fight back in federal court.

I recently filed a lawsuit against the University of Alabama Board of Trustees (the legal entity over UAB) and various individuals in connection with my unlawful termination. (See the complaint at the end of this post.)

My wife and I have filed a lawsuit against Shelby County Sheriff Chris Curry and other individuals involved in the unlawful auction of our house. We will be reporting about the basics of that case, and publishing the complaint, shortly.

Evidence strongly suggests that unlawful actions in both cases were driven, at least in part, by individuals connected to Republican Party politics.

Both lawsuits were filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama. Defendants have been served, and the early phases of both cases are under way. We will be reporting on both cases, in real time, here at Legal Schnauzer. (My wife's case against Infinity is being investigated by the EEOC, and we will move forward once that phase is completed.)

Our reporting on these cases will be different from what you find in mainstream news outlets. I know from 11 years in the newspaper business, that reporters who cover courts often regurgitate what judges, lawyers, and clerk's offices feed them. Reporters almost never ask the following questions: Are the judges and the lawyers handling this case in a lawful manner? Are the parties acting in a truthful manner?

We will be asking those questions, and providing answers, as the cases unfold. It's another example of how the Web has changed the world of journalism. Such reporting would not have been possible a few years back. With the advent of blogs, it very much is possible now.

What is the gist of my lawsuit against the University of Alabama? The No. 1 allegation is that the university fired me because of the content on my blog about matters of public concern. This constitutes a First Amendment violation, encompassing retaliation and wrongful termination. UAB certainly will contest this, but the truth is not in doubt. From the complaint:

One of the university’s own employees, Anita Bonasera, stated in a tape-recorded conversation that plaintiff was targeted for investigation and ultimately termination because of his blog content about the Don Siegelman case.

We have published key segments of this audiotape before, and you can check it out again. I tape recorded the conversation with Bonasera, who is UAB's director of employee relations, after she and my former supervisor, Pam Powell, placed me on administrative leave. A link to the three-minute segment is below. For about the first 1:40, Bonasera and I discuss the nature of my job duties. At about 1:50, she admits my job issues are related to my blog. And at roughly the 2:08 mark, she admits I was targeted because of the Siegelman content on my blog.

A key point: Bonasera states that Powell had met with university IT personnel to examine how I had used my computer at work. I was the only person in our department who was subjected to this kind of investigation--and it revealed, as came out in my grievance hearing, that I had never written the first word of my blog on UAB equipment or time. Powell apparently designated certain items from my computer usage as "non-work related activity." Bonasera reveals this to me in a conversation that took place roughly two weeks after I had filed an official grievance against Powell in UAB human resources and had complained to Powell's superior, associate vice president Dale Turnbough, about ongoing age discrimination.

UAB policy says an employee is to use the grievance process without fear of reprisal. But roughly two weeks after I filed these grievances/complaints, I was placed on administrative leave. One week after that, I was fired. It's hard to imagine a more blatant example of retaliation. And my taped conversation with Anita Bonasera reveals that UAB targeted, harassed, and terminated me because of the content on my blog:

Audio: UAB and the Cost of Blogging About the Siegelman Case

The lawsuit also includes federal charges of age discrimination, gender discrimination, conspiracy to interfere with civil rights (42 U.S. Code 1985[3]) and action for neglect to prevent (42 U.S. Code 1986). State-law claims for defamation and tortious interference are included in the complaint. The lawsuit also lists fictitious defendants who I plan to name once they are identified through the discovery process. Anonymous threats I've received on this blog, including one specifically mentioning my job, indicates persons outside of UAB were partially driving this termination train.

A scan of Legal Schnauzer archives shows that the vast majority of posts are about legal matters involving other people--former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman, Mississippi attorney Paul Minor, U.S. Justice Department whistleblowers Jill Simpson and Tamarah Grimes, and many others.

But the case against the University of Alabama hits about as close to home as you can get. Several individuals, with the OK of the university's leadership, effectively ruined a career that I had spent 19 years building--30 if you count my 11 years in the newspaper business--and left me in a position where it is almost impossible at age 53 to find a job in my chosen field.

My guess is that the vast majority of Americans never have had an inside look at an employment lawsuit, especially one that involves such flagrant violations of basic civil and constitutional rights.

We intend to provide an inside look that, to my knowledge, has never been presented in American journalism. Does our justice system still work for everyday Americans? We will be finding out.

(Note: I was terminated on May 19, 2008, and the UAB lawsuit was filed on May 17, 2010, within the two-year statute of limitations for a First Amendment claim. The EEOC took way more than the 180 days it is allowed to investigate my claim, but upon my request, the agency issued a right-to-sue letter. Rule 4(m) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allow a plaintiff 120 days to complete service on defendants. Service was completed on all defendants by September 15, within the time frame allowed by law.)

Shuler--UAB Lawsuit2

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

U.S. Senate Candidate Raises Tough Questions in Aftermath of the BP Oil Spill

Did the Obama Justice Department restrict access to information in an effort to limit BP's damages in the wake of the Gulf oil spill? What will happen to Gulf Coast residents who become sick years from now as a result of exposure to toxins from the spill?

Those are some of the hard questions U.S. Senate candidate William G. "Bill" Barnes (D-AL) is asking, just one week from next Tuesday's midterm elections.

Barnes faces an uphill battle against GOP incumbent Richard Shelby and his fund-raising machine. But Barnes is in Washington now, asking the kinds of questions that seem to have gone unnoticed by Shelby and Alabama's other senator, Republican Jeff Sessions.

During his stay in D.C., Barnes has sought meetings with Attorney General Eric Holder, EPA Administrator Lisa Perez Jackson, and White House assistant Carol Browner, who focuses on energy and climate-change issues.

In letters to D.C. officials, Barnes says he has seen signs of responsiveness from some in the Obama administration and from special compensation master Kenneth Feinberg. But he also has concerns, especially about Alabama citizens who are likely to be feeling the health and economic impact of the oil spill for years to come. Writes Barnes:

Alabama residents, like others in the Gulf, are justifiably concerned that criminal and civil procedures will fairly compensate for damage and deter future misconduct.

Regarding civil cases:

* Have you investigated any complaints that Justice Department improperly helped restrict reporters, environmental groups or other members of the public from obtaining evidence regarding the scope of BP’s damages?

* What is the latest information on your monitoring of the work of compensation “czar” Kenneth Feinberg to ensure that his work has gone forward with due process and is otherwise fair under the law? Even after being impressed with recent progress under his leadership, I am particularly interested in your overview and assurances that those who may become ill perhaps years later by oil-created illnesses, as yet-unknown, be treated fairly.

Barnes conducted a briefing last week at the National Press Club, and here are highlights regarding environmental issues:

A Wealthy Republican Family Hangs Out Its Dirty Laundry Down South

Ted W. Rollins

Perhaps the biggest legal story in the South right now involves what the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has called the "public disintegration" of the Rollins family.

What is the Rollins family? It is one of America's wealthiest clans, best known as the folks behind Orkin Pest Control. They have cultivated an image as low-key philanthropists, but two lawsuits recently filed in Atlanta pull the mask off Rollins Inc.

It's a story about massive wealth, family dysfunction, and Republican Party politics--with a roundabout connection to the wacky Christine O'Donnell. It's also a story with ties to Alabama, where a member of the Rollins family has played center stage in one of the most grotesque examples of courtroom injustice I've ever encountered.

Regular readers know I would not make that last statement lightly. But I have closely examined the file in a case styled Rollins vs. Rollins. It's a domestic-relations case that Ted W. Rollins filed against his wife,  Sherry Carroll Rollins, who had moved to Shelby County, Alabama, from the couple's home in Greenville, South Carolina.

Sherry Rollins had already filed for divorce in South Carolina, and a judge had issued a warrant for Ted Rollins' arrest for failure to pay child support. But Ted Rollins somehow managed to get the case transferred to Alabama. Anyone who has taken a few days of Law School 101 knows that cannot be done.  But it apparently can be done when you are a member of one of America's wealthiest families, and you have ties to Bradley Arant Boult and Cummings, one of Alabama's largest law firms.

With the help of some dumbfounding decisions by Shelby County Judge Al Crowson, who just happened to retire early as the case was winding down, Ted Rollins received a judgment that was both stunningly favorable and blatantly unlawful.

Public records indicate that, at the time the Rollins case was moved to Alabama, Ted Rollins was such a deadbeat dad that he was a fugitive from justice. But with his ties to massive wealth and the Bradley Arant firm, he was welcomed with open arms in the Heart of Dixie.

The corrupt machinations of Judge Crowson in Shelby County have left Sherry Rollins struggling to survive while she raises the couple's two daughters, Sarah and Emily, who are now teen-agers. Ted Rollins, now remarried, recently put together an initial public offering (IPO) for his latest venture, Campus Crest Communities, which entered the New York Stock Exchange earlier this month. The anticipated value of the IPO is $380 million.

We have written extensively about corruption in Alabama's domestic-relations courts. But Rollins vs. Rollins might be the ugliest civil case, of any kind, that I have ever seen. That is saying something, and we will be writing much more about it.

But what about the larger Rollins family feud, the one that has tongues wagging in Atlanta? First, some background about the Rollinses. Their roots are in Georgia, and the business family tree essentially has two prongs that were established by a couple of industrious brothers--O. Wayne Rollins and John W. Rollins.

After World War II, John W. Rollins moved to Delaware and opened an automobile dealership. His brother soon joined him in the business, and they expanded into broadcasting, outdoor advertising, pest control, truck leasing, and more. They became heavily involved in harness racing and motorsports, and the family has close ties to Dover Downs and Dover International Speedway.

John W. Rollins became a major figure in the Republican Party. He was elected lieutenant governor of Delaware in 1956 and lost in a bid for governor in 1960. John W. Rollins died in 2000, but his third wife, Michele Rollins, is carrying on the political tradition. She ran this year for the Delaware U.S. House seat that was vacated by Mike Castle. Michele Rollins lost in the GOP primary, a result that was overshadowed on the national stage when Christine O'Donnell shocked Castle in the primary for a U.S. Senate seat.

The Atlanta feud involves the O. Wayne Rollins side of the family. Here is how the Atlanta Journal-Constitution describes it:

The battle royale in the family erupted just a year after the death of the family's 98-year-old matriarch, Grace Crum Rollins.

On Aug. 23, Rollins siblings Glen W., Ruth Ellen, Nancy Louise, and O. Wayne II filed suit in Fulton County Superior Court against their father, Gary Rollins, and their uncle, R. Randall Rollins, over two trusts established for them. The suit seeks information on the trusts, the siblings' attorney said.

The lawsuit also names another board member, Henry B. Tippie, who, with Gary and R. Randall oversees those trusts.

On Aug. 25, the children's mother, Ruth M. Rollins, petitioned for divorce from Gary, seeking to dissolve their nearly 45-year marriage.

The "marriage of the parties is irretrievably broken" and "there is no hope for reconciliation," according to the petition, which also was filed in Fulton County Superior Court.

On Tuesday, the Rollins board, led by CEO Gary W. Rollins, 66, and chairman R. Randall Rollins, 78, fired Gary's son Glen, 44, an executive vice president and leader of Rollins' most recognizable brand, Orkin pest control.

That's a lot of unpleasantness. But it's relatively minor league compared to the nastiness, and blatant unlawfulness, that is present in the Rollins v. Rollins case in Alabama.

That case has gone unreported in the mainstream press. But we are preparing to take a serious look at it.

Monday, October 25, 2010

U.S. Senate Candidate Challenges Eric Holder on Justice Issues

Bill Barnes

A candidate for the U.S. Senate has asked for a meeting with Attorney General Eric Holder to discuss justice-related concerns in Alabama.

William G. "Bill" Barnes, a Democrat from Birmingham, is running a long-shot campaign against incumbent Republican Richard Shelby. Polls show Shelby with a comfortable lead, thanks partly to his massive campaign war chest, but Barnes does not intend to go quietly.

In a letter to Holder, Barnes essentially states that the U.S. Justice Department acted in a highly questionable manner during the George W. Bush administration--and has not been much better under Barack Obama. (See full letter at the end of this post.) Writes Barnes:

The primary issue is fostering public confidence in the fairness and thoroughness of Justice Department’ s work under your watch. To be sure, you provided an eloquent speech on civil rights recently at the University of Alabama. But it was reported that you declined to receive any questions then, just as you failed to respond to questions from USA Today reporters compiling their alarming judicial findings of federal prosecutorial misconduct

With that background, I seek your personal assurance that the Justice Department is operating in accordance with its leaders’ highest ideals and longstanding expectations, especially given the grave threats now to financial, environmental and civil liberties proving so alarming to the public.

Barnes says he is concerned that civil and criminal proceedings will not lead to just compensation for Alabama victims of the BP oil spill. He also notes that the Obama administration has had a limp response to a USA Today series outlining widespread prosecutorial misconduct in the federal justice system.

Then Barnes gets down to some specific questions about Alabama, focusing first on Leura Canary, U.S. attorney for the Middle District in Montgomery:

Why is the Bush Presidential appointee Leura Canary still the Middle District U.S. attorney nine years after she took office, nearly two years after President Obama was elected and long after her work made her perhaps the most notoriously political U.S. attorney in the country? Why hasn’t she been replaced with a non-political, acting U.S. attorney congruent with U.S. traditions?

Barnes also addresses the prosecution of former Democratic Governor Don Siegelman:

My understanding is that Alabama’s distinguished former Chief U.S. District Judge U.W. Clemon of our Northern District and the U.S. House Judiciary Committee leadership last year joined the thousands if not tens of thousands of U.S. citizens who have written the Justice Department and White House seeking an investigation of irregularities in the conviction of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman. My questions:

* What is the status of the investigation that Chairman Conyers requested a year ago?

* How thoroughly did the Justice Department investigate the corruption and impeachment complaint filed by attorney Paul B. Weeks against Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller, Siegelman’s trial judge involving an alleged attempt to defraud Alabama’s pension fund?

* Do you stand by the Justice Department’s view that the $300 million in recent Bush administration contracts for the trial judge’s closely held company fails to create an appearance of bias meriting recusal?

* What was the secret basis of your request last year for 20 more years for Siegelman?

Barnes turns his attention to the recent arrests of 11 individuals in a federal investigation of gambling-related legislation:

Regarding the Oct.1 indictments of 11 defendants on a public corruption case in Alabama:

* Why did you use a prosecution team so heavily reliant on prosecutors whose actions became nationally notorious in winning the convictions of Siegelman and former Alaska Sen. Stevens?

* Doesn’t this needlessly undermine public confidence, given the Justice Department’s vast
numbers of accomplished, untainted professionals?

Finally, Barnes notes that GOP Governor Riley continues to avoid scrutiny, despite his documented ties to disgraced lobbyists Jack Abramoff and Michael Scanlon:

A number of Alabama residents recently petitioned for a federal investigation of allegations that Alabama Gov. Riley be investigated for longstanding allegations that he received millions of dollars in illegal campaign contributions from Mississippi casino owners laundered via Jack Abramoff and that he and his associates received millions more in a gambling investment scheme from Alabama investors. Have federal authorities aggressively investigated these allegations?

As we write this post, Holder has not responded to Barnes' request.

Barnes Holder Letter

Constitutional Rights Are Being Trampled in Alabama Bingo Case

Quinton Ross

A federal judge has ordered defendants in an Alabama corruption case involving gambling-related legislation to tape record all conversations they had with public officials, political candidates, and lobbyists. That is a violation of the Fifth Amendment right to avoid self incrimination, according to a new report.

The actions of U.S. Magistrate Judge Terry Moorer should be alarming to those interested in protecting civil liberties, reports D.C.-based investigative journalist Wayne Madsen. Moorer had ordered the defendants to have no contact with potential witnesses, but recently eased that restriction. The order about tape recording remains in place. From the Wayne Madsen Report (WMR):

The decision to require tape recordings, in effect, requires all conversations to be recorded, which, as one Alabama attorney pointed out, is a violation of the Fifth Amendment rights protecting the rights of accused against self-incrimination. The order also applies to the accused talking to witnesses in the case, although there is a waiver for conversations in which the attorneys of the accused are present.

One defendant, State Sen. Quinton Ross (D-Montgomery) has been particularly vocal about the judge's restrictions. Reports Associated Press:

Ross' attorney, Lewis Gillis, complained in a court hearing Monday that the requirements hampered the preparation of his defense and his ability to do his job as a public official.

But Moorer refused to modify the recording requirement Tuesday, as Ross had sought, and he added a requirement to tape record conversations with lobbyists. Moorer said he had intended to make that part of the conditions on Oct. 4.

The judge's orders also are affecting journalists trying to cover the case. Madsen says that apparently is designed to help cover the questionable activities of Republican Governor Bob Riley:

Perhaps more importantly, the order covers conversations the accused have with journalists covering the case, since it is required that all conversations be recorded to ensure that state business is not being discussed pursuant to the judge's order. That decision effectively nixed plans by WMR to interview some of the accused on the role that Governor Bob Riley played in seeking the indictments in order to cover a $13 million loan made by one of the indicted gambling executives, Milton McGregor, to Riley's 2006 gubernatorial campaign political slush fund.

If such interviews were recorded, information, including journalist sources, would be passed to the US Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama, Leura Canary, a Bush-appointed prosecutor who led the campaign to indict former Democratic Governor Don Siegelman. Canary is married to Riley's friend and campaign manager, Bill Canary.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Bullying Continues Even When You Become An Adult

Bullying, and its potentially deadly consequences, has become one of the most discussed topics in America. The suicide of Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi is the best known of at least five cases where gay teens have killed themselves after reportedly being bullied. In the Cleveland suburb of Mentor, Ohio, four teens have died by their own hands in the past two years after being bullied.

The Web is awash with articles from both the academic and mainstream press about bullying, almost all focusing on youths. But here is an ugly truth about bullying: It doesn't end with the teen years. It can extend well into adulthood, and in some respects, adult bullying is even nastier than the teen variety--with consequences that can be just as severe.

One has to wonder if our culture somehow encourages bullying--in all age groups.

Consider the subject matter of this blog. If I were asked to give a one-sentence description of Legal Schnauzer, I might say, "It's about adult bullying and a court system that seems to sanction it." The vast majority of our posts, in one way or another, can be summed up in that simple statement. Come to think of it, I might need to change our tag line at the top of the blog.

You might say that I have experienced "bullying in reverse." I don't recall ever being bullied as a kid. But for some reason, The Man Upstairs has seen fit to get me well acquainted with it in adulthood.

If we examine the elements of the personal story we've laid out here at Legal Schnauzer, what do we learn?

* Our neighbor Mike McGarity, the guy with the extensive criminal record, tried to bully Mrs. Schnauzer and me into turning our yard over to his personal use;

* When that failed, McGarity hired William E. Swatek, an ethically challenged lawyer who tried to bully us with a bogus lawsuit;

* When it became clear that McGarity/Swatek had no case, corrupt Shelby County judges J. Michael Joiner and G. Dan Reeves tried to bully us in public courtrooms;

* When I filed legal-malpractice lawsuits against the lawyers who failed to protect our rights in the original case, Jefferson County judges Robert Vance and Allwin Horn essentially bullied us by unlawfully dismissing the cases;

* When I decided to write a blog in order to help expose corruption in Alabama courtrooms--and the broader American justice system--I started receiving numerous anonymous threats, including several that appeared to put our personal safety at risk;

* When fighting legal battles hurt our household finances, we started hearing from debt collectors who tried to bully us into paying money they could not prove we owed;

* When I continued blogging about touchy subjects--including corrupt lawyer/judges and unethical debt collectors---Bill Swatek and the Shelby County Sheriff's Department conspired to conduct an unlawful "auction" of our house;

* When none of that caused us to cave, someone prompted my employer, the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), to cheat me out of my job;

* With me out of work, and our lawsuit against debt collectors hitting a key point in discovery, someone caused Mrs. Schnauzer to be cheated out of her job at Infinity Property and Casualty--a company that just happens to have close ties to one of the law firms defending the debt collectors.

When you add it up, the past 10 years of our lives have, for the most part, been spent battling bullies. And we are hardly alone.

The political prosecutions we've covered here--the Don Siegelman, Paul Minor, Gary White cases, and more--boil down to corrupt judges, prosecutors, and political operatives trying to bully people who are innocent or have been targeted for unconstitutional reasons, or both.

What about whistleblowers, such as Jill Simpson and Tamarah Grimes, who who speak out about wrongdoing that they have witnessed. Simpson experienced a fire at her home and a mysterious automobile accident; Grimes lost her job. Both became targets of bullies.

The record is clear that Republican strategist Karl Rove and/or his acolytes are at the heart of many bogus Bush-era prosecutions. That makes Mr. Rove and his henchmen (and women) Exhibit A of adult bullies.

In our view, adult bullies are different from their youthful brethren. Young bullies, while misguided and possibly disturbed, tend to be relatively direct and honest about their attacks. Their victims know exactly who is terrorizing them. Adult bullies often use more indirect and dishonest tactics. They try to hide behind someone's "skirt," making use of organizational or official cover. They often abuse power or associate themselves with others who abuse power.

Youth bullying tends to be very personal and "in your face." Adult bullying can be more impersonal, involving the very systems that are supposed to ensure equal protection of the law. Some of the most egregious adult bullying comes from lawyers, judges, police officers, sheriff's deputies, FBI agents, and others who operate under cover of the "law."

Adult bullies are, beneath it all, cowards. They often don't have the courage to bully their victims up close. But give them a badge, a robe, or a law license--or protection from someone in power--and their "inner bully" surfaces quickly.

Another point about adult bullying: It is not limited to men. Guys unquestionably can be accomplished bullies, and we've written about a number of sexual harassment cases that prove it. (See here and here.) But I know from firsthand experience that women can be every bit as vicious as their male brethren. Just consider my employment case at UAB: All six of the individuals who appear to be most directly responsible for my unlawful termination are women. And the in-house lawyer defending their actions is a woman. The record is replete with examples of how I was treated in a way that never would have been done to a female employee, at least not in my workplace. I've seen documents that indicate so much ass covering is going on, just in my case, it's a wonder any work is getting done at the university.

Surely women have helped bring an enlightened approach to leadership in some workplaces. But it sure hasn't happen in the place where I used to work.

Is there any good news in all of this? I think there is. One, I've learned that adult bullies often are not very smart. They tend to do stupid things, especially when you stand up to them. Two, technology makes it harder for bullies to get away without their attacks being known.

That's why we started this blog. And that's why bullies have not been able to shut it down.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Aides to Riley Helped Drive Anti-Gambling Crusade in Alabama

Dr. Randy Brinson

Alabamians have been treated to the sight recently of multiple arrests for alleged criminal actions related to gambling legislation.

A federal investigation seems to have focused only on individuals who favored a taxed and regulated form of electronic bingo. But a 2007 lawsuit reveals that aides to Governor Bob Riley played a pivotal role in drumming up opposition, to the point of issuing threats.

The lawsuit is a public document that should have been readily available to federal investigators. So one can only wonder why Riley's aides seem to have avoided scrutiny in the gambling case.

Riley, in the roughly two years leading up to the arrests, had become an almost pathological opponent of gambling, using heavy-handed tactics to shut down facilities that previously had not been declared illegal. The governor's actions, it turns out, were driven largely by some of his closest aides.

According to a 2007 lawsuit filed by the chairman of the Christian Coalition of Alabama, several top aides to Riley played prominent roles in stirring the governor's anti-gambling passion. And that led to what some reporters have called "the bingo wars of 2010," the biggest political story of the year in our state--and that was before the recent arrests. (The full lawsuit can be read at the end of this post.)

Who was behind a crusade that has cost hundreds of jobs and hundreds of thousands of dollars for Alabama taxpayers? A legal document tells us.

Dr. Randy Brinson states in the lawsuit that Riley initially was neutral in 2007 when a bill to tax and regulate gambling was introduced in the Alabama Legislature. But when Brinson and the Christian Coalition threw their support behind the bill, HB 527, several Riley aides took quick action. And their concerns had nothing to do with a genuine opposition to gambling in Alabama. In fact, the aides and Riley were up to their necks in gambling interests.

In the lawsuit, Brinson states:

These persons knew that Riley's connections with Las Vegas and Mississippi gambling entities, combined with his stance against gambling in Alabama that resulted from these connections, would make it easier to enlist his opposition.

Who were these associates? Brinson names them: Dax Swatek, Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh, Toby Roth, and Ken Wallis. How did they apply pressure? Brinson spells it out:

Based on information and belief, Dan Ireland, who is executive director of Alabama Citizens Action Program (ALCAP), contacted Dax R. Swatek, who had been Riley's campaign manager in 2006, and alerted him that Riley needed to be persuaded to oppose HB 527.

Around this time, Swatek was hired by GreeneTrack Inc., a racetrack operation in Greene County, Alabama. Within 24 hours of Swatek being hired by GreeneTrack, a meeting was held between Riley and the following individuals: Dax R. Swatek; Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh, who was former deputy chief of staff to Riley and former chairman of the Alabama Republican Party and was employed by a lobbying group that represented the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians; Toby Roth, who was Riley's chief of staff and is currently a lobbyist for the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians; and Ken Wallis, who serves as Riley's legal advisor.

Was it a tough sale on Riley? Not exactly:

Based on information and belief, Riley was easily persuaded by these individuals to publicly oppose HB 527 because of the prior financial support he had received from Indian casinos. Again, this has been Riley's consistent position for almost a decade, since he first witnessed the generosity of the Indian casinos.

The Brinson lawsuit essentially provides a road map of right-wing opposition to gaming in Alabama. It lists the key players and shows how far they might go in fighting regulated gambling.

So here is a question that popped into my Schnauzer brain: I don't have the first hour of training in federal law enforcement, but I was able to track down this lawsuit that reads like a playbook for the anti-gambling crowd in Alabama. Why couldn't the brainiacs in the U.S. Department of Justice find it and follow its many leads?

Unless, of course, they weren't interested in following those leads--unless they didn't want to follow a trail that led to Dax Swatek and the rest of the Riley Gang. Maybe they only wanted to follow trails that led to certain people, but not to others.

That is the very definition of a political prosecution--one that pursues people, not crimes. And that is a subject with which we are all too familiar here in Alabama.

Below is the full text of the Brinson lawsuit.

Christian Coalition Lawsuit

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Case of HIV Sends Panic Through the Porn Industry

We have written extensively about potential pitfalls in the modern workplace. My wife and I have experienced them. (See here and here). You, or someone close to you, probably has, too.

If we think we've got it tough, perhaps we should consider today's porn star. What if we had to step into their, ah, shoes.

At least five major porn studios have shut down after an actor tested positive last week for HIV, according to a report at In These Times. The story has a number of legal angles. And we learn that the people who produce porn have much in common with the people who produce "justice."

Writes reporter Lindsay Beyerstein:

At this point, no one knows how many people the infected actor may have exposed to HIV, or whether he got infected at work. News of the positive test sparked widespread alarm in the industry because the infected man is reportedly a big star who’s dating another big star. Despite its flamboyant public image, the porn industry in Southern California is still a pretty small world. An estimated 1,200-1,500 performers work on-camera.

For those of us wondering when the shelves will contain Debbie Does Dallas Again and Again and Again and . . . well, these could be anxious times. For porn actors, it's an issue with life-and-death implications--and it goes to the heart of the industry's culture. Writes Beyerstein:

A positive test in the industry is especially alarming because the vast majority of straight porn is shot without condoms, despite the fact that California law requires condoms or equivalent protection on porn sets. (By contrast, the gay porn industry is largely condom-compliant.)

The porn profession comes with inherent health risks, and the industry seems to have made a fairly serious effort to address them. The porn industry, however, is dangerously insular--like another profession we write about often here:

In the latest case of HIV, the actor tested positive through an industry-sanctioned program administered by the Adult Industry Medical Healthcare Foundation. If you've heard of AIM, you probably know it as the "clinic for porn stars." AIM does provide medical and social services to porn performers, but AIM's true niche in the ecosystem of "Porn Valley" is much more complicated.

AIM is also the STD testing and record-keeping clearinghouse of the San Fernando Valley’s multi-billion dollar straight porn industry, according to Dr. Alexandre Padilla, a professor of economics at Metropolitan State College of Denver, who analyzed the structure of AIM in a 2008 working paper.

“With the help of the Adult Industry Medical Healthcare Foundation (AIM), the adult film industry developed a corporate culture to facilitate widespread coordination among members and to make the industry similar to a private club,” Padilla writes.

Is AIM effective? Apparently it is, but the system is not foolproof:

AIM is a private nonprofit whose primary function is to test performers for STDs and make the results available directly to producers, directors, agents, potential co-stars and other industry insiders. Working actors are required to test every 30 days for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.

Testing isn't a panacea, even if everyone does everything right. The latest infection "shows how testing just isn't equivalent to protection," according to Deborah Gold, a senior safety engineer at Cal-OSHA.

The industry justifies barebacking by saying that AIM does such a good job of keeping HIV out of the talent pool and containing the virus if it somehow finds its way in.

Basic biology presents a major challenge for AIM--and porn stars:

The problem is that there's a window of at least several days between being exposed to HIV and testing positive, during which time the patient is highly infectious. So, a patient can test negative during the most infectious phase of their illness. That's what happened in 2004 when porn star Darren James came back from Brazil with a fresh HIV infection. He tested with AIM and was cleared to go back to work. Before his next test, James had unprotected sex with 14 actresses, 3 of whom contracted the virus.

In 2009, an actress worked in the industry with HIV before testing positive. Luckily, she didn't infect any of her partners, but she easily could have.

The safety of actors in the porn industry has strong legal implications:

AIM maintains a database of all performers and the scenes they've done for each company. If a performer later tests positive for HIV, AIM can look up all that actor's partners. AIM then contacts those people, gets a list of their on- and off-camera partners and tests them.

AIM says it "quarantines" actors who may have been exposed, but the group has no legal power. Some studios have shut down during the investigation, but others are still making movies, presumably without condoms.

The industry group refuses to share information with public-health officials out of privacy concerns. And the industry gets away with breaking state laws:

The latest HIV case is sure to revive the debate about whether condoms should be mandatory. This is a red herring. Condoms are already mandatory in porn in California. The question is why the industry is allowed to break the law with impunity.

It turns out that the porn industry--surprise, surprise--is a lot like the legal profession; it oversees itself. And that kind of arrangement almost always produces poor results, especially for those who are vulnerable:

The industry is fighting tougher rules, citing AIM's testing program as proof that barrier protection is unnecessary. But AIM is responsible for investigating itself if the system fails. If the system wasn't working, would we trust them to tell us?

It's too soon to tell whether the latest case of HIV in the industry represents a triumph or a tragedy for AIM. Maybe the testing program caught the virus before it could spread, in which case this would be a success story. Or maybe the positive test came too late. Given the limitations of the tests, successful containment is a heavily dependent on luck and timing.

Bottom line: Worker safety is too important to be left to chance. The porn industry should not be an exception to that rule.

Is Richard Shelby Planning to Pull a Fast One With His U.S. Senate Seat?

Bill Barnes

U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) might be planning to step down shortly after the November elections, allowing outgoing Governor Bob Riley to appoint himself to the seat, according to a report from Washington Update radio.

Bill Barnes, the Democratic candidate for Shelby's seat, raised the issue in an interview with D.C.-based lawyer and journalist Andrew Kreig. Barnes is a heavy underdog against the well-financed Shelby campaign, but he said the veteran senator has been unresponsive to the concerns of Alabamians affected by the BP oil spill.

Barnes also said the 76-year-old Shelby reportedly has health concerns and might have no intention of completing a six-year term, meaning Bob Riley could serve as a stealth candidate for the GOP. Reports Kreig:

In an exclusive interview on the Washington Update radio show. Barnes said his Republican opponent Richard Shelby has shown scant interest in the plight of Alabama’s victims of the oil tragedy. In response to a listener call, Barnes also raised for the first time in the campaign widespread suspicions among Alabama Democrats that Shelby’s own health might encourage him to resign shortly after the election to enable Alabama Gov. Bob Riley to name himself as successor before his term expires in January.

“It’s a strong possibility that Mr. Shelby, Sen. Shelby is suffering from some health issues,” Barnes said, noting that Shelby has made few campaign appearances. “Gov. Riley has been in the media quite regularly, drawing a lot of attention to himself, it appears. And I often wonder in my own mind, what’s the angle? Is he my true opponent?”

Alabama, like most states, allows a governor to appoint a replacement to a vacant Senate seat. Riley, who will leave office in January 2011, could appoint himself.

Barnes acknowledges that it has been tough to mount a serious challenge to the powerful Shelby:

It’s been difficult. . . . Word was for a long time that many didn’t know Shelby was running, let alone had a contender. . . . I didn’t have the funding to bring the public awareness to the 4.7 million citizens of Alabama, nor did I have the luxury of a $17 million war chest Richard Shelby enjoys or the media advertising that he has. So, I’ve been taking it on the road, meeting face to face with folks all over the state of Alabama.

The need to recover from the Gulf oil spill is a key issue in Barnes campaign:

Lifting the oil drilling ban is a necessity. . . . We still have a great thirst for oil. But I believe in the long term we really need to curtail that thirst for oil, we need to try to be innovative and un-tether ourselves from big oil.

This oil crisis, the Deep Horizon Well fiasco/disaster, has just been a warning shot over the bow as far as I’m concerned regarding what we need to do. As far as the damages are concerned, folks are really suffering down along the coast. It’s going to take a long, long time before the effects of that oil disaster are resolved. There is no question in my mind about that. We’re having people down there who are suddenly experiencing sicknesses that they’ve never had before, lesions, respiratory problems and so forth. And it’s of great concern to me. But it doesn’t seem to be of very much concern to Sen. Shelby or actually his counterpart, Sen. [Jeff] Sessions.

Barnes said he is concerned about the forces driving the recent gambling-related arrests in Alabama:

I’m not an elected official and I don’t have privileged information. . . . But since you ask, as an attorney, my instincts raise a lot of questions as to timing. Shelby putting the blanket hold on nominees, which prevented Obama from replacing [Alabama Middle District U.S. Attorney Leura] Canary. . . . It certainly makes me and others want to revisit, and look at the Don Siegelman case, and consider the focus on the Democrats.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Will FBI Finally Zero In On the U.S. Chamber of Commerce?

Tom Donohue

A progressive advocacy group has become the target of persistent threats over the past two weeks for its efforts to expose alleged criminal activity involving the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Now the group, Velvet Revolution (VR), is asking the FBI to investigate the communications, which include explicit threats of violence.

VR launched 16 months ago in an effort to shine light on possible illegal activities associated with the U.S. Chamber and its director. Tom Donohue. VR's campaign began to gain traction as the November midterm elections drew near. President Barack Obama and members of Congress have raised concerns about the Chamber's receipt of foreign funds and questionable accounting practices.

Time magazine examines the controversy in its current issue. Writes Michael Crowley:

It's no great mystery what Barack Obama was doing when he accused the U.S. Chamber of Commerce of directing funds collected from overseas to a massive advertising campaign designed to shape the fall congressional elections. He wanted to remind voters that a powerful arm of corporate America is determined to derail some of the biggest elements of his domestic agenda. But he was also desperate to find some issue — even a contrived one — to inspire his cranky liberal base and avert a wipeout that could wreck the remainder of his term.

VR argues that the issue hardly is contrived. As pressure mounted on the Chamber, VR began to receive a mounting number of serious threats. Kevin Zeese, an attorney for VR, now is asking the FBI to investigate. Writes Zeese:

Specifically, over the past two weeks, these Chamber staff and supporters have escalated what appears to be a coordinated attack on our organization and staff through harassing emails and online posts making false accusations, many including explicit threats of violence and intimidation against our organization and its staff for seeking a DOJ investigation into criminal wrongdoing by Mr. Donohue and the Chamber. The Chamber itself is directly involved with this smear campaign against us through its press spokesman who is feeding well-known conservative media with opposition research paid for by the Chamber. The Chamber’ s high powered lawyers have also recently written at least three letters to various members of the media demanding that they not publish information about the Chamber’ s illegal activities, and defaming our organization and its staff. One letter was written to our public relations agent, Ilene Proctor. One was written to PR Newswire, and the third was written to the editor of Huffington Post. PR Newswire felt so threatened that it pulled a press release we had sent regarding the Chamber.

How are Chamber supporters reacting to VR's campaign? Not well, it appears. Consider some of the threats received through the VR Web site:

* “Leave the Chamber of Commerce alone, this is your only warning;”

* “You WILL be confronted and stopped... I am quite probably a member of the fasting (sic) growing group that is your direct enemy...;”

* “The more torture of Islamohitlerite babykilling Fascist pigs, the better. You should be with them;”

* “Your (sic) all on borrowed time. The real revolution will come to those soon;”

* “You peices (sic) of shit should all be fucking burned at the stake;”

* “Be careful what you ask for..;”

* “Bounty on your head. Beware;”

* “I dont (sic) make threats. Only promises. You better back the hell off;”

* “I will inform friends and family of your thoughts and movements;”

* “Keep this $200,000 ‘tip’ business going for the CEO of the Chamber and you will find yourself as the target.... You will only receive a limited number of warning (sic) --- this may be the only one --- before your punishment is delivered.”

* "Please let the world know who is behind this bounty offer so that they can be 'recognized' for their decision."

* "Try yourselves for treason againsst [sic] the U.S. and then we can hang you for your crimes against this country."

VR states in a press release that it does not intend to be pushed around:

"We have asked the FBI and Department of Justice to form a task force to investigate the thuggish tactics of the Chamber and its attack dogs," said Kevin Zeese. "We take these threats seriously and are determined to make sure that the FBI aggressively goes after those involved. The Chamber is using bullying tactics against us in an attempt to intimidate us against further exposes’ and cooperation with the FBI, which constitutes obstruction of justice. These illegal tactics are used by dictators, the mafia, and other criminals who have something to hide. The American people need to know that the Chamber is a ruthless enterprise that uses thugs, opposition research, extremist media, and high powered lawyers to attack non profit organizations. Congress members need to know that the Chamber is spreading smears about our organization and people associated with it rather than answering questions about its secret foreign funding, campaign financing violations and tax fraud."

This issue recently has been framed on the national stage as Obama vs. Donohue. But it all started with Velvet Revolution. Is it an important matter for progressives? Consider the words of Time's Michael Crowley:

But what's really inspiring the White House assault may be less obvious: turning out the Democratic base. For weeks, Obama has been warning disaffected Democrats that not voting on Nov. 2 will ensure Republican gains likely to squelch the liberal agenda. Obama's 2008 campaign manager, David Plouffe, says Democrats are showing signs of an enthusiasm surge. Others are more skeptical of the chamber bashing. "It's pretty thin stuff," says one Democratic strategist. But with few popular achievements to brag about before the election, invoking the specter of secret corporate money might be Obama's last, best hope of showing liberals that he's made the right enemies — maybe not abroad but certainly at home.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Can Being Sent to Federal Prison Become a Death Sentence?

Gary White

What if you had a loved one sent to federal prison--under clearly unconstitutional circumstances--and then saw his health imperiled by incompetent medical care? What if your loved one, who certainly did not receive a death sentence, possibly faced death because of abuse and neglect in the U.S. prison system?

Those are some of the disturbing questions raised by the case of Gary White, a former county commissioner in the Birmingham, Alabama, area, who was convicted on corruption charges in a case with ties to the Don Siegelman prosecution.

Joan Brunwasser of OpEd News shines light on those questions and more in an interview with Judy White, Gary's wife who has appealed to President Obama in an effort to make sure her husband does not die in prison.

It's a horrifying story, one that started under the Bush Justice Department and is continuing on Barack Obama's watch. It shows what can happen when the trial is over and the courthouse doors have closed. An appeal is pending that might prove that Gary White was wrongly convicted. But will he live to see that day?

Brunwasser: Besides the "normal" stress that goes along with a situation like that, you've had additional concerns that led you to contact the president. For instance, you found out today that Gary's currently in a Chronic Care Clinic. What is it, where is it, and why does he need it? Was he sick? I know that when he reported to prison on the 29th, he had enough of his medications to make sure that none of the prescriptions lapsed.

White: I don't know what a "Chronic Care Clinic" is, or where it is or why he needs it. I know he was in good health, properly medicated when I left him at the prison shortly after noon on September 29th, along with his prescription medications that he was told by prison staff to bring with him when he self-surrendered. He was given no medication at all from Wednesday until just before he was allowed to call me Friday evening, and the medications he has been given since have been incorrect or completely withheld. He had been able to call me daily since Friday, October 1st. Today, the first workday after the federal holiday during which I begged our President for help, I have not heard from him at all, but I did hear from the prison officials. I suspect [his] being sent to wherever he is is retaliatory.

Would the U.S. justice system intentionally place a prisoner in an inconvenient location to punish his family members? Apparently so:

Brunwasser: Gary's in South Carolina. You're in Alabama. How far is that from where you live? Wasn't there anywhere closer?

White: That's another retaliatory situation, I'm afraid, tied to a lawsuit I filed against Alice Martin and the U.S. Attorney's office. Keep in mind: he is innocent. Gary is in a Federal Prison Camp (FPC) in Edgefield, South Carolina, more than 300 miles and a different time zone away from his home, clearly intended to punish his family and him by making visits very difficult. Gary has been recognized as indigent by the court, and at sentencing the judge ordered that he be assigned to the FPC nearest his home. That would be Maxwell in Montgomery, Alabama, just 90 miles south. We live in north central Alabama.

When I drove him to the prison, I drove completely across Georgia (which also has FPCs) and into South Carolina. In order to visit on "his" weekends (not every weekend, like at most FPCs), I will have to leave home at 1:30 a.m., and drive 5 1/2 hours, which, with the time zone change, will allow me to arrive at the prison at 8:00, which is when visiting time begins, then, after visiting, must make the long drive back home. Just the cost of gas was over $60.00, and I certainly can't afford a hotel stay and meals.

Did the justice system actually disobey a judge's order so that it could punish Gary White and his family?

Brunwasser: Back up a second, Judy. You say that the judge at sentencing ordered that Gary be assigned to the FPC nearest his home. But he was not, which is pretty blatant disregard of his order. Is there no recourse?

White: Please, let me say that we are not familiar with "the system" as neither we nor anyone in our families have ever been charged or convicted of a crime. Additionally, the lawyer didn't respond to questions, although she did tell us, after repeated calls, texts, faxes, and phone messages, that we had 30 days to object, and Gary told her to object however it could be objected to. We've never seen anything indicating she did so.

Additionally, we contacted our congressman and senators, who wrote letters asking that Gary's assignment be changed, primarily for the benefit of his family; my surgeon and another doctor also wrote letters asking that Gary be assigned to Montgomery, as I am recovering from major back surgery and it is dangerous to me to drive or be a passenger for such a long distance. Finally, Gary personally objected directly to the assignment, reminding the Bureau of Prisons that the judge had ordered him to be close to home. The only response was sent to our congressman and stated that the decision was theirs alone. Did I mention retaliation?

Is this how a supposedly humane justice system really works?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Lawyers Regulating Lawyers Helps Breed Corruption

Gorman Houston

In the wake of the bingo indictments in Alabama, many citizens probably have forgotten what led to the arrests: a series of highly questionable decisions by the Alabama Supreme Court.

In fact, the decisions were so questionable that they prompted an investigation into allegations that outside forces influenced the court's bingo-related rulings. Many Alabamians probably believe that a real inquiry ensued. After all, former Supreme Court justice Gorman Houston said recently that he spent more than 100 hours investigating the issue and found no evidence of wrongdoing.

But we would suggest that Houston almost certainly was not looking for anything, at least not in a serious fashion.

This was a classic case of a lawyer overseeing other lawyers, and the truth almost always is obscured when that takes place. In fact, the law is the only truly self-regulating profession in America, and that's the No. 1 reason our justice system is such a wreck.

Anyone who wants to believe that Gorman Houston conducted a real inquiry is free to cling to those thoughts. But you might as well also believe in Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, and Lindsay Lohan's sobriety.

The legal profession has snookered Americans now for decades, giving the appearance that it is capable of monitoring itself. But in truth, it has failed miserably. And Gorman Houston's handiwork probably is just the latest example of that.

How absurd is this whole scenario? Consider the setup: The central question was, "Did Governor Bob Riley, or someone close to him, attempt to influence the Supreme Court's finding that the governor's anti-gambling task force could raid the Victoryland casino near Shorter?" Tuscaloosa businessman Stan Pate alleged that someone connected to the governor had tried to move the case from one justice to another.

Houston did find some apparent wrongdoing, but not on the central question. Reports Associated Press:

Houston said in his report that he was "reasonably convinced" that confidential information about the case was "leaked" to the public before the court's ruling was formally released. But he said he could not determine the source of that release and he would be unable to determine the source if he investigated further.

Houston seems to be admitting that a cover up was going on regarding the leak. But we are supposed to believe his overall finding was based on legitimate information?

Want more evidence that Houston's findings probably were bogus? The Birmingham News agreed with it. In fact, our sorry excuse for a local newspaper called the allegations against Riley "outlandish." This is the same newspaper that seems to automatically buy into any allegations against a Democrat, especially one with dark skin. Wrote our august journal:

Only the folks obsessed with black helicopters and grassy knolls put a whole lot of stock into stories starring Riley as the puppeteer who got the court to issue a decision that put VictoryLand's casino out of business. Why, according to the conspiracy theorists, Riley's control even extended to deciding which justice would write the opinion.

What is outlandish about that theory? Absolutely nothing, when you consider that the Alabama Supreme Court repeatedly ruled in Riley's favor and overturned longstanding precedent while doing it.

How loony have the Supreme Court's actions been on bingo? Consider this report from WSFA in Montgomery:

In an unusual and rare move, the state Supreme Court overruled itself when it decided that Governor Riley and his task force can continue to pursue an electronic bingo case against the White Hall gaming center. Some are even calling the decision historic.

Since the 1980's, the state has been operating under a state Supreme Court ruling that said it's the Attorney General who has the final say-so regarding legal matters in the state. However, as a result of Friday's ruling, that's not true anymore. The state Supreme Court ruled in the "Weaver" case back in the 1980's, when Don Siegelman was Attorney General, that it was the Attorney General who has the ultimate power to settle legal disputes in the state.

But now, the Supreme Court has overruled itself saying "Attorney General King (and others) argue that this court's decision in Weaver supports their position. Because that decision is inconsistent with the reasoning and conclusions we express today, we hereby overrule Weaver."

Who authored Ex parte State of Alabama v. Cornerstone Community Outreach, the decision that overturned Weaver? Why, Justice Glenn Murdock, a longtime Riley ally who is under investigation for failing to reveal possible conflicts in bingo cases. For good measure, Murdock and Riley have shared a campaign manager, Montgomery GOP henchman Dax Swatek.

Get this: The Alabama Supreme Court overturned roughly 25 years' worth of precedent to essentially rule that Gov. Bob Riley also is the attorney general of our state. Does that have a foul odor?

Such dubious actions have repercussions. Eleven Alabama citizens--legislators, lobbyists, casino personnel--now are under indictment, partly because the Alabama Supreme Court found that Bob Riley could more or less masquerade as attorney general.

We are supposed to believe, it appears, that Gorman Houston was an objective, disinterested party in this affair. And I've read numerous articles over the years extolling Houston's extraordinary virtues as a lawyer and judge. But who appointed Houston to conduct the investigation of the Alabama Supreme Court? Why, the Alabama Supreme Court itself. And what organization did Houston used to be a part of? Uh, the Alabama Supreme Court.

How many other institutions in America would we allow to appoint the person who is to investigate it. And then allow that institution to pick one of its former members.

Undoubtedly, we have some outstanding lawyers out there, the kind who make justice a high priority. Heck, I even know a handful of them. But the vast majority of lawyers--and this insight comes from hard-earned experience--operate with two priorities in mind:

* What is best for their personal financial situation?

* What is best for the "tribe," their fellow members of the self-regulating legal profession?

For huge numbers of lawyers, matters of justice and "right and wrong" come way down the list, long after those first two priorities have been considered. For quite a few lawyers, matters of justice aren't even on their personal radar screens.

If Houston's report had unearthed the probable truth--that the governor's office did successfully influence the bingo rulings--it would have raised serious questions about the entire Alabama justice system. After all, if the state's highest court cannot be trusted, why should we trust the courts below it?

The answer is, "We shouldn't--they are cesspools of corruption."

But Gorman Houston could not let that happen. He is a member of the legal fraternity, and he has a vested interest in perpetuating the myth that our courts are "citadels of honor."

Alabamians who have been paying attention know that is a joke. And so, probably, is Houston's report.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Did Rove's Plans for November Elections Have Tragic Consequences in Alabama?

The mysterious death of an Alabama business advocate might have been triggered by plans to launder Indian casino funds to help elect Republican candidates in the November midterm elections.

Ralph Stacy died of a reportedly self-inflicted gunshot wound on September 14 at Business Council of Alabama (BCA) headquarters in Montgomery. Wayne Madsen, a Washington, D.C.-based investigative journalist, reports that multiple sources say Stacy had become aware of a plot to illegally fund GOP candidates.

Instigators of the plot include Karl Rove, former Bush White House strategist; Tom Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; and Bill Canary, president of the BCA. American Crossroads, Rove's new nonprofit group, was to be the conduit for the unlawful operation.

Reports Madsen:

The circumstances surrounding Stacy's death are sketchy and the Montgomery Police have not been anxious to provide further information on the alleged suicide. Some informed sources are convinced that Stacy became aware of a conspiracy by Canary, Donohue, and Rove to use Rove's new non-profit group, "American Crossroads," to launder Indian casino proceeds into the coffers of Republican Party candidates nationwide prior to the mid-term election and that Stacy wanted out of the partnership.

Madsen provides background on the critical role Stacy played in the Alabama business community:

In 1999, Alabama businessman Ralph Stacy formed the Chamber of Commerce Association of Alabama (CCAA), which grew to some 60,000 dues-paying members in the state and dwarfed Bill Canary's smaller Business Council of Alabama (BCA), which had some 5,000 members. In 2003, Stacy and Canary agreed to merge their operations in an entity known as "The Partnership." Later, Stacy became a senior vice president of the BCA under Canary. However, Stacy seemed reluctant to enter into the full merger, which would give Canary and his GOP friends, including Riley, access to 60,000 CCAA member companies, and the first joint meeting of the merged group was not held until 2009 when US Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue keynoted the first annual joint meeting of the BCA and CCAA in Birmingham.

The Partnership reportedly had been an uneasy alliance for some time, and Madsen reports that Stacy wanted out of it. A number of Stacy's friends believe that is what led to his death:

On September 14, Stacy entered the BCA offices in the Business Center of Alabama Building in Montgomery and allegedly committed suicide using a shotgun. Those who are familiar with Stacy claim that his religious beliefs would have deterred him from suicide and that Stacy may have been using the shotgun to threaten Canary with a demand for the end to the business alliance between the BCA and CCAA.

This much is clear: The press in Montgomery is in no hurry to shine light on the story. As we reported recently, one of Stacy's long-time friends wrote the editor of the Montgomery Advertiser and asked why the newspaper has done almost no reporting on the high-profile death. Editor Wanda Lloyd sent the following reply on September 22 to Michael Rich, of Waynesville, North Carolina:

Mr. Rich,

So sorry about the loss of your friend.

We have not followed up on this story.

Thanks for the reminder, which I have passed along to our metro staff.

All the best,

Wanda Lloyd

That's probably the most limp response I've ever heard from a newspaper editor. And the Advertiser still has not done any follow up.

Once again, the mainstream press is failing the citizens of Alabama. But a journalist from D.C. has provided valuable insight into the circumstances surrounding Ralph Stacy's death.

Light Bulb Up the "Pooper" Shines Light on Workplace Conflicts

Having worked continuously as a journalist for 30-plus years since I got out of college, I like to think I am fairly well versed on the stresses and challenges that mark the modern workplace. Having been cheated out of my job two years ago at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB)--largely because some powerful, conservative folks do not like the contents of this blog--I like to think I have a grasp on the dysfunction that can invade a workplace, sometimes when you least expect it.

But perhaps the deepest insight I've received recently about the world of work came from a 30-minute television comedy. And the specific "enlightening" episode revolved around a fellow who showed up at a hospital with a light bulb stuck in a most unfortunate place.

Regular readers know that we are huge fans of Scrubs, which no longer is producing new episodes but can be found in reruns at several spots on your cable dial. Not only is Scrubs unfailingly hilarious, it provides insights on some of life's weightiest issues--life and death, male-female relationships, sickness and health, race relations, career stresses, and much more.

One of our favorite episodes, "My Office," offers a brilliant glimpse at issues that can cause, and resolve, workplace conflicts. We learn two overriding lessons from this 30-minute masterpiece:

* Humans' innate ability to be selfish and competitive helps create conflict on the job;

* A little appreciation for one another can go a long way toward resolving those conflicts.

The action revolves around a patient, the son of a wealthy donor, who presents with a most unusual problem. This bit of dialogue between Chief of Staff Bob Kelso and Dr. Perry Cox, as they view a curious X-ray, sums it up:

Dr. Kelso: So whatta you think, Perry?

Dr. Cox: I don't know what to tell you, there, Bobbo. Either this kid has a light bulb up his butt or his colon has a great idea.

The central conflict arises between Cox and Dr. Chris Turk, a surgeon. Cox rarely gets to give a patient good news, so when he discovers that a patient (Mr. Roman) won't need surgery, he can't wait to tell him. But there is a slight problem--when Cox goes into Mr. Roman's room, he discovers that Turk already has broken the good news.

"You stole my moment," Cox whispers to Turk, "and you will pay."

It turns out that everyone at the hospital needs an occasional "moment" to help them keep plodding along. We learn this when Cox and Turk finally confront their issues, with the Janitor listening in:

Dr. Cox: It's just, you surgeons ride in here on your white horse and you save the day, and the best news that I ever get to give everybody, anybody, ever, is "Oh, by the way, ma'am, were you aware that that breathing tube you have in your neck also comes in day-glo pink?"
Come on, look, bottom line: I really needed a win, I did. And I finally got one and you--ya--you stole it, man!

Turk: I needed one, too!

Is the Janitor sympathetic? Not exactly. He's wondering when his "moment" is going to come:

Janitor: Boo-hoo. Where's my win? Think anybody thanks me for cleaning bathrooms?

Turk: Janitor, the bathrooms are filthy.

Janitor: Well, no one was thanking me, so I quit cleaning 'em.

I've used that line on Mrs. Schnauzer to explain why I sometimes fall behind on my household duties. Strange . . . the line is a lot funnier on TV than it is in real life.

Want a bunch of laughs--and some lessons that might help you in the workplace? Check out these highlights from "My Office":