Monday, February 28, 2011

One Year Later, The Death of Major Bashinsky Is Surrounded in Mystery

Major Bashinsky

Editor's Note: This post is a joint reporting effort by Lori Alexander Moore and Roger Shuler.

We are approaching the first anniversary of the death of prominent Alabama attorney Major Bashinsky, and our research indicates there is little evidence to support the official finding of suicide.

As we reported in September, the autopsy report in the Bashinsky case presents no scientific evidence to support a suicide finding. Gary T. Simmons, a professor of pathology at UAB who serves as medical examiner for Jefferson County, states in the report that he based his finding on the investigation of law enforcement officers. But Simmons provides no forensic details that point conclusively to suicide.

Our research indicates there are a number of reasons to doubt the suicide finding, and we will be addressing those in a series of upcoming posts. The first issue involves the gun cited in the autopsy report. It apparently is a collector's item, not the kind of weapon commonly found on U.S. streets. What does that mean? We will address that question in a moment.

But first, we should note a major event that was broiling in the Bashinsky family about this time one year ago. Major Bashinsky was the son of the late Sloan Bashinsky Sr., the man behind Golden Flake snack foods and one of the best known entrepreneurs in Alabama history. The Estate of Sloan Bashinsky was engaged in a lawsuit with W&H Investments, a Birmingham firm with which the elder Bashinsky had invested some $37 million, mostly in oil wells and other energy-related ventures.

The estate filed the lawsuit to get an accounting of Mr. Bashinsky's investments, and public records indicate that W&H officials were less than forthcoming with information. In fact, lawyers for the estate had to file some half dozen motions to compel, seeking records about the Bashinsky account.

The "H" in W&H stands for Hazelrig, as in William Cobb "Chip" Hazelrig, a Birmingham businessman with documented ties to former Governor Bob Riley, his son Rob Riley, and Tuscaloosa entrepreneur Robert Sigler. Hazelrig is a founding investor in Paragon Gaming, one of Sigler's far-flung companies. Hazelrig made headlines in 2002 when he gave $10,000 to Bob Riley's campaign for governor, only to have it returned when it was discovered he had connections to gambling.

Ironically, the governor-to-be's own son was an attorney and board member with Crimsonica, the parent company for Paragon Gaming. Rob Riley later tried to distance himself from the company.

Court records indicate the Bashinsky estate never received much of the information it was seeking, but the lawsuit officially was settled on March 1, 2010. Two days later, Major Bashinsky was reported missing. His body was found floating in a Birmingham golf-course pond on March 15, and nine days later, authorities ruled it a suicide.

Sloan Bashinsky Jr., Major's older brother who lives in Key West, Florida, later reported on his blog that he had received an interesting visitor on March 13, two days before Major's body was discovered. Who was the visitor? Chip Hazelrig.

Why would Chip Hazelrig happen to show up in Key West and search out Sloan Bashinsky Jr. while Major was missing? The answer to that question is unclear.

For now, let's consider the gun noted in the autopsy report. (See a portion of the report below.) The report says the gun was a "Fabrique Nationale Darmes (sic) De Guerre Herstal Delgique (sic), 32 cal. automatic postial (sic). Rounds in gun, 32 cal., CBC." The report states that police found the weapon in the pond at Boswell/Highland Golf Course and "the gun had one round in the chamber and had five rounds in the magazine."

It appears there are several typos in this section of the report. It appears "Delgique" should be "Belgique" because our research indicates the gun was made in Belgium. Also, it appears that "postial" should be "pistol" and "Darmes" should be "D'Armes."

I am not an expert on guns, but our research indicates this gun is from the World War II era and earlier and now is a collector's item. The company that makes the gun dates to 1889 and developed a long-standing relationship with firearms designer John Browning.

All of this raises numerous questions that are not addressed in the autopsy report, and based on news reports, have not been addressed by law enforcement officers. Was Major Bashinsky a gun collector? Was he known to own such a firearm? If not, how did he come into possession of one? Is it rare for such a gun to be used in a suicide--or a homicide, for that matter?

These are just some of many unanswered questions about the death of Major Bashinsky. We will address more such questions in the days ahead.

Below is a page from the autopsy report, mentioning the Belgian gun:

Bashinsky Autopsy (Gun)

Will Bar Complaint Take The Bite Out Of U.S. Chamber's Attack Dogs?

We long have been critical of lawyers for their failure to regulate themselves. Thanks to an offshoot of the WikiLeaks story, we are about to get another opportunity to see if the legal profession can police a few of its numerous bad actors.

Two watchdog groups have filed a bar complaint against lawyers who allegedly participated in a dirty-tricks campaign on behalf of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Lawyers from the firm Hunton and Williams were found to have engaged in apparent misconduct when the hacktivist group Anonymous leaked more than 70,000 of their e-mails. Anonymous has supported WikiLeaks' efforts to promote transparency in government and business, as have the targeted groups, and

Attorney Kevin Zeese filed the complaint with the Board of Professional Responsibility in Washington, D.C., against Hunton and Williams lawyers Richard Wyatt, John Woods and Robert Quackenboss. The Washington Post picked up on the story this morning.

"It is astounding that prominent lawyers from Hunton and Williams would conspire and solicit in writing to commit what seem to be obvious crimes, intentional torts, and ethical violations against reporters, NGOs (non-governmental organization) and unions," Zeese said. "Our complaint shows that Richard Wyatt, John Woods and Robert Quackenboss were willing to cross ethical boundaries to stop us from engaging in protected First Amendment activity.

"The e-mails show that they would stop at nothing to keep us from exposing questionable activities of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Our complaint lays bare for all to see just how egregiously the lawyers violated the Rules of Professional Conduct on behalf of a wealthy client. Not only will this complaint now be reviewed in various legal and law enforcement forums, but other clients and potential clients will get to see what really goes on behind the facade of Hunton and Williams."

How bad was the attorneys' behavior? A news release from spells it out:

The complaint quotes from dozens of leaked emails and documents showing that the lawyers actively conspired with the investigators to engage in “dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation,” through the use of “false documents,” “fake personas,” “false information,” and “attacks” to “discredit” NGOs, unions and reporters. The complaint, by cross referencing these emails with criminal statutes listed by the Department of Justice in its manual on “Prosecuting Computer Crimes,” demonstrates that the lawyers “solicited, conspired with and counseled three of its investigative private security firms to engage in domestic spying, fraud, forgery, extortion, cyber stalking, defamation, harassment, destruction of property, spear phishing, destruction of property, identity theft, computer scraping, cyber attacks, interference with business, civil rights violations, harassment, and theft.”

Glenn Greenwald, a columnist at Salon, was one of the smear campaign's targets. He has written about the lead role Hunton and Williams lawyers played in the scheme:

But the real party here which deserves much more scrutiny is Hunton and Williams--one of the most well-connected legal and lobbying firms in DC--and and its partner John Woods. . . . Woods is at the center of all of it: the key cog acting on behalf of the Bank of America and the Chamber. It's Woods who is soliciting these firms to submit these proposals, pursuant to work for the Chamber and the Bank. . . . For a lawyer to be at the center of an odious and quite possibly illegal scheme to target progressive activists and their families, threaten the careers of journalists as a means of silencing them, and fabricate forged documents intended for public consumption--and then steadfastly refuse to comment--is just inexcusable. . . . In exchange for the privileges lawyers receive (including the exclusive right to furnish legal advice, represent others, and act as officers of the court), members of the Bar have particular ethical obligations to the public. At the very least, the spirit--if not the letter--of those obligations is being seriously breached by a lawyer who appears to be at the center of these kinds of pernicious, lawless plots and then refuses to account to the public for what he did."

We know from personal experience that this kind of behavior is all too common in the legal profession. As we have reported previously, I was unlawfully terminated from my job as an editor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) and my wife was cheated out of her job at Infinity Property and Casualty--all because I dared to tell the truth on this blog about legal and judicial corruption in Alabama, and beyond. Evidence strongly suggests that members of the Alabama State Bar are largely responsible for our unemployed status, and as noted in the Zeese complaint, this probably amounts to criminal behavior.

Why do attorneys--who are officers of the court and are bound, as least theoretically, by voluminous ethical guides--engage in such behavior? In our view, it's largely because the law is our country's only truly self-regulating field. We took an in-depth look at this subject in a post titled:

Lawyers Regulating Lawyers Helps Breed Corruption 

The Hunton and Williams lawyers probably engaged in appalling behavior because they knew they were likely to get away with it. They certainly never counted on their internal communications becoming public.

Zeese filed his complaint with the D.C. bar, but this really is about the legal profession from one coast to another. It will be interesting to see if the American Bar Association has the courage to step up and take a stand on this issue, to help hold its members accountable.

America will be watching.

Below is the full bar complaint from Kevin Zeese.

Hunton and Williams Bar Complaint

Friday, February 25, 2011

Pentagon Dumps Alabama at the Altar on Air Force Tanker Deal

Perhaps the nastiest competition in American history concluded yesterday when the Pentagon announced that it had awarded a $35-billion Air Force refueling-tanker contract to Boeing, over the European Aeronautics Defence and Space Company (EADS).

The process had dragged on for 10-plus years and involved apparent scandal on both sides. Greed, fraud, and subterfuge seemed to mark a battle that left scars on our political system, especially here in Alabama, where EADS had planned to build a manufacturing facility in Mobile.

How close to home does this hit? Our blog, in a nutshell, is about the befouling of Alabama government by what amounts to an organized-crime syndicate--and how that criminal mindset has been spread by Karl Rove and his minions throughout the American political system. We suspect the battle for the Air Force tanker contract has played a pivotal role in soiling our democracy.

EADS can appeal the decision that was announced yesterday, but published reports indicate it is unlikely to be overturned. And Alabama's right-wing political machine seems resigned to the fact that it has been outflanked. Books and movies surely will be produced about the tanker deal, and it's impossible at this point to fully grasp what it all means. But with the help of a source who has followed the process for years, we have developed a few thoughts about different angles in the tanker story:

* The Libya Connection--It's been clear for some time that EADS has connections to some pretty seedy folks. No. 1 on the list is Libya, which signed a weapons contract with EADS in 2007. Given the current uprising in Libya and recent revelations about the sleazy behavior of Moammar Gaddafi's children, this probably did not help EADS' cause. Did the Pentagon get cold feet about a company that rubs shoulders with the Gaddafi clan? The answer, we think, is yes.

* The Russia Connection--The Gaddafi family reportedly developed ties to EADS through big-money interests in Russia. Prime among them is Oleg Deripaska, a Russian billionaire who partly owns a company that was to provide aluminum for the EADS planes. Deripaska has close ties to Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin, and Russian interests reportedly have a significant stake in EADS. Was the Pentagon comfortable with this arrangement, given the rise of organized crime in Russia? Probably not.

* Richard Shelby Is A Reptile--Alabama's senior U.S. senator was in the middle of the tanker battle, and his reptilian ways were on full display yesterday. After news broke that Alabama failed to land the EADS facility, Shelby blamed it on "Chicago politics." This from a guy who happily lapped up cash from EADS--and who repeatedly put presidential appointments on hold in order to apply pressure regarding the tanker deal. Boeing plans to assemble its planes mostly in Washington and Kansas, so it's hard to figure what "Chicago politics" had to do with anything.

* Barack Obama Might Be Growing A Spine--Shelby's words clearly were a shot at President Barack Obama and his home base of Chicago. Does that mean Obama extracted payback on Shelby and fellow U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) for their obstructionist tactics on presidential nominations? It's possible, and if that's the case, it means Obama finally is growing a pair. That is welcome news in these quarters. Now maybe Obama can get his worthless Justice Department to clean up the ethical cesspool Shelby and Sessions have helped create in Alabama.

* Don Siegelman Must Be Smiling Today--The prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman was driven largely by the tanker competition, according to reports from D.C.-based lawyer/journalist Andrew Kreig. Siegelman was seen as pro-Boeing because he had helped the company expand its facility in north Alabama. Our state's right-wing power structure wanted a governor who would be pro-EADS, and it settled on then U.S. Congressman Bob Riley. The 2002 gubernatorial election ended with Riley edging Siegelman when votes for the incumbent mysteriously disappeared overnight in conservative Baldwin County. Was this apparent election theft driven by the tanker competition? We suspect the answer is yes. Was the Siegelman prosecution in 2006, apparently designed to ensure the Democrat would not win back the governor's office, also driven by the tanker chase? We suspect the answer to that, too, is yes. Did any of this help sleazy Alabama Republicans win the tanker contract? No.

* What About Alabama Jobs?--The pro-EADS crowd cited the contract as a possible jobs bonanza for Alabama. But our source says that is way overstated. Most of the jobs in Alabama would have been in construction and would have been over in two to three years, our source says. The actual manufacturing would have been done mostly by workers in France, Spain, and Italy, with aluminum from Russia. About 2,700 permanent workers would have put those parts together in Mobile. But the Boeing deal, our source says, means about 50,000 jobs in America--from Washington to South Carolina and several points in between. Boeing has a major presence in north Alabama, and the contract is likely to mean a growth in jobs for that part of the state.

* Bob Riley Takes a Body Blow--Former Alabama Governor Bob Riley was planning to finance a presidential bid with money he was likely to pocket from the tanker deal, our source says. When the EADS bid fizzled, that probably means that Riley's presidential hopes took a punch. Riley is a pro at finding dirty money from the likes of Jack Abramoff, Michael Scanlon and the Mississippi Choctaws, and he might find a way to resuscitate his national political dreams. But our source says the Good Ship Riley, for now, is reeling.

* Will Ethics Actually Return to Alabama Government?--This is the big question for us. We think yesterday's news offers a glimmer of hope that the forces who have corrupted our state are in a weakened state. We feel certain that sleazy Birmingham law firms such as Bradley Arant and Haskell Slaughter were anxious to get their claws on that EADS money. These dirty elites are deeply entrenched, but yesterday's news might offer a slight opening for everyday Alabamians to take back their state.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Why Were Bob Riley and Luther Strange Trying To Raid Our Cookie Jar?

Luther Strange

Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange reportedly has agreed to return $7.9 million his office received as former Governor Bob Riley's term was winding down.

Riley, on the Friday before his term ended in January, transferred the money from the state's BP oil-spill account. Current Governor Robert Bentley has asked for the funds to be returned, according to a report today from Dothan-based Rebekah Caldwell Mason, Bentley's communications director, says Strange has agreed to return the funds.

It all reminds us of a classic John Fogerty song, one Alabamians need to learn and remember. More on that in a minute.

Dave Stewart, who was Riley's chief of staff, reportedly engineered the suspicious transfer. Stewart has joined Bradley Arant, the Birmingham law firm that received millions in taxpayer dollars during the Riley era. Stewart has been unavailable for comment about the $7.9 million deal with Luther Strange, who is a former partner at Bradley Arant.

What were Riley and Strange trying to pull, with Stewart's help? Was Sonny Reagan, Riley's former legal adviser who now works for Strange, involved? Was this part of a reported plan for Riley to support Strange for governor in 2014 in exchange for the AG "protecting" Riley's children (Rob Riley and Minda Riley Campbell) and steering state dollars their way?

The answer to those questions remain unclear, but the deal clearly is emitting a foul odor. Reports Dana Beyerle for The Gadsen Times:

The $7.9 million in unrestricted funds that Riley transferred from the state’s BP oil spill account was earmarked for litigation relating to the oil spill and to anti-gambling efforts, according to a Legislative Fiscal Office memo.

“I know they transferred money for legal expenses,” Riley said Tuesday in a telephone interview.

He said details were handled by his former chief of staff, who could not be immediately reached for comment.

The deal immediately produced howls of protest from several quarters. Alan Collins, of, reported that a memo from the Legislative Fiscal Office confirmed the deal:

"According to the Office of Attorney General, it plans to spend those funds in FY 2011 and FY 2012 on salary, benefits, and professional services expenses incurred for litigation related to the oil spill and gambling," the memo said.

The transfer occurred three days before Riley left office.

Legislators, understandably, had questions about an attempted end run around propriety--and perhaps the law:

"Somewhere along the line, Bentley should say I'm governor of this state and I should have a say about the money being transferred," Birmingham Rep. John Rogers said.

Rogers sits on the legislature's budget writing committee. He questions spending BP money on anything other than oil spill litigation.

Troy King, Strange's predecessor as attorney general, also found the deal troubling:

The memo says the attorney general's office claims there are no restrictions on the funds use. Former Attorney General Troy King, who was attorney general at the time, knew nothing of the transfer. King has butted heads with Riley over the Illegal Gambling Task Force and suing BP.

King also questions the use of BP money to fight gambling.

"The state of Alabama represented to BP that any money we received from them were going to mitigate and pay for damages that was done by them on Alabama's gulf coast," King said.

What's our take on the story? It seems clear that Bob Riley and Luther Strange have formed an alliance, through their mutual ties to Bradley Arant, essentially trying to keep the Riley agenda alive even though Robert Bentley now is governor.

What is the Riley agenda? Ensuring that his family members and cronies can continue to benefit from state dollars seems to be the No. 1 action item. Our guess is that Rob Riley, Minda Riley Campbell, and the fine attorneys at Bradley Arant have enjoyed having their sticky fingers in the state cookie jar for eight years--and they don't want to see them removed.

It's all reminiscent of a song called "Zanz Kant Danz" by the immortal John Fogerty. The song is a thinly veiled shot at Saul Zaentz, the head of Fantasy Records when Fogerty and Creedence Clearwater Revival were tearing up the charts in the late 1960s and early '70s. Zaentz filed a lawsuit, and the song's title was changed to "Vanz Kant Danz." The tune is on Fogerty's Centerfield album, and I am proud to say that my cherished vinyl copy has the original title for its most controversial song. (I keep telling Mrs. Schnauzer the record might be worth something someday; she's not holding her breath.)

What's the song about? Zanz is a little pig who can't dance but is prone to make off with money that doesn't belong to him. "Watch him or he'll rob you blind," Fogerty sings.

Alabama citizens had better pay attention to that theme. We have plenty of little pigs running around in our fine state. Here is a live version of a John Fogerty classic:

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Man Who Poisoned Auburn's Oak Trees Must Be A Republican

Toomer's Corner

The poisoning of iconic oak trees on an Alabama campus might not rank among the most heinous crimes ever. But the alleged perpetrator, if proven guilty, surely will rank among our all-time most pathetic criminals. He also has revealed himself to be a dumb ass of the highest order, which makes us think he must be a Republican.

Harvey Updyke, a University of Alabama fan, has been charged with poisoning the trees at famed Toomer's Corner on the Auburn University campus. Updyke apparently was angry that Auburn, UA's cross-state rival, was on its way to an undefeated, national-championship season.

Why is Updyke a colossal dumb ass--aside from the fact he allegedly took out his frustrations on defenseless trees that are reportedly 130 years old? He took actions that ensured he was going to get caught. And his infantile efforts to draw attention to his actions remind us of our experiences with certain sickos associated with the Alabama Republican Party.

Why were police able to nab Updyke not long after news broke about the poisoning? He called the Birmingham-based Paul Finebaum Radio Network and bragged about what he had done. The Finebaum Network is one of the best-known sports-talk programs in the Southeast, and Updyke identified himself in the call as "Al from Dadeville."

What is Updyke's full name? Harvey Almorn Updyke Jr. And where does he live? Near Dadeville, Alabama.

Smart move, Harv. Call a heavily trafficked radio show to brag about a crime you've committed--and give your real name and location.

Updyke then said he had poisoned the trees and even explained how he did it. It has long been an Auburn tradition for fans to roll the trees with toilet paper after big football victories. (The tradition itself already was harming the trees, even before Updyke allegedly came along.)

You can listen to Updyke's call to the Finebaum Network here:

Harvey Updyke's Call to the Paul Finebaum Radio Network

The content of the call is not the most glaring signal that Updyke is a dumb ass. Simply placing the call was his biggest mistake. Police found him by tracking the call. To make matters worse for Ole Harv, he also bragged about his act by calling an Auburn University professor. That gave law-enforcement officials two avenues to search. Reports The Birmingham News:

Auburn police more than a week ago had tracked down Harvey Updyke, the man now charged with criminal mischief in the poisoning of the oak trees at Toomer's Corner at Auburn University, by tracing a telephone voice mail to a turfgrass management professor, according to court documents.

The man charged with the crime also has told police he made the phone calls to the professor and a radio talk show, but has denied he actually poisoned the trees.

In an affidavit filed this morning in Lee County Circuit Court charging Harvey Almorn Updyke Jr. with first-degree criminal mischief, Col. Melvin Owens, Executive Director of Security and Public Safety at Auburn University, stated that a professor of turfgrass management got a suspicious telephone voice message on Feb. 7.

The caller claimed to have knowledge of the poisoning of the trees at Toomer's Corner, according to the affidavit.

The voice on the message was consistent with the voice that had called a radio talk show on Jan. 28, according to the affidavit. The talk show has been identified at the Paul Finebaum radio talk show.

How hard was it for police to find Ole Harv? Not hard at all, with Harv himself drawing them a road map:

Auburn Police obtained a search warrant for telephone records involving the suspicious call to Auburn University and made a "covert" telephone call to the telephone number on the records they obtained, according to the search warrant. The voice of the subject who answered the telephone "was consistent with the voices heard on the telephone calls to the radio show and to Auburn University," according to the affidavit.

How does this involve politics? Regular readers know that I was cheated out of my job at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) because I write this blog, which has a progressive tone. That apparently made certain Alabama conservatives uncomfortable, and they prompted UAB officials to fire me. How do I know that? Like Harvey Updyke, these dumb asses couldn't keep their nasty deeds to themselves--they had to brag about it.

On a post dated February 18, 2008, I received the following anonymous comment:

Anonymous said...
Nut case yours is comong (sic)
February 18, 2008 3:06 PM

That was on a post about the ties of GOP political consultant Dax Swatek to former Bush U.S. Attorney Alice Martin, so you can pretty quickly narrow down the folks who might have sent the threat.

On a post dated April 14, 2008, I received the following anonymous comment:

Anonymous said...
Schnauzer does your employer UAB know you blog at work.Maybe they need to find out.
April 15, 2008 6:18 PM

That was in reference to an item I had posted on a Monday, which I had taken as a scheduled vacation day. The time stamp on the post made it look like I was posting on normal work hours. But I was nowhere near work that day. And I never wrote the first word, of that post or any other, on work equipment or time. UAB's own investigation, as outlined at my grievance hearing, showed that.

But roughly one month after the April 2008 comment--and three months after the "yours is comong" threat--I was fired. And how's this for "irony"? UAB officials' initial "grounds" for my termination claimed I was blogging at work. There is little doubt that story was cooked up by GOP operatives and passed along to weak-willed UAB administrators to fire me.

My employment lawsuit against UAB is pending, so it's hard to know where all of this heading. You will notice that I have the exact dates and times these comments were posted, so there should be a "digital footprint" leading directly to the sender.

I'm seeing clear signs, however, that U.S. Judge William M. Acker Jr., an 83-year-old Reagan appointee who is in charge of the case, is trying to prevent discovery that will show who caused me to be cheated out of my job. (Good God, I just realized that the judge in my case almost is as old as Auburn's oak trees!)

This much is certain: I've presented evidence in court documents, and on this blog, that shows I was targeted at UAB because of content on this blog about the Don Siegelman case--and that's about as clear a First Amendment violation as one can imagine. The proof comes in the following tape-recorded conversation I had with a UAB human-resources official named Anita Bonasera, who presided over the meetings where I was placed on administrative leave and then terminated:

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

Since Harvey Updyke is such a big Alabama fan, maybe he should apply for a job with the university. He would fit right in on the Birmingham campus, for sure.

Want more signs that Harvey Updyke must be a Republican? He had the "courage" to act on his convictions (however warped they might be). That means he couldn't be a Democrat.

Regardless of his political affiliation, Updyke clearly is a class act. Here is a video of him flipping off a local TV cameraman. Roll Tide!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Have Hospitals Found a Way Around Wrongful-Death Lawsuits?

Hospitals apparently want to avoid accountability in those pesky lawsuits for wrongful death and medical malpractice. They might have found a way.

The plan seems to have started in Alabama, and if it proves successful, we look for it to move to other states.

One Alabama court case indicates the plan is working, and another case appears to be in the pipeline. If this spreads around the country, you or a loved one can be killed by medical negligence, and when you go to court . . . well, you will be "s--t out of luck," as some folks say Down South.

How does the new scheme work? A private health-care facility signs an affiliation agreement with a public institution, such as a university medical center. That allows the private facility to piggyback on the university's "sovereign immunity," a concept that means state entities often are protected from lawsuits by private individuals.

Until recently, this was not lawful, even under our backward court system in Alabama. But the Alabama Supreme Court recently found that Baptist Health in Montgomery enjoyed "state immunity" because of its affiliation with the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). This was the high court's grounds for overturning a $3.2-million jury verdict in the death of 73-year-old Lauree Ellison.

A throat culture had come back positive for Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA), but Baptist Health failed to notify Ellison's physician. About two months later, Ellison was diagnosed with MRSA pneumonia and died.

The Alabama Supreme Court found that it did not have jurisdiction to even consider the case because of Baptist Health's affiliation agreement with UAB. The high court made this finding even though Baptist Health had not even argued state immunity at the trial-court level.

Discerning readers probably will not be surprised to learn that all four justices who voted to overturn the jury verdict are Republicans--and they have received major campaign support from corporate interests.

You can check out the Alabama Supreme Court's brilliant "reasoning" at the link below:

Health Care Authority for Baptist Health, an affiliate of UAB Health System, d/b/a/ Baptist Medical Center East v. Kay E. Davis, as executrix of the Estate of Lauree Durden Ellison, deceased 

What about that other case in the pipeline? Just last week, the family of a Birmingham man won a $3 million jury verdict against Princeton Baptist Medical Center and a team of doctors. Laboyish Catlin, 37, died in January 2006 after surgery for a duodenal ulcer.

Shay Samples, of the Birmingham firm Hare Wynn Newell and Newton, was lead plaintiffs' attorney in the Catlin case. Samples also was involved in the Lauree Ellison case. Reports The Birmingham News:

The suit cited an autopsy report that said he bled to death. The suit claimed negli­gent and improper surgery and other flawed medical care by the hospital and doctors. After the surgery, the suit said, Catlin re­quired "multiple blood transfu­sions."

"Exsanguination in the artery" was the cause of death, the suit said. Samples said Catlin, known as Wayne, was sent home from sur­gery without proper follow-up care and died there.

"This was a needless tragedy and a preventable death," said Samples, who tried the case with co-counsel Ken Riley. "The family would rather have their son, but at least some justice was served."

Justice might not be served for long if the Alabama Supreme Court has anything to do with it. Princeton Baptist is part of the Birmingham-based Baptist Health System, which is different from Baptist Health, the Montgomery-based entity in the Lauree Ellison case. We are not aware of any affiliation agreement between Princeton Baptist and UAB, but if some connection can be found, the Alabama Supreme Court is likely to leave the Catlin family holding the proverbial bag on appeal.

You can rest assured that hospitals around the country will be keeping an eye on the proceedings in Alabama. If corporate forces have their way, hospitals will sign affiliation agreements with university medical centers, allowing them to escape accountability in wrongful-death and medical-malpractice cases.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Is the United States Becoming More and More Like Egypt?

I was reading a recent article in Time magazine about the uprising in Egypt when several sentences stopped me in my tracks.

Reporter Fareed Zakaria was explaining that Egyptian society had spawned a fair amount of political activism through the ages, but that had largely stopped over the past 50 years or so. How did that happen? The answer presented images that were uncomfortably familiar.

With citizens in Wisconsin already taking to the streets to protest Republican heavy-handedness, this question comes to mind: Could Main Street USA start looking more and more like downtown Cairo?

From Zakaria's article in Time:

Ever since the late 1950s, the Egyptian regime has cracked down on its civil society, shutting down political parties, closing newspapers, jailing politicians, bribing judges and silencing intellectuals. Over the past three decades Egypt became a place where few serious books were written, universities were monitored, newspapers carefully followed a bland party line and people watched what they said in public.

As I read that, I couldn't help but think, "Good God, that sounds like America since the Bush crowd took over. It sure as heck sounds like life in Karl Rove's Alabama."

Regular readers know that my wife and I have been on the front lines here in Birmingham during a wicked time in American history. Let's consider a few trends we have witnessed firsthand in Alabama:

* A corrupt judiciary at both the state and federal levels;

* Attacks on members of the Democratic Party, using the U.S. Department of Justice as a political tool;

* The unlawful imprisonment of politicians, including Don Siegelman, Sue Schmitz, Gary White, and more;

When I started this blog to write truthfully about these trends, what did Mrs. Schnauzer and I experience?

* I was fired from my job at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), and tape-recorded evidence proves it was because of my reporting on the Siegelman case;

* Mrs. Schnauzer was fired from her job at a local insurance company, Infinity Property and Casualty;

* This all happened while the largest newspaper in our state, The Birmingham News, became little more than a house organ for the Alabama Republican Party.

* I received numerous supportive comments from anonymous readers who were afraid to give me their names out of fear that they, too, might experience repercussions in their professional lives.

Let's compare that to Zakaria's description of Egypt since the late 1950s: "universities were monitored" . . . "newspapers followed a bland party line" . . . "people watched what they said in public."

It all sounds familiar, doesn't it? Modern Egypt, Zakaria writes, has been marked by what might be called "disinformation campaigns." Does that happen in the United States? Yes, indeed, and I've seen it firsthand.

In my ongoing employment lawsuit against the University of Alabama, about a half dozen UAB officials filed affidavits--sworn under oath--stating that the exercise of my First Amendment rights on this blog had nothing to do with my termination. Compare that to the tape-recorded conversation I had with UAB human-resources rep Anita Bonasera, where she admits that I was targeted because of my blog--especially the content about the Siegelman case:

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

Lisa Huggins, UAB's in-house counsel, reviewed my termination letter and therefore was involved in the decision-making process. She has every reason to know these affidavits are false, and under the law, she and the affiants should be held in contempt of court. Has that happened? Nope. I've filed a motion seeking contempt charges, but U.S. Judge William M. Acker Jr., the 83-year-old Reagan appointee in charge of the case, has ignored it.

Not only do we have a corrupt judiciary, we have a legal community filled with lawyers who know they can file false documents, sworn under oath, and get away with it.

Many of us in the United States believe in "American exceptionalism," the idea that our country is different from all the rest--that the dysfunction that afflicts nations like Egypt cannot happen here.

Mrs. Schnauzer and I are two unemployed and victimized Alabamians who can say that Americans might want to think twice about that--before it's too late.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Crackdown on Medicare Fraud Is Picking Up Steam

Rob Riley

The U.S. government yesterday charged more than 100 health-care providers in a Medicare-fraud scheme that exceeded $225 million in false billings.

Investigators unearthed fraudulent activity in nine cities, but they did not reach into Alabama. That's bad news. Attorney General Eric Holder said a national crackdown on health-care fraud is far from over, meaning Birmingham eventually could be targeted. That's good news.

Evidence suggests that our state has a serious problem with health-care fraud, some of it apparently tied to Rob Riley, son of former Governor Bob Riley, and his associates at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB).

Health-care fraud already has surfaced as an issue in Alabama, but federal investigators seem to have only scratched the surface of a large-scale problem here. Earlier this year, seven hospitals paid a total of $6.3 million to settle their part in a long-running whistleblower lawsuit regarding Medicare fraud. Two of the hospitals were in Alabama, and three other Alabama hospitals--including St. Vincent's and St. Vincent's East in Birmingham--were part of an earlier settlement in the same case.

The government now has collected $101 million in the "qui tam" lawsuit, which was originally filed in New York and has unearthed fraud at health-care facilities in at least six other states.

That case revolved around the medical-device field, and that is exactly where Rob Riley has placed his slippery tentacles. Riley is a lawyer by trade, but he seems to have a penchant for engaging in dubious business ventures. A whistleblower case filed in Birmingham alleges fraud against Performance Group LLC, a company owned in part by Riley. No substantive action has been taken in the case, largely because of some curious rulings by a federal judge with strong Republican roots, but that needs to change.

Alabama loses $1.1 billion a year to health-care fraud, and the nation loses $75 billion annually, according to a recent report in The Birmingham News. That article is dripping in irony. First, the figures come from a professor at UAB, and as we have reported here, UAB almost certainly is our state's No. 1 practitioner of health-care fraud. Second, The Birmingham News has been a stellar supporter of Bob Riley--even though federal-court documents indicate the ex-governor's son has been up to his neck in health-care fraud.

The Obama Department of Justice (DOJ), as part of its effort to reform health care, has made tackling Medicare fraud a top priority. The lawsuit against Riley and his company, Performance Group LLC, was filed during the Bush administration. Alice Martin, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama at the time, elected not to intervene in the case, probably because she wanted to help protect a political ally.

William M. Acker Jr., an 83-year-old Reagan appointee, made a number of extremely curious rulings--and  the case was dismissed without prejudice, which means it can be refiled. I've recently seen Acker operate up close, and he is a dreadful excuse for a judge. Our guess is that Acker is trying to protect Rob Riley in the whistleblower case--and possibly in my ongoing employment lawsuit against UAB, too.

Will the DOJ, now under the direction of a supposed Democrat (Eric Holder), have the guts to investigate someone who has political connections? We aren't holding our breath. But the case of Rob Riley and Performance Group is important on multiple levels.

For one, at least two of Riley's associates in the company--Drs. Thomas Spurlock and Francois Blaudeau--are affiliated with UAB. Spurlock is a faculty member in the UAB Department of Surgery and president of Alabama Pain Consultants, which is under the Performance Group LLC umbrella. That means Medicare fraud that benefits private individuals could be reaching into a public institution--one that receives massive amounts of federal and state taxpayer dollars.

If that's the case, it would not be the first time UAB has been connected to health-care fraud. The university settled a federal whistleblower case in 2005 for $3.4 million, a fraction of the actual alleged fraud. Did that wrist slap correct the fraud problem at UAB. Considering the allegations in the Performance Group LLC case, and the involvement of UAB personnel, the answer probably is no.

Performance Group LLC provides physical therapy through the use of medical devices such as back and neck braces. That is an area of health care that is ripe for fraud cases. Reports The New York Times:

The medical device business is filled with small start-up companies trying to generate excitement about their new products and technologies, hoping to build market share and to attract deep-pocketed buyout offers. It has been fraught with allegations of bribes, exaggerated claims, and other unethical behavior.

That's exactly the kind of company that Rob Riley became involved in. Did he do it because he had a genuine desire to serve patients? Or did he do it because it was a convenient way to bilk the government out of money?

The Obama DOJ needs to find answers to those questions. And it can do it by reinstating the whistleblower case against Rob Riley and Performance Group LLC. If justice is to be served, the case almost certainly will have to be removed from corrupt judge William M. Acker Jr.

How did the case wind up with Acker in the first place? For that matter, how did my employment lawsuit against UAB wind up with Acker? Federal officials might make some interesting discoveries if they do some digging on those two questions.

Riley hardly is alone in trying to make funny money off medical equipment. The charges announced yesterday indicate the problem is widespread:

The defendants were charged with various crimes, including conspiracy to defraud the Medicare program, false claims, kickbacks and money laundering, administration officials said.

They said the alleged schemes involved various medical treatments, tests and services, such as home health care, physical and occupational therapy and medical equipment.

Again, that is right up Rob Riley's alley. The general public might consider health-care fraud to be a relatively "clean" sort of crime. But that is not the case:

A top FBI official, Shawn Henry, said 2,600 health care fraud cases were under investigation and that organized crime groups have been increasingly linked to the alleged schemes.

Could organized crime be connected to health-care fraud in Alabama, some of it tied to our state's premier academic medical center? I would not doubt it. The government's Medicare Fraud Strike Force now covers nine cities, with Chicago and Dallas recently added to the list. Birmingham needs to join them--and quickly.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Lawsuits Are Piling Up Over A Mass Shooting In Alabama

Amy Bishop

Americans understandably are focused on news about the January 8 shootings in Arizona that involved U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. But news is breaking in another mass shooting, one that captured the nation's attention in the winter of 2010.

Lawsuits are accumulating as we recently passed the first anniversary of last winter's fatal shootings at the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH).

Amy Bishop, a former assistant professor of biology, faces criminal charges in the shootings that killed three of her colleagues and injured three others. The rampage, last February 12, came not long after Bishop had been denied tenure.

At least five lawsuits have been filed so far, and none of them names either the University of Alabama System or its trustees as defendants. The lawsuits, however, can be amended to add defendants, and based on our research on the aftermath of the 2007 fatal shootings at Virginia Tech, our guess is that the university eventually will settle the cases for substantial sums of money.

The most recent lawsuit was filed on February 4 by Debra Moriarity, a survivor who now is interim chair of the UAH biology department. Reports The Huntsville Times:

The suit says Bishop repeatedly threatened, kicked or struck Moriarity during the meeting, and aimed a pistol at Moriarity at point blank range and pulled the trigger several times only to have the gun jam.

There is a curious sidebar to the Moriarity lawsuit. In an article about the one-year anniversary of the shootings, Jay Reeves of Associated Press wrote:

Public universities seem perpetually strapped for cash, and Moriarity said the loss of valuable research performed by Bishop and the shooting victims has reduced outside research grants coming into UAH. That's expected to improve as new teachers are hired.

Those words indicate that Bishop was a productive researcher whose work helped keep the department afloat. Other news reports have indicated the same thing. If that's the case, why was Bishop being fired? I worked in the University of Alabama System for 19 years, and I know that in academia, a denial of tenure is equivalent to being terminated. I also know that research productivity usually is the No. 1 criteria for awarding tenure.

Moriarity is suing Bishop, but she also seems to be admitting that Bishop was a valuable researcher, one whose productivity has been missed. So why again was Bishop denied tenure? That's a question that University of Alabama officials surely do not want the public pondering for very long

Am I suggesting that Amy Bishop was justified in shooting people? Of course not. Am I suggesting that she probably had good reason to be pretty darned angry. Yes. Is it stressful to be thrown out of your job during the Bush recession for dubious, or thoroughly illegitimate, reasons? It sure as heck is.

I know what it's like to have clod-headed and ethically challenged administrators ruin your career at the University of Alabama; I'm experiencing it at this very moment. UA officials at the Birmingham campus (UAB) created an environment that caused me to be unlawfully terminated after 19 years on the job. I suspect a similar dysfunctional environment was in place on the Huntsville campus. And I hope the victims and their families hold officials accountable for fostering an environment that led to tragedy. You can rest assured that the university hierarchy will do everything in its power to hide how badly the Amy Bishop tenure case was butchered.

It's not just my opinion that the University of Alabama currently is run by a bunch of crooks and fraudsters. Paul Bryant Jr., a member of the Board of Trustees, was owner of Alabama Reassurance, a company that was implicated in a $15-million fraud scheme. That case resulted in a 15-year prison sentence for a Pennsylvania man named Allen W. Stewart, and Justice Department officials had given the OK to pursue an investigation of Bryant's company. The Bryant investigation, however, mysteriously was called off, and Alabama Re eventually was liquidated. Bryant is the son of Hall of Fame football coach Paul "Bear" Bryant, and it apparently helps to have family connections when federal investigators come knocking.

We have written numerous times about massive health-care fraud on the UAB campus, and the university settled a federal whistleblower lawsuit in 2005. A forensic accountant estimated the actual fraud at $400 million to $600 million, but the Bush DOJ let the university off with a penalty of $3.4 million, less than one percent of the likely fraud.

The Moriarity lawsuit is just the latest in a series of complaints stemming from the UAH shootings. In January, lawsuits were filed on behalf of the families of Maria Ragland Davis and Adriel Johnson, two professors who were killed in the shootings at a UAH biology faculty meeting. The lawsuits name Bishop, her husband James Anderson, and university Provost Vistasp Kharbari as defendants. Reports the Huntsville Times:

(The) lawsuits argue that had Karbhari followed policy, Bishop would have been assisted by counselors who would have confirmed her "dangerous instability" and investigated by UAH police, who would have discovered her history of violence. Regulations dealing with mental health emergencies "would have prevented her from attending the staff meeting of people she had threatened," the suit claims.

The lawsuit details a number of complaints about Bishop, her frustrations about not being granted tenure and the steps university policy requires in dealing with mental health emergencies and psychological crises.

Douglas Fierburg, a Washington, D.C.-based lawyer for the Davis and Johnson families, is with a firm that represented victims' families in the Columbine and Virginia Tech school shootings.

Joseph Leahy and Stephanie Monticciolo, who were wounded but survived the UAH shooting, filed a lawsuit in November against Bishop and her husband. Those complaints list several fictitious defendants, meaning a number of individuals or entities could be added to the case.

Gopi Podila, chair of biology department at the time, was the third person killed in the UAH shootings. So far, we've seen no reports of a lawsuit filed on behalf of his family. According to various news reports, Podila supported Bishop's bid for tenure, but he was overruled. Lawyers for victims and families are likely to examine a process where the opinion of the department chair, the person who should have been most familiar with the quality of Bishop's work, did not hold sway on a tenure matter.

How will these lawsuits proceed? Litigation always is difficult to predict, but the Virginia Tech case might give some clues.

Twenty-one families involved in the Virginia Tech tragedy settled with the university for $11 million in April 2008. That settlement came before a lawsuit had been filed. The families of Julia Kathleen Pryde and Erin Nicole Peterson opted out of the settlement and filed a lawsuit that has moved into the discovery stage. A judge ruled last November that Virginia Tech officials were not protected by sovereign immunity, and a trial is set for September 2011.

Sovereign immunity, a legal concept that protects state officials from suit under certain circumstances, is probably the reason that the University of Alabama and its officials have not been named so far in the UAH lawsuits.

Victims and their families are not likely to get much money out of Bishop and her husband. Any significant compensation almost certainly will have to come from the university or individuals who work at the university. Based on the Virginia Tech case, it's unlikely that Kharbari will remain the only named official in the UAH lawsuits.

The D.C. law firm apparently is willing to settle with schools short of a lawsuit, and it's possible that discussions already have taken place with UA officials. The filings of lawsuits might indicate that the university is digging in its heels so far. But playing legal hardball with families who have seen loved ones killed or injured on UA property could turn into a public-relations nightmare.

Worse for the university, perhaps, is the thought that any of the lawsuits could advance to the discovery stage. If that happens, the public could wind up finding out what happened with Amy Bishop's tenure process in the weeks and months leading up to the shooting.

As we reported previously, evidence strongly suggests that Bishop, while she had a prickly personality, met the criteria for tenure:

Reports about Bishop's teaching ability are a mixed bag. Some students rated her highly, finding her to be insightful, effective, and caring. Others complained, saying she lectured mostly from the textbook, gave unfair tests, and had a distant manner.

But Bishop's record as a researcher, alone, indicates that she probably met the criteria for tenure. UAH recently received an Area Research Enhancement Award (AREA) from the National Institues of Health, a grant designed to promote research at universities that have not traditionally received much NIH support. Who brought home that major grant? Amy Bishop.

We also have reported on signs of irregularities in the way Bishop's candidacy for tenure was handled. At least one prominent UAH alumnus has said the university deserves some blame for the shooting, saying it tends to treat faculty and staff like "expendable livestock."

The last thing University of Alabama officials probably want is for internal communications regarding the Bishop tenure decision to become public.

The UAH shootings already have generated some peculiar actions from public officials. Two investigations were reopened in Bishop's native Massachusetts following the Huntsville incident. In one, Bishop was cleared in an attempted mail bombing that took place 17 years earlier. In the other, Bishop was charged with first-degree murder in the 1986 shooting death of her brother. Officials originally had determined that the shooting of Seth Bishop was an accident. It's hard to understand what evidence could have surfaced over 24 years that would have turned that case from an accidental death into first-degree murder.

Is anything likely to be accomplished from the Massachusetts murder indictment? Other than political grandstanding from District Attorney William R. Keating, probably not. According to a report from the Boston Globe, Keating's own words indicate that the legal proceeding is mostly for show:

Keating said an indictment warrant has been lodged with Alabama authorities. He indicated that he would give the Alabama triple murder case priority. Asked whether Bishop would ever be tried in Massachusetts for murder, Keating said, "You never know.''

Sounds rather disingenuous, doesn't it? Expect similar behavior from University of Alabama officials as the UAH lawsuits unfold.

Our guess is that, after some time for legal gamesmanship, the survivors and family members will receive substantial sums for their pain and suffering. We certainly hope that is the case. But the public likely will never know about the mismanagement that helped spark a tragedy in Huntsville.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

John Wheeler Homicide Investigation Turns Toward Victim's Home

John P. Wheeler

An investigation into the death of a former Bush-administration official focused yesterday on the victim's home. (See video below.)

The body of John P. Wheeler was discovered on New Year's Eve in a landfill near Wilmington, Delaware. Law-enforcement officials quickly ruled the death a homicide and recently said Wheeler had been beaten to death, a victim of blunt-force trauma.

Wheeler served under three presidents and was a driving force behind development of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Investigators spent about three hours yesterday in Wheeler's home. Reports

Police crime scene investigators descended on the New Castle home of slain former Pentagon official John P. Wheeler III today, spending about three hours inside and leaving in five vehicles with a large paper bag and several manila envelopes stuffed with suspected evidence.

A marked Newark police crime scene van and four other unmarked vehicles were parked in the driveway of Wheeler’s home in the 100 block of W. 3rd St., and left in a caravan about 2:45 p.m.

Many questions remain about Wheeler's death, and authorities were tight-lipped yesterday:

Wheeler’s body was discovered when it was dumped into the Cherry Island landfill in Wilmington on Dec. 31.

He was spotted the two previous nights, appearing disoriented and befuddled, in a Wilmington parking garage on Dec. 29 and the Nemours Building on Dec. 31. He was last seen walking toward Wilmington’s East Side at 8:42 that night.

Mark Farrall is spokesman for the Newark, Delaware, Police Department, which is leading a multi-force investigation:

Newark police, who are leading a multi-force investigation that includes the FBI, have said Wheeler was placed into a commercial trash bin in Newark that was emptied Dec. 31 by a garbage hauler that transported its contents to the Wilmington landfill.

Farrall reiterated today that police have not yet pinpointed which one of the 10 trash bins that were emptied that morning held Wheeler’s body, and that investigators have no suspects.

Yesterday's news raises a couple of obvious questions:

* Why did authorities wait roughly a month and a half to conduct a thorough search of Wheeler's home?

* With authorities seeking evidence at Wheeler's home, does that mean he probably was not the victim of a random mugging?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Luther Strange Is Sending Alarming Signals as Alabama's Attorney General

Luther Strange

Luther Strange has been Alabama attorney general for less than one month, and he already is sending signals that he intends to use his office as a political weapon. We would suggest that Governor Robert Bentley and his associates watch their backs--very closely.

If Strange indeed acts as a political tool, it will be a continuation of modern Alabama history, especially when a Republican sits in the AG's chair. Remember that the political prosecution of former Governor Don Siegelman started with an investigation by William Pryor, a Karl Rove acolyte who served as attorney general from 1997 to 2003. The Siegelman case only became a federal matter after George W. Bush was "elected" president and named Leura Canary as U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Alabama.

Pryor was rewarded with a federal judgeship on the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, and Strange is showing signs that he will use the AG's office to help further his political career.

The first hint came when Bob Martin, of The Montgomery Independent, reported that outgoing Governor Bob Riley had tried to cut a deal with Strange. In exchange for Strange agreeing to "protect" Riley's children and steer state dollars their way, Riley would raise $2 million to help Strange run for governor in 2014.

(Here is an obvious question: Why do Bob Riley's children need to be "protected"? And protected from whom? Law enforcement? If so, that implies the kiddies have done something wrong, doesn't it? Gee, wonder what that might be.)

The second hint came last week when Strange announced, with much blaring of trumpets from The Birmingham News, that he had hired Matt Hart as a "public corruption special prosecutor." Hart served as a federal prosecutor under Alice Martin, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama during the Bush years.

During that time, Hart seemed to specialize in political prosecutions of Democrats, such as former Alabama Rep. Sue Schmitz and former Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford. Hart played a prominent role in the first Siegelman prosecution, which was thrown out of court in Birmingham, leading to a second prosecution in Mongomery.

Hart reportedly was involved in the prosecution of one Republican, former Jefferson County Commissioner Gary White. But history has shown that White was prosecuted only because he refused to testify falsely against Siegelman. Judy White, Gary's wife, filed an affidavit stating that federal authorities repeatedly pressured her husband to make false statements regarding Siegelman. (See affidavit below.)

I've encountered Matt Hart in an up close and personal way, and he didn't come across as the sort of person who has any business overseeing criminal cases at any level. Here is how we reported it in an earlier post:

I had a brief encounter with Mr. Hart a few years ago, and I came away unimpressed. I called him in an effort to let him know about criminal conduct I had witnessed from Republican judges and lawyers in Shelby County, Alabama. Hart made it clear that investigating Republicans was not a high priority in the Alice Martin era. Here's how I described the experience with Hart, as part of my effort to alert the FBI and other law-enforcement officials of GOP sleaze in Shelby County:

Somehow, I came up with an e-mail address for Matt Hart, director of the white-collar crime unit. I sent him an e-mail and never received a reply. I decided to take a shot at calling his office, and by some miracle, managed to get him on the phone. First, Hart told me I didn't have a clue about the applicable law--honest services mail fraud. When I made it clear that I certainly did know about both the statutory and case law behind honest services mail fraud, Hart changed his tune. Whether I had been the victim of a crime or not, Hart was "kicking" my case. "I kick cases all the time," he said. I found it interesting that he could "kick" a case he hadn't even looked at yet.

Hart sounded real interested in GOP public corruption, didn't he?

I suspect Hart will continue to wear political blinders in his role with Luther Strange. But that might not preclude him from going after certain Republicans, especially if it can help his boss.

Under Alice Martin, Hart tended to practice his thuggish ways against Democrats, and that might continue in the Alabama Attorney General's Office. But how many high-profile Democrats are left in public office in Alabama? I can't think of many prime targets for Hart to pursue. If Luther Strange's No. 1 goal is to become governor in 2014, that means he will need to attack the current office holder, fellow Republican Robert Bentley. And we suspect that will be Matt Hart's primary role.

Here is one thing we have learned in recent months: Not all Alabama Republicans fit into the corrupt, fat-cat, pro-Riley arm of their party. In fact, multiple sources have told me that quite a few Republicans despise Bob Riley and his cronies, who collectively are described as "Riley Inc."

One source says it's likely that Strange has promised to push Hart for attorney general if Hart can help take down Bentley and open the governor's chair for "Big Luther" in 2014.

Let's count the number of quid pro quos that might be going on here:

* Bob Riley promises to raise $2 million for Strange's run at the governor's chair if Strange will "protect" Riley's children and steer state dollars their way.

* Strange agrees to do it, with assurances from Riley that Bentley's tenure as governor will be a "disaster."

* In order to help make sure Bentley's term is a "disaster," Strange hires Matt Hart to go after members of the governor's administration, helping to portray Bentley as "corrupt"--much the way Pryor did with Don Siegelman roughly a dozen years ago.

* Strange, riding high as a front runner over the weakened Bentley, throws his support behind Matt Hart as attorney general.

All of this, if proven in a court of law, would amount to massive federal crimes. It's much too early to know if the above scenario actually will play out. But if I were a part of Robert Bentley's administration, I would definitely be on the look out.

As for Strange, he might want to watch his step, too. He is a former partner at the Birmingham law firm of Bradley Arant, which might be one of the most corrupt outfits in our state--and that's saying something. We've seen firsthand evidence of possible unlawful actions by Bradley Arant attorneys, helping to pervert the justice system in a sickening fashion that harms children. We've seen no signs yet that Strange is involved in that case. But a source tells us that Strange directly was involved in a Bradley Arant scheme that could bring most unwelcome attention to the firm--and Big Luther himself.

The bottom line? Luther Strange's tenure as attorney general could get very interesting, very quickly.

Here is Judy White's affidavit, which says a lot about how Matt Hart and his associates tend to operate:

Judy White Affidavit

Does Scanlon's Sentencing Mean the Abramoff Era Really Is Over?

Michael Scanlon

Michael Scanlon, a central figure in the Jack Abramoff scandal, has been sentenced to 20 months in federal prison and ordered to pay $20.2 million to five Native American tribes that he defrauded. One news organization hailed the story as a sign that the "Abramoff era" is over.

Is that the case? Not in our view. In fact, we can think of two major public officials--Tom DeLay of Texas and Bob Riley of Alabama--who had clear ties to the Abramoff affair and have received no serious scrutiny from the federal level. As long as key figures have not been held accountable, the Abramoff era hardly can be declared over.

In news reports about the sentencing, Scanlon usually was described as a one-time aide to former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX). But Scanlon also served as press secretary to former Alabama Bob Riley--when Riley was a Congressman.

U.S. District Judge Ellen Huvelle noted Scanlon's role in helping the government unravel the Abramoff scandal. But how much did Scanlon really help? DeLay recently was convicted on Abramoff-related charges, but that case was brought in Texas state court; the U.S. Department of Justice had nothing to do with it.

An e-mail between Scanlon and Abramoff, obtained during a U.S. Senate investigation, showed conclusively that Bob Riley benefited from the duo's schemes in his 2002 run for governor--which he won over Democrat Don Siegelman, with the help of almost certain election theft. But Riley has received a free pass. (See the Scanlon/Abramoff e-mail below.)

Consider this: Michael Scanlon has been ordered to pay millions of dollars in restitution for defrauding Native American tribes. John McCain's U.S. Senate committee reported that the Mississippi Choctaws spent $13 million on Riley's gubernatorial campaign in Alabama. The e-mail below has Abramoff referring to "what you did in Alabama." What Scanlon did was use laundered money to get Bob Riley elected. So why is Riley being let off the hook? Why isn't Bob Riley being ordered to pay restitution to the Choctaws?
Why isn't Bob Riley heading to prison?

In a piece of stunningly weak reporting, Time magazine wrote a story last week titled "Michael Scanlon Sentenced as Abramoff Era Ends."

The Abramoff era, however, hardly has ended. According to multiple press reports, both Scanlon and Abramoff were cooperating with federal prosecutors, hinting that more cases would be brought. Well, where are they?

Tom DeLay was in the middle of the scam, and the feds have done nothing with him. Bob Riley was in the middle of the scam, and the feds have done nothing with him. Heck, Riley's even making noises about a run for president. The thought of a fraudster like Riley being anywhere near the White House should send shivers down the spine of anyone who cares at all about democracy.

Did Scanlon and Abramoff really cooperate? Or did the feds gather plenty of damning information on a number of public officials and then decide to do nothing with it? If that is what happened, why did the feds go that course, and who made the decision?

Is this another example of the Obama administration's pathetic "look forward, not backwards" philosophy in action? Does Barack Obama, supposedly a constitutional scholar, recall that he took an oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution?

For Americans who care about justice, it's a welcome sight to see Michael Scanlon held somewhat accountable for his grotesque crimes. But what about the bigger fish with whom he was closely aligned? What about Tom DeLay and Bob Riley?

Abramoff e Mail Bob Riley

Monday, February 14, 2011

Chamber of Commerce Thuggery Comes As No Surprise

Reports last week that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce had engaged in a campaign to sabotage its political opponents were not a surprise here at Legal Schnauzer headquarters.

Birmingham is our home base, and Alabamians have seen the results of the chamber's underhanded tactics for 15-plus years now. In fact, a strong argument could be made that Alabama has felt the impact of the chamber's unlawful actions more than any other state--and the corporate sleaze has seeped into our own household.

It's probably fair to say that the influence of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce played a key role in the workplace cheat jobs my wife and I have experienced--all because I dared to write a progressive blog focusing on judicial corruption in Alabama. I was unlawfully terminated from my job at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), and my wife was cheated out of her job at Infinity Property and Casualty.

Evidence strongly suggests that we were targeted by people with ties to the Alabama Republican Party, which has been heavily influenced by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its local affiliate, the Business Council of Alabama (BCA).

So were we surprised to learn that the U.S. Chamber and its minions had tried to harm political opponents by gathering information about their spouses, children, and personal lives? Not at all. In fact, we would expect nothing less from the corporate forces that have brought untold corruption to Alabama.

We were not surprised by a USA Today article outlining the chamber's efforts to distance itself from the sleazy plan. We have learned from harsh experience that individuals who are cheaters also tend to be liars.

Many Americans probably associate Karl Rove's rise to power with Texas. But the GOP strategist did not become a national figure until he came to Alabama in the 1990s and, with the help of the BCA's Bill Canary and massive amounts of dollars from the U.S. Chamber, turned our state courts from Democratic to Republican control.

Now it is commonplace for large jury verdicts against corporate entities to be overturned in Alabama appellate courts. Perhaps the most famous such case involved ExxonMobil and a $3.6-billion judgment for fraud. The most recent came about a month ago when the Alabama Supreme Court overturned a $3.2-million judgment in a medical malpractice/wrongful death case against the Health Care Authority of Baptist Health.

On what grounds did our state's high court overturn the jury verdict? It said Baptist Health enjoyed state immunity because it had developed an affiliation agreement with . . . UAB. Isn't that interesting? The same public university that fired me is trying to help private facilities bypass accountability for gross medical negligence. This is a university that rakes in more than $400 million a year in federal funds and still discriminates and violates the public trust with impunity.

Corporate forces cheated my wife and me out of our jobs because I chose to exercise my First Amendment rights and start a blog that tells the truth about the rampant corruption in both state and federal courtrooms in Alabama, focusing heavily on the notorious Bush-era prosecution of former Democratic Governor Don Siegelman. Similar forces now are on the attack against others who would dare tell the truth.

ThinkProgress is one current target, and here is how it describes the chamber's scheme:

ThinkProgress has learned that a law firm representing the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the big business trade association representing ExxonMobil, AIG, and other major international corporations, is working with set of "private security" companies and lobbying firms to undermine their political opponents, including ThinkProgress, with a surreptitious sabotage campaign.

According to e-mails obtained by ThinkProgress, the Chamber hired the lobbying firm Hunton and Williams. Hunton and Williams' attorney Richard Wyatt, who once represented Food Lion in its infamous lawsuit against ABC News, was hired by the Chamber in October of last year. To assist the Chamber, Wyatt and his associates, John Woods and Bob Quackenboss, solicited a set of private security firms--HB Gary Federal, Palantir, and Berico Technologies (collectively called Team Themis)--to develop tactics for damaging progressive groups and labor unions, in particular ThinkProgress, the labor coalition called Change to Win, the SEIU, US Chamber Watch, and

According to one document prepared by Team Themis, the campaign included an entrapment project. The proposal called for first creating a "false document, perhaps highlighting periodical financial information," to give to a progressive group opposing the Chamber, and then to subsequently expose the document as a fake to undermine the credibility of the Chamber's opponents. In addition, the group proposed creating a "fake insider persona" to "generate communications" with Change to Win.

Velvet Revolution, the progressive group behind the targeted, said the Anonymous Network that supports WikiLeaks played a key role in unearthing the chamber plot:

In a plot straight out of Hollywood, this was exposed after Hunton and Williams hired the three firms to go after the Anonymous Network that had been supporting Wikileaks. The CEO of one of the firms, HBGary bragged in a February 5 article that he was going to take down Anonymous. Anonymous responded by shutting down HBGary’s web presence and extracting more than 40,000 emails from CEO Aaron Barr’s servers. Those emails disclosed not only the planned attack on Anonymous, but also the planned attack on us, which involved planting false documents, spreading disinformation, spying on our operations, cyberstalking, defamation painting us as a terrorist organization and/or a front group for the Unions.

Velvet Revolution makes it clear that it intends to take the matter seriously:

We have responded by notifying the FBI, spreading the word throughout the blogs, and talking with our lawyers about legal action. We have been posting articles about this on our StopTheChamber site, and will will be issuing a press release (Monday) calling for Congressional and Department of Justice investigations into these outrageous and unconstitutional activities.

That's the kind of aggressive approach progressive groups need to take against corporate thugs. We know because we've been dealing with such thugs for a long time here in Alabama.