Thursday, April 28, 2011

Riding the Storms Out On A Frightful Day in Alabama

Tornado damage in Alabama

We have plenty to write this morning about justice issues, our usual area of focus here at Legal Schnauzer. But we don't have the heart for that subject today, just hours after at least 63 people were killed and untold numbers of homes were damaged or destroyed by the tornadoes that ripped through Alabama yesterday.

I am thankful to be able to report that Mrs. Schnauzer and I--and our Tonks, Baxter and Chloe--are fine. We've had relatively minor property damage from storms several times in the 20-plus years we've lived in our home. But we somehow managed to not have any damage yesterday, even though it probably was the worst string of tornadoes to hit our area in 30 to 50 years.

We live in Shelby County, about 15 miles from downtown Birmingham. One twister passed through Alabaster, about 10 miles to our south. There was devastation in parts of North Birmingham and west Jefferson County, especially in the areas of Smithfield, Hueytown, and Concord. Tuscaloosa, home to the University of Alabama, and Cullman also were heavily hit.

Damage assessments are ongoing, so it's hard to know how yesterday's destruction compares to that from previous tornado outbreaks. But it clearly was a storm of historic proportions. Why were we spared? Did The Big Meteorologist in the Sky, knowing that we have been enduring legal storms for 10-plus years, decide to give us a pass on this one?

I don't have the answer to such cosmic questions. I just know that we have hugely mixed feelings--thankful to have gone unscathed, while sharing the pain of many Alabamians who were not so fortunate.

Even members of our "household" who don't live in our house seem to be fine. A mother robin has taken a liking to the underside of our deck as a nesting place for the past two springs. We watched in fascination  last April as three of her charges left the nest, hit the ground and safely entered the world of flight--as we kept an eye out for any cats or other intruders that might cause problems.

Mrs. Robin is back this year--we assume it's the same mom--and she's been sitting on the nest for a couple of weeks or so now. We haven't seen any little heads sticking up yet, but we expect to see them any day now. I went out to check on her this morning, and she was there, her nest no worse for wear. So the storms apparently will not disrupt the flight training that we've been looking forward to for weeks now.

The storm actually did us one favor. We had a dead tree in our backyard, probably in bad shape because it's too close to a neighboring pine tree, and it's been leaning for a while. The winds were enough to knock it to the ground, where it landed without doing any damage. So we even lucked out on that front.

Our power was out for about four hours, and our Internet service was interrupted a time or two. That, plus the fact we were expecting to have to run to the basement at any moment, is the reason the world was not treated to a Legal Schnauzer post yesterday. So we had to endure nothing more than minor inconveniences. As for the lack of a Schnauzer post . . . well, some people might welcome more storms if they knew that would be one of the aftereffects.

Do I have anything profound to say after our brush with Mother Nature's wrath? Well, if you use the word "profound" loosely, it might be this: It seems that most suffering has one of three causes--natural events, accidents, and human meanness.

Storms, earthquakes, and other natural events always will be with us--but man has become remarkably adept at limiting their damage. Thanks to modern weather forecasting and communications techniques, we had plenty of advanced warning about yesterday's storms. Without that, I'm guessing the death total would have been at least twice as large.

Accidents also will always be with us. As long as there are humans, there will be mistakes and screw ups caused by our inattention and misjudgments. But we also have learned to limit their damage. Scientists study these things and have made significant strides in figuring how how to avoid injuries caused by accidents. Here in Birmingham, the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) has an Injury Control Research Center. On the national level, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta has a center devoted to injury control.

But what about human meanness? Are we capable of coming to grips with that, limiting the havoc it wreaks? I'm not optimistic about that one. This blog chronicles the actions of numerous judges, lawyers, and individuals who have acted corruptly in our justice system, heaping major damage on their fellow human travelers. Like Mrs. Schnauzer and me, quite a few of these bad actors probably were fortunate to escape major damage in yesterday's storms. Did that cause any of them to stop for a moment, count their blessings, and vow to change their ways? I doubt it. Were many of them right back to their underhanded ways this morning? Probably so.

This just adds to the body of evidence that convinces me many animals are smarter than--and closer to God than--many humans. Consider our kitty kats. From November through February, the coldest months in Alabama, they sleep with us almost every night--curled up together in a furry clump at the foot of our bed. With last night being near the end of April, we didn't look for them to join us in bed. And Chloe, who is a big girl with an extra heavy coat, did find somewhere else to bunk down for the night; she apparently didn't need to be surrounded by extra body heat.

But Baxter, our "little feller," seemed to make a special point to join us in bed after a day that he probably sensed had been filled with fear and worry. It's as if he was saying, "Our world almost got turned upside down today. I'm so thankful that it didn't I'm going to sleep as close as possible to my 'hoomans' tonight. That way, they will be able to sense my incredibly handsome presence all night long--and I'm sure they will appreciate that."

The first thing I saw when I woke up this morning was Baxter's face--an incredibly handsome face, by the way--just inches from mine. And I appreciated that more than Baxter will ever know.

Here is footage from a tornado passing through North Birmingham:

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Taco Bell Might Sue the Law Firm That Sued It

Taco Bell might sue the Alabama law firm that filed a lawsuit against it, claiming the company's meat products do not meet the definition of beef as spelled out in federal guidelines.

The Beasley Allen law firm, of Montgomery, announced last week that it had dropped the lawsuit because Taco Bell had made "changes in marketing and product disclosure." But Taco Bell officials said they had changed nothing as a result of the lawsuit, emphasizing that no money was exchanged and no settlement agreement was reached.

Greg Creed, CEO of Taco Bell, said the company could sue Beasley Allen, and it probably has several viable legal avenues to pursue. "I'm definitely sure that we could sue them for the damage they have caused to our brand," Creed told CNN.

News reports indicate the lawsuit indeed caused damage. Christian Science Monitor reports that Taco Bell spent $3 to $4 million for a nationwide advertising campaign to combat charges raised in the lawsuit. Associated Press reports that Taco Bell's first-quarter operating profit declined 13 percent.

Beasley Allen has pretty much gone into hiding since dropping the lawsuit. Dee Miles, chief attorney on the case, has not been available for interviews. I sent an e-mail last Thursday to partner Jere Beasley, requesting an interview about the Taco Bell lawsuit. He has not responded.

What grounds does Taco Bell have for a lawsuit against Beasley Allen? I don't pretend to be an expert on business torts, but I suspect some form of tortious interference might be one route. The company probably has a case for malicious prosecution and abuse of process. Both of those torts involve misuse of the legal process to intentionally cause harm to an individual or entity.

From Taco Bell's perspective, the best part of a lawsuit might be the opportunity to expose some embarrassing information about the Beasley Allen firm. And we know that such information exists.

As we reported last week, the firm has worked several times with Birmingham lawyer Rob Riley, the son of former Governor Bob Riley. According to a federal whistleblower lawsuit, filed in the Northern District of Alabama, Rob Riley has engaged in Medicare fraud and other unlawful activities through a company he owns called Performance Group LLC.

U.S. District Judge William M. Acker, an 83-year-old Reagan appointee, dismissed the whistleblower case without prejudice after refusing to give the government an extension of time to investigate the claims. Such extensions routinely are granted in cases brought under the U.S. False Claims Act, so Acker's actions appear to be an effort to protect a member of a prominent Republican family.

A dismissal without prejudice means the claims can be refiled, and Rob Riley might be in serious trouble if  the case ever lands with a legitimate judge who isn't trying to cover up for him.

Meanwhile, a Taco Bell lawsuit might give the company an opportunity to look into Beasley Allen's dirty laundry, especially its ties to Rob Riley. That definitely would make me want to think outside the bun.

Below is CNN's report about dismissal of the lawsuit, and Taco Bell's Greg Creed makes it clear he is not real happy with a certain Alabama law firm.

Update (10:15 p.m. CDT, April 26)--Rob Poetsch, a spokesperson for Taco Bell, contacted us this evening and said the company has not made a decision about suing the Beasley Allen firm. Poetsch said CEO Greg Creed's statement to CNN was that the company definitely "could" sue the law firm, and our post has been updated to include that correction. States Poetsch: "To clarify, Taco Bell has not announced that it will sue the law firm, however we have said that we are meeting with our franchisees to discuss all legal options. Right now we are focused on communicating that the suit has been voluntarily dismissed, and that this sets the record straight about the high quality of our seasoned beef."

The Cars Make a Welcome Return to the Music Fast Lane

We are overdue for a musical interlude, and what better time to get back in the rhythm than with the return of America's premier New Wave band?

We are talking, of course, about The Cars, who turned out a string of hit singles and albums from 1978 to 1987. The four surviving members of The Cars have reconvened and will release Move Like This on May 10, their first new album in 24 years.

Sadly, this will not be a complete Cars reunion. Bassist Benjamin Orr died of pancreatic cancer in 2000 and has not been replaced in the lineup. Orr provided lead vocals on some of The Cars biggest hits, including "Drive," "Just What I Needed," and "Let's Go."

Two videos already have been released for Move Like This, and they show that Ric Ocasek, Elliot Easton, Greg Hawkes, and David Robinson still can produce the classic Cars sound. Ocasek, who writes almost all of the band's tunes, still has a great way with a cracking riff, a memorable melody, and off-center lyrics.

"Blue Tip," the first single from Move Like This will instantly transport you back to 1982:

Some critics might claim The Cars haven't grown in 24 years, that they sound much like they did before. But it's fine with this critic if The Cars mine familiar territory, as they do with "Sad Song." What's wrong with The Cars sounding like . . . The Cars?

We can't leave this subject without enjoying some classic Cars. Here is the band from a 1984 concert in Houston, with "Just What I Needed," their first U.S. single. That's Ben Orr on lead vocals:

Here is one of our favorite Cars' LP cuts, "It's Not the Night" from Heartbeat City, which has to rank among the best albums of the "Big '80s." Ocasek sang lead on probably 70 percent of The Cars' songs, but Orr handles the lead here.

Ocasek clearly is fond of his late bandmate. How did The Cars decide who would sing lead on certain songs? Ocasek has said in interviews that "if a song needed a good voice, it should be Ben. . . . If a song had a lot of melody and needed a good voice, I would say, 'Ben should sing this one.'" One such song was "It's Not the Night." Enjoy:

Monday, April 25, 2011

Will Democrats Ever Rise Again in the Deep South?

G. Douglas Jones

As a progressive living in Alabama, I like to think that the Deep South might once again become fertile territory for the Democratic Party.

But the Obama administration's nomination of George Beck as U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Alabama is not likely to help matters any. And if national Democrats continue to listen to the likes of Birmingham lawyer G. Douglas Jones, a vocal supporter of Beck's nomination, Republicans probably will dominate the South well into the future.

We long have suspected that a federal lawsuit against individuals and entities connected to HealthSouth Corporation has had a corrupting influence on Alabama's justice system. Now it appears the boatload of cash that plaintiff attorneys made from that case is helping to influence Democratic appointments on a national level--and not in a good way, if you are a progressive.

As we reported last week, Jones helped reel in more than $50 million for plaintiff attorneys in the HealthSouth case. Access to significant cash, sources tell Legal Schnauzer, made Jones a "kingmaker" in the Beck nomination. Is Doug Jones' influence good for the Democratic Party? Does he share a progressive vision for Alabama--or does he primarily promote his own interests and those of our state's other moneyed elites?

Jones was about the only person who would comment about the Beck nomination for a recent four-part series by Andrew Kreig, executive director of the Justice Integrity Project (JIP). Jones' comments, if read closely, are hardly comforting. In fact, he seems to engage in the kind of dissembling that is likely to turn off any Alabamians who might consider joining the progressive cause. From Part III of the Andrew Kreig series:

My questions to Jones . . . addressed not simply his support for the Beck nomination to run the office in charge of the Siegelman/Scrushy prosecution, but lingering questions about his own role. Jones has previously stated that he agreed to waive the statute of limitations only to show cooperation and other good faith after prosecutors erroneously told him they were not planning to indict Siegelman after their first prosecution was gutted by a skeptical trial judge. . . . But the limitations waiver and transfer of prosecution efforts to Middle District Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller . . . helped prosecutors obtain the time needed to indict Siegelman and Scrushy a second time in May 2005 with a secret indictment. Authorities unveiled the indictment the following fall, helping set the stage for a 2006 trial that thwarted with a conviction Siegelman’s attempted political comeback. . . .

My questions to Jones included ones about Beck’s unusually advanced age at 69 for a U.S. attorney appointment. Most important, however, were the questions of conflict of interest. . . . To recap, the question is how Beck, defense attorney for the key prosecution witness Nick Bailey in the scandal-ridden prosecution of Siegelman, could possibly supervise the same middle district U.S. attorney’s office that exhibited so many well-documented but yet unpunished abuses as those involving in the Siegelman/Scrushy convictions.

How did Jones respond? First, it should be noted that he apparently would not grant an interview, answering questions that Kreig submitted but not allowing for any followup. Second, it appears that Jones essentially issued a statement rather than answering the questions put to him. Here is the reply:

George is eminently qualified to be US Attorney. He is a veteran lawyer who is respected by judges and lawyers on both sides of the aisle. He will be fair and balanced, and not driven by any political agenda, which is especially important for that particular U.S. Attorney position. This is not a lifetime appointment. So I am not concerned at all about his age. I think that office needs a seasoned lawyer with a steady hand regardless of age, and he certainly fits that bill.

With regard to his representation about Nick [Bailey], it is not a question whether he might be conflicted. He will be conflicted from any involvement in the case. I think that the real question will be whether it causes the entire office, including the Assistant U.S, Attorneys who prosecuted the case, to also be recused. A strong argument can be made that this case is so controversial that the entire office should be recused, and either another U.S, attorney appointed to oversee the case or someone out of Main Justice. That's a decision to be made by the hierarchy at DOJ.

Finally, all I can say about any questions that have after the fact been raised regarding my representation of Gov. Siegelman while also working on a civil matter against Richard Scrushy is that Don was well aware of the civil case and it was never an issue with us and that is all that matters to me. Moreover, as you know I did not represent him at trial due to a trial conflict with another matter and it is the trial where the rubber meets the road with regard to such issues. Scrushy was ultimately dismissed from our case without any settlement or judgment against him.

Let's take a closer look at what Jones is saying:

* "George (Beck) is eminently qualified to be U.S. attorney"--This is the kind of gibberish that lawyers tend to say about other lawyers. But what is the truth of the matter? Consider Kreig's reporting about Beck's representation of Nick Bailey, the key government witness in the Siegelman case:

By the time of a Feb. 24, 2008, investigation of the case by CBS 60 Minutes, however, one of the nation’s most popular television programs would inform the world that Beck and Fuller let the government witness, Bailey, be coached and/or coerced by prosecutors up to 70 times, without providing legally required details to the defense to enable pretrial preparations. . . .

Beyond that, a series of sworn filings in 2009 further suggests that prosecutors abused their powers by pressuring Bailey to provide the testimony they wanted to frame Siegelman and Scrushy. According to Bailey’s Alabama friend and employer Stan Pate, the pressure included a threat of a 10-year prison sentence (compared to the 18-month term Bailey later received as a reward for his testimony) and the threatened smearing of Bailey with homosexual innuendo and targeting of his friends unless he cooperated with prosecutors.

George Beck was Nick Bailey's attorney, and evidence suggests that he allowed this happen. And Doug Jones thinks Beck is "eminently qualified" to now be U.S. attorney? Is Doug Jones serious?

* "All I can say about any questions that have after the fact been raised regarding my representation of Gov. Siegelman while also working on a civil matter against Richard Scrushy is that Don was well aware of the civil case and it was never an issue with us and that is all that matters to me."--That's not all that matters under the law. Regarding conflicts of interests, Rule 1.7 of the Alabama Rules of Professional Conduct states:

(b) A lawyer shall not represent a client if the representation of that client may be materially limited by the lawyer’s responsibilities to another client or to a third person, or by the lawyer’s own interests, unless:

(1) the lawyer reasonably believes the representation will not be adversely affected; and

(2) the client consents after consultation. When representation of multiple clients in a single matter is undertaken, the consultation shall include explanation of the implications of the common representation and the advantages and risks involved.

What does "consultation" mean? The rules spell it out:

“Consult” or “consultation” denotes communication of information reasonably sufficient to permit the client to appreciate the significance of the matter in question.

In other words, the lawyer is required to communicate sufficient information to the client regarding a possible conflict. And the client then must give his consent. Jones does not say that he communicated anything to Siegelman about the conflict. Jones says Siegelman was "well aware of" the civil case, but he does not say that Siegelman was well aware of Jones' involvement in it--and any conflict it might pose. Jones does not say that Siegelman consented to anything, as required by ethics rules.

* "I did not represent him at trial due to a trial conflict with another matter and it is the trial where the rubber meets the road with regard to such issues"--That's not what Alabama ethics rules say--not even close. Let's return to the first sentence of Rule 1.7(b) of the Alabama Rules of Professional Conduct:

A lawyer shall not represent a client if . . .

The rules say that "a lawyer shall not represent a client" at any point if there is a conflict. The "rubber does not meet the road" at trial. It meets the road at the outset of the attorney-client relationship. Jones either is grossly ill informed on this subject, or he is flat-out lying.

* "Scrushy was ultimately dismissed from our case without any settlement or judgment against him."--Again, Jones is full of rubbish. Under the Rules of Professional Conduct, the outcome of the HealthSouth lawsuit regarding Scrushy is irrelevant. The two simple questions are these: (1) Did Jones inform Siegelman about a potential conflict? (2) Did Siegelman consent to the representation after being informed?

Based on Jones' own words, the answers to both questions appear to be no.

You can almost hear Jones' feet shuffling as he tries to avoid answering Kreig's questions. I know what that's like. I called Jones on the telephone recently and posed questions to him on several justice-related matters. He refused to answer any of them.

Is this the kind of person who should be making recommendations to the Obama White House? The answer is no. And Andrew Kreig has an excellent suggestion on how the Beck nomination should proceed:

The Justice Integrity Project today calls for the Senate Judiciary Committee to invite independent witnesses to testify at the confirmation hearing for George L. Beck, President Obama's nominee to become U.S. attorney for the middle district of Alabama. Only a full review of the conflicts surrounding this nationally important nomination can restore public trust.

The review should start with a look at Doug Jones' numerous conflicts.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Who Benefits From Ronnie Gilley's Guilty Plea in Alabama Bingo Case?

Ronnie Gilley

Why did Country Crossing developer Ronnie Gilley plead guilty this morning in the federal Alabama-bingo prosecution? The answer, at least in part, probably can be found in a post we wrote two days ago here at Legal Schnauzer.

Our post, titled "Is Lawsuit Cash Having a Negative Impact on Progressive Politics?" focused on a federal HealthSouth lawsuit that generated more than $50 million in attorney fees. The prime Alabama lawyers who drove that case were G. Douglas Jones, of the Birmingham firm Haskell Slaughter, and Rob Riley, a Homewood-based lawyer who happens to be the son of former Republican Governor Bob Riley.

Jones, in theory, is a Democrat, while Riley has extensive ties to Bush-Republican henchmen. But the two became compadres on the HealthSouth lawsuit, which yielded substantial sums of cash for both of them. So isn't it curious that Ronnie Gilley, whose prime defense lawyer has been Doug Jones, would plead guilty in a move that seems to help the Riley clan?

How does it help the Rileys? Well, Gilley now appears set to testify against the other bingo defendants, including VictoryLand owner Milton McGregor. And it seems clear now that McGregor has been the feds' main target all along.

Why is that? McGregor was involved with an outfit called Global Trust Partners, which launched a failed attempt to establish a national lottery in Russia. Tuscaloosa entrepreneur Robert Sigler was head of Global Trust Partners, and Rob Riley has close ties to Sigler. In other words, McGregor used to do business with the Riley clan and their associates--and he probably has enough dirt on them to sink the U.S.S. Missouri.

Does it benefit the Rileys to see Milton McGregor wind up in federal prison? Yes. Did Doug Jones help his buddy, Rob Riley, by pushing Ronnie Gilley to plead guilty and agree to testify against McGregor? Our sources say the answer is yes.

Today's news reports on the Gilley plea bring some curious information. Neal Vickers, writing at, reports that Gilley's new attorney is David Harrison, of Geneva. Vickers hints that Jones no longer is involved in case:

Of note in the pleading, a change in attorneys representing Gilley. He had been represented by attorney Doug Jones as recently as a few weeks ago during a hearing to try and get Gilley out of jail. He was there accused of trying to bribe his former lobbyist Jarrod Massey, which Gilley had denied.

The Dothan Eagle reports that Harrison negotiated the plea deal, but Jones (and two other Haskell Slaughter lawyers) remain in the case:

Harrison negotiated the terms of Gilley’s plea. Gilley’s other criminal defense attorneys, Doug Jones, Tom Butler and Amil Mumjadar of the firm Haskell and Slaughter will still be retained “for now”, according to Harrison.

Conflicts regarding the Haskell Slaughter firm remain a massive issue in the case:

The hearing was delayed more than 90 minutes due to a potential conflict of interest because Haskell and Slaughter represents co-defendant Milton McGregor in a civil suit involving McGregor’s gambling development in Macon County. U.S. Magistrate Judge Wallace Capel said that represents a potential conflict of interest and asked Gilley to understand the potential risks associated with retaining a lawyer whose firm represents other defendants in a conspiracy case. Gilley said he was aware of the conflict and is still retaining the firm.

Speaking of conflicts, U.S. Magistrate Wallace Capel continues to preside over the case even though he does not meet federal requirements to serve as a federal magistrate in Alabama. This means that every action taken before Capel, including the Gilley guilty plea, is tainted and probably could be voided. It appears that no lawyer appearing in the case has the guts to bring up the issue. Sources tell us that lawyers in the case, when questioned about Capel's status, come up with all kinds excuses to explain it away. But the truth is this: Wallace Capel never has been a member of the Alabama State Bar, and that makes him ineligible to serve as a U.S. magistrate in this state.

Today's actions raise a couple of glaring questions:

* Prosecutors reportedly have thousands of hours of conversations gleaned from federal wiretaps of pro-gambling individuals and their associates. If that evidence is so strong, why do the feds need Gilley's testimony to nail McGregor?

* Why did Ronnie Gilley, an apparently intelligent individual, pick Doug Jones as a defense lawyer? Sources tell us that Gilley has been warned about the potential cost of becoming aligned with Jones, a clear buddy to the Rileys. Jones, a former U.S. attorney, seems to have a disturbing fondness for prosecutors--the people going after his clients. Redding Pitt, a Jones confidant, hired assistant U.S. attorneys Steve Feaga and Louis Franklin when he was U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Alabama. Sources tell us that Jones has a friendly relationship with former Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor, who now is a Bush appointee to the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Curiously, Pryor, Feaga, and Franklin all played leading roles in launching and sustaining the prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman.

Speaking of Siegelman, Jones served as his defense attorney for a while. And Jones' actions in that case deserve serious scrutiny. Jones agreed to toll the statute of limitations in the Siegelman case, allowing prosecutors time to build a case they apparently didn't have. Jones also bailed out of the Siegelman case before it got to trial, similar to the way he seems to be distancing himself from Gilley now.

Is this the Doug Jones defense plan? Set up the client nice and neat for prosecutors, charge the client a ton of money, withdraw from the case and watch as client heads to federal prison, join Rob Riley for drinks and yuk it up about what has gone down?

Democrats and those with progressive leanings seem to turn to Jones when they get in trouble with the feds, which has happened a lot here in Alabama during the Bush/Riley years. Has anyone noticed that Jones' clients tend to wind up with poor outcomes. Don Siegelman, Ronnie Gilley, John Goff, Chris McNair . . . Jones has helped  represent all of them. And all of them either have, or probably will, know what it's like to spend time behind federal bars.

Perhaps someone can develop a bumper sticker: "Honk if you've gone to prison with Doug Jones as your defense attorney!"

That probably would be a big seller.

Meanwhile, Ronnie Gilley should be asking himself this question: "Why did I get involved with this guy in the first place?"


Thursday, April 21, 2011

Law Firm That Sued Taco Bell Has Its Own Issues With Fraud

An Alabama law firm that sued Taco Bell for mislabeling beef has its own connections to alleged fraudulent behavior.

The Beasley Allen firm, of Montgomery, generated national headlines in January when it joined with a California firm to file a lawsuit against Taco Bell. The suit was filed on behalf of a single California client, but it sought class-action status. It claimed that what Taco Bell called "beef" was largely additives and did not meet federal standards for a product called "beef."

Both sides claimed victory Tuesday after Beasley Allen announced that it had dropped the lawsuit. But the story does not end there. For one thing, Taco Bell says it wants an apology for being forced to spend substantial sums of money defending a groundless lawsuit. The firm launched a public-relations campaign yesterday, taking out full-page ads in several newspapers with the headline, "Would it kill you to say you're sorry."

Law firms are not noted for issuing apologies, but the public should know this: Beasley Allen, while pointing an accusatory finger at Taco Bell, regularly affiliates itself with an attorney who has been charged in a federal whistleblower lawsuit with fraud. In fact, you might say that Beasley Allen engages the services of a lawyer who does not meet the general standards for a person called "ethical."

Homewood attorney Rob Riley, the son of former GOP governor Bob Riley, has worked with Beasley Allen on a number of cases. These include lawsuits against nursing homes and a rollover-death case involving a GEO Tracker. Founding partner Jere Beasley has referred to Riley as "a good lawyer" in press reports.

Beasley might want to check out a federal lawsuit, filed in 2008 under the False Claims Act (FCA), claiming that a firm Riley owns engages in Medicare fraud and other illegal activity. Performance Group LLC provides physical-therapy services and counts Riley among its owners. At least two members of the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) medical staff have been affiliated with Performance Group.

Jere Beasley

A whistleblower filed the FCA complaint after gathering first-hand evidence about Performance Group's activities while managing one of the firm's clinics. No substantive action has been taken on the case, largely because U.S. District Judge William M. Acker refused to grant the federal government an extension of time to investigate the claims.

Our research indicates multiple extensions of time routinely are requested and granted in whistleblower cases. But Acker, an 83-year-old Reagan appointee who has long-time ties to Republican Party politics, refused to grant an extension in the Performance Group case.

Did Acker do this to protect Rob Riley, the son of a then sitting GOP governor? We have gathered evidence that indicates the answer to that question is yes. On a personal note, I've witnessed Acker's unlawful handling of my federal employment lawsuit against UAB, an institution that, as noted earlier, has ties to Rob Riley's ethically challenged company. We will be presenting loads of evidence that prove William Acker is a disgrace to the federal bench, a corrupt old phony who definitely is cheating me and probably is cheating a federal whistleblower in order to protect Rob Riley.

The Taco Bell/Beasley Allen story raises several issues that hit close to home here at Legal Schnauzer. Evidence strongly suggests that Rob Riley, or someone associated with him, helped cause me to be unlawfully terminated as an editor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), after 19 years on the job. As we have reported several times, there is no doubt that I was fired from a public institution because I was blogging--on my own time, away from work--about the political prosecution of former Governor Don Siegelman:

Blog About Siegelman, Lose Your Job

And how do we know that? The proof is in this audiotaped conversation I had with UAB human-resources official Anita Bonasera a few days after I was placed on administrative leave. Between 1:35 and 2:30 on the audio, Bonasera admits that I was targeted because of my blog, specifically because of its content about the Siegelman case:

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

A reader several months ago suggested that I contact Beasley Allen about possible representation in my employment lawsuit against UAB. I was unaware of the firm's ties to Rob Riley at the time, so I agreed to a telephone consultation with attorney Larry Golston. I later received a letter from Golston stating that Beasley Allen declined to represent me.

I had no problem with that, but this question now comes to mind: Did Beasley Allen decline to represent me because of its affiliation with Rob Riley? If so, does that mean Beasley Allen knows Rob Riley was involved in cheating me out of my job at UAB? If that's the case, it means Beasley Allen is violating Rule 8.3 of the Alabama Rules of Professional Conduct, which states:

(a) A lawyer possessing unprivileged knowledge of a violation of Rule 8.4 [Misconduct] shall report such knowledge to a tribunal or other authority empowered to investigate or act upon such violation.

Such a violation would place Beasley Allen in danger of being sanctioned by the Alabama State Bar--at least in theory.

We mentioned earlier that U.S. District Judge William Acker appears to be protecting Rob Riley in multiple cases. In a recent post, we reported that Bob Riley asked current Attorney General Luther Strange to "protect" Riley's children--Rob Riley and Minda Riley Campbell. That, of course, raises this question: Why does Rob Riley need protecting?

That question should be put to Jere Beasley, who uses Riley's services with one hand while claiming Taco Bell deceives the public with the other. Here is another question for Beasley: Are you and your firm engaging in massive hypocrisy by pointing out alleged deception of others while working with a lawyer who has been accused of bilking the federal government.

What allegations are included in the whistleblower case against Performance Group LLC? We will be writing much more about the case soon, but here is an overview of key claims:

* The company routinely forges physician signatures on prescriptions for physical-therapy services;

* The company routinely bills Medicare for services that were not rendered or were not medically necessary;

* The company filed false claims related to the issuance of back braces, neck collars, and other medical devices;

* The company violated federal Stark Laws by selling ownership interests to physicians and then encouraging those physician/owners to refer patients to Performance Group.

This is just an appetizer for a widespread fraud scheme that involves Rob Riley and individuals associated with UAB. We will be providing much more information in future posts.

Beasley Allen owes Taco Bell an apology. It owes the general public an explanation for its ties to Rob Riley.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Is Lawsuit Cash Having a Negative Impact on Progressive Politics?

G. Douglas Jones

Alabama lawyer G. Douglas Jones helped rake in more than $50 million in attorney fees from a lawsuit against individuals and entities connected to HealthSouth Corporation. Lawyers from California and New York were involved in the case, but Jones served as co-liaison counsel here in Birmingham, home to HealthSouth headquarters.

Jones was a leading advocate of the Obama administration's recent decision to nominate George Beck as U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Alabama, sources tell Legal Schnauzer. The Beck nomination was roundly criticized in a recent four-part series by Andrew Kreig, executive director of the Justice Integrity Project (JIP). Kreig calls the nomination "Obama's Alabama Snafu," and you can read all four parts of his piece through links at the end of this post.

Are the HealthSouth settlements and the Beck nomination connected? Did Jones' access to cold, hard cash help make him a "kingmaker" with the Obama administration? Do Democrats such as Doug Jones act with progressive ideals in mind? Is George Beck the best candidate to replace Leura Canary, the abominable George W. Bush appointee who helped ramrod the Don Siegelman/Richard Scrushy prosecution?

Sources tell us that the answers to those questions are yes, yes, no, and not by a long shot.

To top it off, Jones' public statements about the Beck nomination reflect significant foot shuffling and dissembling. Could that be because George Beck represented chief government witness Nick Bailey in the Siegelman/Scrushy case and reportedly allowed prosecutors to browbeat and coach his client? Could it be because Beck comes from the Montgomery law firm of Capel and Howard, which has strong ties to GOP strategist Karl Rove and Bill Canary, who is president of the Business Council of Alabama, husband of Leura Canary, and confidant of U.S. Chamber of Commerce chief Tom Donahue?

This scenario becomes particularly troubling when you consider that the other co-liaison counsel in the HealthSouth case--Jones' chief local assistant--was Rob Riley, the son of former Republican Governor Bob Riley. Why did Doug Jones need Rob Riley on the lawsuit team? Probably because Riley had inside information about former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy. And that information probably came from Riley's involvement in a Republican conspiracy to conduct a political prosecution against Siegelman and Scrushy, a scheme that Alabama attorney and whistleblower Dana Jill Simpson revealed to the world.

Should progressives be concerned about Doug Jones' willingness to make money by jumping in bed with a member of the Riley clan? What about Jones' apparent determination to now push tainted nominees to a Democratic administration?

Regular readers know that Bob Riley has ties to GOP felons Jack Abramoff and Michael Scanlon. And yet Doug Jones, who now seems to have the Obama administration's ear, is comfortably aligned with Bob Riley's son.

In short, the George Beck nomination has GOP fingerprints all over it--and Doug Jones helped bring the nomination to life. Is Doug Jones interested in promoting justice in a state that has been riddled with Bush-era corruption? Or is he interested in protecting the interests of Alabama's moneyed elite, ensuring that the Rileys and their allies will never be held accountable for the skulduggery of the past eight to 10 years? Is Doug Jones interested in pushing the Democratic Party forward or holding it back?

Some background might help answer those questions.

Doug Jones served as U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama during the Clinton administration and developed the reputation as a civil-rights crusader for his successful prosecution of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing case.

Not long after returning to private practice, Jones became involved in federal litigation connected to the accounting fraud at HealthSouth. When federal prosecutors in Montgomery targeted Siegelman, Jones became the former governor's defense attorney--even though he already was involved in a lawsuit against Richard Scrushy, who would become Siegelman's co-defendant.

That clear conflict of interest is one of several questionable actions Jones has taken in recent years. Another was the decision to include Rob Riley in the HealthSouth litigation. A reasonable progressive now might ask: What side is Doug Jones on?

Did the alliance with Rob Riley pay off? Apparently the answer is yes.

As we reported in December 2009, the court awarded almost $28 million in fees and expenses for the plaintiff attorneys in the HealthSouth case. The exact figure was $27,937,317. A recent check of court records reveals that in July 2010 lawyers were awarded another $22,815,000, plus $521,003.17 in expenses--a total of 23,336,003.17.

That brings the grand total, if our math is correct, to $51,273,320.17. It's a massive case, involving 50 to 100 plaintiff lawyers, so the money will be spread around. But court documents indicate that a big chunk of it will go to the lead firms in California and New York and to the co-liaison counsel--Doug Jones and Rob Riley.

Jones works at the Birmingham firm of Haskell Slaughter. Records with the Alabama Secretary of State show that Jones formed G. Douglas Jones LLC in November 2008. Sources tell Legal Schnauzer that Jones did that to ensure that he would not have to share proceeds from the HealthSouth case with the firm.

Sounds like Jones has been planning for some time to maximize his take from the case he helped build with Rob Riley. Did that cash allow Jones to buy influence with the Obama administration? What does that influence mean for justice in Alabama? We will examine those questions in upcoming posts.

Here are links to the Justice Integrity Project series:

Part One: Senate Must Grill Tainted Alabama DOJ Nominee

Part Two: Bailey, Beck and Siegelman Frame-Up

Part Three: Beck's DOJ Backers Make Their Case

Part Four: What To Do About Obama's Alabama Snafu?

(To be continued)


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Lawyers Can't Handle the Truth About Their Profession

You can't handle the truth!

How is a lawyer likely to react when confronted with the undeniable truth about the ugly side of the legal field?

He probably will lash out in abrupt and misguided fashion. I know because just yesterday a lawyer threatened me with a defamation lawsuit because of my coverage of an Alabama divorce/child custody case.

I attended a status conference at the Jefferson County Domestic Relations Court on Turner v. Turner, a case that involves the custody of triplets who now are 10 years old. Turner v. Turner embodies much of what is wrong with our broken justice system, and we have reported on it several times. (See here, here, and here.)

The case got even uglier yesterday as I was leaving the hearing. Tom Kendrick, of the Birmingham firm Norman Wood Kendrick and Turner, approached me, introduced himself and proceeded to threaten me, on about five different occasions, with a lawsuit for portraying his firm in a false light. I informed Mr. Kendrick that I've been a professional journalist for 30-plus years, with 11 years of experience in daily newspapers, and I had not written anything that is defamatory on Turner v. Turner--or any other subject.

Kendrick appeared to be visibly shaken by my presence at the hearing--or the overall issues raised by the Turner case. Why would that be? Kile Turner, the defendant in the case, is a partner in Kendrick's firm. And here is a key issue, as we presented it in a recent post:

During the divorce/child custody proceedings, Kile Turner stated under oath that Dr. Hajo Drees, Angela Turner Drees' current husband, had been convicted on two felony counts of domestic violence--one involving his ex wife and one involving his son. Those statements apparently played a key role in Turner receiving custody of the three children, triplets, that he had with Angela Turner Drees.

Kile Turner, in a proceeding before the Alabama State Bar, reportedly acknowledged that those statements were not true. But Angela Turner Drees has not been allowed to have contact with her children for more than two years. And we've seen no signs that Kile Turner will be sanctioned for making false statements before a court, statements that helped him benefit in the course of litigation.

I told Tom Kendrick yesterday that, before I wrote that earlier post, I had reviewed at least three public documents that indicate Kile Turner indeed had made false statements in a court proceeding--and had acknowledged that the statements were false. Was Kendrick interested in the truth about that issue, about matters of simple justice, right and wrong? No, he was not. He wanted to threaten me with a lawsuit.

About four times, I told Kendrick that I would be glad to schedule an interview with him, Kile Turner, and Turner's lawyer (Richard Vincent). He never took me up on the offer and referred to me as a "tool" for the party opposite of Kile Turner. Kendrick wound up walking away in a huff, saying, "I don't want to talk to you." This came after he had initiated the conversation.

I suspect this is not unusual behavior in the legal field. Many lawyers know their profession is riddled with sleaze, and they know it's driven largely by corrupt judges. After all, there is little benefit to being a corrupt lawyer if you don't have corrupt judges. A number of lawyers have admitted to me that they regularly witness unlawful and unethical conduct from their colleagues.

Still, lawyers are a protective bunch, and they are prone to shoot the messenger when presented with a message that makes them squeamish. I know because for almost four years I've been such a messenger with this blog.

In fact, I informed Kendrick that I had been unlawfully fired from my job at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) because my blog dares to tell the truth about Alabama courts and the legal profession. I further informed Kendrick that my wife had been cheated out of her job, apparently for being married to a journalist who reveals uncomfortable truths about lawyers.

This seemed to be news to Kendrick. I saw no sign that he cares one iota about what happens to people who challenge lawyers' nasty grip on our justice system.

Why does our work here trouble some lawyers? Because it presents the absolute truth about legal misconduct in a way that rarely is seen in a public forum.

I know that quite a few lawyers read this blog. Legal Schnauzer is listed on the American Bar Association's directory of blogs about the legal profession. Some lawyer/readers are friends. Quite a few, I suspect, are foes--the kind who would just as soon see my work disappear.

That's because the legal field operates with a tribe mentality. One of its prime goals is to protect the tribe's peculiar codes and customs--and that includes protecting even its most unethical members. After all, many members of the tribe make handsome livings with the profession operating in its current dysfunctional fashion. They don't want it to change. I'm convinced that someone of modest intellect, with a lousy work ethic, can make a far better living in lawyering than he could in many other fields--as long as he's willing to go along and ignore the sleaze that crosses his path.

Technically, lawyers have an obligation under their ethics code to report any misconduct that they witness. A lawyer I know guffawed when I raised that issue. "Nobody does that," he said.

So it's little wonder that lawyers often become uncomfortable when someone from outside the tribe, such as yours truly, comes along and writes about the kind of misconduct that traditionally is tolerated within the profession.

How do lawyers shoot the messenger? Even before encountering Tom Kendrick yesterday, I had firsthand experience with many of their tactics. They label you a "disgruntled litigant." They say you are just upset because you don't like the outcome of your case, that you "lost" in court. They call you a "conspiracy theorist." They say your charges of misconduct are based on opinion, not facts.

Lawyers have a hard time shooting this messenger, however, because I have presented irrefutable evidence that my charges are based on facts--and actual law, not the stuff some judges make up from the bench. This applies to our reporting about Bush-era political prosecutions, such as the Don Siegelman and Paul Minor cases. It applies to our recent work on the curious domestic-relations case of Ted Rollins. And it applies to our reporting about my own legal difficulties.

On that subject, here is a classic example of why some lawyers, to borrow a phrase from Jack Nicholson, "can't handle the truth"--as it's presented in these posts.

I was driven to start this blog largely because of blatantly unlawful rulings by Judges J. Michael Joiner and G. Dan Reeves in a lawsuit filed against me by our criminally inclined neighbor (Mike McGarity) in Shelby County, Alabama. McGarity's complaint was filed by Pelham lawyer William E. Swatek, who has a 30-year history of unethical conduct, according to records from the Alabama State Bar. McGarity's case was so weak, nonexistent really, that it had to be dismissed (summary judgment) on eight to 10 grounds.

But what happened in Shelby County, where Bill Swatek is a long-time golf buddy with Joiner, the presiding judge at the time? I filed three motions for summary judgment (MSJ), all raising distinct issues of fact and law, and all had to be granted, by law. But Joiner denied the first two, and Reeves denied the third. (The case wound up with Reeves after Joiner recused himself on my motion, disclosing his friendship with opposing counsel.)

All three of my MSJs were properly executed and supported, as required by law. McGarity filed no timely evidence on the first one; he provided no response or evidence of any kind on the other two--meaning all had to be granted, under the law. On the first MSJ, McGarity filed a response, but he filed no timely evidence as required by law. He did file an affidavit--which did not dispute the fundamental facts at hand--but it was 10 days late and had to be stricken as a matter of law. Joiner denied summary judgment anyway.

On the second and third MSJs, McGarity filed no response at all--no affidavit, no evidence, nothing. That meant the material evidence I filed, which was different from the evidence in the first MSJ, was uncontroverted. In such circumstances, Alabama law is clear: Summary judgment must be granted and the case dismissed. In fact, the law in all jurisdictions is clear: Such an MSJ simply cannot be denied, and it's a "nondiscretionary" ruling--Law School 101.

So why did Joiner/Reeves deny all three MSJs, ignoring clear, black-letter law? My theory is this: They are corrupt, they've been corrupt for years, and they know they can get away with such scams. Numerous Birmingham-area lawyers have told me that Shelby County is notorious for such "home cooking." But do any of these lawyers report the misconduct, as they are required to do by the ethical rules of their profession? Apparently not. Even if they did, it probably would go nowhere with the pathetically limp Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission. And the U.S. Justice Department seems to be more interested in covering up judicial wrongdoing than exposing it.

How blatant were the actions of the Shelby County judges? The summary judgment process is governed by all kinds of procedural, statutory, and case law. But here is the simplest way to understand the cheat job I experienced. It comes from an Alabama case styled Voyager Guar. Ins. Co., Inc. v. Brown 631 So. 2d 848 (Ala., 1993):

"When a party opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment offers no evidence to contradict that presented by the movant, trial court MUST consider the movant's evidence uncontroverted, with no genuine issue of material fact existing."

Law cannot get much more clear and simple than that. Joiner and Reeves took an oath to uphold the law. They had a duty to rule as Voyager, and the Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure, required them to rule. But they simply violated the law.

I could write a book--in fact, I probably will write a book--about the numerous other instances of misconduct I've witnessed in my personal case. But these summary-judgment rulings by Joiner and Reeves are the "big kahuna" of corruption in our Legal Schnauzer story. Lawful rulings on those motions would have ended our legal unpleasantness fairly early and kept it from evolving into a legal nightmare. We would have been out maybe $2,000 to $3,000, which is not a good thing, but we would not have been brought to the edge of financial ruin. And I never would have started this blog because I would not have been personally aware of the godawful sleaze that permeates our justice system.

Is there reason to find hope in any of this? Yes, there is. Because I tend to report critically about judges and lawyers who deserve it, readers might sometimes forget that this blog largely is driven by lawyers who are honorable.

Don Siegelman, Paul Minor, and Wes Teel are lawyers who we believe are honorable people and have been wrongfully prosecuted. Reporting on their cases has taken up a major chunk of this blog. Jill Simpson, Andrew Kreig, and Scott Horton are lawyers who have provided both inspiration and valuable insight. Alabama blogger Robby Scott Hill has a law degree and one of the sharpest legal minds I know.

So there are good people in the legal profession. My hope is that, with a boost from concerned non-lawyers, they will rise up to take back our courtrooms from the scoundrels who have sullied them.

Almost all lawyers, I'm convinced, know in their hearts that our justice system needs major reform. They just don't like hearing about it from people like me.

That apparently includes Tom Kendrick. We will be writing more about our little confrontation yesterday. And we will be writing much more about Turner v. Turner, focusing on public documents that raise serious ethical questions about conduct of the case.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Global Warming Threatens Possible Cancer-Fighting Agents in Antarctica

James McClintock

Compounds that have shown potential for fighting cancer in humans are facing a major threat in Antarctica. The culprit? Global warming.

That's the word from James McClintock, a marine biologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) and an international expert on the Antarctic ecosystem. An army of king crabs that live deep in the ocean is moving up an underwater slope toward the continental shelf of Antarctica, in an area where McClintock has conducted research for 28 years.

The crabs are invaders that threaten a number of native species, such as Antarctic clams, snails, and brittle stars. And that could have a profound impact on animal and human welfare. Reports The Birmingham News:

"The risk?" McClintock said. "The ecosystem could be devastated. They could eat everything in their path."

If that happens, there's a potential human cost, McClintock said. In its Antarctic research, McClintock's research team has found marine species that produce compounds that are ac­tive against skin cancer or influenza.

McClintock is helping analyze photographic evidence of the king crab invasion. The newcomers are a South American species, one that typically has steered clear of the Antarctic ecosystem:

Antarctica has long been an isolated marine ecosystem, protected by its intensely cold waters, McClintock said. Clams and snails elsewhere in the world developed thick shells to protect themselves from the crushing strength of crabs and other crustaceans, or the powerful jaws of creatures like the parrot fish.

But those predators are absent from Antarctica, and there the clams and other shelled creatures have only a thin protection, which leaves them defenseless against crabs.

"You can crush an Antarctic clam between two fingers," McClintock said.

Shell-crushing crabs have been gone from Antarctica for as long as 40 million years, the fossil record shows. The ecosystem "is like stepping back into the Paleozoic Era," more than 250 million years ago, McClintock said. "No sharks, no skates (rays), no fish with crushing jaws."

Why have the shell crushers returned? The evidence points in one direction:

McClintock said the crabs that are invading today cannot survive intensely cold water. But it appears that a 1.8-degree warming of the ocean temperature at Antarctica since the 1950s--likely caused by human-induced climate change, he said--may have opened the curtain to invasion by crabs.

"They're there in large numbers," McClintock said. "They're poised to move onto the shelf."

In a UAB press release, McClintock puts the situation in perspective:

Loss of unique mollusks could jeopardize organisms with disease-fighting compounds, McClintock said. Sea squirts, for example, produce an agent that fights skin cancer. If the crabs eat them, it could bring McClintock’s research with that organism to a halt.

McClintock’s chemical ecology program has published more than 100 papers on species researchers have discovered, including the compound that combats skin cancer and one to treat flu, that are being explored by drug companies.

“I am very concerned that species could disappear, and we could lose a cure to a disease,” he said.


Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Denseness of Modern Conservatives Seems to Know No Boundaries

Mike Hale

Surely modern conservatism features brainpower somewhere. But with John Boehner, Michele Bachman, Glenn Beck, and the like dominating the national stage, it's hard to know for sure.

Even on the local level, conservative officials seemingly can't put two and two together and get four. Consider Mike Hale, the sheriff of Jefferson County, Alabama, which includes Birmingham.

Hale is a bona fide Bush Republican. In fact, Hale's bona fides are so strong that he hired Rob Riley, son of former GOP Governor Bob Riley, to help handle his department's legal work. As regular readers know, the Rileys have strong ties to such Bush luminaries as Karl Rove, Bill Canary, Jack Abramoff, and Michael Scanlon. Few people on the planet are more tainted by Bush-era sleaze than Bob and Rob Riley.

It seems safe to say that Mike Hale approved of the policies that George W. Bush and Bob Riley pushed over the past eight to 10 years. So why is Mike Hale whining now?

As a county sheriff, Hale relies heavily on state tax dollars--and those have been drying up in the ongoing recession that Bush and Riley helped create. State budgets are oozing red ink around the country, but Hale's situation became even worse after the Alabama Supreme Court last month threw out Jefferson County's occupational tax and business-license fee, which generated $74 million in fiscal 2010.

Did Hale notice the Alabama Supreme Court is dominated by Bush Republicans and conclude that GOP financial management is not so good for his department? Not on your life. In the midst of his complaining, Hale never mentions that it is Republicans like himself who caused this crisis.

How dire have things become on Hale's watch? Consider a recent report from The Birmingham News

Hale said the reduction would have an adverse impact on public safety in Jefferson County.

"We have lost about 70 deputy sheriffs that we could not replace over the last two years due to funding cuts," he said. "We have a jail that is closed and one that is busting at the seams. I don't know how we can stand to lose any more. We can't buy uniforms; we have no money for cars. We have no capital accounts, so it comes down to losing more personnel."

In essence, Hale said, residents of Jefferson County and surrounding areas are about to become less safe:

The reduction in personnel, said Hale, would mean his office has "less call takers and less call responders; slower response time and officer safety issues because of lack of backup; backlogs on court papers served; (and) less detectives to investigate, solve cases and bring criminals to justice."

"It impacts our ability to serve victims after a crime," he said. "It will mean more drugs on the streets, more criminals on the streets, no proactive crime fighting. It will impact our ability to track convicted sex offenders."

If you live in the Birmingham area, as I do, you can be on the lookout for a convicted sex offender--and rest assured that law enforcement will be nowhere in sight.

Those Republicans know how to fight crime, don't they?


Thursday, April 14, 2011

Republican Henchmen Get Their Grimy Hands on State Education Dollars

Dax Swatek

The very sleaze that's at the heart of our Legal Schnauzer story now has infected Alabama public schools.

More than $13 million from the Alabama Department of Education has been paid since 2008 to a group with strong ties to the Alabama Republican Party--all without the approval of the state school board. And who is at the heart of this little scam? Why, none other than GOP operative Dax Swatek, who has ties to such conservative luminaries as Bill Canary, Karl Rove, Jack Abramoff, and former Governor Bob Riley.

Also in the middle of it all is House Speaker Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn), a longtime Riley backer. Alabama Republicans have claimed that the Riley administration was untouched by scandal. This story, broken by Bob Lowry of The Huntsville Times, might lay that canard to rest.

And how is this for GOP hypocrisy? These are the same Republicans who claimed it was unethical for a Democrat to work at a two-year college while also holding a seat in the legislature. They even came up with a clever term for it--double dipping. The scam that involves Hubbard and Co. makes "double dipping" look like recess.

A group called the Council for Leaders in Alabama Schools (CLAS) has received $13.1 million from an "at-risk fund" controlled by State Superintendent Joe Morton. And who handles lobbying efforts for CLAS? Why, it's the new Montgomery outfit called Swatek Azbell Howe and Ross (SAHR), whose members have held prominent roles in Alabama Republican politics.

The dirt bags behind SAHR are Dax Swatek, David Azbell, Tim Howe, and John C.H. Ross. Regular readers of Legal Schnauzer will recognize the Swatek name. William E. Swatek, Dax's father, is the ethically challenged Pelham attorney who started our legal headaches by filing a bogus lawsuit against me on behalf of our criminally inclined neighbor, Mike McGarity.

SAHR was formed in January, promoted as a one-stop shop for lobbying and political affairs. With Dax Swatek at the helm, I wondered how long it would take for SAHR to be exposed as crooked. Well, it didn't take long.

How does the education scam work? Here is how Bob Lowry describes it:

The money, part of an "at risk fund" controlled by Dr. Joe Morton, state superintendent, was paid to the Council for Leaders in Alabama Schools (CLAS), which hired a Birmingham software company to provide an after-school learning program based on video games called Kids College.

The software company, Learning Through Sports Inc., was formerly a partnership between Brian Shulman, a former Auburn football player, and Auburn Network Inc., a multimedia company owned by House Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn.

Hubbard, president of Auburn Network, sold his interest in Learning Through Sports in 2005 to Shulman, according to a letter on file at the Alabama Ethics Commission. Hubbard declined to be interviewed for this story. But he said in a statement that he trusts Morton's judgment in the matter.
It appears that CLAS is used as an intermediary, to help hide where state-education dollars really are going. Reports Lowry:

Because public money is channeled through CLAS, a private group, state spending records don't show how much of the $13.1 million went to the software company and how much CLAS has retained to administer what Morton calls an innovative after-school learning program that the state can't otherwise offer.

Why has the state school board been kept out of the loop? Its members are asking that very question:

Several current and former members of the state school board said they were unaware of expenditures for the program or why the program is funded indirectly through the private group of school administrators such as principals and assistant principals.

Board members Betty Peters of Dothan and Ella Bell of Montgomery said neither the payments to CLAS nor the program had ever been presented to the board. A third board member, who asked not to be identified, confirmed the board had not been consulted.

"I feel like we're being kept in the dark," said Peters. "It's been kind of hard to get anything out of the department. Maybe what's hidden in the lining is we may find some money we can use for the children."

You can rest assured that Dax Swatek and his buddies are not interested in using money "for the children." They are interested in lining their own pockets. Veteran educators were stunned to hear about the kind of money flowing through the CLAS project:

Dr. Paul Hubbert, executive director of the Alabama Education Association, said he was "shocked that those kind of dollars are flowing to a private entity."

"There has to be something more involved," he said. "There's no education program that I know of that you send that kind of money to. I've been around schools for a long time and I've never heard of it."


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Blog Skewers A Conservative Newspaper And Then Gets Hacked

A blog that recently gained national attention for revealing the hypocrisy behind one of the South's most conservative newspapers has become the target of hackers.

The Birmingham Skews has been forced to change its Internet host after an attack from hackers. That came not long after the blog revealed that Birmingham News columnist John Archibald, who had made fun of several public figures and their bankruptcies, had filed for bankruptcy himself. In the process, Archibald looked like a fool, first denying the personal bankruptcy, then claiming he didn't remember a foreclosure on his own house, then essentially blaming the whole affair on his wife.

The unnamed author of The Birmingham Skews has vowed to look into the dirty laundry of several News staffers. That apparently caused enough discomfort to make someone want to shut down the uppity blog. The hacking attack, of course, only makes it appear that folks at Alabama's largest newspaper have something to hide.

What has The Birmingham Skews been experiencing in recent days? We had noticed that the site suddenly took on a radically different look. Well, it turns out there is a reason for that:

As you have probably noticed, the Birmingham Skews has a different look and is coming to you from a different host. That is because I was hacked. Sometime on Sunday morning, someone hacked into my Gmail, my blog, and my Twitter accounts and took over those accounts. I have since ported the Skews to this host, and recently regained access to my Gmail.

Someone or some organization has targeted me, and tried to eliminate this blog and mute my voice. They hacked into my personal accounts. They do not like what I am doing with the Birmingham Skews, and have tried to shut me down. What these people have done isn’t just unethical, it is illegal.

Who did this? The Skews has some leads:

These are some IP addresses that I managed to capture, and are people who are associated with the hacking:

Conveniently, some of those IP addresses are associated with an area where the Birmingham News’ parent company has a presence. This was an organized, orchestrated effort to attack the Skews and criminally take over my accounts. Whoever did this has committed a crime in an effort to identify and silence me.

I share in the outrage over this underhanded attempt to silence The Birmingham Skews. But I am not surprised that it happened. After all, I was cheated out of my job as an editor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) after I started my blog that reports on uncomfortable truths about our state's conservative elites:

Blog About Siegelman, Lose Your Job

Did I really get fired for writing a blog, on my own time, about the Don Siegelman case? Yes, I did--and a UAB human-resources official named Anita Bonasera admitted as much in a phone conversation that I tape recorded:

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

My guess is that The Birmingham News thugs would have tried to cost the Skews' author his job, but he posts anonymously and they apparently have not been able to track down his workplace. That's probably why they resorted to hacking.

The Skews story is rich with irony for your humble blogger. I long have suspected that individuals at The Birmingham News either helped cause my termination--or they know who did. Dale Turnbough, the associate vice president for public relations who signed my bogus termination letter, is charged essentially with placating the local media, keeping them at bay. I feel certain that Turnbough would have no problem cheating me out of my job if she thought it would make Birmingham News higher-ups happy. Heck, that might have help buy UAB lots of puffy publicity.

If the News folks weren't actively involved in my termination, I would bet what's left of my mortgage that they know who was behind it. I met separately with Archibald and his editor, Tom Scarritt, about the clear corruption in Shelby County that prompted me to start this blog. They both blew me off, clearly because the bad guys were Republicans.

That's how top dogs at The Birmingham News think--and I know that from personal experience.

Am I pleased that the Skews is zeroing in on the News? You're darned tootin' I am. In fact, I might help in that effort. I've become pretty adept at using public records to unearth sleaze on Birmingham elites--in the press, the law, in government, in business. The Schnauzer is sniffing in some pretty interesting corners these days--and you never know what rats might fly out from under cover.

The Siegelman Case: Ten Years of Injustice--and Counting

Don Siegelman

In April 2001, former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman hired a lawyer after articles in statewide newspapers indicated a federal grand jury was focusing on his administration.

The hiring of that lawyer, the late David Cromwell Johnson of Birmingham, could be seen as the beginning of the Siegelman court battle. Today, 10 years later, the case ranks as perhaps the most notorious political prosecution in American history. Justice still seems a long way off and, perhaps most alarming, a veteran federal justice official seems intent on making sure the public never discovers what really drove the Siegelman case.

Where is the Siegelman matter headed after a decade of legal wrangling? I met the former governor for breakfast on a recent rainy morning to find out. I've written probably several hundred posts about the Siegelman case, and we had talked via phone a couple of times, but this was the first time we had met. I've followed the case closely since the former governor's conviction in 2006, but I did not realize it had been 10 years since the battle really began--roughly three months after George W. Bush had entered the White House, with the help of GOP electoral guru Karl Rove.

Siegelman looks remarkably fit for a 65-year-old man who has been through 10 years of legal hell. He remains convinced that Rove is behind his prosecution, and he hopes to someday prove it. But for now, he and his lawyers are playing a waiting game.

The U.S. Supreme Court vacated the Siegelman judgment last June and ordered the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals to review the case in light of new law regarding honest-services fraud. A three-judge panel from the Eleventh Circuit heard oral arguments in January, and Siegelman expects a ruling in the next two to three weeks. Also pending is a motion for the recusal of trial judge Mark Fuller, a Bush appointee who handled the case in a stunningly corrupt, and pro-prosecution, fashion.

"My expectation is that we will win," Siegelman says. "It's just a question of when."

Siegelman's No. 1 concern at the moment seems to be the U.S. Justice Department's apparent determination, even under a Democratic president, to obscure the truth about his prosecution. Birmingham lawyer John Aaron filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request in February 2006, seeking documents related to the recusal of Leura Canary, U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Alabama, site of the Siegelman prosecution. With the DOJ stonewalling on the FOIA request, Aaron filed a lawsuit in May 2009, and that case is pending. Discovery has revealed the existence of more than 1,000 documents related to Canary's recusal, and they have not been turned over. (See a summary of the FOIA case below.)

Who is behind the DOJ's efforts to stonewall on the Siegelman case? The former governor points a finger at David Margolis, an associate deputy attorney general and the most senior career employee in the department. "When you ask if the Siegelman case was handled fairly, Margolis has to say yes because he was the one who approved many of the decisions to pursue the case," Siegelman says. "As long as he's addressing questions about my case, I'll never get a fair shake because he was involved from the outset.

"There is an obvious conflict of interest for him to be ruling about decisions he was involved in. He needs to step down from any involvement with my case."

Ten years after the battle was joined, Don Siegelman clearly is not content to see a wrongful conviction overturned. He wants to know what caused a flawed prosecution to be launched in the first place.

Siegelman FOIA Request

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Will Offshore Tax-Evasion Case Ensnare Wealthy Americans?

Republicans have tried to make deficit reduction a major political issue, but they rarely discuss one reason the United States struggles to balance its books: Wealthy Americans get away with hiding huge amounts of taxable income in offshore accounts.

That might be about to change. A client of the British banking giant HSBC has pleaded guilty to conspiring to conceal accounts in India. Vaibhav Dahake, a native of India who now lives in Somerset, New Jersey, admitted to his role in a scheme that could wind up making some deep-pocketed Americans extremely uncomfortable.

We would not be surprised if this story winds up having Alabama connections. Bradley Arant, which claims to be our state's largest law firm, has represented HSBC affiliates.

With many Americans focusing on events in Wisconsin and a possible government shutdown, the feds'  investigation of offshore accounts has floated under many radars. But it could become a story with widespread impact. It first surfaced in late January when Dahake was indicted on charges of conspiring to defraud the United States by hiding bank accounts in India and the British Virgin Islands.

How far might the story go? Reports The New York Times:

The defendant, Vaibhav Dahake, admitted in United States District Court in New Jersey to conspiring to conceal accounts in India.

Mr. Dahake is an Indian native who became an American citizen in 2006 and now lives in Somerset, N.J.

The plea comes days after federal prosecutors said that an HSBC unit in India potentially helped thousands of Americans to dodge taxes. Prosecutors are expanding the government’s inquiry of offshore tax evaders and their banks.

“HSBC does not condone tax evasion and is cooperating with law enforcement in this matter,” an HSBC spokeswoman, Juanita Gutierrez, said.

Could HSBC wind up revealing the names of wealthy Americans who have defrauded their own country? The answer appears to be yes:

Government lawyers cited Mr. Dahake in their request last week for permission to get information from HSBC about American residents who may be using HSBC India accounts to evade federal taxes.

“Dahake is not an isolated incident,” the government said in a court filing last week, which detailed solicitations by several HSBC bankers to clients with the promise of secrecy.

The government is requesting authority to serve a “John Doe” summons on the bank to obtain the names of an unknown number of individuals who may have engaged in tax fraud.

What about possible Alabama connections in this story? It's too early to say what might develop in Birmingham and other Alabama cities. But we know that Bradley Arant lawyer George R. Parker represented several HSBC entities in a 2008 case styled George D. McCarley v. KPMG International, et al. And we know that Bradley Arant has strong ties to our state's corporate elites and the Alabama Republican Party, especially the administration of former Governor Bob Riley.

Is it possible that some wealthy Alabama conservatives, who are quick to wave the flag and claim patriotic fervor, have been cheating their own government? What about wealthy Americans in other states? Could this be a sign that the Obama Justice Department finally is waking from its slumber and actually holding some bad actors accountable?

We might discover some interesting answers to those questions in the weeks and months ahead.