|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.