Thursday, June 30, 2011

Ronnie Gilley's Attorney Has a Drug-Trafficking Conviction In His Past

Ronnie Gilley

The attorney representing Country Crossing developer Ronnie Gilley in the Alabama bingo trial has a federal drug-trafficking conviction on his record.

David J. Harrison, of Geneva, was convicted in March 1997 of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and sentenced to 30 months in federal prison. Veteran investigative journalist John Caylor, editor of, has provided documents and other evidence to Legal Schnauzer, showing that a federal jury in Dothan found Harrison guilty and his appeal was unsuccessful. (See court documents at the end of this post.)

Harrison entered an appearance as one of Gilley's attorneys in the bingo case on April 21, 2011. Gilley entered a guilty plea the next day, and he has been testifying this week--although he did not take the stand yesterday because of an illness.

Before Harrison made an appearance, Gilley's lawyers were G. Douglas Jones, Thomas J. Butler, Anil A. Mujumdar, and Jeremy S. Walker, of the Birmingham firm Haskell Slaughter. The Haskell Slaughter lawyers withdrew from the case on May 17, leaving Harrison as Gilley's attorney.

Doug Jones refused to comment about Harrison's background when contacted this morning.

How was a lawyer with a federal drug-trafficking conviction on his record reinstated to the Alabama State Bar? How did said lawyer come to represent Ronnie Gilley in a high-profile federal prosecution? Did Harrison's criminal record put him and his client in a compromised position? Is Gilley's guilty plea legitimate or was he somehow coerced because of his lawyer's history? What role did Doug Jones and the other Haskell Slaughter lawyers play in Harrison's appearance as Gilley's lawyer? How much did lead prosecutor Louis Franklin know about Harrison's background and did he use such knowledge to help ensure that at least some convictions were obtained in the bingo case?

The answers to all of those questions are not clear. But Harrison's presence raises serious concerns about the validity of the bingo prosecution. It perhaps raises even more serious concerns about disciplinary procedures employed by the Alabama State Bar.

According to evidence from John Caylor, multiple law-enforcement officials in Geneva County have acknowledged knowing about Harrison's past. When asked how Harrison managed to be reinstated by the Alabama State Bar, one official said he understood that several lawyers in the Geneva area had written letters of support for Harrison.

We have "officers of the court" take a stand for an individual who has been convicted of helping to distribute methamphetamine? And the Alabama State Bar goes along with it? Has our justice system come to that? Is the public supposed to trust anything that takes place in an Alabama courtroom, at either the federal or state level?

Court documents indicate that the Harrison drug conviction hardly is a secret in the legal community. The prosecutor in the case was Artur Davis, who went on to become a U.S. Congressman before losing in a 2010 run for governor. Joseph Van Heest and Stephen Glassroth, two well-known Montgomery lawyers, provided Harrison's defense. Van Heest's name was floated as a possible Obama appointee to be U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Alabama before that nomination went to George Beck.

Will news about Harrison's past have an impact on the bingo trial? It is too early to say, but let's consider this issue: Gilley's lawyers had a duty to defend him zealously, to represent his best interests. Given that Gilley wound up represented by a convicted drug trafficker, did the Haskell Slaughter lawyers fulfill their duty? Were the Haskell Slaughter lawyers concerned with Ronnie Gilley's best interests or the best interests of the prosecution team, led by Louis Franklin?

Doug Jones is a former prosecutor himself and worked on a federal HealthSouth lawsuit with Rob Riley, the son of former Governor Bob Riley. It was Bob Riley, of course, whose effort to stamp out gaming in Alabama led to the bingo prosecution in the first place. Exactly where did Jones' loyalties lie while he was supposed to be representing Ronnie Gilley?

We attempted to put those questions to Doug Jones this morning, and he refused to answer. We are seeking coment from the Alabama State Bar.

David J. Harrison Docket

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Is a Low-Cost Spay/Neuter Clinic Threatened Because of Greed?

Alabama Spay/Neuter Clinic

An animal clinic that provides low-cost spay and neuter services might soon be forced to close. News reports strongly hint that veterinarians who resent the clinic's low-cost services are driving the action. In other words, greed might win out over a good-faith effort to address pet overpopulation.

Alabama Spay/Neuter Clinic, which has operated in the Birmingham suburb of Irondale for three years, received a certified letter dated June 9 from Tammy S. Wallace, executive director of the Alabama State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners (ASBVME). The letter alleged that the clinic is not owned by a veterinarian, placing it in violation of Alabama Code, and ordered the clinic to "cease and desist from any practice that would fall under the definition of veterinary practice in Alabama."

There is only one problem with ASBVME's position: The Alabama Spay/Neuter Clinic is owned by a veterinarian. Reports The Birmingham News:

According to Mark Nelson, executive director of the nonprofit Alabama Spay/Neuter Clinic, Birmingham veterinarian William B. Weber is the clinic owner. Weber also owns Eastwood Animal Clinic. He said Weber employs, manages and pays the veterinarians on the clinic staff. The clinic owns the equipment and employs support staff. Nelson said the arrangement is within state guidelines, and that the clinic's board of directors will actively pursue a hearing to prevent the shutdown.

What is the mission of the Alabama Spay/Neuter Clinic? The "About Us" page on the clinic's Web site sums it up:

Each year, Alabama animal shelters euthanize over 150,000 dogs and cats. Three out of four are healthy, adoptable dogs and cats waiting to be someone's loving pet. The fate of these animals was the incentive for the creation of the Alabama Spay/Neuter. Incorporated as a (501-C-3) non-profit organization in March 2007, Alabama Spay/Neuter's Board of Directors felt that opening a facility that provided high-quality, high-volume, low-cost spay/neutering was the only sustainable way to end the overpopulation of dogs and cats in Central Alabama

Has the clinic made an impact? Reports The Birmingham News:

Alabama Spay/Neuter clinic opened June 4, 2008, in a temporary mobile unit. Since then, the clinic has moved to a 6,700 square-foot facility where a staff of licensed veterinarians have completed more than 33,000 sterilization surgeries for a 13-county area.

Who possibly could be against this kind of facility? Officials from the Alabama veterinary board have gone into "quiet mode," refusing to respond to press inquiries. Here is a press-release statement from
William Ronald Welch, D.V.M., president of the Alabama State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners:

In Alabama, the practice of veterinary medicine is governed by the Alabama Veterinary Practice Act and its Administrative Code. In order to promote the public health, safety and welfare by safeguarding the people of the State of Alabama against the unqualified or incompetent practice of veterinary medicine, the Legislature created the Alabama State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners to oversee the practice of veterinary medicine. The Practice Act gives the Board the power to conduct investigations for the purpose of discovering violations of the Act or grounds for disciplining licensed veterinary professionals or other non-licensed individuals pursuant to the Administrative Code of the Board and appoint individuals and committees to assist in the investigations.

In accordance with the Veterinary Practice Act and its Administrative Code, the Alabama Spay/Neuter Clinic, Inc., located in Irondale, Alabama has been granted an administrative hearing to provide the owner of the entity with the opportunity to defend itself against alleged violations of the Act. In compliance with confidentiality rules for pending cases, no further details will be released to the public until the administrative hearing is completed."

The ASBVME seems to have resorted to double speak. Wallace's letter alleged that the clinic is not owned by a veterinarian. Welch's statement makes no mention of this, instead implying that the clinic is providing substandard care. Is the board using this "change the subject" tactic in hopes of delicately backing out of a sticky situation--of its own making? Perhaps it should be.

A Facebook page, Help Save Alabama Spay/Neuter, is spreading the word about efforts to keep the clinic open.

Even The Birmingham News, which I normally find to be a pitiful excuse for a newspaper, has done solid reporting on the story. I rarely agree with the News on any subject, but even the editorial board of a right-wing newspaper found the ASBVME's actions highly suspect:

One wonders why a veterinarian would have to own a vet clinic to begin with. Physicians aren't required to own the hospitals they work in.

That aside, the Alabama Spay/Neuter Clinic claims it has, indeed, a partner in Birmingham veterinarian William B. Weber, who also owns Eastwood Animal Clinic. Mark Nelson, executive director of the Spay/Neuter Clinic, said Weber contracts and pays the veterinarians on the clinic staff who perform the surgeries, while the nonprofit clinic owns the equipment and pays the support staff.

That sounds like a smart, reasonable arrangement. We don't know why the Board of Veterinary Examiners finds the arrangement a problem, because neither the board's executive director, Tammy S. Wallace, who signed the cease and desist letter, nor members of the board are talking. The board's chairman said because this is a pending case, "there will be no comment."

That is wrong. The public deserves an explanation, and Wallace and the members of the Board of Veterinary Examiners need to be reminded they are an agency created by the state. They are, indeed, answerable to the taxpayers of Alabama, whether they think so or not.

What is driving the ASBVME's actions? Given that the Alabama Spay/Neuter Clinic is, in fact, owned by a veterinarian, we can think of only one answer. The Birmingham News seems to be thinking along the same lines:

Let's hope because the Alabama Spay/Neuter Clinic performs low-cost surgeries that isn't the true reason the Alabama Board of Veterinary Examiners is trying to shut it down. Let's hope greed is not a factor here.

And let's hope we find out when a hearing on the matter is held at some point down the road. We encourage both the Alabama Board of Veterinary Examiners and the Alabama Spay/Neuter Clinic to make sure that eventual hearing is open to the public and proper notice is given.

Perhaps the public needs to know a little more about the board members who seem to be driving this train wreck. They can be found on the ASBVME's Web site. We always try to be extra helpful, so contact information is included:

Wm. Ronald Welch, DVM
3966 U.S. Highway 231
Wetumpka, AL 36093
Phone: (334) 567-4353

John R. Grider, DVM
506 South Alabama Avenue
Monroeville, AL 36460
Phone: (251) 743-4061
Vet Clinic Fax: 251-575-7531

Robert E. Pitman, DVM
1701 U. S. Highway 72 East
Athens, AL 35611-4413
Phone: (256) 233-1515

Robert D. Horne, DVM
Dept. Clinical Sciences, SVM
Tuskegee, AL 36088
Phone: 334/724-4162

William Sternenberg, DVM
1249 Meriwether Road
Montgomery, AL 36117
334-277-7302 (Home)

Debbie S. Whitten, LVT
2237 Bluff Road
Birmingham, AL 35226
205-823-5664 (Home)

Ms. Nancy L. Pett
3186 N. Bethel Road
Decatur, AL 35603

Legal Counsel
Todd E. Hughes, Esq., Assistant Attorney General
500 Dexter Avenue
Montgomery, AL 36130

Tammy S. Wallace
Executive Director

Do Cats Really Serve a Purpose as "Watch Dogs"?

We long have been surprised at how much time our kitty kats, Baxter and Chloe, spend looking out the window. We thought cats were supposed to be aloof and unconcerned about what goes on around them. But ours seem to be summoning their inner "watch dogs."

Baxter and Chloe are endlessly amusing, and we get a kick out of their efforts to look like they are guarding the premises. We long have suspected that they really aren't of much use in the security department--and now we have confirmation, thanks to the fine folks at LOL Cats.

We often get chuckles from the antics of the I Can Has Cheezburger crowd. But as the proud owners of two "vintage" Nissan Sentras, dating back to 1994 and 1985, we found this one particularly priceless:

funny pictures - Good news!   Your car isn't too crappy to steal!
see more Lolcats and funny pictures, and check out our Socially Awkward Penguin lolz!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Bob Riley's Lawyers Spring Into Action in the Wake of Motorcycle Crash in Alaska

Bob Riley

Attorneys for Bob Riley did not waste any time in notifying a federal court that the former governor would be temporarily unavailable to testify in the ongoing Alabama electronic-bingo trial. Meanwhile, new details are emerging about the motorcycle crash that left Riley "awake" and "alert," but in critical condition. He is expected to make a full recovery.

Riley was injured in a motorcycle crash near Fairbanks, Alaska, on Sunday afternoon, and the story began to hit the Alabama press yesterday afternoon. Even before many Alabamians were aware of the story, Riley's attorneys had filed a motion stating that the crash had left the former governor unavailable, for now, to testify in the bingo trial. (See the motion at the end of this post.) Attorneys for defendant Milton McGregor had sought Riley's testimony, and a U.S. magistrate had excused the former governor--but left the door open for him to possibly take the stand later in the trial.

Michael Pennington and Matthew Lembke, of the Birmingham firm Bradley Arant, represent Riley and filed the post-crash motion. Bradley Arant employs Rob Campbell, Riley's son-in-law, and received millions of dollars in taxpayer funds during the Riley governorship. Dave Stewart, Riley's former chief of staff who has been quoted in news reports about the motorcycle crash, now works at Bradley Arant.

How was Riley injured? A report in The Gadsden Times states that Riley was returning from the Arctic Circle when the crash occurred:

In a daily incident report, troopers said they were notified about 4 p.m. Sunday of a motorcycle crash that occurred near mile 24 on the Dalton Highway.

The highway, a dirt and gravel road that runs north and south, was reported to be muddy at the time, troopers said. Riley's son, Rob Riley, said his father told him that it had started raining and his motorcycle hit a slick spot.

An initial investigation said that “Robert Riley of Alabama had crashed his Harley Road King” while returning from a trip to the Arctic Circle.

“A private auto transported Riley to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital for treatment of his injuries,” the trooper report said.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports that Riley was traveling with another motorcyclist at the time of the crash:

Bob Riley, 66, who retired in January after two terms as governor, was toward the end of a two-week solo motorcycle trip from Alabama to Alaska when he crashed his bike near Mile 24, according to Alaska State Troopers.

The accident occurred at about 4 p.m., while Riley was returning from the Arctic Circle, which is 115 miles up the 414-mile gravel and dirt highway.

Riley had been riding with another motorcyclist he had struck up a conversation with at a Fairbanks gas station, trooper spokeswoman Beth Ipsen said.

Troopers have attributed the accident to muddy road conditions and do not anticipate issuing any citations, she said.

The Fairbanks newspaper reports a lapse between the time of the crash and the time it was reported:

The crash was not immediately reported to law enforcement because Riley was rescued by someone driving a private vehicle who passed him not long after the crash, Ipsen said. He arrived at the hospital at about 7:30 p.m.


Monday, June 27, 2011

Does Bob Riley's Motorcycle Crash in Alaska Mean Payback Is a Bitch?

Bob Riley

Does God have curious ways of making sure that corrupt SOBs pay for their misdeeds? I'm starting to think the answer is yes after learning earlier today that former Alabama Governor Bob Riley crashed his motorcycle in Alaska.

Riley used his long-planned motorcycle trip as an excuse to escape testifying (so far) in the ongoing federal electronic-bingo prosecution in Montgomery--a sideshow that was caused almost entirely by Riley's pathological desire to shut down gaming that would compete with his Mississippi Choctaw financial backers.

U.S. Magistrate Terry Moorer, in a decision that was both legally and ethically dubious, allowed Riley to get away without testifying. So what does the former governor do with his good fortune? He goes to Alaska and darned near kills his silly self.

Riley is alive, but he did not get away unscathed among the abundant wildlife of the American North. Riley crashed on a gravel road near Fairbanks, Alaska, and here is how The Birmingham News reported the results:

Riley, 66, lost control of his Harley-Davidson motorcycle while traveling on a gravel road north of Fairbanks. He suffered 7 broken ribs, a broken clavicle and a punctured lung, according to Rob Riley, his oldest son.

Rob Riley said he spoke to his father late Sunday. He said doctors told him his father would be hospitalized for at least several days.

"He's pretty banged up, but he's fine," Rob Riley said. "He's disappointed because this isn't the way he wanted to end the trip, but otherwise he's in good spirits."

Interestingly, certain members of the Riley clan don't seem to be in a big hurry to visit their fallen "leader":

Rob Riley, a lawyer in Birmingham, said he was leaving this afternoon to fly to Fairbanks, and that his mother, former First Lady Patsy Riley, would fly up later this week.

“God was watching out for him,” Patsy Riley said in a statement released by the family. “We feel blessed because it could have been so much worse.”

Patsy must be worried, but it sounds like she's going to wait for super-saver airfare to Alaska.

One can only imagine the guffaws that must have erupted among defendants in the bingo trial upon hearing that Bob Riley and his macho image had crashed--and almost burned. A few key questions come to mind: Was Bob's pompadour 'do mussed in the crash? Did his cowboy boots get scratched?

I wonder if chief defendant Milton McGregor imagined Riley being thrown from his bike, where humans could not see him, screaming helplessly as grizzly bears fed on his miserable carcass. If McGregor did not imagine that scenario, I sure as hell did.

Here is more delicious irony: A long-time Riley watcher tells me that the motorcycle excursion almost certainly is a smokescreen, that it's not the "Bob goes back to Nature" tour that is being portrayed. Our source says it probably is about meetings with oil magnates, Russian or Canadian gambling honchos, or foreign interests who might be interested in bankrolling another run for public office.

Did Bob Riley's lust for power and cash almost get him killed? Hmmm.

Some Riley haters, of which I definitely am one, probably thought, "Damn, why didn't he buy the farm?" But that never entered my mind. I want him to be in fine shape when Lady Justice finally locks her jaws around his neck--so he can feel some of the pain he's helped inflict on others.

It's certainly possible that Bob Riley never will be held accountable for his monstrous crimes. But I still hold out hope that a just God is paying attention and will eventually bring Big Bob to his knees.

If and when that day comes, Bob Riley might look back on his motorcycle crash as "the good old days."

The Road from Clarence Thomas to Harlan Crow Runs Close to Home

Harlan Crow

Mounting evidence indicates Justice Clarence Thomas is so ethically compromised that he should be removed from the U.S. Supreme Court. The latest evidence comes from a New York Times piece about Thomas' ties to a Texas real-estate baron named Harlan Crow.

We have discovered that the Thomas/Crow story, in a roundabout way, links to one of our storylines here at Legal Schnauzer. In fact, our story is about judicial chicanery in Alabama, the kind that favors the wealthy over regular citizens. That theme should sound familiar if you have been following the trail of Clarence Thomas' numerous ethical lapses. And it raises this question: How far will some wealthy Americans go to buy justice?

The answer, in the case of Harlan Crow, appears to be "pretty darned far." When you examine the actions of another wealthy titan, a man whose family has ties to Harlan Crow, you get the same answer.

How did we stumble upon what might be called a "side road" to the Thomas/Crow freeway? Mrs. Schnauzer and I have become acquainted with a woman named Sherry Carroll Rollins, who lives not far from us here in Birmingham, Alabama.

Sherry Rollins moved from South Carolina to Alabama eight years ago, in the midst of her divorce from Ted Rollins, the head of Campus Crest Communities and other enterprises. Ted Rollins is the son of the late John W. Rollins, a right-leaning businessman who helped found Orkin Pest Control and a number of other highly profitable companies. The Rollinses, now based mostly in Atlanta, are one of America's wealthiest families.

John Rollins, it turns out, was a friend and business associate of the late Trammell Crow, who was Harlan Crow's father. Here is how The New York Times' describes the Crow businesses--and the family's political leanings:

Mr. Crow, 61, manages the real estate and investment businesses founded by his late father, Trammell Crow, once the largest landlord in the United States. The Crow family portfolio is worth hundreds of millions of dollars and includes investments in hotels, medical facilities, public equities and hedge funds.

A friend of the Bush family, Mr. Crow is a trustee of the George Bush Presidential Library Foundation and has donated close to $5 million to Republican campaigns and conservative groups. Among his contributions were $100,000 to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the group formed to attack the Vietnam War record of Senator John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate, and $500,000 to an organization that ran advertisements urging the confirmation of President George W. Bush’s nominees to the Supreme Court.

The Crow and Rollins empires intersect in several ways. John Rollins built two hotels that were sold to Wyndham Hotels, which is owned by the Trammell Crow company. Both Rollins and Crow were in the Young Presidents' Organization (YPO)American Friends of Jamaica and the Horatio Alger Society.

Michele Rollins, John Rollins' widow, ran as a Republican in 2010 for a Delaware Congressional seat, narrowly losing to Glen Urquhart. Before becoming a corporate attorney and marrying John Rollins, Michele Rollins worked for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Justice Department, Environmental Protection Agency, and Department of Interior.

Michele and Ted Rollins
During her time in D.C., Michele Rollins got to know Clarence Thomas--and the Supreme Court justice served as master of ceremonies at John Rollins' 80th birthday party and roast at the Dupont Circle Hotel.  In his opening remarks, Thomas talked extensively about his friendship with Michele and John Rollins.

How do certain members of the Rollins family view the American justice system? Public documents indicate that Ted Rollins, for one, treats it as his personal plaything.

Mrs. Schnauzer and I got to know Sherry Rollins when she contacted me in spring 2010 after doing a Google search related to injustice in Alabama and stumbled upon my blog. Sherry Rollins told us that she had filed for divorce in Greenville, South Carolina, but was forced to flee to Alabama, with her two daughters, when Ted Rollins ignored a court order to maintain payments on the family home.

After settling in Alabama, where she had family, Sherry Rollins discovered that her husband had sued her for divorce here, in Shelby County Circuit Court. I'm not a lawyer, but that sounded strange to my ears, that a judge in Alabama could snatch a case that already had begun in South Carolina.

It turns out that it can't be done, at least when the law is followed. But Ted Rollins belongs to one of America's wealthiest families, and he has ties to the influential Birmingham firm of Bradley Arant, and that apparently helped supersede the actual law.

Ted Rollins wound up with a judgment in Alabama that was so favorable his ex wife, and his daughters, have been on the verge of homelessness several times--and they have had to file for food stamps.

Since starting this blog four years ago, I've learned about a number of highly irregular court cases. But the Rollins v. Rollins divorce case might rank No. 1 on my "hit parade" of grotesque courtroom abuse--at least on the civil side.

When Sherry Rollins described her experienced to me, I thought it sounded like she had been railroaded. But when I checked the court file, I discovered that her treatment by our "justice system" was even worse than she had described. Consider just two factors from Rollins v. Rollins:

* Mounds of law--procedural, statutory, case, you name it--says that Shelby County Judge D. Al Crowson simply could not take a case where jurisdiction already was established elsewhere. I recently described the jurisdictional shenanigans in the Rollins case to a new law-school graduate, and she almost laughed out loud. "You must be kidding," she said. "That can't be done." But it can be done when a case involves the well-heeled Ted Rollins--and he has ties to one of Alabama's most powerful, conservative law firms.

An Alabama case styled Wesson v. Wesson, 628 So. 2d 953 (1993) does a nice job of summing up the actual law:

Once jurisdiction has attached in one court, that court has the exclusive right to continue its exercise of power until the completion of the case, and is only subject to appellate authority.

Sherry Rollins wound up getting cheated by an Alabama judge who could not possibly hear her case. Curiously, Judge Crowson retired, early and unexpectedly, as the Rollins case was winding down.

* In an Alabama child-support affidavit, called a Form CS-41, Ted Rollins stated under oath that he made $50,000 a year. This is a guy who has the use of multiple personal aircraft. He routinely sends private planes to pick up his daughters--and his Bradley Arant lawyer, Dawn Helms Sharff--in Birmingham. How many guys do you know who make $50,000 a year and have their own airplanes?

We will be the first to acknowledge that there are several degrees of separation between Ted Rollins/Al Crowson and Harlan Crow/Clarence Thomas. But Ted Rollins' father and Harlan Crow's father were close chums--they did business together, belonged to several of the same organizations.

What kind of values did the fathers pass on to the sons? How did they teach them to view the American justice system? We've seen clear evidence here in Alabama that someone taught Ted Rollins that justice is to be manipulated. You can see that in the Form CS-41 below, which Ted Rollins signed under penalty of perjury.

Were similar values instilled in Harlan Crow? Is that why he is so close to Clarence Thomas?

Rollins CS-41 Form

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Are Psychopaths Running Rampant in the Worlds of Business and Politics?

This blog probably would not have been possible without the "assistance" of psychopaths. That's because I would not have had a legal story to tell if Mrs. Schnauzer and I had not encountered several likely psychopaths at critical junctures over the past 10 years or so.

I've covered a number of legal stories that do not involve my wife or me--the Don Siegelman and Paul Minor political prosecutions, the domestic-relations nightmares of Alabamians Sherry Carroll Rollins and Angela Turner Drees--and I strongly suspect that psychopaths play leading roles in those cases, too.

After witnessing over-the-top misconduct by a number of individuals, Mrs. Schnauzer and I have found ourselves, in so many words, saying, "That boy (or girl, in a few cases) ain't right." Those thoughts inspired me to conduct some layman's research on sociopathy--that term and psychopathy can be used interchangeably; they mean the same thing--and write several posts on the subject, as it applies to justice and politics. (See here and here, for example.)

Now we have a new, best-selling book that draws attention to psychopaths and the impact they can have on our lives. "The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry," by Jon Ronson, sits at No. 17 on The New York Times List of Best Sellers in the Hardcover Nonfiction category.

We are pleased to see a well-known author--Ronson wrote "The Men Who Stare at Goats"--tackle an important subject. But we suspect readers who are seriously interested in psychopathy should use Ronson's book as an entry point to the subject. I haven't read Ronson's book yet, so I cannot offer a review. But a check of reviews to this point indicates Ronson's book is entertaining but relatively lightweight and short on conclusions.

The book is based on The Hare Psychopathy Checklist, developed by Robert Hare, a renowned Canadian criminal psychologist. Hare has spent more than 35 years researching psychopathy, and his checklist has become the primary psycho-diagnostic tool for assessing the disorder.

Hare's 20-part checklist can be divided into three categories:

Factor 1: Personality "Aggressive narcissism"
Glibness/superficial charm
Grandiose sense of self-worth
Pathological lying
Lack of remorse or guilt
Shallow affect (genuine emotion is short-lived and egocentric)
Callous/lack of empathy
Failure to accept responsibility for own actions

Factor 2: Case history "Socially deviant lifestyle".
Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom
Parasitic lifestyle
Poor behavioral control
Lack of realistic long-term goals
Juvenile delinquency
Early behavior problems
Revocation of conditional release

Traits not correlated with either factor
Promiscuous sexual behavior
Many short-term marital relationships
Criminal versatility

Reviewers indicate that Ronson makes an effort at examining psychopaths in the halls of power, in business and politics. But the effort sounds rather perfunctory, and I'm left with the impression that Ronson does not understand the importance of Hare's work, even though the author attended a three-day seminar on the subject. In a review subtitled "Madmen Among Us," Salon's Laura Miller writes:

Ronson decided to book a spot in a three-day training course run by Hare (something of a guru in the field) and by the end of the weekend he was identifying possible psychopaths right and left, including a Vanity Fair critic who had "always been very rude about my television documentaries."

Ronson, reviewers indicate, becomes concerned about his ability to identify so many psychopaths and concludes that Hare's test might be dangerous. Ronson, however, misses the point of Hare's work: The checklist is not meant to be used by amateurs like Ronson (and me). It is meant to be used by true professionals, who know what they are doing. From Without Conscience, Hare's Web site:

Because an individual's scores may have important consequences for his or her future, the absolute value is of critical importance. The potential for harm is considerable if the PCL-R is used incorrectly, or if the user is not familiar with the clinical and empirical literature pertaining to psychopathy.

In other words, "don't try this at home." But those who want to gain insight on psychopathy should read some outstanding books that go well beyond Ronson's best seller. I have read the following and can highly recommend them:

* Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us, by Robert D. Hare (1999)

* The Sociopath Next Door, by Martha Stout (2006)

* Snakes In Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work, by Paul Babiak and Robert D. Hare (2007)

At the heart of all of these works is the exploration of a personality disorder. In fact, the technical term for psychopathy is antisocial personality disorder, a term we explored in the following post:

Will Personality Disorders Jeopardize Our Future

How can your life be affected by encounters with those who show signs of having antisocial personality disorder? We have examined that question:

Antisocial personality disorder, also called sociopathy or psychopathy, basically refers to a lack of empathy for the rights and feelings of other people. It is notoriously difficult to treat, partly because those who have it almost never acknowledge that they have a problem. It's the people around them--family members, neighbors, coworkers--who suffer. . . .

Personal experience tells me that coming in contact with people who have personality disorders makes life much harder than it should be. For example, if you take people with personality disorders out of the equation, my wife and I never set foot in a courtroom--except maybe as potential jurors--and never experience any of the ugly events described in this blog.

Take people with personality disorders out of the equation, and I'm still contentedly--and effectively--working at UAB.

Like Ronson, I'm not remotely qualified to diagnose an individual as a psychopath. But I can make this layman's observation: In looking back over 10-plus years of legal mayhem, I can think of at least a dozen people who exhibit many of the traits outlined in "Factor 1" of Hare's checklist--superficial charm, grandiose sense of self worth, pathological lying, cunning/manipulative, lack of remorse or guilt, shallow affect, callous/lack of empathy, failure to accept responsibility for own actions. In fact, I can point to a number of people in our Legal Schnauzer story who exhibit every one of those traits.

Most of these individuals don't really know my wife and me--and either have made no effort to know us, or have no reason to know what makes us tick. We hold these folks in contempt, but our feelings are somewhat impersonal because . . . well, we don't know them either, and we really don't want to.

The most disturbing individuals are the few who do know one or both of us. I'm talking about one or two people from my former workplace, UAB, who have known me for 10 years or more. I'm talking about one or two people who have had me in their homes on multiple occasions. I'm talking about one person, in particular, who has known both me and my wife quite well for way more than a decade. But these individuals knowingly cheated me out of my job, lied to my face about the real reasons for their actions, have even lied about their actions under oath in court documents, and have not shown the first sign of remorse, guilt, empathy or accountability.

I have no idea how such people live with themselves--and I hope I never find out. But I do think the problem of psychopaths in our midst, and the destruction they can cause, goes way beyond my little world.

Think about business scandals of fairly recent vintage. Think about individuals such as Bernie Madoff, Ken Lay (Enron), Bernard Ebbers (WorldCom), and Dennis Kezlowski (Tyco). Do you think there might be a psychopath or two in that crowd?

As for politics, think just about the eight years of the George W. Bush administration. Think about individuals such as Rove, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Gonzalez, and Dubya himself. Do you think there might be a psychopath or two in that crowd?

How much damage have these heavy hitters caused in the worlds of business and politics? How would some of them fare on the Hare Psychopathy Checklist? The words "off the charts" come to mind.

For readers who want to learn more about psychopaths and the havoc they can wreak, Jon Ronson's best-selling book might be a good place to start. The work of Robert Hare definitely would be a good place to finish.

Here is a video with Hare, and others, discussing psychopathy and corporations:

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

"Snake House" Might Generate a Case for the Courthouse

The Idaho snake house

An Idaho family has been forced to vacate a house because it is infested with snakes. The story has an icky, squirm-inducing quality, but we see a different angle to it. That's because our Legal Schnauzer nose sniffs a lawsuit in the making.

The house is about 125 miles from Yellowstone National Park, but the owners were not planning on getting this close to nature. Mrs. Schnauzer and I feel for the Idaho family because our legal headaches started over issues related to real property. In our case, the problems did not even involve our own house, but rather the house next door.

Still, we know how trying it can be to deal with any issue involving your home, the place where you supposedly can peacefully rest your head--without interference from intruders. either the two-legged variety or those who slither around on their bellies.

How bad was the snake problem in Idaho? Reports Associated Press:

They slithered behind the walls at night and released foul-smelling musk into the drinking water. And they were so numerous that Ben Sessions once killed 42 in a single day.

Shortly after buying their dream home, Sessions and his wife discovered it was infested with thousands of garter snakes. For the next three months, their growing family lived as if in a horror movie. More than a year after they abandoned the property, the home briefly went back on the market, and they fear it could someday attract another unsuspecting buyer.

Sessions and his wife thought they were getting an awfully good deal on the house. Turns out there was a reason for that:

The five-bedroom house stands on nearly two pastoral acres in rural Idaho, about 125 miles southwest of Yellowstone National Park. Priced at less than $180,000, it seemed like a steal.

But the young couple soon learned they would be sharing the home with reptiles at least two feet long that had crawled into seemingly every crevice.

Garter snakes are not poisonous, and I've always been told that they try to avoid humans. In other words, they are the "good guys" in the snake world. But the Sessions family, understandably, did not want to share their house with hundreds of them.

What caused the snake infestation? From AP:

The home was probably built on top of a winter snake den or hibernaculum, where snakes gather in large numbers to hibernate, said Rob Cavallaro, a wildlife biologist with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.

In the spring and summer, the reptiles fan out across the wilds of southeastern Idaho to feed and breed. But as the days get shorter and cooler, they return to the den in search of warmth.

Why do we suspect that litigation could be in the future? Well, the house already has generated at least one lawsuit:

In 2007, another couple named Neal and Denise Ard sued the couple who sold them the home and the real estate agent who negotiated the $189,900 deal. The complaint was dismissed a year later.

Since the Sessions moved out, other people have looked at the house. One day, when a real estate agent was showing the property, a farmer who lives down the road stopped by to warn them, Chambers said.

"Now, if anybody sees anybody, they kind of will let them know," he said. "Just so that somebody else doesn't get caught in the same trap."

The real-estate agent must have been thrilled with the farmer's helpfulness.

We're not sure why the earlier lawsuit was dismissed; it probably has to do with a legal concept known as caveat emptor, which is Latin for "let the buyer beware." Based on our updated translation, caveat emptor actually means "you're screwed."

Under the doctrine, a buyer has no recourse against a seller for defects on real property that render it unfit for normal use. Caveat emptor, however, does not apply in cases where the seller actively conceals latent defects or made material misrepresentations amounting to fraud.

We addressed caveat emptor in the following post. We tied it to our home state of Alabama, but the doctrine applies pretty much across the country:

Buyer Beware in Alabama

How did a "buyer beware" issue next door come to affect us? I explained it in a post about a 65-year-old woman named Vinnie Orene Fennell, who lives in Chickasaw, Alabama:

Fennell says a realtor falsely assured her that the house already had been inspected, so Fennell went ahead and closed on the purchase. She then discovered rotted flooring, a leaky roof, and faulty wiring.

This story hits home here at Legal Schnauzer because I've long suspected that Mike McGarity, my new neighbor in 1998, might have been unhappy with something about his house, leading to major legal headaches for my wife and me. I know the house had problems with water coming in the basement before McGarity bought it. The previous owner had a B-Dry System installed in an effort to address the problem, but I wonder if it was truly fixed.

Evidence in the discovery process of the bogus lawsuit McGarity filed against me indicated that he had neither an inspection nor a survey performed on the house prior to purchase. As the real-estate expert notes above, that is just asking for trouble in Alabama--buyer beware!

We're not sure about all the factors driving the nuttiness we've experienced from next door. But consider the legal possibilities:

If water still was coming in the basement when McGarity bought it, would that qualify as a health or safety issue that could expose the seller to major liability? I think a good lawyer might have been able to make that case. In other words, I think McGarity might have had a legitimate case against the seller. But it seems someone steered him toward becoming angry at, and eventually suing, me--someone he most definitely did not have a case against.

What did this accomplish? If my theory is correct, it protected the seller, who was Fred Yancey, football coach at Briarwood Christian School, a ministry of Briarwood Presbyterian Church. We already have noted the strong ties that key figures in McGarity's lawsuit against me have to Briarwood. And we have noted Briarwood's involvement in seeing that the real-estate transaction with McGarity was done quickly--and possibly recklessly.

Is it possible that Briarwood faced serious liability had McGarity sued them for structural problems with his house? That question remains unclear. But this much is clear: He never had a case against me, but his lawyer and a Shelby County judge let the case unlawfully go on anyway.

What about the situation in Idaho? One report in the press indicates that a certain real-estate agent might have stepped in doo-doo:

The last owners of the home were Ben and Amber Sessions. They bought the house at what they thought was a great price.

"We were told that the previous owners in there didn't want to make their payment because they made up a story that there were snakes there, that they didn't want to pay their mortgage so they made up a snake story," Ben Sessions said.

The couple was also informed that every precaution was taken to ensure there wasn't a snake problem. They trusted the real estate agent that the information they had been told was true.

Later, the Sessions learned that the story of the snakes was not made up, and there was a problem.
The Sessions were forced to file for bankruptcy and the house was foreclosed.

We're guessing that the real estate agent might want to start looking for counsel. And we hope the Sessions family gets some justice out of their house-buying ordeal.

This also reminds us that buying a house is one of the riskiest moves many of us will ever make. When we described our ordeal to friends and acquaintances, a common response has been, "Well, why don't you move?" They say this as if moving is a snap, with no costs or risks involved.

In our case, we really liked our house. We had worked hard to find it, pay for it, and care for it--and it fit our needs and budget. We had lived in it for almost 10 years, with no significant problems, until Mike McGarity moved in next door. Laws are supposed to protect you from a thoughtless and intrusive neighbor--after all, we have this concept called "private property"--and they would have if our system was not infested with corrupt judges and lawyers.

The people who suggested that we move were good folks who meant well. But they didn't know what it was like to be in our shoes. We had a significant financial and emotional investment in our property. It was not just a house; it was our home. We knew that home ownership came with serious responsibilities--and rights. And we knew that, under the law, we were entitled to "the quiet enjoyment" of our property.

Little did we know the "justice system" was going to screw us at every turn. But we still feel good about the decision to stand our ground. Running away from things might solve certain problems, but it would not have solved this one--especially after McGarity sued me. Lawsuits are like bad rashes--they follow you wherever you go. If we were going to move, the time to do it was early on. Once a lawsuit was on the table, we had to dig in for a fight.

Here's a Schnauzer lesson for those who might be experiencing some type of property-related problem: Think twice before you try to solve the issue by moving, especially if you really like your home. Moving might resolve one issue but lead to many others--structural problems, drainage problems, even snake problems.

As for bad neighbors, they can be anywhere. Unless you can afford a farm, a ranch, or an estate-sized lot, it's almost impossible to ensure that you will never have a bad neighbor. In our view, it was better to stay and fight the problem we knew, rather than leave a house we loved for other potential problems on the horizon, those we didn't know.

Speaking of snakes--real ones, not the human kind--want a close-up look at what the Idaho family was living with? Check out the video below, which features one of the previous owners of the house. Maybe they are the ones who "made up" the stories about snakes:

McGregor Wiretaps Catch Alabama Judge in the Net

Milton McGregor

An Alabama judge faces more than 70 corruption charges because she was caught on a wiretap of gambling magnate Milton McGregor, as part of a federal electronic-bingo investigation.

The Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission (JIC) filed a 127-page civil complaint on Monday against Montgomery County Circuit Judge Patricia Warner. The document indicates that parties and lawyers had filed dozens of complaints against Warner, but a source tells Legal Schnauzer that JIC took action only after federal authorities caught the judge engaging in improper communications with McGregor. And that information fell in the feds' lap because of their wiretap on McGregor in the bingo investigation.

The Warner story is one of several recent developments that raise disturbing questions about the motivations of prosecutors in the bingo case. It also confirms what we've known for a long time: The JIC is a pathetic excuse for a watchdog organization. Our source says JIC had substantial evidence of misconduct by Warner dating back to 2005, but it did nothing until the feds stumbled upon her conversation with McGregor. Even then, JIC apparently only acted because the feds didn't want to deal with the Warner/McGregor issue.

What does all of this say about the motivations driving the bingo prosecution? Let's consider several angles:

* The Bob Riley subpoena--U.S. Magistrate Judge Terry Moorer, who ruled that former Governor Bob Riley would not have to testify, used to work as an assistant U.S. attorney under Leura Canary and Louis Franklin in the Middle District of Alabama. Canary has documented ties to Riley (through her husband, Business Council of Alabama President Bill Canary), and Franklin is lead prosecutor on the bingo case. That would seem to be a clear conflict for Moorer. But he has not stepped away from the case, and he made a legally dubious decision that the prosecution clearly favored, keeping Riley off the stand. We do have good news on this angle: Moorer's ruling left the door open for Riley to testify later in the trial, and our sources say that, indeed, is likely to happen.

* The examination of Benjamin Lewis--A former state legislator from the Dothan area, Lewis was appointed to a state judgeship as Bob Riley's crusade against electronic bingo was heating up. Did Riley appoint Lewis to the judgeship as a reward for cooperating with federal officials on the bingo investigation? That is one of the central questions in the trial, but prosecutors filed a motion yesterday, seeking to block any questioning of Lewis on the matter. They also sought to block questions about an FBI analyst's report on Lewis' motivations. What grounds did prosecutors cite to support their motion? Well, they were weak:

Mr. Lewis’ judicial appointment and the FBI analyst’s report both post-date Mr. Lewis’ cooperation with the FBI by many months and have no temporal connection with his willingness to make consensual recordings. Those events are thus irrelevant to the jury’s assessment of Mr. Lewis’ credibility and motivations at the time of his cooperation.

If Lewis' judicial appointment "post-dates" his cooperation with the FBI, does that preclude the possibility that he and Riley reached an agreement in advance? Of course not. And that's why Lewis should be questioned on the matter, and it's why the government's motion causes a reasonable observer to scream, "What are you trying to hide?"

We have good news on this angle, too, from Lance Griffin of the Dothan Eagle. Lewis took the stand for the first time late yesterday afternoon, and U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson is expected to rule on the government's motion this morning. Jim Parkman, attorney for defendant Harri Anne Smith, argued that the motion should be denied. Reports Griffin:

Smith attorney Jim Parkman said the defense should be allowed to question Lewis about the judgeship because he plans to introduce evidence that Lewis told someone he would get the judgeship before the selection process ended. The defense claims the judgeship appointment was a political reward given to Lewis from Gov. Riley.

U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson said he would rule Wednesday morning before testimony begins, but appeared inclined to deny the government’s motion and allow Lewis to be questioned about the judgeship.

Why is the government anxious to "not go there" on the Lewis issue? Probably because it clearly raises the spectre of a political prosecution? Why were McGregor and other pro-gambling forces the only ones wiretapped? Why was Bob Riley not wiretapped for any discussions he might have had with Benjamin Lewis?

* The Warner/McGregor conversation--If Warner and McGregor used federal wires to engage in unlawful communications, they might have committed a federal crime. Warner certainly might have crossed into criminal territory. From the information we have at the moment, it's unclear what McGregor might have done wrong.

So why have prosecutors not pursued a federal case? Why did they refer Warner to the JIC and let McGregor go, for now, on the issue?

We can think of only one answer: The feds, even under Barack Obama, are not interested in prosecuting crimes; they are interested in prosecuting certain people, on certain issues, for political reasons. That, of course, is unlawful. But the U.S. Department of Justice, these days, is one of the last places you would look to find lawful or ethical behavior.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Divorce-Court Judge Faces 74 Charges of Corruption

Patricia Warner

A domestic-relations judge in Montgomery, Alabama, faces a 127-page civil complaint alleging that she acted  corruptly in more than two dozen cases.

The Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission (JIC) served the complaint yesterday on former Montgomery County Circuit Judge Patricia Warner, who abruptly announced her retirement last week after being elected to a second term in November.

The 74 charges repeatedly use the term "bad faith" to describe Warner's actions. The legal definition of bad faith is "the fraudulent deception of another person; the intentional or malicious refusal to perform some duty or contractual obligation." (See the full complaint through a link at the end of this post.)

Warner repeatedly ignored instructions from higher courts, according to the complaint. She has 30 days to respond to the charges. From the Montgomery Advertiser:

“Her disregard of (legal) standards, although given specific notice by the appellate courts, further evidences her bad faith and her intentional disregard of her duty to decide cases based on the law and the facts presented to her court in handling the matters alleged (in this complaint),” according to the complaint served Monday.

Of 29 cases where Warner’s judgment was questioned, the Court of Civil Appeals affirmed only two, according to the complaint.

“The other twenty-seven appellate opinions all pointed out major flaws requiring reversal in Judge Warner’s handling of each case. In most cases, Judge Warner’s legal errors were clear and obviously warranted reversal,” according to the report.

We had three reactions upon hearing that an Alabama judge might actually be held accountable for gross misconduct:

(1) Hallelujah!

(2) What took you so long?

(3) When are you going to start inquiring into the dozens of other Alabama judges who can match Warner step for step in the corruption department?

Our delight at seeing a bad judge outed is tempered by several doses of reality. The Alabama JIC is a notoriously toothless watchdog. I have filed multiple complaints with the JIC, only to receive a form letter stating that my allegations would not even be investigated. I know of numerous individuals who have received similar responses. So why is the JIC taking action against Patricia Warner? Our guess is that her corrupt acts were simply over the top, she pushed the wrong political button at the wrong time, or she ticked off the wrong person or institutional body. Let's address these three possibilities:

* Warner was "over the top"--I've read the entire complaint against Warner, and while she is an abominable judge, she is not all that unusual in Alabama. In fact, we've written about other domestic-relations cases where judges have behaved at least as bad as Warner--if not worse.

We have the Jefferson County case of Joseph Blackburn, who was victimized by a hunting club where corrupt lawyers and judges cook domestic relations cases; former judges Charles Calhoun and R.A. "Sonny" Ferguson cheated Blackburn and many others.

We have the Jefferson County case of Angela Turner Drees, who also got caught in the hunting-club trap, with Ferguson applying the primary cheat job.

We have the Shelby County case of Sherry Carroll Rollins, which might be the single most grotesque cheat job I've ever encountered in court--and that is saying something. Judge D. Al Crowson took the case, even though jurisdiction already had been established in South Carolina.  Crowson proceeded to cut an exceedingly favorable deal for Ted Rollins, Sherry Rollins' ex husband. Why would Crowson do that? Well, Ted Rollins is a member of one of America's richest families, the folks behind Orkin Pest Control, and he has strong ties to Bradley Arant, one of Birmingham's most influential law firms.

How bad are these cases? Blackburn and Drees are lawyers, members of the legal club, but the corruption they've witnessed was so bad that they filed federal lawsuits over the handling of their divorce cases. That's not something lawyers do on a regular basis.

* Warner pushed the wrong political button--One of the counts against Warner was for a case involving Kimberly McGregor Brown, the daughter of gambling magnate Milton McGregor. The complaint alleges that Warner took thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from Milton McGregor and then gave his daughter favorable treatment in a child-custody case.

This might, indeed, be a matter of serious corruption on Warner's part. But it's interesting to note that McGregor currently is the most high-profile defendant in the ongoing federal electronic-bingo prosecution in Alabama. Did Warner simply pick a bad time to side with Milton McGregor, just when federal prosecutors are trying to take him down? We suspect the answer is yes.

* Warner ticked off the wrong person or institutional body--From reading the complaint, one gets the impression that the JIC was not all that concerned that Warner was cheating a bunch of everyday folks. But when she essentially said "screw you" to the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals and the Alabama Supreme Court . . . well, that was too much. This, we would guess, is the single biggest reason Warner now finds herself in serious doo-doo.

Is the JIC suddenly serious about all of the judicial corruption that mars the Alabama landscape? We doubt it. The complaint against Warner states, over and over, that she "failed to follow established law in her orders" (page 96), showed "intentional disregard of the laws and facts in matters pending before her" (page 103), issued judgments that were "plainly and palpably wrong" (page 111).

Numerous other Alabama judges do the same thing. I've written about them for four-plus years on this blog. I've filed appeals about "plainly and palpably wrong" decisions with the Alabama appellate courts, only to have them issue an "affirmed, no opinion" ruling. Multiple lawyers have told me they've had similar experiences with their own appeals.

We're glad to see that Patricia Warner might get what she deserves. But we doubt that the Alabama JIC is serious about cleaning up our courts. JIC needed to make an example of someone, and Patricia Warner proved to be that person--probably for reasons that have nothing to do with protecting the general public.

Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission Complaint Against Judge Patricia Warner

Monday, June 20, 2011

Rove Attacks Wasserman Schultz as "Debbie Downer"

What are U.S. corporate elites receiving in exchange for their substantial investment in Karl Rove's American Crossroads? Some of the most infantile political advertising since the invention of moving pictures.

Rove's latest handiwork involves an attack on U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL). How did Wasserman Schultz become a Rove target? One, she recently was elected chair of the Democratic National Committee. Two, she has spoken the obvious truth--that after eight years of corruption and misrule by the George W. Bush administration, and with psycho Republicans now in charge of the House of Representatives, the U.S. is perilously close to sliding down the toilet.

In other words, Wasserman Schultz does not buy the Reaganesque fairy tale that this is "Morning in America." And so, she must be attacked. How? With a take off on an old Saturday Night Live skit that was only moderately amusing in the first place. It becomes downright nauseating in the hands of Rove's henchmen, who are intent on telling us that Wasserman Schultz is "Debbie Downer."

You can check out the brilliance of Rove's "creative team" below:

A couple of obvious questions come to mind: Did SNL license "Debbie Downer" for use by American Crossroads? If not, did Rove's hatchet men violate copyright law?

While you are trying not to guffaw, or puke, after seeing Rove's ad, we urge you to check out the response below from Velvet Revolution, highlighting some of the "forward thinking" positions of Reince Priebus, chair of the Republican National Committee. Naturally, American Crossroads thinks Priebus is a swell guy.

It's also worth remember that Wasserman Schultz once served on the U.S. House Judiciary Committee and made a number of strong public statements about the need for Rove to testify about his apparent role in a number of Bush-era scandals, including the political prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman and the unlawful firings of U.S. attorneys. From a May 2008 article in The Hill:

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) said that the House Judiciary Committee would be willing to arrest Karl Rove if the former White House official doesn't testify about his role in the firing of nine U.S. attorneys in 2006.

Wasserman Schultz, in an interview on MSNBC Tuesday, echoed the demand of House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) that Rove would not be allowed to invoke executive privilege to avoid testifying. Rove could not invoke the privilege since he said he did not have conversations with the president about the attorneys' firing, Wasserman Schultz said.

Asked by MSNBC host Dan Abrams if the committee would go far as having Rove arrested, Wasserman said it would.

"Well, if that's what it takes," she said. "I mean we really cannot allow the co-equal branch of government, the legislative branch, to be trampled upon by the executive branch. The founding fathers established three branches of government. We are a co-equal branch, and this is an administration that essentially has ignored and disrespected the role of the legislative branch for far too long."

If Wasserman Schultz's fellow Democrats had exhibited some spine, Karl Rove might be in federal prison right now--or well on his way there. Instead, he is free to fleece money from corporate interests and use it to produce childish ads about "Debbie Downer." What a country.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Is That Racism Hanging In the Air at Federal Bingo Trial In Alabama?

Scott Beason

Republican legislators were caught on tape making crude racial remarks, including one reference to "aborigines," as the Alabama bingo trial headed into its fourth day of testimony.

Meanwhile, profound constitutional issues involving former Governor Bob Riley and high-profile defendant Milton McGregor, continue to hover over the trial.

The racially insensitive comments were picked up on a wire worn by State Sen. Scott Beason (R-Gardendale), the government's star witness. In one instance, Beason himself refers to certain black Alabamians as "aborigines."

As for constitutional issues, a federal judge's decision to free former Governor Bob Riley from testifying in the trial appears to be unlawful and probably should be overturned on constitutional grounds if it ever is appealed. In fact, the decision by U.S. Magistrate Judge Terry F. Moorer is dubious on a number of grounds. And that means Riley still could be forced to testify, assuming the actual law is followed--always a big "if" in Alabama federal courts.

The first three days of testimony in the bingo trial hint that the government's case is weak. Wiretaps and testimony involving Beason indicate the case against gambling magnate Milton McGregor is virtually nonexistent. In some instances, the record shows that Beason raised the issue of money in discussions with pro-gaming individuals, not the other way around. And a jury question about entrapment, sent to U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson, could be bad news for the prosecution.

Perhaps the most explosive moment of the trial, so far, came yesterday when tapes played in court revealed that Beason and other GOP legislators used crude racial remarks in several conversations. From The Birmingham News:

Those conversations included discussions about blacks getting bused to the polls — in “HUD-financed buses,” in the words of one state senator — which could hurt the prospects of GOP candidates.

At another point, Beason used the term “aborigines” to refer to patrons of the Greenetrack gaming facility in Greene County.
It's early in the trial, and one never knows what to expect from an Alabama jury; a source told us that at least two jurors were sleeping in the jury box after lunch during testimony on Monday. But at this point, a reasonable observer might ask, "If this is the best the government has to offer, did Country Crossing developer Ronnie Gilley make a huge mistake by pleading guilty?"

The big issue that hangs over the trial is this: To what extent was Riley's opposition to electronic bingo driven by his seemingly pathological desire to protect the market share of Mississippi Choctaw gaming interests? And to what extent did money funneled from the Choctaws, through GOP felon Jack Abramoff, wind up soiling the political environment in Alabama over the past eight to 10 years?

In other words, Riley's testimony is central to the big-picture issues that are driving this trial. And Moorer's decision to quash McGregor's efforts to compel Riley's testimony rests on shaky legal legs.

As we noted in a previous post, Moorer's ruling is not the victory for Riley that it might seem:

Moorer quashed a subpoena from gambling magnate Milton McGregor, seeking to have Riley and three other current or former state officials called as witnesses. Moorer's finding, however, was "without prejudice," meaning the issue can be raised again later in the trial. And Moorer indicates that McGregor might indeed have a strong case for seeking testimony from Riley and the other state officials at some point in the proceedings.

Still, Moorer probably is cutting Riley way more slack than he deserves under the law. Moorer cited United States v. Nixon, 418 U.S. 683, 698, 94 S.Ct. 3090, 41 L.Ed.2d 1039 (1974) in finding that McGregor did not have sufficiently specific grounds for compelling Riley's testimony. But Moorer conveniently ignored the finding in Nixon about a criminal defendant's rights under the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. From the Nixon opinion:

The right to the production of all evidence at a criminal trial has constitutional dimensions. The Sixth Amendment explicitly confers upon every defendant in a criminal trial the right to be confronted with the witnesses against him and to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor. Moreover, the Fifth Amendment also guarantees that no person shall be deprived of liberty without due process of law. It is the manifest duty of the courts to vindicate those guarantees, and to accomplish that it is essential that all relevant and admissible evidence be produced.

Those are powerful constitutional grounds that support McGregor's right to compel Riley's testimony.  Moorer seems to acknowledge this when he hints that "specific guidance from the Supreme Court" might be necessary on this issue.

Actually, Moorer might be barking up the wrong legal tree by citing the Nixon case. For one, the case involved subpoenas seeking the production of certain documents and tape recordings from the Watergate era. It had nothing to do with subpoenas to compel testimony. Second, the nation's highest court found in Nixon that the subpoenas should be granted and the evidence turned over. That makes Nixon a curious case to use as justification for denying a subpoena. It also indicates that the facts in Nixon are not at all analogous to those currently under consideration in Montgomery, Alabama.

A reasonable observer might ask this troubling question: Is Terry Moorer an objective, disinterested jurist in the bingo matter? Should he have anything to do with this case.

Until early 2007, Moorer served as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Middle District of Alabama, working under Leura Canary and Louis Franklin. Canary, who recently announced her retirement, is notorious for her role in the Don Siegelman prosecution and for being married to Business Council of Alabama President Bill Canary, a staunch ally of Bob Riley. Franklin also was a controversial figure in the Siegelman case and is serving as acting U.S. attorney, pending the confirmation of Obama nominee George Beck.

A source tells Legal Schnauzer that Moorer almost certainly will do the bidding of powerful GOP interests, such as U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions. That means Moorer probably is inclined to keep Bob Riley off the stand at all costs.

"Terry is a good guy," our source says, "but he knows the score and he is not going to go against the Canary-Sessions political machine."

The bingo case always has been about power, money, greed, intimidation, and other ugly forces. Now, thanks to remarks picked up by government wires, race has taken center stage. This is Alabama, after all, so perhaps we should not be surprised.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Obama's Thinking on Anthony Weiner Reveals a Disturbing Double Standard

President Obama and Ann Curry

President Barack Obama, in so many words, has called on U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) to resign in the wake of revelations that the Congressman had sent explicit photos of himself to women online.

Obama's remarks came in an interview with NBC's Ann Curry that aired yesterday. While Obama's sentiments are understandable, and he hardly is alone among Democrats in calling for Weiner to step down, the president seems to be blissfully unaware that he is practicing a gross double standard.

After all, this is the same president who has said the country needs to "look forward, not backwards" regarding possible misconduct by officials in the George W. Bush administration. If Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, and other Bush-era thugs are not to be held accountable, why should Anthony Weiner be forced to "look backwards" and step down because of his transgressions?

As usual, Obama sounded sensible and articulate in commenting on a major issue of the day. Here is what he told Curry about the Weiner case:

ANN CURRY: Should Congressman Anthony Weiner resign?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, obviously what he did was highly inappropriate. I think he's embarrassed himself, he's acknowledged that, he's embarrassed his wife and his family. Ultimately there's going to be a decision for him and his constituents. I can tell you that if it was me, I would resign. Because public service is exactly that, it's a service to the public. And when you get to the point where, because of various personal distractions, you can't serve as effectively as you need to at the time when people are worrying about jobs and their mortgages and paying the bills, then you should probably step back.

For what it's worth, I agree with every word of Obama's statement. I think Weiner has compromised his ability to effectively serve in Congress, and while I hope he returns to the political scene someday, I think he needs to step aside for now. My view on the Weiner matter is consistent with what I've expressed on this blog now for four years--that justice and ethical matters are important, and Democrats should take firm stands on such issues because Republicans certainly are not going to do it.

Obama, on the other hand, has a history of saying we should "look forward, not backwards" regarding misconduct. And he said it about Bush officials who probably engaged in gross criminality. We've seen no sign that Weiner did anything that could be described as criminal. So why should he be held accountable while Bush officials were not?

The Weiner episode has caused upheaval in our household. We are regular viewers of MSNBC's evening programming, and about five or six months ago, Mrs. Schnauzer began to gush about this articulate, intelligent Congressman from New York who often visited Rachel, Ed, Lawrence and the gang.

"That Congressman from New York is so smart and well spoken, and he stands up to Republicans," Mrs. Schnauzer would say. "I love him."

"Are you talking about Anthony Weiner?" I said.

"That's him," she said. "He's great."

From her breathless tone, I sensed that she considered Weiner to be relatively easy on the eyes. Perhaps one clue came when she said, "Help me sweet Jesus, but that is one fine looking Congressman!"

So I started referring to the New Yorker as her "boyfriend." "Hey," I'd say, "your boyfriend is ripping Boehner a new one on Rachel. Come check it out."

It might sound like I was being a bit of a wisenheimer. But in my defense, this was an example of "fair turnabount" in the annals of husband-wife relations. For about four years now, I've made it a practice to scurry to the television anytime I hear that U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) is on. When I made it known that I found the Congresswoman to be extremely well versed on the issues, Mrs. Schnauzer said, "Ah, come on, you think she's cute."

"Well, now that you mention it, she is quite fetching."

After that, Debbie Wasserman Schultz became my "girlfriend." I didn't mind that designation because, in my view, it only shows that I have exquisite taste in Congresswomen. But I was thankful that Anthony Weiner developed such a major MSNBC profile that he caught Mrs. Schnauzer's attention and allowed me to turn the tables.

Now Wasserman Schultz has called on Weiner to step down, throwing Mrs. Schnauzer and me into a state of utter confusion--which is not much different from our usual state. My "girlfriend" is playing hardball with her "boyfriend." What's a couple to do?

As for Obama, Mrs. Schnauzer is much more forgiving of him than I am. We both enthusiastically voted for him in November 2008, and Obama remains the only political candidate I've endorsed on this blog. Mrs. Schnauzer remains a devout supporter. But the president started losing me in January 2009, a few days before he even took office. That's when he made the infamous "look forward, not backwards" comment in an interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos.

That comment reflected a weakness and lack of principles that, in my view, helped cost Democrats the House of Representatives in 2010. It probably is a major reason that at least one recent poll showed Republican Mitt Romney with a legitimate chance to unseat Obama in 2012.

Why has the "look forward, not backwards" philosophy been so damaging? Let's look back at the exchange between Stephanopoulos and President-Elect Obama on January 11, 2009:

Q: The most popular question on your own website is related to this. On it comes from Bob Fertik of New York City and he asks, ‘Will you appoint a special prosecutor, ideally Patrick Fitzgerald, to independently investigate the greatest crimes of the Bush administration, including torture and warrantless wiretapping.’

OBAMA: We’re still evaluating how we’re going to approach the whole issue of interrogations, detentions, and so forth. And obviously we’re going to be looking at past practices and I don’t believe that anybody is above the law. On the other hand, I also have a belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards. . . . My orientation is going to be moving forward.

Notice that Stephanopoulos says this was the No. 1 concern on Obama's Web site, featuring questions that probably came from his most ardent supporters, genuine progressives. Also notice that Obama says he doesn't believe that "anybody is above the law" before essentially saying in the very next sentence that Bush officials, indeed, would be above the law.

Perhaps Obama deserves a smidgen of credit for sticking to his word. He told us before taking office that he was going to be worthless on justice issues--and he has been just that.

By the way, I appeared Monday on the San Francisco-based Peter B. Collins Show to discuss the ongoing federal bingo trial in Alabama, the recent "retirement" of Bush-era U.S. Attorney Leura Canary, and other justice-related issues. I thought I was disappointed in Obama on the justice front, but Peter B. is even more outspoken about it than I am. In fact, Peter B. makes a compelling case that Obama has been an utter failure on justice matters both large and small, national and international. You can check out our discussion at the following link. The segment featuring yours truly begins at about the 35.55 mark on the podcast. Mainly, you don't want to miss Peter B.'s riff on the Obama DOJ, which really gets rolling at about the 53:20 mark. It's great stuff, and I was just along for the ride:

Peter B. Collins Show: June 13, 2011

Obama's "look forward" philosophy, of course, never has made a lick of sense. You can't address any form of misconduct, criminal or otherwise, without looking backward to examine what happened.

That's why Obama looks foolish in his interview with Ann Curry. He has backed himself into an ideological corner by punting away his moral authority on matters of right and wrong.

If the president can't show any spine, at least he should show some consistency. When asked about matters of misconduct--involving Anthony Weiner or anyone else--Obama should say, "Hey, I said the Bush crowd should get a free pass, and that has to go for everyone else. No one should be held accountable for misdeeds that require us to look backwards."

Such a statement would sound nutty, of course. And that means the president probably would be wise to keep his mouth shut when asked about Anthony Weiner or others who have stepped in various forms of doo-doo. When you have undercut your moral authority on a subject, you're best off to remain silent when that subject comes up.

Obama has been a smart politician in many ways, but he needs to learn that lesson.