Monday, June 27, 2011

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


Unknown said...

I say Clarence Thomas has got to go. The Supreme Court would be better balanced then with another Obama nomination.

jeffrey spruill said...

expression with contradictory words: a phrase in which two words of contradictory meaning are used together for special effect, e.g. "wise fool" or "Supreme Court ethics."

Fusion said...

I don't understand why there isn't at least an investigation or inquiry.

Anonymous said...

That disclosure states his MONTHLy income is 41,000 (not yearly). Thanks for the cross post to FDL, I will be following this story.

legalschnauzer said...


Are you referring to Ted Rollins income on the CS-41 form? If so, you might want to check your glasses.

The form states, quite clearly, that Mr. Rollins gross monthly income was $4,166.67. If you multiply that times 12, you get $50,000.04.

Hence, my statement that his annual salary, as stated by Mr. Rollins under oath, was roughly $50,000 a year.

I would suggest that you take another look at the document.