Thursday, July 28, 2011

Bar Association Punishes Lawyer for Telling the Truth

Angela Turner Drees

Lawyer B files a bar complaint against Lawyer A, claiming she made false statements about him in court documents.

During a hearing on the complaint, Lawyer B admits that the allegations against him--that he made false statements in a child-custody case--are not mere allegations. They are, in fact, true.

What does the bar association do about this turn of events? It punishes Lawyer A, suspending her license for a year. It has done nothing, so far, to Lawyer B--even though his false statements apparently resulted in him receiving both full custody and a highly favorable financial arrangement.

This, folks, is how the Alabama State Bar dispenses "justice." We suspect that bar associations across the country make similarly absurd findings. And much of this activity takes place in secret, outside the public arena, even though courts are funded by taxpayers.

As nutty as the whole thing sounds, we are not making it up. Lawyer A is Angela Turner Drees. Lawyer B is Kile Turner, her former husband. The children in question are the Turner triplets, who now are 10 years old and reside full time with Kile Turner and his current wife, Sara M. Turner.

The children have not seen their mother for more than two years, mainly because of Kile Turner's claims, under oath, that Hajo Drees, Angela Turner Drees' current husband, was convicted of domestic violence while living in Nebraska. Angela Turner Drees stated in multiple court filings that Kile Turner's claims were false, and those statements largely were ignored. When she filed a bar complaint against Kile Turner, it was not even investigated.

But what happened when Kile Turner filed a bar complaint against her? It was investigated, a hearing was conducted, and Angela Turner Drees was suspended from the practice of law for one year . . . for telling the truth.

Kile Turner

In fact, we now have multiple public documents that show Kile Turner has admitted his claims against Hajo Drees were not true. So how did the Alabama State Bar reach a conclusion that is absurd on its face?  The decision apparently was driven by the two-tiered status system that exists in the legal profession. Angela Turner Drees was a solo practitioner. Kile Turner is a partner in the downtown Birmingham firm of Norman Kendrick Wood and Turner. Sara M. Turner, Kile's new wife, is an associate in another downtown Birmingham firm, Baker Donelson.

The Alabama State Bar apparently finds it easier to punish a "little guy (or gal)" who is innocent than to zap a partner from a major firm. I suspect other state bars behave in a similarly distorted fashion.

In fact, the sense of entitlement that can emanate from a major law firm is stunning. As we reported recently, one of Kile Turner's law partners threatened me with a defamation lawsuit for writing about the Turner v. Turner case--even though public documents indicate every word of my reporting is true.

We already have reported on one such public document, a petition for a writ of mandamus filed by Angela Turner Drees. That matter is pending before the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals. We now have a second such document. Angela Turner Drees has appealed her suspension to the Supreme Court of Alabama, and the Alabama State Bar has filed a motion to dismiss the appeal. In her motion to strike the bar's dismissal motion, Drees states:

The Alabama State Bar is attempting to mislead this tribunal by submitting false information, half-truths and omissions of fact so as to unfairly persuade this Court in violation of Alabama law and the Alabama Rules of Disciplinary Procedure. . . .

This case involves the Appellant being suspended for exposing two attorneys [Kile Turner and his lawyer, Richard Vincent] lying to a judge, manufacturing false evidence against an innocent Alabama resident, and then manipulating multiple court proceedings as well as exploiting powerful political networks to cover their tracks.

The material in bold above sums up the state of our current justice system about as well as any words I've seen. God only knows how many court cases around the country are decided based on such actions.

Drees then cuts to the chase about the astonishing result of the hearing before the Alabama State Bar:

At the hearing resulting in the suspension of the Appellant's license, the perpetrator lawyers confessed that they had not told the truth, thereby exonerating the Appellant. . . . The Alabama State Bar has and is now playing a significant role in continuing to cover up wrongdoing on the part of these two attorneys and is thus independently engaging in fraudulent activities with respect to this Court.

A rational person, one whose mind has not been sullied by the machinations of the legal "profession," might say, "How could a bar association possibly punish someone for telling the truth?"

Well, it happened. And we have one more document, from the Alabama State Bar itself, that shows it happened. First, let's check out the motion to strike from Angela Turner Drees:

(To be continued)

Angela Drees--Motion to Strike

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Real Scandal Behind the University of Alabama Football Program

Tom Albetar and
 Alabama star Trent Richardson

Practice soon will begin for the 2011 college-football season, and that means its time to start thinking about possible monkey business at Alabama's two powerhouse programs.

Both the University of Alabama and Auburn University have rich histories of NCAA investigations. The spotlight in recent months has been on Auburn and its recruitment of Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Cam Newton. But the focus might be shifting to Alabama, with recent reports that a Tuscaloosa menswear store has been selling merchandise signed by Crimson Tide players and using players in advertisements.

The Web site, and reporter Clay Travis, broke the Alabama story last Friday. At first glance, the possible transgressions might seem relatively minor. But a major scandal erupted at Ohio State over similar issues--players selling memorabilia in exchange for tattoos. And Tom Albetar, the owner of the store in question (T-Town Menswear), is doing his best to suddenly keep a low profile. That means significant trouble could be brewing on the Crimson horizon.

Regardless of what happens with the menswear story, the real scandal of the Alabama football program has gone largely unreported for almost 14 years. We have written about it extensively here at Legal Schnauzer, but the Alabama mainstream press has chosen to keep it quiet. And it somehow has escaped the attention of national reporters.

Paul Bryant Jr., the son of the late Hall of Fame coach Paul "Bear" Bryant and UA's most powerful football booster, has clear ties to a $15-million insurance-fraud scheme that came to light in the late 1990s. The case resulted in a 15-year prison sentence for a Pennsylvania lawyer and entrepreneur named Allen W. Stewart. Public documents show that one of Bryant's companies, Alabama Reassurance, was implicated in the Stewart case, which was tried in Philadelphia.

Why has the case received so little attention in the South? It's not like the evidence against Bryant's company is hard to find; it's available with a simple Internet search. And it's not hard to understand; the language in a 2001 memorandum opinion from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania lays out the scheme clearly. (See the full memorandum opinion at the end of this post.) The document shows that the scheme involving Stewart and Alabama Re involved counts 24 through 32 of a 135-count indictment. Footnote No. 11, which begins on page 16 of the opinion, addresses Alabama Re's role in the fraud:

11. The relevant portions of the charge read as follows:
Counts 24 through 32 charge a wire fraud scheme to deceive state insurance regulators involving reinsurance. The superseding indictment alleges that in late 1992 or early 1993 the defendant devised a scheme to deceive state regulators and others regarding the true and complete reinsurance arrangements involving Summit National Life Insurance Company, its subsidiary Fidelity General Life Insurance Company, and the Alabama Reassurance Company in order to inflate their financial statements.

Stewart was found guilty on all counts, and it's undisputed that Alabama Reassurance was Paul Bryant Jr.'s company--and it was involved in the scheme. So how did Bryant Jr. manage to escape serious scrutiny while Allen W. Stewart went to prison? We addressed that question in an earlier post:

Sources tell Legal Schnauzer that, during the Stewart case, the U.S. Department of Justice was prepared to launch a heightened investigation of Alabama Reassurance. That determination, our sources say, came from Caryl Privett, then U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama. By the time the Stewart case was over, however, Privett had stepped down and been replaced as U.S. attorney by Doug Jones--and the investigation into Alabama Re was called off.

Jones is a University of Alabama graduate, and our sources say he has done legal work for Paul W. Bryant Jr. Jones now is with the Birmingham firm of Haskell Slaughter.

Sources tell Legal Schnauzer that the Alabama Re investigation was called off after Jones took office. Twice in recent weeks, we have contacted Jones and tried to interview him about the Bryant case and other issues. Both times, we asked Jones point blank if he called off the Alabama Re investigation. Both times, he refused to answer our questions.

Public documents indicate that Bryant, in a curious move, planned to liquidate Alabama Reassurance, even though the company had admitted assets of $238 million in 2006. The company essentially was replaced by a new entity called Alabama Life Reinsurance Company, which like its predecessor, is under Bryant's Greene Group Inc.

Have Bryant's ties to insurance fraud slowed his rise to power at the University of Alabama? Not exactly. He serves on the university's board of trustees and appears to be involved in most major decisions involving the football program, including the hiring of high-profile coach Nick Saban.

Is Paul Bryant Jr. out of the legal woods? Maybe not. We have been hearing for months that Bryant might be among a number of individuals who are the focus of a wide-ranging, multi-state federal investigation. The subject of such an investigation remains unclear, but the latest reports indicate that Bryant could be connected to an IRS case involving former Alabama quarterback Ken Stabler.

Will the public ever learn about the ugly side of Paul Bryant Jr.'s business affairs? We are not holding our breath. A famous name and plenty of cash apparently have helped Bryant dodge the feds so far. That, we suspect, is unlikely to change.

If Bryant does wind up facing serious scrutiny, our guess is that the charges will pale in comparison to those he sidestepped in the 1990s. A somnolent press, and "friends in high places," helped Bryant escape the last time. Will that happen again?

Alabama Re Memorandum Opinion

Bush vs. Obama on Spending: It's No Contest

The No. 1 Republican talking point these days seems to be this: Profligate spending by President Barack Obama is the reason we face a debt-ceiling crisis.

Any rational, reasonably well informed citizen should know that is not true. But prominent GOPers still chant it like a mantra. God only knows how many otherwise sane Americans are starting to believe it.

That's why a chart in Monday's New York Times should be sent to every household in the US of A. It shows, in clear, indisputable numbers, that policy decisions by Republican president George W. Bush led to spending that dwarfs financial outlays under Obama. (See the chart at the end of this post.)

In fact, the cost of just the Bush tax cuts ($1.8 trillion) exceeds the costs of all spending under Obama ($1.4 trillion).

The final tally--$5.07 trillion of spending under Bush, $1.44 trillion under Obama. By the way, those figures for Obama are projections from 2009 to 2017. In other words, both presidents are being judged in eight-year time frames. And Bush "wins" the spending contest in a runaway.

If my math is correct, spending under Bush was more than three times greater than that under Obama. Yet we still get bilge like this from the blog of U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA): "President Obama Refuses To Acknowledge That His Out Of Control Spending Sparked A Debt Crisis."

In a piece titled "The Chart That Should Accompany All Discussions of the Debt Ceiling," James Fallows of The Atlantic explains why the Times' graphic handiwork is so important:

It's based on data from the Congressional Budget Office and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Its significance is not partisan (who's "to blame" for the deficit) but intellectual. It demonstrates the utter incoherence of being very concerned about a structural federal deficit but ruling out of consideration the policy that was the largest single contributor to that deficit, namely the Bush-era tax cuts.

The chart is titled "Policy Changes Under Two Presidents," and Fallows says it is called that for a reason:

An additional significance of the chart: It identifies policy changes, the things over which Congress and Administration have some control, as opposed to largely external shocks--like the repercussions of the 9/11 attacks or the deep worldwide recession following the 2008 financial crisis. Those external events make a big difference in the deficit, and they are the major reason why deficits have increased faster in absolute terms during Obama's first two years than during the last two under Bush. (In a recession, tax revenues plunge, and government spending goes up--partly because of automatic programs like unemployment insurance, and partly in a deliberate attempt to keep the recession from getting worse.) If you want, you could even put the spending for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in this category: Those were policy choices, but right or wrong they came in response to an external shock.

The point is that governments can respond to but not control external shocks. That's why we call them "shocks." Governments can control their policies. And the policy that did the most to magnify future deficits is the Bush-era tax cuts. You could argue that the stimulative effect of those cuts is worth it ("deficits don't matter" etc). But you cannot logically argue that we absolutely must reduce deficits, but that we absolutely must also preserve every penny of those tax cuts. Which I believe precisely describes the House Republican position.

In other words, the GOP of 2011 is utterly illogical. But large chunks of the America public still lap up Republican sound bites.

Want another example of GOP rhetoric and its disconnect from reality? Republicans often explain away Bush's spending by saying, "Yes, but he had to deal with wars in Iraq and Afghanistan." Never mind that it was Bush's policy to start those wars without raising taxes to pay for them. But even when you consider only "non-defense discretionary spending," Bush still tops Obama easily. The totals in that category: $608 billion for Bush, $278 billion for Obama.

Why do we have a debt-ceiling crisis? The answer is clear: George W. Bush probably was the most fiscally irresponsible president in American history.

What is the GOP's plan for addressing the crisis? To pretty much continue the policies of the president who got us in this mess in the first place.

Perhaps most alarming is this: Recent news reports indicate the whole debate is not about deficits, debts, ceilings, or even arithmetic. It's about politics. Consider this from an Associated Press report earlier this week:

Obama wants legislation that will raise the nation's debt limit by at least $2.4 trillion in one vote, enough to avoid a recurrence of the acrimonious current struggle until after the 2012 elections.

Republicans want a two-step process that would require a second vote in the midst of a campaign for control of the White House and both houses of Congress.

Translation: Obama wants to solve the problem in a relatively long-term fashion; Republicans want to make sure that the issue is alive, and the economy still sucks, when voters go to the polls in November 2012. The GOP, in essence, wants to make political hay out of your economic misery.

That's an evil, anti-American scheme that would have made Osama bin Laden proud.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Prostitutes, Strippers, and "Judges Gone Wild"

Albert S. "Pat" Murdoch

Judges can't seem to stay off police blotters these days. They are the ones who are supposed to uphold the law in our courtrooms?

The latest example comes from New Mexico, where a state judge  faces charges that he sexually assaulted a prostitute. District Judge Albert S. “Pat” Murdoch, 59, was arrested last week and charged with criminal sexual penetration and intimidation of a witness. He was released on a $50,000 bond overnight.

It's extremely unusual for an exalted member of the judiciary to face such charges, right? Well, not exactly. U.S. District Judge Jack Camp, of Atlanta, was arrested last October on drug and weapons charges related to his relationship with a stripper. The "honorable" Judge Camp was relieved of his law license and sentenced to 30 days (30 whole days!) in federal prison.

In fact, Georgia seems to be Ground Zero for "judges gone wild." We'll take a closer look at the Peach State in a moment. But first, what in the heck is going on out in New Mexico? Will Murdoch, another fine public servant, get off with a similar slap on his berobed wrist--much like the one Camp received? Well, it's too early to say. But Murdoch seems to be quite the rounder. From a report by MSNBC:

A criminal complaint said the prostitute told police that she had visited Murdoch approximately eight times in his home after he answered an online personals ad and exchanged money for sexual acts.

She said that the first time she met him, he said he wanted to perform oral sex on her but she refused. But Murdoch nonetheless “forced himself on her to perform the oral sex,” according to the complaint.

That might not be the most disturbing aspect of Murdoch's behavior. Consider this:

She later videotaped another encounter with the judge where he again performed oral sex on her against her will, it said.

It said she did so after she began posing hypothetical situations regarding a woman making allegations against him and he responded that ". . . he would use the police and his connections to take care of the situation," according to the complaint.

Not only did "his honor" abuse a woman, he planned to abuse the justice system, as well. He probably would have gotten away with it if his victim had not produced her own version of "sex, lies, and videotape."

What about the wacky judges of Georgia? They have been so bad that The Wall Street Journal spotlighted them last August. Consider some of the extracurricular activities of judges in Georgia:

* One sent a message over Facebook to a criminal defendant, saying he’d give her behind-the-scenes advice on her case.

* One was caught having sex in a parked car with the public defender assigned to his courtroom.

* Another inappropriately touched a prosecutor and investigator after they sat in his lap posing for a photo.

How bad has it gotten in Georgia?

The Judicial Qualifications Commission, the Georgia agency that investigates judges, has given its investigator Richard Hyde, a former Atlanta police detective, the authority to confront judges with investigative findings and to negotiate a quick resignation, according to the AJC.

Hyde “is traveling around the state collecting scalps,” one Georgia lawyer said. Hyde declined comment.

Georgia judge Frank Mills III said judges in the state have noticed the recent resignations. “I think we’re all bewildered by it,” he said. “But most of these cases are not similar, so it’s hard to say there’s any trend.”

If you aren't a member of the legal fraternity, it's not hard to see a trend. A frightening number of judges are slime balls and criminals--on and off the bench. The problem hardly is limited to Georgia and a few isolated cases in other states. It's a nationwide issue, one that affects both state and federal courts.

As someone who has witnessed the corrupt official acts of multiple state and federal judges in Alabama, I am not at all surprised by these stories out of New Mexico and Georgia. And the kind of judicial arrogance that Murdoch displayed, thinking he could game the system to cover up his crimes, rings loud and true to me. My guess is that Murdoch made an untold number of unlawful rulings over the years against parties before him--and got away with it time after time. It took a prostitute, with the presence of mind to obtain irrefutable evidence, to bring him down for his outside-the-courtroom behavior.

Judge Murdoch, of course, is innocent until proven guilty. But he appears to have stepped in doo-doo that will not easily wash away.

Is there a lesson in this for the public? If judges are allowed to commit brazenly unlawful acts on the bench--and no one holds them accountable--we should not be surprised when they prove to be slime balls after the robes come off.

Here is a report about the Murdoch case from Albuquerque television station KOB4:

Monday, July 25, 2011

Why Is Karl Rove Planning to Visit the Backwoods of Alabama?

Enterprise, Alabama

Karl Rove will visit Alabama to give a speech in August. Nothing surprising about that. Rove made his national name in Alabama by joining with Bill Canary and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to essentially buy state-court seats for "pro business" judges.

Rove visits our fair state regularly, usually in one of the prime population centers--Birmingham, Montgomery, Mobile, or Huntsville. In August, however, the former White House strategist and current Fox News and Wall Street Journal contributor will visit a relative backwater. The location of Rove's upcoming speech should raise eyebrows for anyone who has followed the Don Siegelman case.

"An Evening With Karl Rove" will be August 18 at the civic center in Enterprise, Alabama. Sounds enticing, doesn't it? The evening begins with a reception at 5:30 and dinner at 6:30, followed by remarks from Rove. For those who can't wait, ticket information is available at (334) 494-2427 and RSVPs must be received by August 8.

Enterprise, to be sure, is a bit off the beaten path. A town of about 26,000 hardy souls, it is in Coffee County in southeast Alabama, just above the Florida line.

Why would one of the biggest names in Republican politics pay a visit to such an out-of-the-way place? Perhaps we should note that the event is sponsored by the Coffee County Republican Committee and follow up with these questions: Who used to be Coffee County's representative on the GOP's executive committee? Who used to be the elected district attorney for Coffee County before moving on to greener pastures during the George W. Bush administration?

The answer to both of those questions is Mark Fuller, now chief U.S. judge for the Middle District of Alabama. Fuller has served in that position since Bush appointed him in 2002--while Rove served as chief White House adviser.

And for what is Mark Fuller best known? Why, he was the judge who handled the case against former Democratic governor Don Siegelman, perhaps the most notorious political prosecution in American history. According to the sworn testimony of Alabama whistleblower and attorney Jill Simpson, that case was driven by GOP political operatives in Alabama, with assistance from Rove in Washington, D.C.

Why, exactly, is Karl Rove coming to Enterprise, Alabama? The answer is not clear at the moment. But to a reasonable observer, it looks like payback to a corrupt federal judge who helped make sure that Republicans would take over the governor's office for the foreseeable future.

NASCAR Pastor Thanks God for his "Smokin' Hot Wife"--Among Other Things

Pastor Joe Nelms

Here at Legal Schnauzer, we are not big fans of auto racing, and we tend to seek spiritual nourishment away from the Baptist church. But Joe Nelms, pastor of Family Baptist Church in Nashville, gave the pre-race invocation at a NASCAR event Saturday night and proved that he is our kind of guy.

Heck, I'd almost like to drive three hours north to Nashville and hear Pastor Joe preach some Sunday morning. Nelms brought a touch of light-hearted irreverence to a usually reverent moment. Let's hope the Big Guy has a sense of humor, because this is one pastor who knows how to have fun.

Before the drivers revved up their engines, Nelms brought down the house at the Nationwide Federated Autoparts 300. He thanked the Almighty for:

* "The mighty machines you brought before us" and "all the Dodges, Toyotas, and the Fords"

* "GM performance technology"

* "Sunoco racing fuel"

* "Goodyear tires that bring performance and power to the track"

* "My smokin' hot wife"

Social-media sites already are calling it "the best prayer ever." Nelms apparently was inspired by the Will Ferrell flick Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, which has its roots firmly planted in Alabama. Pastor Joe closed his prayer with a classic line from NASCAR Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip . . . "in Jesus' name, boogity, boogity, boogity, Amen."

NASCAR drivers loved it. Wrote The Nashville Tennessean:

Race winner Carl Edwards appreciated the humor that came with Nelms’ prayer.

“I turned to Jack (Roush) after that. I said, ‘If anything happens, I want him to be at my funeral.’"

You can check out Pastor Joe's invocation below. I agree with Carl Edwards--who, like yours truly, is a native Missourian, by the way--I want this guy at my funeral:

Thursday, July 21, 2011

FBI Investigation of Mississippi Choctaw Gaming Has Ties to Atlanta

Doug Pattison, of Mercury Gaming

An FBI investigation of Mississippi Choctaw gaming facilities involves the tribe's ties to two Atlanta companies.

Mercury Gaming Group and its marketing arm, the Titan Agency, are a focus of the investigation, according to a new report from the Jackson Clarion-Ledger. Federal authorities raided the Silver Star and Grand Moon casinos near Philadelphia, Mississippi, last Tuesday.

The raid has drawn strong interest in Alabama, largely because of reports that the Choctaws spent some $13 million, funneled through GOP felon Jack Abramoff, to help Republican Bob Riley get elected governor in 2002. Riley's apparent desire to protect the Choctaws' market share by keeping gaming out of Alabama helped spark a federal electronic-bingo prosecution that is ongoing in Montgomery.

It remains unknown if the FBI investigation will focus on Bush-era political prosecutions and election irregularities in the Deep South. But it is known that the Titan Agency is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, meaning the company started in 2001, at the outset of the George W. Bush administration. Titan apparently is thriving, as it recently announced a planned move to an office complex in the upscale Buckhead area.

Miko Beasley Denson, chief of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, revealed the FBI's interest in the Atlanta companies. Reports the Clarion-Ledger:

Denson, in a contentious battle to win re-election as chief of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, spoke publicly for the first time about the ongoing investigation in which dozens of FBI agents descended on the casinos at Pearl River Resort, taking documents and hard drives.

Denson told The Clarion-Ledger the FBI's search warrant mentioned Atlanta-based Mercury Gaming Group and its marketing arm, the Titan Agency, but said he has no idea what the investigation is examining.

Mercury manages the Choctaws' Pearl River Resort in Philadelphia and Bok Homa casino in Jones County. The tribe pays Mercury CEO Doug Pattison more than $2.4 million a year and has inked multimillion-dollar marketing deals with the firm.

How did the Choctaws' ties to Mercury/Titan get the FBI's attention?

The FBI investigation is exploring the relationship between the tribe and Pattison. On Mercury's website, Pattison takes credit for growing revenues as CEO of the Silver Star Casino to more than $250 million.

Denson said Paul Harvey is the current CEO. Neither Harvey nor Pattison could be reached Tuesday for comment.

"It's untimely," Denson, 61, said of the probe. "A business has to go through difficult situations. We're no different than any other business. We maintain a good operation."

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Suicide Finding in the Major Bashinsky Case Springs Multiple Leaks

The scene of Major Bashinsky's death

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

We have reported on two issues that raise serious questions about the suicide finding in the March 2010 death of prominent Alabama attorney Major Bashinsky. After a full review of the medical examiner's report, we have even more questions about a manner-of-death finding that never seemed to add up from the outset.

The Bashinsky case is particularly compelling because it was the first of what has become a string of mysterious suicides in Alabama.

Did Major Bashinsky kill himself? We find it unlikely. Should the public focus on events surrounding a lawsuit brought by individuals connected to the Bashinsky family against a Birmingham investment firm with ties to Alabama Republican politics and the gaming industry? The answer, in our mind, is yes. Has law enforcement in Alabama shown any inclination to look beyond the original finding of suicide? The answer is no, and that is disturbing considering the numerous oddities found in the medical examiner's report.

We already have discussed two such oddities: (1) The ME's report presents no forensic evidence to support a finding of suicide. The clear language of the report indicates that the finding is based entirely on the work of law-enforcement investigators, but there is no science to back that up; (2) The gun tied to the Bashinsky shooting is a Belgian model from the World War II era (and earlier) that now is considered a collector's item. That seems to be a strange choice of a weapon for someone planning to shoot himself, and the report does not state conclusively that the gun found was the one used to shoot Major Bashinsky in the head.

Let's ponder a few more oddities that we've discovered after reviewing the entire ME's report. You can read the entire autopsy report at the end of this post:

* An absence of stippling--Stippling is a pattern of abrasions around an entrance wound and is a key factor in determining the range of fire. Here is a description from an article titled "Practical Pathology of Gunshot Wounds":

The principle indicator of close range fire is stippling, that is, a pattern of tiny, punctuate abrasions in the skin surrounding the entrance wound . . . .  Stippling is caused by unburned particles of gunpowder striking the skin. In contrast to other substances that may be deposited on the skin, such as soot, stippling cannot be washed away. The presence of stippling indicates that the muzzle of the gun was within 2 feet of the victim’s body when it was discharged.

The article goes on to state: "Contact range wounds are commonly seen in suicidal firearm injuries."

Major Bashinsky's body was found in a golf-course water hazard, but we now know that stippling cannot be washed away. We also know that firearm suicides almost always are at close range, even contact range. That means stippling certainly should have been present if Major Bashinsky shot himself. But on page 5, the ME's report states:

Obvious gunpowder residue is observed within the wound along the soft tissue extending to the skull. Additionally, there is a small amount of gunpowder residue noted on the outer table of bone adjacent to the entrance defect on the skull. The gunshot wound does not have stippling.

The absence of stippling means the shot was from a distance of more than two feet. Why would someone shoot themselves in the head from a distance of more than two feet? Is that even possible for most people?

In the case summary of the Bashinsky autopsy, the report states "the decedent had a perforating contact gunshot wound of the head with resultant skull fractures and perforation of the brain as described." If that was the case, why was there no stippling? The ME seems to be contradicting himself here.

* A left-to-right shooting--The ME's report makes it clear that the bullet that killed Major Bashinsky traveled on a left-to-right path. From page 6 of the report:

The course of the gunshot wound is left to right, with an approximate 10-degree deviation upward and no significant anterior/posterior deviation.

Sloan Bashinsky Jr., Major's brother who lives in Key West, Florida, has written on his blog that Major was right-handed. (Sloan also has written that he accepts the suicide finding.)

Are we to believe that Major Bashinsky, who was right handed, used his left hand to shoot himself in the head, with the gun at a distance of more than two feet? That might not be physically impossible, but it sure seems unlikely.

* A matter of duct tape--It has been widely reported that duct tape was found around Bashinsky's mouth. But the ME's report states that the taping job was more substantial than has been reported. From page 4 of the report:

Around the decedent's mouth and lower face is grey duct tap which has been wrapped completely around the head approximately 3-4 times. The edges of the duct tape grossly appear to have been "cleanly" cut.

Major Bashinsky wrapped his own head completely with duct tape, going around three or four times? He did this while making "clean" cuts on the tape. And since he must have been alone during a suicide, he did all of this while standing in a pond--or he did it on the edge of the pond while walking into the water? Again, that might not be physically impossible, but it sure seems unlikely.

* What about footwear?--The law-enforcement version of events has Bashinsky parking his car in the Five Points South shopping district and walking to the Highland Park Golf Course, where his body was found. I've made that same general walk a number of times, and I'm guessing it's about 15 to 20 blocks, about 2.5 to 3 miles. It's a pleasant walk, but it's a pretty good hike, and you certainly would want to be wearing comfortable footwear.

The ME report, on page 2, says Bashinsky was wearing "a pair of loafer type shoes. . . . They are two toned with a black and brown appearance but are otherwise unremarkable."

The report goes into excruciating detail about every aspect of Bashinsky's clothing. But it makes no mention of socks. Was he not wearing socks? That's how it appears.

Would someone planning to walk a pretty good distance to shoot himself in the head, do it by wearing loafers with no socks? That's certainly a strange choice in footwear for the occasion.

* Signing and dating the autopsy report--The suicide finding in the Bashinsky case was announced on March 24, 2010. But the two individuals who made the findings--Dr. Gary T. Simmons and Dr. Diane C. Peterson, of the UAB Department of Pathology--did not sign the report until March 30, 2010. Why the difference of six days? Were the findings even official at the time they were made public?

What about the lawsuit that might shine light on Major Bashinsky's death? Here is how we described the circumstances surrounding the lawsuit in an earlier post:

Major Bashinsky was the son of the late Sloan Bashinsky Sr., the man behind Golden Flake snack foods and one of the best known entrepreneurs in Alabama history. The Estate of Sloan Bashinsky was engaged in a lawsuit with W&H Investments, a Birmingham firm with which the elder Bashinsky had invested some $37 million, mostly in oil wells and other energy-related ventures.

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

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

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

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

The death of Major Bashinsky is filled with questions and oddities, and we will address more of them in future posts. For now, here is the full medical examiner's report.

(To be continued)

Bashinsky Autopsy

Reagan Would Chastise Republicans for their Stance on Debt Ceiling

Who would side with Democrats in the ongoing debate about the debt ceiling? Well, the No. 1 Republican icon himself, Ronald Reagan.

Democrats have unearthed audio from a Reagan radio address on September 26, 1987, in which he addresses a possible default on the government's financial obligations. Here is a key segment:

Congress consistently brings the Government to the edge of default before facing its responsibility. This brinkmanship threatens the holders of government bonds and those who rely on Social Security and veterans benefits. Interest rates would skyrocket, instability would occur in financial markets, and the Federal deficit would soar. The United States has a special responsibility to itself and the world to meet its obligations. It means we have a well-earned reputation for reliability and credibility – two things that set us apart from much of the world.

The Web site provides insight on Reagan and what has become of the party that frequently invokes his name:

It is not a surprise that Ronald Reagan held a similar position as today’s Democrats on the debt ceiling issue. After all, this is a president that raised taxes 11 times during his time in the White House. Trickle down economics depended on deficit spending in order to both be able to cut taxes and increase spending. If Ronald Reagan was alive today, he would be hated by the tea party.

Michele Bachmann and her tea party caucus love to invoke Reagan, but they would have despised him for his willingness to raise the debt ceiling.

Reagan's statement on the debt ceiling was not a one-time event. Here are the contents of a letter he wrote in 1983 to Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker:

This country now possesses the strongest credit in the world. The full consequences of a default--or even the serious prospect of default--by the United States are impossible to predict and awesome to contemplate. Denigration of the full faith and credit of the United States would have substantial effects on the domestic financial markets and on the value of the dollar in exchange markets. The nation can ill afford to allow such a result.

What are we facing in 2011? We have a Republican Party that has become so dysfunctional that it is way to the right of Ronald Reagan. In fact, the modern-day GOP is so far out there that Reagan probably would not recognize his own party. Writes politicususa:

Once again the right wing myth of Ronald Reagan does not match up with his actual record. Besides raising taxes, Reagan tripled the deficit and granted amnesty to 3 million undocumented immigrants and their families.

Ronald Reagan’s position on the debt ceiling illustrates how far right the Republican Party has drifted. In his day, Reagan was considered a far right conservative. Today, Ronald Reagan would be viewed as a moderate Republican or a very conservative Democrat.

Here is audio from the Reagan radio address:

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Shooting Death Puts New "Castle Doctrine" Law to an Early Test

A man was shot and killed last week while trying to forcibly enter a southwestern Pennsylvania home, putting the state's new "Castle Doctrine" law to an early test.

A 32-year-old New Mexico man was killed by a single gunshot wound to the chest while trying to enter the home near Washington, PA, during an apparent domestic dispute. The shooting came less than two weeks after Gov. Tom Corbett signed a Castle Doctrine law that expands an individual's right to use deadly force inside or outside a dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle.

This issue hits close to home here at Legal Schnauzer because our 10-year legal battle started when a thug with an extensive criminal record moved in next door and started trampling on our property rights. Given my experience, you might think I would support Castle Doctrine Laws. But I don't think introducing a gun into the equation would have been the right way to handle our problem. And I'm not sold on the Castle Doctrine in general, especially when you consider that the National Rifle Association (NRA) tends to push for it.

A general rule of thumb that I've come to live by: If the NRA is for it, I should be against it.

Many Americans probably have read about cases where a homeowner used force against an intruder only to then be sued for damages by the intruder. Such cases, indeed, sound nutty, and I suspect they are driving the Castle Doctrine. Here is a summary of the new Pennsylvania law:

Introduced by state Representative Scott Perry (R-92), HB 40 would permit law-abiding citizens to use force, including deadly force, against an attacker in their home and any place outside of their home where they have a legal right to be. If enacted into law, it would also protect individuals from civil lawsuits by the attacker or the attacker’s family when force is used.

What else does the Pennsylvania law accomplish? An article titled "More Protection or More Violence?" from the Allentown Morning Call provides insight:

Pennsylvania's age-old law giving residents the right to defend themselves inside their homes soon will extend past the front door to the porch, driveway and beyond. That much is clear.

What remains to be seen is whether the bill, expanding the so-called Castle Doctrine — as in your home is your castle — will lead to shootouts on Pennsylvania streets. . . .

The bill, passed Monday on a 45-5 vote in the state Senate, eliminates a person's duty to flee when confronted by an attacker with a deadly weapon, whether it's a gun, a knife or a baseball bat.

Instead, it gives victims of an attack the right to respond with deadly force if they believe they are in imminent danger of death, serious bodily harm, kidnapping or sexual assault.

Supporters say the law merely "levels the playing field" for well-armed, law-abiding citizens who might come face to face with thugs. Opponents, however, say it is not that simple:

Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski said he worries the law could bring a spike in gun violence to Pennsylvania's densely populated cities.

"This is going to open us up to scenarios we haven't even imagined," he said.

"Say I'm a carpenter and I look threatening to someone. I have a hammer in my hand. Does that allow them to shoot me?" Pawlowski wondered.

Max Nacheman, of the gun violence prevention group CeaseFirePA, said the law could lead to people killing each other over parking spaces at the supermarket, or escalate road rage to shootings.

"In a civilized regular modern society, that shouldn't be the case," he said.

As for me, I clearly believe in the right to protect your property--both inside the house and in the yard. But I'm concerned that the Pennsylvania law will give some folks the idea that a gun is the logical first choice to help resolve most property-related disputes. As someone who has a lot of first-hand experience with unlawful intrusions, I'm not sure that's a good idea.

As big a thug as my neighbor is, he never showed signs of threatening me physically on my property. (He did later commit a felony assault by hitting me in the back with a roadside sign, but that took place near the entrance to our neighborhood.) When the neighbor's intrusions continued, I notified authorities and tried to resolve the matter through the legal process. My wife and I wound up in a 10-year legal nightmare because incompetent law-enforcement officers, and corrupt judges and lawyers, did not do their jobs.

Do I wish now that I had confronted my neighbor with a gun early on? No, I do not. The situation didn't call for anything like that, and I'm concerned about laws that give the impression that guns should be the "solution of choice" for property-related problems.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Did One GOP Thug Reveal Too Much About Himself In a Recent Threat?

Bob Riley

Early on in the blogging game I realized that if you are going to present real journalism about legal and political corruption, you had better be prepared to receive threats.

Corrupt individuals and their allies don't much like it when you unmask them--or come close to unmasking them. So they resort to making threats, sent anonymously via e-mail or blog comments.

I've had messages that could be interpreted as physical threats. I had messages regarding my job, just a month or so before I was unlawfully fired at the  University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). I've even had numerous ugly messages regarding Murphy, the late beloved miniature schnauzer for whom this blog is named. In my book, it's hard to go much lower than that.

But one of the more intriguing threats I've received came a few days ago, in response to a post about former Governor Bob Riley and his motorcycle crash in Alaska. This threat is curious because the sender left so many clues about his identity that he might as well have signed his name to it. And the message indicates that, as I've suspected all along, this individual and his allies are responsible for me being screwed out of my job at UAB--and probably for my wife being cheated out of her job at Infinity Property and Casualty.

I've received so many ugly messages that one has to be pretty "out there" to even get my attention these days. In fact, threats have become so commonplace around here that I've written a number of posts about them. Here are just a few posts on the subject:

Unmasking Right-Wing Sickos (July 20, 2008)

Report on Anti-Obama E-Mail Generates Threats (February 18, 2009)

Threats Are a Common Tactic for Alabama GOP (November 30, 2009)

Is Alabama Being Run by a Bunch of Sociopaths (January 26, 2010)

I Know How Wisconsin Professor Feels as a Target of GOP Thugs (March 28, 2011)

How did the most recent threat jump out in that crowd? First, the sender seemed to take offense because I was not all broken up about Bob Riley's motorcycle crash--and I had noted that Riley used his venture to Alaska as an excuse to get out of testifying in the Alabama bingo trial. Second, the sender used some curious language. Here is what he said:

Anonymous said...
It is beyond any sense of humanity to write such a pathetic article. But you did get one thing right: PAYBACK IS HELL ....and yours is a "fait accompli".
June 28, 2011 2:43 PM

Note the use of classic sociopathic language. The sender takes me to task for lacking a "sense of humanity," then he proceeds to show that his own sense of humanity involves extracting "payback" on people who displease him. He doesn't say that my payback will be hell, he says it's a "fait accompli."

What an interesting choice of words. "Fait accompli" is a French term meaning "an accomplished, presumably irreversible deed or fact." In essence, it's a "done deal."

The use of this phrase indicates My Correspondent (MC) is fairly educated, especially since he spelled it correctly. It's the kind of term that someone in a certain profession, perhaps the law, might use. In fact, a source knows of a specific lawyer,  a regular villain in our Legal Schnauzer story, who uses this phrase quite often.

Given MC's ire over a post about Bob Riley, it appears that he is someone close to the former governor, perhaps someone very close, with a legal background. Hmmm.

And note that MC is not just threatening me with some future harm--the action already has been taken, it's a "done deal." Kind of sounds like someone is admitting to getting me fired at UAB, doesn't it?

MC, it seems, is a slippery sort. We've seen signs that he took several steps in an effort to digitally disguise himself. But he failed. And that reminds me of two things I've learned in recent years about elitist scumbags--the very people who tend to drive legal corruption in the US of A:

(1) They almost always think that regular folks are too stupid to figure out their scams;

(2) They almost always think that regular folks are too decent and kind--or intimidated--to strike back.

MC might be surprised at the things I've come to know about him. He also might be surprised at my capability for striking back.

Here's another thing I've learned about elitist thugs: They aren't always so smart about picking their targets.   MC should be having second thoughts about having messed with this target.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Legal Schnauzer Reaches a Blogging Milestone

We try not to spend much time tooting our own horn around here, but our little blog passed a milestone the other day that might be worth noting.

On June 16, Legal Schnauzer had its 1 millionth page view. What does that mean? I'm hardly an expert on blog analytics, so I really don't know. But it does seem to say that you can start a serious blog about legal and judicial corruption--a fairly complex, decidedly unsexy topic--and still attract an audience.

That wasn't a given when I started this blog on June 3, 2007, with a post titled "Is 'Your Honor' Really Honorable?" At the time, I wasn't sure if anyone other than me and Mrs. Schnauzer would read it. And I still don't know that having 1 million page views over four years time--if my math is correct, we are averaging about 250,000 page views a year--is particularly special in the blogging world.

I'm sure there are thousands of blogs with audiences that dwarf ours. Heck, some porn sites probably get 1 million page views in a couple of hours' time. But it has been gratifying to learn that a fair number of people are interested in a profoundly important subject--the befouling of our courts.

For the record, we actually passed 1 million page views several months ago. I did not start keeping statistics on the blog right off the bat. If my memory is correct, four to six months went by before I signed up with a stat service. I didn't know such services existed when I started Legal Schnauzer, which shows how clueless I was "in the early days." (By the way, our "unique visitors" recently passed 700,000;  guess it will take awhile to hit 1 million on that.)

Given that this is a one-man operation--with large doses of inspiration and constructive criticism from Mrs. Schnauzer--I'm pretty pleased that the words "Legal Schnauzer" have come to mean something in the blogosphere. We don't have a massive audience, but at the risk of sounding like an uber purist, I didn't set out to have a massive audience.

What did I set out to do? More than anything else, I wanted to accomplish these two things: (1) To call attention to the problem of corruption in our justice system, an issue that is mostly ignored in the mainstream press; (2) To write about legal corruption in a way that I didn't think was being presented anywhere else on the Web.

Are there other blogs out there like Legal Schnauzer? A blog called Lawless America, by a Georgia man named William M. Windsor, might be the closest comparator that I'm aware of.  I've been impressed with Windsor's work, and I would encourage Schnauzer readers to check out his site.

Here are a few attributes that, I think, make our blog unusual, if not unique:

* We report on both our personal legal experiences and the experiences of other people;

* We report about people who are well known (Don Siegelman, Paul Minor) and folks who are not well known (Sherry Carroll Rollins, Angela Turner Drees). Some of our reports are local in nature; some have national and international implications;

* We report on civil cases and criminal cases and have developed a special interest in domestic-relations cases, focusing on ways the "justice system" abuses parents and children;

* We report on cases from my home state (Alabama), my region (the South), and around the country;

* We don't just tell readers that we think a judge or lawyer acted improperly. We show you how they acted improperly, or unlawfully, and back it up with citations to relevant law.

That last one might be the single most important feature of this blog. I certainly share my opinions on these digital pages, but most of our posts are based on facts and real law, supported by public documents, codes, statutes, case law, etc. I'm not an attorney, so I don't pretend to be a "know it all" about the law. But I never write a post without making a serious effort to understand the relevant law. In some cases, thoughtful readers have let me know when my research was off the mark or did not go deeply enough, in the right direction. In those cases, I've adjusted my reporting accordingly.

My background is in journalism, and I knew that credibility would be crucial if this blog was going to have an impact. That's why I've posted under my real name, from day one. And it's why I frequently link to real case law and use Scribd (a wonderful tool) to publish documents from real court cases. I did not want this blog to be a theoretical exercise; I wanted it to cut close to the bone--to show what can happen to people in court and give a sense for how it feels to be victimized.

That approach has come with a price. If I had chosen to write under a fake name, Mrs. Schnauzer and I still would have our jobs. If I had used my real name, but focused only on my opinion about various subjects, we probably would still have our jobs. If I had used my real name, but been way off base on my factual assertions, we might still have our jobs. After all, I've come to realize that folks in power don't worry much about opinions or reporting that isn't solidly based in facts. But if you focus on genuine reporting that is on target--and you do it under your own name--that makes powerful folks uncomfortable. And that can make you a target.

Do I have second thoughts about starting the blog, or the approach we have taken? No, I don't. I knew I could not live with myself if I just "let it go" on the cheat job Mrs. Schnauzer and I experienced in the courts of Shelby County, Alabama, where we live. And when I researched the Don Siegelman and Paul Minor cases, and came to understand what had been done to them, I knew I could not stay silent about that, either.

As for my approach, I think it was the only way to go. Anonymous blogging might work on some subjects, but I don't think it would have been appropriate for Legal Schnauzer. To have credibility, on a serious topic, I had to put myself out there. Four years and 1 million page views later, our reporting is still out there. And I hope, in time, we can help get our justice system back on track.

Perhaps now is a good time to address some of the most common questions I'm asked:

* How much money do you make off Legal Schnauzer? This one always makes me smile. The answer is zero. Given that Mrs. Schnauzer and I both have become unemployed because of certain posts herein, I might have lost more money on blogging than any other human. I've had a number of folks encourage me to run ads, and I've had quite a few inquiries from folks wanting to run ads, but I've decided against it. This never was meant as a commercial venture, and I want it to stay that way.

* What is the readership of Legal Schnauzer? I'm not aware of a tool that provides accurate readership information for blogs. (Here is a post that addresses some of the challenges involved.) The last time I checked Technorati, we had authority of 404 and a rank of 8,370, although I have no idea what that means--in terms of readership, or anything else. I can say that much of our work is either cross posted or picked up at several national Web sites--Daily Kos, OpEd News, BuzzFlash, FireDogLake, and Open Salon--and I'm pretty sure those sites have readership that is many times what ours is at Legal Schnauzer. Daily Kos, for example, generally ranks in the top 25 to 50 blogs on the planet. OpEd News has been in the top 100 several times. All readers at those sites, of course, do not read my contributions, but the same holds true for individual articles in newspapers. Here's a shot at some math, mixed with considerable guesswork: If you split the difference between our 1 million page views and 700,000 unique visitors, you have 850,000--and we could call those "significant reading experiences" (SRE) at Legal Schnauzer. I think it's safe to say that figure has been multiplied quite a few times from exposure at the aforementioned national sites. Does that mean we've had 5 million SREs? Probably. Have we had 10 million SREs? Maybe. Just how many readers have we reached? I don't know, but I'm thankful for every one of them.

* Aren't you afraid of being sued? I've been asked that a lot, and people usually are referring to someone getting pissed off and suing me for defamation, for portraying them in a false light and damaging their reputation. Am I worried about such a lawsuit? I don't spend much time thinking about it. For one, truth is an absolute defense against a defamation claim, and I have the documents to prove that my reporting has been factual. Two, anyone who tries to sue me knows their efforts are going to be reported here, in real time, and they probably aren't real comfortable with that prospect. Three, regular readers know I can represent myself in court, and anyone who files a bogus lawsuit against me is going to promptly get hit with a countersuit and a motion for sanctions. Four, you can get sued in America for not brushing your teeth, if it offends someone, so why worry about lawsuits?

* What impact does Legal Schnauzer have? Well, it's been cited in Congress. How many blogs can say that? My work has been cited by, or I've aided the reporting of, The New York Times, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Harper's, Yahoo News, Huffington Post, Raw Story, and TPM Muckraker. My work has been picked up in Sweden, and we have quite a few readers from Europe, especially when we write about the WikiLeaks case. I suspect my work has provided background for reporters at any number of other news outlets--and I certainly welcome that, whether I get credit or not. I'm proud to have formed an alliance with Andrew Kreig, an attorney and journalist who is director of the Justice Integrity Project, based in Washington, D.C. I've appeared on national radio programs, such as the Peter B. Collins Show, the Thom Hartmann Show, and the Jeff Farias Show. More importantly, I sense that our blog has helped give a number of individuals an enhanced chance to achieve justice in our court system. That's where the proverbial rubber meets the road. Finally, I am grateful that this blog has helped me cross paths with some truly brave individuals, such as Alabama whistleblowers Jill Simpson and Tamarah Grimes. They care about getting our justice system back on track, and they know what it means to pay a price for speaking truth to power.

* Who reads Legal Schnauzer? If I had to point to one thing that makes me most proud about the blog, this would be it. Our numbers might not be huge, but blog stats tell me that the "quality" of our audience is pretty stout, certainly intriguing. We get loads of readers from colleges, universities, and government agencies. Many come from law firms, and we have about a dozen Alabama law firms that read us almost every day. We get regular visits from the U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives, the U.S. Department of Justice (hmmm), (double hmmm), and numerous media outlets. Perhaps most interesting is this: We've had at least four visits from "Executive Office of the President," in Washington, D.C. All of those have come since Barack Obama was elected. Does that mean that "Barry" himself is reading Legal Schnauzer while he tries to figure out what to do in Libya? I doubt it. Might well be a janitor who likes to kill time at our site. Or maybe Bo, the first family dog, likes the name of our blog and has learned how to find us by bouncing on a keyboard just so. Bottom line? We are thankful for all of our readers--in places both high and low.

* What's it like to practice real journalism in the blogosphere? That's a profound question. When our legal headaches started roughly 10 years ago, I had never heard of a blog; I'm not sure they existed then. If the mainstream media wasn't interested in your story--and they almost never are interested in court-related corruption--you had pretty much no way to reach the public. Blogs and social media have changed that--in dramatic fashion. In a sense, blogs are the great equalizer. They give the common person a method for fighting back against wrongdoers. And your reporting is particularly compelling when you can support it with facts--audio, video, court documents--as I have done on Legal Schnauzer.

Practicing real journalism in the blogosphere is never boring. From checking public documents, I have discovered information that literally made my jaw drop. We already have reported on such documents, with much more to come. Ironically, I never would have had time to find such information if someone had not cheated me out of my job. (Lesson No. 1 for bad guys: If a blogger is getting your goat, don't cost him his job; that will only give him time to get your goat even more.)

We mentioned the threat of lawsuits earlier, and I had an experience with that just the other evening. I was trying to interview a gentleman regarding one of our major storylines here at Legal Schnauzer--a subject I've already covered in several posts, with many more to come--and he obviously was not delighted to hear from me. He claimed he had a policy of not granting interviews to "bloggers''--never mind that I have 30-plus years of experience as a professional journalist--and tried to shrug me off on his PR guy. I reminded him that these were serious issues--that public documents indicate he brought a court case in Alabama that was handled in a grossly unlawful fashion, with him reaping significant benefits--and they did not involve his PR guy. He said he had to "rely on lawyers" and hinted that he couldn't help it if the other party got screwed in his case. That seemed to be an appropriate time to note that the other party had suffered in other ways, so I asked about allegations that he had engaged in acts of domestic violence. The fellow stated that I could face "certain liabilities" for publishing information that isn't factual. In other words, he was threatening me with a lawsuit.

The information I have, of course, is factual--and I can prove it. I suspect the gentleman knows that because he claimed to have dinner guests who required his immediate attention. I asked if the fellow could take my phone number and call me back when his dinner was over. He indicated that he would get back with me the next day, but I haven't heard from him.

Will the threat of a lawsuit keep me from reporting on this story? No, it will not. Will Legal Schnauzer readers be learning much more about this fellow and his abusive use of the Alabama court system? To borrow a phrase from Sarah Palin, "You betcha!"

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Why Did the FBI Launch a Raid on Mississippi Choctaw Gaming Facilities?

Silver Star Casino

Two days have passed since federal authorities launched an investigation at Mississippi Choctaw casinos, and we still don't know what prompted the action.

When news broke on Tuesday afternoon of an FBI raid at the Silver Star and Golden Moon casinos, many Alabamians wondered if it was driven by the political ugliness that has engulfed our state since George W. Bush entered the White House. After all, news reports indicate that Mississippi Choctaws spent $13 million, funneled through Republican felon Jack Abramoff, to help get Bob Riley elected governor in 2002. And Riley's apparent desire to protect the Choctaws market share, by stamping out gaming in Alabama, led to a federal electronic-bingo prosecution that is ongoing in Montgomery.

If Tuesday's raid has anything to do with Riley, Abramoff, and perhaps the Bush administration (hello, Karl Rove!), it would be a major national story. But so far, we have no indication that such weighty issues are driving the investigation. If they are, that would mean the Obama Department of Justice actually has its head out of you know where--and we've seen no sign that Eric Holder and Co. are up to the task of investigating and prosecuting Bush-era crimes.

With that in mind, our guess is that the raid was driven by relatively minor issues, perhaps intratribal skulduggery. A few details about the raid are emerging, and while no one has placed a finger on the focus of the investigation, some reports have dropped serious hints.

Articles in the Jackson Clarion Ledger and Neshoba Democrat hinted that the raid has something to do with a recent, hotly contested tribal election. From the Neshoba Democrat article:

A search warrant executed by the FBI at Pearl River Resort on Tuesday could be related to election fraud, multiple sources told The Neshoba Democrat.

A Jackson Clarion-Ledger article also addressed possible election issues. Curiously, the article quotes Birmingham lawyer G. Douglas Jones, a former U.S. attorney who has strong ties to Rob Riley, Governor Riley's son:

Phyliss J. Anderson would have taken office Tuesday, but the Tribal Council voted Friday to throw out that election and hold a new one Sept. 6. Salary for the job is $466,000 a year.

Current chief, Beasley Denson, who lost to Anderson, last week cast the deciding vote in favor of a new election. . . .

During the hotly contested election, Anderson publicly called for an audit on the casinos and transparency in the tribe's spending. Choctaw tribe members each receive $500 every six months.

Various news reports have indicated that some 40 FBI agents participated in the raid, and they focused on computer hard drives, financial records, and phone records. I'm hardly an expert on Choctaw ways, but that doesn't sound like an investigation of election issues; it sounds like money is the focus. An Internet search indicates the Choctaw tribal headquarters are at 101 Industrial Road in Choctaw, MS. Wouldn't that have been the site of an election-related investigation?

A more likely focus, to our ears, is provided by a report last night from television station WLBT in Jackson. From the report by Cheryl Lasseter:

WLBT has learned the raid was likely related to a relationship between Miko Beasley Denson and Mercury Gaming in Atlanta.

Doug Pattison is CEO of Mercury Gaming, a gaming consultant group.

The website also lists "The Titan Agency", which is an advertising arm of the company.

Sources tell 3 On Your Side Chief Denson had been paying Pattison $60,000 a month.

Then in February, that payout shot up to $250,000 a month.

The tribal council didn't know about the payouts.

Just last week, Chief Denson lost his re-election bid to Phyllis Anderson.

Then, Denson cast the deciding vote to throw out that election.

That's pretty serious reporting from WLBT, and it will be interesting to see if an Atlanta focus develops in this investigation. Under that scenario, the investigation might cover both money and election sleaze.

The far bigger Choctaw-related crimes almost certainly involve Alabama and GOP figures of national prominence. And some sources tell Legal Schnauzer that they look for Bob Riley's ties to the Choctaws to eventually be exposed. But I have a hard time believing that Eric Holder actually could serve some useful purpose while he is U.S. attorney general.

Politics, of course, should not play a factor in any federal investigation. But there is a mountain of evidence that points to a stream of funny money that flows from Mississippi to Alabama. The Obama DOJ merely needs to rise from its slumber long enough to take notice.

Most Americans, I suspect, have great sympathy for the plight of Native American tribes. But the Mississippi Choctaws have sullied the political environment in Alabama to an unconscionable degree. To Alabama, the Mississippi Choctaws have been the "neighbor from hell." Public documents from a U.S. Senate investigation show that Choctaw leaders jumped in bed with Abramoff, Michael Scanlon, and others out of pure greed--a desire to reduce their tax burden and protect their market share.

Many Alabamians want to know exactly how our state was dragged into a GOP mud pit--and they want someone to be held accountable. Those Alabamians, by the way, include quite a few Republicans who know that the Riley crowd was a bunch of thugs.

Is the Obama DOJ capable of providing answers? Well, the president has from now until November 2012 to show his progressive supporters that he actually has a spine--that justice issues, of supreme importance to his political base, also matter to him.

Mississippi might seem like a strange place for the Obama administration to make a stand. But the opportunity is there. A serious investigation of Choctaw finances, even if it starts with an intratribal focus, surely will eventually turn to Alabama.

If the DOJ does the right thing, it could advance the cause of justice while rousing Obama's base enough to almost ensure re-election.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Democrats Join the Effort to Cover Up Misconduct in the Siegelman Case

Robert Hinkle (second from right)
 with Jeb Bush (center)

The trial judge in the Don Siegelman case is not required to recuse himself, according to a ruling issued last week by U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle of Florida.

Hinkle's ruling means that trial judge Mark Fuller, a George W. Bush appointee, can continue to preside over the Siegelman case, including a resentencing that has been ordered by the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Hinkle also ensured that no hearing or other discovery will be conducted to determine if Fuller conducted the Siegelman trial in a biased fashion--or if jurors engaged in serious misconduct.

A Bill Clinton appointee to the federal bench, Hinkle appears on the surface to be a Democrat. But a review of his background reveals some alarming ties to Republicans of a Rovian stripe. And his dubious ruling regarding Fuller's recusal appears to drive home a couple of disturbing points about the state of America's justice system:

* Certain Democrats have joined Republicans in an effort to cover up the rampant corruption that surrounded the Siegelman case--from Fuller's unlawful rulings, to misconduct of Bush-era prosecutors, to allegations that the whole charade was orchestrated by Republican operatives for political reasons.

* If Democrats won't stand up for due process, as outlined in the Fifth and Fourteenth amendments to the U.S. Constitution, who will?

Due process, the legal principle that government must respect all legal rights owed to a person under the law, is the broad issue at stake in Hinkle's finding.

Conservative commentators long have portrayed Siegelman supporters as being drunk on what might be called a "cult of personality." To these pundits, Siegelman and codefendant Richard Scrushy have become a cause only because the former Alabama governor was a popular, charismatic public official.

But the Hinkle ruling shows that the case is not about Siegelman's personality; in a sense, it isn't about Siegelman at all. It is about the fundamental notions of fairness that are supposed to hold sway in our courtrooms. They come under the umbrella known as "due process," and they include the right to an objective, unbiased judge; the right to an untainted jury; and the right to face prosecutors who follow fundamental legal procedures.

Hinkle, in so many words, found that Siegelman and Scrushy are not entitled to any of those protections. At the risk of sounding crude, I would say that Hinkle rolled out critical provisions of the U.S. Constitution and took a giant crap on them.

Why did he do this? Andrew Kreig, director of the D.C.-based Justice Integrity Project, provided important insight yesterday in a piece titled "Florida Judge Continues Whitewash of Siegelman Frame-Up." Reports Kreig:

Hinkle's decision absolving Chief U.S,. District Judge Mark E. Fuller of Alabama's Montgomery-based Middle District carries the veneer of independence and fairness. But Hinkle trivializes Fuller's mind-boggling irregularities and a judge's legal duty to avoid even the appearance of unfairness. Most important, Hinkle severely undermines public confidence in the judiciary when he protects his colleague Fuller from scrutiny regarding the fabulous sums Fuller has been making on the side while implementing the Bush administration's long jihad against Siegelman, his state's most prominent Democrat. Hinkle, a wealthy man with many investments, fails to see any potential conflict in Fuller's repeated, dubious rulings in favor of his Bush administration patrons while also being enriched by Bush contracts totaling $300 million to the judge's closely held company, Doss Aviation, Inc.

What about Hinkle's investments? He is making a bunch of dough on the side, too--and it comes from some intriguing sources. Kreig provides intriguing details:

Further, Hinkle was a substantial stockholder in another company, ChoicePoint--exactly when ChoicePoint used despicable methods in 2008 to thwart a private detective’s researches into Fuller's Doss holdings. ChoicePoint, since acquired by Lexis-Nexis, is notorious for other reasons in Florida's state capital: At the request of Gov. Jeb Bush's administration, ChoicePoint furnished the state with flawed records that enabled the state government wrongly to remove thousands of African-American voters from eligibility to vote in 2000. This helped George W. Bush win the Presidency that year in disputed Florida vote returns with a reported margin of just several hundred votes. The 5-4 Bush v. Gore Supreme Court decision sealed the victory by forbidding Florida from continuing vote recounts.

To be sure, there's no way of knowing how much Hinkle knows about the operations of the companies in which he invests. He has declined to respond to my request for comment for this column, and to provide a photo and his 2010 financial disclosures covering the year 2009.

The bottom line? Hinkle has ties to a company that former Florida Governor Jeb Bush used to help his brother, George W. Bush, get "elected" president in 2000. Should that raise questions about Hinkle's objectivity regarding the Siegelman prosecution, which was instigated by the Bush Department of Justice? In our mind, it certainly should.

As for Hinkle's ruling itself, we are being charitable when we call it "dubious." A more appropriate term might be "laughable." (The full ruling can be viewed at the end of this post.)

Hinkle notes key legal standards governing recusal--and then proceeds to ignore them. For example, he correctly states that the governing standard is "whether a reasonable person fully informed of the facts would question the judge’s impartiality." 28 U.S. Code 455. Material in the Siegelman file indicates that Fuller's company makes millions of dollars from U.S. government contracts--and one of the parties before him was . . . the U.S. government. How could a reasonable person not question the judge's impartiality under such circumstances? Hinkle does not say.

Hinkle also correctly states that "doubts about recusal must be resolved in favor of recusal." Potashnick v. Port City Constr. Co., 609 F.2d 1101, 1112 (5th Cir. 1980). Then he proceeds to ignore that standard. Actually, there are no doubts about Fuller's status in the Siegelman case; he was required by law to notify the parties of potential conflicts and then recuse himself. Liljeberg v. Health Services Acquisition Corp, 486 U.S. 847 (1988). Once the issue landed on Hinkle's desk, any doubts should have been decided in favor of recusal. Hinkle admits that's the law, and then he violates it.

Perhaps most stunning is Hinkle's finding regarding alleged juror misconduct in the Siegelman case. Get a load of this:

In this case the jurors served for nearly two months. They incurred a substantial burden. The defendants now propose an intrusive investigation including subpoenas to their cellular and internet service providers and a review of their text messages and emails. The defendants propose seizing the jurors’ computers for a forensic examination. This kind of treatment sometimes befalls a person accused of a crime or even someone involved in substantial civil litigation. To visit it upon a juror, based on nothing more than anonymously provided emails that bear no indicia of authenticity and that conveniently showed up just after the court issued a comprehensive opinion explaining why earlier emails were insufficient to warrant relief, would inflict an indefensible additional burden on these jurors. Treating jurors this way would make future jurors understandably reluctant to serve.

Translation: It's better for innocent men to go to prison than for jurors to be inconvenienced. God only knows where Hinkle found that concept in the Constitution. But it should scare the bejeebers out of every American.

This also should scare every American. The recusal issue in the Siegelman case is real simple--but multiple federal judges cannot get it right.

The law plainly states that a judge shall disqualify himself when "he knows that he, individually or as a fiduciary, or his spouse or minor child residing in his household, has a financial interest in the subject matter in controversy or in a party to the proceeding, or any other interest that could be substantially affected by the outcome of the proceeding." 28 U.S.C. 455(a)(4).

Does Mark Fuller have a financial interest in a party to the proceeding, specifically the U.S. government? Yes, he does. So why is he still on the Siegelman case? Hinkle apparently thinks regular citizens are too stupid to ask that question. And even though he appears to be a Democrat, Hinkle apparently is more interested in protecting the legal/judicial cartel than in making sure justice is served.

Due process? What due process? That's the message from Judge Robert L. Hinkle.

Siegelman Hinkle Ruling