Thursday, September 29, 2011

CEO Threatens A Lawsuit Against Legal Schnauzer

Ted Rollins

The CEO of a student-housing development company is threatening to take legal action against me.

Ted Rollins, the head of Charlotte-based Campus Crest Communities, stated in an e-mail dated September 23 that "to the extent false or misleading information is published" about him or his company that he would pursue "all legal means available."

By "legal means," to remedy "false or misleading information," I assume Rollins is referring to a possible defamation lawsuit against me. There is only one problem with Mr. Rollins' threat--I haven't written anything false or misleading about him or his company. Everything I've written is supported by public documents and/or multiple press reports.

Ten minutes after I received Rollins' statement, sent via a spokesperson named Jason Chudoba, I received a letter from a lawyer named Chad W. Essick, of the Raleigh, North Carolina, law firm of Poyner Spruill. The letter was attached to an e-mail and informed me that Mr. Essick represents Ted Rollins and would be monitoring my future posts. It stated that Mr. Rollins might be "forced to protect his reputation and that of his company." (See the full letter at the end of this post.)

Why are Ted Rollins and his lawyer sending threatening missives to Legal Schnauzer? For one, we've written extensively about Mr. Rollins and his ties to Alabama, especially an alarming divorce case he filed in Shelby County against Sherry Carroll Rollins, his former wife and now a Birmingham resident. That lawsuit, styled Rollins v. Rollins, was handled in a blatantly unlawful manner--especially considering that Mrs. Rollins already had filed a divorce action against Mr. Rollins in Greenville, South Carolina, where the couple lived at the time. With jurisdiction already established in one state, it could not lawfully be moved to another. But it was, and Ted Rollins wound up with a hugely favorable result. He pays only $815 a month in child support for the couple's two daughters, plus $500 a month in alimony--a paltry sum for a man who belongs to one of the nation's wealthiest families, with a company that completed a $380-million IPO last year. Ted Rollins and his lawyer friends at the Birmingham firm of Bradley Arant probably are not happy that I am reporting on the Rollins v. Rollins case.

Second, I've written about a number of unsavory issues connected to Campus Crest Communities, which is planning a $26.3-million development at Auburn University here in Alabama. Several current or former employees have filed lawsuits, claiming the company practices race and sex discrimination. We also have reported on a recent balcony collapse at a new Campus Crest development near the University of North Texas, which sent three young men to the hospital.

I suspect that Mr. Rollins and his lawyer, Mr. Essick, are most concerned about my coverage of personal matters connected to the divorce case. Rollins' threats are ironic because I spoke with him via telephone on July 11 and requested an interview. He informed me that he doesn't give interviews to "bloggers," apparently even ones with 30-plus years of professional journalism experience. If I sent him questions in writing, Rollins stated, he would be "more than happy" to answer them.

Turns out that wasn't exactly true. I did send Rollins written questions, the first set dealing with his child-support payments that were roughly two weeks late for the month of September. He did not respond to those questions, but Sherry Rollins informed me that the child support soon was paid.

The second set of questions concerned actions by Ted Rollins and Michele Rollins in Jamaica and Colorado, where the family has business interests. Michele Rollins is the widow of John W. Rollins, Ted's late father, and she is a prominent figure in Republican Party politics. Michele Rollins is close to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and she ran for a Congressional seat from Delaware in 2010.

Something in my second set of questions apparently alarmed Ted Rollins. Instead of answering them in a "more than happy" fashion, he threatened me with legal action. Here is his full response:

All claims and accusations listed in your e-mails dated 20 September 2011 and 14 September 2011 are absolutely false and completely unfounded. Any and all issues between me and my ex-wife have long been settled in court. I have always provided for my children and maintain an excellent relationship with them. I would encourage you to make sure all statements you make about me or my company are true and can be supported by facts. To the extent false or misleading information is published about me or my company, I will be compelled to protect the reputation of myself and my company through all legal means available.

I responded to Rollins and his lawyer via e-mail on September 26. I noted that the lawsuit business can cut both ways:

Mr. Essick:

I am in receipt of your letter, via e-mail, dated Sept. 23, 2011. Please be advised that every article I have written about Ted Rollins and Campus Crest Communities has been thoroughly researched and is supported by public documents and/or multiple press reports. The same will hold true for every article I write about Ted Rollins and Campus Crest Communities in the future.

Your letter alleges that my articles include false or misleading information, but it provides nothing to support that charge. That's because there is nothing to support that charge. You also allude to "allegations" in my e-mails that Mr. Rollins claims are false. In fact, my e-mail contains questions, sent at Mr. Rollins request, not allegations. The questions are based on reports from multiple witnesses who were present in Jamaica at the time, and I have written documents upon which I based these questions.

One of the questions in my e-mail is based on a public document from a South Carolina court, citing information that Mr. Rollins himself provided. In essence, Mr. Rollins now is claiming that information he provided in a court of law is false. What does that say about Mr. Rollins' credibility?

I am a professional reporter and editor, with a degree in journalism and more than 30 years of experience in the field. I also am well acquainted with communications law.

Please be advised that if anyone files a groundless lawsuit against me, I will immediately respond with a countersuit for abuse of process and any other applicable torts against the party and his attorney. I also will seek sanctions and costs against the attorney under Rule 11.

Rest assured that I will protect my rights as a journalist and a citizen. I'm hopeful that the actions noted above will not be necessary.

In the meantime, I would suggest that you actually research my articles, and the public documents and press reports upon which they are based, before firing off a threatening letter that is not supported by fact or law.


Roger Shuler

Want some more irony? Ted Rollins is riled up, and I haven't even started writing in detail about the most serious issues connected to his divorce case. If he's ticked off now, his mood is not likely to improve in the coming weeks.

Below is the letter from Chad W. Essick:

Ted Rollins--Lawsuit Threat

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Did Hardball Tactics in a Divorce Case Lead to the Murder of an Alabama Lawyer?

Blake Lazenby

Alabama lawyer Robert Blake Lazenby was murdered on July 27, and authorities have released almost no information about progress in the investigation.

Legal Schnauzer has learned, however, that lawyers for Lazenby in his personal divorce case served curious subpoenas to non parties on July 15 and 18. The subpoenas sought information that seemed to have little or no relevance to matters in the divorce case--and they apparently amounted to hardball tactics in a divorce battle that clearly had grown rancorous since it hit the courts in 2008.

Just nine days after the subpoenas were served--and Lazenby's lawyers had filed a notice of discovery by interrogatories and requests for production of documents--their client's body was found in the dining room of his Sylacauga home. He died from multiple gunshot wounds, and his vehicle was found on fire in the Birmingham suburb of Tarrant.

Did the use of rough legal tactics--some might call them abusive--help lead to Blake Lazenby's murder? If I were a homicide detective on the case, I definitely would be asking that question.

Geanne Elder Lazenby filed for divorce from her attorney husband on October 24, 2008. Blake Lazenby, 54, was a partner in Thornton Carpenter O'Brien Lazenby & Lawrence, perhaps the most prestigious firm in Talladega. It's common practice for judges in a circuit to recuse themselves from a case involving a lawyer who regularly practices before the court. Judge Jeb Fannin, however, had denied multiple recusal motions from plaintiff's lawyers, and that had become a major point of contention in the case.

One of several curiosities in the case involved Geanne Lazenby's apparent inability to keep a lawyer for long. She went through a Who's Who of Birmingham-area divorce lawyers--Rick Fernambucq, Bruce Gordon, Charles Gorham, Mavanee Bear, Kristel N. Reed, and Gregory Yaghmi. Most of them filed a recusal motion and promptly exited the case, usually not waiting around for a ruling.

Here is another curiosity: The Birmingham firm of Smith Spires & Peddy made an appearance, on June 6, 2011--almost three years after the case had begun. SSP lawyers A. Joe Peddy and Tamera Erskine joined the fray on Blake Lazenby's behalf, even though neither they nor their firm appear to have experience in divorce law.

They filed the subpoenas on non parties, and to our eyes, the documents appear to constitute a "fishing expedition," at best. At worst, they appear to have been used for nasty, strong-arm purposes. Who were recipients of the subpoenas, and what information was sought? Here is a summary:

* Custodian of Medical Records, Alabama Women's Specialist, Birmingham--All records pertaining to the treatment and/or diagnosis of Geanne E. Lazenby, including services rendered and financial records.

* Custodian of Medical Records, Craddock Clinic, Sylacauga--All records pertaining to the treatment and/or diagnosis of Geanne E. Lazenby, including services rendered and financial records.

* Custodian of Records, Coosa County Sheriff's Office--All police reports and investigative documents related to any allegations or claims made by Geanne E. Lazenby against Earnest Files, DOB: 10/31/1955.

What do we learn from this? One, Blaze Lazenby's lawyers were going after his wife's medical records. My understanding is that discovery rules allow for a broad inquiry, and the Smith Spires & Peddy attorneys might have been entitled to such information. But what was the purpose, especially given that medical information usually is subject to the privacy protections of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)? Why would Mrs. Lazenby's medical records be relevant in a divorce matter?

The information sought in the third subpoena is truly baffling. Who in the heck is Earnest Files, of Coosa County, Alabama, and what was the relevance of any police reports Mrs. Lazenby had filed about him?

We checked the Web site for the Coosa County Sheriff's Office and found this item dated April 1, 2011:

Earnest James Files Jr. of Kellyton, AL was arrested on charges of Harassing Communication and Criminal Trespassing. He was processed and released on bond to await trial.

Did Geanne Lazenby file a report regarding Mr. Files? If so, why did her husband's lawyers want the information--and how did they intend to use it? Why was it a factor in the Lazenby v. Lazenby divorce case?

The Blake Lazenby murder case presents many more questions than answers at the moment. But our guess is that any serious investigation should examine discovery issues in the victim's divorce case, especially those that arose in the final two months of his life.

Below is a Motion for Protective Order and Objections to Non-Party Subpoenas filed by one of Geanne Lazenby's lawyers. The document reveals possible hot-button issues in the divorce case at the time of Blake Lazenby's murder:

Blake Lazenby Case--Motion on Subpoenas

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Do CEOs Tend to be Out of Touch With Reality?

Campus Crest officials with Raymond
James advisors who helped construct
a $380-million IPO

What does it take to be a CEO? Does it require a form of tunnel vision that is at odds with the real world? We are starting to think the answer is yes.

Consider Ted Rollins, the CEO of Campus Crest Communities and a member of one of America's wealthiest families. Rollins' company completed a $380-million IPO in late 2010, so he has proven adept at attracting investors. But we have seen troubling signs that Rollins holds a peculiar worldview, one where laws and fundamental concepts of right and wrong don't apply to him.

Now we see evidence that Rollins seemingly is able to block out evidence that key members of his team behave in a despicable manner. Is this the kind of "vision" one must possess in order to be a chief executive?

The Ted Rollins story hits home here in Alabama for a couple of reasons. We first became aware of Rollins because of his involvement in a divorce case that is astounding for the unlawful manner in which it was conducted. Sherry Carroll Rollins had filed for divorce from Ted Rollins in Greenville, South Carolina, where the couple and their two daughters lived. When Ted Rollins ignored a court order to pay the mortgage and insurance on the family home, Sherry Rollins and the children were kicked out of the house and forced to flee to Alabama, where they had relatives. Ted Rollins then proceeded to sue for divorce in Alabama, even though jurisdiction already had been established in another state and, by law, could not be changed. Ted Rollins, it turns out, does business with the prominent Birmingham law firm of Bradley Arant, and a Shelby County Judge named D. Al Crowson issued a divorce order that was stunningly unlawful and favorable to Ted Rollins, granting Sherry Rollins only $1,315 a month ($815 in support for two children and $500 in alimony).

Ted Rollins' family has deep ties to prominent Republican political figures, including U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Did Rollins use such ties to help apply a monstrous cheat job on his children and ex wife? Sure looks that way from here.

Rollins developed even deeper ties in Alabama with the recent announcement that Campus Crest Communities plans to build a $26.3 million student-housing project at Auburn University. So the people of our state have good reason to ask, "What's this guy all about? What makes him tick?"

A recent article on Campus Crest Communities, published at The Wall Street Transcript and Yahoo! Finance, provides some insight. Asked to discuss members of his leadership team, Rollins speaks glowingly about a man named Brian Sharpe. From the full version of the interview at Yahoo! Finance:

And then we have Brian Sharpe, who heads our construction company and makes the magic happen out in the field. He has, year after year, designed and improved our projects. He is the reason we have such great projects--anything from the details of the design, to integrating with our operations team to make our projects better every year, to actually delivering the projects each year. He is very passionate about what he does.

Sounds like Ted Rollins is pretty high on Brian Sharpe. But does that fit with reality?

Several current and former employees have filed federal lawsuits, alleging that Campus Crest practices rampant race and gender discrimination. Brian Sharpe appears to be in the middle of it. From a complaint filed by a former area manager named Nicole McAuliffe:

Sharpe, on a frequent and/or daily basis, used the term “fuck” and “fucking,” in his verbal communications in the workplace. Sharpe further referred to women in the office as “cunts,” “bitches” and “whores” and referred to Defendant’s marketing team as the “whore’s den.” On more than one occasion, Sharpe, in the presence of Plaintiff and others, referred to Shannon King as a “cunt.” On another occasion, while on the corporate jet with Sharpe and others, Sharpe made derogatory and misogynistic remarks about Heather McCormack, Defendant’s Vice-President of Administrative Operations, calling her a “fucking bitch” and threatening to “rip her fucking head off.”

Ted Rollins says Sharpe is "passionate about what he does." Reality seems to tell us that Sharpe is passionate about calling women "cunts," "bitches," and "whores." His passion also drives him to openly state, in regards to one particular woman, that he wants to "rip her fucking head off."

A reasonable person might decide that Brian Sharpe's "passion" is a little out of control. But not Ted Rollins.

He tells us that Sharpe is responsible for the design of Campus Crest's properties. Does that mean Sharpe was responsible for the "decorative" balcony that collapsed at The Grove complex near the University of North Texas? If so, how good of a designer is Mr. Sharpe? The three young men who went to the hospital after the balcony collapse probably would like to know.

Is Ted Rollins "out to lunch" on important matters inside his company? And how does Rollins himself treat women, based on his actions toward Sherry Rollins and the couple's two daughters?

A lot of folks have invested serious cash in Campus Crest Communities. Vivek "Vick" Seth, managing partner at Raymond James, helped put together the Campus Crest IPO. Did Vick Seth conduct any sort of due diligence before striking a deal that heaped money on Ted Rollins and his "leadership team"?

Whatever Seth did, maybe it wasn't enough. We can think of about 380 million reasons that the public deserves some straight answers from Ted Rollins.

Greasing the Bobcat: A New Slang Term Joins the American Lexicon

We always are looking for opportunities to interject humor into our tale of legal woe. So we were delighted the other night when The Late Show With David Letterman served up a comic moment for the ages.

It came on what you might have expected to be a relatively somber occasion for Dave--an interview with Sgt. Dakota Meyer, who received the Medal of Honor after saving the lives of 36 men in Afghanistan. The interview certainly had its serious moments. But Meyer brought the house down when he inadvertently coined a slang term that likely will stick around for years.

Let's say this about Americans: We might not manufacture much of anything that's worth a crap anymore, but by golly, we're hell with slang--especially when it applies to a body part or a sex act. Want a euphemism for a penis? Well, we've got "dong," "schlong," "Johnson," and a whole bunch more. Want a special term for breasts? We've got "boobs," "knockers," "hooters," and . . . well, the list surely goes into the hundreds.

And what about masturbation? I don't have much in the way of street cred, but even I have heard of "choking the chicken," "spanking the monkey," "waxing the dolphin," and other classics.

So it's little surprise that Letterman's mind went right to the gutter when Meyer was describing the circumstances under which he took a phone call from the White House, informing him about the Medal of Honor. Meyer now works in construction, and he was busy lubricating a certain brand of utility vehicle, as its known in the trade, when the big call came.

As Meyer is describing the setting, he produces a moment that ranks with Ed Ames' famous tomahawk trick, from 1965, with Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show. In fact, Meyer leaves Letterman at a momentary loss for words. Let's check it out:

On the subject of comedy, we can't help but think of Scrubs, which I've decided might be the funniest show in the history of television. And as a devoted fan of M*A*S*H, I don't make that statement lightly.

Scrubs lives on in syndication, with late-night reruns on WGN. And I was reminded the other night of the show's many moments that are so superbly written that you marvel at the craftsmanship--while you laugh yourself silly.

This storyline involves nurse Carla Espinosa and a coma patient with an unusual request in his living will. In the event that he falls into a coma, the patient wants "Talk Dirty to Me," by the metal band Poison, played for him once a day.

To appreciate the joke, you have to be familiar with the musical majesty of "Talk Dirty to Me." You can check it out here. It also helps to know the subtle, thoughtful lyrics. You can check them out here.

Always willing to go the extra mile for a patient, Carla cranks up "Talk Dirty to Me" on a boom box in the patient's ICU room. Chief of Medicine Bob Kelso reacts by telling Carla, with a horrified look on his face, that head-banger music is not to be played in the hospital.

What to do? Carla combines with Ted, the hospital's sad-sack lawyer, to solve the problem in a magical way, turning "Talk Dirty to Me" into a virtual show tune. It helps that they both can really sing. The result is a brilliant moment, one filled with wackiness and a heavy dose of humanity. Enjoy:

Monday, September 26, 2011

Justice Department Continues to Play Hide and Seek with Siegelman Documents

U.S. Judge Mark Fuller

A rational person does not need new reasons to question the handling of the Don Siegelman prosecution. But the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is providing them anyway.

Resentencing in the Siegelman case has been postponed because the DOJ refuses to produce documents that might show the former Democratic governor of Alabama was the victim of a Bush-era political prosecution. For more than five years, lawyers for Siegelman and codefendant Richard Scrushy have been seeking documents that might show Leura Canary, former U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Alabama, remained active in the case after she had announced her recusal.

The documents clearly exist, so why is the DOJ stonewalling? Andrew Kreig, of the D.C.-based Justice Integrity Project, provides insights on that question and more in a piece titled "Siegelman Sentence Delays as DOJ Hides Conflict Data."

Kreig reports the latest on a case that probably will go down as the most notorious federal prosecution in U.S. history:

The Alabama judge presiding over the notorious Bush prosecution of former Gov. Don Siegelman postponed the defendant's re-sentencing last week while prosecutors continue to stonewall defense requests for documents showing whether they violated the defendant's right to an honest, unbiased prosecutor.

On the afternoon of Sept. 22, Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller of Montgomery postponed his re-sentencing of Siegelman and co-defendant Richard Scrushy on corruption charges. Decisions by the Supreme Court and other appellate bodies reduced charges, requiring Fuller to review his original seven-year terms.

Siegelman, a Democrat, was the state's governor from 1999 to 2003. He says that authorities for five years have illegally blocked his document requests regarding Middle District U.S. Attorney Leura Canary. . . .

She is presumed to have recused herself from his case, according to news reports through the years that have existed as conventional wisdom. William Canary, her husband, was Siegelman's longtime political enemy and the 2002 campaign manager for Bob Riley, Siegelman's Republican opponent in the 2002 gubernatorial election.

Why is this a profoundly important matter for the Siegelman case--and the American "justice system" in general? Kreig addresses that question:

"No one [in authority] has ever grasped the magnitude of the recusal issue and why it is the most important issue in this entire case," former Siegelman aide Chip Hill wrote me this week. "Absent proof that the case was conducted without conflict of interest, every action taken in that conflicted environment should be invalidated. That would include the original indictments, the trial, conviction, etc."

A new judge now is involved in at least some aspects of the Siegelman matter. Reports Kreig:

Fuller last week temporarily transferred certain motions in the case to U.S. District Judge L. Scott Coogler, who is based in Tuscaloosa. Coogler, like Fuller, is a Republican appointee of President George W. Bush.

Fuller is heavily compromised by allegations he hated Siegelman and rigged the 2006 trial against Siegelman and Scrushy, former CEO of HealthSouth. Scrushy is serving his term for contributing heavily to a pro-education, pro-lottery non-profit in 1999 at Siegelman's request before Siegelman reappointed him to a state board.

Birmingham lawyer John Aaron has led the effort to obtain DOJ records regarding Leura Canary's recusal. We spotlighted Aaron's work in an April 2011 post titled "The Siegelman Case: Ten Years of Injustice--and Counting." From that post:

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

The decision to prosecute Siegelman and Scrushy for "crimes" that do not exist under the law rests with the Bush administration. But the decision to stonewall on DOJ records now rests with the Obama administration. Reports Kreig:

As our Justice Integrity Project has found typical in such disgraceful Bush-era prosecutions, the DOJ is continuing to enforce a code of silence amongst authorities, sometimes by ruthless measures and sometimes by lavish rewards. One way, for example, was blackmailing and threatening Nick Bailey, the chief witness against the defendants.

Another in 2009 was to fire Tamarah Grimes, a Republican and the DOJ's top paralegal on the Siegelman/Scrushy prosecution. Grimes claimed vast waste and unfairness in the Siegelman prosecution, including Canary's continued direction of Middle District prosecutors despite her public claim of recusal because of her husband's work.

Siegelman has strong opinions about who is behind the DOJ's efforts to obscure the truth in his case. From our earlier post:

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

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

Does the Obama administration have the guts to stand up to David Margolis and anyone else who is obscuring the truth about the Siegelman case? We await the answer to that question.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Voting Rights Act Withstands a Challenge in the Deep South

President Lyndon Johnson signs
The Voting Rights Act of 1965

The days of men wearing hoods and burning crosses seem to have mostly passed here in the Deep South. But they have been replaced by the days of men filing dubious lawsuits, funded by mysterious organizations.

That seems to be the take-home lesson from an effort in Shelby County, Alabama, to free itself from U.S. Justice Department oversight of its elections. The Shelby County Commission, in a lawsuit funded by a shadowy nonprofit group, claimed that portions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were unnecessary, burdensome, and unfair.

A federal judge yesterday ruled against Shelby County, finding that Congress had ample evidence that minority rights at the ballot box need continued monitoring. Congress voted overwhelmingly in 2006 to extend the Voting Rights Act for another 25 years. Shelby County's lawsuit challenged that decision, but U.S. District Judge John Bates said Congress was well within its rights.

This case hits close to home because I live in Shelby County, Alabama, and for four-plus years, I've presented detailed evidence on this blog about the blatant corruption of a "justice system" that regularly tramples constitutional rights. Mrs. Schnauzer and I have been targeted by rogue judges and lawyers in Shelby County, even though we are white. We long have suspected that dysfunction here, in Alabama's fastest growing county, is driven largely by what we called "race-based fears" or RBF.

After living in Shelby County for 22 years, we have come  to believe that true racism--an active desire to cause harm to, or rule over, those of a different race--is relatively rare here. But RBF is very much alive, and we suspect it drives the creation of a "justice system" that operates in a sick parallel universe. There are many intelligent, good-hearted people in Shelby County--although huge numbers of them are misguided enough to reflexively vote Republican--but the leadership here is an utter mess. The hierarchy in Shelby County consists mostly of people who have deep roots in the county, and they seem resentful of any change that might lead to equal opportunity for those who don't look or think like them.

In essence, the hierarchy seems to say, "We live here in order to get away from so many blacks and liberals who tolerate blacks, and we don't want the gubmint forcing us to change our ways. We are going to create our own set of rules and enforce them however we want."

Mrs. Schnauzer and I don't wear our politics or our religion on our sleeves. But we suspect that our neighbors, and their contacts in the legal field, picked up early on that we were somehow "different"--that we didn't go to a certain suburban mega church, that we didn't vote Republican, that we didn't think the federal government was evil, that we didn't believe evolution was suspect or climate change was a hoax or Roe v. Wade was wrongfully decided--and we didn't believe black people were to be feared.

In short, we long have suspected that RBFs have largely driven our unpleasant journey through the Shelby County legal system. (More on that in upcoming posts.)

The notion that Shelby County needs less government oversight is preposterous--and we've seen that from first-hand experience. If anything, the county needs more federal intervention, starting with an investigation that surely would lead to numerous judges, lawyers, and sheriff's officials winding up in orange jumpsuits and leg irons.

We are pleased that Judge Bates evidently recognized that Shelby County, Alabama, is not nearly as far along as its leaders like to think. From The Birmingham News:

Officials in Shelby County had argued the law was unnecessary, burdensome and unfair and that Congress should not have reauthorized it for another 25 years.

"Bearing in mind both the historical context and the extensive evidence of recent voting discrimination reflected in that virtually unprecedented legislative record, the Court concludes that 'current needs' -- the modern existence of intentional racial discrimination in voting -- do, in fact, justify Congress's 2006 reauthorization of the preclearance requirement imposed on covered jurisdictions by Section 5, as well as the preservation of the traditional coverage formula embodied in Section 4(b)," according to the order today from U.S. District Judge John Bates.

Bates sided with the U.S. Justice Department and several others who intervened to defend the Voting Rights Law.

"Understanding the preeminent constitutional role of Congress under the Fifteenth Amendment to determine the legislation needed to enforce it, and the caution required of the federal courts when undertaking the 'grave' and 'delicate' responsibility of judging the constitutionality of such legislation -- particularly where the right to vote and racial discrimination intersect -- this Court declines to overturn Congress's carefully considered judgment," he wrote.

If Shelby County officials felt so strongly about their case, why didn't they fund their own lawsuit. Instead, something called the Project for Fair Representation funded the case, allowing Shelby County to more or less play with "house money."

What on earth is the Project for Fair Representation and why did it get involved with Shelby County? The New York Times provided important insight, from a piece back in February:

Shelby County is a largely white, heavily Republican (John McCain received 76 percent of the vote there in the 2008 presidential election) central Alabama county that includes part of Birmingham. Its effort to have Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act declared unconstitutional is being financed by a Virginia-based organization called the Project on Fair Representation, which according to its Web site exists to provide pro bono representation to “political subdivisions and individuals that wish to challenge government distinctions and preferences made on the basis of race and ethnicity.” On the subject of voting, the group’s mission is “reforming those provisions of the Voting Rights Act and other laws that encourage and mandate the creation of racially gerrymandered voting districts.” (That is hardly an accurate description of the Voting Rights Act, given that the Supreme Court, in a series of cases beginning with Shaw v. Reno in 1993 has declared that districts drawn for purely racial reasons are unconstitutional. But my point here is to describe the origins of the current lawsuit, so I’ll move on.)

What kind of outfit was Shelby County quick to jump in bed with? Again, from The New York Times:

The Project on Fair Representation, in turn, is financed by an organization called DonorsTrust, the goal of which is to “promote liberty through limited government, personal responsibility and free enterprise.” An affiliated group, Donors Capital Fund, has channeled millions of dollars to the State Policy Network, which describes itself as a group of “state-based freedom fighters working to stop the expansion of the federal government and return power back to individuals.” Whitney L. Ball, president and chief executive of DonorsTrust, serves on the boards of the State Policy Network and Donors Capital Fund.

Where on earth did these groups come from and who is behind them? The Times provides links that help answer that question:


Donors Capital Fund

State Policy Network

Whitney L. Ball

We suspect progressive groups would be wise to keep an eye on these outfits and individuals. Meanwhile, it looks like the effort to use Shelby County, Alabama, to attack the Voting Rights Act is going to fail.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Balcony Collapse Raises Questions About the Private Construction of Student Housing

Decorative balconies
at The Grove

Three young men injured in a recent balcony collapse at the University of North Texas seem to be recovering nicely. But officials in Denton, Texas, are asking questions about the private developer that built the student-housing complex.

Two of the injured men, Garrett Draper and Tony Garcia, have been treated and released from Harris Methodist Hospital in Fort Worth. A third, Grant Draper, is in good condition. They fell from a third-story balcony when it collapsed at The Grove, a student-apartment complex that had opened two weeks earlier.

Campus Crest Communities, of Charlotte, North Carolina, has developed student housing under its Grove brand at about 30 campuses around the country. A project is planned for Auburn University here in Alabama, and CEO Ted Rollins has ties to our state through his involvement in a troubling divorce case that has been the subject of several Legal Schnauzer posts.

We have been asking questions about Ted Rollins and his business/legal practices for quite a while. Now, folks at the University of North Texas are raising similar questions.

The North Texas Daily, in an editorial, says The Grove in Denton was built in a tight time frame:

The Grove apartments were constructed over the summer and went up in about two months--an alarmingly fast turnaround. That should have been a red flag to the building inspector to spend enough time thoroughly checking the building.

The paper also raised questions about the whole notion of private companies building student housing at public universities:

In its 10-K form filed with the U.S. Securities Exchange Commission, Campus Crest touted its vertically integrated platform to investors. According to the document, Campus Crest has ownership of the companies that perform every part of The Grove development process.

As Ted W. Rollins, CEO of Campus Crest, pointed out in an interview with Multi-Housing News (MHN) the company stands to benefit 100 percent from the value creation of The Grove entities.

In other words, they have a direct financial incentive to build quickly and cheaply.

A Houston personal-injury law firm, Denena & Points, already has taken note of the North Texas case. A post on the firm's blog points to negligence in the balcony collapse:

Pictures of The Grove apartments in Denton, TX show a (very) few holes where the balcony was anchored into the wall in some way. It appears that the balcony had no supportive ledger board. Or if there was one, it does not appear that it was attached in any way to the apartment wall. It is clear from the number and positioning of the holes that the balcony could not have supported much weight.

News reports of the Denton balcony collapse quote a spokesperson who emphasizes that the balconies and their railings were purely "decorative" structures attached to the building merely for aesthetic reasons. The spokesperson specifically states that the balconies were not designed to bear weight. It sounds like The Grove apartments in Denton, TX and their owner, Campus Crest, try to use this as a "defense" against the balcony collapse. But as a defense, it just doesn't seem to hold up (much like the balcony).

Could Campus Crest be facing legal fallout from the balcony collapse?

It's just plain negligent to deliberately attach non-weight bearing balconies to an apartment (especially on the 3rd floor, directly above a hard concrete surface) and then create fully functional doors that residents can use to go out upon that balcony. The Grove apartments' spokesperson says the balcony was never intended to bear the weight of the adults who were on it that night it collapsed. Yet the complex had constructed doors that open right out onto those balconies and that seem to invite you to step out upon these non-weight bearing balconies. Did the complex tell the students that it was dangerous to use their balconies and that these balconies weren't designed to bear weight--that they must only look, and not touch them? (Probably not.)

We have been scrutinizing Ted Rollins and his legal/business practices for some time. Looks like others are going to join that effort.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

What Kind of Injuries Did Bob Riley Really Sustain in Alaska?

Petra Majdic

A recent article about sports medicine in a national magazine inadvertently shines new light on the mysterious motorcycle crash of former Alabama Governor Bob Riley in Alaska.

The Sports Illustrated article, "The Truth About Pain: It's In Your Head," is part of a series about medical advances that help athletes recover from injury. Reporter Davd Epstein tells us about several world-class athletes and their efforts to cope with pain. In the process, Epstein adds to the body of evidence that indicates something is fishy about the official story of Riley's motorcycle crash.

Riley used his long-planned motorcycle trek to Alaska as an excuse to get out of testifying in the federal electronic-bingo prosecution in Alabama. So it was more than a little newsworthy when reports came that he had crashed his bike on a gravel road north of Fairbanks. According to news reports of June 28, Riley suffered seven broken ribs, a broken clavicle, and a punctured lung.

About nine days later, the man who rescued Riley and took him to a Fairbanks hospital was quoted as saying he at first did not realize the former Alabama governor was even hurt. Here is how we reported it in a post dated July 7, 2011:

Steve DeMolen, a sales representative for Caterpillar, and his friend, Delany Smith, came upon the site of Riley's crash on a remote highway north of Fairbanks. During a two-hour drive to the nearest hospital, the only injury DeMolen noticed on Riley was a cut hand.

The Steve DeMolen story has left this question in our head: How do you come upon a 66-year-old man who later is discovered to have injuries that put him in critical condition and not realize that he is hurt?

A close read of Sports Illustrated's article on pain in athletes provides one possible answer: Maybe Bob Riley really wasn't hurt, or at least not as badly as it was portrayed in the official family statement that was orchestrated by son Rob Riley.

The SI article focuses on Petra Majdic, a 31-year-old cross-country skier who was one of the favorites to win a medal at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. During a warmup for the women's individual sprint, Majdic crashed and screamed in pain. An ultrasound showed that nothing appeared to be broken, so Majdic continued to compete for five hours, despite pain that she later described as "like when somebody would all the time give you a knife" in your chest.

In the final, Majdic wound up third, earning the first cross-country skiing medal in Slovenia's history. Her coaches could only wonder how she did it when doctors later gave her a more detailed physical examination. Reports Epstein:

Later that evening at Vancouver General Hospital, doctors finally saw that five of Majdič's ribs were in fact broken. And the severe pain she had experienced before the final? During the semi, one of the cracked ribs had become dislodged, and a jagged end had pierced her lung, causing it to collapse.

Notice that Majdic's injuries, though serious, apparently were not as severe as those described for Riley. He had two more broken ribs than she did, plus a broken clavicle, which she did not have.

Majdic is a world-class performer in perhaps the most grueling sport of all, one that forces its participants to develop a tolerance for pain. Writes Epstein:

The excruciating pain from snapped ribs can stop even the toughest athletes, and perhaps no sport puts more strain on the body's core than cross-country skiing. If it was only pain, though, maybe Majdič could go. For the last two decades she had spent hour after hour trudging through snowy woods, her legs and lungs burning, forging a relationship with pain. "The beauteous things in life are born from pain," she says. "For example, a child is born from great pain. In summer, in autumn, in winter, I struggle with pain, so my pain level is really [high]."

How severe was Majdic's pain? She was "ashen and hunched" and told a coach at one point that she couldn't go on. The coach said, "She could not sit, so she was lying down, and when she stood up she was [hunched over]." Majdic later described a clicking sound in her chest, which was her ribs moving.

Epstein describes it as "pain that, for the next four days, would make it nearly unbearable for her to cry (which she did anyway because she had to miss her other events) and, for nearly a week afterward, impossible to walk."

This is the pain experienced by an Olympian, in the prime shape of her life. But the man who found Bob Riley, with injuries that sound worse than Majdic's, did not notice that the former governor was hurt. In fact, DeMolen describes carrying on a relatively pleasant conversation with Riley on the trip to the hospital.

How is that possible? It probably isn't if someone actually has the injuries that were described in Bob Riley's case.

Riley must have otherworldly recuperative powers. Our research indicates that the recovery time from a punctured lung is anywhere from eight weeks to three months. But recent news reports show that Riley has registered as a lobbyist and began representing three clients in July.

Was Bob Riley really able to work as a lobbyist in July, less than one month after a motorcycle crash that left him with a punctured lung and multiple fractures?

It would be interesting to contact Petra Majdic and describe the Bob Riley story to her. Would she believe it?

We suspect her response would be, "No way in hell!"

Here is a video from Mobile's WKRG about Riley's experience. The reporter seems to be skeptical about the Riley tale. The blog Vincent Alabama Confidential has an intriguing take on the Riley video:

Here is a video about Majdic's injury and the aftermath. You can decide for yourself whether Riley's story makes sense:

Cops Target Woman Who Exposed Police Corruption

Officers who are sworn to uphold the law would not violate the law, would they? Officers certainly would not terrorize a citizen who helped expose police corruption, right?

Hmmm . . . looks like we would be wrong on both counts. Recent events in Tulsa, Oklahoma, reveal that cops can turn into thugs with no problem at all.

Kelie D. Barnes is a key witness in a lawsuit against the city alleging police corruption. What kind of price has Ms. Barnes paid for stepping forward? A report in The Tulsa World helps answer that question. The cops, it turns out, could not even practice their thuggery in a competent fashion:

Five Tulsa police officers--including one who accidentally fired his weapon--served misdemeanor traffic warrants and arrested a key witness Thursday in a police corruption lawsuit against the city.

The officer who fired his weapon is under internal investigation, and police refused to release his name.

Kelie D. Barnes, 32, was arrested Thursday on outstanding municipal warrants, Tulsa Jail records show.

Barnes' warrants are all misdemeanors involving failure to wear a seat belt, expired tag, no proof of insurance, no driver's license and speeding, according to jail records.

Why were cops suddenly so interested in Kelie Barnes? The Tulsa newspaper spells it out:

Barnes was at the home of her father, Larry Wayne Barnes Sr., who is suing the city and police alleging wrongful imprisonment, records show.

In arresting Kelie Barnes, police officers forced open the door after the residents failed to open the door when police announced their presence, said Capt. Jonathan Brooks, police spokesman.

Brooks said one of the officers accidentally discharged his weapon as officers forced open the door. An internal affairs investigation has been opened into the weapon discharge, he said.

"The officers had information that Kelie was in the house and they knocked on the door and announced (police) and then forced entry when there was no response," Brooks said. "The gun was not pointed at anyone and it was discharged into the ground."

What's behind all of this ugliness?

Larry Barnes has alleged that police have retaliated against him, his lawsuit states. Retaliation includes recent attempts by police to lure him into a drug deal with an informant, his suit states.

Larry Barnes was freed from prison in July 2009 after an informant said he worked with police to frame Larry Barnes and a second daughter, Larita Annette Barnes, in 2007 for selling drugs.

Larita Barnes was also freed from prison and is suing the city for alleged wrongful imprisonment. The Barneses served about 18 months in prison before being freed.

The informant, Ryan Logsdon, and former ATF agent Brandon McFadden testified in a recent police trial that they framed the Barneses with the help of Officer Jeff Henderson.

Are the cops worse than the crooks? The folks in Tulsa must be asking themselves that question.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Has Mainstream Journalism Officially Died in Alabama?

Bob Lowry (left) with
U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers

Bob Lowry, perhaps the last real mainstream journalist in Alabama, is out of a job. That should concern every citizen who thinks that reporting plays a critical role in our democracy.

Lowry, who started his journalism career in 1977, most recently was Montgomery bureau chief for The Huntsville Times. But the Times has closed its bureau, and Lowry came to an agreement to leave the paper. That means the fourth largest city in Alabama, and one of the nation's premier centers for high-tech and space-related industry, will have no one covering the state capital.

Even more alarming are signs that Lowry's ouster might have been part of a political hit. As regular Schnauzer readers know, I too am a journalist with more than 30 years of experience, and I was unlawfully fired from my job as an editor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), where I had worked for 19 years. Did something similar happen to Bob Lowry?

It's not just my opinion that I was fired for unlawful political reasons that violate the First Amendment and other federal/state laws. I have absolute proof, in the form of a tape-record conversation with a UAB human-resources official named Anita Bonasera. It's indisputable that I was targeted because of the content on this blog about the Don Siegelman case; Bonasera admits that. Here is how I've reported on the tape in a previous post:

So why was I really fired? The answer is obvious in a three-minute audiotape of a conversation I had with UAB human-resources official Anita Bonasera a few days after I had been placed on administrative leave. I had been told that I could file a written response to the charges against me, and I called Bonasera with several questions about that process. In the first part of the audio I try to explain the nature of my job description, addressing charges that I had engaged in excessive "non work-related activity." From about the 1:50 to 2:10 mark, Bonasera admits that I was targeted because of my blog, especially its content about the Don Siegelman case. You can listen to the tape here: 
Audio: UAB and the Cost of Blogging About the Siegelman Case

That gives you some insight into Alabama's political environment over the past few years, and I have an ongoing federal lawsuit about my termination. How might this ugly environment apply to Bob Lowry's exit at The Huntsville Times? Lowry has signed a separation agreement with the newspaper and is not able to discuss what took place. But we see signs that he might have been targeted by Alabama's GOP thugs.

For one, Lowry was perhaps the only mainstream journalist in Alabama who reported seriously and wrote critically about the Bob Riley administration. It has been reported in several venues that Riley contacted higher ups at the Huntsville paper in an effort to get Lowry off his back.

For another, Lowry has written critically about state representative Mike Hubbard, a staunch Riley ally and now speaker of the Alabama House. In early August, Hubbard made a well-publicized trip to Huntsville for a speech and a tour of high-tech facilities. Not long after that, word leaked about the Times' plans to close the Montgomery bureau and send Bob Lowry packing.

Is that a coincidence? Given what I know about the habits of Republican thugs in Alabama, I would say it is not.

The whole story leaves me with two thoughts:

* I hope Bob Lowry finds a new outlet for his reporting and writing skills. Alabama desperately needs him;

* I hope someone eventually teaches the Riley/Hubbard crowd that it's a real bad idea to screw around with people's jobs. Victims don't take kindly to it--and some are liable to fight back in a ferocious fashion.

This reminds me of one of my favorite artists, Fleetwood Mac guitarist Lindsey Buckingham. He just released a new CD, his sixth solo effort, and it's called Seeds we Sow. Political thugs in Alabama, and elsewhere, have been sowing some bad seeds in recent years. And we suspect the bad guys eventually are going to reap an unpleasant harvest. We would suggest that the thugs check out the lyrics to the title track from Buckingham's new album. They carry a lot of meaning. And here is a live performance of the song, from the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills, California:

Divorce Cases Spark Gun Violence and Death in the South

Scene of a courthouse shooting
in Van Buren, Arkansas

For the second time in two months, a contentious divorce case appears to have sparked a fatal shooting in the South.

The most recent case came last Tuesday when 48-year-old James Ray Palmer walked into the Crawford County Courthouse in Van Buren, Arkansas, and opened fire. Palmer asked to speak to Circuit Judge Gary Cottrell. When told that Cottrell was not available, Palmer started shooting, striking Cottrell's secretary in the leg. Palmer was fatally shot after engaging law-enforcement officers in a gun battle outside the courthouse. Secretary Vickie Jones is expected to recover from her injuries.

Why did Palmer want to speak to Cottrell? Officials believe it's because Cottrell had presided over Palmer's divorce case, which ran from 1999 to 2004 but continued with occasional visitation issues involving one child.

The Arkansas shooting comes after the death in late July of Alabama attorney Robert Blake Lazenby, who died of multiple gunshot wounds in his Sylacauga home. Talladega County officials have released no information about suspects or motives in the Lazenby case, but we reported that the victim had been involved in his own rancorous divorce case at the time of his death.

Domestic-relations cases have become a regular topic here at Legal Schnauzer, and we have reported on several cases where judges, lawyers, and the "justice establishment" appear to have collaborated on blatant cheat jobs against certain parties. Here are two of many posts we have written about such cases:

Here's How Wealthy Republicans Receive Unlawful Favors in Alabama Courts 

Bar Association Punishes Lawyer for Telling the Truth

The recent shootings in Arkansas and Alabama involved radically different circumstances. In Arkansas, gunman James Ray Palmer appears to have become deeply disturbed over a variety of issues, and we see no evidence that his divorce case was handled improperly. Palmer's sister said he probably had been suicidal for quite some time before Tuesday's shooting. From the Fort Smith Times Record:

Dianna Lynn Dockery of Sulphur Springs, Texas, said Thursday that her brother recently visited his other two sisters in Oklahoma—where they went on a float trip—and he provided no clue that he reached a point where he believed he had no options.

But Dockery said she thinks he was likely suicidal for quite some time before Tuesday.
Dockery said Palmer recently lost his job at the Bekaert Corporation in Van Buren and his ex-wife hadn't allowed him to see his son in a couple of years.

Palmer reportedly had acted in an abusive and threatening fashion to his ex wife and others:

Steffeny Palmer initially filed for divorce May 26, 1999, a day after she said her husband "flipped out and told me it was time he bought a couple of assault weapons" before he attacked her in front of their child and then set the couch on fire, according to a petition for a protection order Steffeny Palmer sought in November 1999.

In the same petition, she claimed James Palmer went to her parents' home on Nov. 9, 1999, and told her father he had four or five high-powered rifles with him and he wasn't hunting deer, he was hunting "two legged."

Steffeny Palmer also claimed James Palmer had been "drinking and on drugs" and previously spent time in a mental institution.

Dockery said her brother was briefly hospitalized following a suicide attempt - while he was dating Steffeny Palmer - in 1994. The Palmers married in May 1995.

James Palmer filed for bankruptcy in 2005, and his sister said he remained upset over an inability to regularly see his son:

Although Steffeny and James Palmer never returned to court after 2004, Dockery said issues regarding her brother's visitation with his son continued.

Dockery said Steffeny Palmer would periodically refuse to allow James Palmer to see their son, which would leave him upset and depressed, although he would normally "just hold it in," not allowing people to see how much it really affected him.

But the facade apparently started to crack the day before James Palmer walked into the courthouse heavily armed.

Much remains unknown about the Blake Lazenby shooting in Alabama. But we have reported on apparent irregularities in the handling of the case. From our post dated August 17:

Perhaps the most contentious and personal matter on Lazenby's plate, however, was a divorce case filed by his wife, Geanne Elder Lazenby. The complaint is dated October 24, 2008, and public records indicate the case had become rancorous in recent months.

At least four judges had been involved in the matter, and Geanne Lazenby had gone through a "Who's Who" of divorce lawyers from the Birmingham area. Plaintiffs' lawyers at various times included Mavanee Bear, Charles Gorham, Bruce Gordon, Gregory Yaghmi, and Kristel N. Reed. Documents indicate that several of Geanne Lazenby's lawyers quit or were fired. I've had experience with that kind of thing, and while it can be a sign of a difficult client, it also can mean the client is tough and smart enough to know she is being screwed--and the lawyers are unable, or unwilling, to fight the legal cartel.

Blake Lazenby, the defendant, also was pulling out the heavy artillery, including his law partner William W. Lawrence and A. Joe Peddy, of the Birmingham firm Smith Spires and Peddy. The Smith firm's Web site indicates it does not practice family law, and Peddy's individual page does not list divorce cases among his areas of interest. Why, then, was Peddy involved in the Lazenby case?

Based on our research, it is standard practice for a judge to recuse himself from a divorce case involving a lawyer who regularly appears before the court. It's clear that Blake Lazenby regularly appeared before the Talladega County Court, and his firm practices family law, presumably before Talladega judges. That means lawyers from Lazenby's firms routinely were before local judges on divorce matters. One can see why Geanne Elder Lazenby was concerned about receiving fair treatment in court.

The Arkansas shooting appears to be the case of a man who snapped in the face of mental illness and a mounting set of problems, some of which were related to a divorce case. The Alabama shooting, for the moment, appears to be connected to official misconduct involving a divorce case. Here is the question we asked earlier:

Did our state's corrupt legal cartel finally push the wrong person too far, leading to the violent death of a party in a lawsuit? We would not be surprised if the answer is yes.

We will have more posts coming soon on the Blake Lazenby case.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Have Democrats Become a Hopeless Cause in Alabama--and Elsewhere?

Jere Beasley

How did the Democratic Party get into such disarray that it lost two special elections this week--one for a normally safe Congressional seat in New York and one for a toss-up seat in Nevada?

We can't offer a one-size-fits-all answer to that question. But part of the explanation might come from here in Alabama, where a party elder admitted he hasn't "voted for a Democratic governor for a pretty good while."

With friends like that . . . well, you know how the rest of that goes.

Any list of the most prominent Democrats in Alabama surely would include Jere Beasley. A former lieutenant governor who served briefly as governor after an assassination attempt on George Wallace, Beasley is perhaps the best known trial lawyer in Alabama. His firm, Beasley Allen of Montgomery, is seen by many as the premier plaintiffs' outfit in the state. Sources tell Legal Schnauzer that Beasley still has the clout to be a kingmaker in Alabama Democratic circles.

So we had a jaw-dropping moment this week when reading a wide-ranging interview with Beasley, conducted by Neal Vickers at The article, titled "Tea Party: A Movement of Lemmings," offers up Beasley's view that the Tea Party movement is hurting the cause of good government in America.

We certainly agree with him there. In fact, the interview gets off to a rousing start, with Beasley stating that a third-party candidacy could make the 2012 election one of the most tumultuous races in American history. He says the Tea Party appeals to the same voters who went for Wallace in the 1960s. From the Vickers interview:

[Beasley] says he thinks the Tea Party undermines the efforts to provide good government.

"Even though Congress, under threats by the Tea Party zealots, concocted a debt agreement that sold out middle income Americans, the Tea Party groups still weren’t satisfied. They continue to do everything they can to destroy what’s left of the American Dream."

Monday, during a telephone interview, he was asked to expand on those ideas.

Beasley: "The Tea Party was put together by two brothers who are billionaires [Charles and David Koch] and their interests are not really in line with the thinking and the needs of most common, everyday folks. People take the tea party line not realizing exactly who's behind it and who's financing it."

Sounds like Beasley has the Tea Party figured out, doesn't it? But then comes this exchange:

Beasley: "The think tanks who have been financed by these billionaires have sort of changed public opinion. . . . . You have people, for example, today in America voting against their own economic interests, voting for the interest of the super-rich to their detriment. And they don't really realize exactly what's going on in my opinion.

Q: "You're a Democrat . . ."

Beasley: "Well, I haven't voted for a Democratic governor in a pretty good while in Alabama. I'm a Democrat, but probably vote as an independent. I'm like most folks, I vote for the person."

Whoa, let's see if I have this straight: Beasley bemoans the fact that certain Americans are so feeble-minded that they vote against their own economic interests. But then he seems to admit that he has been voting Republican in Alabama gubernatorial races. That's a trial lawyer voting for candidates who tend to be backed by Karl Rove and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

And "I vote for the person"? As Homer Simpson might say, "That's the mating call of the loooooser!"

Is Jere Beasley any smarter than the folks he more or less calls clueless? Heck, Beasley might be the biggest ding dong of all. First, he admits he has betrayed the party that has supported trial lawyers for years. Then, he implies that he voted for former Republican Governor Bob Riley, a man with documented ties to GOP felons Jack Abramoff and Michael Scanlon.

Beasley is concerned about "good government," but he voted for perhaps the most corrupt governor in Alabama history, a man who rose to power on the strength of $13 million in Mississippi gaming money, funneled through Abramoff and Scanlon?

Perhaps Beasley has created a new political animal. You might call it a sub-species of the DINO (Democrat In Name Only.) Beasley is a DWDVD (Democrat Who Doesn't Vote for Democrats).

No wonder the Democratic Party is like a driver whose car is stuck in a ditch beside a lonely Alabama highway--in the middle of the night, in heavy rain, with criminals on the loose, and no cell phone in sight.

Here, we think, is the sad truth: Jere Beasley, and quite a few other Alabama Democrats, might talk a good game about the needs of "everyday folks." But they really are interested in protecting the interests of moneyed elites. They also are interested in cold, hard cash.

Why might Jere Beasley have voted for Bob Riley? Let's return to our post from earlier this year about a bogus lawsuit Beasley Allen filed against Taco Bell. That suit, claiming Taco Bell did not use real beef products, made national news before being withdrawn. From our post:

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

Translation: When Jere Beasley sees dollar signs in the distance, he's more than happy to jump in bed with Bob Riley's son. He's also happy to ignore Rob Riley's sleazy background:

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

Jere Beasley apparently is so busy pressing his lips to Bob Riley's behind that he can't see what ails his own party. Key Democrats around the country seem to share a similar affliction--they are so busy caving in to GOP demands that they don't notice their supporters putting out "I'm Staying Home On Election Day" signs.

Perhaps FireDogLake summed it up best the other day, in a piece titled "If You Want Democrats to Vote, You Need to Give Them a Reason to Vote." From the FDL piece:

The jobs bill is a good start, to be sure. But if the pattern holds, it will get whittled down to a bunch of miscellaneous tax cuts, and we will be told — again — to be happy with what we got.

And this is telling: there is still no “Issues” tab on the Obama 2012 campaign site. What does the President want to do with a second term? What is he willing to fight for? What are the Democratic priorities?

I don’t think Democratic voters know the answer to these questions, and that’s kind of a problem.

It sure is a problem. Having Democratic "leaders" who don't vote for Democrats might also be a problem. We learned that lesson from Jere Beasley.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Is a Cover Up Under Way In "The Tiny Kingdom" of Mountain Brook?

Sundeep Caplash and his wife, Nitu

The Birmingham suburb of Mountain Brook, Alabama, long has ranked as one of the wealthiest municipalities in America.

You would think that "The Tiny Kingdom" could afford a semi competent police department. But based on recent news reports about the investigation of a jogger's death earlier this year, you would be wrong. The investigation, in fact, emits such a foul odor that the words "cover up" come quickly to mind.

That, of course, leads to the following questions: What is being covered up? Why is it being covered up? Who is directing the cover up? And who is being protected in the cover up?

We don't have the answers to those questions, but something about the death of Sundeep Caplash doesn't smell right. We've seen evidence of odd behavior connected to law enforcement in Mountain Brook, and that makes the Caplash case even more troubling.

Caplash, 38, was vice president for wealth management at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney in Birmingham. Before that, he had worked as vice president for investments at UBS. He had become an avid jogger and was out for an early-morning training run on January 31 when he was struck by a car and killed on one of Mountain Brook's main thoroughfares.

The driver was a Mountain Brook police officer who had just gotten off the night shift when the accident occurred at about 6 a.m. The officer was Jerry Scott Smith, and his name had not been publicly revealed until this week.

An investigation, with its results released in late March, found that Caplash was at fault in the accident. Who conducted the investigation? The Mountain Brook PD, with help from the Alabama State Troopers.

Was the police department protecting one of its own? The Caplash family apparently suspected as much. They hired Leon Ashford, a lawyer with the Birmingham firm of Hare Wynn Newell & Newton, and new information indicates that Caplash might not have been at fault. It also contradicts the earlier investigation on key points and indicates evidence has been destroyed.

Here is how we reported on the March investigation:

Cpl. Steve Smith of the Alabama State Troopers, who assisted Mountain Brook police with the investigation, said Caplash was at fault for running with traffic rather than against, not wearing reflective clothing, and running in the street when a sidewalk was available.

We now know, however, that Caplash was wearing a reflective vest, and under Mountain Brook ordinance, that made it lawful for him to be running in the street at that hour. And what happened to his vest, which a reasonable person might consider to be fairly important evidence? It was destroyed. Reports The Birmingham News:

According to reports by the police and the coroner's office, the jacket was photographed during the medical examiner's investigation, but then was destroyed. The coroner and Mountain Brook Police together concluded that blood-soaked jacket wasn't valuable as evidence and because of its condition was a "biohazard." So, in the end, the jacket wasn't available for the state troopers to examine first-hand.

This is the same Jefferson County Medical Examiner's Office that made a suicide finding in the death of Mountain Brook resident Major Bashinsky, even though the autopsy report presents no scientific evidence to support that conclusion.

Speaking of Major Bashinsky, he was an attorney who specialized in estate planning, financial planning, and investments. Sundeep Caplash also worked in the investment field and was based near a community with large sums of wealth to be managed. Is it curious that two men who worked with investments--and had ties to Mountain Brook--would die in very public and mysterious events within about eight months of each other? We think it is.

If I were a member of the Caplash family, I would not blindly assume that Sundeep Caplash's death was an accident. I also would not assume that Officer Smith was behind it.

New information found no evidence that Smith was speeding or impaired by alcohol, drugs, or medication. It also found that he was not distracted by the use of a cell phone.

As we noted in an earlier post, speed limits in that area of Mountain Brook tend to be very low, in the 20 to 40 range. If the driver wasn't speeding, how did he hit Caplash hard enough to kill him--and throw him forward, past his running partner?

Here are a few other questions I would ask if I were a member of the Caplash family:

* Reports indicate that Smith had just gotten off the night shift. Is it normal for the night shift to end at 6 a.m.? Many 24-hour operations work on a 7-3, 3-11, 11-7 schedule. Does the Mountain Brook PD do it differently?

* Did Sundeep Caplash work with specific clients at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney? Had any of them seen a downturn in their investments? Did any of them have reason to be disgruntled?

* Did Caplash have oversight responsibility in his job? Had he noticed any irregularities that might cause him to make a report to authorities?

* Did Caplash have any professional connections to Major Bashinsky or the estate of his father, Sloan Bashinsky Sr.?

* Did Caplash have any professional connections to William Cobb "Chip" Hazelrig, a Mountain Brook businessman whose W&H Investments was involved in a lawsuit with the Bashinsky estate at about the time Major Bashinsky disappeared?

That last question might seem out of left field. But consider this oddity: As we reported in a previous post, Chip Hazelrig has a lengthy record of traffic offenses, including a DUI/speeding offense for driving more than 100 mph on Highway 280. Here is how we reported on that incident:

Mountain Brook Police Officer Jerry S. Smith stopped Hazelrig at 11:56 p.m. on August 10, 2007. While stationed at the site of the old Mountain Brook Inn, Smith observed Hazelrig's black Mercedes SL 65 driving at a high rate of speed--112 mph to be precise.

Smith activated his emergency lights and pulled Hazelrig over. When the officer approached the vehicle, he detected a strong odor of alcohol.

Hazelrig failed several field sobriety tests and then refused to take a breath test.

The same Officer Smith who hit Sundeep Caplash apparently also has encountered Chip Hazelrig. Is that quite the coincidence? Maybe. What could it mean? I don't know.

But if I were a member of the Caplash family, I would not assume that anything the Mountain Brook PD tells me is true. The department's handling of the investigation shows that it is not to be trusted.

Here is a video about a tribute to Sundeep Caplash from fellow runners. A good man is gone, leaving behind his wife, Nitu, and two young children. Vijay Caplash, Sundeep's father, is a Birmingham physician. The Caplash family--and the public--deserve to know what really happened:

Siegelman: What Happened to President Obama's Moral Compass?

Don Siegelman

Former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman, the most high-profile victim of a Bush-era political prosecution, had a strong reaction to recent news that advisors to Barack Obama feared a coup if the administration pursued prosecutions for war crimes.

Obama's team likely also feared reprisals if they pursued accountability on other justice matters, such as political prosecutions and the unlawful firings of U.S. attorneys. That means the White House, under a Democratic president, is more or less saying to Siegelman and others, "The rule of law doesn't apply to you."

Not surprisingly, Siegelman finds such a position abhorrent, and that comes through clearly in his guest editorial at the D.C.-based Justice Integrity Project, led by Andrew Kreig. The Siegelman column is titled "The President Needs to Engage his Moral GPS," and it raises serious questions about Obama's reluctance to lead on issues of profound importance.

Writes Siegelman:

Clearly if one's moral compass is locked in, the decision is easy to make that the United States does not tolerate torture as a means of interrogation. The President should have pursued those responsible for implementing torture as a means of interrogation, and could have explained to the country that this is something that we must do, in order for countries throughout the world, and peoples throughout the world, to once again have respect for the United States. He could explain to the people of the United States that his decision to pursue those responsible for torture was going to be unsettling to some high-ranking officials, both in the military and those in the former Bush Administration.

If he had done that, if he had laid that predicate to the American people, then it would have been less likely that those who were contemplating retaliating against the President for his investigation of torture would have followed through with their threat. But even if they did, then the fight for what is right and just and in the United States' best interest would have been clearly delineated, laid out before the American people, and the American people would have sided with the President in his fight for truth.

In short, Siegelman says, Obama should have been upfront with the American people. But he still has not done it on a variety of justice matters, and it has chipped away at the administration's moral authority. Siegelman particularly is outraged by the 2009 case of Pottawattamie County v. McGhee, in which the Obama Justice Department argued there is "no freestanding right not to be framed." Writes Siegelman:

It's clear that President Obama [decided] to let [then-Solicitor General] Elena Kagan send her deputy in to the U.S. Supreme Court on January 4, 2010, to argue that United States citizens do not have a Constitutional right not to be framed. Said in another way: That the United States government can frame people, knowingly, and intentionally, and willingly, in order to inspire prosecutors to do their best to fight for those things that they think need to be prosecuted.

I think that's a wrong-headed, illogical, immoral position. Yet the President took that position when he allowed the United States government to make that argument to the Supreme Court.

This was in the case of those two black men who served 25 years for a crime they did not commit. They were framed by prosecutors and investigators in Iowa because the investigators and the local prosecutors didn't want to go after a white suspect. They were able to get a young felon to testify against these two black men in exchange for a bribe--in exchange for a government-sanctioned bribe--that they would cut this young felon a deal on his sentence if he would be willing to lie about these two black men and help the government convict them. He lied, they got convicted, served 25 years, and then were out suing for damages.

Obama is in danger, Siegelman writes, of having a failed presidency on justice issues--and maybe more:

The President needs to engage his moral GPS. He needs to get his moral compass locked in--while there's still a chance to recoup some value for himself and some legacy of his Administration that all of us can be proud of.