Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Campus Crest CEO Ted Rollins Is the "Ultimate Deadbeat Dad"

Ted Rollins

Ted Rollins, the head of a company that completed a $380-million Wall Street IPO in late 2010, is the "ultimate deadbeat dad," according to his ex wife.

Ted Rollins is the CEO of Charlotte-based Campus Crest Communities, a company that has built roughly 30 student-housing developments near college campuses across the country. A $26-million project is planned for Auburn University, and Rollins has other ties to Alabama.

His ex wife, Sherry Carroll Rollins, now lives in Birmingham with the couple's teen-aged daughters, Sarah  and Emma. In part one of an extended interview with Legal Schnauzer, Ms. Rollins describes her former husband's repeated failure to pay court-ordered family support during a divorce action that was litigated over four years, in two states--South Carolina and Alabama.

By Ms. Rollins' rough calculations, Ted Rollins owed at least $350,000 and paid less than one-third of that, roughly $104,000. "I would say he's the ultimate deadbeat dad," Ms. Rollins said. "He didn't see his children for more than two years, by choice. He didn't pay anything. We became wards of the state and wards of my family. . . . My father kept us going for over a year, a year and a half."

Ms. Rollins goes on to say Ted Rollins owns a company that owns three private jet craft. And yet his ex wife and two daughters currently are on food stamps. Here is our first in a series of interviews with Sherry Carroll Rollins:

Monday, January 30, 2012

Death of a Bingo Defendant Adds to Political Intrigue in Alabama

Ray Crosby

Having lived as a progressive through the Karl Rove era in Alabama, this reporter is not easily shocked. But when word started spreading early yesterday evening that a defendant had died on the eve of the Alabama bingo retrial . . . well, that was a stunner.

Ray Crosby, a former legislative analyst in the Alabama Legislature, was found dead in his Montgomery home yesterday afternoon. He was one of seven defendants to be retried in the bingo case, which was to kick off again today in Montgomery.

The first word I heard was that Crosby committed suicide, which would make him No. 5 on our list of suspicious "suicides" that have ties to Alabama GOP politics over the past two years. The strange-deaths list grows to six if you include the apparent beating death of former Bob Riley aide Zoa White in her Mobile home. And I'm not even including some apparent heart attacks of folks connected to the bingo case.

What do we know about the Crosby death? Neal Vickers reports at examiner.com:

One of seven defendants set to be tried again in the Alabama bingo corruption case is dead. Former legislative analyst Ray Crosby was found dead in his home late Sunday afternoon.

Authorities have not revealed a cause of death. The denial includes if it could have been from natural causes. Montgomery police simply say they are "conducting a death investigation".

How will Crosby's death affect the bingo trial? That is unclear. Reports Vickers:

Crosby’s death casts an ominous chill on the trial set to start Monday morning that has already had several last minute twists making some speculate the prosecution is possibly in trouble.

When asked tonight if Crosby’s death would affect the status of the trial set to begin Monday, Department of Justice spokeswoman Laura Sweeney replied "We would decline to comment".

A report out just a few minutes ago states that jury selection in the case has been suspended indefinitely.

Crosby reportedly had suffered significant personal and financial struggles in the wake of the first bingo trial, which ended with no convictions last summer. One of the best summations I've seen about his death comes from Dothan-based rickeystokesnews.com, noting that family members believe Crosby died from a heart attack:

Since the October 4, 2010 arrest and trials, Mr. Cosby, as all defendants, has suffered a lot. This arrest caused Mr. Cosby to lose his job. He has had to come up with thousands of dollars to employ legal representation to clear him. The first trial of two month ended in a hung jury. Then the evidence of the government withholding documents that would have cleared him in the first case. Then coming up with more money for a second time.

Evidence from his bosses and superiors that said they knew and approved what Cosby was doing. Their statements that is was okay. Something the public integrity unit argued against, even when they knew they had statements from his superiors that it was an approved action.

Stokes has harsh words for federal prosecutors:

The government's pattern and practice, cost you all of the money they can until you are financially broke, then convict you when you have no more money to defend yourself. Remember, not one person on the government side has to come up with one dollar. And when they are cut financially, they pull the "public safety" card or the "justice" card out in an effort to get more money.

If we knew all of the things the so called public integrity people in this case have done, including law enforcement agents, the public would be outraged. Remember, the government, which represents the people of the United States, is the one that has asked the court for a gag order so no comments can be made to the public. The people whose freedoms are at stake, they have not asked for the government not to talk. The government wants to hide true facts from the public.

Stokes pins the blame for Ray Crosby's death right where it probably belongs:

This case is the cause of death for Mr. Ray Cosby. And this case has absolutely ZERO to do with justice. It is politics, pure and simple. In the testimony of Senator Scott Beason, when he secretly taped himself, summed what this case was about. If the blacks vote, the republicans will not win. This case was about the republicans taking over the power in Alabama and they would destroy in and everyone who got in their path.

A Reporter Goes Undercover to Expose the Debt-Collection Industry

America consists of two kinds of people--those who have heard from debt collectors and those who probably will hear from debt collectors.

In a nation of easy credit, most Americans are just a few late payments away from entering the murky netherworld of collection companies, outfits with names like NCO, Mann Bracken, LVNV, and Asset Acceptance. Never heard of those? If you have a credit card, you probably will someday.

When collection phone calls start coming--often accompanied by unlawful threats, misrepresentations, and other forms of deceit--most Americans have no idea what they are getting into. I know because I used to be one of those clueless Americans.

I had to educate myself about the sharks that swim in the churning, poorly regulated waters of the debt-collection business. But you won't have to do that if you make author Fred Williams your friend.

Williams, probably the foremost debt-collection journalist in the country, has written a book that is indispensable for consumers who want to be prepared when the collection calls start coming. It's called
Fight Back Against Unfair Debt Collection Practices: Know Your Rights and Protect Yourself From Threats, Lies, and Intimidation (FT Press, 2011).

That's an unwieldy title, and it doesn't do Williams' book justice. The FT in FT Press stands for Financial Times, and the publisher is an imprint of Pearson Prentice Hall. The book apparently was marketed as a specialty book, in the personal finance genre.

Fight Back is about as close as you will find to a "one-stop shop" for information about dealing with debt collectors--and as such, it is a personal-finance book. But it's much more than that. Williams, a former reporter for The Buffalo News, went underground to work for three months at a debt-collection agency in 2008. That experience produced an articled titled "Confessions of a Debt Collector," at Kiplinger.

Fight Back is the book-length account of Williams' time as a debt collector. He now lives in Virginia and comes across as a true reporter, a guy who deals in solid information. He has a no-frills, behind-the-scenes style that conjures up a non-fiction version of John Grisham. You get the sense that this is a writer who has been there, who knows his subject intimately. Fight Back, at its best, reads like a Grisham novel--except that the bad guys are managers in a debt-collection agency, not partners in a law firm.

The law, however, plays a leading role in Fight Back. Specifically, it's a single law, called the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). It's supposed to govern the actions of debt collectors and keep them from behaving in an abusive fashion. Williams shows, through 194 crisply written pages, that the FDCPA is pathetically weak and does almost nothing to protect consumers.

That's why consumers have to be prepared to protect themselves. And Fight Back is filled with practical suggestions for doing just that.

How badly is the FDCPA failing? Consider this from Williams:

Debt collectors caused more than 300,000 complaints to the Federal Trade Commission in the past five years, more than any other industry that the agency regulates. The rate of complaints is exploding, having more than tripled since 2003. The number-one complaint is that collectors are demanding money that people do not even owe, even grabbing it from their bank accounts. As the industry casts its net wider and wider--making an estimated one billion contacts with consumers per year--a growing number of people say they are being shaken down by telephone bullies.

My wife and I know what that is like. I've written extensively about our battles with debt collectors and their disregard for federal law and the rights of consumers. We even have tape-recorded evidence of collectors from the Birmingham firm Ingram & Associates repeatedly violating the FDCPA while trying to collect a debt I allegedly owed to American Express. The local firm, headed by a lawyer named Angie Ingram, was hired to collect the debt by a large Pennsylvania outfit called NCO. Multiple parties in our federal lawsuit admitted this, but we have recordings of Ingram representatives repeatedly saying they had been hired by American Express to sue me--that Angie Ingram was American Express' lawyer. This is both a grotesque violation of the FDCPA--which prohibits any false or deceiving statements to alleged debtors--and it also represents fraud under Alabama state law.

Fred Williams
Has our tape-recorded evidence, which is indisputable, been helpful in our lawsuit against Ingram and NCO? Not exactly. Much more is coming soon on our case and the lengths to which federal judges (and lawyers who defend the industry) will go to keep the high-dollar, debt-collection express rolling. But for now, we will focus on the broad picture--and Fred Williams shows clearly that it isn't pretty. About his three months as a collector, Williams writes:

As it turned out, the job tested more than the ability of a legally compliant collector to remain employed. On a day-to-day level, the job also tested my standards for reasonable and humane conduct. Living by the golden rule is not entirely congruent with the task of browbeating strangers who have fallen on hard times--especially ones whose lives have become a tragedy.

What's the environment like at a typical collection outfit?

Call centers are like factories used to be in this Rust Belt area--places where practically anyone can show up and get a job. But these jobs are easier to get than they are to keep. Of the four female trainees present at the start, one fails to return after the midmorning break, marking the first of what will be many abrupt exits from our group.

Williams isn't writing about a problem that affects only those on the fringes of American society; it affects us all:

The average home has three open credit-card accounts. Nearly half of all Americans carry a balance on their cards, with the average household's balance being over $7,000.

That means millions of Americans are just one job loss, health problem, or lawsuit away from a financial upheaval--and the debt-collection calls that come with it.

One of our goals is to help educate consumers about issues that many are likely to face someday. We will return to Fight Back, and Fred Williams, for assistance.

Here is an interview with Williams on CNBC:

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Conservatives' Use of Animal Abuse Should Come As No Surprise

An apparent political hit on a family's cat in Arkansas has drawn national attention, and it's one of the most nauseating stories I've read in a long time. I only wish I could say it came as a surprise.

Since starting this blog in June 2007, I've written frequently about wrongdoing among conservative elites in Alabama and beyond. That has made me a fair number of enemies, enough that both my wife and I have been cheated out of our jobs. But the abuse has not stopped there. We learned a long time ago that conservative thugs enjoy using threats--and they don't mind targeting family pets.

The title of this blog hints that animals are held in high regard in our household. Our current pets, the Tonkinese kitty kat combo of Baxter and Chloe, mean the world to us and are treated in a fashion that Will  and Kate would recognize. Our previous pet, a miniature schnauzer named Murphy (1993-2004), meant so much to us that this blog is devoted to her memory.

What form of scum would kill a family cat, scrawl the word "liberal" on the corpse, and leave it for a Democratic politico and his children to find? I probably don't possess the vocabulary to adequately describe such a lowlife, but I'm not surprised that someone who apparently identifies as a conservative would kill an animal in order to make a political threat.

That's because I've received numerous animal-related threats via e-mail or anonymous comments on this blog. Our cats are pretty low key, and the blog title does not refer to them, so they have remained out of the rhetorical fire (so far). But conservative dirt bags have made regular sport of leaving nasty comments about our dog. Here is a sampling from a post titled "Unmasking Right-Wing Sickos?"

To truly grasp the depravity of the right-wing fear mongers, you need to see the anonymous comments I have not let through. Following is a sampler of such comments divided up by subject:


* From: Anonymous Date: Jun 30, 2008 8:58 PM

are you sure your dog died a natural death? maybe, maybe not...you will never know will you?

* From: Anonymous Date: Jun 12, 2008 10:18 PM

you are a fool like your dead dog

* From: Anonymous Date: May 20, 2008 9:25 PM

You are such a little man...such the small person. You offer nothing to the world other than your pitiful rantings. How is your dog?

* From: Anonymous Date: May 19, 2008 7:27 PM

Your Schnauzer has no bite because he is dead. Why did you roll over and kill your dog? Possible animal cruelty charges to come.

The most chilling message, of course, is the first one, where someone actually hints that Murphy might have been murdered. Whoever left that message probably does not live around us or know us very well. That's because Murphy was an indoor dog, except when we took her for daily walks or let her out onto our screened deck. She never was outside without our supervision, so the only way her death could not be natural is if someone broke into our house and poisoned her. Our vet told us that Murphy's symptoms prior to her death did not suggest that she had ingested a harmful substance, so poisoning of any kind almost certainly was not a factor. Plus, we never saw any signs of a break-in.

Sicko No. 1, by saying "you'll never know" about the cause of Murphy's death, was trying to plant doubt in our minds--a weak attempt at psychological torture. But like many conservatives, No. 1 is not terribly bright. We know exactly the environment Murphy lived in, so we have no doubt that her death was from natural causes--and we know what the natural causes were.

In light of recent events, here is the key point: This individual, apparently a conservative, wanted us to think that someone might have killed our dog for political reasons--because I write what could be called a progressive blog.

Am I surprised that someone actually did kill a cat, all because it belonged to a Democratic household? No, I'm not. I've had direct communication with people who share that very mindset.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A Victim of Child Sexual Abuse Uses the Web to Speak Out and Fight Back

Don Corley, as a scout leader, with one
of his sex-abuse victims.

This moment in history, it seems, is when mankind will be forced to grapple with a child sexual abuse problem that is far worse than many of us imagined.

Since former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was arrested in early November and charged with molesting at least eight boys over a 15-year period, we have seen a constant stream of stories about sexual horrors perpetrated on children.

Many of the stories have centered on boys and athletics--in Syracuse University basketball, Canadian hockey, AAU basketball, and even sports journalism. But the problem hardly is limited to those who prey on boys through sports. Here in Alabama, former teacher and church leader Daniel M. Acker Jr. has admitted to molesting 21 girls since the early 1990s

Just last week, we learned of two new cases. One, involving an elite hockey coach in Ukraine, was connected to sports. The other, involving two men in Johnson City, Tennessee, was not.

What has all of this taught us? For one, it's not just an American problem; it is international in scope. For another, the problem is hard to grasp because many victims are unwilling or unable to speak out. Some victims fear they will not be believed. Others fear they will bring shame to themselves or their families. For some, the psychological trauma is so severe that they struggle to function, haunted by depression, anxiety, addictions, relationship problems, and thoughts of suicide. For others, memories of the abuse are repressed, causing statutes of limitations to pass before law-enforcement officials can even try to take action.

One victim with ties to Alabama has found his voice--and he is using the Web to share his story. Jason Lee, a 36-year-old former Birmingham-area resident, was molested repeatedly over a five-year period. Charles Donald Corley, a respected leader in Boy Scouts and at Trinity United Methodist Church in Homewood, was convicted in 1995 of molesting Lee and two other boys.

"The bottom line is, I was just a kid and he used me as a sex toy," Lee told The Birmingham News.

Corley, who was 45 at the time of his conviction, received a 30-year sentence. But he comes up for parole on January 31. Lee and other victims have established a Web site, 30is30.com, to tell their stories and push for Corley to serve his full sentence.

Visitors to 30is30.com can click on "One Victim's Testimony" and learn about Lee's experience. It is compelling reading, to be sure:

I think there are two kinds of child molesters. One is the trench-coat-wearing, playground-stalking, child-stealing kind of person. He’s quick and violent. The other kind is the serial molester--he embeds himself in the community, wins the trust of families and children, and abuses that position of power to commit the molestation. Don Corley is the second type.

After my parents split up when I was 12, he saw my pre-teen vulnerability, befriended my family and presented himself as someone who could be a father figure to me. I was invited to hang out at his house, go on vacations with him, babysit his children. I won’t get into the details, but the molestation started under the pretense of trying to “educate me” on sexual issues. I was young enough and naive enough to believe him.

Lee says the abuse continued until his senior year at Homewood High School. Upon graduation, he went to a university two states away and tried to put the past behind him. But the Homewood Police Department contacted him one day, and Lee decided to open up:

After I left town, Don Corley finally made a move on a boy who had sense enough to say no, and to tell his parents. The parents did the right thing and contacted the police. The police investigated, and every stone they unturned seemed to lead to more and more information. If I remember correctly, the police informed me that they had identified 42 victims over a 25 year period, in a trail leading from California to Alabama.

They believed there were more victims out there, but had to take the investigation to the next level. Some victims didn’t want to go public with their story. Some victims were not open to talking to the police at all. Some victims wanted to press charges, but the statute of limitations had run out and they were unable to. In the end, three boys pressed charges, and I was one of them.

Jason Lee is not just hoping that his abuser serves a full prison sentence. He is taking steps to help make it happen. From 30is30.com:

I don’t want your money--I want your time. Please take 15 minutes to write a letter and tell the Parole Board of Alabama that you would like for Don Corley to serve his time--to stay in jail for his full sentence and not be granted parole. Better yet, print out one of our petitions and get as many people as you can to sign it and mail it to the Parole Board. Of course, the best I can hope for is that you do both.

That 15 minutes you can give towards this cause would really make a difference. Help us keep Don Corley in jail. Share your thoughts on the subject with the Alabama Parole Board and help keep an admitted child molester off our streets. . . .

I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

How can you help? You can take the first step by clicking here.

You can view several segments of an interview with Don Corley by clicking "From the Molester's Mouth" at 30is30.com. In the following segment, Corley says knowledge is the key for citizens to address the "dark side" that might be among them:

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A Family's Cat Is Murdered In the Name of Politics and Conservatism

The corpse of a cat that belonged
to the campaign manager for a
Democratic Congressional candidate

Our public discourse has sunk to such depths that a cat has been murdered in Arkansas, apparently for political reasons. The perpetrator, it seems, supports a Republican who is known for his strong "pro life" stands.

The campaign manager for a Democratic Congressional candidate returned to his Russellville, Arkansas home, to find that the family cat had been killed. The word "liberal" had been scribbled across the cat's body in paint.

Associated Press reports that a complaint has been filed with the Russellville Police Department, and officials have no suspects at this time.

The cat belonged to Jacob Burris, who has been campaign manager for Ken Aden since October 2011. Aden is running against Republican incumbent Steve Womack in Arkansas' 3rd Congressional District. From a press release issued by the Aden campaign:

On the heels of a weekend of positive news coverage for the campaign of Democratic Congressional candidate Ken Aden, Aden's campaign manager returned home to find his family pet slaughtered, with the word "liberal" painted on the animal's corpse.

The Russellville Police Department is investigating, and a report will be made to the Federal Bureau of Investigation Monday morning.

Jacob Burris, who has served as Aden's campaign manager since late October, arrived home with his family Sunday evening, and his four children discovered the gruesome scene as they exited the family vehicle to enter their home.

Aden's campaign has said it does not suspect that anyone from the Womack camp is responsible. But the crime appears to be a "political hit." Ironically, Womack is a staunch "pro life" Republican. Someone who apparently supports Womack, however, does not have much respect for life. Here is how the Aden press release describes the ugly scene at the Burris house on Sunday night:

The family pet, an adult, mixed-breed Siamese cat, had one side of its head bashed in to the point the cat's eyeball was barely hanging from its socket. The perpetrators scrawled "liberal" across the cat's body and left it on the doorstep of Burris' house.

In the 2010 campaign, Womack received an endorsement from the Arkansas Right to Life PAC. In a press release, Womack touted his "pro life" and "family values" stances:

In a letter addressed to Womack, Arkansas Right to Life President Wayne Mays said the endorsement was a reflection of Womack's unquestionable stance to protect lives threatened by abortion or euthanasia.

"We appreciate the values by which you live, the inspiration you provide those in your community, and the courage with which you stand up for the principles in which you believe," Mays said.

Womack, the Republican nominee for United States Congress in the third district of Arkansas, said, he was pleased to receive the Arkansas Right to Life endorsement.

"Protecting the unborn is a fundamental core value rooted in conservative leadership," Womack said. "I will continue to be a pro-life advocate, as well as other family values issues that speak directly to the principles honored by most Arkansans."

Meanwhile, Womack's opponent was left to wonder how a "human being" could stoop so low in a political campaign:

"To kill a child's pet is just unconscionable," Aden said Monday morning. "As a former combat soldier, I've seen the best of humanity and the worst of humanity. Whoever did this is definitely part of the worst of humanity," he said.

"It is one thing to engage in civil political discourse, and for Republicans and Democrats to disagree with each other, which is an expected part of the political process. Taking it to this level is beyond unacceptable."

Here is a CNN interview with Aden, including a comment from the Womack campaign:

Is Alabama's Football Factory Fueled In Part With the Proceeds From Insurance Fraud?

Nick Saban

About 32,000 people turned out on Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa to celebrate the University of Alabama's latest national championship in football. It was Alabama's second title in three years, so perhaps now is the time to ask this question: Why in the heck is UA such a power on the football field?

The simple answer is that the Crimson Tide has loads of talented players, sharp coaches, passionate fans, and state-of-the-art facilities. The more complicated answer, one that raises at least one troubling question, is that Alabama spends a ton of money on football.

Given that the Crimson Tide's most prominent booster has documented ties to large-scale insurance fraud, a reasonable person might ask, "Do the proceeds from criminal activities help fuel Alabama's football dominance?"

The question comes in the wake of a Birmingham News report on Saturday about just how much money is funneled into Alabama's title-churning football machine. The headline on the story, "Can't Put a Price Tag on Saban's Value," implies that head coach Nick Saban is the man who has Alabama at high tide.

But what about that booster with an unsavory past? His name is Paul W. Bryant Jr., the son of the late Hall of Fame coach Paul "Bear" Bryant and the CEO of Tuscaloosa-based Greene Group Inc. Has his father's legacy given Bryant Jr. some clout at UA? He serves as president pro tempore of the university's board of trustees, which means he essentially runs the place--so the answer is yes.

Is Bryant the kind of person you would expect to find leading an institution of higher learning? Well, he certainly has shown a knack for making money. Bryant's father long was known as an astute businessman, one who left behind a tidy family fortune. The son, it appears, has taken that money and run with it. Under the Greene Group banner, Bryant has an array of business interests--in dog tracks and gaming, catfish farming, cement, advertising, and insurance.

It's that last category that once caught the eyes of federal authorities. Alabama Reassurance, one of Bryant's companies, was implicated in a fraud scheme that netted a 15-year federal prison sentence in 1997 for a Pennsylvania lawyer/entrepreneur named Allen W. Stewart.

How often, and to what extent, did Alabama Re engage in financial fraud? We know that the Alabama-related fraud in the Stewart case was estimated at $15 million, but we might never know the answer to that question. Sources tell us that an investigation of the company was planned once convictions were secured in the Stewart case. By the time the Pennsylvania case had wrapped up, someone in the U.S. Department of Justice had called off the investigation in Alabama.

We do know this: According to a report from the Alabama Department of Insurance (DOI), Bryant planned to liquidate Alabama Reassurance in late 2007 and replace it with a company called Alabama Life Reinsurance. At the time of liquidation, Alabama Re had "admitted assets" of at least $238 million. (You can check out the full DOI report at the end of this post.)

What happened to the fraud-tainted assets of Alabama Re? The answer is unclear, but we do know that Bryant is perhaps the No. 1 investor in Alabama football. And $238 million will buy an awful lot of jock straps.

Nick Saban might be one of the sharpest football minds in the country. But it surely does not hurt that he works at a university that is willing to engage in big-time spending on football. Reports Jon Solomon of The Birmingham News:

Remember the criticism in 2007 when Alabama made Saban the first $4-million-a-year coach in college sports? At the time, Oklahoma's Bob Stoops had the nation's highest guaranteed annual football salary at $2.5 million.

Saban's salary was only $500,000 less than what he reportedly made with the Miami Dolphins. It was a staggering amount even to the bloated college sports industry, which creates an artificial market for coaches because players don't get paid.

Solomon says Alabama has gotten a solid return on its football investment, and he quotes extensively from the university's NCAA financial report that was filed this month. Solomon points to financial gains since Saban took over in 2007 from previous coach Mike Shula:

Football ticket sales improved by $1.6 million from 2009 to 2010. Last year's record of $29.3 million in tickets sold represented a 42 percent increase from Mike Shula's last season in 2006. Consider this: Saban's 10-win team from 2010 with seven home games in a 101,000-seat stadium sold $13.2 million more in tickets than Shula's 10-win team from 2005 with seven home games in an 83,000-seat stadium.

Alabama football produced $78.1 million in athletics department revenue in 2010-11, compared to $53.2 million in Shula's last season. Almost half of that increase came from the SEC's mega TV deals with ESPN and CBS. But a case could be made that Saban played a role in getting more TV money because his teams draw some of the league's highest ratings.

Alabama's revenue last year from royalties, licensing, advertisements and sponsorships increased by 208 percent from Shula's final season. The athletics department made $17 million in that category during the past two years, compared to $11.9 million in the previous four. Also, booster donations directly to football increased by 29 percent after Saban's first national title in Tuscaloosa.

Alabama clearly believes in spending money to make money. Reports Solomon:

Meanwhile, Alabama spent more on football, from $21.3 million in Shula's last year to $31.5 million in 2010-11. Saban and his coaches last year received $3.5 million more in compensation than Shula's final staff. Saban's recruiting expenses increased by 279 percent from Shula's last class.

Let's focus on that last sentence: Alabama's football-recruiting expenses have increased by 279 percent since Nick Saban took over in 2007. And that apparently coincides with the liquidation of Alabama Re, a company owned by Paul Bryant Jr. Is that a coincidence?

Well, let's consider that Bryant gave $10 million in 2002 to help launch the Crimson Tradition Fund, which he chaired. What was the fund's goal? From a press release:

Bryant, who chairs the Crimson Tradition Fund, made his gift at this time to offer leadership to the 27 members of the Crimson Tradition Fund Executive Committee who are also preparing their own gifts and beginning their soliciting of key supporters of the drive.

“This campaign will allow our fans, friends and alumni to support the Crimson Tide in a meaningful way,” said Bryant. “Our goal is to raise $50 million in commitments from the private sector.”

The other $50 million of the $100 million total will come from a public bond issue offered for the construction of the north end zone of Bryant-Denny Stadium. Bond monies would be repaid through ticket sales revenue.

Much remains unclear about Paul Bryant Jr.'s business activities. But we know one of his companies had clear ties to financial fraud, and that company was liquidated to the tune of $238 million in "admitted assets." We know that the Alabama football program has been in the midst of a spending spree that dates to 2002 and has generated two national championships--and counting. We also know that Bryant Jr., from his perch on the UA board of trustees, has been in the middle of it.

Do fraud and football mix at the University of Alabama? Information from public documents indicates that question needs to be addressed.

Here is the 2006 DOI report on Alabama Reassurance:

Alabama Reassurance Report

Monday, January 23, 2012

This Might Explain Why Newt Gingrich Actually Could Become President

Newt Gingrich

After the results of Saturday's GOP primary in South Carolina, Americans face the real possibility that Newt Gingrich could become president. How did we get to such a frightening place? In a general sense, it's because Barack Obama has left himself vulnerable by failing to stand up for the progressive base that got him elected. To be specific, it's largely because of Obama's dismal record on justice issues.

Want more evidence of how badly Obama has botched things on the justice front? Stay tuned for a federal bingo prosecution that is set to be re-tried on January 30 in Montgomery, Alabama. In the original trial last summer, prosecutors from the Obama Department of Justice (DOJ) charged that various pro-gaming forces had tried to buy votes in the Alabama Legislature for bills related to electronic bingo.

That trial resulted in zero convictions, and you might think the DOJ would decide the case was a stinker and not bother with remaining counts where the jury deadlocked. But you would be wrong. The DOJ is back for more, and it already looks like Trial No. 2 will be a study in theater of the absurd.

What happens when a Democratic administration gets mixed up with the people and philosophies left over from a corrupt gang of Republicans? Well, the results ain't pretty--and events in Montgomery already are spelling that out. Consider what transpired last week. (Andrew Kreig, of the D.C.-based Justice Integrity Project, provides an excellent summary here.)

* The Incredible Vanishing Prosecutor--Justin Shur, of the DOJ's Public Integrity Section, was to be lead prosecutor on the second Alabama bingo trial. But Shur announced last week that he is leaving the department to take a job with the Washington law firm MoloLamken. The MoloLamken firm has strong ties to Baker Botts, the Houston-based outfit that has powerful connections to the Bush family. In fact, Baker Botts perhaps has been best known recently for defending various Saudi interests who have been sued in connection with the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Justin Shur, it appears, has long been in bed with "loyal Bushies," and the Obama DOJ was going to rely on him to spearhead the politically charged Alabama bingo case? Sheesh.

* The Withheld Documents--Attorneys for gambling magnate Milton McGregor are seeking sanctions against federal prosecutors for failing to turn over documents and intentionally trying to mislead jurors in the first trial. Lawyer Joe Espy states in a court filing that prosecutors withheld testimony that contradicted their bribery charges against McGregor. This all will sound familiar to those who have followed the Don Siegelman case. Could this have contributed to Shur's hasty exit from the scene?

* The Incredible Vanishing Witnesses--Current state legislator Scott Beason and former legislator Benjamin Lewis, both Republicans, were star witnesses for the government in the first trial. In fact, they were the ones who wore wires and wound up catching Beason on tape referring to black Alabamians as "aborigines." How have prosecutors decided to deal with that inflammatory, race-based problem? They have announced that they will not call Beason and Lewis in the second trial.

Yes, you heard that correctly. The two witnesses who were considered so crucial that they wore wires to catch alleged unlawful activity now are so unimportant that the prosecution will not call them as witnesses. And how is this for irony? The DOJ, under the nation's first black president, has been relying on a witness who taped himself calling black people "aborigines." The creators of The Three Stooges couldn't make this stuff up.

Justin Shur
If Attorney General Eric Holder is not embarrassed by this traveling minstrel show . . . well, he must not be capable of shame.

This is what happens when you treat the American justice system like a plaything. Consider some of Obama's inexplicable actions on matters of justice:

* He announced, even before taking office, that he was going to give Bush officials a free pass on apparent criminality;

* He adopted Bush positions on key justice issues, running counter to progressive principles;

* He has failed to seek accountability for the financial gurus who brought our economy to the edge of collapse. Now we learn that Holder and criminal-division head Lanny Breuer have powerful ties to mortgage banks. Breuer's name, by the way, has been all over documents in the Alabama bingo case.

* He left key Bush-era justice officials in place for more than two-plus years.

The Alabama bingo train started pulling out of the station under Leura Canary, the abominable Bush nominee as U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Alabama. The Obama DOJ has failed to stop it and failed to show any signs of restoring justice in a state that was home to the Don Siegelman case, perhaps the most notorious political prosecution in American history.

Thoughts of Newt Gingrich in the White House should send shivers down the spine of our body politic. But given the shenanigans unfolding in Montgomery, Alabama, it's hard to argue that Barack Obama deserves another term--at least based on justice issues.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Another Arrest Is Made in the Murder of Alabama Lawyer Blake Lazenby

Calvin McCall Haynes

A second Birmingham man has been arrested in the murder of Talladega lawyer Blake Lazenby. We seem, however, to be no closer to learning why someone wanted to kill Lazenby, who was in the midst of a contentious divorce at the time of his death last July.

Calvin McCall Haynes, 30, has been arrested and charged with one count each of solicitation of murder and conspiracy to commit murder. Ocie Lee Lynch, also 30 and from Birmingham, was arrested in connection with the Lazenby case on January 10.

Talladega County District Attorney Steve Giddens is not saying much about the investigation. Reports the Talladega Daily Home:

Giddens would not go into any further detail Friday afternoon regarding Haynes’ involvement in the case.

Interim Sylacauga Police Chief Chris Carden said “the investigation remains ongoing and is far from finished.”

Another Birmingham resident, Ocie Lee Lynch, 30, was charged earlier this month with Lazenby’s murder. Lynch is currently in the Talladega County Metro Jail, where he is being held without bond on a capital murder charge.

The fact that Lynch allegedly broke into Lazenby’s home provides the aggravating circumstance making it a capital case.

Lazenby was found dead in his home on Stonehill Road in Sylacauga on July 27. He appears to have died from multiple gunshot wounds.

As we have reported in a series of posts, substantial evidence suggests that motivation for murder might have come from a divorce case involving Blake Lazenby and his wife, Geanne Elder Lazenby.

Public documents indicate several complications had caused the Lazenby v. Lazenby divorce case to turn nasty:

* Multiple lawyers for Geanne Lazenby had tried unsuccessfully to get District Judge Jeb Fannin to recuse himself on the grounds that Blake Lazenby and members of his firm had repeatedly practiced before judges in the county. The case almost certainly presented valid grounds for recusal, but Fannin refused to step aside.

* Lawyers from a Birmingham firm arrived late in the case and engaged in what appear to be hardball tactics, seeking medical records on Ms. Lazenby from two locations and documents on a criminal complaint she had filed against a Coosa County man named Earnest James Files. How those documents were relevant to issues in the divorce case remains unclear.

* Lawyers appeared to be trying to strong arm Ms. Lazenby into a settlement agreement against her will.

Our research indicates that Lazenby v. Lazenby was not being handled in a lawful fashion, and Geanne Lazenby and those close to her probably had reason to feel she was being railroaded. Others connected to the case perhaps felt threatened. It appears, unfortunately, that someone reacted by turning to violence.

Blake Lazenby is dead, and two men have been arrested in connection with his murder. Will we learn what drove an apparent conspiracy to kill a prominent Alabama lawyer? That remains to be seen.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Are Conservatives Still Pulling a Cover Up In the Case of an Alabama Child Molester?

Daniel M. Acker Jr.

It comes about 20 years too late, but The Birmingham News actually is producing some decent journalism in the story of Daniel M. Acker Jr., the politically connected teacher who was allowed to go on a child molestation spree in Shelby County, Alabama.

We learned yesterday that two additional charges of first-degree sexual abuse have been filed against Acker, bringing the total to six. A few days before that, reporter Veronica Kennedy produced a compelling story about a counselor who worked with the first abuse victim and suffered an emotional breakdown when she learned in the early 1990s that Shelby County officials would take no action against Acker. Kennedy's story provides insight into the suffering experienced by at least one victim, her family, and those close to her.

Higher-ups at The Birmingham News, however, are not anxious to answer questions about how the Acker story floated beneath their radar for about two decades. Some curious aspects of the  story make us wonder if a cover up, perhaps designed to protect prominent Shelby County officials, still is in play. For good measure, we have learned about another case of child sex abuse in Alabama, and it gives you an idea of how quickly action can be taken when an alleged perpetrator is not politically connected in the way that Daniel M. Acker Jr. was in Shelby County.

Allison Black Cornelius is the counselor who tried to assist Acker's first victim, and Veronica Kennedy provides details about her background:

Leon Albert Prince raped Allison Black in 1972 in Birmingham when she was 7 years old. Prince was her Sunday school teacher.

In 1991, Black testified against Prince, who was convicted and served 15 years of a 30-year sentence. She was 26 years old and on her way to becoming an advocate for children who have been sexually abused.

That was just a few months before Daniel M. Acker Jr. was first accused of molesting a fourth-grade student and neighbor. Acker's alleged victim was the first child Black counseled.

Cornelius has gone on to found a consulting firm called Blackfish Strategies, and she vividly recalls the devastation she felt when a Shelby County grand jury refused to indict Acker and the school board returned him to the classroom:

When Black heard that a grand jury had declined to indict Acker, she recalled that she collapsed from the emotional trauma she felt. "I know an ambulance came to pick me up, and I was in the hospital for a week," she said.

Since then, Black--who lives in Birmingham and now goes by her married name of Allison Black Cornelius--has related her experience on national talk shows and traveled the world as the head of her consulting firm Blackfish Strategies.

Wherever she goes as a speaker, she talks about the emotional scars that linger from sexual abuse, whether they are her own or those of another victim. She said her talks often include that first child from 1991.

Do real people--innocent people--suffer when public officials ignore signs of wrongdoing? The answer clearly is yes. Could a cover up still be unfolding? We think it might be.

Consider this from Veronica Kennedy's article:

At the time, Acker denied touching the girl inappropriately. Last week, Alabaster police said he confessed to molesting her.

Not only that, but Acker confessed to molesting 20 other girls. How strange is that? Here is a guy who lied about his activities some 20 years ago, and that strategy worked; he got off. So why is he now confessing to all sorts of sexual abuse. If anyone in North America claims they were sexually abused as a child since World War II, I now expect Daniel M. Acker Jr. to raise his hand and say, "Hey, I did it."

Allison Black Cornelius
Is it possible that, the more confessions Acker makes, the more likely a spotlight will remain on him and not on the public officials and "church people" who helped him get away the first time around? With each confession, is Acker Jr. protecting his father (Daniel M. Acker Sr.) and others who have served on the Shelby County Commission and helped create an environment of rampant corruption?

What happens to an alleged child molester in Alabama when his daddy is not a prominent county commissioner? Perhaps the answer comes from a breaking story about a Gadsden man named Dale Emmett Ramsay. From The Gadsden Times:

A Gadsden man was arrested and charged with sodomy and sex abuse, according to a news release from Etowah County Sheriff Todd Entrekin.

Dale Emmett Ramsey, 63, is charged with one count of first-degree sodomy and one count of sex abuse of a child under the age of 12, Investigator Carla Carroll said in the release.

Both charges are felonies.

The abuse allegedly took place in December 2011 to an 8-year-old female at Ramsey's residence on Fairview Road.

Ramsey is being held in the Etowah County Detention Center on $25,000 bond.

Let's review: Mr. Ramsey allegedly sexually abused a child in December, and he wound up in the slammer roughly one month later. Mr. Acker, whose father is a county commissioner, allegedly abused a child in 1991 and wound up in the slammer in 2012--some 20 molestations later. Gee, do political connections pay off in postmodern America?

We would put that question to some of the big dogs at The Birmingham News, but they seem to be in no mood for questions--at least not from me. We have noted the stunning irony of Columnist John Archibald calling out Shelby County officials for their fumbling on the Acker case, even though Archibald, Editor Tom Scarritt, and others at the News have ignored wrongdoing in the county for years.

I sent Archibald and Scarritt an e-mail on Tuesday and invited them to explain their myopic coverage on criminal matters in Alabama's wealthiest and most conservative county--a county that features public officials who seem to be uniformly white and Republican. I'm still waiting for a reply.

Here is a copy of my e-mail, raising issues that Archibald and Scarritt apparently do not want to touch:

Roger Shuler Tue, Jan 17, 2012 at 12:55 PM
To: John Archibald
Cc: Tom Scarritt 

I am baffled by the outrage in your Sunday column about the failure of Shelby County officials to act on early signs of misconduct involving Daniel M. Acker Jr. As you know, Acker now has confessed to molesting at least 21 girls--and these crimes date to the early 1990s, when county officials passed on an opportunity to put a stop to it.

Why am I baffled by your Sunday piece? You might recall that you and I met in Sept. 2008 at the Safari Cup in downtown Birmingham to discuss issues connected to the Shelby County Sheriff's Office. The meeting was at your invitation after you had written a critical column about the sheriff's department, and I responded that I had witnessed events showing that Sheriff Chris Curry and his officers play fast and loose with the law. You indicated that you'd received a number of similar complaints from other citizens, and that was one reason you wanted to meet with me.

As I recall, we had a fairly pleasant visit, but you showed no interest in looking at documents I had or in pursuing a story about the unlawful conduct I had witnessed. You stated that you were working on another big story regarding Shelby County, one that involved apparent "high crimes." More than three years have passed, and I've seen nothing about that story.

Why are you outraged about Shelby County officials allowing wrongdoing to slide when you have done the same thing? And you aren't the only one at The Birmingham News who has taken this approach. I met with Tom Scarritt in probably 2003 or 2004, and I told him about indisputable evidence of criminal acts involving judges and lawyers in Shelby County. He showed no interest in pursuing the story and didn't bother looking at documents I had that proved the wrongdoing.

In my view, your newspaper shares in the blame for what has happened to 20-plus girls in Shelby County. I know from first-hand experience that you take a "see no evil" approach to coverage in Shelby County, so it should not be a surprise that Daniel M. Acker Jr. thought he could get away with it.

If you or your editors would care to offer an explanation as to why you now voice outrage about the Acker story, having ignored clear evidence of serious problems in Shelby County for years, I would be happy to run it on my blog, Legal Schnauzer.

For the record, the judicial/legal corruption in Shelby County has only gotten worse since you and I met. I've become aware of grotesque violations of law in cases that do not involve me, causing profound hardship for citizens.

I assume the News will continue with its "see no evil" reporting in Shelby County. But you should not be surprised when the ugliness surfaces, and the public wonders why you let it slide.


Roger Shuler

Thursday, January 19, 2012

News Flash for Newt Gingrich: Americans Do Not "Own" Their Jobs

Newt Gingrich

Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has caused a stir by saying that Barack Obama is a "food stamp president" and that poor people should want paychecks, not handouts. Gingrich went on to say that he wants to help poor people "learn how to get a job, learn how to get a better job, and learn someday to own the job."

The Gingrich statement presents all sorts of problems, including its ugly, not-so-subtle racial undertones. But perhaps the biggest problem is this: Almost no one in the United States "owns" his job. In fact, most of us essentially work on a day-to-day basis. Given that unpleasant fact of American life, how are people--poor or otherwise--supposed to accomplish something that, by law, cannot be done in this country?

Here is the reality that Newt Gingrich is ignoring: The overwhelming majority of Americans work under an "at will" arrangement. At-will employment is a legal doctrine that means either party in an employment environment can break the relationship without liability, unless a contract expressly states otherwise.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), Montana is the only state where at-will employment does not prevail.

The basic tenet of at-will employment is this: "You can be fired for a good reason, a bad reason, or no reason at all." Talk to any employment lawyer, and you are likely to hear those words verbatim. The only exception, for the most part, is if an employer violates a federal discrimination law, and those generally are limited to characteristics such as race, gender, age, national origin, religion, or disability.

Having been fired in May 2008 from my job as a university editor, after 19 years on the job and with a spotless work record, I know first-hand how tenuous your hold on any job can be in the US of A.

The bottom line? Most Americans have zero protections in the workplace. If you have a well-crafted employment contract, that should protect you for the term of the contract. If you own the company, you probably own your job. If you fit into any of the discrimination categories above, an employer is likely to think twice before firing you. But I've learned that there is not much reason for many employers, especially large ones, to worry much about discrimination because they are likely to get away with it.

Why? Well, the system is stacked in their favor. Check in your local phone book or do a Web search for "employment lawyers." Look closely for information about the kinds of cases a lawyer takes. Here's a helpful hint: A lawyer who represent plaintiffs, employees who allege to have been wronged in the workplace, usually will call himself a "discrimination lawyer" or something along those lines; a lawyer who represents defendants, employers who have been charged with wrongdoing in the workplace, usually call themselves "labor and employment lawyers."

My unofficial research indicates that for every plaintiffs' lawyer in the employment arena, there are probably 50 defendants' lawyers. And I think that is conservative. The ratio probably is more like 1:100. Plaintiffs' employment lawyers usually are solo practitioners or they work in a small shop of three to five lawyers. Employment defense lawyers tend to work in big firms, with 50 lawyers or more. Who do you think has more pull and resources?

Here is an even bigger kick in the pants for American workers: Discrimination usually is governed by federal laws, so that means employment cases almost always are heard in U.S. courts. Federal judges are appointed at the presidential level, so they tend to come from large, politically connected law firms. And what kind of clients do those firms tend to represent in the employment arena? They represent employers-- the bigger, the better because big companies tend to generate lots of discrimination cases, and that means more cash for the lawyers.

My experience and research indicates that federal judges overwhelmingly favor defendants in employment cases. And since federal judges have lifetime appointments, they are pretty much untouchable and answer to no one. You can be the victim of the most egregious form of discrimination, and a federal judge is likely to ignore the facts and law and rule against you. All you can do then is appeal to a U.S. circuit court--and that is an expensive process, with appellate judges that might be even more predisposed than their trial-court brethren to rule against plaintiffs.

When Newt Gingrich says Americans need to learn how to "own" their jobs, he is full of elephant feces. If you are in a union, you have some protections on the job. But you essentially pay dues in order to "own" union membership and the protection it affords; you don't "own" a job.

Consider my experience: I worked for 19 years at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) in various editorial positions. Always got good to excellent performance reviews. Always received merit raises when they were available. Never had any disciplinary issues or warnings under university policy. Always got along with colleagues in the workplace. If anyone should have "owned" his job, it was me.

But what happened? In June 2007, I started this blog about judicial and political corruption in Alabama and beyond. I started it because of an experience my wife and I had with being cheated in state court here in Shelby County, Alabama. About five months later, strange things started happening on the job, including harassment from a boss I had known and gotten along with for pretty much my entire time at UAB. In May 2008, I was fired, less than a year after starting a blog--which I produced on my own time, with my own resources--because my reporting upset someone in Alabama's conservative power structure.

That's not a guess on my part. This recorded conversation with a UAB human-resources official named Anita Bonasera proves I was targeted because of my blog and its content about the Don Siegelman prosecution:

Audio: UAB and the Cost of Blogging About the Siegelman Case

I have a lawsuit that is ongoing in federal court. But I've seen clear signs that a federal judge named William M. Acker Jr., an 83-year-old Reagan appointee, is repeatedly ruling contrary to law, cheating me in order to favor the powerful elites behind UAB.

So tell us again, Newt, how is it that we can "own" our jobs?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Defamation Judgment Against Montana Blogger Reflects the Messy Nature of U.S. Courts

Crystal L. Cox

Many citizens probably think American courts are orderly places, where questions of facts are reasonably decided and the actual law is scrupulously applied. Those citizens almost certainly have never been involved in a legal case.

I know, from first-hand experience, that our courts are anything but neat and tidy. Everyone involved in the process--parties, lawyers, clerks, judges--is prone to mistakes. Even a case where the judge is competent and honest is likely to involve numerous rulings that are based on mistaken interpretations of fact or law.

Actually, I'm just guessing about that last sentence because I've never been involved in a case where the judge was either competent or honest. I can only assume that such judges do, in fact, exist somewhere.

With all of that in mind, let's examine the case of Crystal L. Cox, the Montana blogger who recently was hit with a $2.5-million judgment in a defamation case. Were mistakes made in the Cox case? I think you can bet on it.

Key documents from the case are available at the Web site for the Citizen Media Law Project.

God only knows how many Americans have been wrongly convicted for "crimes" that were not lawfully proven in a court of law. God also only knows how many Americans have been held liable in civil proceedings that were butchered from start to finish.

I know all about the official ineptness that accompanies all too many lawsuits in U.S. courts. Mrs. Schnauzer and I have a bogus sheriff's deed on our house because of a judgment in a case against me that, by law, could not go to trial. Sherry Carroll Rollins, the subject of numerous posts here at Legal Schnauzer, is living under a divorce decree that was issued by an Alabama judge--even though he had no jurisdiction to hear the case. That's because the case had already been litigated for roughly three years in South Carolina, where Ms. Rollins properly filed it. Ted Rollins, Ms. Rollins' ex husband, belongs to one of America's wealthiest family--and he apparently had the kind of financial clout that can get a divorce case unlawfully shifted from one venue to another. Some people call that "judge shopping." To make matters even worse, Ted Rollins has been a fugitive from justice for failure to pay child support.

With that as a back drop, let's look at the Crystal L. Cox case. My research indicates that both parties probably made mistakes, both before and during the legal action. More importantly, we see clear signs that the judge made mistakes--and that means the judgment against Cox almost certainly should be overturned on appeal. Here are the leading characters and some mistakes they appear to have made:

Crystal L. Cox
Cox has been the subject of two unflattering pieces in the mainstream press. One is titled "When Truth Survives Free Speech," by David Carr, of The New York Times. The other is titled "Why An Investment Firm Was Awarded $2.5 Million After Being Defamed By A Blogger," by Kashmir Hill, of Forbes.

Carr and Hill level a number of criticisms at Cox, but here are two that jump out at me:

(1) Cox was practicing search engine optimization (SEO), not journalism--Cox states in court documents that she holds some 400 Web-site domains. Why? Hill hints that it is an intentional effort to dominate search results for her targets. And in the case that wound up in court, Cox' target was Obsidian Finance Group and one of its principals, Kevin Padrick. Writes Hill:

Obsidian’s tech team found dozens of sites that appeared to have been created by Cox to write about Obsidian, says Padrick, and over 1,900 others that she had created to write about other people and companies. This is not the work of a journalist, but the work of someone intent on destroying reputations.

I don't know why Cox creates so many sites; I haven't spent much time studying search-engine optimization. But I think she would be better served to focus her reporting on a handful of sites, perhaps two or three. If nothing else, it would make it easier to follow her work.

(2) Cox offered her services to Obsidian and its law firm--Hill published an e-mail in which Cox offers an Obsidian lawyer her services to protect online reputations and promote business--for a handsome monthly fee. Hill apparently views this as an attempted shakedown.

Hill, however, does not report the whole story. Court documents indicate that Cox' e-mail was a response to a cease-and-desist letter from the attorney--and I have not seen the contents of that letter. The tone of Cox' e-mail does call her motivations into questions. But records show it did not come out of the blue; it was a response to a communication she had received. Either way, Cox would have been wise not to mix journalism with her business pursuits. This e-mail might have helped swing a jury against her, even though it has nothing to do with whether her reports on Obsidian and Padrick were defamatory or not.

Kevin Padrick
Forbes and The Times portray Padrick as an innocent figure, an attorney who nobly served as trustee in a bankruptcy case involving an Oregon firm called Summit Accommodators. A close look at the record indicates that is not the full story.

In various blog posts, Cox had called Padrick a "thug" and a "thief." The Times' David Carr said he could find nothing to substantiate that. Here's what Carr wrote about Padrick:

Mr. Padrick, a lawyer who is a member of the bar in four states and has never been disciplined or investigated from anything I could find, said he spent a lot of sleepless nights wondering how he ended up as Ms. Cox’s bĂȘte noire.

I had to laugh at that one. I've been screwed repeatedly by lawyers who have clean disciplinary records. A lawyer who is with the right firm, or has enough financial or political clout, almost certainly will never be investigated for anything. A clean record does not mean a lawyer is a paragon of virtue.

Cox presented a substantial number of documents on her Web sites that indicate something smelled about the Summit Accommodators bankruptcy. In the following post, Cox presents links to about 20 documents that strongly hint at wrongdoing in the bankruptcy case--and these come from individuals closely connected to the case, not Cox herself. Two issues stand out:

(1) Padrick and his firm had worked for Summit Accommodators--Records show that Padrick and his firm, Obsidian, had signed a consulting contract with Summit Accommodators. Summit agreed to pay Obsidian a $100,000 retainer. How could Padrick serve as an impartial trustee when he had worked for one of the parties involved?

(2) Numerous parties in the bankruptcy case had objected to Padrick's fees--Records show that various parties to the Summit bankruptcy had filed an objection to the fees being charged by Padrick, Obsidian, and their law firm, Tonkon Torp. At the time the objection was filed, Padrick and associates had charged $992,231.22 for his services as trustee. The objection states this was an average of $185,000 a month and could wind up with a total of $11.1 million over the expected five-year term of the case.

The reporters from Forbes and The Times interviewed Padrick, but neither apparently asked him about the fees he was charging in the Summit bankruptcy. Neither asked about his clear conflict of interest. Were Forbes and The Times mainly interested in knocking a citizen journalist for investigating the kind of touchy subjects that the mainstream press largely has abandoned? In other words, do the mainstream critiques of Cox' work come with a heavy dose of sour grapes?

U.S. District Judge Marco A. Hernandez
Judge Hernandez made numerous questionable rulings leading up to the jury verdict against Cox, and these stand out:

(1) Cox role as a journalist--Hernandez found that Cox was not protected by Oregon's shield law because she did not qualify as a journalist under the law. Specifically, Hernandez found that Cox, as a blogger, was not engaged in a "medium of communication," as defined by the law. Here is what the Oregon shield law says on the subject:

"Medium of communication" has its ordinary meaning and includes, but is not limited to, any newspaper, magazine or other periodical, book, pamphlet, news service, wire service, news or feature syndicate, broadcast station or network, or cable television system.

Hernandez ruled that Cox was not engaged in any of the listed media. But the law clearly states that the definition of media "is not limited to" those that are listed. The judge almost certainly screwed up here.

(2) The bankruptcy case was not a matter of public concern--Cox raised First Amendment protections by asserting the Summit bankruptcy was a matter of public concern. In a finding that defies all logic, Hernandez ruled against her. Wrote the judge:

Padrick was not a public employee or a public official. Summit Accommodators was not a public body or public corporation. Thus . . . , the statements here did not relate to the evaluation of the performance of a public agency or official.

Hernandez' finding makes zero sense. Bankruptcy courts are public forums, generating public documents, funded with public (taxpayer) dollars. Padrick was appointed trustee by a judge, who is a public official. Hernandez almost certainly got this wrong, and the judgment against Cox should be overturned on First Amendment grounds, if nothing else.

A summary of our findings: (1) Crystal Cox should focus more on journalism and less on search-engine optimization--and she should be careful in her communications with opposing counsel; (2) Kevin Padrick, given his clear conflict of interest, never should have accepted the appointment as trustee in the Summit bankruptcy. If Padrick is going to charge outlandish fees for his services, he should expect harsh scrutiny; (3) Judge Hernandez' faulty rulings allowed a case to go to a jury when, under the law, summary judgment probably should have been granted in Cox' favor.

Many court cases in the U.S. are comedies of error. The Crystal L. Cox case is no exception.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Making a Facebook Connection With a Musical Giant of the 20th Century

The Guess Who

When I first heard of Facebook, I thought it sounded like a goofy idea and a colossal waste of time. Roughly 3,220 friends later--with quite a few likes and pokes in between--I've become a fairly serious "bookie."

What's the coolest thing about Facebook? Well, it's been fun to reconnect with old friends from Kickapoo High School and the University of Missouri. It's been great to "meet" a lot of smart people--and by "smart people," I mean people who agree with me on political and social issues.

But maybe my coolest Facebook moment came the other day when I heard from a friend who just happens to be one of the musical giants of my lifetime. I'm talking about Burton Cummings, the lead singer of The Guess Who and the creative force behind some of the most unforgettable songs of my youth.

If I made my personal list of the 100 greatest songs of the rock-and-roll era, it surely would include "Share the Land," "American Woman," "No Time," "These Eyes," and "No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature." Burton Cummings sang lead and wrote or co-wrote all of those songs.

For me to hear from Burton Cummings via Facebook is a little like a Beatles fan getting an e-mail from Paul McCartney.

It's not that Burt and I are exactly "friends" on Facebook. But I "liked" his page quite some time ago, and that entitles me to notices about his latest activities--and at age 64, he's still turning out splendid music as a solo artist.

That point was made clear the other day when I received a video via Facebook of Burt performing a song that is so new it hasn't been released yet. It's called "Market My Letters," and it's such a haunting, beautifully written tune that I had to share it with Legal Schnauzer readers. You don't hear great piano songs on the radio much anymore, unless it's an oldie from Elton John or Billy Joel. But Burt's new piece is about as good as it gets for a piano song. If you know someone who has a special appreciation for keyboards, I would encourage you to send them this clip:

"Market My Letters" has an other-worldly, 18th century feel to it. In fact, it reminds me of "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald," by another Canadian musical treasure, Gordon Lightfoot.

Speaking of Gordon Lightfoot, that reminds me that my buddy Burt has quite a sense of humor. Here is his impression of Gordon Lightfoot, singing Rod Stewart's "Maggie May." The video quality leaves something to be desired, but it's still a hoot:

Does my pal Burt still have serious musical chops? Here is a live performance of "No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature," the opening number for his 2011 solo tour in Canada. His backing band is The Carpet Frogs, from Toronto:

Finally, I stumbled upon a video that offers a behind-the-scenes look at two rock legends. Burt performed for a while last summer on a double bill with the Steve Miller Band. Here are Miller and Burt preparing for a joint performance of the Steve Miller hit "Swingtown." These guys have been icons for roughly four decades, but they still take their work seriously. Maybe that's why their songs endure. Enjoy:

Did a Conservative Newspaper Help Pave the Way for a Serial Child Molester?

John Archibald

Someone needs to send an emergency medical team to The Birmingham News building, home to one of the most lazy, corrupt, and conservative newspapers in the country. Several members of the editorial team apparently need irony transplants--stat!

First in line should be columnist John Archibald after he wrote a Sunday piece titled "Shelby County Shares in the Shame." Next should be editor Tom Scarritt, who presumably signs off on the pablum that Archibald produces.

With whom should Shelby County share in the shame? That apparently would be Jefferson County, home to Birmingham and the site of numerous financial  and legal woes over the past decade. In fact, Archibald has used truckloads of ink to chronicle alleged wrongdoing in Jefferson County, while ignoring rampant corruption that has been plainly visible in its sister county to the south.

In his Sunday column, Archibald dresses down Shelby County officials for failing to notice that they had a serial child molester in their midst. In fact, Archibald is downright apoplectic that no one in authority took action when allegations arose in 1991 against fourth-grade teacher Daniel M. Acker Jr. We recently learned, some 20 years later, that Acker has confessed to molesting at least 21 girls. He has been charged, so far, with four counts of sexual abuse and now resides in the Shelby County Jail.

Where were Acker's confessions in the early 1990s? They were nowhere to be found. He denied the charges then, and after an investigation, a grand jury refused to indict and the Shelby County Board of Education returned him to work.

Norma Rogers, the superintendent at the time, said the board voted over her objections to reinstate Acker. Why did that happen? Rogers says it was largely because "all of these church people" came to Acker's defense. It probably did not hurt that Acker's father, Daniel M. Acker Sr., is a long-time member of the Shelby County Commission.

So a guy with the right connections, in the white hierarchy that governs Alabama's most conservative county, gets off--and then proceeds to go on a molestation spree that lasts roughly two decades. John Archibald can't figure out how this happened?

I know how it happened. John Archibald, and the white conservative hierarchy that runs his newspaper, helped make it happen. I know how that works from first-hand experience, and I will explain in a moment.

But first, let's get a load of Archibald's outrage about the Daniel M. Acker Jr. case:

I mean, if Joe Paterno was guilty of failing to do enough to stop Penn State's style of abuse, throngs of people in Shelby County are every bit as culpable for failing to stop this.

The school board, principals and parents. Churches, pastors and congregations. They are guilty. As are all those people who knew nothing of the facts of Acker's case, but rallied in his name and bought flapjacks to help him pay his lawyers.

They share the shame. They share the blame.

Who else shares the shame and the blame? John Archibald himself--and his editors at Alabama's largest newspaper.

Tom Scarritt
Archibald and Scarritt have known for years about widespread wrongdoing in Shelby County. I know because I told them. I had individual meetings with both of them, a few years apart, and went armed both times with public documents that proved corruption among certain judges, lawyers, and law-enforcement officials in Shelby County. This was not a matter of me being a "disgruntled litigant"--and it was not open to interpretation. I had information that showed exactly how judges and the county sheriff repeatedly violated clear law in order to favor certain attorneys and parties. I also had information that showed this was not just "misconduct." These actions constituted crimes under federal law.

Neither Scarritt nor Archibald was remotely interested in what I had to say. Neither even bothered to look at the documents I offered.

What impression did I leave with? It appeared that Scarritt and Archibald were more than happy to write about alleged wrongdoing involving Democrats, especially those with dark skin in Jefferson County. But allegations against white judges in a suburban, conservative stronghold? Not interested--not a little bit.

Even now, 20 years too late, The Birmingham News is reporting about the Daniel M. Acker Jr. case in a peculiar way. Archibald makes multiple references to a report on Acker from the Alabama Department of Human Resources (DHR) in the early 1990s. Here is one example:

In 1993 the Shelby County School Board had the chance to remove Acker from the classroom. Former Superintendent Norma Rogers knew in her gut the fourth grader who claimed Acker touched her breast was telling the truth. She read a Department of Human Resources report that concluded there was "reason to suspect" Acker touched the girl. Rogers recommended the school board fire him.

My understanding is that DHR reports on child-abuse allegations are confidential and very difficult to obtain--even for victims. But Archibald writes the following:

On a test paper given in his fourth grade class, Acker had asked this question: "What color is (the victim's) underwear?"

And then--this is all in the DHR report--Acker sent home this letter of "explanation" to the mother of the child he molested.

"I thought the last question might need some explanation," he wrote. "(The victim) came to me complaining about some boys trying to look up her dress while we were studying. I kidded her, saying the boys must think I was going to have a question about her underwear since that was the only thing they were studying.

"I promise I'm not a pervert, I just have a strange sense of humor."

The implication is that Archibald has a copy of the DHR report. If so, that might be good reporting on his part. But why doesn't he give readers at least some clue as to how he obtained it? Why doesn't he tell  us what else is in the report? Why doesn't he seek comments from officials who apparently ignored the DHR report? Archibald seems more interested in titillating his readers than in educating them.

Here are perhaps the big questions: If the Acker case and the DHR report have been out there for about 20 years, why is The Birmningham News just now latching onto the story? What if a victim and a family member went to the newspaper years ago about Acker's activities? What if they shared their story about wrongdoing in Shelby County and were rebuffed, much as I was?

When I met with Archibald he said he wasn't interested in my story partly because he already was working on a much more serious scandal in Shelby County. I'm not sure what could be more serious than rampant corruption throughout the county courthouse and its law-enforcement mechanism, but Archibald assured me he was onto something that involved "high crimes." Was it something connected to the Acker story. Did he get wind of it and, like those he now trashes, decide to look the other way?

Whatever the big scandal was, John Archibald never wrote about it. He apparently took a look and decided to let it slide--much the way county officials let the Acker situation slide in the early 1990s.

You see what I mean about the need for irony transplants at The Birmingham News.