|Hunting-club land in|
Lowndes County, Alabama
Federal judges knew they were ruling unlawfully when they dismissed federal lawsuits alleging a hunting club was used to fix Alabama divorce cases.
How do we know that? One of the judges own words, in public documents, prove it.
We already have shown that U.S. District Judge B. Avant Edenfield dismissed one case in a fashion that is contrary to clear, simple law--and U.S. Magistrate Robert Armstrong dismissed a second case by parroting Edenfield's faulty ruling.
Joseph W. Blackburn, a professor of taxation at Samford University's Cumberland School of Law, was at the heart of both lawsuits. Blackburn was the plaintiff in the first case, claiming that Jefferson County judges and lawyers conspired to corrupt the judicial process in his divorce from U.S. District Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn. Joe Blackburn acted as an attorney in the second case, representing other plaintiffs who claimed they were the victims of corruption in Jefferson County Domestic Relations Court.
Both lawsuits revolved around alleged misconduct at a hunting club in Lowndes County, Alabama, frequented by certain lawyers and judges. Defendants in the lawsuits included former Jefferson County Circuit Judges John C. Calhoun and Ralph A. "Sonny" Ferguson; plus Birmingham attorneys Charles Gorham, George Richard Fernambucq, and L. Stephen Wright.
The defendants filed motions to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP), and Edenfield granted them--in the face of clear law that says he could not. Here's how we explained it in an earlier post:
How did (Edenfield) do it? By conveniently ignoring Rule 12(d) FRCP, which states as follows: (d) Result of Presenting Matters Outside the Pleadings. If, on a motion under Rule 12(b)(6) or 12(c), matters outside the pleadings are presented to and not excluded by the court, the motion must be treated as one for summary judgment under Rule 56. All parties must be given a reasonable opportunity to present all the material that is pertinent to the motion. What are "matters outside the pleadings"? They are evidence, usually in the form of an affidavit or a document that is entered by either party. When such matters are entered, and the court does not exclude them, Rule 12(d) plainly states that the motion to dismiss must be converted to a motion for summary judgment and governed by Rule 56 FRCP.
Both Rule 56 and Eleventh Circuit case law state that summary judgment cannot be granted when the nonmoving party (in this case, Blackburn and the other plaintiffs) have been given no opportunity to conduct discovery. As we explained previously, this is all laid out in a case styled Snook v. Trust Company Bank of Georgia, 859 F. 2d 865 (11th Cir., 1988). From our earlier post:
Snook states, in pertinent part: "This court has often noted that summary judgment should not be granted until the party opposing the motion has had an adequate opportunity for discovery. . . . The party opposing a motion for summary judgment has a right to challenge the affidavits and other factual materials submitted in support of the motion by conducting sufficient discovery so as to enable him to determine whether he can furnish opposing affidavits."
Sounds simple, doesn't it? So how could federal judges get it wrong? Well, Edenfield's own words show he intentionally cheated the plaintiffs in the first case. And as noted earlier, Armstrong simply copied Edenfield's ruling on the second case.
Here is how we can tie this all up: The record shows that Blackburn and the other plaintiffs asked for an opportunity to conduct discovery, and they were denied. The record also shows that Edenfield considered at least two "matters outside the pleadings." As we've already shown, that means the motions to dismiss had to be treated under the rules for summary judgment--and discovery had to be conducted. So we've established that Edenfield got it wrong. Now, let's establish that he got it wrong on purpose. To do that, we visit page 24 of Edenfield's ruling. (See the ruling at the end of this post.) In footnote 17, Edenfield writes:
In that the Court is relying on evidence outside the pleadings, it will apply the summary judgment standards set forth in Part II(C) supra.
That sounds dandy, but here's the problem: Edenfield knew the standard, but he didn't apply it. If we check Part II(C), on page 4, of the ruling, it states in pertinent part:
Summary judgment is appropriate when "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law."
Edenfield granted the defendants a judgment as a matter of law, but he gave the plaintiffs no opportunity to conduct depositions or seek answers to interrogatories. In short, he gave the plaintiffs no chance to show there were genuine issues of material fact, which would have required the denial of summary judgment, with the case set for trial. Here is the simplest way to look at it: Edenfield admitted he was using the summary judgment standard, and under Eleventh Circuit precedent in Snook, that requires a judge to give nonmoving parties a chance to conduct discovery.
If I know what Snook and Rule 56 FRCP say, and I don't have the first day of law school, it stands to reason that a federal judge knows. And Edenfield's own words indicate he did know--he just intentionally chose not to follow the law.
What does this say to you? Here's what it says to me:
* Joe Blackburn and the other plaintiffs are right on target about their allegations regarding hunting-club corruption in Alabama;
* The truth about the hunting club probably is way worse than it is portrayed in the lawsuit allegations;
* That's why Edenfield and Armstrong felt compelled to cover it up; the legal tribe must ensure that the public never knows that our courts truly are cesspools of corruption.
And how is this for irony? The Blackburn lawsuits were civil actions under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act (RICO), essentially alleging that Alabama divorce courts are infested with organized crime.
Judge Edenfield's own words indicate that "your Honor" himself engaged in organized crime in an effort to cover up hunting-club corruption.
Blackburn Calhoun Opinion