Thursday, June 28, 2012

Attorney In Rolando McClain Lawsuit Once Threatened to Kill a Man

Rolando McClain

An attorney who filed a lawsuit alleging that a former University of Alabama football star had a history of "criminal activity" has himself been arrested for threatening to kill a man.

Allan L. Armstrong, along with Birmingham lawyer Darrell Cartwright, represented a UA student who alleged that former Crimson Tide star Rolando McClain struck him with a vehicle in 2008 in Tuscaloosa. McClain and plaintiff Matthew Mangham reached a settlement in April, and attorneys from both sides declined to say if McClain paid Mangham as part of the agreement.

McClain, now a linebacker with the Oakland Raiders, recently was convicted of assault and other criminal charges in a separate case connected to an altercation last November in his hometown of Decatur. Harvey Steinberg, an attorney for McClain, says his client intends to appeal the convictions.

As for the civil matter, it is filled with irony. The complaint alleged that McClain assaulted Mangham after first striking him with a vehicle. "Upon information and belief," the complaint states, "Defendant McClain has a history of aggressive and violent behavior, including previous assaults and other criminal activity."

Armstrong, the attorney who wrote those words, has a "history of aggressive and criminal activity" of his own. On March 5, 2008, a Jefferson County man named Johnny J. "Jeff" Scruggs III filed a criminal complaint stating that Armstrong had threatened to kill him. Was Scruggs perhaps exaggerating things in the heat of a moment? Apparently not. The complaint states that Armstrong left the message on Scruggs'  answering machine.

In a divorce complaint filed at about the same time, Scruggs identifies Armstrong as his wife's "paramour" and seeks a restraining order against him because of the death threat.

Scruggs filed a criminal complaint with the Vestavia Hills Municipal Court alleging that Armstrong violated Code of Alabama 13A-11-8, Harassing Communications. (The complaint can be viewed at the end of this post.) The complaint states that Armstrong did . . .

"Communicate with the said Johnny J. Scruggs III, anonymously or otherwise by telephone, in a manner likely to harass or cause alarm, by saying to Johnny J. Scruggs III, 'I'll kill your fucking ass. Yep, that's what you need. You need to die. And then she'll be happy because that's what she's told me she wants--you dead--or other words to that effect."

Let's keep this in mind: Those charming words were not uttered by just any schmo who happened to be drunk, high, or otherwise disturbed. They were uttered--and left on an answering machine--by a member of the Alabama State Bar, an "officer of the court," and the brother of a U.S. Magistrate Judge, Robert R. Armstrong Jr.

Scruggs told Legal Schnauzer that he did not pursue the criminal matter because he figured Armstrong would receive favorable treatment in court--plus Scruggs thought he would be better served by using the information in his divorce case.

It appears to be beyond dispute that Allan L. Armstrong threatened to kill a man--and was stupid enough to leave the threat on an answering machine.

We've seen no sign that Armstrong has been held accountable for a flagrant violation of legal ethics. Perhaps this question needs to be put to the Alabama State Bar: "Is an individual who threatens to kill a man--and leaves such a message on an answering machine--fit to practice law?"

Below is the criminal complaint filed against Allan L. Armstrong. The print in the official hard copy is light and difficult to read, but along with the passage cited above, I hope it gives a general idea of the charges involved.

(To be continued) Armstrong Criminal Complaint

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Karl Rove's Bisexual Affair Might Have Sparked His Bizarre Rant on Fox News

Greta Van Susteren and Karl Rove

Karl Rove is having a bisexual affair with the president of a conservative bloggers' group, and concern about being outed sparked Rove's falsehood-filled diatribe last week on Greta Van Susteren's Fox News program.

Rove's lover is Ali Akbar, president of the National Bloggers Club, an umbrella group that grew from the activism of the late right-wing publisher and pundit Andrew Breitbart. A left-leaning Web site called Breitbart Unmasked recently disclosed that Akbar has a criminal record that includes convictions for credit-card fraud, theft, and burglary.

The stunning allegations about Rove and Akbar are included in a letter sent yesterday from Alabama attorney Dana Jill Simpson to Robert Bauer, counsel for President Barack Obama's 2012 re-election campaign. The letter also includes an appeal for a presidential pardon on behalf of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman.

Rove, appearing with Van Susteren on the June 20 edition of On the Record, took a question about the tax-exempt status of certain PACs and turned it into an attack on Simpson, Bauer, and Siegelman--who was the target of perhaps the most notorious political prosecution in U.S. history.

Simpson, a former GOP operative, is best known as a whistleblower in the Siegelman case. She has stated under oath and testified before Congress that she participated in a telephone conference call with prominent Alabama Republicans who discussed plans to bring bogus criminal charges against Siegelman, apparently with Rove's approval.

Rove told Van Susteren that Bauer represented Simpson in her 2007 testimony before Congress and that Simpson did not testify under oath. It's a matter of public record that Simpson made sworn statements about the Siegelman prosecution on multiple occasions. And Simpson included in her letter to Bauer yesterday an affidavit stating that he has never represented her, and the two have never met. (See the affidavit and letter at the end of this post.) Bauer has sent a letter to Rove demanding a retraction, according to a report in Huffington Post.

Ali Akbar
Why would Rove become so wildly disengaged from the truth, on a national television program where he was asked a question that had nothing to do with Jill Simpson? The Alabama lawyer says in her letter to Bauer that Rove became unhinged because he knew she had damaging information about his personal life--and it soon might become public knowledge.

At the heart of Rove's discomfort is his relationship with Ali Akbar. And how did that come to light? Simpson spells it out in her letter to Bauer:

About a week and a half ago, I was contacted by a political operative on the left who gave me a copy of Ali Akbar's advertisement on an adult website. This advertisement suggested that the National Bloggers Club President, Mr. Akbar, was looking for bisexual sex with men who were Republican, political, and loved to discuss politics and philosophy and just wanted to hang out and chill with them.

Simpson has an e-mail list on which she periodically shares inside information on politics and international affairs. The Akbar ad became a subject for discussion on the list. Andrew Kreig, of the D.C.-based Justice-Integrity Project, briefly referenced the Akbar angle in a major piece about Rove's statements on the Van Susteren show. Kreig did not mention Akbar by name, but he did write the following:

In a similar vein, Rove critics active in the blogosphere have been claiming over the past week that one of Rove's colleagues is an ex-con who might be outed soon in a sex scandal. This is part of the ongoing back-and-forth war of nerves that political activists wage continually against one another, with lawsuits and claims of outrage by each side. Among the latter are GOP members of Congress seeking Justice Department prosecutions of liberal opponents. 
In this context, it made sense for Rove to deflect attacks by claiming to Fox listeners that he has been cleared from any suspicions by previous investigations and that critics are partisans allied unfairly against him.

In her letter to Bauer, Simpson says she took the Akbar ad and used it to unearth information about his ties to powerful Republicans. One of those, the letter suggests, is Rove:

I took [the information] back to my blogging group and showed them that Karl had gotten himself a new friend from the information and evidence I had received and that this guy was alleged to be the possible new boy wonder and lover of Karl Rove.

Simpson tells Bauer that she has no concerns about Rove's sexual preferences, but she is alarmed about his multiple false statements on Fox News:

It is believed by many of us that Karl thought we were going to use this for the benefit of President Obama, which was never the case. We do not care if [Rove] is bisexual or not and have many times ignored information that was given to us that suggested that he is. In fact, we find nothing wrong with being bisexual, as it means people just love both sexes at the same time. All of us are LBGTQ supporters, so we elected to not out this information on him. However, I think this is why he went berserk on national TV on Fox Network and said that I am a liar and have disappeared. He also lied when he said I had never testified under oath, as I have. It is Mr. Rove who insisted on executive privilege so as to not have to testify under oath about the Siegelman case.

Simpson states that something positive could come from Rove's appearance on the Van Susteren program:

With all that said, I am very grateful that Mr. Rove was hung up about having his alleged bisexuality possibly released that he pointed out on National TV, not once but twice, that you are a man who can possibly get things done in the Obama Administration. For that reason I am asking you to please consider joining us . . . [in] asking President Obama to pardon Don Siegelman. As you may recall, I was the individual that Karl Rove asked to follow Don Siegelman to a party in Alabama to try to catch him cheating with a gay man in his administration named Nick Bailey.

Does all of this have national implications? Simpson says the answer is yes, and she urges Bauer to take action:

In closing, I just want to say that I am sad you got dragged into this, but I am happy that you now know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Karl Rove lied on you, me, and Mr. Siegelman. It is time that someone in the Obama Administration stopped this monster maniac from hurting innocent people--and I hope that man is you.

Simpson Bauer Letter

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Chace Swatek and "Huffing": Did Dust-Off Cause the Death of an Alabama Attorney?

The abuse of inhalants, known in street terms as "huffing," once was limited mostly to adolescents and adults living in poverty.

Chace Swatek, a 35-year-old lawyer with a penchant for driving Mercedes vehicles, did not fit into either of those groups. But a source tells Legal Schnauzer that evidence at the scene caused investigators to conclude that huffing was the likely cause of Swatek's death. An official cause of death will not be known until a toxicology report is completed, and that is expected to take six months to a year.

If Chace Swatek did not fit the common profile of a "huffer," what did law-enforcement officials see at the scene to make them think he was one? The answer to that question is not clear, but a spokesman for the Pelham Police Department said Swatek died on the return portion of a two-mile roundtrip walk from his home in the Mallard Pointe subdivision to a CVS Pharmacy near the intersection of Shelby County 35 and 52. His body was found behind steel pipes that were stacked on the shoulder of the road.

A CVS bag containing a receipt and several items was found near the body. Officials have declined to identify the items in the bag because the case remains under investigation. Those facts, plus the information from our source, hint that Chace Swatek might have become addicted to a product that seems to be changing the face of huffing.

It's called Dust-Off, a refrigerant-based propellant cleaner that is designed to clean computer keyboards and other electronic equipment. You probably could randomly walk into 10 office settings, in any part of the United States, and each one would have multiple cans of Dust-Off. Some office-supplies stores sell them in 12 packs.

The product has become ubiquitous, but it is not always used for its intended purpose. Not long after being introduced, Dust-Off became known for its ability to produce an intense high when inhaled. The process became known as "dusting."

A 2005 MSNBC article describes dusting as "the new killer high for teens." From the article:

There's a new way to get high, and you could have it right next to your desk at home. 
They're designed to clean your computer but, if inhaled, these popular products have the potential to kill. It’s called "dusting" — the term comes from the cleaning brand "Dust Off" — and it has become a teenager’s new cheap and easily accessible high, despite a warning on the side of each canister. 
This form of inhalant abuse, “huffing,” has been around for years, but dusting is the more specific term associated with the use of cans of any common aerosolized computer keyboard cleaner that contains compressed gas.

By 2010, the Naples Daily News in Florida reported that huffing was becoming a growing problem among adults:

Known as huffing, sniffing, bagging or dusting, experts say inhalants and other household products are most commonly abused by teenagers — 3.9 percent of adolescents abused inhalants in 2007, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. 
But in early March, Naples police arrested 37-year-old Jennifer Marie Fernandez after finding her passed out in a puddle of vomit behind an office supply store with two empty cans of dust remover. She was arrested twice before in the past year after being found passed out on dust remover in McDonalds and Walmart bathrooms. 
Fernandez is one of at least three women in their mid-to-late 30s who were arrested on charges of huffing dust remover in Collier County over the last two of years.

Dust-Off seems to be the inhalant of choice for adults. Consider these news items from the past few years:

* Utah man is caught huffing air duster while driving (May 2012);

* Oklahoma man arrested for DUI after huffing aerosol duster (May 2012)

* Ohio man, 24, hospitalized after four-day huffing binge (January 2012);

* Wyoming woman, 39, causes fatal accident while dusting (December 2011);

* Florida man, 47, arrested for huffing Dust-Off (April 2011);

* Army Col., 44, dies from dusting (July 2007)

Did Chace Swatek walk to the CVS to buy a can of Dust-Off? (According to its Web site, CVS carries the product.) Did he walk because he already was high and feared being pulled over for DUI? Was he so desperate for a hit that he sneaked behind the pipes, out of the view of traffic, to take a few quick sniffs of Dust-Off? Did Chace Swatek experience a cardiac arrhythmia in what has become known as "sudden sniffing death syndrome"?

We probably will never know the official answer to all those questions. But we do know Chace Swatek purchased several items that were found in a CVS bag near his body--and authorities will not identify those items because they are part of an ongoing investigation. That seems to indicate that something in the bag might have contributed to Swatek's death.

I'm not aware of any prescription drug that is likely to cause a seemingly healthy 35-year-old man to die suddenly behind a stack of pipes. But we know that dusting can cause cardiac arrest and sudden death.

Perhaps the most important point is this: A number of products that are commonly huffed can seem nasty or smelly. That apparently is not the case with Dust-Off. Because of its ties to computers and electronics, it has a professional, cool vibe.

Maybe that's why it appeals to adults who need a quick, "reputable" high. Maybe that's why some adults don't associate Dust-Off with danger--until it's too late.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Jerry Sandusky Represents the Tip of a Deeply Disturbing Iceberg In U.S. Society

Jerry Sandusky

Former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was found guilty on 45 counts Friday night in perhaps the most high-profile child sexual abuse case in our nation's history. But numerous signs indicate the Sandusky story is far from over, with ongoing investigations and multiple civil cases hinting that others are likely to become ensnared in a twisted tale of predation and abuse of power.

Perhaps Americans now are ready to come to grips with a problem that should have been addressed when the Franklin Scandal emerged, with connections to the Reagan and Bush I White Houses, in the late 1980s and early '90s. A cover up pushed the Franklin Scandal, and its tales of corporate and political elites using boys as sexual playthings, back into the darkness.

Jerry Sandusky has been described as a "monster" in the wake of Friday night's guilty verdicts. But he hardly is the only monster who preys on children while operating in powerful circles. And he had plenty of enablers along the way. Dave Zirin, of The Nation, puts it in perspective:

America’s always been very good at forming a crowd ready to cheer a good hanging. The national fabric has been woven with witch trials, executions, torture, and now presidential kill lists and on it goes. We love to slay those we label as monsters. We are less vigilant about the people who allow the monsters to roam the countryside. They get to write books, give lectures and be guests on the late night talk show circuit. (See Rumsfeld, Donald.) 
There are many “Rumsfelds” in The People vs. Jerry Sandusky. During the trial, two facts kept appearing like a reoccurring malignancy. The first was something we already knew: that Jerry Sandusky’s God-like stature as defensive football guru at Penn State was his tool for both attracting children and winning the unquestioned trust of parents or guardians. The other stubborn fact is that people in positions of power at the university and in state politics smothered accusations as they swirled around Sandusky and his children’s charity, The Second Mile.

Life might soon get pretty uncomfortable for some of the "Rumsfelds" in the Sandusky story. And we suspect the nation now is going to be more likely to scrutinize other alleged monsters--and the "Rumsfelds" who allow them to operate. Let's examine a few subcurrents in the big Sandusky picture:

Did Sandusky pimp out boys for the sexual pleasure of corporate and political elites?

This angle surfaced last November and has largely faded from view. But the Web site quickly raised the issue after Friday's guilty verdicts:

Sadly justice may have only been partially served with the corporate controlled media and most of the world ignoring the initial claims that Sandusky was running a child sex ring through his foundation, Second Mile. 
Months before the Sandusky story broke through the corporate media, little known sports reporter Mark Madden broke the story which was then largely ignored 
Shortly after the corporate media finally started to report the story and the scandal became known worldwide, Madden and others in the corporate press then reported a series of shocking claims that were then backtracked and labeled as “rumors” and unfounded without so much as being investigated by one major paper or cable news outlet.

Sandusky's lawyers have complained that their client was rushed to trial, and they were not able to adequately prepare. hints that the trial was rushed in order to help provide cover for those involved in a possible pedophile ring. The faster Sandusky could be convicted, the less likely his powerful playmates would draw scrutiny.

Michael Collins seems to touch on this issue in a splendid analysis at OpEd News titled "Unanswered Questions Remain About Sandusky Case." Collins notes Sandusky's habit of "grooming" his victims, and then notes that the coach seemed to think he was untouchable, even by football icon Joe Paterno,  PSU president Graham Spanier, Athletics Director Tim Curley, and Vice President Gary Schultz:

When Sandusky got down to the purpose of his grooming, the sexual abuse of boys, his behavior was, at times, flagrant. Twice he was caught and reported for forcing sexual acts on male children in the PSU showers. Was Sandusky out of his mind with this ultra-high risk behavior? 
Perhaps, but Sandusky behaved as if he were immune from punishment for his swaggering displays of deviance. Why else would he tempt the fates with the shower rapes unless he knew that fate wasn't involved; unless he knew that he had enough power to defy the most powerful people at the university, including Coach Joe Paterno . . . ? 
What power did Sandusky have? Did he know something so compromising about the university that it got him off the hook? 
Did he have friends even more powerful than Paterno, Curley, Schultz, and Spanier? 
If so, what favors did they owe Sandusky to enlist their protective services? 
Until we know who Sandusky had on his side to allow his flagrant public deviance, we won't know the true story of the Sandusky case.

Matt Sandusky raises the issue of abuse at home
The most disturbing testimony in the trial involved accounts of Sandusky showering with boys in Penn State locker rooms. But Matt Sandusky, the coach's adopted son, came forward near the end of the trial to say he had been victimized, too.

That raises the issue of child sexual abuse inside the home. We suspect that is where most abuse takes place--and why such cases are difficult to crack. If Sandusky had limited his perversions to abusing his own children, within the four walls of his home, he probably never would have been caught.

Penn State officials failed to report clear signs of child sexual abuse
Many states have laws that require any person or institution with cause to suspect a child is being abused to report it. We already have addressed this issue in a North Carolina case, where multiple medical and law-enforcement officials failed to report a clear case of child abuse. Pennsylvania has a law similar to the one in North Carolina, and two former Penn State officials--Athletics Director Tim Curley and Vice President Gary Schultz--already face criminal charges of failure to report. But Sara Ganim, of, says an ongoing investigation by former FBI director Louis Freeh could bring even more woes for officials connected to the university:

Several people interviewed by the investigators have told The Patriot-News the questions seemed centered on the workings of the athletic department and former head football coach Joe Paterno. 
They’ve interviewed people going as far back as Bryce Jordan, the 87-year-old Texas resident who was university president from 1983 to 1990. 
And they have recovered emails once thought to be lost during technology upgrades that are said to show conversations between administrators. 
The attorney general’s office in court filings said the emails show that former President Graham Spanier was involved in the decision not to tell police about an allegation made against Sandusky in 2001. 
The release of the Freeh report will come as Penn State tries to maintain its football legacy in a post-Paterno era with new coach Bill O’Brien.

The recovered emails could be particularly damaging for Penn State--and that issue hits close to home here at Legal Schnauzer. As regular readers know, I was wrongfully terminated at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), after 19 years on the job, because I wrote on this blog (in my own time, with my own resources) about the prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman.

That's not just a guess on my part; I have a tape-recorded conversation with a UAB human-resources official who admitted I was targeted because of my blog content about the Siegelman case. An e-mail trail undoubtedly exists that would show the unlawful actions of UAB officials in my case. That's why a corrupt federal judge named William M. Acker Jr. unlawfully granted summary judgment without allowing me to conduct discovery. That ruling is under appeal, but Acker clearly knew discovery would yield proof of how I was cheated out of my job.

That's the kind of corruption that exists in postmodern higher education. It is likely to be unmasked at Penn State, and as long as I have a breath in my body, it will be unmasked at UAB.

The Sandusky story hits close to home in at least one other way. I reported recently that I have been researching a case of alleged child sexual abuse. It has ties to corporate America, Wall Street finance, and (like the Sandusky case) higher education. I've uncovered stomach-churning details that are worse than anything revealed so far in the Sandusky case, and I'm close to having the story ready for publication.

Is America, and its institutions, ready to come to grips with the monsters in our midst? We are about to find out.

What Prompted Karl Rove To Go Off On a Fact-Free Rant About Don Siegelman and Jill Simpson?

Greta Van Susteren and Karl Rove

No thinking American ever would take anything Karl Rove says as the truth. But the former Bush White House strategist issued a string of lies on Fox News the other night that was prodigious, even by his standards.

Greta Van Susteren initiated an interview that was supposed to be about the tax-exempt status of certain right-leaning PACs. For reasons that seemed to escape even Van Susteren, Rove took the question and turned it into a diatribe about the prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman. Much of Rove's vitriol was directed at Rainsville lawyer Jill Simpson, a former GOP operative who told Congress she was involved in a conference call about a plan to bring bogus charges against Siegelman, apparently with Rove's approval.

Van Susteren either was too timid or too stunned to point out to her audience that almost everything Rove said about Simpson, and her role in the Siegelman, case was false. (See the interview at the end of this post.) Andrew Kreig, of the D.C.-based Justice-Integrity Project, spells it out in a piece titled "Rove Repeatedly Lies On Fox News About Siegelman Case."

Here are a few whoppers from Rove's rant:

* He claimed Robert Bauer, counsel to President Barack Obama, represented Simpson in her appearance before Congress; it's a matter of public record that Bauer did not represent Simpson.

* He claimed Simpson's testimony was not under oath; it's a matter of public record that Simpson, in fact, did testify under oath.

* He claimed that Simpson has "disappeared"; in fact, Simpson has continued to practice law in Rainsville, and she currently is in Arizona training in civil disobedience.

Why would Rove get off on a Siegelman/Simpson tangent, one filled with misstatements? Kreig provides some important backdrop:

Rove's untruthfulness . . . seems far from irrational. He could land in trouble if subjected for the first time to a thorough investigation. His peace of mind on June 20, the day of his Fox interview, could not have been helped by a protest march that day by attendees of the annual Campaign For America's Future convention. They marched to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce offices to demand that federal authorities arrest Rove. The protest was symbolic, with no charges specified. 
In a similar vein, Rove critics active in the blogosphere have been claiming over the past week that one of Rove's colleagues is an ex-con who might be outed soon in a sex scandal. This is part of the ongoing back-and-forth war of nerves that political activists wage continually against one another, with lawsuits and claims of outrage by each side. Among the latter are GOP members of Congress seeking Justice Department prosecutions of liberal opponents. 
In this context, it made sense for Rove to deflect attacks by claiming to Fox listeners that he has been cleared from any suspicions by previous investigations and that critics are partisans allied unfairly against him.

One of Rove's colleagues is an ex-con who might be outed soon in a sex scandal? That information certainly jumps off the screen at you. But this question is of more immediate concern: Why has the Obama White House refused to endorse an investigation of apparent criminality in the George W. Bush administration, involving Rove and others? Kreig addresses several possible answers:

One is that Rove, with a long career of high-level contacts that include work for former CIA Director George H.W. Bush, might think he knows enough about one or more leaders in the Obama administration as to be protected against any unwanted disruption of his privacy. 
Under that scenario, Obama officials would have the incentive to keep coddling Rove and avoid any pre-election unpleasantness this year, as always, especially if there are national security factors far more important than the fate of prosecutorial abuse victims such as Siegelman and his family. 
That possibility of national security intrigue is not far-fetched given the unusual number of military-related factors that arose in the case. The anti-Siegelman prosecution team was headquartered at Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base, for example, with the lead prosecutor a colonel in the Air Force Reserve. The key interrogations of suspects were at the base, adding to a fear factor.

Is Karl Rove untouchable because he has dirt on higher ups in the Obama administration? That could be, but Kreig points out that it's also possible for Rove's rant to backfire on him. Sam Stein, of Huffington Post, reports that Bob Bauer fired off a letter demanding that Rove retract his false statements in the Van Susteren interview. In attacking Bauer, the president's counsel, is it possible that Rove poked the wrong bear with a stick, especially in an election year? Writes Kreig:

In sum, it's no secret that those running government both federally and locally like to keep secrets from the public. But one thing is for sure: Rove was lying on Fox News last week about whether Simpson had been working with Bauer. Oddly enough, however, Rove's nationally televised screed might prompt Bauer to urge his client pay attention, at long last, to one of the greatest scandals in recent American history.

Here is the Rove interview with Greta Van Susteren:

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Ties to Johnny Cash Help Prove That Ted Rollins Committed Perjury In His Alabama Divorce Case

Johnny Cash

In my research on the Rollins v. Rollins divorce case in Alabama, I haven't found many reasons to write nice things about Ted Rollins. To put it in blunt terms, the CEO of Campus Crest Communities seems like a thoroughly dishonest, abusive, and selfish human being.

But I must give Ted Rollins credit for one thing: He was a friend of Johnny Cash, close enough that Rollins served as an active pallbearer at Cash's funeral in 2003. Even the people who have been mistreated by Ted Rollins, and I've come to know several of them, would have to admit that is pretty cool.

In standard Rollins fashion, however, his coolest attribute must come with an asterisk. His ties to Johnny Cash, it turns out, help prove that Ted Rollins committed perjury in the divorce case that left his ex wife and two daughters on food stamps in Birmingham.

How did Ted Rollins become friends with the "Man in Black"? My understanding is that both the Rollins and Cash families have strong ties to Jamaica, and that's how the connection was made. In fact, Johnny Cash had a home called Cinnamon Hill in Jamaica, and it was next door to Rose Hall, which is part of a resort owned by the Rollins family.

Actually, Johnny Cash was more than just a friend to Ted Rollins. He was his godfather.

That's one reason Rollins was on hand for the Johnny Cash Festival last summer at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro. The event featured performances by Kris Kristofferson, George Jones, and other music luminaries. It was designed to help fund the preservation of Johnny Cash's childhood home in Dyess, Arkansas, a small community about 30 miles east of Jonesboro.

Rosanne Cash, Johnny's daughter, probably could be described as the lead performer at the festival. And how did she get there? Well, she flew on one of Ted Rollins' three private jets--and we have a picture to prove it.

What does all of this have to do with perjury? You might recall that Ted Rollins stated in an Alabama child-support affidavit, called a CS-41, that he made roughly $50,000 a year. You can check out the Rollins CS-41 form, which was signed under oath and under penalty of perjury, at the following link.

This obvious question comes to mind: How many guys making $50,000 a year can afford to fly a famous person such as Rosanne Cash in a private jet? How many guys making $50,000 a year can fly anyone, famous or not, in a private jet?

And what about the picture from inside the private jet? Well, you can check it out below. That's Rosanne Cash, on the right, with Ted Rollins' daughters, Sarah and Emma Rollins (center).

Sarah and Emma Rollins, by the way, are the children who have been forced to be on food stamps because of the massive cheat job Ted Rollins perpetrated on their mother, Sherry Carroll Rollins.

I wonder if the Cash family knows about that. I wonder if they know that Johnny Cash's godson has turned into a flagrant perjurer who has caused his own children to suffer. So much for Rollins family values.


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Was Major Bashinsky's Death Connected to a Lawsuit Involving Oil Wells and Millions of Dollars?

Major Bashinsky

More than two years have passed since the body of Alabama attorney Major Bashinsky was found in a golf-course water hazard on Birmingham's Southside. The public still has no solid information about how Bashinsky died or why.

We have a coroner's finding that Bashinsky died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head--and he used duct tape and rope to tie himself up in order to make it look like a murder. But the coroner's report provides zero scientific proof of suicide. And authorities have pointed to no evidence--a note, any signs of personal or financial problems--that indicate Bashinsky wanted to kill himself.

Poor health certainly was not an issue. The coroner's report shows that Bashinsky, aside from the need to take cholesterol medication, was a very healthy 63-year-old guy. In fact, news reports state that he picked up a prescription on the day he disappeared--a strange thing to do if you are planning to kill yourself.

Our research indicates the investigation of Major Bashinsky's death was marked by incompetence, dubious motives, or both. Studies have shown that many medical examiners are reluctant to make a suicide finding if the evidence raises any doubts; for that reason, suicide tends to be under-reported, experts say. From one article:

The validity and reliability of certifications of suicide are decreased for several reasons. . . . The determination of suicide requires that the death be established as both self-inflicted and intentional. For most certifiers, establishing intentionality is the most difficult criterion. A coroner or medical examiner who suspects suicide may be reluctant to impose social stigma, guilt, and loss of insurance benefits on the victim's family.

So why did officials make a rush to judgment in the Bashinsky case, issuing a finding that is supported by no scientific evidence?

Was there another explanation for the Bashinsky death, one that officials refused to examine? Well, public records show that the Bashinsky family was embroiled in a contentious lawsuit, one involving oil wells and tens (perhaps hundreds) of millions of dollars. In fact, a Jefferson County judge approved a curious settlement in the lawsuit on March 1, 2010--and Major Bashinsky disappeared two days later. Twelve days after the disappearance, his body was discovered in a pond at Highland Park Golf Course.

Did authorities investigate the circumstances surrounding the lawsuit--styled Estate of Sloan Y. Bashinsky Sr., et al v. W&H Investments, et al--and its ties to the toxic political environment that has permeated Alabama for the past 12 years or so? If not, why not?

We have examined records from the Bashinsky Estate lawsuit, and they are filled with signs that someone was extraordinarily sloppy on recordkeeping about vast sums of money--and someone was reluctant to provide information about where all that money went.

Major Bashinsky apparently was not directly involved in the estate matter. But individuals connected to his father's estate were aggressively seeking financial documents to which they were entitled under the law--and court records show they were being stonewalled at most every turn.

What was at stake in the estate lawsuit? Here is how the plaintiffs summed it up in one court document:

This action, filed June 20, 2006, arises from the need of the Estate of Sloan Y. Bashinsky Sr. ("Bashinsky") to ascertain the value of investments Bashinsky held through his membership in various oil and gas partnerships ("the BEV Partnerships") with Defendants--partnerships into which Bashinsky invested more than thirty-seven million dollars.

Unlike many lawsuits, this one was not primarily about money damages. Records show that the estate's No. 1 goal was to receive an accounting of the investments Mr. Bashinsky had made with W&H Investments. If the accounting revealed wrongdoing--breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty--money damages were set to come into play. But essentially, the estate was saying, "Mr. Bashinsky has died, and we now are responsible for his business affairs, and we need to know for tax and other purposes, what happened to the money he invested with W&H?"

With that as the primary issue, and with the estate apparently never having received the accounting that it sought, why did the parties reach a settle agreement dated January 27, 2010? Why did the estate settle for $300,000 in a matter involving investment income that likely ranged into nine figures? Why did the court approve the settlement on March 1, 2010?

Most importantly, why did Major Bashinsky disappear on March 3, 2010, two days after the settlement cleared? What information was uncovered in the almost four years of discovery in the estate lawsuit? Was somebody in the process unhappy about the outcome? Was somebody feeling pressured, deceived, or double-crossed?

Here is the No. 1 question on our list: Could discovery in the lawsuit have revealed sensitive financial information about political figures in Alabama or beyond? That is not a far-fetched question. The "W" in W&H Investments stands for Fred Wedell; the "H" stands for William Cobb "Chip" Hazelrig--and we have written extensively about Hazelrig's ties to gambling and Alabama's GOP power structure. Here is how we described it in an earlier post:

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

We know that Chip Hazelrig took some curious actions during the 12 days that Major Bashinsky was missing in March 2010. He just happened to show up in Key West, Florida, for a visit with Sloan Bashinsky Jr., Major's older brother. Two days after the visit, Major's body was discovered in the golf-course pond.

What was the purpose of Chip Hazelrig's trip to Key West while Major Bashinsky was missing? We've never heard a solid answer to that question. That's one of many unanswered questions that still surround the death of Major Bashinsky, almost 28 months after it happened.

Many citizens probably have accepted the suicide ruling and moved on. But we have uncovered numerous reasons to doubt that finding. Quite a few of those reasons grow out of the estate lawsuit. In a series of upcoming posts, we will be taking a close look at the case.

(To be continued)

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Two Stupid Neighbors, Plus One Gun, Equals Death In "Stand Your Ground" Case

Raul Rodriguez

A Texas man was convicted of murder last week in a case that has been portrayed as a defeat for "stand your ground" laws.

The case in Houston, however, stands as a poor companion to the shooting of Trayvon Martin in Florida. In Texas, the key issue really had nothing to do with anyone standing his ground. It was about two neighbors behaving stupidly--one while possessing a gun, the other while apparently having had too much to drink.

As a result, Kelly Danaher, a married father of one, is dead, and 44-year-old Raul Rodriguez faces a possible sentence of life in prison.

Stories such as this have special resonance here. Mrs. Schnauzer and I have endured a 12-year legal nightmare that started because of a troublesome neighbor named Mike McGarity, a guy with a lengthy criminal record. Anyone who must deal with a thoughtless individual living nearby has my deepest empathy. But both neighbors in the Texas story acted like blockheads, and when a gun and alcohol are added to the equation, we should not be surprised that tragedy ensued.

It unfolded as Danaher, an elementary-school PE teacher, was hosting a joint birthday party for his wife and 3-year-old daughter. The party apparently involved loud music and plenty of alcohol, causing alarm for Rodriguez, who lived two doors down. Rodriguez called local law enforcement with a noise complaint about midnight. According to The Houston Chronicle, this is what happened next:

Because he was disturbed by the noise of the party, Rodriguez walked to the home and stood on the road in front of the Danahers' driveway after midnight. He carried a video camera, a phone and a pistol. To get the attention of people in the house, which is in a rural neighborhood in northeast Harris County, Rodriguez shined a flashlight toward partygoers. On the video, which jurors have seen, Kelly Danaher approached Rodriguez, who told him to "stay back" and then drew his pistol.

The presence of a gun, however, did not help defuse the situation. It only escalated the tension:

A crowd of partygoers gathered as Rodriguez holstered his pistol and called the police. He can be heard telling a police dispatcher that he is in fear for his life and believes someone in the group has left to get a gun. After a few minutes, three of the men "charged" Rodriguez, according to his lawyers. On the video, a maniacal laugh can be heard, the camera drops and the image goes to black.

The video, which can be viewed at the end of this post, provides extraordinary insight into how a neighborhood dispute can turn ugly. Rodriguez is heard asking Danaher and his guests to "keep it down"--and they respond by sassing him, with threats and curses.

I know what it's like to get that kind of response when you make a reasonable request of a neighbor. But that's not to say Rodriquez handled this situation well. In fact, the video shows that almost everyone within view of the camera lens made stupid decisions. Here are a few that jump out at me:

* Why did Danaher allow a party to get so loud and rowdy that late at night in a residential neighborhood? It appears to me that Danaher wanted to "have his cake and eat it, too." He wanted to be married and have a child and take on the trappings of adulthood, but he didn't want to leave his frat-boy ways behind. Some press reports have portrayed Rodriguez as judgmental and overly sensitive, prone to bully his neighbors. But it appears in this instance he did not complain until almost midnight, which is at or past the typical bedtime for many adults. And Rodriguez would not be alone in finding loud music and boisterous behavior to be annoying at that hour.

* Why did law enforcement fail to take control of the situation? After Rodriguez called authorities, a Harris County constable visited the Danaher house and informed residents of the noise complaint. The constable found that Danaher was in compliance with local law and left the house, according to an incident report. How stupid is that? Did it occur to the constable that the party calmed down as a squad car pulled up? Did it occur to him that the party would crank back up when he drove away? Did he think to tell Danaher, "You know, things are pretty quiet right now, and you seem to be within the law, but it is about midnight, and if someone several doors down is complaining, you must have been pretty loud at some point. Looks like you've had quite a party, so why don't you and your friends call it a night? Wouldn't that be the neighborly and thoughtful thing to do?"

* Why did the constable apparently not confer with Rodriquez after the visit to the Danaher home? Was Rodriquez left to think that no one was going to do anything about the noise? Why didn't the constable hang around in the area for a while to make sure the situation had calmed down?

*  As for Rodriguez, why did he take a video camera and a gun with him to stand in the street outside the Danaher home? And why did he make a point of flashing both so that people who clearly had been drinking could see them? When someone, apparently Danaher, indicated that he was going to go inside and make sure that he also was armed, why didn't Rodriguez say to himself, "These people are snockered and dangerous. There's no reason to have a possible shootout over this?"

* Did Texas law make Rodriquez bolder than he should have been? Rodriguez can be heard on the video saying, "I'm standing my ground." But he's on a public street; it's not "his ground" to defend. No one is threatening "his ground," which is two doors down. There is a big difference between being threatened and being annoyed. Rodriquez was the latter, but he acted as if it was the former.

I know from personal experience that law enforcement often is utterly inept at handling neighbor issues. They only served to make our situation worse, and that also appears to have happened in Texas.

Rodriguez' attorneys argued that he acted in self defense and was free, under Texas law, to "stand his ground." But a jury disagreed, and I can understand their point.

This was not a situation where Rodriquez had any reason to believe someone was about to threaten him in his home or on his property. And he did not feel a threat as he just happened to be walking down the street. He went to confront people about a problem, which he was entitled to do, but he made the problem worse by introducing a gun and a camera into the equation and refusing to leave when it became clear his tactics were only making matters worse.

I'm not sure that Rodriguez' actions fit the definition of murder. I see no reason to believe he went to Danaher's house with the intention of killing someone. He remained on the street, and gunfire only came when one or more people apparently rushed him.

Texas has no statute for "criminal stupidity," but that's probably what Rodriquez should have been charged with. Barring that, some form of manslaughter might have been appropriate. It's hard to see how a murder conviction is going to hold up on appeal.

But it seems clear that a jury wanted to hold Rodriguez accountable in some way for a death that never should have happened.


Monday, June 18, 2012

Sandusky Trial Brings the Horrors of Child Sexual Abuse Into Our Living Rooms

Jerry Sandusky

The first week of the Jerry Sandusky trial reminded me of Anita Hill's testimony at the confirmation hearings for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

When Hill raised her right hand on October 11, 1991, most Americans had no clue about the sights and sounds that can come with a case of alleged sexual harassment in the workplace. By the time Hill's testimony ended two days later, Americans had heard about a pubic hair on a Coke can and a porn actor named "Long Dong Silver."

We had cases of child sexual abuse before Jerry Sandusky became known to more than just hard-core Penn State football fans. But I don't recall another case where the nauseating details have been brought to so many newspaper pages, TV newscasts, and computer screens. As I checked for updates each day at and, I was tempted to make sure I had a vomit bag nearby.

That's saying something because I've become a bit numb to the horrors of child sexual abuse. Why?  Well, I've been investigating a case of alleged child sexual abuse off and on for the past eight months or so. The story is not quite ready for publication, but my research has produced compelling evidence that the abuse was real. And it is deeply disturbing, in part because I have come to know a number of people who have been impacted by it.

In fact, the story I've been investigating has similarities to the Sandusky case. Both appear to have originated in the early to mid 1990s. In both, a state investigation was launched only to see no action taken against the alleged perpetrator. In both, records indicate one or more children wound up suffering terribly because public officials failed them the first time around.

Some of the details in the case I am researching are more sickening than anything revealed so far in the Sandusky case. That's saying something because reading about the Sandusky trial makes you want to take a leisurely trip through a heavy-duty car wash--with no car.

Maureen Dowd, of The New York Times, provides a sobering summary in a piece titled "American Horror Story." It provides deep insights into the methods that abusers use to manipulate their victims:

The prosecution charges that Mr. Sandusky used his charity for disadvantaged kids, Second Mile, as a perverted recruiting tool, putting asterisks next to the names of boys who were fatherless and blond, making up weird contracts for boys to sign, giving them money, ostensibly for doing good schoolwork, but really as a way to keep them from fleeing -- and telling. 
Like pedophile priests, Mr. Sandusky was especially vile because he targeted vulnerable boys. Later, when victims finally spoke up, there was a built-in defense: Those boys were trouble; you can't believe them.

Each day of the Sandusky trial has produced platefuls of stomach-churning moments. The prosecution is expected to rest its case today, and then Sandusky's defense will begin. It is unclear when the case might go to the jury. Let's consider some of the "highlights" so far:

From Day One (Monday, June 11), we have an account from about Alleged Victim 4 and his cross-examination by defense attorney Joseph Amendola:

Amendola pressed the man on the shower facilities at Penn State's football facility, asking if any players or coaches entered when something inappropriate was happening between him and Sandusky. 
The man said no coaches or players ever witnessed anything inappropriate, but estimated that something inappropriate had happened with Sandusky "probably 50 times."

From Day Two (Tuesday, June 12), we have an account from about the testimony of former Penn State assistant coach Mike McQueary:

A former Penn State assistant coach who was a central figure in Joe Paterno's downfall testified Tuesday that he heard a "skin-on-skin smacking sound" in a campus locker room one night in 2001 and saw something that was "more than my brain could handle." 
Jerry Sandusky was standing naked in the showers behind a boy, slowly moving his hips, Mike McQueary told the jury. 
McQueary, one of the star witnesses in the child sexual abuse case against Sandusky, said he had no doubt he was witnessing anal sex. He testified that he slammed his locker shut loudly as if to say, "Someone's here! Break it up!"

From Day Three (Wednesday, June 13), we have an account from about the testimony of a man who worked with a former Penn State janitor:

Judge John Cleland ruled that a co-worker of Penn State janitor Jim Calhoun could testify about what Calhoun told him in November 2000. Calhoun is now suffering from dementia. 
The co-worker, Ron "Buck" Petrosky, said that when he encountered Calhoun in a football team locker room, the janitor told him he had seen Sandusky -- he didn't realize Sandusky was a famous coach -- making a boy perform oral sex on him. Petrosky said Calhoun's face was white, his hands were trembling and he was in tears. 
"He said, 'Buck, I just witnessed something in there I'll never forget the rest of my life . . .  that man that just left, he had the boy up against the shower wall, licking on (him),' " Petrosky testified.

Finally, from Day Four (Thursday, June 14), we have an account from about the testimony of Alleged Victim 9:

Former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky regularly forced him to have oral sex and repeatedly sodomized him, an 18-year-old man told a Centre County jury this afternoon. 
The alleged attacks occurred during several years when he slept over in a basement bedroom of Sandusky's College Township home, alleged Victim 9, a recent high school graduate, testified during the fourth day of Sandusky's trial.

Details such as those, I suspect, will remain in the public consciousness long after a verdict is rendered in the Sandusky case.

I know from personal experience that once you've heard the details about child sexual abuse, they are impossible to forget.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Coca-Cola Is Held Liable for Injuries Caused by an Employee's Distracted Driving

A Texas jury has awarded $24 million to a woman who was sideswiped in her vehicle by a Coca-Cola employee who was talking on a cell phone while driving on the job.

Vanice Chatman-Wilson, of Corpus Christi, was left with severe neck and back pain that required surgery. A jury found in her favor, with actual damages of $14 million and punitive damages of $10 million.

Coca-Cola has vowed to appeal the verdict, but plaintiff's attorney Thomas J. Henry says the company should step forward to help resolve the nation's distracted-driving problem. According to an article at, the case could be seen as a wake-up call for employers who have lax rules about employee use of cell phones on the job:

Thomas J. Henry, one of the plaintiff's attorneys, attributed the jury's verdict to the broader public safety issue. 
"Corporations big and small are getting a wake-up call that allowing your employees to use cell phones while driving is a big risk," said Henry, whose firm Thomas J. Henry Injury Attorneys has offices in Houston and Corpus Christi, Texas. "Basically, distracted driving is as dangerous as drunk driving."

Some news outlets have reported that the crash was caused by a Coca-Cola employee driving a delivery truck. It actually was caused by a female marketing employee who was driving a station wagon. Reports

The accident occurred in August of 2010 at an intersection in downtown Corpus Christi, Texas. Chatman-Wilson was on the way to her job at a payday lending shop. The Coca-Cola employee, Araceli Venessa Cabral, was on a business call on her hands-free cell phone, per company policy. 
She thought she had a green turn arrow and turned left into oncoming traffic, crushing Chatman-Wilson's car on the driver's side. 
Robert Hilliard, of Hilliard Munoz Gonzalez LLP in Corpus Christi, the other lead attorney for the plaintiff, said the driver was as stunned as his client by the crash. She had no idea she had done anything wrong. 
"She was so involved in that conversation, she had no clue she was turning against the light," he said. "The sad thing is that Coca-Cola driver will go to her grave thinking that she had that green turn arrow, even when her own lawyers admit she didn't."

What was the key issue in the trial? Here is an explanation from

At trial, Henry and Hilliard hammered home the point that just because a driver isn't physically holding a phone doesn't mean he or she isn't distracted by the conversation. Hilliard said the plaintiff's biggest hurdle was challenging jurors' views of appropriate safeguards in cell phone use. 
"This was not a group of people who fully appreciated the diverse risks of distracted driving," he said. "They told us afterward they were surprised to learn that there is just as much cognitive distraction with a hands-free set as with a hand-held cell phone. They knew it was bad to dial, or to text. You don't always appreciate the danger when you're not looking down, but you can be looking straight ahead but completely distracted by the conversation you're having."

The science behind distracted driving is not in dispute, and it was a big part of the trial:

To bolster their case, Henry and Hilliard cited study after study showing the toll of distracted driving due to cell phone use. For example, according to a 2010 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study, 5,474 people were killed on U.S. roadways and an estimated 448,000 more were injured in motor vehicle crashes attributed to distracted driving in 2009. Approximately 1 in 5 of the deaths was linked directly to cell phone use. 
The attorneys also pointed to studies that show the dangers of cell phone use are not limited to the manipulation of a handheld device. One of the seminal studies cited at trial indicated that cell phone use of any sort -- hand-held or hands-free -- creates a 37 percent cognitive distraction, stealing more than a third of the driver's attention.

Testimony showed that Cabral, the Coca-Cola driver, was on the road about three hours each work day, and for most of that time, she was using her cell phone. She testified that she thought the hands-free phone made it safe. Chatman-Watson, the driver of the car that was hit, knows differently. She is left with a 25-percent disability:

Henry said Coca-Cola now has an opportunity not to blindly defend its current policy but to become one of the leaders on the distracted driving issue. 
"There are some big mega corporations that have taken the lead," he said. "Those companies are going to keep their employees -- and the rest of us -- safe. It's a question of whether Coca-Cola is willing to be one of them."

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Eric Holder Is Feeling the Heat He Deserves From Republicans On Capitol Hill

Eric Holder

Attorney General Eric Holder is under increasing fire from Congressional Republicans for a variety of alleged lapses.

As a progressive blogger, I normally would come to the support of a relatively competent official in a Democratic administration. But Holder has been an abject failure as "the people's lawyer," and if right wingers can force him out, they have my full support.

To put it in blunt terms, Holder is getting what he deserves for allowing a fiasco like the political prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman to remain intact. For that matter, Holder's boss, President Obama, also is having a pretty horrific month of June--and he deserves it for failing to support investigations into gross justice-related abuses during the George W. Bush years.

Andrew Kreig, of the D.C.-based Justice-Integrity Project, puts it in perspective with a splendid piece titled "Obama, Holder Merit Scant Pity After GOP Attacks on DOJ." Writes Kreig:

Republicans on Capitol Hill this week escalated their attacks on Obama administration for alleged national security leaks, fatal lapses in gun-control and supposed interference with state power to curtail voting fraud lapses. Some Republicans are questioning the integrity of Attorney General Eric Holder . . . and calling for his resignation. 
Democrats are used to relying on the civil liberties community for support in such battles. But here the facts are still largely hidden. Also, Obama officials who have pooh-poohed domestic civil rights issues for most of their administration don't deserve much support as they withstand attacks, fairly or not, for their own conduct. 
Led by Holder, the Obama administration has whitewashed bogus Bush-era political prosecutions in Alabama, New Jersey, North Carolina and elsewhere. Also, it has crushed civil rights protections for torture victims and other detainees and whistleblowers. Further, it has fostered an unprecedented crusade against news reporters such as James Risen of the New York Times who are covering such issues. The DOJ's overall strategy clearly came from high levels at the White House. Why, therefore, should civil rights advocates grieve if Republicans hound Holder and snipe at the White House?

Sounds like a case of "what goes around, comes around." And to answer Kreig's question, civil-rights advocates should sit quietly and let Holder and Obama twist in the wind.

After all, this is an administration that argued against U.S. Supreme Court review of convictions in the Siegelman case, even though public documents raised serious questions about bias from the trial-court judge--and the case was decided on bogus jury instructions. This also is an administration that argued citizens "do not have a right to not be framed" by rogue prosecutors.

Kreig provides important context related to the Siegelman case and other political prosecutions:

Criticism of Holder and Obama from grassroots Democrats and independents on a variety of regional domestic due process issues may have even more impact in undermining perceptions that Obama is committed, as a former law school instructor, to due process and other fairness under the law. The mainstream national media defer to the wisdom of courts and Congress on such matters. But the alternative independent media are filled with reports suggesting that Holder's Justice Department is highly political and self-serving, and willing to sabotage the rights of Democrats and others for short-term reasons. 
Such claims are percolating around the country, often involving allegations that our Project has previously documented. The gist is that the Obama Justice Department is pursuing transparently unfair prosecutions trumped up by predecessors in the Bush Justice Department for political reasons. 
The most notorious of these cases is the federal prosecution of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman, convicted of corruption charges in 2006 and this week denied by the Supreme Court of what may be his final appeal before he is resentenced by federal judge Mark Fuller in Alabama. Other notorious cases pursued by the Obama/Holder DOJ include the failed prosecution of former New Jersey assemblyman Louis Manzo initiated by Bush U.S. Attorney Chris Christie, now the state's governor. Another is the failed campaign finance prosecution in North Carolina of former Democratic Presidential candidate John Edwards. That case was initiated by Bush U.S. attorney George Holding, now a GOP congressional candidate.

Kreig cites new commentaries that address the Supreme Court's recent decision to deny certiorari review in the Siegelman case. One of those is a Huffington Post piece titled "Corruption, Bribery, and the 'Quid Pro Quo' Conumdrum," by Bennett Gershman, a law professor at Pace University. Writes Gershman:

One point is abundantly clear: a prosecutor's charging power is the most dangerous power of all, because it can be used by prosecutors to target for prosecution almost anyone a prosecutor wants to get. Indeed, a Congressional Committee investigating allegations of selective prosecution by the Bush administration's Justice Department heard abundant testimony supporting that claim by Governor Siegelman -- that he was the most powerful Democrat in Alabama, that state republicans desperately wanted to take him down, and according to a former U.S. Attorney in Alabama, federal prosecutors knew the case was weak but went on a "fishing expedition" to "find anything they could find against [Siegelman]." The Siegelman case may be one of the most egregiously bad faith prosecutions by the Justice Department ever, maybe even worse than the bad faith prosecutions of the late Senator Ted Stevens and John Edwards. Indeed, 113 state Attorneys General of both political parties decried the Siegelman prosecution and supported, unsuccessfully, review by the U.S. Supreme Court. 
Judges also make a difference in corruption trials, and the stark difference in verdicts in cases 1 and 2 may be attributable, in part, to the competence and ethics of the presiding judges. Alabama court observers have claimed that the judge in the Siegelman trial -- Mark Fuller -- harbored a strong bias against Siegelman. His bribery instruction to the jury has been assailed for diluting the quid pro quo requirement for bribery -- he did not advise the jury that it had to find an explicit promise or understanding -- before it could convict. Even with that deficient instruction, the jury deliberated 11 days and reported itself deadlocked several times before finding guilt on only a few of the numerous counts.

Ironically, the Supreme Court's decision to deny review of the Siegelman case was announced on June 4. And that seemed to kick off a dreadful month for the Obama administration. How bad has it been. Dana Milbank, of The Washington Post, sums it up succinctly in a column titled "Pileup at the White House." Writes Milbank:

It has been a Junius Horribilis for President Obama. 
Job growth has stalled, the Democrats have been humiliated in Wisconsin, the attorney general is facing a contempt-of-Congress citation, talks with Pakistan have broken down, Bill Clinton is contradicting Obama, Mitt Romney is outraising him, Democrats and Republicans alike are complaining about a “cascade” of national-security leaks from his administration, and he is now on record as saying that the “private sector is doing fine.” 
Could it get any worse?

It might get worse for Obama on November 6. It might get worse for Holder sooner than that. If it does, they will have nobody but themselves to blame.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Do Orkin Pest Control and Bradley Arant Law Firm Perpetuate Organized Crime in the Deep South?

One of our major storylines in recent months involves Ted Rollins, a CEO who caused his ex wife and two daughters to be horrendously cheated in an Alabama divorce case.

Another involves Joseph W. Blackburn, a tax-law professor who was at the heart of two federal lawsuits alleging a Lowndes County hunting club was the nexus for corruption involving Alabama domestic-relations courts.

A third involves Orkin Pest Control and its parent company, Atlanta-based Rollins Inc., which is headed by R. Randall and Gary Rollins, Ted's billionaire cousins. Orkin has a documented history of "reprehensible" behavior toward customers around the South.

A certain "river runs through it" on all of these stories. It's a two-pronged river, with one prong involving the Birmingham-based law firm of Bradley Arant--and the other involving allegations of organized crime. The river, we've learned, winds it way through a wide swath of the Deep South.

It leaves us with this key point, plus a question: When you follow Southern cases that appear to involve violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), you often find Bradley Arant lawyers or members of the Rollins family (or both) in the general vicinity. Does that mean one of the South's most powerful, "pro business" law firms and one of its most profitable corporations either help launch, or at least perpetuate organized crime in the nation's Sun Belt?

Allow me to lay out the story with the use of a brief road map:

* Ted Rollins files a divorce case in Shelby County, Alabama, even though his wife (Sherry Carroll Rollins) already has sued him for divorce, and the case has been litigated in Greenville, South Carolina, where the family lives, at the time. In fact, judges in South Carolina already have established that Mr. Rollins holds substantial assets and belongs to one of the nation's wealthiest families--and the court zaps him with a bench warrant for failure to pay child support. With the case heading in an unfavorable direction in Greenville, Mr. Rollins manages to get it shifted to another jurisdiction. Who helps him do that? The answer is not clear, but it winds up in the Birmingham metro area, home base of Bradley Arant. And what is the chief law firm for Ted Rollins and his company, Campus Crest Communities? None other than Bradley Arant. The pathetic Obama Justice Department never is likely to look into the blatantly corrupt actions surrounding the Rollins v. Rollins divorce case. But if it did, organized crime almost certainly would be present. And who was involved? The Rollins family and . . . Bradley Arant.

* Joe Blackburn files two federal lawsuits, both under RICO, alleging that corrupt lawyers and judges use their affiliation with a hunting club to fix divorce cases in Jefferson County, Alabama. In the first case, Blackburn is the plaintiff, acting pro se. In the second, Blackburn serves as the lawyer for other plaintiffs. U.S. judges dismiss both cases, granting summary judgment without giving the plaintiffs an opportunity to conduct discovery, a clear violation of Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and Eleventh Circuit precedent as outlined in a case styled Snook v. Trust Company of Georgia, 859 F. 2d 865 (11th Cir., 1988). Who defends the hunting-club lawyers who are alleged to have engaged in organized crime? Well, defense lawyers in the case include Rusha C. Smith, Joseph B. Mays Jr., and John E. Goodman. All are from the Birmingham office of . . . Bradley Arant.

* The attorney general of Florida launches a racketeering investigation against Orkin Pest Control in 2004. The case centers on termite contracts that apparently involved forgeries and consumer fraud, and it is quietly settled in 2010. Chicago-based Sidley Austin defends Orkin and its parent company, Rollins Inc. Guess what Southern law firm has close ties to Sidley Austin? Why, it's Bradley Arant, which shines light on the relationship in a piece at its Web site on a case styled Faught v. American Home Shield Corp. The Faught case involved allegations "that American Home Shield had denied wrongfully claims for repairs and replacement of home system components and appliances and had failed to supervise its third-party contractors." You can get a hint of the cozy relationship between Bradley Arant and Sidley Austin by checking out this appellate ruling in Faught. The two firms also worked together on a RICO defense in a Florida case styled Figueroa v. Merscorp Inc.

How far does all of this stretch? Orkin and Rollins Inc. operate on an international level, and racketeering allegations have tended to originate in the bug-infested South, where termites have a major presence. Bradley Arant has locations around the South, including major operations in Birmingham, Nashville, and Charlotte.

How does it tie together? We are still figuring that out, but here are points to consider:

* Bradley Arant certainly is entitled to defend RICO cases. And it's entitled to give a client, Ted Rollins, advice about his divorce case. But evidence suggests that Bradley Arant's role in these matters goes beyond providing legal services or advice. The lawyers at the firm are not dumb. They know the Rollins v. Rollins divorce case could not lawfully be shifted from South Carolina to Alabama. They know the hunting-club cases were unlawfully decided. In all of those cases, Bradley Arant clients received favorable judgments to which they were not lawfully entitled. How does that happen? Who makes it happen?

* The civil provisions of RICO are hotly debated in the legal community, with some defense lawyers contending that the statute has been stretched beyond its original intent to include standard commercial matters that do not amount to organized crime. In fact, lawyers from Bradley Arant have written an article that takes such a stance. But our research indicates that civil RICO cases do, in fact, tend to point toward activity that amounts to organized crime. The statute requires a "pattern of racketeering activity" that involves at least two predicate acts--and those acts must be "chargeable" or "indictable." Some of the most common predicate acts in civil RICO cases are mail fraud, wire fraud, and obstruction of justice.

The defense bar apparently would have us believe that such predicate acts are relatively minor--part of the regular give and take of conducting business. But under the law, they are chargeable, indictable, and criminal. And organizations who engage in a pattern of such activity are, by definition, involved in organized crime.

We started this post with a discussion about three primary storylines on our blog. All three cases appear to involve predicate acts that are chargeable and indictable--almost certainly wire fraud and obstruction of justice, and probably more. We also see a pattern of such activity that directly or indirectly involves Bradley Arant (sometimes Sidley Austin) and members of the Rollins family.

In fact, one could say that Ted Rollins is the "Kevin Bacon character" in this scenario, the one who provides "six degrees of connection" to the the various parties. He has his feet firmly planted in both the Orkin Pest Control and Bradley Arant worlds--and he helps bring those forces together. For example, evidence in Rollins v. Rollins strongly suggests that R. Randall Rollins played a significant role in causing St. James Capital to "disappear" once the divorce case was moved from South Carolina to Alabama. That meant Sherry Carroll Rollins and her daughters, now Birmingham residents, got nothing from a marital asset in which they had a legal stake.

Did the disappearance of St. James Capital involve criminal acts? It sure smells like it to us.

Do Bradley Arant and the family behind Orkin Pest Control engage in organized crime? That's a question the public should be asking, especially here in the Deep South.