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 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.