A watchdog at work
The photo at right always brings a smile to my face. It is Murphy Abigail Shuler (1993-2004), the beloved schnauzer who inspired this blog, in the midst of fulfilling her solemn duty as watchdog over our home.
As you can tell, Murphy took her watchdog role seriously. And it's my prayer that her spirit lives on in our reporting her at Legal Schnauzer.
Which of our posts in 2012 did the best job of capturing that spirit? After conducting a month-by-month review through our archives, and keeping a number of criteria in mind, here are my choices.
As Casey Kasem would say, "On with the countdown . . . "
10. How Did An Alabama Woman Wind Up In Jail From The Fallout Of A Divorce Case? (September 20)
Summary: Clanton resident Bonnie Wyatt winds up in the Chilton County Jail because of an alleged property-related debt from her divorce settlement.
Why It Matters: Readers seemed to respond with a collective "WTF" when we reported on Judge Sibley Reynolds' actions--and with good reason. The Alabama Constitution outlaws the imprisonment of individuals for debts. And case law specifically states that a litigant is not subject to contempt of court, much less imprisonment, for failure to pay a property-related debt from dissolution of a marriage. In other words, Reynolds butchered the law--and our audience seemed to get it, right off the bat. Blog stats show that the Bonnie Wyatt story deeply resonated with readers--and it's still going on, despite recent positive developments.
Number of Comments: 62
Comment to Remember: "Reynolds is the epitome of evil. He routinely destroys families in the 19th Circuit. He's been doing it for years."
9. Alabama Lawyer With Strong Ties To GOP Turns Up Dead At Construction Site (February 16)
Summary: Attorney Chace Swatek, 35, is found dead beside a roadway in his hometown of Pelham. He is the son of William E. Swatek, the notoriously unethical lawyer who is at the heart of my personal legal woes and has a 30-year history of disciplinary actions from the Alabama State Bar. We go on to report that Chace Swatek died in the middle of a walk from his house to a CVS drug store, and a source later reveals that the death likely was caused by inhalant abuse, also known as "huffing."
Why it Matters: The body of a young lawyer, the member of a well-known Shelby County family, is found behind a stack of water pipes on the side of a road--and officials still have not released a cause of death. What happened? Were his father's long-standing ties to legal corruption a factor? Some readers took my posts as a personal affront, apparently because I was the only Alabama journalist to actually report on Chace Swatek's death, while noting what public documents undeniably show--that his father is a dirt bag.
Number of Comments: 103
Comment to Remember: "I do feel compassion for you and your wife and I'm sorry for your troubles. However, the Swatek family didn't do this to you. Bill Swatek did this to you. His wife and children are just the collaterals that you continue to try to hurt to get to Bill. I get it. I guess the saying now should be that the keystroke is mightier than the sword . . . "
8. Sex, Drugs, and Violence Are At The Heart Of Divorce Case Against Siegelman Judge Mark Fuller (May 18)
Summary: The wife of U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller files for divorce, amid allegations that "his Honor" engaged in extramarital affairs, abuse of prescription painkillers, and domestic violence.
Why it Matters: Fuller has a lifetime appointment that comes with frightening powers. He can take your belongings, lawfully or unlawfully. He can send innocent citizens to prison, as he did in the political prosecution of former governor Don Siegelman. How does a judge conduct himself when the robes come off?
Number of Comments: 30
Comment to Remember: "The FBI has dirt to leak on everyone, including the Alabama State Bar. Fuller gets his records sealed so our beloved State Officials can carry on the charade that they are of better character and fitness than the general public. The lawyer class only includes some lawyers, the rest of us were forced out of practice, disbarred or in my case never even allowed to take the bar exam. Only the politically dangerous law students are refused entry to the exam room and I wear that as a badge of honor."
7. Did Moral Bankruptcy Finally Catch Up To Carol Garrison In Her Role As President Of UAB? (August 23)
Summary: UAB President Carol Garrison abruptly announces her resignation on the second day of fall classes.
Why it Matters: UAB is Alabama's largest employer and brings in more federal research dollars than the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa and Auburn University combined. UAB, because of its hospital and vast biomedical-research enterprise, arguably is the most important institution in our state. Garrison served for more than a decade, in spite of rampant corruption on her watch. She clearly was forced out, and the public still does not know why. During her reign, Garrison signed off on my unlawful termination at UAB, even though the university's own grievance committee found I should not have been fired.
Number of Comments: 21
Comment to Remember: "UAB's grievance process sounds like a con game. A committee of your peers can find in your favor, as happened with you, but then the administration can overrule. This whole process really stinks and is ripe for abuse."
6. Did the Alabama State Bar Retaliate Against Lawyer Jennifer Paige Clark By Harassing Her to Death? (October 10)
Summary: Lawyer Jennifer Paige Clark is found dead in her Mobile home, nine days after the Alabama State Bar suspended her license. Cause of death remains unknown.
Why it Matters: Public documents strongly suggest that the bar had no legitimate grounds to investigate Ms. Clark, much less to suspend her license and seek disbarment. She was aggressively representing her parents in a pair of property-related matters, one in Flowery Branch, Georgia, and one in Gulf Shores, Alabama. Did bar officials launch a harassment campaign only because Jennifer Paige Clark was doing her job effectively? Was their real concern that her discovery methods apparently unearthed corruption in two states?
Number of Comments: 32
Comment to Remember: "Jennifer Paige Clark was not the first Jones (Law School) Graduate to get into trouble with the State Bar over those condo developments. The Staff at the State Bar has become the bitches of those multi-million dollar condo developers because so many lawyers and judges are part owners of those condos and/or do highly paid legal work for them."
(To be continued)