|Infinity Insurance headquarters|
in Birmingham, AL
One of the sad truths about our justice system is that courtroom corruption often is a multi-headed monster. In many cases, it is not a matter of a crooked judge or a crooked lawyer, operating in isolation. Much courtroom sleaze turns on collaborations between crooked judges and lawyers, joining greasy hands to ensure that one party or another is denied justice. In the background, you often will find a corporate defendant, whose officers know the system is being compromised on their behalf.
We see signs that such a twisted scheme is unfolding in my wife's ongoing employment lawsuit against Birmingham-based Infinity Insurance. Will it pay off for the underhanded legal types who are involved? Not as long as Mrs. Schnauzer (MS) and I have a collective pulse.
As a couple, we've been dealing with court-related corruption for 12-plus years, and our tolerance for such shenanigans has grown past the point of thin. We also have become fairly adept at recognizing con jobs not long after they are set in motion. Experience has taught us that judges and lawyers make bad criminals; they often leave paper trails, and as a group, folks with legal training tend to greatly overrate their own intelligence.
A scheduling order was set last Monday in Carol Shuler v. Infinity Property & Casualty et al (2:11-cv-03443-TMP), with deadlines set for discovery, dispositive motions, and such. That seems straightforward enough, but we have learned that nothing ever is quite as it seems at the Hugo Black U.S. Courthouse in downtown Birmingham. (The scheduling order can be viewed at the end of this post.)
Here is something curious: When we arrived for the April 22 scheduling hearing, four defense lawyers already were present, lined up on the front row. The lawyers, and their clients, were W. Hill Sewell, of Lloyd Gray Whitehead & Monroe, for lawyer Laura Nettles; Kary B. Wolfe, of Jones Walker Wechter Poitvent, Carrere & Denegre, for lawyer Angie Ingram; Charles M. Elmer, of Jackson Lewis, for Infinity Insurance; and M. Jansen Voss, of Scott Sullivan Streetman & Fox, for American Express.
The scheduling conference originally had been set for April 10, but we arrived that day to find an empty courtroom. David Waters, law clerk for U.S. Magistrate T. Michael Putnam, told us that the judge suddenly was not present that day, and the conference had been reset for 12 days in the future.
Court documents show that the April 10 hearing was postponed six minutes before it was to start. It was set for a 10 a.m. start that day, and a rescheduling order shows that the postponement was made at 9:54 a.m. (The rescheduling order can be viewed at the end of this post.)
This obvious question likely will enter the minds of observant readers: Why were the four defense lawyers, who were ready and accounted for on April 22, nowhere in sight on April 10? How did they know about a postponement that was not set, according to public records, until six minutes prior to the scheduled start?
I can think of only one answer--the defense lawyers knew in advance that the April 10 hearing was not going to take place. They knew the court had intentionally not notified Mrs. Schnauzer of the hearing, and they knew Putnam was planning for my wife not to show, so he would have an excuse to unlawfully dismiss her case.
All of this indicates that at least six individuals with law degrees--the four defense lawyers, plus Putnam and his law clerk, David Waters--are involved in a conspiracy to knowingly deprive my wife of due process. Perhaps of even more significance, this almost certainly constitutes obstruction of justice and other federal crimes. By definition, a crime is a wrong against society, so this involves harm to all of us, not just Mrs. Schnauzer.
The scheme probably does not stop there. Members of the Infinity Insurance board of directors, which includes former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Drayton Nabers, probably know criminal acts are being taken on their behalf.
So that is the reality that many everyday Americans face when they engage in a courtroom battle. Lined up against them are judges, lawyers, and crooked corporate types--forming a "Bermuda triangle" of injustice that often is very poorly hidden.
Update at 10:15 a.m. on 4/29/13
I am not the only journalist paying attention to Mrs. Schnauzer's case. Andrew Kreig, of the Washington, D.C.-based Justice Integrity Project (JIP), also is keeping watch. In a piece out today, titled "Shocking Alabama Legal Irregularities Continue," Kreig provides an excellent overview on the sad state of the justice system in one Deep-South state.
Kreig focuses heavily on the legal struggles involving non-Indian gaming, especially the unfolding story of Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange, VictoryLand Owner Milton McGregor, and Tuskegee Mayor Johnny Ford. Kreig also focuses on the prosecution of former Governor Don Siegelman and former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy, giving special attention to Scrushy's recent interview with San Francisco-based radio host Peter B. Collins--plus a recent piece by law professor Bennett Gershman, a leading academic expert on prosecutorial abuse. The Gershman piece, published recently at Huffington Post, is titled "Why is Don Siegelman still in jail?"
As for the Mrs. Schnauzer case, Kreig sought comment from three key figures in the case--U.S. Magistrate Judge T. Michael Putnam, U.S. District Judge Abdul Kallon, and law clerk David Waters. It turns out that none of those folks replied to his queries. From Kreig's article:
Shuler, as usual in his nearly five-day-per-week columns, has recently reported a number of other legal irregularities involving Alabama's attorney general and other prominent figures in the state. A former reported for nearly 20 years with the state's largest newspaper, Shuler typically probes cases from the standpoint of litigants victimized by lawyers or other court officials.
That kind of labor-intensive reporting is regarded these days by most news organizations as too expensive. It is easier for the most part to obtain news materials directly from prosecutors and their news releases. The Birmingham News and the state's two other largest newspapers have even moved away from daily print publication. For such reasons, a study this week announced that newspaper reporting is the now the nation's "worst" profession, with a six percent annual decline in employment expected.
Shuler nonetheless has continued even after being fired from his job at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He has alleged in a pending lawsuit that the firing was improper retaliation for creating a blog in his free time and without university resources to report on the legal system. His wife, Carol, was later fired from her job with an insurance agency. She has filed a suit also pending claiming improper dismissal for reasons of political retaliation against her husband's blogging work.
Kreig then provides additional insight on the curious actions of judges and lawyers in my wife's case.
Her case is pending in Birmingham's federal court before a U.S. Magistrate T. Michael Putnam under the overall jurisdiction of U.S. District Judge Abdul Kallon, a native of the Sierra Leone nominated to the bench by President Obama upon the recommendation of former Democrat Artur Davis. Kallon . . . previously practiced employment and labor law at a major Birmingham law firm primarily representing employers.
Shuler this month reported on a series of actions by court officials who have threatened to dismiss his wife's case because she failed to respond to court papers that she says she never received. The Shuler allegations describe judicial behavior by Kallon and Putnam that might seem astounding except to those who have scrutinized, as have I, the extraordinary scandal and cover-up commonplace in Alabama courts on high-profile matters.
Kreig gave key figures in the Mrs. Schnauzer case an opportunity to explain their actions. They were not, it seems, anxious to do that:
I received no response from Kallon and Putnam regarding my requests for comment regarding their alleged irregularities or misconduct in the Shuler case. The judicial personnel failed also to respond to my request that they provide their required financial disclosure statements. The federal system -- while ostensibly open -- hides and delays financial information for judicial personnel. This gives the judges enormous discretion on disclosing whether they have conflicts and, if so, who their patrons, confederates, and fellow investors might be.
Also, the Birmingham federal court clerk implemented the threat against Shuler failed to respond to a request for comment on Shuler's allegations he was manipulating mailings and court schedules with the connivance of the magistrate to dismiss the case without required discovery.
In sum, it appears to be business as usual by authorities in Alabama, with the connivance of Washington supervising authorities.
Kreig has two books in the works. The first, titled Presidential Puppetry, probably will be released this summer or fall and focuses on the moneyed interests who control Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, and top candidates from both major parties. The second book, tentatively titled Courtroom Puppetry, is expected to focus on corruption that plagues the U.S. justice system. Together, the books are expected to break new ground and provide valuable background on the Siegelman prosecution and other legal/political scandals of the past 12 years or so.