Thursday, June 20, 2013

With $25-Million Federal Lawsuit As A Backdrop, Judge Robert Vance Jr. Resists Calls For His Recusal

Robert Vance Jr.
An Alabama judge continues to preside over a controversy where he took the case from another judge, he does not have jurisdiction, and one of the parties is suing him in federal court for $25 million.

On top of that, public records show Jefferson County Circuit Judge Robert Vance has taken at least $3,400 in campaign contributions from lawyers at the Birmingham firm of Maynard Cooper & Gale (MCG), which represents plaintiffs William B. Cashion and Western Steel Inc. The donations put Vance well over the $2,000 threshold set by Alabama law and require his recusal. (See Code of Alabama 12-24-1 et seq.)

Defendants Steven Mark Hayden and the William B. Cashion Nevada Spendthrift Trust filed a second motion for recusal last Friday, and Vance already has denied it. (See Part 1 and Part 2 of the renewed recusal motion at the end of this post.) Meanwhile, the defendants' $25 million federal lawsuit is pending in federal court, where they allege Vance's temporary restraining order and other extrajudicial acts have cost them significant investment returns and interest on the trust.

The federal lawsuit against Vance has drawn national attention, with coverage from the widely read Above the Law Web site. But Vance appears to have dug a trench for himself--ignoring ethics standards, statutory provisions, and case law that call for his recusal--with no plans to exit any time soon.

Lawsuits against state judges in federal court usually are quickly dismissed on judicial-immunity grounds. But Bessemer lawyer Austin Burdick, representing Hayden and the trust, makes a power argument that Vance acted outside his judicial capacity, and therefore is subject to suit--and the payment of substantial damages.

That U.S. District Judge Sharon Blackburn already has not dismissed the federal case indicates she is having a hard time finding a way to let her politically connected judicial colleague off the hook. (Vance's wife, Joyce White Vance, is U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama; his late father, Robert Vance Sr., was a federal judge who was the victim of a mail-bomb assassination in 1989.)

Is Vance Jr. bought and sold for the MCG law firm and its clients? Does he intend to ignore black-letter law that says he must recuse in Cashion matter? Is that the kind of judicial loyalty that campaign cash can buy for a big-time law firm and its corporate clients? Are attorneys at a major downtown Birmingham law firm embarrassed to be involved in such a charade?

The answers to the first three questions appear to be yes. The answer to the final question seems to be a resounding no.

Alabama law regarding recusal of a judge is not complicated. The Canons of Judicial Ethics state “a judge should avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all his activities” and “a judge should not allow his family, social, political, or other relationships to influence his judicial conduct or judgment.”

Relevant case law makes it even more clear, as stated in a case styled Ex parte Bryant, 682 So.2d 39, 41 (Ala.1996):

The standard for recusal is an objective one: whether a reasonable person knowing everything that the judge knows would have a ‘reasonable basis for questioning the judge's impartiality.’ . . . The focus of our inquiry, therefore, is not whether a particular judge is or is not biased toward the petitioner; the focus is instead on whether a reasonable person would perceive potential bias or a lack of impartiality on the part of the judge in question.

Perhaps most profound in the Vance matter is this:

If the Judge has an interest that could be substantially affected by the outcome of the proceeding, he must recuse. Alabama Canons of Judicial Ethics 3(C)(1)(c).

Based on the pending federal lawsuit against him, Vance has about $25 million worth of interest in the outcome of the state proceeding before him. Still, Vance has persisted in ruling against Hayden and the trust, contrary to controlling law, ever since pilfering the case from Jefferson County District Judge Houston Brown. From attorney Burdick's renewed motion to recuse:

Vance may believe that by entering a judgment in this matter against Defendants he can affect the damages or outcome in the federal lawsuit. Whether this strategy is effective or not, the fact remains that any action taken by Vance in this matter is tainted when viewed through the lens of the pending federal lawsuit. Vance cannot help but consider what effect his actions and orders will have on the federal lawsuit. To expect Vance to rule on this matter without any consideration of the other lawsuit is unreasonable. If the Judge has an interest that could be substantially affected by the outcome of the proceeding, he must recuse. Alabama Canons of Judicial Ethics 3(C)(1)(c).

It's rare for a lawyer to stand up to a corrupt judge in Alabama--or any other state. But Burdick has filed public documents that portray Vance in an extremely unflattering light--and supported them with evidence that shows the allegations are on target:

No reasonable person knowing all of the above-listed facts could help but question the impartiality of Judge Vance. Judge Vance has exhibited extrajudicial bias in favor of plaintiffs by (1) inappropriate ex parte communications with Plaintiffs; (2) Judge Robert Vance has accepted excessive campaign contributions from plaintiff and plaintiff’s counsel and thereafter stated on the record that he had no intention of complying with Alabama statutes regarding campaign contributions; (3) he illegally usurped authority over this case and actively prevented this matter from being heard by a jury or competent court; (4) he has repeatedly ignored well established law and issued only rulings which are favorable to Plaintiffs to the extent that his rulings have taken on the tone of litigator rather than jurist.

Is Vance, in fact, acting more like a litigator, for the MCG law firm, than a judge in the Cashion matter? We will be taking a closer look at that question in upcoming posts. 


Anonymous said...

Wonder what the war criminal chests of booty in the Vance et al PERS is gonna do once the party is over.

Russia's ARMS RACE is now ahead of ours' and that means Putin told Obomber that the reality in the Middle East is the JUDGES in America don't get to use the earth to retire high on the people chain, anymore. BooHoo.

Judges in America have been very spoiled in retiring HIGH on the flesh trading and the Global War On Terror has made the job so attractive the law at long last in US, means nothing, it's all about the digital dust that the Federal Reserve System covers-up.

WARS WITHOUT END IN OUR LIFETIME, except in the middle east it hasn't worked out for the Obummer Obomber and now what?

How is JUSTICE AMERICA going to retire? See Vance run, run, run, run, and all the judges protecting his encircled wagon around the indigenous with arrows and OH MY GOD he has a nuke in his cache to revenge his father just like "Jr" did for Bush Sr.?

He is wrong on the law, but has something 'right'?

Legal Schnauzer, the law schools across the USA need to see you and figure out their future.

I've some marketing to do, thank you for brilliant American in real time, the 'Roaches in Robes' are scuttling their insect filth in the wrong kitchen.

Unknown said...

That’s the company, under contract with the National Security Agency, that employed whistle-blower Edward Snowden, the information security engineer whose revelation of Booz Allen’s enormously profitable and pervasive spying on Americans now threatens the firm’s profitability and that of its parent hedge fund, the Carlyle Group.

Anonymous said...




Anonymous said...

LS, I seem to recall that you wrote 3-4 years ago that Judge Vance was a tool of the legal establishment. I didn't quite believe it at the time, but must say, it's starting to look like you were on top of this subject.

legalschnauzer said...

Anon at 8:28--

I got a firsthand look at Judge Vance, so I know the way he operates. He protected to lawyer/con men named Jesse P. Evans III and Michael B. Odom. Here is an early piece I wrote on Vance, from October 2009:

Anonymous said...

Your readers can take it to the bank that the Maynard firm's actual contributions to Vance total way more than $3,400. That's chicken feed, just the "official number" for reporting purposes. No judge pulls these sorts of stunts for a mere $3,400 in campaign funds.

Anonymous said...

LS - have you seen this? How can MSM not report this?

legalschnauzer said...

I had not seen the article about the Paris jaunt. Why does MSM ignore it? One possible reason: Reporters who report critically about Mike Hubbard tend to lose their jobs. We have a corporate-owned press now, and that's one reason newspapers are dying. The public isn't fooled by them.

Anonymous said...

LS, didn't some of your progressive readers take you to task for reporting on Judge Vance, who apparently is seen as a liberal, Democrat icon? Wonder what they think now.

legalschnauzer said...

Oh yes, I've had quite a bit of blowback on my Vance reporting.

Anonymous said...

Still don't understand how Vance can take a case that wasn't assigned to him. If it was assigned to another judge, how does Vance figure the case belongs to him?

Anonymous said...

This is more evidence of the corruption Scott Vowell allowed to fester while he was presiding judge of Jefferson County.

e.a.f. said...

Well the judge seems to have a few problems, $25M worth of them if he looses.

If he took the case from another judge, why did original judge permit him to do so. All the original judge had to do was go into a court room and start hearing the case. Vance would have been "screwed". Obviously there is much more at stake here. If Vance is able to get away with this, which it is reasonable to conclude he expects to, then Vance can do what he wants as judge and that maybe the very reason he is doing this. This is "his" test case.

legalschnauzer said...


I think Vance got away with it because he and the former presiding judge, Scott Vowell (now retired, thank God), were comrades. Vowell set up a special "commercial litigation" docket for Vance, and it since has been dumped because it almost certainly is unconstitutional.

Anonymous said...

Would be interesting to know what kind of batting average the Maynard firm has in cases before Vance. I'm guessing it's somewhere in the neighborhood of .1000.