Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Sonny Reagan's credibility teeters as his tune changes about Alabama prosecutor Matt Hart

Matt Hart
Is Sonny Reagan to be believed when he complains about Special Prosecutor Matt Hart and a grand-jury investigation in Lee County, Alabama?

A reasonable person can read two letters Reagan recently wrote on the subject and conclude that the answer is no?

Why? Reagan's first letter, dated July 22, 2014 and addressed to Charla Doucet (chief administrator in the Alabama Attorney General's Office), portrays Hart as a blustery fellow but does not seem to claim that Hart is conducting his investigation in an unlawful manner.

Reagan's second letter is dated Sept. 22, 2014 and is addressed to AG Luther Strange. It was written after Reagan had been forced to testify before the grand jury and wound up invoking the Fifth Amendment privilege not to incriminate himself. It also was written after Acting AG Van Davis had accused Reagan of leaking grand-jury information and obstructing the investigation in other ways.

The second letter, in other words, was written after the water had begun to boil under Reagan's seat. And that meant Hart now was portrayed as a prosecutor who was acting outside the law, intentionally going after certain individuals rather than seeking to prosecute crimes. (This was a major theme, by the way, in the prosecution of former Governor Don Siegelman. Republicans, at that time, didn't seem concerned that prosecutors would go after someone for personal and political reasons having nothing to do with criminal acts.)

Consider the language about Hart in Reagan's first letter. Reagan says Hart had informed him that House Speaker Mike Hubbard was "going down, along with the Riley machine" (led by former GOP governor Bob Riley).

We have only Reagan's word that Hart made such a statement. But even if Reagan's claim is true, it likely doesn't point to wrongdoing on Hart's part. It could simply be Hart's honest assessment of what will happen based on evidence he has seen presented to the grand jury.

The language in Reagan's second letter is much different. Now Reagan quotes Hart as saying he was "going after countless elected public officials and business leaders." Now, Hart is out to "politically ruin public officials."

That strongly suggests Matt Hart is going after specific people, rather than prosecuting crimes. It suggests Hart is a rogue, the kind of prosecutor who should not be tolerated in our justice system.

I've expressed my own concerns about Matt Hart, based on his actions as a federal prosecutor. But I have even deeper concerns about the Riley machine, which I believe has corrupted Alabama's political landscape to the point that the state still tramples the First Amendment and incarcerates journalists--the only state to do so in 2013, putting it alongside countries like Iran, China, and Turkey. Who sought to have a journalist incarcerated? Why it was Birmingham lawyer Rob Riley, the former governor's son.

If it takes a guy like Matt Hart to bring the Rileys to justice . . . well, he has my support.

As for Sonny Reagan, he is a former legal adviser to Bob Riley--and that clearly makes him part of the family machine. His changing tune about Matt Hart raises serious questions about Reagan's credibility. It also suggests the Riley family is feeling heat, and Reagan is trying to deflect attention away from them.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Sonny Reagan's efforts to get an independent investigation might do him more harm than good

Sonny Reagan (right) and former
Governor Bob Riley
Sonny Reagan has a curious way of defending himself.

The high-profile member of the Alabama Attorney General's Office stands accused of leaking information related to a grand-jury investigation in Lee County and taking other action to "impede or obstruct" the investigation.

Those are serious allegations, coming from Acting Attorney General Van Davis. So how does Reagan respond? By more or less admitting the first charge and trying to change the subject on the second one. Along the way, Reagan offers excuses that seem to come from "the dog ate my homework" playbook.

How do we know? From reading Reagan's own words in a letter to Attorney General Luther Strange (with copies to Governor Robert Bentley, among others), seeking an independent investigation under direction of the governor's office.

The Reagan letter, dated September 22, 2014, can be read at the link below. It is a curious piece of work. Reagan wrote the letter less than one week after news broke about efforts to quash his testimony before the grand jury, a proceeding that ended with Reagan invoking his Fifth Amendment right not to answer questions for fear that he might incriminate himself.

Sonny Reagan letter

How does Reagan answer the charge that he had "undisclosed communications with individuals affiliated with people indicted or under investigation by the Lee County Special Grand Jury"? Well, he certainly doesn't deny it.

In the second paragraph of his letter, Reagan says (in so many words) that, "Hey, I've been in state government a long time, I know a lot of people, and I talk to them all the time--whether the AG's office is conducting a sensitive criminal probe or not."

Reagan "categorically denies" that any of his communications have been "improper." But he also makes no effort to disclose with whom he has communicated or what they talked about.

As for those aforementioned excuses, Reagan claims that no one in his chain of command ever told him to cut back on his chatterbox ways during a grand-jury investigation at the highest levels of state government. Reagan has been a lawyer for some 12 years and doesn't know to keep his yap shut about grand-jury information? That excuse might have to improve to reach the level of lame.

As for the charge that Reagan had taken other action to impede or obstruct the investigation . . . well, Reagan doesn't seem to want to touch that. In paragraphs three and four of his letter, he immediately changes the subject to an apparent office feud he had with Special Prosecutor Matt Hart.

What does any such feud have to do with the obstruction allegations against Reagan? We can't see that there is any connection, and Van Davis has not publicly pointed to any ties.

Bill Britt, of Alabama Political Reporter, reports that multiple individuals in the justice system have been made aware of the serious nature of the charges against Reagan--that they go way beyond an office feud. Writes Britt:

Reagan testified before the Lee County Grand Jury on August 27, 2014. He testified for almost an hour before asking to speak with his attorney, Bill Baxley (defense attorneys are not allowed in grand jury hearings). After meeting with Baxley, an emergency appeal was made to Lee County Circuit Court Judge Hughes to have Reagan’s Grand Jury testimony quashed. However, Judge Hughes, after being made aware of the prosecutions evidence against Reagan, (in camera) ordered that he resume his testimony. It was at this point that Reagan took the fifth on advice of council.

On Wednesday, September 17, the Alabama Criminal Court of Appeals unsealed documents that revealed that Deputy Attorney General Reagan unsuccessfully tried to quash his subpoena to testify before the Lee County Grand Jury. After being served a subpoena to appear before the Lee County Grand Jury on August 27, 2014, Reagan filed a sealed writ of mandamus to quash the Lee County subpoena.

In their denial, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals also ordered that secret Grand Jury testimony be reveled to General Strange, in order that he might see for himself the evidence against Reagan. Even though Strange had recused himself from the Lee County investigation, the court took these extraordinary measures because they believed the Attorney General must be made aware of the seriousness of Reagan’s actions.

So, a circuit judge and an appellate court saw evidence against Reagan and clearly found it compelling. The appellate panel was concerned enough to unveil secret grand-jury testimony for Reagan's boss. And when things started looking bleak, Reagan decided to take the fifth.

That seems to leave Sonny Reagan in a vulnerable position, and Luther Strange has placed him on administrative leave. By the way, does the governor have the authority to appoint an independent investigator related to a grand-jury probe? Reagan does not point to any such authority in his letter.

On top of all that, we see signs that Reagan's credibility is shaky. More on that in an upcoming post.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Judge overrules himself on prior-restraint case involving Alabama Gas, proving my arrest and resulting incarceration were unlawful

Robert Vance Jr.
 An Alabama judge overruled himself this week, finding unlawful his earlier ruling that prevented the Montgomery Advertiser newspaper from reporting on documents it had received from a public-records request about potentially dangerous gas lines.

Jefferson County Circuit Judge Robert Vance Jr. found that his first ruling represented a prior restraint that is forbidden under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Vance struck down his own temporary restraining order (TRO), and Alabama Gas Company withdrew its request for a preliminary injunction, essentially admitting it never had a case for preventing the practice of journalism based on lawfully obtained documents.

In a roundabout way, both Vance and Alabama Gas added to the mountain of evidence that proves my arrest last October, and the resulting five-month incarceration, were unlawful.

Ironically, Vance's actions came just days after a special prosecutor in the Alabama Attorney General's Office was quoted in court documents as saying "the Riley machine" was "going down" in a Lee County grand-investigation. Special Prosecutor Matt Hart was referring to former Republican Governor Bob Riley and his close associates, apparently including son Rob Riley.

Hart's words have special resonance here at Legal Schnauzer because Rob Riley filed the defamation lawsuit that sought a TRO, preliminary injunction, and permanent injunction against me. We now know, from Judge Vance's actions, that everything Rob Riley sought in his lawsuit was unlawful. We also know that my incarceration--based on an alleged refusal to obey a TRO and injunction that stood contrary to roughly 200 years of U.S. law--also was unlawful. (The court did not even have jurisdiction over me because I never was lawfully served with the complaint, and I filed a motion seeking to quash service; unbelievably, I was arrested before the court addressed that issue.)

How can you be arrested on the orders of a court that has no jurisdiction over you? How can you be held in contempt of court for allegedly violating a court order that is unlawful in the first place? You can't. Was Judge Vance going to send Montgomery Advertiser reporters and editors to jail for doing exactly what the First Amendment says they can do? Was Judge Vance going to incarcerate reporters and editors from USA Today, which is working with its Gannett News Service colleagues in Montgomery and other locations on the gas-line series? Of course, not. (You can read reporter John Kelly's opening article in the series here.)

Why did Vance come to his senses and make a lawful ruling? One reason might be that the Montgomery newspaper could afford to hire prominent media lawyer Dennis Bailey, while I was representing myself. I was correct all along on the applicable law, but I still spent five months of my life unlawfully behind bars. So much for the notion of "equal protection under the law" in American courts.

(By the way, I am not a fan of Judge Vance. I've seen him rule contrary to law in a legal malpractice case I brought against Birmingham attorneys Jesse P. Evans III and Michael B. Odom. I've reported on a case styled William B. Cashion and Western Steel Inc. v. Mark Hayden et al, where Vance essentially stole a case that had been assigned to another judge and proceeded to rule over and over in favor of a party represented by the Birmingham firm of Maynard Cooper and Gale, which has contributed heavily to Vance's campaigns. I think so little of Vance that I actually supported Ten Commandments Judge Roy Moore over Vance in a race for chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. Vance, a Democrat in name only, is proof that court corruption in Alabama is not limited to Republicans.)

As for Rob Riley's lawsuit against me, why did Circuit Judge Claud Neilson, specially appointed by the Alabama Supreme Court, order me to jail? Why did even right-leaning legal analysts, such as Ken White of Popehat blog, heavily criticize Neilson's actions? Why was New York Times reporter Campbell Robertson apparently so embarrassed by Neilson that he failed to identify the judge by name in his article about my case?

Claud Neilson
The answer to those questions might be coming to light now, as we learn that Deputy Attorney General Sonny Reagan stands accused of leaking grand-jury information to individuals indicted or under investigation in a wide-ranging criminal probe. Reagan, a former legal advisor to Bob Riley, certainly qualifies as a member of "the Riley machine." And if the charges against him are proven--they were brought by Acting Attorney General Van Davis--it will show that those close to the Rileys have a tendency to obstruct justice in order to serve their own purposes--and to protect themselves.

Was Rob Riley keeping with that apparent tradition when he filed a defamation lawsuit against me--and asked a court to incarcerate me based on a TRO and injunction that almost two centuries of American law say is unlawful? Did Rob Riley's lawsuit have everything to do with intimidation and almost nothing to do with defamation? Given that Riley and his codefendant sought and received some $34,000 in sanctions against me and my wife--sanctions that are no more supported by law than the bogus TRO and injunctions--was his lawsuit really about financial terrorism?

As the Sonny Reagan saga unfolds, perhaps we will learn that the answer to all of those questions is a resounding yes.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Unmasking Of Sonny Reagan Brings Obstruction Of Justice Out Of The Dark Shadows

"The Unmasking of Sonny Reagan" in Alabama holds the potential to help clean up one of the most corrupt states in the country--and that would be historic, for sure.

But the Reagan story already has made one small slice of history. In the seven years I've been writing this blog, it's the first time I can recall a member of the legal clan being outed for alleged obstruction of justice--or its state-law equivalent.

We once wrote a post stating that lying under oath, formally known as perjury, had replaced baseball as America's pastime. My guess is that perjury is the most common crime committed in America--and it's the least likely to be prosecuted. That's probably because lawyers and judges have come to tolerate it--even expect it--in many courtroom proceedings.

If perjury is the most common American crime, obstruction of justice probably is a close No. 2. Obstruction of justice is a broad concept that covers a whole host of nasty acts--from paying a judge, to bribing a juror, to threatening a witness, to . . . well, the list goes on. True obstruction of justice, by that name, usually is a federal offense, while the state-law equivalent is called something slightly different. In Alabama, it's called "obstructing governmental services" and is covered under Code of Alabama 13A-10-2.

I suspect obstruction is even less likely than perjury to be prosecuted because . . . well, because members of the legal tribe are highly likely to be the ones committing it.

That's why the "Unmasking of Sonny Reagan" is so unusual. You have a lawyer, Acting Attorney General Van Davis, accusing a fellow member of the AG's staff of intentionally subverting the justice process. This is real man-bites-dog material.

How bad does this look? Consider the following from Van Davis' news release on the matter:

Deputy Attorney General Henry T. (“Sonny”) Reagan, for a period of months, had undisclosed communications with individuals affiliated with people indicted or under investigation by the Lee County Special Grand Jury. Reagan also took other action to impede or obstruct the investigation.”

Reagan was obstructing the investigation "for a period of months"? Yikes! If these allegations are proven, and Reagan and his cronies are brought to justice, Van Davis should receive some sort of honor--from the AG's Office, the Governor's Office, the U.S. Department of Justice, the White House, or all of the above.

If you are like me and have a history with Alabama, and care about its future, you must be getting tired of seeing the state listed among our nation's most corrupt backwaters. Here is how a recent top 10 from Fortune magazine read:

1. Mississippi
2. Louisiana
3. Tennessee
4. Illinois
5. Pennsylvania
6. Alabama
7. Alaska
8. South Dakota
9. Kentucky
10. Florida

First, notice that six of the 10 most corrupt states are in the South, including the "top three." As for the non-Southern states, folks who live in Illinois, Pennsylvania, Alaska, and South Dakota must be hanging their heads in shame. And is it possible that five states actually are MORE corrupt than Alabama? I find that hard to believe.

If Van Davis is successful in unmasking Sonny Reagan and his allies, maybe such rankings will begin to change. Maybe a brighter day really is ahead for Alabama.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Could The Unmasking Of Sonny Reagan Lay Foundation For The Fall of Riley Machine?

Alabama political jackals are coming
out in the open.
An Alabama special prosecutor last week was quoted in court documents as saying that both House Speaker Mike Hubbard and "the Riley machine" are "going down" in the ongoing Lee County grand-jury investigation. The documents surfaced as part of an effort by Deputy Attorney General Sonny Reagan to avoid testifying before the grand jury. Now Reagan stands accused by his own office of "having undisclosed communications with individuals affiliated with people who are indicted or under investigation by the grand jury."

That's a fancy way of saying Reagan has been improperly leaking information to his friends, in an apparent effort to help them avoid big trouble. And it raises this question: Did Special Prosecutor Matt Hart know about Reagan's leaking activities when he uttered ominous words about Mike Hubbard and the political machine led by former Republican Governor Bob Riley? Did Hart utter the words, quoted by Reagan, because he knew Reagan was trying to save the fannies of his long-time political allies? Could Reagan's improper communications help lay the groundwork to bring down Hubbard and the Riley Gang, including son Rob Riley and daughter Minda Riley Campbell?

Those are just a few of many intriguing questions raised by the "Unmasking of Sonny Reagan," an event we think could have historic implications for a Deep South state that long has been plagued by corruption, largely fueled by conservatives.

Let's consider a few other questions that quickly come to mind:

* With whom did Reagan communicate, and when did the communications take place? What point in the grand-jury proceedings seemed to prompt his outreach efforts?

* How did Reagan and his associates communicate? Was it in person, by phone, e-mail, regular mail, text, other? Could use of the federal mails or wires (phone, computer) invoke federal jurisdiction if the case turns into a criminal matter?

* Did Reagan communicate with anyone associated with Indian gaming and did he try to protect them in any way? If so, what does that say about his handling of cases against non-Indian gaming facilities, such as VictoryLand in Macon County?

* Did Reagan encourage anyone to lie or cover up information before the grand jury? Did anyone actually lie to the grand jury, based on Reagan's encouragement and instructions?

* Birmingham lawyers Rob Riley and Bill Baxley represented Reagan in his efforts to avoid testifying before the grand jury? Did they unlawfully receive information about the grand jury's activities from their client? Did they know that Reagan was leaking grand-jury information? Were they among those who received his leaks? If so, what did Reagan discuss with them and why?

That last set of questions hits close to home for us. Rob Riley filed a dubious defamation lawsuit against me last fall, which led to my unlawful incarceration for five months. Bill Baxley represents former Luther Strange aide Jessica Medeiros Garrison in another defamation lawsuit, which just happened to surface against me at about the same time as the Riley case. Now we know that Riley and Baxley are associated with Sonny Reagan, a man who stands accused by his own office of subverting the legal process.

What does that say about Riley, Baxley, and their ethical standards? What, if anything, does it say about the cases they brought against me? What does it say about their involvement with Reagan? What kind of Unholy Alliance is this?

That brings us to Alabama Political Reporter and Editor Bill Britt, who broke the Reagan story. Britt referred to Reagan, Hubbard, Riley and Co. as jackals (see photo above), and here are a few of Britt's blunt words:

Like jackals, these opportunistic predators seek to ravage all that is good in our State, filling their bellies at a feast of greed and corruption. The whole affair reeks of madness, the kind of madness that stems from a conscience seared with a hot iron, void of principle, avaricious and demented by power.

This must end with the indictment and conviction of Hubbard and the whole Riley Machine, or the State will be damned by men like Reagan.

Comparing some of Alabama's scummiest politicos to jackals? That leads to one final question: Isn't that an insult to jackals everywhere?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Could Sonny Reagan And His Associates Face Obstruction Of Justice And Other Criminal Charges?

In announcing that his colleague Sonny Reagan had been placed on administrative leave, Alabama Acting Attorney General Van Davis used some curious language, the kind that points to criminal activity.

Davis said Reagan had "undisclosed communications with individuals affiliated with people indicted or under investigation by a Lee County Special Grand Jury."

As if that language weren't strong enough, Davis then dropped this bomb: "Reagan also took other action to impede or obstruct the investigation.”

That is the kind of language often seen in criminal statutes. And it raises this question: Will Reagan, and perhaps the individuals with whom he communicated, eventually face obstruction of justice and related charges?

Like more than half of the states, Alabama has a broad criminal statute that covers obstruction of justice. The crime in Alabama is called "Obstructing Governmental Operations," and it can be found at Code of Alabama 13A-10-2. Here is how it reads:

Section 13A-10-2
Obstructing governmental operations.

(a) A person commits the crime of obstructing governmental operations if, by means of intimidation, physical force or interference or by any other independently unlawful act, he:

(1) Intentionally obstructs, impairs or hinders the administration of law or other governmental function; or

(2) Intentionally prevents a public servant from performing a governmental function.

(b) This section does not apply to the obstruction, impairment or hindrance of the making of an arrest.

(c) Obstructing governmental operations is a Class A misdemeanor.

Obstruction of justice, in the sense normally considered by the public, is a federal offense covered under 18 U.S. Code 1501-1508. The most broad form of the offense is found in the omnibus clause at 18 U.S. Code 1503.

Our research indicates obstruction charges often are brought along with related charges, such as perjury, subornation of perjury, conspiracy, and racketeering.

Those last two charges might be the most worrisome ones for Reagan and the individuals with whom he communicated. By definition, conspiracy and racketeering can involve multiple defendants and possible federal jurisdiction.

Racketeering generally is covered under the federal RICO statutes, and violation of a state statute can be a predicate offense for launching a RICO case. For now, it is too early to say that the Reagan case might get that serious. It probably will depend on what Davis meant when he said, "Reagan also took other action to impede or obstruct the investigation.”

At a minimum, the Reagan case is an embarrassment for the AG's office and it calls into question Reagan's fitness for practicing law. At a maximum, it could lead to a wide-ranging criminal investigation, threatening powerful conservative figures with federal charges and possible prison time.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Will The Unmasking Of Sonny Reagan Help Alabama Climb Slowly Out Of The Corruption Muck?

Sonny Reagan

A high-profile member of the Alabama Attorney General's Office faces disciplinary action for allegedly leaking information to suspects under investigation by the Lee County grand jury. At first glance, the story might seem like a ho-hummer to many citizens. But we think it has the potential to be one of the most important stories in modern Alabama history, perhaps with national implications. It even could represent a watershed moment, when a state that long has ranked among the top 10 for corruption slowly starts climbing out of the muck.

We will call the story "The Unmasking of Sonny Reagan." It could be historically important because of its potential to unmask some of Alabama's most powerful political figures, bad actors who have brought a virulent strain of conservative corruption to the state over the past 20 years or so.

We are quick to acknowledge that the white elites who control Alabama--attorney Donald Watkins calls them a conservative oligarchy--are a slippery bunch. They are capable of making payoffs or concocting cover ups that limit their damages--or make their problems go away altogether.

That certainly could happen with the case of Henry T. "Sonny" Reagan. But we think it might be hard for key players to wriggle out of this mud hole. For one, the charges against Reagan strongly hint at criminal activity. Two, Reagan is unusually well connected, serving now under Attorney General Luther Strange and previously as chief legal advisor to former GOP Governor Bob Riley.

In both of those roles, Reagan has been point man on efforts to close non-Indian gaming facilities, such as Milton McGregor's VictoryLand in Macon County. That means Reagan likely is deeply knowledgeable about the flow of Indian gaming money--both from Mississippi (thanks largely to Jack Abramoff and the Mississippi Choctaw tribe) and from inside Alabama via the Poarch Creek Indians--that has helped turn Alabama's political landscape into a cesspool.

Given the ugliness that Indian gaming cash has wrought around the country . . . well, you can see how the Reagan story could become national in scope if the deputy AG is forced to answer tough questions under oath.

The Lee County grand jury reportedly is focusing on House Speaker Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn), a longtime Riley ally. The plot thickened last week when court documents showed that Special Prosecutor Matt Hart has stated he expects the case to take down both Hubbard and "the Riley machine."

Ironically, those documents involved Reagan's efforts to avoid testifying before the grand jury. The irony deepens when you consider that one of Reagan's attorneys was Rob Riley, the former governor's son.

How ugly could all of this get? Bill Britt, of Alabama Political Reporter, provides clues with a piece out today titled "Unmasking the Jackals: Inside the AG Conspiracy." Writes Britt:

Last week, Hubbard’s criminal defense attorney J. Mark White tried to insulate his client from the Reagan scandal by saying, “...there has been no communication between the two men [Hubbard and Reagan] in person, by phone, letter, email, carrier pigeon, or smoke signal. For anyone to suggest otherwise would warrant a diagnosis of 'factual deficit disorder.'”

White is juggling like a circus clown attempting to distract everyone away from the main attraction in the center ring. Reagan’s actions are linked to his relationship with former Gov. Bob Riley, not Hubbard. The Reagan affair cuts to the heart of the matter: it is the Riley Machine at work to save itself.

This is family business for this pack of jackals.

Britt makes special note of Rob Riley's presence--and his connections to a man who now stands accused of trying to subvert justice:

The former governor’s son is Reagan’s attorney, which clearly shows a bright-line connection to the Riley Machine. And if the Reagan/Riley connection is not bright enough, the fact that Rob Riley has been Hubbard’s attorney of record since the late 90's should start to illuminate the truth.

So it is that Reagan, owes his career to Gov. Riley.

Hubbard is Riley’s second son and Rob represents them all.

This dark alliance should come as no surprise, but the fact that Rob Riley is the shadow attorney for Hubbard and Reagan, is definitely an unholy Communion.

Acting Attorney General Van Davis announced Friday that Reagan had been placed on administrative leave. In so doing, Davis clearly hinted at the possibility of criminal charges. From Mike Cason of al.com:

Davis said he informed Strange on Wednesday that Reagan has had "undisclosed communications with individuals affiliated with people indicted or under investigation by the Lee County Special Grand Jury."

"Reagan also took other action to impede the investigation," Davis said in a statement released by Strange's office.

Where could this be heading on the criminal front? We will examine that question in an upcoming post.

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Republican "Riley Machine" Apparently Is Among The Targets In Alabama Criminal Investigation

Bob Riley
Former Governor Bob Riley and his associates are among the targets in an ongoing Alabama grand-jury investigation, according to documents released this week.

The Lee County grand jury has been known to be focusing on House Speaker Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn). But documents in an article at Alabama Political Reporter indicate that Bob Riley, his family members, and political associates also are targets.

The documents surfaced from an effort to prevent Deputy Attorney General, and longtime Riley ally Sonny Reagan, from testifying before the grand jury. A judge denied Reagan's request, presented by Birmingham attorneys Bill Baxley and Rob Riley (Bob's son).

Reagan has been point man, under both Bob Riley and current Attorney General Luther Strange, in efforts to shut down non-Indian casinos that feature electronic bingo.

In a July 22, 2014, memo to a chief administrator in the AG's office (marked as Exhibit C), Reagan provided details about his contentious relationship with Matt Hart, head of the Special Prosecutions Division and a key figure in the Lee County case.

Reagan writes the following about Hart:

On Monday, March 31, 2014, Matt arrived at his office and I was sitting at my desk with the door open. When Matt saw me at my desk, he stepped into my office to tell me that he was about to announce an arrest resulting from his investigation. He then asked me when I was going to "drop Mike Hubbard as a friend." He told me that Hubbard was going down along with *the Riley machine" and I should prepare myself for that fact. He then walked back into his office.

Later in the same memo, Reagan writes the following in reference to Hart:

In addition to the above events. Matt has had numerous conversations with me about his investigation into House Speaker Mike Hubbard. These conversations took place last year either in my office or in Matt's office, which is located next door to my office. Every discussion that I have had with Matt was initiated by Matt. Matt has told me repeatedly how he plans to take down Hubbard and dismantle '*the Riley machine" and has revealed to me grand jury information, or information described to me as grand jury information.

Who might be considered part of "the Riley machine"? In addition to the former governor, it almost certainly includes his son, Rob Riley; his daughter, Minda Riley Campbell; and Minda's husband, Rob Campbell, an attorney at the Birmingham firm Bradley Arant. According to published reports, the governor's office sent more than $10 million in taxpayer funds to Bradley Arant during the final two years of Riley's term, a period when a crusade against non-Indian gaming took center stage.

Reagan's memo shines light on recent reports that Chief of Staff Kevin Turner is holding a "secret" over Luther Strange's head in an effort to get Matt Hart removed from the Lee County case. Turner was a lawyer at Bradley Arant before joining the AG's staff. Is it possible that Hart's interest in Team Riley could lead to unwanted scrutiny for Bradley Arant--and Turner wants to make sure that doesn't happen?

Rob Riley
In his memo, Reagan states that his problems with Hart began with a dispute over office space. But the memo, taken as a whole, indicates Reagan's real concern is Hart's interest in the "Riley machine" and its extensive money trail, which appears to run into and out of the Bradley Arant law firm.

Who is Matt Hart? Well, we have written about him before, and it has not been in a flattering way. In fact, we gave two thumbs down to reports that Hart would join the attorney general's office under Luther Strange.

But we are reconsidering our stance on Matt Hart. We have written many times that Bob Riley and his associates have brought an extraordinarily ugly form of corruption to Alabama--and given our state's history with slippery politicians, that is saying something.

If Matt Hart can, in fact, dismantle "the Riley machine," he would be performing a massive public service--and it might actually change Alabama from a glorified banana republic to a state that could eventually capitalize on its untapped potential.

I know personally what it is like to be a victim of the corrupt Riley machine. I would love to help Matt Hart bring them down--and I have information that might be relevant to the task.

Whether I'm a factor in the investigation or not, I will be watching Matt Hart's actions with great interest. If he is successful in taking apart Team Riley, and holding individuals accountable, he will have my eternal gratitude.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Beer Company Has Higher Ethical Standards Than Judiciary When It Comes To Domestic Violence

Anheuser-Busch has threatened to pull more than $1 billion in advertising if the National Football League does not start taking a tougher stance against players who engage in domestic violence.

Sounds like America's judiciary should take a lesson from the beer company.

Federal Judge Mark Fuller (Middle District of Alabama) stands accused of beating his wife in an Atlanta hotel room--and it looks like he will keep his job upon completing a 24-week treatment program for alcohol, drug, and domestic-violence issues. U.S. Senator Richard Shelby called on Fuller to resign yesterday, and that's big news, but Shelby supported Fuller for the position--and the senator's words at this point seem to be a case of too little, too late.

According to Facebook reports from Alabama attorney Donald Watkins, some of Fuller's judicial brethren have asked him to step down from his lifetime perch on the bench. But Fuller, it appears, has refused, and we see no signs that the judicial establishment is going to put any bite behind its mild bark.

The folks who make Budweiser are not so timid. From USA Today:

Now the NFL has real trouble on its hands.

Fed up with the league's woeful inconsistencies on domestic violence and its belligerent insistence on protecting misbehaving players, Anheuser-Busch took the NFL to task on Tuesday. No, it didn't say it was pulling its $1.2 billion, six-year contract – yet.

But it doesn't take a marketing genius to see what's down the road if the NFL doesn't get its act together. And fast.

Meanwhile, Judge Mark Fuller does not have to work quickly. He can go into rehab for 24 weeks and hope the public largely forgets about the 911 call that provides evidence of him savagely beating his wife.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Judge Mark Fuller Was A Crook In His Professional Life Before Becoming A Thug In His Personal Life

Don Siegelman
Another Alabama newspaper has called on wife-beating federal judge Mark Fuller to be removed from the bench. We know of at least four state newspapers who have called on Fuller to resign, but the Dothan Eagle took it a step further: It called for Fuller's impeachment.

But like the other editorials, there is something missing from the Eagle's piece. It ignores Fuller's unethical conduct on the bench, while focusing only on his shortcomings as a husband and private citizen.

Those who paid close attention to Fuller's most famous case--the prosecution of former Governor Don Siegelman and former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy--know Fuller was a public crook long before he became known as a private thug.

Fuller has been a bad judge for years, and he should be removed from the bench for that reason. But judges are pretty much untouchable for their corrupt acts from the bench, except on those rare occasions when the U.S. Department of Justice pursues criminal charges against them. The legal community usually binds together to protect corrupt judges, while the mainstream press ignores them, and the public is clueless about them.

That is a fact of American life that needs to change immediately. But for now, let's look at just one example of Fuller's professional crookedness, which resulted in two innocent citizens going to federal prison.

First, we have written several dozen posts showing that Siegelman and Scrushy were innocent of the corruption charges against them. They were convicted, in large part, because Fuller gave improper jury instructions, meaning the defendants were convicted of a "crime" that does not exist under the actual law.

But that is not nearly the worst of Fuller's unethical acts in the Siegelman/Scrushy trial. The worst one came near the beginning of the trial--and if Fuller had ruled correctly, the case would have been over before it had hardly begun.

That's because the alleged illegal acts involving the defendants took place almost a full year outside the five-year statute of limitations. We've already shown that Siegelman and Scrushy were innocent of the charges against them. But without Fuller's unlawful rulings at the outset, they never would have had to defend themselves at all.

How do two defendants go to trial on charges that are so old they are way outside the statute of limitations--and should have been dismissed as a matter of law? It happens when a corrupt judge allows the prosecution to get away with most anything.

In this case, Fuller let prosecutors get away with an indictment that was hopelessly vague. The normal solution for such a problem is for the judge to order a bill of particulars, forcing the prosecution to lay out its case with sufficient specificity. Without that, defendants don't know what wrongful acts they are alleged to have committed, and when they allegedly committed them. They are left to defend against what might be called "ghost charges."

As we showed in a previous post, even former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, now convicted as a child rapist, was given the benefit of a bill of particulars. Fuller denied that request for Siegelman and Scrushy. It only became apparent after days of testimony that the alleged wrongful acts had taken place in summer 1999. Given that the original indictment was issued in May 2005, that meant the charges were brought almost six years after the fact--well beyond the five-year statute of limitations.

Defense lawyers properly raised the statute of limitations defense again at the close of testimony, and Fuller cheated them a second time, on the same issue. Here is how we summed it up in a previous post:

If Fuller had ruled according to law, Siegelman and Scrushy never would have faced a trial. But Fuller didn't stop there; he cheated the defendants again after the trial was over. Defense lawyers filed a Rule 29 motion, asking for a judgment of acquittal because testimony had shown the key bribery charge was brought too late. Fuller wrongfully denied the motion, and the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, misreading simple procedural law and butchering its own precedent, found that defense lawyers had waived the statute of limitations defense by failing to properly raise it at trial.

A clear reading of Rule 29 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure--plus a pertinent case styled Phillips v. U.S., 843 F. 2d 438 (11th Cir., 1988)--shows that the Siegelman/Scrushy defense team raised the issue in a proper fashion and did not waive it.

The public, and Alabama newspapers, are understandably outraged that Fuller stands charged of beating his wife--and faces a 24-month treatment program for alcohol, drug, and domestic-violence issues? But where is the outrage about his unethical conduct as a judge? Why does no one seem interested in holding him accountable for sending innocent individuals to prison?

Monday, September 15, 2014

Even Luther Strange's Lawyers Seem To Admit That Games At VictoryLand Casino Constitute Bingo

Joe Espy and Milton McGregor

The VictoryLand forfeiture trial concluded on Friday, with even lawyers for Attorney General Luther Strange seeming to admit that the machines at the VictoryLand casino play bingo.

We certainly did not see that one coming.

The trial portion of the proceedings ended on Friday, with Judge William Shashy instructing both sides to submit briefs, which he will consider before making a final ruling. That process is expected to take about 45 days.

How did Strange's lawyers, at least in our eyes, admit that the VictoryLand machines play bingo? They seemed to focus heavily on whether the constitutional amendment allowing bingo in Macon County allowed "electronic" forms of the game. In fact, Deputy Attorney General Sonny Reagan repeatedly asked Tuskegee Mayor Johnny Ford why the word "electronic" was not in the constitutional amendment.

In the past, Strange's office had focused on the notion that the VictoryLand machines did not constitute the game commonly known as bingo, that they are slot machines or gambling devices that are illegal under Alabama statute. Perhaps I missed it, but I don't recall seeing in court documents where the Strange team argued in previous proceedings about the word "electronic" being absent from the amendment.

Is that because Strange this time did not have an expert witness to counter VictoryLand's contentions that the machines do, in fact, play bingo? Perhaps.

But by focusing on the "electronic" issue, Reagan seemed to admit that the machines play bingo. His argument this time, more or less, was: The machines are illegal because they are electronic, not because they don't play bingo.

We already have cited three grounds, under the law, that require Shashy to rule in VictoryLand's favor and force the AG's office to return machines and cash to the casino.

Reagan's argument seems to create a fourth reason that Shashy must rule in VictoryLand's favor. Perhaps that's why the Montgomery Advertiser quoted casino lawyer Joe Espy sounding confident about the outcome:

"In all my years of practicing, that was quite honestly the weakest case I've ever argued against," attorney Joe Espy said. "I don't see how the state can survive what's happened here these last four days."

Friday, September 12, 2014

How Can Luther Strange Win VictoryLand Case Without An Expert Witness on E-Bingo Machines?

Joe Espy and Milton McGregor
We already have outlined two reasons Attorney General Luther Strange cannot win, under the law, at the VictoryLand forfeiture trial this week in Montgomery. (See here and here.) The trial itself has given us a third reason, with the state announcing it will not call its gambling-machine expert.

That means any testimony presented by gambling experts for VictoryLand owner Milton McGregor will go uncontroverted. McGregor has a powerful legal team, led by Joe Espy and Charlanna Spencer, and they are expected to present expert witnesses to show that the electronic-bingo machines at VictoryLand casino are legal under Macon County's 2003 constitutional amendment.

If VictoryLand's experts show Montgomery County Circuit Judge William Shashy that the machines are legal, and the AG's office presents no expert to counter that, the controversy should be settled. Law, it seems, doesn't get much simpler than that.

Montgomery Advertiser reporter Josh Moon picked up on that point in this blog post from the courtroom, referring to the testimony of a VictoryLand expert:

Josh Moon @Josh_Moon Here's what I don't get: if this guy w/his background says these games are bingo and state has no expert saying otherwise, isn't that a wrap?

That's an excellent question from Mr. Moon, and the answer is, "Yes, that should be a wrap"--not even counting the points we raised in our two previous posts that also should have made the case a wrap.

We're not sure what the AG's office is up to with its trial "plan," but its decision to pull expert witness William Holmes (age 81) did provide some comic relief. From the Montgomery Advertiser:

The state also told the court that it wouldn’t be calling its expert witness, William Holmes, to testify. The AG’s office entered into a two-year, $15,000-per-year contract with Holmes after its previous expert, Bob Sertell, died in May.

Lawyers for VictoryLand and owner Milton McGregor had filed a motion to exclude Holmes as an expert, because the 81-year-old former FBI agent, who retired 26 years ago, had never examined or played an electronic bingo machine.

The AG's trial strategy seems to be farcical. It replaced a dead expert witness with one who is 81 years old, has been retired for 26 years, and admittedly (it seems) has never examined an electronic-bingo machine.

Deputy AG Sonny Reagan bragged in court that his office has twice won favorable rulings in bingo trials without calling an expert gaming witness. That can only lead one to conclude that Reagan must have been facing incompetent opposing counsel (Espy, Spencer & Co. could hardly be described as incompetent) or he was the beneficiary of a crooked/incompetent judge.

Is this all a joke to Luther Strange? Is he unconcerned about Shashy's ruling because he knows the Alabama Supreme Court consistently has ruled in his favor, contrary to all kinds of law? Was Strange's goal simply to damage McGregor financially, and that's been accomplished, so the AG doesn't care about the outcome of this forfeiture trial. According to several reports, Strange's agents so badly damaged VictoryLand's machines that they might now be worthless anyway. Perhaps that's why "Big Luther" doesn't seem to be putting much effort into this trial.

That leaves us with this question: Does VictoryLand have grounds to seek civil remedies for the huge damages it has suffered from being closed some 19 months, especially if the AG's raid is proven to have been unlawful? Our guess is that such damages probably range in the hundreds of millions of dollars--at least.

Strange likely is protected by prosecutorial immunity, and it often is difficult to sue the state under Eleventh Amendment immunity. Perhaps Espy and Spencer have a plan for seeking monetary justice on their client's behalf--from somewhere--but our guess is that any legal avenues will be slim and narrow.

Will the Alabama Supreme Court once again, in spite of all evidence and law to the contrary, give Strange a favorable ruling on his inevitable appeal? If that happens, it will be time for the U.S. Justice Department to enter the picture and start measuring all nine justices for orange jumpsuits.

That's the kind of action it might ultimately take to restore any sense of justice in perhaps the nation's most corrupt state court system.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

VictoryLand Forfeiture Case Will Determine If Alabama Courts Have Any Integrity Left At All

Milton McGregor

The VictoryLand forfeiture case, going on this week in the courtroom of Montgomery Circuit Judge William Shashy, will determine if the Alabama court system has a shred of integrity left.

On the surface, the case is about electronic-bingo equipment. VictoryLand maintains that its machines, equipment and cash were unlawfully seized in a February 2013 raid conducted by Attorney General Luther Strange. The AG's office maintains the equipment represents illegal gambling devices and should be destroyed.

The real entity on trial, however, is the Alabama court system--and the judges who rule over it.

That's because the facts and law in the VictoryLand case are stunningly straightforward--and they have been since Strange's operatives stormed the Macon County facility roughly 19 months ago.

As we showed in a post yesterday, the law clearly shows that VictoryLand and owner Milton McGregor have the correct position here. According to the Montgomery Advertiser, Strange's office does not even have a certified electronic-gaming expert to counter VictoryLand's testimony.

The e-bingo machines in question were operating lawfully, under a constitutional amendment approved in 2003 by Macon County voters, and never should have been seized. In fact, no one even questioned their legality for seven years. That happened only after former governor Bob Riley decided to launch a crusade against non-Indian gaming during his last two years in office.

Riley had been the beneficiary of millions of campaign dollars from Indian gaming interests, much of it funneled through GOP felon Jack Abramoff, so his raids apparently were based on politics and not the law. If the law accounts for anything in Alabama, the machines will be returned to VictoryLand as soon as possible.

Moreover, it's clear that Macon County Circuit Judge Thomas Young was correct in 2013 to deny Strange's request for a search warrant--and the Alabama Supreme Court was wrong to force Young to sign the search warrant and then step down from the case.

The key facts and law on this case can be examined in a series of posts we wrote last year about the VictoryLand case. Nothing about the fundamental law and facts has changed since then, and the only questions are: (1) Will Shashy rule according to law and order VictoryLand's equipment returned? and (2) Will the Alabama Supreme Court correctly deny Strange's inevitable appeal?

The high court has consistently violated its own precedent to side with Strange and Riley in their crusade against non-Indian gaming facilities--which appears driven by the huge sums of money both have received from Indian gaming interests.

Does that mean the all-Republican Alabama Supreme Court is tainted by Indian gaming cash? Is it possible something has caused the high court to change, and it now will rule lawfully for VictoryLand?

How easy is the law in the VictoryLand case? Here are the two overriding issues:

(1) Strange claims that the casino's machines violate state statues that outlaw slot machines and illegal gambling devices. But e-bingo in Macon County was approved by a constitutional amendment, and the Alabama Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly that a constitutional amendment overrides a state statute. To use gaming lingo, the constitutional nature of the Macon County law "trumps" anything Strange can come up with of a statutory nature.

(2) Strange claims the game played on the machines does not match what commonly is defined as bingo. But again, Amendment 744 ("Bingo Games in Macon County) takes care of that issue. The amendment states:

The sheriff shall promulgate rules and regulations for the licensing and operation of bingo games within the county. The sheriff shall insure compliance pursuant to any rule or regulation and the following requirements . . .

Judge Young, in denying Strange's application for a search warrant, addressed this issue:

In the instant case, given the fact that the Constitutional Amendment which provides for bingo being played at Victoryland allows the Sheriff to make a determination as to the nature of the bingo, and further, given the fact that he has publicly declared the machines presently located at that location to comply with the Supreme Court guidance in Cornerstone, there is clearly a lack of sufficient probable cause to warrant such an extraordinary writ.

In other words, it's up to the sheriff to decide if a certain game meets the definition of bingo. And the Macon County sheriff has ruled in the affirmative.

That, plus the fact that a constitutional amendment trumps a state statute, means Strange never had any lawful grounds to seize VictoryLand's equipment--and he certainly has no grounds to keep it.

This is a high-profile case that is being closely watched both in Alabama and beyond. Will Alabama courts finally get it right on such an easy case? If they don't, will it be time for the U.S. Department of Justice to launch an investigation, perhaps of Luther Strange, his associates, and the Alabama Supreme Court?

We don't know the answer to the first question. But the answer to the second question definitely is yes.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Alabama Taxpayers Continue To See Money Wasted To Fight "Illegal" Gambling That Is, In Fact, Legal

The fight against "illegal" gambling has cost Alabama taxpayers almost $895,000 since 2011, according to a report last week. That figure will rise considerably this week because of a forfeiture trial in which the VictoryLand Casino seeks the return of equipment the attorney general's office seized in February 2013.

The trial began yesterday before Montgomery County Circuit Judge William Shashy. Why is the trial in Montgomery when VictoryLand is in Macon County? That's because Macon County Judge Thomas Young correctly denied Attorney General Luther Strange a search warrant, so Strange asked the Alabama Supreme Court to force Young off the case.

The All-Republican Supreme Court, which has routinely violated its own precedent to allow raids of non-Indian gaming facilities, granted Strange's request. That's why Shashy, who was appointed to the bench by former Republican Governor Fob James, is hearing the case. Strange wants Shashy to allow his office to destroy some 1,615 machines and $223,000 in cash that was seized from Victoryland, the facility that long has been run by Milton McGregor.

By the way, the recent report about the cost of the anti-gambling crusade since 2011 doesn't come close to the actual figure. As we reported here, the Birmingham law firm Bradley Arant sucked up $10 million of state dollars during the final two years of Governor Bob Riley's tenure, when the administration largely was fighting non-Indian gaming. Associated Press reported that Riley paid Bradley Arant more than $536,000 for work related to the anti-gambling task force. (Riley's son-in-law, Rob Campbell just happens to be a partner at Bradley Arant.) The true cost to Alabama taxpayers numbers way into the millions.

Why do we say in our headline that money spent on the bingo battle is being "wasted." Why do we put quotation marks around the term "illegal"? The basic answer is simple; anyone with minimal reading-comprehension skills can figure it out.

Voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2003, allowing electronic bingo in Macon County, and the VictoryLand Casino operated lawfully for seven years. That changed when former Bob Riley decided to spend most of his final two years in office conducting a crusade against non-Indian gaming facilities in Alabama. When Riley's term ended in January 2011, Strange stepped in as attorney general to keep the crusade rolling.

Is it a coincidence that Riley opposes non-Indian gaming, considering that he benefited from $20 million of Indian gaming funds, much of it funneled through GOP felon Jack Abramoff? Is it coincidence that Riley's son, Birmingham lawyer Rob Riley, helped funnel $100,000 of Poarch Creek Indian funds to an organization supposedly designed to fight gaming on all fronts? Is it a coincidence that Luther Strange received $100,000 in campaign funds from the Poarch Creek Indians?

The answer to all of these questions likely is no. And a reasonable person could conclude that all of these transactions involved a "quid pro quo," meaning the politicos agreed to shut down the tribes' gaming competitors in exchange for campaign cash. If proven, that is the kind of illegal deal that can send a public figure to federal prison for years. If proven that the Alabama Supreme Court made it happen via a string of unlawful rulings . . . well, one can only imagine how Chief Justice Roy Moore and his colleagues might look in orange jump suits.

We're not sure what will happen in Judge Shashy's courtroom this week (and perhaps into next week). But it doesn't really matter because we've already proven in a lengthy series of posts that electronic bingo is legal in Macon County. (For the record, our research shows electronic bingo also is legal in Houston County; we have not studied the constitutional amendments for Greene and Lowndes counties, but our guess is that e-bingo is legal there, too.)

By the way, you can check out our series of posts on the Macon County issue here.

Why do we say the issue is simple? Well, the gist of the matter is this: Strange's main argument is that the VictoryLand machines violate state statutes that outlaw slot machines and illegal gambling devices. A simple concept of state law, however, is this: A constitutional amendment trumps a state statute.

Chorba-Lee Scholarship Fund v. Sheriff Mike Hale, et al, 60 So. 3d 269 (2010) is just one of many cases in which the Alabama Supreme Court has spelled this out.

'Undeniably, the legislature cannot enact a statute that conflicts with the Constitution, that is, that prohibits that which is permitted by the Constitution or that permits that which is prohibited by the Constitution.'" Opinion of the Justices No. 373, 795 So.2d 630, 632 (Ala.2001) (quoting City of Birmingham v. Graffeo, 551 So.2d 357, 361-62 (Ala. 1989)).

We will provide more details in an upcoming post. But you can see why we say this involves a simple matter of law. You can also see why we say the Alabama Supreme Court has repeatedly violated its own precedent.

Who will be the winner in the Montgomery courtroom? Our first guess is that Judge Shashy already has received instructions to rule against VictoryLand--and he will do just that. If Shasy proves to be competent and honest, Strange will appeal to the Alabama Supreme Court--and it will rule in the AG's favor.

The winner might be in doubt, but Alabama taxpayers are the clear losers. Millions of their dollars are being wasted on a legal battle that never should have started in the first place.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Football Star Ray Rice Gets Cut For Domestic Abuse, While Federal Judge Mark Fuller Still Has His Job

Mark Fuller

Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was cut from the team yesterday after new video revealed details about the violence involved in his domestic-abuse case. Meanwhile, Alabama federal judge Mark Fuller has been sentenced to 24 weeks of treatment for drug, alcohol and domestic-violence issues--but it appears he will keep his job and escape criminal prosecution.

A number of online news outlets picked up on the discrepancy. Perhaps my favorite was from Esquire, with the title "A Tale of Two Thugs."

You might think Fuller's hearing last Friday in Atlanta would have been a somber occasion. But the judge and his lawyer issued two of the most outrageous quotes I've heard in a while. Either Fuller and his lawyer think the public consists of dolts--or they are trying out for the comedy-club circuit, or both.

Here are a few of the disturbing questions raised by the Rice and Fuller cases:

* Do Americans hold professional football players to a higher standard than they have for federal judges?

* Is Rice getting rougher treatment because he is black, and Fuller is white?

* Do we need protests like the one that followed the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri?

Yes, video evidence played a key role in sealing Ray Rice's fate. But there is powerful audio evidence in the Fuller case--where it sounds like a serious beating is being administered to Fuller's wife in an Atlanta hotel room. She is heard to scream, "He's beating on me! Please help me!"

What about those quotes that came out of the Fuller hearing? Let's try this one, as reported by al.com, from attorney Barry Ragsdale, referring to Fuller:

"He doesn't have a drug or alcohol problem and never has," Ragsdale said.

Right, that's why Fuller accepted a 24-week diversion program administered by a Georgia court that, according to the Montgomery Advertiser, includes drug and alcohol evaluation. My research shows that 90 days is standard for drug rehab. Fuller is getting twice that long, but we are to believe he has no drug or alcohol problems? Sheesh!

Here's the outrageous Fuller quote:

"I reached this difficult decision after consulting with my family, and deciding that it was in every one's best interests to put this incident behind us," Fuller stated. "While I regret that my decision means that the full and complete facts regarding this incident will likely not come out, I have no doubt that it is what is best for all involved."

Mark Fuller wants "the full and complete facts" to come out? This is the same guy who, during a divorce from his first wife, asked that the case file be sealed so that revelations about extramarital affairs, alcohol abuse, prescription-drug abuse, and child abuse would not come out. (Alabama attorney Donald Watkins states on his Facebook page that he has all the brutal details about the beating Kelli Gregg Fuller sustained, and he intends to publish them.)

Ray Rice
Hey Judge, if you want the full facts out there, why don't you identify the law clerk with whom you allegedly have been carrying on an extramarital affair? Why don't you turn over all of your travel records to show whether or not your mistress ever has traveled with you on the public dime?

During Fuller's 2012 divorce, Montgomery Independent Editor Bob Martin addressed some of the ethical issues that appeared to be present. And Martin showed they appeared to involve violations of the public trust and possible misuse of public funds. Wrote Martin:

Those in a position to know, report that the affair by Judge Fuller, conducted with his former Courtroom Deputy Clerk and bailiff, Kelli Gregg, has been ongoing for four or five years and is basically an “open secret” in the building. Ms. Gregg, who has two children, was divorced by her husband about six months ago.
Sources in a position to know tell the newspaper that Fuller and Gregg have traveled together extensively, including trips to Dothan, New York, Tallahassee and perhaps Las Vegas.

To borrow a phrase from Esquire, Ray Rice seems to be a thug who got what he deserved. But Judge Mark Fuller also seems to be a thug, and he has received mostly protective treatment from his judicial brethren.

The public should not rest until Mark Fuller has been held accountable. And clear signs of racial favoritism in these two cases should not be ignored.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Reporting Accurately About Corrupt Federal Judge Mark Fuller Cost Me My Job--And Now He's Headed For A 24-Week Rehabilitation Program

Mark Fuller

U.S. Judge Mark Fuller (Middle District of Alabama) agreed today to enter a 24-week rehab program designed to evaluate his drug, alcohol, and domestic-violence issues. The program also is designed to help Fuller avoid criminal prosecution and a possible jail term.

The news broke on the same day that the Alabama Supreme Court ruled against State Rep. Barry Moore in his effort to have perjury charges dismissed. That seems to mean that a grand-jury investigation in Lee County, with House Speaker Mike Hubbard and former Governor Bob Riley possibly at the center, will stay on a steady track.

Could a new day be dawning for justice in Alabama? We will not be holding our breath here at Legal Schnauzer. Without serious attention from the Obama Department of Justice, we see little chance that Alabama corruption will be unearthed in a major way. (On a possibly hopeful note, the Obama DOJ landed convictions yesterday in a corruption probe involving former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell and his wife. Our guess is that any sleaze in Virginia is mild compared to what we've seen in Alabama over the past 15 years or so.)

For now, Judge Mark Fuller is front and center, thanks in large part to the Facebook reporting of prominent Alabama attorney Donald Watkins. The Fuller story hits close to home at this blog because I was cheated out of my job as an editor at UAB because of my accurate reporting in 2007-08 about Fuller's corrupt handling of the Don Siegelman/Richard Scrushy case. Now, we all know that Fuller is ethically challeged, that he's had drug, alcohol, and domestic-abuse issues so severe that even his judicial colleagues have called on him to resign, according to Donald Watkins.

In other words, my reporting on Fuller was both accurate and ahead of its time. And evidence at my UAB grievance hearing showed I produced those reports on my own time, away from work. I did not violate university policy in any way, and as a state employee I was protected by the First Amendment to discuss matters of public concern, but powerful legal/political forces backstabbed me because they could not have my posts showing the public that the Siegelman and Scrushy convictions were illegitimate. Sadly, UAB's "leaders" at the time were so weak and ethically challenged, they allowed an unlawful termination to take place.

As for Donald Watkins, he was in Atlanta for today's Fuller hearing and reports as follows:

Criminal defendant Mark Fuller traded his Fulton County Jail attire for a polished Wall Street look as he stood before a Fulton County Magistrate this morning. Without objection from his battered wife Kelli, Fuller, who has no prior arrest for domestic battery, will be entering a 24-week treatment program for his domestic violence. Fuller will also be assessed and treated (if necessary) for alcohol and substance abuse while undergoing his domestic violence treatment. He will not be permitted to have contact with Kelli while he is undergoing treatment.

Fuller is free to select an approved treatment program outside of Georgia. He did not announce today the name and location of the treatment facility he has selected.

Fuller will report back to Court in person on October 14, 2014, to show proof of his enrollment in the court-approved treatment program. His case will be dismissed at that time. If Fuller fails to complete the 24-week program or engages in another act of domestic violence while being treated, his criminal case will be reinstated.

Fuller quickly exited the courthouse after his pre-trial treatment program was announced. Fox TV News (Atlanta) covered the hearing. No Alabama media outlets covered the hearing. Apparently, wife-beating by one of the State's most powerful federal judges is not a newsworthy event.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

I Know From Firsthand Experience That Cops Have Been Acting Like Thugs Long Before The Michael Brown Shooting In Ferguson, Missouri

Protests in Ferguson, MO

The nation's attention has been riveted in recent weeks on Ferguson, Missouri, a St. Louis suburb where an unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown was shot and killed by a white police officer on August 9.

Many Americans now are asking questions about abusive tactics that law-enforcement officers use against citizens. This is not a new issue here at Legal Schnauzer. I've seen abusive cops in a firsthand way, inside my own home.

You don't have to be a young black guy, in a public place, to be injured by rogue cops. It can happen when you are a middle-aged white guy, simply trying to park a car in your own garage.

How gross is the misconduct in my case?

Courtroom evidence indicates my arrest last October was conducted without a warrant. The facts presented in court strongly suggest I was the victim of a state-sanctioned kidnapping, unlawfully thrown in jail for five months--all because of posts that appeared on this blog. (I was the only U.S. journalist to be jailed in 2013, quite a distinction for Shelby County, Alabama.)

A videotape of the arrest, played in court, shows that Shelby County Deputy Chris Blevins never showed me a warrant, never told me he had a warrant, and never said I was under arrest until I had been knocked down three times and sprayed in the face with Mace. When prosecutor Tonya Willingham later was ordered by Judge Ron Jackson to turn over copies of any warrants in the case, she said, "Your Honor, we have no warrants."

(In an incident report, Blevins states that he had two warrants for my arrest on contempt of court. The alleged contempt of court stemmed from a preliminary injunction that Judge Claud Neilson had issued in a defamation lawsuit filed against me by Alabama political figure Rob Riley. Never mind that a 1931 U.S. Supreme Court case styled Near v. Minnesota says you cannot be subject to a preliminary injunction in a case of alleged defamation, and that finding is built on First-Amendment law that dates back some 200 years, almost to the beginning of the country. Cases subsequent to Near make it clear that First Amendment issues are considered so important under the law that no court is to issue a preliminary injunction in a defamation case because it would amount to censorship by a single judge. For that reason, cases involving the First Amendment generally must be heard by a jury, but Rob Riley never requested a jury trial, and Judge Neilson repeatedly made "single judge" rulings that amounted to unlawful censorship. [See Bernard v. Gulf Oil Co., 619 F. 2d 459, 1980.]

(It's not Officer Blevins' job, of course, to know the law behind any warrant that might come his way. But one has to wonder about his actions. His report states that he had two arrest warrants for contempt of court, but a video of the arrest shows that he never showed me a warrant, never told me he had a warrant, and never even told me he was there to arrest me until I had been beaten up and sprayed in the face with Mace--inside my own home. Things become even more curious when prosecutor Tonya Willingham is ordered in court to turn over any warrants and states that she doesn't have any. What is a reasonable person to think? This reasonable person thinks there either was no warrant, or it was defective to the point that law-enforcement officials did not want me to have a chance to give it a close look.)

In previous posts, I've raised the issue of whether the warrant in my case was unsigned. But that issue is irrelevant in light of courtroom evidence that there was no warrant at all.

What does this mean under the law? An Alabama appellate court overturned the conviction in a 1975 stolen-property case because a search warrant in the case was unsigned. In so doing, the court cited a 1903 case that found an arrest warrant under such circumstances was "utterly void."

The stolen-property case is styled Kelley v. State, 316 So. 2d 233 (1975), and we will take a close look at it in upcoming posts. But first, let's look at these issues in the context of my own arrest, which appears to go beyond the question of whether a warrant was signed to whether there was a warrant at all.

To make matters more disturbing, my arrest was not even for a crime. It was for alleged civil contempt, and at the time, I had a pending motion before the court showing that I had not been lawfully served. That meant the court had no jurisdiction over me, that it had no authority to order my arrest or do anything else.

The civil contempt grew from a preliminary injunction in a defamation case, and analysts from both the left and right have written that it represents an unlawful prior restraint under the First Amendment.

Since my release from five months of incarceration on March 26, 2014, I've reviewed a portion of the many articles written about my case in both the mainstream and Web press. Most of the reporting has focused on First Amendment issues, and that is understandable given the weighty nature of free-speech matters.

But I also am troubled about the Fourth Amendment issues, which deal with the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures and requires a warrant that is judicially sanctioned. I was subjected to two traffic stops, which are considered seizures under the Fourth Amendment. And I still have nightmares from a deputy entering my home, without showing a warrant, and then knocking me to a concrete floor three times, Macing me in the face, and dragging me to a patrol car.

All of this is particularly troubling when you consider that this was a non-criminal arrest inside a dwelling. The U.S. Supreme Court has placed special standards on law enforcement when making arrests inside the home. We see signs that those standards were not met in my case.

We will examine relevant state and U.S. law in upcoming posts.

It all shows that police officers have been acting outside the law long before most Americans ever heard of Ferguson, Missouri.