|B. Avant Edenfield
And that leads to this question: Was Birmingham-based appellate judge Bill Pryor involved in the apparent conspiracy? After all, part of the reported fallout from Pryor's ties to 1990s gay pornography is that his once-secret history made him vulnerable to blackmail, meaning he would help ensure that certain cases turned out certain ways. It's not hard to imagine Pryor taking steps to protect corrupt members of the Birmingham divorce bar, ensuring that the flow of big, easy bucks to their law firms did not end.
Aside from Pryor's possible involvement, we know for sure that corrupt handling of two hunting-club lawsuits--both filed by retired Cumberland Law School taxation professor Joseph W. Blackburn--did not end with Edenfield. He had help in the cover up from members of the Eleventh Circuit. In fact, evidence suggests appellate judges upheld Edenfield's unlawful trial-court findings while not even conducting a serious review.
In other words, the three-judge appellate panels were both corrupt and lazy, apparently doing no real work to make sure Edenfield ruled correctly. The record indicates they knew he did not rule correctly, and they wanted it to stay that way--while exerting as little energy as possible. Here is background on the two cases from a September 2012 post:
So what is the public to make of instances where federal appellate judges do no work at all on a case before them? That apparently is what happened on a pair of lawsuits that originated in Birmingham, alleging that corrupt lawyers and judges used a hunting club as a place to fix Jefferson County divorce cases.
Joseph W. Blackburn, a professor of taxation at Samford University's Cumberland School of Law, was involved in both cases, first as a plaintiff and then as an attorney representing other alleged victims of hunting-club fraud. Both cases were unlawfully dismissed by federal judges in the Northern District of Alabama, with the plaintiffs denied an opportunity to conduct discovery that might have proven their cases.
That is suspicious in itself. But a foul odor really becomes noticeable when you realize the cases went before the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta--and both were dismissed without an opinion, with no explanation whatsoever.
How could two appeals be dismissed without an opinion? Was it because the issues at hand were so simple and straightforward? Not exactly:
These were companion lawsuits, both alleging gross corruption in Alabama domestic-relations courts. They level charges of serious misconduct against some of the best-known divorce lawyers in Alabama, essentially stating that their successful practices are built largely on cases that are fixed.
Hunting Club Case No. 1 was dismissed on a variety of technical grounds, and District Judge B. Avant Edenfield took 30 pages to describe the complex set of circumstances involved in the case. Hunting Club Case No. 2 was dismissed on pretty much identical grounds, with U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Armstrong mostly parroting Edenfield's ruling.
Are we to believe that a 30-page trial-court finding can be adequately handled on appeal when the Eleventh Circuit issues no opinion? Are we to believe it's a mere coincidence that the appellate court does the same thing on the second hunting-club case?
You can check out the two appellate rulings at the links below, one issued in fall 2008 and one issued in fall 2010:
Opinion in Blackburn v. Calhoun, et al (Hunting Club Case No. 1)
Opinion in Powell, et al v. Gorham, et al (Hunting Club Case No. 2)
Is it proper to handle appeals in such slipshod fashion, barely applying a rubber stamp? No, it is not. The Eleventh Circuit used to have Rule 36-1, which allowed for affirmances without opinions. That rule, however, was rescinded in 2006, as we explained in our earlier post:
According to a memorandum from Clerk Thomas K. Kahn, the change was made on the grounds that “only a min[u]scule portion of appeals are currently terminated in this manner.”
Since 2006, the Eleventh Circuit has had no provision allowing an appeal to be disposed of without an opinion. And yet, two cases were handled in exactly that fashion--one in 2008, the other in 2010--and they just happened to be cases that alleged serious misconduct among Alabama lawyers and judges.
Even when Rule 36-1 was in effect, if we are to believe Clerk Thomas K. Kahn, only a "minuscule portion" of appeals were terminated without an opinion. So how could the two hunting-club cases be terminated in that manner, even after Rule 36-1 had been rescinded? And how could there be no opinion when summary judgment was not supported by the record, and the judgment clearly was entered based on reversible error?
I can think of only one answer: The Eleventh Circuit knew it could not issue an opinion under the law that could justify the corrupt trial-court dismissals--so it chose to issue no opinion at all.
Allegations in the two hunting-club lawsuits leveled charges that, if proven, probably would have led to the disbarment and possible incarceration of prominent Alabama divorce lawyers Charles Gorham, Rick Fernambucq, and Steve Wright (among others, including multiple judges). Do those attorneys act in ways that honor their profession, or have they turned our courts into glorified casinos--with lawyers being the winners, and certain litigants (especially women, children, and minorities) the losers?
Thanks to the late judge Edenfield, and the members of the Eleventh Circuit, the public probably will never know.