Thursday, May 12, 2016

Less than one month in office, Gov. Robert Bentley showed signs of being corrupt--but most of us didn't notice, or failed to grasp what it could mean

Gov. Robert Bentley and Rebekah Caldwell Mason
Governor Robert Bentley showed signs of being corrupt when he was less than one month into his first term, but it's likely few Alabamians noticed. Even those who did notice, including me, did not grasp what it might foretell roughly six years down the road.

Bentley is under state and federal investigations in a scandal that ignited from an extramarital affair with former advisor Rebekah Caldwell Mason and shows signs of becoming a conflagration involving abuse of public trust and resources. Few probably saw that coming, given that Bentley appears to be a kindly, aging dermatologist, who never had an impure thought.

But let's go back to February 7, 2011, less than three weeks after Bentley took office. On that date, Bentley appointed Shelby County Circuit Judge J. Michael Joiner to a vacant seat on the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals. Why Joiner? It almost certainly was because Bentley grew up in Columbiana, and the Joiner family is so prevalent in the town that it includes an area called Joinertown.

So, Bentley showed early on that he's a true believer in Good Ole' Boy politics--make appointments based on who knows who, not on qualifications (and certainly not on integrity). But it gets much darker from there.

Mike Joiner is the No. 1 driving force behind the legal travails that have haunted my wife, Carol, and me for roughly 16 years. And we hardly are the only targets of his abuse. If you were to survey a cross-section of lawyers in the counties surrounding Shelby, quite a few would tell you the Columbiana courthouse is famous for its "home cooking." In other words, Shelby County is where the rule of law goes to die, with cases cooked to favor lawyers who are based in Shelby--no matter how crooked they might be. And Joiner, at the time Bentley promoted him, was presiding judge of the Shelby circuit.

Here, in an earlier post, is how I explained our personal experiences with Joiner:

How bad a judge is Joiner? I've written more than a dozen posts about our experiences with him, but here is a section from one that best describes how he butchered a bogus lawsuit that was filed against me by Mike McGarity, our criminally inclined neighbor--with the help of his ethically challenged attorney, William E. Swatek: (Editor's note, Swatek has a record of unethical behavior dating back some 35 years, but he is based in Pelham, which means he is a "favored son" to Joiner and other Shelby County judges.)

Joiner, by my conservative estimate, made 20 to 30 unlawful rulings in my case, all favoring Bill Swatek and his client, Mike McGarity. But I tend to focus on summary judgment because that's the most important issue, the one that would have brought the case to a lawful conclusion. And the indisputable record shows this:

The case had to be dismissed on so many grounds--eight to 10, at least--that I filed three motions for summary judgment (MSJ), each raising distinct issues of fact and law. On the first MSJ, McGarity filed a response, but he filed no timely evidence as required by law. He did file an affidavit--which did not dispute the fundamental facts and law at hand--but it was 10 days late and had to be stricken as a matter of law. Joiner denied summary judgment anyway.

On the second and third MSJs, McGarity filed no response at all--no affidavit, no evidence, nothing. That meant the evidence I filed, which was different from the evidence in the first MSJ, was uncontroverted. In such circumstances, Alabama law is clear: Summary judgment must be granted and the case dismissed. In fact, the law in all jurisdictions is clear: Such an MSJ simply cannot be denied, and it's a "nondiscretionary" ruling. It's about as clear and universal as law can get, like "three strikes and you're out" in baseball.

But Joiner could not get it right, and he denied all three MSJs.

The law in the McGarity lawsuit was the equivalent of 2 + 2 = 4. Here's how easy it was:

"When a party opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment offers no evidence to contradict that presented by the movant, trial court MUST consider the movant's evidence uncontroverted, with no genuine issue of material fact existing." Voyager Guar. Ins. Co., Inc. v. Brown 631 So. 2d 848 (Ala., 1993).

I've seen lowland gorillas at the Birmingham Zoo who could have gotten that ruling right. But Joiner and Swatek have been golf buddies for years, scratching each other on the back (and God knows where else), and so . . . Carol and I learned that the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (you know, the one about "equal protection" and "due process" and all that junk) means absolutely zero in Shelby County, Alabama. Doing favors for crooked lawyers like Bill Swatek--who probably have done unspeakable favors for you--is the guiding principle for judges like J. Michael Joiner.

Judge J. Michael Joiner
In February 2011, Gov. Bentley had every reason to know Mike Joiner was crooked. If the governor didn't know that, he could have assigned someone to contact a few lawyers in Jefferson County, and they would have told plenty of stories about Joiner in action.

But Bentley didn't care. The appointment wasn't about finding the best candidate for the job--or even a modestly qualified candidate for the job. It was about taking the easy route--appointing someone that Bentley knew thought like him, talked a phony religious game like him, and has "values" like his.

One of those values, we now know, involves skirting the law when it seems expedient. It's all about serving the interests of one's "tribe," whether it benefits Alabama or not.

Speaking of "values," the Joiner appointment was the second time in less than a month as governor that Bentley had shown a skewed, narrow world view. The first came on Inauguration Day, when he told an audience that those who had not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior were not his "brothers and sisters,"

The "brothers and sisters" comment drew national and international news coverage. The Joiner appointment received very little attention, even in Alabama. Here, from a post dated Feb. 8, 2011, is our take on the two subjects:

Bentley has said that he intends to be governor for everyone in Alabama. But this is the second time in his brief reign that Bentley has made statements or taken actions that indicate he is captive to his own narrow world view. On his inauguration day, Bentley generated national news when he said that those who have not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior are not his "brothers and sisters." Bentley later admitted that he was speaking in the language of his personal faith, apparently oblivious to the fact that not everyone subscribes to his particular form of Christianity.

The Joiner appointment is not likely to generate much news, but it is much more important than the "brothers and sisters" story in terms of what it says about Bentley. This appointment is an example of "homerism," of provincial thinking at its worst. Bentley is from the Shelby County town of Columbiana, which serves as the county seat and has been Joiner's base of operations since he became a judge in 1992. Joiner is a lifelong resident of Shelby County, and his family roots are planted all around the Columbiana area. In fact, he has so many relatives there that one section is called Joinertown. . . .

Joiner became a judge, and keeps easily getting re-elected, because half of south Shelby County is related to him. It certainly is not because of his qualifications or performance.

Bentley appointed Joiner simply because he is well known in the governor's hometown. It's a classic example of small-minded thinking, exactly the kind of thing that Alabama does not need.

What should we learn from this? Well, it tells me that Robert Bentley didn't suddenly become corrupt when he first espied Rebekah Mason, her butt swishing and her boobs swaying.

Nope, Robert Bentley was corrupt long before that.


Anonymous said...

Joiner looks like a pal of Bill Pryor of bad puppy fame. God help Alabama.

Anonymous said...

Excellent reporting, Mr. Schnauzer. You found a relatively small blurb and was able to show us how it reflected on Bentley's judgment--or lack of judgment.

Anonymous said...

I wonder how many people Joiner screwed over during his time as a judge in Shelby County. I know three people who had cases before him, and the experience left all of them shaking their heads.

Anonymous said...

Joiner's picture is scarier than the one you ran of Erik Harp. Jeebers!

Anonymous said...

At least of the pictures might make you wonder how many duncles in his family tree.

Anonymous said...

He doesnt look like a smart man.

Anonymous said...

What is it with cross-eyed judges in Alabama? Is it some sort of requirement?