Friday, July 29, 2016

U.S. Judge Madeline Haikala threw out charges against officer in Sureshbhai Patel matter, based on a case that does not come close to supporting her finding

U.S. Judge Madeline Haikala
(Third in a series)

For more than two years, the news has been littered with cases of police brutality. When gunmen in Dallas and Baton Rouge recently opened fire on cops, it added a new element to the equation -- citizens fighting back against a law-enforcement apparatus they see as out of control.

Still, when it comes to cops vs. citizens, the playing field hardly is even. A recent study showed that 97 percent of officers in violence cases never face criminal charges. An Alabama case from earlier this year shows that, in the rare case where a cop winds up in criminal court, he is likely to benefit from judges' dubious rulings.

Consider U.S. Judge Madeline Haikala, in the Northern District of Alabama. She cited a case that is more than 30 years old to throw out criminal charges against Alabama officer Eric Parker in the body slamming of Sureshbhai Patel, a grandfather from India. Unfortunately for Haikala--and citizens who trust her to apply the law appropriately--the case does not remotely support her decision to grant the defense's Motion for a Judgment of Acquittal.

In fact, the case law in question--United States v. Bell, 678 F. 2d 547 (5th Cir., 1982)--does not even address the issues raised in Patel. We've shown that Haikala repeatedly failed to view the facts in favor of the non-moving party (the prosecution) -- and the government's hands are tied because the Double Jeopardy Clause prevents an appeal. Now, we have a second glaring reason Haikala should be overturned on appeal -- if one were allowed.

How severely did Haikala butcher the law in the Patel case? Her 92-page opinion is a hatchet job from start to finish, and let's consider the implications. It allows a thuggish police officer to go free on a criminal charge for which the evidence strongly suggests he is guilty. Worse than that, Haikala unilaterally tried to ensure that Parker will not even have to face a third jury--one that might be capable of reaching a verdict after two previous juries deadlocked.

That seemingly leaves Patel, and the public, with zero chance for justice at the federal criminal level -- even though Parker still faces a civil complaint. (A state misdemeanor criminal charge has been dropped.)

How does Haikala attempt to justify unlawfully throwing out the criminal charges against Officer Parker? The answer is found, for the most part, on pages 51-52 of her ruling. (See full opinion at the end of this post.)

The standard for considering a motion for entry of a judgment of acquittal requires the Court to draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the Government. When evidence is subject to multiple interpretations, some of which favor the Government and some of which favor the defense, the Court has construed the evidence in the light most favorable to the Government. However, when evidence is unfavorable to the Government, but is not ambiguous, the Court is not required to ignore it. When critical gaps appear in the Government’s case, the Court is not required to turn a blind eye to them. On the contrary, the law requires the Court to consider the objective reasonableness of Officer Parker’s use of force within the totality of the circumstances. The Court has viewed the full expanse of evidence concerning the use of force and is left with the firm conviction that the evidence concerning use of force in this case is not adequate to support a unanimous verdict of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. When, as here, “a hypothesis of innocence is sufficiently reasonable and sufficiently strong, then a reasonable trier of fact must necessarily entertain a reasonable doubt about guilt.” United States v. Bell, 678 F.2d 547, 550 (5th Cir. 1982) (Anderson, J., concurring) aff'd, 462 U.S. 356 (1983). Viewing the relevant evidence in the light most favorable to the Government, the Court has determined that that evidence could not be accepted by twelve jurors as adequate and sufficient to support the conclusion of Officer Parker’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

The Bell case had nothing to do with a Motion to Acquit. It was about sufficiency of the evidence upon which a jury found Bell guilty of violating the federal bank-robbery statute. It also was about the findings of a jury, not the unilateral ruling of a judge. Here is the key section from Bell:

Bell also argues that the evidence is insufficient to support his conviction unless it excludes every reasonable hypothesis of innocence, on the theory that if there is such a reasonable hypothesis the jury must necessarily have had reasonable doubt of his guilt. . . .

We hold that the appellant has incorrectly stated the standard of review for sufficiency of the evidence. It is not necessary that the evidence exclude every reasonable hypothesis of innocence or be wholly inconsistent with every conclusion except that of guilt, provided a reasonable trier of fact could find that the evidence establishes guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. A jury is free to choose among reasonable constructions of the evidence. Viewing the evidence presented in this case and the inferences that may be drawn from it in the light most favorable to the government . . . we conclude that it was sufficient to allow a reasonable jury to find that Bell altered the endorsement on the check, deposited it to his account, and thereby was enabled to take and did take $10,000 with intent to steal from the care, custody, control, management or possession of Dade Federal.

What did the court decide in Bell?

(1) A JURY is free to choose among reasonable constructions of the evidence;

(2) The JURY's decision to convict Bell was reasonable and supported by sufficient evidence.

What did the Bell court say about a judge's ruling on a Motion to Acquit? Not one thing. So how does that case support Haikala's ruling, as she claims? It doesn't.

Are you scratching your head? You should be. And by the way, welcome to the legal world of Alabama.

(To be continued)

Previously in the series:

(1) Here's the flip side of police-brutality cases -- July 13, 2016

(2) Federal judge in Alabama shows how cops tend to get favorable treatment in court -- July 18, 2016

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Conservative tribalism, which places loyalty to the "tribe" over loyalty to country, was on flagrant display at the Mike Hubbard criminal trial in Alabama

"Yella Fella" Jimmy Rane: Part of Mike Hubbard's tribe
The Mike Hubbard trial in Alabama, which ended with the former House Speaker being convicted on 12 counts of violating state ethics law, clearly was a major legal and political event in the state's history. But the trial also was a virtual greenhouse for sociological trends that threaten the state's prosperity going forward.

We already have examined a concept we call "The New Confederacy" and it's role in the Hubbard case. Now, we turn our attention to "Conservative Tribalism," which might have played an even more prominent role in the trial.

Conservative Tribalism, to a great extent, is at the heart of the legal difficulties that my wife, Carol, and I have experienced for roughly 16 years and gave rise to this blog.

What do we mean by tribalism? Here is one of the most useful definitions I've seen:

Tribalism is the state of being organized in, or advocating for, a tribe or tribes. In terms of conformity, tribalism may also refer in popular cultural terms to a way of thinking or behaving in which people are more loyal to their tribe than to their friends, their country, or any other social group.

For our purposes, the key element is this: Members of a tribe are more loyal to that unit than to most anything else, including their country and its laws, constitutions, and governing concepts. In our experience, tribalism has been particularly evident among those who identify as conservative. But I have little doubt that liberal and moderate tribes are out there as well.

How is this for irony? George W. Bush, our most recent "conservative" president, led us into wars in two countries -- Afghanistan and Iraq -- that have been dysfunctional for decades (centuries?) largely because of tribalism. Bush supposedly tried to bring democracy to countries where it had almost no chance to thrive -- because tribalism was likely to keep it from taking root.

How was tribalism on display at the Hubbard trial? Remember all the businessmen -- Jimmy Rane (Great Southern Wood), Rob Burton (Hoar Construction), Will Brooke (Business Council of Alabama), and more -- who testified that they gave Hubbard "things of value," not because he was Speaker of the House but because they considered him a friend.

In fact, that mantra -- "Mike is my friend; I love him like a brother" -- was pretty much the only defense Hubbard had. Defense attorney Bill Baxley made almost no effort to dispute the prosecution's version of the facts.

What were the business executives saying when they declared their undying friendship for Mike Hubbard? They were essentially saying this: "We are all part of the same tribe with Mike. We do favors for him, he does favors for us, and we all get rich from that arrangement. Alabama statutes might say Mike's actions were criminal, but that's not the case at all. We have the kind of tribal friendship that goes beyond business and politics."

How has tribalism manifested itself in our lives? You might say Carol and I, without ever intending to do so, have crossed swords with the "parental tribe."

Let me make clear that we are not "anti parent." We don't have children, but we've been around enough people who do that we understand, and appreciate, that parenting is challenging and profoundly important work.

But we've discovered that, at least in postmodern America, some parents act like they are members of a tribe. They want to set their own ground rules, and if you question it, they can quickly gather forces and attack with ferocity. If their rules conflict with state and federal laws -- not to mention simple common courtesies -- well that's tough. You are to treat their rules with deference and obedience, or they will make your life miserable and try to banish you from the scene. If you try to argue that they are acting outside the law and societal norms, you are wasting your breath. Certain parents, apparently by virtue of having procreated, are always right -- especially on matters of children and family.

Here's how it played out in our situation: A couple named Larry and Lucille Lisenbee moved in next door to us around 1992. They seemed like nice people and had two young boys, Shannon and Nathan. Larry and Lucille told us they had moved to Birmingham from Mississippi mainly to enroll their children in the private and conservative Briarwood Christian School. That hinted to us that we probably weren't going to be on the same political page with them. But their political, educational, and religious choices were fine with us -- and they were none of our business -- so we looked forward to having a pleasant, neighborly relationship.

They did some nice things for us, and we tried to return the favor. Unlike the criminally inclined Mike McGarity, who arrived on the other side of us about six years later, the Lisenbees asked us if it would be OK for their kids to come on our yard to retrieve balls and such while they were playing. We said that would be fine, and I'm guessing the boys spent more time in our yard than they did their own over a two-year period or so.

Things started to get dicey when we came home from work one day to find Nathan (the oldest boy) kicking balls up against our garage window, intentionally trying to tease and torment our schnauzer, Murphy, who was minding her own business -- inside a pen, in her own garage.

Larry Lisenbee apparently saw this unfold, so there was no question about what happened. The boys and the parents apologized, we accepted their apology, and said we were fine with the boys continuing to come on our yard. In other words, we forgave them once.

For reasons I'll never quite understand, Nathan Lisenbee continued to act out several times on our property, to the point of acting disrespectfully toward both Carol and Murphy. I went over to the Lisenbee home one evening to express my concerns -- but this time I was met with denials and statements that more or less tried to blame any issues on us. When I said that Carol had told me in considerable detail what Nathan had done, Lucille said, "Well, Nathan said he didn't do it, and of course, I'm going to believe my son."

I made a mental note to myself: "If a parent is going to take an 8-year-old's word (I'm guessing at his age) over ours -- about events that happened on our property -- that's a sign of future trouble. If the boy claims I dropped my trousers in front of him, is the parent going to believe that?"

I left that night with this message: "I think we need to take a break from the boys having full access to our yard. If you can think of a solution that would prevent objects from flying over here, we'd be willing to consider that. If their stuff comes over, I would be glad to pick it up when I see it and throw it back. If one of us isn't out, you can call us, and we'll throw it back. But for at least a few weeks, I don't want the boys on our property. We'll see how things go from there."

Well, things didn't go so well from there. Carol, Murphy, and I were going for a walk one night when we came upon Lucille (and maybe one of the boys; I can't remember). We waved at them, and they walked right by us without any acknowledgement -- as if we didn't exist.

I called a day or two later and told Lucille that access to our yard now was denied, permanently. She said that Nathan had admitted to what he had done, and I said that's fine, but a trust had been broken, and our yard was now off limits to their kids.

That's where tribalism entered the picture. We saw Lucille talking in animated tones with several neighbors, Our impression was that she was stabbing us in the back -- and probably failing to note that Nathan had done exactly what Carol said he'd done. This was pretty much confirmed when McGarity moved in on the other side and made several references to the Lisenbees (who had moved by then), claiming that we hated children or some such rubbish.

Before long, McGarity, his kids, and guests were trespassing on our property at an almost daily rate. Our requests that they stay away were met with threats, sassing, and general infantilism from a grown man with two kids.

When our problems with McGarity finally led to him suing us . . . well, we were pretty shook up, especially since the guy had proven that trying to reason with him was fruitless. It was our first experience with being sued, and we did not enjoy it, right off the bat.

The couple that lived across the street, Bob and Karen Caldwell, had always seemed reasonable and pleasant, so we went over to their house one night after receiving the lawsuit. The Caldwells have a daughter, Helen, who attends Yale University (or I assume she still does), so obviously there are some brain cells present in the family. But you wouldn't have known it from our conversation that night.

We mentioned that McGarity's presence since the beginning had been upsetting, after he had sassed and threatened me and built a fence that took up almost 400 square feet of our property. "Roger, Mike's fence wasn't over on your yard," Bob Caldwell said.

Carol and I probably looked like we had seen an apparition. "Bob, you want to look at the survey we had done that shows his fence was on our yard?" Carol said. Bob Caldwell didn't have much of an answer to that, except to claim such encroachments are no big deal -- never mind that you lose the property if you don't do something about it.

I made a mental note to myself: "This guy is so arrogant that he actually thinks he knows more about the status of our property than we do."

At some point, Karen Caldwell chimed in with this: "Well, Roger, it's really God's property."

I had always seen Karen Caldwell as a pretty enlightened, intelligent person, so I was not sure how to respond to such a statement.

I made another mental note to myself: "Best I can tell, Karen, God created our property, your property, all the property on earth -- and any other planets. But last time I checked, our mortgage is made out to Carol and me -- and the mortgage company expects us, not God, to pay it. By the way, where are you and all these other neighbors when it comes time to pay the mortgage, or mow the lawn, or pick up brush, or clean up storm debris? Since all of you seem to want to use our yard, have any of you offered to help pay for it or maintain it?"

What did we learn from the whole unpleasant experience, from which we still are feeling the fallout? To some folks, their parental tribe is more important than your property rights; than local, state, and federal laws; than your basic self worth.

Our property was vandalized at least a half dozen times during this period. Did any of the neighbors express concern about that? Nope. One guy, Rob Murray, almost walked right over Carol and Murphy one morning while we were on a walk. He went out of his way to walk on the wrong side of the street and tried to intimidate my wife and dog. Did he ever apologize? Nope. Will he ever apologize for such disgusting behavior? I guess not, since he died several years ago.

All of this could have been resolved, of course, if any of the parents had acted like an adult and tried to help the kids find an alternative place to play -- perhaps explaining that we had property rights that weren't to be interfered with, that we and our rights were deserving of respect.

That, however, would have taken a little work and consideration on the parents' part. But they didn't want to go there, they didn't want to take responsibility for the kids they had brought into the world. It was easier, and probably more fun, to bully and harass us.

Was that mindset present at the Mike Hubbard trial? I think the answer is yes. I think the mindset was, "Yes, the state has ethics law, but we are all part of the business and political elites. We have important business to tend to, so we shouldn't have to be bothered with laws that govern everyone else."

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Ashley Madison customers, unhappy at being outed here, have created a fake AM profile for me -- and I'm hearing from women who are warm for my form

New Ashley Madison logo: "Find Your Moment"
How do Ashley Madison (AM) customers, or their supporters, deal with a reporter who has written about their presence on the extramarital-affair Web site? Based on my experience, their go-to move is to create fake profiles of the reporter at AM?

Now, that's clever, isn't it? If a reporter writes, accurately, about your attempts to cheat on your spouse, you respond by creating fake profiles to suggest, falsely, the reporter is trying to cheat on his spouse.

All of this raises a question: What kind of sorry-ass people are attracted to Ashley Madison? They go there in an effort to cheat on their spouses. Then, when they fear their unsavory activity might become public, they manufacture bogus profiles of the journalist involved. In other words, they try to cheat on the front end and try to cheat on the back end. They are, it seems, cheaters in every sense of the word.

As the reporter who probably has unmasked more AM customers than any other journalist -- and we have many more unmaskings to come -- I've apparently become a thorn in the side to certain elites who thought they could dabble with infidelity and walk away unscathed. I use the term "elites" because our reporting has focused on AM customers who enjoy an exalted status in society -- lawyers, doctors, bankers, CEOs, wealth managers, etc.

That suggests elites probably are behind the bogus profiles that have been set up for me at AM. Could this have legal implications? I'm not sure, but it smells of identity theft, defamation, perhaps more. I intend to check with legal resources and/or law enforcement on the matter.

I first became aware of bogus AM profiles in my name after I wrote posts that revealed Birmingham attorneys Edgar Gentle III and Stewart Springer were customers at the site. The Gentle and Springer posts were published on March 8-9. At 7:51 p.m. on March 9, I received an e-mail with the header: "Welcome to Day 1 of our your Ashley Madison experience."

"Oh, how exciting, I'm getting a free 'experience' on the Web," I thought at first. Then I realized I hadn't signed up for Ashley Madison and had no interest in doing so. We received several comments at the blog -- anonymous, of course -- from folks who seemed happy to "take credit" for making it appear that I was an AM customer.

They might not be so happy before too long. I definitely intend to find out if these pranksters have crossed any legal lines.

Over the next few days, I received messages from several AM "babes" who apparently were just dying to meet me. "CountryCutie16," age 31 from Cleveland, Georgia, was hot for my bod. So was "Scarlet3," age 21 from Atlanta, Georgia. What is it with chicks from Georgia who are young enough to be my daughter?

But it didn't stop there. "Nearlythere2020," age 41 from Atlanta, was warm for my form -- and she is African-American. (Got to love diversity!)  Finally, we had an Alabama girl who could not wait to get her hands on me. That was "Looking932016," age 29, from Killen, Alabama. At 6-0, 190 pounds, she might be able to beat me up.

After messages from bedazzled women started slowing down, I figured the prank was over. But yesterday, at 9:14 a.m., I received a message from Ashley Madison that said "Welcome Back!" It included the new AM logo, which encouraged me to "Find Your Moment." Now I'm confused; I thought I was supposed to "Have an affair" because "Life is short."

The new missive came six days after I had reported that businessman Michael E. Stephens, who owns one of the most expensive houses in Alabama, was an AM customer. I sense a pattern: Roger reports on an Alabama (or Missouri) elite who appears at Ashley Madison, and someone creates a fake profile, suggesting Roger appears at Ashley Madison.

What a fun game we have. But someone might find out before too long that it's not so much fun.

Either way, messages should start flooding in again -- from women who want me in the worst way -- and I'll be sure to keep you updated. I guess we're all just trying to "find our moment," whatever that is.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Court documents show lawyers from Maynard Cooper Gale are filing documents filled with false statements. to defend Gov. Bentley -- on taxpayers' dime

Offices of Maynard Cooper Gale in downtown Birmingham
Taxpayers are on the hook for up to $200,000 in legal fees to defend Gov. Robert Bentley and Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) chief Stan Stabler in a lawsuit brought by former ALEA chief Spencer Collier. What are taxpayers getting for that money? They are getting a law firm -- Birmingham-based Maynard Cooper Gale (MCG) -- whose attorneys have lied in court documents, apparently in a desperate attempt to keep their clients from having to face discovery in the Collier case.

Since taxpayers are paying the bill, do they have a right to know how MCG is using that money? My answer is yes. Do they have a right to expect that MCG will represent Bentley and Stabler in an honest fashion? My answer, again, is yes. Are taxpayers getting the kind of legal services they have every right to expect? Absolutely not.

How do we know? It takes a close examination of the Motion to Dismiss MCG filed on behalf of Bentley and Stabler. It includes citations to law that are . . . well, "fanciful" is one word that comes to mind. "Creative" is another. "Fraudulent" is another. (Motion to Dismiss is embedded at the end of this post.)

Three MCG lawyers -- John Neiman Jr., Stephanie Houston Mays, and Mark D. Foley Jr. -- claim Bentley and Stabler are protected by sovereign immunity and should be dismissed from Collier's lawsuit. Here is probably the key argument, found on page 7 of the 13-page motion to dismiss:

Collier attempts to plead his way around state-agent immunity by alleging that the Governor’s actions “were willful, malicious, fraudulent, in bad faith and/or beyond [his]authority.” But the absolute sovereign immunity of constitutional officers does not have a “bad-faith” exception in suits for monetary damages.

The lawyers essentially are claiming the law protects Bentley's pocket book (and Stabler's) and frees him from the lawsuit, even when he acts in bad faith -- with willful, malicious, or fradulent intent, beyond his authority, The lawyers cite nine cases that supposedly support this proposition. But there is a slight problem: The cases do not say what the MCG lawyers claim they say.

The MCG lawyers are lying to the court, lying to the opposing party, and lying to taxpayers who are paying their fees.

A case styled Ex parte Cranman, 792 So.2d 392 (Ala. 2000), restated the rule governing state-agent immunity 16 years ago, making it probably the most important case on the subject in Alabama history. Here is a key finding from Cranman:

A State agent shall not be immune from civil liability in his or her personal capacity. . . .

(2) when the State agent acts willfully, maliciously, fraudulently, in bad faith, beyond his or her authority, or under a mistaken interpretation of the law."

In other words, Collier makes a correct citation to law -- showing that Bentley and Stabler are not protected by sovereign immunity when they act in bad faith, etc. -- and Bentley's lawyers are trying to muddy the waters by citing nine cases for a holding they do not make.

How do the MCG lawyers try to execute this little con game? First, we must recall that they are trying to convince the court that nine different cases support this proposition: "The absolute sovereign immunity of constitutional officers does not have a “bad-faith” exception in suits for monetary damages."

Let's look at one of the nine cases the lawyers for Bentley cite. It is styled Alexander v. Hatfield, 652 So. 2d 1142 - Ala: Supreme Court 1994, and Team Bentley claims the above proposition is found in section 1144. Here is what section 1144 of Alexander says:

We have also held that deputy sheriffs are immune from suit to the same extent as sheriffs. "In general, the acts of the deputy sheriff are the acts of the sheriff. The deputy sheriff is the alter ego of the sheriff." Carr v. City of Florence, Alabama, 916 F.2d 1521, 1526 (11th Cir.1990) . . . "[Under Alabama law, a] deputy is legally an extension of the sheriff. If the deputy's acts are generally considered the acts of the sheriff, it is logical that those acts should enjoy the same immunity covering the sheriff's own acts." Carr, at 1526, quoted with approval in Wright v. Bailey, at 303.

In this case, none of the exceptions set out in Parker v. Amerson applies. Deputy Hatfield was on duty when she left the papers at Alexander's place of employment. Therefore, the summary judgment in favor of Deputy Hatfield, individually and in her official capacity, was proper, based on the sovereign immunity granted under Article I, § 14, of the Alabama Constitution of 1901.

Does this say anywhere that there is no "bad faith exception in suits for monetary damages"? No, it does not, and it does not say that at any point in the Alexander opinion. It also does not say that in any of the other eight cases Bentley's lawyers cite.

This is a crafty tactic of the unethical lawyer, a tactic I've seen many times in my own court battles. The lawyer cites a certain case, claims it says such and such . . . then, when you look up the case, it says no such thing.

Bentley and Stabler are relying on sleazy, corrupt lawyers to represent them. And taxpayers are being forced to pick up the tab. Taxpayers should be flooding the offices of Maynard Cooper Gale with complaints about the underhanded use of state funds.

Dispute over trust funds in the Atlanta-based family behind Orkin Pest Control is headed for a jury trial

An illustration of the Rollins family
A dispute about trust funds in one of the South's wealthiest families will go to a jury trial. A trial court in Atlanta had dismissed claims from four adult grandchildren of the late co-founder of Rollins Inc., but a Georgia appellate court found the case presents issues of fact that should be presented to a jury.

Rollins Inc., the parent company of Orkin Pest Control, is headed by billionaire brothers Gary W. and R. Randall Rollins. They are the sons of the late O. Wayne Rollins, who founded the company with his brother, the late John W. Rollins Sr.

The plaintiffs in the court case are Gary Rollins' children. They claim their father and uncle engaged in bad-faith actions that deprived them of access to trust accounts.

Why does the case, which has been litigated for six years, have special interest here at Legal Schnauzer? We explained in a December 2014 post:

The John Rollins side of the family is based mostly in Delaware and the Carolinas, and it includes Ted Rollins, who recently was removed as CEO of Campus Crest Communities. Ted Rollins has been the subject of numerous posts here at Legal Schnauzer, mainly because of his central role in a grossly unlawful divorce case in Shelby County, Alabama, from his second wife, Birmingham resident Sherry Carroll Rollins. Also, Ted Rollins has student-housing developments at four Alabama campuses (South Alabama, Troy, Jacksonville State, and Auburn), even though he has a criminal conviction for assault from the brutal beating of his stepson.

Ted Rollins is not directly involved in the Georgia lawsuit, but the controversy involves billions of dollars and attracted the attention of Forbes magazine, with reporter Clare O'Connor producing a major investigative report. What will be at stake at trial? The Daily Report, of Atlanta, reports:

"This case turns on claims of breach of fiduciary duty and breach of trust," (appellate judge William Ray II wrote). "A jury could find evidence of bad faith." 
Orkin owner Rollins died in 1991, leaving an estate that Forbes magazine estimated to be worth $8 billion. If Forbes was correct, the 11 heirs— two sons and nine grandchildren—stood to inherit more than $700 million each.

In 2010, four of the grandchildren—Glen, Ruth, Nancy and O. Wayne II—sued their father, Orkin CEO Gary Rollins, and their uncle, Chairman R. Randall Rollins. The younger generation accused their father and uncle of manipulating accounting records, making improper investments and setting a subjective conduct-based standard for inheritance. They contended the restrictions violated their grandfather's directions to share equally.

After the trial judge's initial decision in favor of the father and uncle on all but one claim, both sides appealed. This was the third trip to the Georgia Court of Appeals on various issues. The most recent review was ordered by the Georgia Supreme Court, which prescribed a different standard of review for the conduct of the father and uncle.

"Even evaluating Gary and Randall's actions under the more lenient partnership standard (as opposed to the more stringent trustee standard), a jury could find evidence of bad faith," Ray wrote.

The appellate ruling means Rollins family business practices likely will be exposed to the public in a way that never has happened before::

H. Lamar Mixson of Bondurant, Mixson and Elmore, lead counsel for the grandchildren, called the decision an important victory for his clients.

"The bottom line is the court of appeals correctly recognized factual questions that must be decided by a jury," Mixson said. "We look forward to that as soon as possible."

Instead of their full inheritance at age 45—and partnership in the Rollins Investment Fund—as prescribed by their grandfather, Mixson said his clients "got paper and no money" on their birthdays. After they filed their lawsuit, Mixson said they were "cut off entirely" from their trust disbursements. Also, he said, Glen Rollins was fired from his job as president of Orkin.

The case boils down to a battle over an estate estimated at $8 billion. That should make for an interesting jury trial.

Monday, July 25, 2016

With the Republican Party of "family values" in town, Cleveland male escorts see their business take a dramatic leap upward from closeted conservative gays

Last week's Republican National Convention (RNC) probably was a horror show for rational citizens who still have hope for our country. But a certain class of folks -- gay male escorts -- must have loved it. That's because their business went through the roof.

Male escorts were making "crazy money," according to a headline in The New York Post. From the report:
Male prostitutes contacted by The Post said business is booming and Republican National Convention attendees — most of them married — are clamoring for their services.

“Business has been way better. I’ve seen 10 clients so far,” one male escort said.

“Most of them were first-timers. You could tell they were nervous, but once they became more comfortable, they seemed to be having a good time.”

Business was particularly strong near Quicken Loans Arena, home to the RNC. Reports The Post:

Another escort said he had already earned $1,600 since Monday — over six times the amount he usually makes.

“I normally only make $200 to $300, but I’ve been seeing lots of guys in hotels downtown,” he said, noting the boom in business near the Quicken Loans Arena.

How did escorts describe their johns? They were mostly white guys, many of them from the South:

The clientele has included mostly married white men between the ages of 40 and 50, said another escort who’s seen eight johns so far.

“One of them was from Texas and visiting for the convention. He said he was a politician,” he said, claiming he didn’t remember the client’s name.

One gigolo who charges $250 an hour said he’s been making about $800 per day since the convention kicked off — all from men visiting from Florida, Louisiana and Washington, DC.

“Usually I need to go out of town,” he said with a chuckle.

At least one client was into pretty kinky stuff:

Most men paid to have sex, but one client requested to “do his business in the corner” while watching his wife in bed with the escort.

One of the hookers said he wasn’t surprised that the convention — filled with politicians who openly oppose gay marriage — brought such a boom in business.

“When it comes to anything people aren’t supposed to be doing, they like to do it,” the escort said.

“The Republicans have a lot of delegates in the closet, let’s put it that way.”

What about female escorts? Well, they were pretty lonely with the GOP in town:

When contacted by The Post, females for hire said they’re making much less money than normal.

“Has business been better for me? Honestly, no,” one woman said before abruptly hanging up the phone.

“Business is slower than usual,” said another. “I haven’t been getting any calls.”

At least one GOP wife took part in the "festivities" on the shores of Lake Erie. But our guess is that most wives have no idea what their "conservative" hubbies were doing during convention week. You have to feel for those with a husband who brings home a "gift" -- something like gonorrhea, chlamydia, herpes.

Those closeted GOP gays are a thoughtful bunch of guys.

Sovereign immunity should not protect Bentley in lawsuit from former ALEA chief Spencer Collier

Spencer Collier, with Robert Bentley (background, left)
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley has refused to answer discovery in a lawsuit against him, claiming that he is protected from suit by the doctrine of sovereign immunity. Does Bentley have a point? He has a legal defense that is worth raising, one that most any state agent likely would bring under similar circumstances. But will Bentley prevail on the issue and find himself dismissed from former Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) chief Spencer Collier's lawsuit? Our research suggests the answer is no.

Bentley fired Collier in March, and Collier responded with a lawsuit in April, claiming he was terminated because he knew about Bentley's extramarital affair with former advisor Rebekah Caldwell Mason, and Bentley had improperly ordered him to not give statements to prosecutors in the public corruption case against House Speaker Mike Hubbard. After being terminated, Collier stated publicly that he had seen evidence of the Bentley/Mason affair.

What is sovereign immunity? That's not an easy question to answer. A case styled Alabama State University v. Stacy Danley (Ala. Sup. Ct., 2016) provides a fairly concise answer. It boils down, mainly, to the source of damages if a plaintiff prevails; such damages generally cannot come from the state. Wrote the Danley court:

To determine whether an action against a State officer is, in fact, one against the State, this Court considers "whether 'a result favorable to the plaintiff would directly affect a contract or property right of the State . . . whether the defendant is simply a 'conduit' through which the plaintiff seeks recovery of damages from the State . . . and whether 'a judgment against the officer would directly affect the financial status of the State treasury,'

That last one, highlighted in yellow, seems to be the key consideration. But Collier appears to be seeking damages from Bentley, as an individual, and not (directly or indirectly) from the state.

Still, suing a governor is not easy, as made clear in Wheeler v. George, 39 So. 3d 1061 (Ala. Sup. Ct., 2009). In that case, the governor in question was Don Siegelman. The case involved procurement of property for a Hyundai plant:

The matters made the basis of the claims against then Governor Siegelman . . .  in causing the State to fund the purchase of the Shelton property for Hyundai, stem from actions taken while he was executing the duties of his office. Alabama courts have "consistently held that a claim for monetary damages made against a constitutional officer in the officer's individual capacity is barred by State immunity whenever the acts that are the basis of the alleged liability were performed within the course and scope of the officer's employment."

The highlighted section, we believe is where Bentley runs into trouble. Based on news reports, here is a key component of Collier's complaint. (See complaint at the end of this post.)

The complaint – as Collier has alleged from the beginning – says he was punished by Bentley, at the direction of Mason, because he refused to lie to the attorney general's office about prosecutorial misconduct alleged by the defense in the case of Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard.

Is it "within the course and scope" of Bentley's employment to interfere with a state prosecution? It's hard to imagine that it would be. Collier also could make the argument that he was fired for knowing about the Bentley/Mason extramarital affair. That might lead to this question: Does the scope of Bentley's employment include fondling, groping, and talking nasty to female advisors? For some reason, we doubt it.

Here is another consideration: Alabama courts long have cited six exceptions to the protections of sovereign immunity. Here is how the Alabama Supreme Court, in Danley, phrased No. 6:

(6) actions for injunction or damages brought against State officials in their representative capacity and individually where it was alleged that they had acted fraudulently, in bad faith, beyond their authority, or in a mistaken interpretation of law.

Bentley's own attorneys, in their motion to dismiss on sovereign immunity grounds, state that "Collier attempts to plead his way around state-agent immunity by alleging that the Governor’s actions 'were willful, malicious, fraudulent, in bad faith and/or beyond [his]authority.'” That's not an attempt "to plead his way around state-agent immunity"; that is a proper statement of an exception to sovereign-immunity protection.

At the very least, Collier should overcome Bentley's motion to dismiss and be able to conduct discovery -- seeking answers to interrogatories, depositions, and production of documents -- in order to overcome the hurdle of summary judgment and prove his case.

If the court follows the actual law -- and that's always a big "if" in Alabama courts -- Bentley's efforts to hide behind the cloak of sovereign immunity should fail.

Friday, July 22, 2016

About the only news from the Republican National Convention came when former AG Michael Mukasey endorsed a political prosecution of Hillary Clinton

Michael Mukasey at GOP Convention
This week's Republican National Convention (RNC) might have been the biggest waste of air time in the history of television. Do citizens want to see the moral and emotional collapse of a major political party -- as personified by the nomination of a horrifyingly unqualified Donald Trump? Maybe they do. After all, we're the country that gave the world a TV series called Jackass.

Despite its tedium and general lack of news value, the RNC did produce one extremely important story. In fact, I would argue that it illuminates one of the two most important issues mankind faces -- (1) Global climate change (see recent story with headline "Hottest ever June marks 14th month of record-breaking temperatures."); and (2) The collapse of the U.S. justice system.

Republicans, of course, aren't about to touch climate change. But one of their speakers, his words largely unreported or ignored, did inadvertently provide overwhelming evidence of our justice system's decay. In fact, Michael Mukasey, a former attorney general under George W. Bush, more or less stated (when taken in light of his past actions) that he believes in prosecuting people for political reasons, especially if that person's name is Hillary Clinton. (See video of full speech at the end of this post.)

The main point behind Mukasey's convention speech was to trash Clinton, the Democratic nominee for president, and whine about the Justice Department's recent decision not to prosecute her for using a private e-mail server while acting as U.S. Secretary of State -- the same thing Republican secretaries of state Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice had done.

The gist of Mukasey's harangue can be summed up from this report at Politico, which holds the appropriate headline "Mukasey slams Clinton on email, but blocked classified leak probe in 2008." From reporter Josh Gerstein:

Ex-Attorney General Michael Mukasey used his Republican National Convention speaking slot Tuesday night to blast Hillary Clinton over her carelessness with classified information, but Mukasey helped throw a major roadblock in the path of an investigation into improper leaking of such information less than a decade ago.

"How she treated government secrets as secretary of state, and what she said before and after she was caught, sums up the case against her," Mukasey declared in Cleveland Tuesday. "Hillary Clinton is asking us, as Americans, to make her the first president to take the oath of office after already violating that oath."

Gerstein actually is letting Mukasey off easy with that passage. The nation's former "top cop" oversaw not one, but two, botched investigations that reeked of dishonesty and political machinations. Let's take a brief look at both:

The Outing of Valerie Plame

This is the focus of Gerstein's article, and it's likely the few people who saw Mukasey's speech at the RNC forgot he once helped engineer a cover-up in the outing of CIA officer Valerie Plame. How bad was it, how much disregard for the truth did Mukasey display? Gerstein reminds us:

When confronted with a congressional request for details about the leak of CIA officer Valerie Plame's identity during President George W. Bush's administration, Mukasey persuaded Bush to invoke executive privilege to keep key evidence from a House committee investigating the episode.

Mukasey's face-off with Congress followed the conclusion of Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald's criminal investigation into how Plame's identity as a CIA officer went public. Fitzgerald prosecuted no one for the leak, but charged Vice President Dick Cheney's Chief of Staff Scooter Libby with perjury, making false statements to investigators and obstruction of justice over his statements during the probe.

A jury convicted Libby on four of the five counts against him and he was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison.

Mukasey's scheming continued after the Libby trial. Writes Gerstein:

While panel Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and ranking member Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) insisted they needed that information to assess how classified information was or was not safeguarded, Mukasey insisted that concerns about the confidentiality of presidential advice and about future Justice Department investigations should take priority over the congressional inquiry, at least with respect to some information.

"The Committee insists that the Department provide it with unredacted copies of all of the subpoenaed documents except your interview report. In my view, such a production would chill deliberations among future White House officials and impede future Department of Justice criminal investigations involving official White House conduct," Mukasey wrote to Bush on July 15, 2008. "Accordingly ... it is my considered legal judgment that it would be legally permissible for you to assert executive privilege with respect to the subpoenaed documents, and I respectfully request that you do so."

In a report responding to the executive privilege invocation, Waxman and Davis called Mukasey's advice on the topic "flawed." The lawmakers said the action frustrated the panel's effort to determine "whether senior White House officials complied with requirements governing the handling of classified information" - a quite similar focus to the charges Mukasey and other Republicans have leveled at Clinton. . . .

It was eventually shown that the first leak of Plame's identity came not from any White House official, but Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who was at odds with the White House on many issues. Neither he nor anyone else was ever charged with the leak.

In the face of a serious crime, the outing of a CIA officer, Mukasey took steps to ensure that no Republican was held accountable.

Protecting Karl Rove, and others, in the firing of U.S. attorneys

During the Bush II era, nine U.S. attorneys were fired, apparently for refusing to bring trumped-up charges against Democrats. Mukasey appointed career federal prosecutor Nora Dannehy to investigate, and she produced what one legal analyst called a "whitewash."

The Dannehy appointment was dubious from the outset, given her ties to a case where an appeals court found prosecutors had suppressed evidence. Here's how Andrew Kreig describe it, writing at the Nieman Watchdog Web site:

In September 2008, the Bush Justice Department appointed career federal prosecutor Nora Dannehy to investigate allegations that Bush officials in 2006 illegally fired nine U.S. attorneys who wouldn’t politicize official corruption investigations.

But just four days before her appointment, a federal appeals court had ruled that a team of prosecutors led by Dannehy illegally suppressed evidence in a major political corruption case in Connecticut. The prosecutors’ misconduct was so serious that the court vacated seven of the eight convictions in the case.

The ruling didn’t cite Dannehy by name, and although it was publicly reported it apparently never came up in the news coverage of her appointment.

But it now calls into question the integrity of her investigation by raising serious concerns about her credibility -- and about whether she was particularly vulnerable to political pressure from within the Justice Department.

Was Dannehy compromised to the point that she became a political tool? Kreig suggests the answer is yes:

Now, almost two years later (in 2010), Dannehy has provided arguably the most important blanket exoneration for high-level U.S. criminal targets since President George H.W. Bush pardoned six Iran-Contra convicts post-election in late 1992.

The DOJ announced on July 21 that it has “closed the case” on the nine unprecedented mid-term firings because Dannehy found no criminal wrongdoing by DOJ or White House officials.

But the official description of her inquiry indicates that she either placed or acceded to constraints on the scope of her probe that restricted it to the firing of just one of the ousted U.S. attorneys, not the others -- and not to the conduct of the U.S. attorneys who weren't ousted because they met whatever tests DOJ and the White House created.

Yes, you read that right: Of the nine U.S. attorneys fired, Dannehy examined one case, that of David Iglesias, who had served in New Mexico. Scott Horton, legal contributor at Harper's, examined the Dannehy investigation in a piece titled "Another audacious GOP whitewash." Wrote Horton:

The investigation was also marked by a process of blindering, driven by the Justice Department itself, but without any apparent pushback from Nora Dannehy, the Bush-appointed U.S. attorney in Connecticut tapped by Attorney General Mukasey to handle the probe. Rather than look at the entire U.S. attorneys scandal, Dannehy settled on a probe of a single case: that involving New Mexico U.S. Attorney David Iglesias. This is the one case in which the available evidence showed that the decision was taken by President Bush himself, in the White House. The cast of characters included Karl Rove, New Mexico Senator Pete Domenici, and New Mexico Congresswoman Heather Wilson. Executive privilege was invoked to block any meaningful investigation of what happened inside the White House, and a number of Bush officials declined to cooperate with the investigation, which explains why Dannehy could not find “sufficient evidence.”

What kind of "legacy" did Mukasey leave at the DOJ? Horton sums it up:

Nora Dannehy’s decision to take no action, coupled with all the lame rationalizations of inaction that preceded it, is another self-administered bullet wound to the integrity of the Justice Department. It makes clear that the Department has a well-honed double standard. There is one standard applied by the Department’s Public Integrity Section to political figures of the party out of power (whether Democrats or Republicans, doesn’t really matter). Minor indiscretions and fundraising gaffes will be prosecuted as crimes, usually under the “honest-services fraud” statute, using standards that three Supreme Court justices recently ridiculed as lacking any intellectual or political integrity. Conduct by Justice Department political appointees that is comparable or still worse, however, will simply be fluffed off—sometimes after lengthy internal probes designed to create the appearance that the Department takes the matter seriously. How can a Justice Department hold its own personnel to a lower standard under the law than they hold other public officials? This is a formula for disaster. Dannehy’s decision not to proceed is an open invitation to future administrations: the White House is free to manipulate the Department for political purposes, and Justice Department officials are free to lie to Congress.

Bottom line? Michael Mukasey has no business questioning the integrity of Hillary Clinton, or anyone else. Especially when you consider that FBI director James Comey admitted that none of three key e-mails in question was properly marked as classified, according to State Department rules. In other words, Clinton had no proper marking to tell her the information was classified, so Comey's decision not to prosecute was on target. Are we now expecting public officials to be mind readers? Of course not?

Even, after suggesting FBI findings would "tear holes" in Clinton's defense, ended with this whimper, in the form of an editor's note buried at the bottom of the story:

Editor's note: The day after we published this fact-check, Comey testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on July 7. Comey said he believes three emails on Clinton's server contained information labeled classified at the time they were sent. This information was not properly marked in that the emails did not have a classification header, even though a "(c)" immediately preceded text in the body of the emails, designating confidential information. Without the clear classification header, it's reasonable to infer that Clinton did not realize these three emails contained classified information, he said.

Michael Mukasey should know there was no crime in the Clinton case, but he's a political hack -- a fact he proved during his time as Bush attorney general. Put enough political hacks in positions of power, and you wind up with a justice system that resembles a cesspool. That's what we have right now -- and a democracy without justice won't be a democracy for long.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

As Robert Bentley becomes the focus of an Alabama grand jury, the management of our fleabag motel in Missouri tries to blame us for their bed-bug problem

Bed bugs
Whenever something bad happens to Gov. Robert Bentley in Alabama, it seems someone tries to make something bad happen to my wife, Carol, and me in Missouri. Is that a coincidence? Maybe, but we doubt it, given multiple reports that Bentley has unlawfully used state and federal databases in an effort to trump up criminal charges against attorney Donald Watkins and me -- the two citizen journalists who broke the story of Bentley's affair with former senior advisor Rebekah Caldwell Mason.

Does it sound loony to think "Luv Guv" Bentley might be at the heart of our struggles in the Midwest ? I'm sure to some folks, it does. But we learned one week ago that Bentley has appeared before a special grand jury convened by Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange. Now, get a load of what Carol and I have been dealing with in that time frame. Here's a hint: It involves bed bugs.

First, we need to point out that I broke the Bentley-Mason story in a post dated August 31, 2015. Nine days later, on September 9, we were unlawfully evicted from our apartment in Springfield, Missouri, even though we had filed a notice of appeal that put an automatic stay on an eviction procedure. Despite the stay, of which all lawyers involved were notified in advance, Greene County deputies burst through our door, pointed multiple assault rifles and handguns at us, and wound up shattering Carol's left arm so severely that it required trauma surgery, and she is likely to regain only 80-percent use of it. Greene County Sheriff Jim Arnott was present at the eviction, and immediately after three deputies had roughed up Carol, he pointed at her on the ground and claimed she had "assaulted a police officer." Carol even was taken to jail, only to be released when someone noticed her purple arms and ordered X-rays that showed the left one had been snapped like a twig, just above the elbow.

So, what's going on now? This one is almost funny, even to me. But the humor tends to dissipate when you and your spouse play the role of victims.

Since last September's unlawful eviction, we've been living at a pay-by-the-week, fleabag motel that we have come to call the "Shiftless Drifters Motel." It's real name is the Cloud Drift Motel. Photos on the Web suggest the Cloud Drift once was the kind of inexpensive, down-to-earth place that was popular in the '50s and '60s. You might say it possessed a touch of Americana.

But that's not the case anymore. The Cloud Drift Motel has fallen on hard times, and it apparently has been on hard times for quite some time. The clientele now appears to be down-on-their-luckers, including alcoholics, drug dealers, meth manufacturers, and folks who appear to have serious health problems and no family to help them. We've seen a number of oxygen tanks on the premises.

About two months ago, when the weather turned fairly warm here, we started noticing an occasional bug in our bed. Neither of us recognized what they were, and since they were few in number and didn't appear every night, we figured it must be some sort of seasonal creature that soon would disappear.(That's called, in the medical literature, "wishful thinking.")

Carol first raised the issue, "Could they be bed bugs?" I, not being an expert in entomology, said, "Oh, I'm pretty sure bed bugs are microscopic; you can't see them. We can definitely see these things, so I don't think they could be bed bugs."

Well, was I wrong about that. I might know a thing or two about the law, but it seems I'm pretty clueless about bugs, especially ones I've never seen before.

After researching the matter online, we became convinced they were, in fact, bed bugs. The question then became: What on earth do we do? Do we try to come up with a solution on our own? Do we contact management and let them give it a go? Our research indicated that eradicating a bed-bug problem can be a tricky and expensive exercise -- and we had neither the knowledge nor the finances to handle it.

That's when Carol notified the manager -- a woman named Allison; we don't know her last name -- only to be informed that we had caused the bed-bug problem, and we likely were going to be kicked out because of it.

I went with Carol the next day to see if I could figure out what was going on with the management's strange reaction to notice of a bed-bug problem. Among the first words out of Allison's mouth were: "You brought the bed bugs in, and you didn't notify us when you should have."

A postcard of the Cloud Drift Motel, in its better days
My response was something like this: "We have never seen a bed bug in our lives, so I don't think we brought them in. Either way, you can't know for sure that we did. In fact, neither of us has any way of knowing how they got there. And we notified you as soon as we realized what we were dealing with, and it was something we couldn't handle on our own."

I should note that we've never seen a lease or any other piece of paper that provides details on a tenant's obligations should they see bugs. We never were given any guidelines about how to respond to a bug problem.

Allison admitted that bed bugs can move from one unit to another in any multi-family facility -- and we have other units on three sides of us, plus one above us. She also admitted that the motel's pest-control guy had not checked our unit for bed bugs, as he is supposed to. This is what Allison actually said, "You guys make your bed real nice, and he said he didn't want to bother it to check for bed bugs." In other words, it was our fault because we make our bed and try to keep our apartment clean.

According to Allison, and a guy who works for the company that owns the place, we would have to leave the premises for 12-14 days while they conduct a heat treatment to kill the bed bugs and then check to make sure they are gone. We understand that we would need to get out for a few days while the treatment is done -- and they claimed they had no other unit to put us -- but two weeks or so? Our research indicates a bed-bug treatment normally doesn't take that long.

I asked Allison, "Are you saying you want us to leave and not come back?"

"Yes," she said.

"Why is that? We've been model tenants, always paid on time, etc."

"You're not welcome. You brought the bed bugs."

"You have no way of knowing how the bed bugs got there."

"Well, I'm an expert, and I know you brought the bed bugs. Plus, you're not welcome because you're arguing with me."

"I'm arguing with you because you are trying to kick US out because of YOUR bed-bug problem. You can't begin to know how they got there. But it's your property, so the bugs are your responsibility."

Being a legally minded guy, I noted that Missouri law holds that landlords and hotel-motel managers operate under a "warranty of habitability." meaning they have a duty to make sure premises are relatively clean, operable, and habitable. Allison must have taken this as a threat of a lawsuit because she said, "Well, you would lose that like you lose everything else."

That certainly was an interesting comment. Where did she get that information? Does she make it a habit to check Alabama legal records? Or is it possible that someone with knowledge of the repeated cheat jobs we've experienced in court has communicated with her? If so, who was it? Does this establish an Alabama-Missouri pipeline that explains the abuse we've experienced in the Midwest?

We're not sure about the answers to those questions, but we intend to find out. We're also not sure how the bed-bug issue will play out, although I'm quite sure we have grounds for a lawsuit if they kick us out permanently and continue with their efforts to blame us for their problem. Would we pursue such a claim? We're giving that some thought.

Bed bugs aren't the only concern at the Cloud Drift Motel. The place might be charitably called a fire trap. In July 2011, a fire at the Cloud Drift apparently was caused by individuals using a meth lab. One person was treated for smoke inhalation, but there were no other injuries. In October 2012, a man died in a fire at the Cloud Drift when he apparently was smoking in bed near oxygen tanks.

Despite its rather seedy and dangerous environment, we've enjoyed our stay at the Cloud Drift Motel for the most part -- at least until the bed bugs arrived. It's sort of a rotating cast of characters in most units, so it's hard to get to know neighbors. And I'm not sure we want to know some of them. But one neighbor and his wife have been particularly nice and helpful. You really appreciate little kindnesses when you've been dumped on for 16 years the way we have been.

A feral cat at the Cloud Drift Motel
Across the board, our neighbors at the Cloud Drift have been far nicer and less of a headache than the criminally inclined Mike McGarity and his enablers on Logan Drive in the Broken Bow South neighborhood of Birmingham. They've also been more pleasant than most of my immediate family members and a so-called "friend" or two. Lesson learned: You can meet nice people in the crappiest conditions; you can meet gigantic assholes in nice conditions.

Perhaps the nicest feature of the Cloud Drift is that it's long been a dumping ground for feral cats. Normally, that's not a good thing -- and it pains us to be surrounded by cats who have no homes. We so wish we could do something about the problem, especially since many of these cats have been around people at the Cloud Drift enough that they are almost tame. Five or six of them have gotten to where they let us pet them, or they rub up against our legs.

We sometimes hear cat fights outside our door in the middle of the night. But for the most part, these "fur babies" are pretty well behaved. And I think most of them, with a little vet care and training, could be suitable pets.

Whether we leave because of bed bugs or we decide to leave on our own, we certainly will miss the feline friends we've made at the Cloud Drift. The motel, it turns out, is like a lot of places -- the animals (except for the bugs) are great, but some of the people suck.

Here is a story and video from a Springfield TV station about the feral cats at Cloud Drift Motel:

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Ashley Madison customers revealed: Health-care exec Michael E. Stephens, the man behind one of Alabama's most expensive homes, appears at cheating Web site

Michael E. Stephens speaks at his alma mater,
the University of  Montevallo
A health-care executive, who is the man behind one of Alabama's most expensive homes, is among paying customers at the Ashley Madison extramarital-affairs Webs site, records show.

Michael E. Stephens, former executive director of Lakeshore Rehabilitation Hospital and founder of the Lakeshore Foundation, owns (or did own) the Resting S Ranch on Cahaba Valley Road (Highway 119) in North Shelby County. The 12,300-square-foot main house sits on 35 acres and is valued at $4.56 million. The entire 82-acre ranch had a list price of $11.65 million in 2011. The property has been on the market, but it's not clear from public records if it has sold.

From a report at

According to Stephens, the Resting S Ranch land used to be Indian ceremonial grounds. He raised Arabian horses there, and the ranch is equipped with a birthing barn, stalls, office, inside arena and outside round pen.

Stephens founded ReLife Inc., a nationwide Birmingham-based rehabilitation-medicine company, which sold to HealthSouth for $180-million in 1984. The business school at the University of Montevallo is named for Stephens.

Resting S Ranch
Why would a man who has enjoyed so much success in business fool around on Ashley Madison, a Web site that sends up enough red flags to fuel a Fourth of July fireworks show? The answer to that question remains unclear, but Stephens certainly appears, on the surface, to be the kind of distinguished fellow who would not fall for a site we now know was largely a con game.

Stephens was married to Deborah L. Stephens, but they divorced in 1992, public records show. He has been married to Nancy K. Stephens since at least the early 2000s, and their primary residence now is in Naples, Florida.

We contacted Rhonda Hoggle, who is Stephens' financial adviser and attorney-in-fact and has an office at 3230 Cahaba Valley Road, near the Resting S Ranch. We sought comment for this post from either Ms. Hoggle or Mr. Stephens, but neither has responded so far.


(1) Edgar C. Gentle III--attorney at Gentle Turner Sexton and Harbison, Birmingham, AL (3/8/16)

(2) Stewart Springer--attorney, solo practice in Birmingham, AL. (3/9/16)

(3) Richard W. "Dick" Bell--attorney, solo practice in Birmingham, AL (3/14/16)

(4) Robert M.N. Palmer--attorney and bar association president in Springfield, MO (3/15/16)

(5) Thomas Plouff--attorney, who is licensed in Alabama and has a practice in Chicago (3/17/16)

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

I was arrested one day after writing about Jessica Garrison's purchase of a $400,000 Mountain Brook home for $30,000, suggesting I had struck a nerve

House at 119 Main Street in Mountain Brook, AL
Most people who get arrested probably have at least some idea of why it happened. I have the distinction of being arrested on Oct. 23, 2013, in Shelby County, Alabama, and I still don't know why it happened. I clearly had not committed a crime--not even the officers who beat me up in my own garage and doused me with pepper spray suggested I had. And the officers showed no warrant and made no statements that would explain what was happening.

I do, however, have plenty of clues. Here are a few: (1) Republican political operative Rob Riley and lobbyist Liberty Duke had filed a defamation lawsuit, claiming I had written posts about them that were false and defamatory--even though they never came close to proving their case, and proceedings showed that, as a matter of law, my reporting was neither false nor defamatory; (2) Shelby County officers started showing up on our property (two and three at a time, with multiple vehicles) about 10 days after I had broken a story about U.S. Circuit Judge Bill Pryor and his ties to 1990s gay pornography. (Pryor now is on Donald Trump's list of 11 possible nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court.) (3) Retired Judge Claud Neilson, who is from Demopolis and just happens to be a long-time associate of Birmingham attorney and former state attorney general Bill Baxley, somehow was appointed to hear the Riley/Duke case and granted a preliminary injunction on material that had not (and still has not) been determined at trial, before a jury, to be defamatory. That tramples more than 200 years of First Amendment law, which prohibits such "prior restraints" on free speech in defamation cases.

I probably could list more than a dozen other clues, but for now, let's focus on what might be the most intriguing clue of all. It involves a house at 119 Main Street, in the fashionable Birmingham suburb of Mountain Brook. GOP operative Jessica Medeiros Garrison bought the home a few months before I started writing about her extramarital affair with Attorney General Luther Strange (for whom she served as campaign manager in 2010 and 2014).

About this time, multiple news outlets were reporting on Strange's efforts to prosecute Democrat Lowell Barron, former president of the Alabama Senate, for allegedly providing excessive compensation to a female campaign aide. The charges against Barron sounded exactly like what Strange had done with his female campaign aide, Jessica Garrison--and the prosecution eventually dropped the Barron charges.

Here is where it gets really interesting: On October 22, 2013, I wrote a post with the headline "How did Jessica M. Garrison pay a modest $30,000 for a Mountain Brook house valued at $400,000?" I was arrested the next day and spent five months in jail, becoming the only U.S. journalist to be incarcerated since 2006.

Does that indicate someone found my reporting on the Garrison house transaction to be highly sensitive, enough that they wanted to make sure I could not write anything more about it for a while? That's how I take it--and I had already seen signs that it was a sensitive topic.

I sent an e-mail to Garrison, seeking an interview or comment about the real-estate transaction. Two days later, her attorney sent me a message threatening a lawsuit. Who was her attorney? Bill Baxley, long-time associate of Claud Neilson, the judge who unlawfully had me incarcerated.

Our reporting had shown that, according to public records from her divorce/child custody case, Garrison had the 119 Main Street address at least by May 2012, but the property was not sold at a foreclosure auction until July 12.

Was the house subject to open bidding via "pubic outcry" on the courthouse steps, as required by state law? Doesn't look like it. Was it sold "off the grid," in a rigged fashion, so that Garrison could get a sweetheart deal? Is that one of the advantages of being Luther Strange's mistress, the kind of favor one receives for being a "good girl" and keeping Republican sleaze on the down low? A reasonable person, examining the evidence we have at the moment, might answer, "Yes."

Did Garrison actually pay just $30,000 for a Mountain Brook home with an appraised value of $439,900? Was that the plan, but it changed slightly when I started writing about the transaction--and the boatloads of cash Strange had funneled to Garrison and her companies?

Finding answers to those questions is complicated by the presence of two foreclosure deeds on the house. The first foreclosure deed is dated July 20, 2012, and states--in so many words--that Robert C. and Hilary J. Maxwell had foreclosed on a mortgage with Renasant Bank and "in consideration of . . . $30,000" auctioneer Burt W. Newsome did "grant, bargain, sell, and convey" the described property (Lot 17, Block 8, according to the survey of Crestline Heights) to Jessica Medeiros Garrison.

The plain language seems to state that Jessica Garrison had paid $30,000 to become owner of the property at 119 Main Street in Mountain Brook.

But then a second foreclosure deed appeared almost one year later, dated June 18, 2013. It states that the Maxwells had defaulted on a mortgage with Countrywide Bank, later assigned to M and T Bank. The auctioneer this time was Michael Corvin of Corvin Auctioneering and--surprise, surprise--Jessica Garrison was the "highest" and "best" bidder, at $411,921.68. That brings the total for the two sales to $441,921.68, roughly $2,000 over the appraised value. (Both foreclosure deeds are embedded at the end of this post.)

According to the deed, Corvin did "remise, release, quit claim, and convey" unto Jessica Garrison"all of its right, title, and interest in and to the following described property. (Lot 17, Block 8, Crestline Heights).

Corvin seems to be saying that Jessica Garrison now was owner of the house. But wasn't she already owner of the house, based on proclamations in a foreclosure deed filed about one year earlier?

What was going on here? Why were there two foreclosure deeds?

I don't claim to be an expert on foreclosure law, but this seems to be the answer to the second question: The Maxwells, it appears, took out two mortgages on the property--one on June 27, 2007, for the much higher figure (roughly $400,000) and one on August 6, 2007, for the lower figure (roughly $30,000).

So why was the smaller mortgage handled first in the foreclosure process, with the larger mortgage seemingly ignored until about one year later? Why did the first foreclosure deed indicate Jessica Garrison had full ownership rights for only $30,000--and her child-custody case indicates she knew the house was hers before it ever went up for "public auction"?

Does a timeline of events shine light on these questions? Let's take a look:

July 20, 2012 -- The first foreclosure deed--with Garrison paying $30,000--is filed on the Mountain Brook property.

May 8, 2013 -- I publish the first post that mentions Garrison's address as 119 Main Street in Mountain Brook and Strange's steady flow of cash to companies that Garrison owns.

May 15, 2013 -- I publish a post about the Lowell Barron case, noting that the charges sound almost exactly like transactions between Garrison and Strange.

June 18, 2013 -- Second foreclosure suddenly appears in the public record, with Jessica Garrison producing a winning bid of almost $412,000.

It appears that Jessica Garrison owned the Mountain Brook house free and clear, for the sum of $30,000, until I published her address and wrote about the dubious case Luther Strange was bringing against Lowell Barron.

Was that the reason the second foreclosure deed appeared, bringing the total paid to roughly the appraised value of the house, and making it look like Jessica Garrison didn't receive such a sweetheart deal? If so, who arranged for the second foreclosure deed and who actually paid for the Mountain Brook home? Was it Jessica Garrison or was it someone else?

Was the price of my investigative reporting on the matter to be beaten up inside my own home, doused with pepper spray, and dragged off to jail--thanks to a judge that Bill Baxley, Jessica Garrison's lawyer, possibly hand-picked?

If the answer to that last question is yes, it raises the specter of organized crime, which almost certainly violates the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act (RICO).

Are the Mike Hubbard and Robert Bentley cases ugly? For sure. But circumstances surrounding Jessica Garrison's Mountain Brook house might be even uglier.