The bottom line? Alabama Republican operatives have filed two defamation lawsuits against me, and they have nothing to show for it. By law, my reporting was found to be neither false nor defamatory in both cases. And the value of the judgments, combined, is worth . . . not a thing.
We hope you will follow us on a brief discussion because this is important information for anyone who might wind up representing himself in court someday.
We've shown that Garrison's judgment is void, and has no value, because I was not given three days' notice of her default application and hearing, as required by Alabama law. In fact, I received no notice at all, and it was Garrison's burden to provide notice. Lack of notice is such a fundamental violation of due process that I have an unlimited amount of time to attack her judgment as void.
How does Judge Claud Neilson's order favoring Rob Riley and lobbyist Liberty Duke run afoul of the law? Well, there are a lot of answers to that question; an easier question would be, "Was anything lawful about Neilson's order?" The answer there is "probably not."
For example, Neilson didn't issue a final judgment, one that could be appealed at all. After all, there was no trial, no jury, no discovery -- nothing that generally is associated with a trial on the merits. After a hearing on November 14, 2013 -- and the document setting the event called it a "hearing," not a "trial" -- Neilson issued a piece of paper titled "Final Order." But here is what Alabama case law says about such matters: (See Civil Appeals 101, Christian and Small.)
With limited exceptions, an appeal can be taken only from the entry of a final judgment. Ala. Code § 12-22-2. What constitutes a final judgment may seem simple, but in fact it can be difficult to determine. As you might expect, an order adjudicating fewer than all of the claims is not a final judgment. Lloyd v. Cook, --- So. 3d ----, 2010 WL 3075280 (Ala. Civ. App. Aug. 6, 2010). The title of the order is not important. If a trial court enters an order labeled as a final judgment, but the order does not fully dispose of all claims or fully declare the rights of the parties, the judgment is not a final judgment from which an appeal may be taken. Alfa Mutual Ins. Co. v. Bone, 13 So. 3d 369 (Ala. 2009); Hall v. Reynolds, --- So. 3d ----, 2009 WL 1716912 (Ala. June 19, 2009). By the same token, a judgment that conclusively determines the issues before the trial court, even if not labeled “Final Judgment,” will support an appeal.
In the Riley matter, Neilson gave my wife, Carol, and me no opportunity to bring claims, much less have them heard and fully disposed. And he certainly did not declare the rights of the parties because we were treated as if we had no rights. (See Neilson's "final order" at the end of this post.) I was in the midst of a five-month stay at the "Shelby County Sheraton" (the jail), thanks to Riley and Duke's unlawful efforts to seek a preliminary injunction that has been prohibited by more than 200 years of First Amendment law, and the time for appeal lapsed during my incarceration. I had no access to a piece of paper or a functioning writing implement, but even if I'd had the basics for preparing an appeal, there was nothing to appeal -- because Neilsen issued no final judgment.
That presents a slight problem: I was representing myself, and Alabama law prohibits the awarding of attorney fees against pro se litigants. Here is how Code of Alabama 12-19-272 (Alabama Litigation Accountability Act) addresses the subject:
No party, except an attorney licensed to practice law in this state, who is appearing without an attorney shall be assessed attorneys' fees unless the court finds that the party clearly knew or reasonably should have known that his action, claim or defense or any part thereof was without substantial justification.
Did the court find that I had brought a claim or defense without substantial justification? Nope. In fact, I brought no claim at all -- Riley and Duke sued me (and Carol), not the other way around. And we were given no opportunity to even bring a defense.
Here is what Neilsen's "final order" says about the only form of "damages" awarded to Riley and Duke.
Petitioners have requested attorneys' fees. The Court heard testimony and evidence that Petitioner Riley and Petitioner Duke have incurred attorneys' fees as result of this matter. Specifically, the Court heard testimony and evidence that Petitioner Riley has incurred $24,425.00 in attorneys' fees, that Petitioner Duke has incurred $9,450.00 in attorney's fees, and that those fees are usual and customary. Based on the testimony and evidence presented in support of their request for attorneys' fees, and based on the Court's equitable powers, the Court finds that Petitioners are entitled to an award of attorneys' fees in the following amounts: $24,425.00 for Petitioner Riley and $9,450.00 for Petitioner Duke.
Attorney fees are "usual and customary" against a pro se litigant? That's not what Alabama law says. The court issued these fees based on its "equitable powers"? That's funny. because Alabama law plainly states that attorney fees cannot be assessed against a self-represented party.
Just another sign that the Riley-Duke case was a joke from the outset -- and the rule of law played no role in Neilsen's handling of the case.