In the aftermath of last week's announcement that an Alabama grand jury refused to file charges against former law-enforcement chief Spencer Collier
, multiple reports said the news indicated "Luv Guv" Robert Bentley and chief advisor "Freaky Becky" Caldwell Mason were edging closer to the abyss. After all, Bentley, Mason and Co. had concocted charges of alleged wrongdoing against Collier, apparently to support their dubious decision to terminate him, and a grand jury -- which are famous for having such a low bar that they will "indict a ham sandwich" -- said, in essence, "There is no 'here' here."
The Bentley-Mason crowd appear to be next in line, and the decision on Collier suggests the grand jury might not look so favorably on the guv and his inamorata. Collier said Bentley used law enforcement as a "political tool"
; perhaps the more accurate term would be "political weapon." John Archibald, columnist at al.com,
said "Bentley's goose is cooked
." Attorney Donald Watkins, writing at his Facebook page
, agreed, calling Bentley "an evil man who uses political appointees and state resources to carry out personal vendettas against those who opposed and/or exposed his lawlessness."
That last part includes me, because I broke the story about the Bentley-Mason affair
-- and Watkins and I did the heavy lifting on the scandal for months before the mainstream media arose from its stupor to realize our reporting was on target. In fact, multiple news accounts have Bentley and Mason making unlawful use of law-enforcement resources to target Watkins and me
, in retaliation for having the audacity to practice journalism.
I had reasons to see the Bentley collapse coming, but like many others, I was conned by his grandfatherly demeanor and claims to be a heavy-duty Christian. In fact, I now must admit that I voted for Bentley -- the first Republican to get my vote in roughly 20 years, and hopefully the last one I ever will support. My wife, Carol, and I did not actually "support" Bentley. But we were among a sizable number of Democrats who crossed over in the primary to vote for Bentley in hopes of blocking Riley Inc. lackey Bradley Byrne -- and it worked.
We now know that Bentley's professorial exterior hides a dark and ugly soul. And I suspect its roots are in his hometown of Columbiana, the seat of Shelby County government and the place where I've spent a number of dismal and interminable days being cheated by various judges at the courthouse.
Corruption in Columbiana is so commonplace and deep-seated that I suspect it's impossible to grow up there -- or live there for any length of time -- without becoming warped, at least if you are among the town's elite. It's a place where everyone with white skin is expected to think alike, where the federally guaranteed rights to due process and equal protection are beaten, thrashed, and locked in the basement like unruly orphans. The people of Columbiana are like a tribe, the kind you find in a dysfunctional nation like Iraq. ("The Kurds today built a wall to protect their homeland of Columbiana from government forces. While they were at it, the Kurds helped kick the guts out of the Voting Rights Act
. 'Negroes don't need to vote anymore,' the Kurds said in a prepared statement.") They march to their own Columbiana-made rules, while ignoring the laws of the land, which govern those of us outside the city limits. In blunt terms, they are un-American, among the most unpatriotic individuals you will find anywhere outside of Mississippi, South Carolina, Oklahoma, and Kansas.
|Downtown Columbiana, Alaama|
Why should I have seen Bentley's ethical problems coming? Because we lived for 25 years in Shelby County, and any legal problem meant you had to take the roughly 50-mile round trip from the civilized part of Shelby County (closest to Birmingham) to the little hellhole of Columbiana, way to the South. Inevitably, a Shelby County judge (all Republicans in a town where everyone of the "Caucasian persuasion" is expected to think alike) would cheat us. It took us a while to realize how badly we were being cheated, but once we did, that gave rise to this blog, which has come to be rated among the top 50 law blogs in North America
. (Notice how I like to drop that ranking into posts on a regular basis?)
Corruption is so entrenched in Robert Bentley's hometown that it can take on laughable forms. Consider two examples that Carol and I have experienced:
(1) Admit you are guilty of a crime and get found "not guilty"
Our legal woes started when we had the misfortune of having a career criminal named Mike McGarity move in next door to us
. Our charming neighbor apparently hid his ugly past during the job screening process at his employer, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama
. (In blunt terms, he likely lied on his job application, and the lax process at BC/BS let him get away with it.)
McGarity, his kids, and guests -- having already sassed us when we asked him to keep his barking coon hound under control ("You just need to get earplugs") -- proceeded to trespass on our property on an almost daily basis. When we called to let McGarity know his presence was not welcome on our yard, McGarity replied, "I'm going to sue you for harassment" and "we're going to keep on coming,"
When we asked a Birmingham lawyer named Bill Lewis to write a letter, explaining the law to this dunderhead, it seemed to have no effect. The trespassing continued, and the last line of Lewis' letter was, "You will receive no more warnings."
With all that in mind, we felt we had no choice but to pursue a case against McGarity for criminal trespassing, third degree. The alternative was to wait until someone got hurt on our property, have them sue us, and watch our homeowners-insurance premiums go through the roof. (Allowing trespassers to freely roam your property is a bad idea, for a lot of reasons, perhaps the biggest one is financial.)
District Judge Ron Jackson had encouraged both parties to work out a settlement, but McGarity refused to discuss it. That meant the case went to trial, and a transcript shows that McGarity confessed to the crime as charged
. How do we know? Well, the elements of criminal trespassing, third degree, are about as straightforward and simple as law gets. Here they are, straight from Code of Alabama 13A-7-4:
(1) "A person commits the crime of trespass in the third degree when he knowingly enters or remains unlawfully in or upon premises."
(2) "A person enters or remains unlawfully in or upon premises when he is not licensed, invited or privileged to do so."
Our research indicates "licensed" refers to someone who has a professional reason to enter property, such as a meter reader. "Privileged" refers to someone who tries to address an unexpected occurrence. For example, if your hat flies off your head and lands in my yard, you have a right to retrieve it. "Invited," as it sounds, refers to someone who who has a good relationship with the owner and has reason to believe he is welcome to enter.
The transcript shows that McGarity admitted to entering our property, he made no claim to being licensed or privileged, and he made no claim that he was welcome. In fact, he admitted we had verbally warned him multiple times to stay off our property, along with others entering from his yard. Translation: McGarity admitted to the crime of criminal trespass, third degree.
Judge Jackson, however, found that -- in this instance -- we had to give McGarity written warning. We did that, of course, in the form of Bill Lewis' letter. But a woman from Lewis' office testified that she could not find the certifield-mail receipt that proved when McGarity received the letter. McGarity claimed he had not received the written warning prior to trespassing, and Jackson found that created enough reasonable doubt to acquit -- even though the judge essentially read McGarity the proverbial "riot act" from the bench about the dire consequences of any future trespassing.
We later discovered that Jackson got the law laughably wrong -- except it's not funny when you are the victim of a judge's corrupt rulings. Here is the actual law from a case styled Chambers v. City of Opelika, 698 So. 2d 792 (Ala. Crim. App., 1996):
The appellant has cited no authority for his position that to be guilty of criminal trespass the intruder must be aware that he or she had no license or privilege to enter or to remain on the premises. There is authority, however, that states that when those premises are private and not open to the public, there is no requirement that the prosecution prove that a prior written or verbal warning was given to the intruder.
In other words, we had no obligation to warn McGarity at all. We certainly did not have to warn him in writing, as Jackson found. The same holds true for any homeowner -- or renter, for that matter. It is the would-be intruder's duty to make sure he has lawful grounds to enter. McGarity never did that, and Jackson turned the law on its head in order to reach an "acquittal."
This is the kind of thing that happens with regularity in Robert Bentley's hometown.
(2) Present no evidence to support your case and still get a favorable result
Because of the acquittal, McGarity had minimal grounds to sue us for malicious prosecution, which means the underlying criminal case against him was brought with a complete absence of probable cause. In fact, McGarity had no legitimate grounds for a lawsuit because we had not only probable cause, but actual cause -- he admitted to trespassing, as charged.
Bill Swatek, McGarity's lawyer who has been disciplined by the Alabama State Bar at least three teams (including one suspension of his license)
brought the case anyway. We hired Jesse P. Evans III and Michael Odom, then from the law firm Lange Simpson (now at Rumberger Kirk and Caldwell
) and paid them more than $12,000 to represent us.
Evans and Odom prepared a Motion for Summary Judgment, complete with material evidence in the form of evidence from Carol, Bill Lewis, and me. McGarity was required by law to present an opposing motion, supported with material evidence, at least two days prior to the summary-judgment hearing. He presented no evidence, which means the Circuit Judge J. Michael Joiner was required by law to grant summary judgment and dismiss McGarity's case on the day of the hearing.
McGarity presented a late affidavit, without seeking leave of court as required by law, and nothing in it was material to the case. The key point in such an affidavit should have been "I did not trespass on the Shuler's property." McGarity could not say that, of course, because he had admitted to trespassing in the criminal case, and we had a copy of the transcript. That was the second time Joiner was required to grant summary judgment, but he didn't do it.
We filed a second summary-judgment motion, focusing on new issues and evidence, and McGarity presented no response of any kind. The law is real clear in such situations, as expressed in a case styled Voyager Guar. Ins. Co., Inc. v. Brown 631 So. 2d 848 (Ala., 1993):
When a party opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment offers no evidence to contradict that presented by the movant, the trial court MUST consider the movant's evidence uncontroverted, with no genuine issue of material fact existing."
Three times, the law required Joiner to consider our evidence uncontroverted and that there was no genuine issue of material fact existing, meaning he had to grant summary judgment. He failed to follow the law three times, forcing us to go to a trial that could not be held and causing us to spend thousands in additional dollars on a case that already had been decided under the law.
Again, this is what serves as "justice" in Robert Bentley's hometown. Is it any wonder that he grew up to be, in the words of Donald Watkins, "an evil man who uses political appointees and state resources to carry out personal vendettas against those who opposed and/or exposed his lawlessness."
Speaking of political appointees, guess one of Bentley's first actions upon taking office in January 2011? He appointed J. Michael Joiner to a seat on the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, where he still sits and played a prominent role in the removal of Chief Justice Roy Moore from the Alabama Supreme Court
. (Note: If Roy Moore and his supporters could afford a good private investigator, they probably could come up with evidence of Joiner in any number of compromising positions.)
Did Bentley make the appointment because of Joiner's superior legal skills? Don't make me laugh. Joiner is one of the worst judges in the Southeast; he's unfit to judge pigs at a county fair. Bentley's action was the worst kind of cronyism. He appointed Joiner for no reason other than the two are from the same hometown, grew up in the same sheltered and dysfunctional culture, and spout the same phony beliefs in a religion that most real Christians would not recognize.
With Bentley and Joiner in statewide positions, they have helped spread the Curse of Columbiana to every corner of Alabama. Bentley's removal from office cannot happen fast enough -- and a semi-competent investigation would show that Joiner needs to be right behind him.