Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Is Alabama's Republican AG Steve Marshall targeting Tuscumbia lawyer Billy Underwood because of his history of supporting Democratic candidates?

Billy Underwood
An Alabama lawyer who was indicted yesterday on a felony charge of bribing a juror has been a financial supporter of Democratic candidates for more than 20 years. That William J. "Billy" Underwood's indictment came from the office of Republican Attorney General Steve Marshall raises questions about a possible political prosecution -- especially as the 2018 elections heat up.

An online search of political donations shows that Underwood's history of supporting Democratic candidates dates to at least 1996, when he gave $500 to the Roger Bedford for U.S. Senate campaign. Bedford lost that race to Jeff Sessions, who now is U.S. attorney general under Donald Trump.

Underwood's office is in Tuscumbia, and his firm's Web site says he has practiced for more than 30 years, focusing on the areas of criminal defense, personal injury, and family law.

We were dumbfounded here at Legal Schnauzer when news broke yesterday of Underwood's indictment -- not because an Alabama lawyer might have bribed a juror, but because he might have been caught and stands to be prosecuted for it. In Shelby County, where Mrs. Schnauzer and I lived for 25 years, bribing a juror is considered "good lawyering." In fact, we're not sure it's even frowned upon, unless you bribe an entire jury pool.

In fact, we've seen up-close evidence of likely jury tampering. When Mike McGarity (our criminally inclined neighbor) sued me for malicious prosecution and conversion, a jury found that he had trespassed, but it awarded him $1,500 -- finding that I had "converted" objects that came on our property via trespass. And McGarity never had claimed any of the objects as his own or asked for their return.

To find me liable for "converting" objects that unlawfully were on my property . . . well, it almost certainly was contrary to law -- and it suggests that jury either was tainted or was dumb as a sack of Idaho taters. In essence, I was found liable for cleaning up trash out of my own yard -- and that doesn't pass any kind of smell test one might apply.

We've reported on a 1980s case where Shelby County lawyer Bill Swatek was found not guilty of perjury, even though the case file includes a document that proves Swatek lied to a bar committee when he testified that he did not know about a client's plan to tape record opposing counsel in a meeting. It's hard to imagine how a jury could have reached such a conclusion unless someone was bought off or otherwise tainted.

As for Underwood, it's possible he's a scumbag who has been buying off jurors for years. But here is a peculiar paragraph from al.com's report on the bribery charge:

Prosecutors haven't publicly identified the case in which Underwood is accused of bribing a juror. In a news release, Underwood said the charge involves "a prospective juror in a case where that individual never went to the courthouse and a jury was never empaneled."

How can you bribe a juror who never actually became a juror -- on a jury that never existed? If that case sounds a bit thin to you, maybe it is.

It becomes even more dubious when you consider Underwood's history of supporting Democratic causes. Here are some of Underwood's political donations, aside from Bedford for U.S. Senate, that our online search turned up:

* $1,500, to State Democratic Executive Committee of Alabama, 2007

* $1,500 to Deborah Bell Paseur for Alabama Supreme Court, 2008

* $300 to Gregory K. Burdine, Democrat, for State Rep., House District 1, 2013

* $500 to Roger Bedford, Democrat, for State Sen., District 6, 2013

Was Underwood targeted because he was seen as someone who might help bankroll a 2018 Democratic candidate, perhaps a potential opponent for Marshall or another prominent Republican? The answer to that question is not clear for now. But as usual, the whiff of something foul is in the air around Alabama politics.

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