Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Doug Jones was required under ethics rules to return unearned portion of $300,000 he charged Siegelman, but it appears Jones ignored rule and kept the cash

Doug Jones, with Don Siegelman and family.
When a lawyer withdraws from a case, Alabama ethics rules require him to return fees that were paid in advance and not earned. Evidence suggests U.S. Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) owes former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman a hefty sum in unearned fees from Jones' short-circuited criminal defense in the case that caused Siegelman to spend roughly six years in federal prisons.

Jones charged Siegelman $300,000 in advance fees, withdrew from the case before trial (because of a scheduling conflict on Jones' end), and our research indicates Jones never returned a dime of the money -- much of which apparently was unearned. That signals Alabama's newly elected senator, supposedly a "Great White Hope" for Democrats in the South, is a glorified thief. Our investigation shows Jones essentially stole money from Siegelman, while doing almost nothing to earn it.

The theft of so much money likely crippled Siegelman's efforts to obtain legal counsel, especially when former U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller (since kicked off the bench for wife beating) ensured a crooked trial and unjust conviction -- forcing Siegelman to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on appeals that should not have been necessary.

No wonder Jones has refused to answer questions from us about his handling of the Siegelman case. Who benefited most from the convictions of Siegelman and co-defendant Richard Scrushy? That would be then-Governor Bob Riley, who was assured a second term when Siegelman went to prison, via underhanded actions of Riley benefactors, such as GOP felon Jack Abramoff and the Mississippi Choctaw gaming operations.

That points to Jones' alliance with Rob Riley (Bob Riley's son) in a lawsuit against Scrushy and HealthSouth, which generated $51 million in attorney fees. Jones' share of those fees reportedly helped bankroll his Senate run, and multiple news sites have reported that an operative close to former Florida Governor Jeb Bush (who is close to Karl Rove, who is close to the Rileys) helped spread stories about sex-related misconduct regarding Jones' general-election opponent, Republican Roy Moore.

Is there any doubt Doug Jones owes Don Siegelman a lot of money? Well, this is from Rule 1.5 of the Alabama Rules of Professional Conduct:

Terms of Payment

A lawyer may require advance payment of a fee, but is obliged to return any unearned portion. See Rule 1.16(d).

That seems simple enough; Jones was obligated to return any unearned portion of $300,000. But Jones seems to get a case of lockjaw when asked about the Siegelman representation. Did Jones return unearned portions of the fee? How much was that? Can Jones produce time sheets that show how much time he spent on the Siegelman case -- and at what hourly fee?

When we presented the opportunity to answer such questions, Jones was less-than-forthcoming. Here is his response, and a video of the full discussion is embedded at the end of this post, along with a video about his cozy relationship with right-wing thugs Rob Riley and Paul Bryant Jr.:

Asked about charging Don Siegelman $300,000 for a criminal defense in which he bailed out before trial -- and apparently did not return one dime of the money -- Jones responded:

Jones: I'm not going to comment one way or another on any of those matters.

LS: You're not going to comment with me on any matters.

Jones: Correct.

I encourage you to read Jones comments above, and listen to his tone in the video below, and see if you think that's the voice of an honest man. It sure isn't, to me. That's especially so when we have a decent record of what Jones did on the Siegelman case. It comes from Jones' 2007 testimony before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee.  Here are the sections from the 15-page document that give an idea of the "work" Jones did on the case:

From page 6 -- "My partner, Jack Drake, and I traveled to Montgomery in the spring of 2003 and met in the Attorney General’s office with Attorney General Pryor, one of his assistants, Ms. Weller,  and Mr. Scott. Again, this was a courtesy meeting and very little substance was discussed."

From page 7 -- "For the next year, the investigation continued. During this time we were attempting to do our own work, learn the facts and to keep up as to where we thought the investigation was headed. We had little contact with prosecutors in Montgomery during this time and my friend Bill Pryor leaves office in February following his appointment to the Court of Appeals." ("My friend Bill Pryor?" Cough . . . cough . . . Jones is not aware that Pryor was No. 1 on the hit parade of thugs who helped railroad Siegelman? Unreal.)

From page 8 -- "Other than an initial contact with the Government to make sure that they were not going to seek arrest and perp walk the Governor, I had nothing to do with the defense of the Birmingham case (involving Dr. Phillip Bobo)."

From page 8 -- "The matters in Montgomery were a different matter, and during the summer of 2004, we learned that a new team from the U.S. Attorney’s office was now in place to handle the Siegelman investigation and for the first time the Government was calling us with a request to discuss the case. There was also some sense of urgency because it was believed that the statute of limitations was about to run on a matter involving Richard Scrushy and Healthsouth, an issue which was being brought up for the first time.

"In early July 2004, my partner, Jack Drake, and I, along with another Siegelman attorney, Bobby Segall, met with the prosecutors to discuss the case. Included in the meeting was John Gibbs from the Attorney General’s office, Louis Franklin, the Criminal Chief in the U.S. Attorney’s office who was now, after Ms. Weller left the office, the Acting U.S. Attorney in the case, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Feaga . . . "

From page 11 -- "As the 30 day period (that extended the statute of limitations) was about to expire I had telephone discussions with the Assistant U.S. Attorneys. I can’t recall all of the specifics, but I know that we were asked to extend the statute of limitations for another 30 day period. I responded that Governor Siegelman would not do that, that the investigation had dragged out long enough, that the evidence was not going to get any better, that Nick Bailey’s credibility was not going to get any better and that it was time, as we say down South, for the prosecution to fish or cut bait. I was told that despite earlier concerns, the lawyers in Washington did not believe there was a statute of limitations problem, but that in any event they would make a decision within the month."

From page 11 -- "A month came and went. I started to call the U.S. Attorney’s office, but could not get any response. Two months, then three months went by with no substantive conversations with prosecutors. However, in October of 2004, a day or two after the trial started in Birmingham, the Government moved to dismiss all charges against Governor Siegelman after the Court made an adverse evidentiary ruling. . . ."

From page 12 -- "It was just about a month later, in late November or December, 2004, that my partner and I were able to have the first substantive conversation with prosecutors about the Montgomery investigation since our meeting in Montgomery in July. It was on a phone call that Assistant U.S. Attorney Feaga first apologized for not giving us a definitive answer any earlier as he told us he would do back in the summer. “But,” he said “we had a meeting in Washington and we were told to go back and look at everything again from top to bottom.”

From page 13 -- "In fact, as we continued to press for meetings in an attempt to dissuade prosecutors from bringing charges, we were told that any meetings would have to take place in Washington because Mr. [Noel] Hillman’s schedule did not allow time for travel to Montgomery. That summer, the summer of 2005, at least two meetings were held in Washington, D.C., at the Department of Justice. Because of a trial and other scheduling conflicts, I did not attend either of those meetings."

From page 13 -- "Some on our team, however, remained optimistic that the door was still open for us to convince prosecutors to close the investigation without charges and we felt it our duty to our client to keeping trying. So we pressed on with additional discussions in Montgomery as late as September and October.

From page 14 -- "I do not believe that discussions that took place over a series of months while sitting on a sealed indictment were in good faith. There is simply no way in my view that the Government would seek the dismissal of a sealed grand jury indictment. When a superseding indictment was finally returned and made public in October, 2005, it simply confirmed that we had not only been wasting our time . . . "

From page 14 -- "Because of a trial conflict in the spring of 2006, and the Governor’s insistence on a speedy trial before the June 2006 primary, I had no real choice but to withdraw as lead counsel. However, facing incredible challenges in sifting through mountains of discovery in a short period of time . . . "

What does this tell us? We learn that Jones engaged in at least two meetings with prosecutors -- the first with those from the state, the second with feds. Jones did not participate in two meetings that took place in Washington, D.C. Jones describes a series of phone conversations with prosecutors over a period of months, but indicates most did not produce substantive information. Jones says members of his team pressed for additional discussions in Montgomery, as late as September of October 2005, but gives no indication that such discussions actually took place. Jones eventually concludes that he and his staff had been "wasting our time" in discussions with the feds. After stating he withdrew from the case, Jones says Siegelman's new lawyers faced "mountains of discovery" to sift through -- suggesting Jones and his team did not do much discovery work.

For now, we can only guess at how much time Jones spent on these matters. But let's say the two meetings with prosecutors took 10 hours each, including travel time. It sounds like none of the phone conversations took very long, although there might have been quite a few calls, so let's give them a total of 10 hours. Jones says nothing about preparing motions or similar documents, but we'll give him credit for 10 hours of miscellaneous paper shuffling. It's not clear if anyone from Jones' staff attended the meetings in Washington, D.C., but we will assume at least one junior person did. That probably meant 12 hours of work time, plus travel and lodging, etc., so that could have gotten expensive.

Our calculations come to 42 hours, which likely is generous to Jones, plus travel and lodging expenses. Let's say Jones charged $400 an hour, which I would call an obscene figure for a lawyer of his limited skills, and a fair amount of work likely was done by subordinates who should charge less than that.

If my math is correct, 42 hours x $400 = $16,800. Travel and lodging might take the sum to about $20,000, and if you throw in a few mysterious charges that law firms are good at finding, you might reach a total of $25,000 -- and I believe that is being generous to Jones. I believe the true hours and fees involved in Jones' representation of Siegelman should be less than that. After all, Jones makes no mention of preparing motions or similar documents, he does not describe conducting legal research. His actions on Siegelman's behalf -- in Jones' own words -- were pretty darned limited.

Giving Jones the benefit of the doubt, we conclude that he used $25,000 of Siegelman's pre-paid fees -- meaning he owed the former governor a refund of about $275,000.

Could I be off in my calculations? Yes. What if Jones actually had legit expenses and fees of $100,000? I think that is very unlikely, but even if that is the case, he still owes Siegelman $200,000.

Doug Jones, as a U.S. senator, is subject to intense media scrutiny, and he should be asked about the fees he charged Don Siegelman -- and to produce documents that show he actually did $300,000 worth of work. If Jones can't produce such documents, it indicates he is more or less a thief, and he's not fit to serve in any public office.

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