|Virginia Emerson Hopkins
I learned that a reader had hired Morris for a legal matter and was pleased with services rendered, so I made arrangements to speak with Morris about our "Jail Case," -- the one about Shelby County cops kidnapping me (with no apparent warrant) out of my own home and tossing me in jail for a five-month stay. All over a civil matter, alleged defamation from Alabama GOP crooks Rob Riley and Liberty Duke -- plus a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction that has been prohibited by more than 200 years of First Amendment law.
Morris informed me that, as a solo practitioner, he almost certainly could not take on our full case because it involved more than 15 defendants and simply was too wide-ranging for his small shop to handle. He did, however, agree to help with one matter -- a Rule 26 meeting, where parties were to develop a schedule for discovery and filing of dispositive motions.
This normally is a routine proceeding, and lawyers have told me it often is handled via telephone conference if some parties are at a distance, as we were in this instance. U.S. District Judge Virginia Emerson Hopkins ruled that, if we could not find an attorney to handle the meeting, Carol and I would have to appear in person. Hopkins set no such requirement for any other party and cited no law to support her requirement for us; it was a judge's blatant attempt to cheat a party that the court knew had been granted in forma pauperis status and lived more than a 1,000-mile round trip from the courthouse.
Hopkins, however, was not content to abuse us; she decided to heap abuse on our representative. Shortly after Morris arrived at the meeting, which I'm told normally doesn't even involve the judge, Hopkins pounced. Here is how Morris described it to me:
I tell you what, I was professionally scolded yesterday. I think it falls under the one of two categories: Either I did a horrible job of explaining -- I guess this one is more likely -- or I didn't truly understand the nature of the hearing. Roger, I did attend the meeting; I thought we were going to discuss deposition time frames, and interrogatories. I believed my scope of duty was to take notes and prepare you a report. I truly didn't understand [Hopkins] did not want to hear what I was attempting to say. Certainly that is her prerogative.
It did not take her long to explain to me her position. I absolutely told her the truth, in that I knew about the meeting, I attended the hearing, and was on time. I explained that I did not represent you vs. the 40-plus defendants. I am just not set up for that kind of onslaught. I would have to hire an attorney, a paralegal, and a legal secretary to handle this one case. She did not want to hear that I was at the meeting on your behalf, but my scope of duty was to attend the meeting and relay info or questions back to you.
I am certain I could have represented you with honor at the hearing. Most, if not all, of the claims were routine. Now most of the other attorneys were fine with this option; however, the judge was not. I am not complaining about the judge; she makes the rules. That gets me back to my failure to adequately express myself to the judge, or that I assumed that the hearing was routine. Regardless, I would have been glad to have represented you at the hearing and make some suggestions for you to consider at this point, I believe my good deed has certainly backfired on me, and certainly I was just trying to help. I am not sure I got a full sentence out during the entire 20-minute hearing. It is obvious that the judge doesn't want to see me again and at this point I don't know what else to type. Except, type the words "I am sorry." I truly mean it.
Morris added a few more words to describe his experience:
It was painful and it went on for 20 minutes, pretty much non-stop. Of course, 20-something attorneys were there as well. I don't believe I said a single word that could have angered her. But that is moot now. . . . Again, it was brutal.
The brutality and stupidity did not end there. In her fit of pique, Hopkins refused to allow anything of substance to take place while Morris was there. The meeting was a complete waste of time, and she then had it rescheduled, ordering that Carol and I had to attend in person, even if we had an attorney. We wound up driving to Birmingham and completed the meeting -- all of which could have been handled by phone conference.
Not content with that piece of injudicious behavior, Hopkins hinted in one or two documents that we were due to be hit with sanctions for failing to abide by her orders on the initial Rule 26 meeting -- even though we clearly were allowed to have an attorney represent us, we did have an attorney represent us, and we even notified the court in advance that an attorney would be representing us. (Hopkins' "show cause" order, and our response to it, are embedded at the end of this post.)
But Hopkins apparently was incensed, to a large degree, because Morris did not file a Notice of Appearance. I had suggested to Morris in an email prior to the meeting that it might be a good idea for him to file a Notice of Appearance. I didn't push the matter because I thought, "Well, he's the attorney here, and I don't want to come off as trying to tell him how to do his job."
Morris wound up not filing a Notice of Appearance, and Hopkins used that as an excuse to rail at him and threaten us with sanctions. Morris later admitted to me that he didn't file a notice because he did not trust Hopkins to let him out of the case once he officially was in. In other words, the vibes from her were so negative that he thought she would try to punish him by forcing him to take a case he wasn't equipped to handle -- and that could have caused all sorts of damage to his entire practice.
With Hopkins still threatening us with sanctions, Morris was kind enough to prepare an affidavit, explaining that we had, in fact, asked him to appear on our behalf -- whether he filed a Notice of Appearance or not.
While preparing that affidavit, a question came to Morris that he decided to pose to someone in the Alabama State Bar's Office of Professional Responsibility.
That's what led to evidence that the Alabama State Bar was interfering with our case.
(To be continued)