Are American sports officials doing their best to become as arrogant and crooked as our judges? We long have lamented that Americans accept a level of corruption in courts they would not tolerate on fields of play. But we recently saw signs that might be changing.
It came during a Major League Baseball (MLB) game between the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros at Arlington, TX. Here's how the Houston Chronicle sets the scene that led to a troubling verbal confrontation between Astros manager A.J. Hinch and umpire Ron Kulpa:
Kulpa employed an inconsistent strike zone during the first inning. He missed an obvious called third strike in a 2-2 count during [Rangers'] Joey Gallo's plate appearance against [Astros'] Gerrit Cole, forcing the fiery righthander to throw five more pitches in the inning.
Cole was two steps off the mound after releasing the 2-2 fastball, which Statcast showed was blatantly inside the strike zone. Cole escaped the inning allowing only one run, which scored prior to Gallo's plate appearance.
So, the umpire blew two calls, both going against Houston. But that's not the alarming part. Deadspin's Chris Thompson describes that in a post titled "Arrogant Dickwad Umpire Shouts "I Can Do Anything I Want" After Goading A.J. Hinch Into An Ejection." Here's the set-up from Deadspin:
In the top of the second inning of Wednesday night’s Astros-Rangers game, home plate umpire Ron Kulpa called a low strike on a pitch from Rangers starter Mike Minor. It was not Kulpa’s first controversial strike zone call of the evening, and it greatly displeased the Astros bench. Kulpa, a sensitive wiener engorged with power, turned the scene into an embarrassing spectacle:
Virtually everyone in the Astros dugout charged up to the railing in frustration after the low strike. Kulpa yanked off his mask and gestured to the dugout, and Astros manager A.J. Hinch walked out to the plate to calm things down. Kulpa was evidently still pissed: for one thing, he replaced his mask with enough force to permanently lower his hairline; for another, he couldn’t take his eyes off that Astros dugout for even a second, even while Minor toed the rubber for the 0–1 pitch.
Hinch, noticing that Kulpa was waiting for an opportunity to run someone, urged Kulpa to watch the actual baseball game, which was enough of a challenge that Kulpa went ahead and tossed Astros hitting coach Alex Cintron, who’d been the most demonstrative about Kulpa’s strike zone. Hinch once again came out to calm things down, but now Kulpa was fully engaged in a sneering performance of authority. He all but laughed in Hinch’s face while pointing out Cintron in the dugout.
What did the umpire do next? Deadspin has the call:
My absolute favorite part of this comes after Hinch has returned to the dugout the second time and Minor has finally thrown his next pitch. The camera cuts to Hinch at the top step in the dugout, averting his eyes in disgust, because he knows that he can’t even look toward the plate without making eye contact with Kulpa, who is still bird-dogging for another victim. When Hinch finally gives in, you can hear him shout at Kulpa, “You can’t keep doing this! You can’t keep doing it!” And, of course, Kulpa tosses him. And to finally make the point he’s been wanting to make all along, in the ensuing confrontation, Kulpa can be seen shouting “I can do anything I want!” in Hinch’s face.
Kulpa wasn’t done. At the end of the third inning he chirped at Astros pitcher Gerrit Cole and instigated a confrontation, and then before the bottom of the fourth inning he jumped in the middle of Cole’s warmups and started shit again.
You can see the whole imbroglio unfold in the video from MLB.com at the top of this post. Hinch mentioned the "I can do anything I want" comment to reporters in a post-game interview, and Deadspin helpfully provides a video that shows the umpire saying exactly those words.
This is the kind of behavior we've seen in Alabama courts, both state and federal. It also reminds me of a stunning scene from one of my favorite movies about our "justice system."
Here's how we described one of our encounters with former Alabama Circuit Judge J. Michael Joiner -- from a July 2007 post, roughly one month after Legal Schnauzer started:
After Joiner had repeatedly cheated me, I discovered that he and Bill Swatek used to be longtime neighbors and were frequent golf partners. I moved for Joiner's recusal, and Joiner admitted his cozy relationship with Swatek in open court. (Why would such a fine Christian be buds with a lawyer of Swatek's sleazy pedigree?) I asked Joiner in open court why he had denied two motions for summary judgment (MSJ) that, by law, had to be granted because the opposing party did not respond. His answer? "I thought it was the right thing to do." (I'm not making this up! A judge in Alabama says he violated his oath to uphold the law because he thought it was the right things to do! Don't you just love it? What do they teach in law school?)
Joiner also said, "Mr. Shuler, if you don't like the way you're being treated here, you can get on I-65 and go to Montgomery (home of Alabama's appellate courts). Of course, Alabama's appellate courts are dominated by Republicans, and they proved just as corrupt as the Shelby County courts did. (And doesn't Joiner's snarky comment just radiate Christian warmth and charity?)
Here's how we described our interaction with former U.S. District Judge William M. Acker Jr. -- who thankfully, has since died -- when the esteemed jurist admitted in open court he was going to cheat me and then did just that in my First Amendment/employment discrimination lawsuit against the University of Alabama Board of Trustees and individual supervisory types at the UAB campus in Birmingham. Here's the set-up, from an April 2012 post:
The hearing in question took place in Acker's court on December 10, 2010. It's clear from the transcript that Acker is going to convert motions to dismiss to motions for summary judgment--and there had been no discovery in the case. And yet, he granted summary judgment on January 28, 2011, without even a discovery meeting having been held between the parties.
Courtroom crookedness doesn't get much more outrageous than that. But it came as no surprise, given Acker's statements in open court on December 10. One issue on that date was a motion to dismiss from the City of Birmingham, which I had named as a party in my complaint. The record shows that the city attached an affidavit to its motion, and the transcript makes clear that Acker did not exclude it. When a defendant attaches "matters outside the pleadings" to a motion to dismiss and the court does not exclude them, the motion must be converted to a motion for summary judgment and handled according to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP)--and that means discovery must be conducted. This process is outlined in Rule 12(d) FRCP, which ends with this sentence: "All parties must be given a reasonable opportunity to present all the material that is pertinent to the motion." Law doesn't get much more clear cut than that.
What happened next? I quoted straight from a court transcript:
I pointed out the requirements of Rule 12(d) to Acker, but he wasn't going to hear it. . . . Acker's dark intentions become clear on page 14 [of the transcript]:
MR. SHULER: Well, I just want to be on record that --
THE COURT: You have your record.
MR. SHULER: -- it has to be converted, and I think we all here know that.
THE COURT: I suppose with all the work you have done on this and other cases that you know what a petition for a writ of mandamus is. Have you run into one of those yet?
MR SHULER: That shouldn't be needed.
THE COURT: That would be the way to get an immediate review of my disagreement with you. You better look that up. . . .
MR. SHULER: Isn't that a waste of judicial resources when everybody here --
THE COURT: You know, I give pro se parties slack because they are due it. You are about halfway between a pro se party and a represented party. You are still pro se, so I have got to cut you some slack, but I don't have to give you free legal advice, some of which I have already given you. So I think I'm stopping there on that for the question of the City of Birmingham. They are going to be out, one way or the other. . . .
What kind of con game was Acker pulling? This is how I described it:
So there you have a federal judge admitting that he's not going to follow the law. But Acker does not stop there. Near the end of the hearing, on page 27 in the transcript, he returns to the issue of a writ of mandamus:
THE COURT: . . . But if you file something before I do it, I will read it, and it will be in the file, and the record will be made. But as of now, we are just making the record for today. And don't forget to look up the mandamus rule. Look that up.
To fully grasp what Acker is doing here, you have to understand the purpose of a writ of mandamus. The filing of a petition for such a writ is governed by Rule 21 of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure (FRAP). It is a form of appeal while the case still is in the trial court. That's why it is called an "extraordinary writ"; the process is designed to address close questions of law or fact, not to serve as a pinch hitter for a trial judge who is too crooked to rule correctly on simple procedural issues.
The transcript, read in full, shows there was no legitimate reason for Acker to warn me twice that I would need to learn about the mandamus process. But Acker knew two things about mandamus petitions: (1) They are time consuming; and (2) They are expensive, with an appellate docketing fee of $450 every time you file one.
In so many words, Acker was telling me: "I'm going to screw you on every little detail of this case, and you are going to have to spend months of your time and thousands of your dollars just to make the simplest step forward in your case. I will drain you of your resources simply because I can--and no one can stop me."
Acker's words are almost identical to those that came from umpire Ron Kulpa's mouth the other night. They also are almost identical to the words of a judicial character in the 2009 film Law Abiding Citizen, starring Jamie Foxx and Gerard Butler. Below is a video of probably one of the most stunning scenes in movie history, and it's a rare and realistic portrayal of court-related corruption in the United States. Warning If you've never seen the movie or this scene, brace yourself. I must admit that I've come to cheer for the abused character, played by Butler, who has the technical skills to cause a judge's painful demise: