Thursday, June 27, 2019

Spencer Collier makes clear in deposition that the idea of using government resources against Donald Watkins and me originated with "Luv Guv" Robert Bentley

Spencer Collier

Former Alabama Governor Robert "Luv Guv" Bentley stated in a deposition made public last July that it was the idea of former Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) chief Spencer Collier to launch a criminal investigation of me, in retaliation for my reporting on Bentley's extramarital affair with aide Rebekah Caldwell Mason ("Home Wrecky Becky"), which ended the governor's 50-year marriage. Collier, in a deposition we published last week (and it's embedded at the end of this post), tells a very different story.

Who is telling the truth? Given Bentley's history of lying repeatedly about the Mason affair and attacking the press in a way that would make Donald Trump blush, our money is on Collier. In a deposition from his wrongful-termination lawsuit against Bentley, Mason, and associates, Collier says it was Bentley's idea to use state and federal resources to seek dirt on me (and Birmingham attorney-Facebook blogger Donald Watkins) for leading the way on a scandal that would end with Bentley's ouster from the governorship after he pleaded guilty to two criminal charges and agreed to never again seek public office. reports today that the state settled the Collier v. Bentley for $525,000, although that was not the total figure. In fact, the total bill to taxpayers tops $1 million. From the report:

The state of Alabama paid $525,000 as part of a settlement of former Alabama Law Enforcement Secretary Spencer Collier’s lawsuit against former Gov. Robert Bentley and others.

The state also paid a total of $498,456 in legal defense costs for four defendants in the case, making the total cost to taxpayers $1.02 million.

The state’s online checkbook shows the payment from the state Finance Department on May 29. The entry says the payment is for “legal claim and award.” The payment was made to the Jemison and Mendelsohn law firm, which represented Collier.

Gov. Kay Ivey’s office confirmed the $525,000 payment was for the lawsuit settlement.

Asked why the state would pay to settle the lawsuit, the governor’s office noted that the funds were paid from the General Liability Trust Fund, which was established in state law for coverage of "damages arising out of the negligent or wrongful acts or omissions committed by state employees or agents of the state.” (Code of Alabama, Section 36-1-6.1.

Collier even explains how Bentley came to believe he could get away with using public resources for his personal vendettas. From the Collier deposition, with Bentley attorney John Neiman Jr. asking the questions: (Montgomery lawyer Kenneth Mendelsohn represents Collier.)

Q: Let's back up a little bit. You mentioned that ALEA had conducted an investigation into allegations of racial bigotry concerning a certain person, perhaps in the Wiregrass; do I have that correct?

A: It was -- it pertained to members of the Dothan Police Department, including at that time a current ALEA employee who was a former sheriff of Houston County who was also a former Dothan police officer. It centered around a homicide that occurred in the area at least a decade or so ago, prior to this. Accusations were that race played a role in not thoroughly doing an investigation. There were additional accusations made.

Our agents, and I don't recall who it was -- because it got in the public, our agents were able to quickly discredit and disprove what the blogger was saying. It was part of -- the summary or the synopsis of it was part of a routine briefing that I gave the governor; I think it was in writing. The governor reviewed it at a staff meeting. According to Jon Barganier, the governor was pleased with the quality investigation and made a comment to Jon why can't we do something like this about the Shelby County blogger? And I am referring to that because I don't recall his name. And according to Jon, [Bentley] instructed Jon to make contact with me and ask, and Jon did that. I explained to Mr. Barganier that I needed to speak to the governor directly.

Q: Do you recall the name of the former Dothan police officer who was the subject of the investigation you referred to?

A: It was multiple Dothan police officers. Andy Hughes was the -- was the employee, who at this time worked for us; he was a former sheriff of Houston County and also a former Dothan police officer. At this time, he was an assistant director in Homeland Security, oversaw a tactical team.

(Note: Barganier, deputy chief of staff, perhaps is best known for being part of the Alabama Gang that joined Bentley and his squeeze, Rebekah Caldwell Mason, at a Celine Dion concert in Las Vegas. Barganier stuck around to work for current Gov. Kay Ivey before bailing out last August to join the Alabama Petroleum Council.)

At this point in the proceedings, Watkins and I became front and center:

Q: Do you recall if the Shelby County blogger you referred to is named Roger Shuler?

A: That sounds -- that sounds right. I'm not sure, though, John.

Q: In both instances in which you contend the governor approached you about conducting these investigations --

A: These were not investigations.

Q: Well, tell me why it is not an investigation.

A: Well, they -- I am not aware they committed any crimes.

Q: Okay. Well, when the governor approached you about both Mr. Watkins and Shelby County, you told him that the -- taking action in the way that he suggested would not be proper. Was that the end of the conversation?

A: Yeah, explained to him that not taking action, but utilizing LETS, NCIC, really any restricted database, has to have a criminal justice reason to utilize it. So I explained we couldn't use it unless we had a law enforcement purpose.

Q: So you did not proceed with either task that the government -- that the governor had requested of you?

A: I did not. And one of the conversations, Agent Scott Lee was present when the governor made the request.

Collier indicates he asked Scott Lee to sit in on the conversation with Bentley, indicating the sensitive nature of the issues being discussed. We are left with a bunch of questions, but three stand out:

* Collier states he did not proceed with the task of trying to slime Watkins and me, but did Bentley find someone else who agreed to do his dirty work?

* Was Collier's refusal to go along with the dirt-gathering mission against bloggers part of the reason Bentley fired him?

* Did Bentley lie under oath about how the idea of attacking Watkins and me originated, and did that have something to do with the lawsuit settlement?

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Feds have detained Missouri resident Scott J. Wells on child-porn charges that their own narrative shows would be physically impossible for him to commit

Scott J. Wells

The United States government has detained a Missouri man for more than two years on child-pornography charges that, according to the feds' own narrative, involve alleged offenses that were physically impossible for him to commit.

That means there was no probable cause to arrest Scott J. Wells or search his home, which led to his incarceration in spring 2017. It also points to gross misconduct (or incompetence, or both) from federal prosecutor James J. Kelleher, who is directing the case against Wells, and U.S. Magistrate Judge David P. Rush, who ordered Wells' arrest. It also raises questions about the competence or integrity of James D. Holdman Jr., the special agent (SA) with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) who prepared the criminal complaint and affidavit seeking an arrest warrant for Wells. (The complaint and affidavit, in one document, are embedded at the end of this post.)

Where does Wells go to get back the two years of his life the feds stole from him? That question now rests in the lap of Springfield attorney Brady Musgrave, who became the third court-appointed defense attorney assigned to the case, back in February. That came after we reported on a letter private attorney Shane Cantin sent to Wells, saying he had no defense and surely would be convicted. That, in blunt terms, was pure horse excrement. It remains to be seen if Musgrave will be any better than Cantin -- or public defender David Mercer, whom the record suggests did nothing to provide a defense for Wells.

Brady Musgrave
Musgrave is with the Springfield firm of Jones and Musgrave. In our view, he will not have much choice but to act on the blatant shortcomings apparent in the government's court filings. The feds' screw-ups are numerous, but they are relatively subtle for someone (like myself) who is not used to reporting on child-porn cases. I missed the government's most significant mistake -- the one that proves Wells could not possibly have committed the alleged offense -- for several months, and it only recently came to my attention.

For now, a trial is set for August, but if Musgrave does his job, it should not get that far. To be sure, Kelleher and Rush will pull every trick at their disposal to ensure that Wells unlawfully goes to trial and is wrongly convicted.. But any competent defense lawyer, who is not compromised, should be able to quickly ensure the indictment against Wells is dismissed, and he is released from custody.

We already have shown the case against Wells lacked probable case -- mainly because the feds provide zero evidence that Wells acted "knowingly" or that Wells knew individuals in the alleged images were minors (under age 18) -- both statutory requirements for a conviction. But the newly discovered hole in the feds' case is so enormous that it should force dismissal ASAP.

In fact, the new hole in the Wells case is of such substance that it raises this question: Have the charges against Scott J. Wells been a hoax from the outset? Did the feds actually receive "cyber tips" about Wells' alleged activity from Facebook and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC)? Or did someone -- pissed off that Wells fought state child-sexual abuse charges, which fell apart due to Wells' apparent innocence and the ineffective assistance of counsel provided by Missouri lawyer, David Shuler (my brother) -- create the federal charges out of whole cloth as a form of retaliation?

What is the newly discovered evidence -- apparent right in the government's own documents -- that should set Scott Wells free? We will spell it out in an upcoming post.

(To be continued)

Monday, June 24, 2019

Defense counsel in "The Jail Case" make absurdist arguments that have no basis in law or reality, bringing a certain courtroom comedy to the proceedings

Christina Crow
Why do some people bother going to law school? Is it to obtain a license that will allow them to file fraudulent court documents, which have little or no  basis in fact or law? Does the thought of engaging in such con games give them a thrill, perhaps the kind a house flipper gets from pulling off the perfect swindle. Based on our experience with the appeal of "The Jail Case" in the U.S. Eleventh Circuit, the answer seems to be yes, some people go into law with no intention of being good enough to win cases on the merits; they are happy to resort to scams.

Consider defendant lawyers Rob Riley and Christina Crow, who claim our constitutional arguments must fail because the lawyers are private, not state, actors. But a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that is closing in on being 40 years old, blows a hole in the Riley-Crow contentions. From our reply brief (which is embedded, along with our appellants' brief at the end of this post):

But this argument fails because Riley simply cannot get around the U.S. Supreme Court’s finding in Lugar v. Edmondson, 457 U.S. 922 (1982): “Private persons, jointly engaged with state officials in the prohibited action, are acting ‘under color’ of law for purposes of the statute. To act ‘under color’ of law does not require that the accused be an officer of the State. It is enough that he is a willful participant in joint activity with the State or its agents.” This is exactly the kind of unlawful collaboration that led to Roger Shuler’s arrest and incarceration, making Riley and Co. state actors.

Crow tries a similar approach, but it also fails. From our reply brief:

Crow’s private-actor argument fails for the same reason the Riley argument fails above, at No. 10, per the U.S. Supreme Court finding in Lugar. Crow’s legal argument on the “state actor” issue fails on other grounds. For example, she cites Willis v. University Health Services, Inc., 993 F. 2d 837 (11th Cir., 1993). But that case was decided at summary judgment, after extensive discovery, and provides no support for Crow’s claim that the Shulers’ complaint should be subject to a motion to dismiss. The same is true of Rayburn v. Hogue. In short, Crow provides zero legal basis for her “state actor” argument.

Attorney David Gespass, who visited me twice in jail and offered no strategy for gaining my release and seeking justice against those who caused my wrongful arrest, takes an interesting approach to allegations that he made false and defamatory statements to another attorney about me. Gespass doesn't really deny that he made defamatory statements to Paul Alan Levy, of Ralph Nader's Public Citizen in Washington, D.C. Rather, Gespass claims he made the statements outside the statute of limitations, so the defamation count should be dismissed.

But that is not the only consideration. Alabama's discovery rule means the date I discovered the injury to my reputation also is a prime factor. On top of that, Gespass makes some odd arguments along the way:

Gespass’ time-bar argument regarding the Shulers’ defamation claim also fails. Gespass does not deny that he spoke to D.C.-based lawyer Paul Alan Levy and made false and defamatory statements about Mr. Shuler to Levy. Gespass acknowledges in a previously filed document (Motion to Dismiss) that the statute of limitations in the instant case runs to March 26, 2014. On page 4 of that motion, Gespass acknowledges that his defamatory statements to Mr. Levy took place before March 27, 2014. In other words, Gespass admits his defamatory statements were made inside the March 26, 2014, window, while Roger Shuler still was incarcerated, but yet he tries to claim they are time-barred. A key question, which Gespass conveniently ignores, is: When did Shuler learn of the defamation? Roger Shuler communicated with Mr. Levy a second time, on Oct. 16, 2016, and Levy related several defamatory statements that had been made to him by “another First Amendment litigator.” Shuler states that David Gespass is the only other First Amendment litigator with whom he has ever communicated, so it clearly was Gespass who made the defamatory statements to Levy – and Gespass, in his Motion to Dismiss, does not deny it. Also, the defamation claim, coming on statements of 10/16/16, is not time barred.
Ted Rollins
One of the most outrageous claims comes from "the Rollins defendants," which includes former Campus Crest Communities CEO Ted Rollins and his one-time stepson Zac Parrish. On a variety of Web sites, these kind folks have claimed I am "Satan's Earthly Emmissary" (sic), that I am racist and homophobic, and like to have sex with animals. Much of this stuff still is out there on the Web, but here is how the Rollins Gang tries to wriggle out of being held accountable:

Rollins falsely claims the Shulers have supported their defamation count with “bare, conclusory allegations . . . without any factual support.”Strangely, Rollins follows this assertion with a full page of factual allegations from the Shulers’ complaint, supporting the defamation count. That doesn’t count the roughly 35 pages of direct evidence, attached as exhibits to the Shulers Rule 59 motion (Doc. 162), supporting their defamation count. Much of this defamatory material remains on the Web today.

Rollins and Co. aren't the only ones trying to wriggle off the accountability hook. Tech giant Google allegedly sold ads to someone associated with Rollins to help promote their defamatory Web sites. Google claims responsibility should not land at its feet:

Google’s primary argument is that Sec. 230c of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) protects if from liability for selling advertising to the owner of a Web site that promotes defamatory material. First, Google claims Sec. 230c bars any claims against Google for content that was created by a third party. Sec. 230c, however, does not say that; it says: “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” Also, there are no facts in the record that content in the ad was created by a third party. Google further cites a district-court case – Am. Income Life Ins. Co. v. Google Inc. – for its holding that Google is immune under Sec. 230 for allegedly defamatory content found on Web sites. First, Am. Income is not controlling law in the Eleventh Circuit. Second, it involves allegations that certain Web sites published defamatory information that appeared on Google searches. In other words, Am. Income involved Google’s role as a service provider. The instant case, however, involves Google’s role as a seller of advertising – a business that reportedly produces about $14 billion annually. There is nothing in Sec. 230 that protects a distributor of ads for a defamatory Web site. The issues here involve Google’s role as a purveyor of advertising, not as a service provider. Google claims that it allows third-party advertisers to display ads on Web sites, while Google itself plays a benign role. First, the $14 billion in revenue that Google reportedly receives from its advertising business hardly suggests a benign enterprise. Second, Google’s own Web site for AdSense states: “Ads are reviewed to ensure they’re high quality and relevant to your content or audience . . . .” Google admits that it is supposed to review ads – and presumably is supposed to review the Web sites to which the ads refer -- but someone failed miserably with the ad at issue in this case.

So, Google makes about $14 billion a year off advertising and admits it is supposed to review ads for quality, but it claims no responsibility for running ads that promote blatantly defamatory Web sites.

We haven't even gotten to the most outrageous claim from defendants in "The Jail Case" appeal. We will address that in an upcoming post.

(To be continued)

Friday, June 21, 2019

Donald Watkins: Spencer Collier settled lawsuit for $700,000, but others proceeded with "Luv Guv" Bentley's dirty work when Collier refused to do it

Spencer Collier

Spencer Collier settled his wrongful-termination lawsuit against former Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley for $700,000, and other state employees proceeded with criminal investigations of Birmingham attorney/Facebook blogger Donald Watkins and me after Collier refused to take such unlawful action in retaliation for our reports about Bentley's affair with aide Rebekah Caldwell Mason.

That is from a Watkins post yesterday in the wake of our report about a Collier deposition, where the former head of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) said Bentley asked multiple subordinates to make unlawful use of state and federal databases to launch baseless criminal investigations against the two online journalists (Watkins and me) who drove the reporting on the Mason scandal, which led to Bentley's ouster from office and guilty pleas to two criminal charges.

Bentley's use of state resources for a personal vendetta is a criminal act, and Watkins cites events from Alabama history that prove it. From Watkins' June 20 post:

Deposition testimony from former Gov. Robert Bentley and former Alabama Law Enforcement Agency Chief Spencer Collier in a recently settled lawsuit between the two men confirmed that Bentley viewed me as a “political enemy" and asked Collier to investigate me for criminal wrongdoing as a means of discrediting me.

The other online journalist who was targeted for destruction is Roger Shuler. Shuler and I published a series of articles in 2015 that exposed Gov. Bentley’s secret love affair with his mistress and lover, Rebekah Caldwell Mason.

The publication of my “Forbidden Love” and “Executive Betrayal” series of investigative articles in September/October 2015 infuriated Bentley.

Once First Lady Dianne Jones Bentley confirmed that Rebekah Mason was her husband’s paramour, she sued Gov. Bentley for a divorce and exited their marriage. Gov. Bentley had already exited the marriage, emotionally and otherwise. He was hopelessly in love with Rebekah Mason, a married mother of three children who served as his senior political advisor. Mason's sexual seduction of Bentley gave her complete control of the governor’s office.

Donald Watkins
Watkins makes clear that Bentley's efforts to retaliate against the two of us because of our reporting on his administration goes beyond political skulduggery and slides into criminal territory. From the Watkins post:

Roger Shuler published two recent articles [see here and here] that exposed Bentley’s sinister and unlawful plan to use federal and state resources to launch criminal investigations against Shuler and me in retaliation for our news reporting on the Bentley-Mason love affair and sex scandal.

Bentley was not worried about the state’s mainstream news media organizations because he regarded them as too weak, too compromised, and too afraid to report on his “sex-for-power” scandal. He was right. These media outlets did not join the fray until seven months later when audiotapes surfaced of phone sex between Bentley and Mason.

As we reported on July 17, 2018, Bentley stated in his deposition "I don't know exactly how much was investigated, though.” Watkins states in yesterday's post that is not true:

Bentley lied in his deposition when he claimed that he did not know what became of the investigations. They, in fact, continued. . . .

Spencer Collier refused to use federal and state resources to launch politically motivated criminal investigations against Roger Shuler and me. Because of this refusal, Collier was fired.

Undeterred, Gov. Bentley’s efforts to use federal and state resources to harass me continued under the leadership of David Byrne, the governor’s legal adviser/consigliere, and Stan Stabler, Bentley’s replacement for Collier.

Collier stated multiple times in his deposition that he told Bentley it was improper to use public criminal databases for personal dirt-gathering purposes, with no genuine basis in fact. Watkins reports that Collier was on target about that -- and Alabama history helps prove it:

Spencer Collier was right about the use of the federal NCIC criminal database and state ACJIS information system for political and personal reasons. It is a crime to use these databases for political and personal reasons.

In 2000, former Jefferson County Sheriff Jimmy Woodward and Birmingham Attorney Albert Jordan were charged, tried, and convicted in federal court for using the NCIC and ACJIS databases for political and personal reasons. Their convictions were upheld on appeal.

As evidenced by his deposition testimony, Gov. Bentley engaged in the same politically motivated and retaliatory conduct in 2015. Yet, Bentley was not prosecuted by federal or state law enforcement authorities for these criminal acts.

Watkins notes the Collier lawsuit settlement, while stating that his own ordeal continues -- apparently driven, at least in part, by Bentley's unlawful efforts to seek revenge:

Spencer Collier sued Bentley for his wrongful termination. The case was settled last week with Collier receiving a reported $700,000 under the settlement agreement. Thereafter, the case will be dismissed.

Collier’s ordeal is ending, but mine continues.

Gov. Bentley resigned his office in disgrace in April 2017. Today, Bentley and Rebekah Mason are still lovers and they work together in Bentley's private medical practice.

The mainstream reporters who were afraid to publish articles on the Bentley-Mason secret love affair during the first seven months of the scandal in 2015-16 eventually won praise for their work from pundits on national TV. One of them won a Pulitzer Prize for regurgitating and repackaging the journalistic work performed by Roger Shuler and me under the most threatening, harmful, and retaliatory conditions.

The rest of the story is history.

(To be continued)

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Deposition in Spencer Collier's lawsuit against Robert Bentley shows "Luv Guv" asked staffers to use criminal databases to dig up dirt on me, in retaliation for reporting on his affair with Rebekah Caldwell Mason

Spencer Collier

Former Alabama Governor Robert Bentley asked multiple subordinates about launching a criminal investigation of me in retaliation for my reporting on his extramarital affair with aide Rebekah Caldwell Mason, according to a deposition in a recently settled lawsuit.

I broke the story here at Legal Schnauzer of the Bentley-Mason affair, which ended the governor's 50-year marriage and led to his political downfall -- with him resigning in April 2017 after pleading guilty to two misdemeanor charges and agreeing to never again hold public office. Bentley apparently knew my reporting, which started almost seven months before the mainstream media devoted serious attention to the matter, was a threat to his hold on political power because he sought to punish me for it -- even though subordinates told him on multiple occasions there were no lawful grounds to use state and federal databases to seek "dirt" on me.

Subordinates said the same thing about Bentley's efforts to target Birmingham attorney and Facebook blogger Donald Watkins with a similar dirt-gathering operation because of his reporting on the Bentley-Mason scandal.

The revelations come from a deposition former Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) chief Spencer Collier gave in his wrongful termination-defamation lawsuit against Bentley, Mason, and their associates.

Collier announced last Wednesday that the lawsuit had settled, even though Alabama taxpayers were paying for Team Bentley's legal defense, so it's hard to see what incentive they had to settle. The next day, Collier's estranged wife sought a protection order against him. And two days later, in an even more curious event, police in Daphne, AL, arrested Collier on charges of filing a false report -- related to his son's use of a credit card without his father's permission. The arrest came even though no information published in the press indicates Collier "knowingly" filed a false report -- the mother apparently gave the son permission to use the card, without Collier's knowledge -- and the "knowing" element is central to proving a culpable state of mind that is key to the offense.

Ironically, the Collier deposition includes statements that, while working for Bentley, he learned of the governor's fondness for making abusive use of state and law-enforcement resources to gather dirt on perceived enemies. From a portion of the deposition, which is embedded at the end of this post: (The questioning apparently is from John Neiman Jr., Bentley's attorney from the Birmingham firm Maynard Cooper and Gale; Collier is represented by Montgomery attorney Kenneth Mendelsohn.)

A: Bentley had, and continues to have, a pattern and practice of using ALEA equipment, facilities, and labor for his own personal reasons, including using and attempting to use ALEA law enforcement officers to try to dig up dirt on people that Bentley disliked or became upset with.

Q: What equipment are you referring to?

A: Which instance? In general?

Q: In general, yes.

A: Governor Bentley on several occasions requested either myself or special agents -- other special agents either in executive or protective services, dignitary protection, to access law enforcement-sensitive databases to obtain information on individuals that he viewed were political enemies of his.

Q: Can you provide me some examples of instances in you contend that happened?

A: Yes. Governor Bentley requested myself and another special agent to try and gather information on Donald Watkins. He also requested it on a blogger out of Shelby County. I don't know the gentleman -- recall the gentleman's name, he ran a blog.

That last sentence is a reference to yours truly. What made Bentley think he could get away with this kind of thuggishness? It apparently appealed to his inner bully, and Collier explains why:

A: Specifically, Governor Bentley had discovered an investigation that ALEA had conducted in the Wiregrass area, where a blogger was making accusations of racial bigotry towards a current ALEA employee, former sheriff. We pretty quickly were able to show that there was no merit to the investigation. The governor was pleased with the investigation and the methods we used to disprove it. He specifically -- initially contacted Jon Barganier to contact me and ask for -- if we could do a similar investigation aimed at a blogger out of Shelby County to disprove what the blogger was saying the governor.

Again, my name has not been mentioned in the deposition (yet), but I was the first person Bentley sought to target. Here is more from the deposition:

A: Jon [Barganier] brought it to my attention by phone. I told Jon it was probably not a proper conversation between he and I, that I needed to have the conversation with the governor. I went in later to meet with the governor and again, he praised the investigation that we had done and what our capabilities were, and he wanted to know  if we could use similar capabilities to discredit a blogger in Shelby County that was saying negative things about him. I explained to the governor that that was law enforcement sensitive, that it would require criminal justice purpose to utilize that and told him it wouldn't be proper.

On another occasion, the governor asked us to use law enforcement sensitive information to discredit Donald Watkins. I don't know Donald Watkins, I didn't know him. I don't necessarily know what it was about, but obviously Mr. Watkins had said some negative things about the governor, and the governor wanted us to discredit him in general. I again explained to the governor that NCIC, ACJIS, all of that was law enforcement sensitive, and we had to have  criminal justice purpose to utilize it.

What happened to Gov. Bentley's requests to investigate Donald Watkins and me?The deposition provides insight, but it does not fully answer that question.

(To be continued)

Monday, June 17, 2019

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez stands for the rule of law as Doug Jones sides with Nancy Pelosi, Eliot Engel, and the squishy wing of the Democratic Party that is afraid to pursue impeachment in the Age of Trump

Democrats have paid a huge political price for having the courage to do the right thing on at least two sensitive issues. That's why it is disturbing to see multiple Democrats -- including U.S. Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) -- make recent statements that play into the hands of Republicans on at least one of these issues. The statements -- from Jones, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) -- indicate some Democrats have not learned the lessons of modern history.

What are the two hot-button issues where Democrats (and the country) have suffered because the party did the right thing? One, Dems have supported civil rights for minorities (based on race, gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, etc.). Two, they have supported sensible, effective, and constitutional solutions to crime.

Research shows that crime rates tend to spike under Republican presidents and their "fry 'em til their eyes pop out" approach. Exhibit A is this; Crime was far more prevalent under Ronald Reagan than it was under Barack Obama. So how have Republicans managed to paint Democrats as "soft on crime"? For one, an inattentive public has bought the GOP's simplistic, emotional approach to crime. And two, some Democrats have helped sell the right-wing narrative.

How does that happen? Consider our current situation: Some Democrats are all squishy on the crimes of -- get this -- a Republican president. Jones added his voice to that chorus last week when he came out as opposing an impeachment inquiry "right now" of President Donald Trump. From a report at Yellowhammer News:

Senator Doug Jones (D-Mountain Brook) says contrary to some reports, he is not on the “impeach Donald Trump” bandwagon and to say he is open to it was a “misinterpretation.”

During an appearance on Huntsville radio’s WVNN on Friday, Alabama’s Democratic U.S. Senator said he did not think there should be an impeachment inquiry.

“I’m really glad you asked me that because quite frankly, the Yellowhammer blog consistently misinterprets my positions on a lot of things, which I just ignore,” he said when asked about the possibilities of impeachment. “But they said this week that I was open to something like that, which is really a misinterpretation of a position. I don’t think there ought to be impeachment inquiries right now.”

Why not? Well, Jones does not really say, and he's never been a real Democrat anyway, so his statement might be a play to his right-wing handlers (Rob Riley, Jeff Sessions, Bill Pryor, Bill Canary, etc.) Here is more from Yellowhammer:

The Jefferson County Democrat urged his congressional colleagues on the other side of Capitol Hill to get away from impeachment talk and focus on the Russian interference aspect.

“The House is going to do what they’re going to do. I can’t control that House. I wish they would get away from all the talk about impeachment – talk about doing some oversight, but more importantly, let’s talk about the Russian interference and get to the bottom of it so we can protect our democratic election.”

Translation: Jones wants Trump and Co. to get a free pass for the myriad crimes spelled out in the Mueller Report. Jones is not alone in this approach.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has refused to push for impeachment proceedings, and U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) said in an interview on Sunday that progressive frustration with Pelosi is growing. (See video at top of this post.) From the interview with George Karl on ABC's This Week:

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Well, I think every day that passes the pressure to impeach grows and I think that it’s justifiable, I think the evidence continues to come in and I believe that with the president now saying that he is willing to break the law to win re-election, that -- that goes -- that transcends partisanship, it transcends party lines and this is now about the rule of law in the United States of America.

KARL: There’s a new poll out this morning, NBC News that shows significant growth in Democratic support for impeachment. And the -- the survey was done before George's interview. Pelosi, though -- Speaker Pelosi has really held her line on this. How is that flying with progressives? 
OCASIO-CORTEZ: Well, you know, I think for me this question has -- should not be about polls, it should not be about elections. I think that -- that impeachment is incredibly serious and this is about the presence and evidence that the president may have committed a crime, in this case more than one. And so I believe that -- that our decision on impeachment should be based in our constitutional responsibilities and duties and not in elections or polling.

That being said, with the increase in polls I think the American people are now recognizing, in -- in a much broader scale, the depth and the severity of the misconduct coming out of the White House and a demand to protect our institutions and protect the rule of law in the United States and -- and at least opening an inquiry into -- into possible misconduct.

AOC absolutely nailed it: This is about the rule of law, which has been eroding every day since we started this blog in June 2007. But even one of AOC's colleagues from New York -- Eliot Engel, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee -- remains a blockhead on impeachment. Consider this nonsense from Engel durng an interview last week with CNN's Kate Bolduan:

I don't think we're there yet. Congress will have to grapple with it. Right now, we don't want to do anything that would be looked at as a political move. We want to do something that is looked at as for the benefit of the country. We have to weigh everything. . . . There may be votes to impeach, but not be votes to convict . . . . That's on people's minds. We're in no rush. . . We have to sit down, put our heads together, and figure out what's good for the country. . . . That's the bottom line . . . . If I come to the conclusion that impeachment would be good for the country, I would not hesitate to vote for impeachment. But I just don't think we are right there yet. I want to see consensus. I think Nancy Pelosi is doing the right thing, at the right speed."

What rubbish, on a number of levels:

(1) Nancy Pelosi's timidity on impeachment probably has nothing to do with "what's best for the country" and everything to do with the ties of her husband (Paul Pelosi) to a number of shady business/real estate deals that point to possible insider trading, conflicts of interest, and more. Nancy Pelosi's main concern might be that, if she pushes for impeachment, the Trump Department of Justice will come after her husband.

(2) Eliot Engel says "we're in no rush"? Good God, we have a president who was hand-picked by Russia and Vladimir Putin, and Trump is making one horrible appointment after another, including packing our courts with Federalist Society criminals, but Engel feels no sense of urgency?

(3) How can it be "good for the country" when Democrats to sit on their hands and do nothing in the face of rampant criminality from the White House? How about backing AOC and her stand for the rule of law? Without it, we have no democracy. But, Engel says, the GOP-controlled Senate will not convict Trump of impeachment and remove him from office? How does Engel know that, without seeing what evidence a House inquiry might produce? Even if that proves to be the case, let Republicans worry about the possible political fallout. Let them explain their support for a criminal in the West Wing, especially with polls showing that support for Trump is cratering.

Let Republicans, for once, look like the party that is soft on crime.

Was curious arrest of former ALEA head Spencer Collier driven by lawsuit-generated dirt on "Luv Guv" Bentley and perhaps donors to his "Girlfriend Fund"?

Spencer Collier

Spencer Collier, former chief of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA), was arrested last Friday in Baldwin County on a charge of filing a false report with law-enforcement authorities. Coming just two days after Collier announced a settlement in his wrongful-termination/defamation lawsuit against former Governor Robert Bentley, the arrest emits all kinds of noxious fumes.

Collier stated in a lawsuit deposition that, while working for Bentley, he learned the governor had a fondness for misusing law-enforcement resources to target perceived enemies. (More on that in upcoming posts.). Does that help explain Collier's arrest on charges that would have to improve to be flimsy? Our guess is yes.

Collier, once a personal friend and political ally of Bentley's, likely landed on the enemies list after helping reveal Bentley's extramarital affair with aide Rebekah Caldwell Mason and challenging his termination as unlawful. The story of Bentley's affair with Mason, which we broke here at Legal Schnauzer, led to Bentley's resignation in April 2017 after he pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors and agreed never to hold public office again. The Mason affair, which ended Bentley's marriage of 50 years, helped earn him such nicknames as "Luv Guv" and "Horndog Governor." Mason became known as "Home Wrecky Becky."

The first sign of fishiness surrounding Collier's arrest involves the offense with which he was charged. Based on published reports, he apparently was charged under Code of Alabama 13A-10-9 (False Report to Law Enforcement Authorities), which states:

Section 13A-10-9

False reporting to law enforcement authorities.

(a) A person commits the crime of false reporting to law enforcement authorities if he knowingly makes a false report or causes the transmission of a false report to law enforcement authorities of a crime or relating to a crime.

(b) False reporting to law enforcement authorities is a Class A misdemeanor.

[Note: Per Sec. 14-1 of the Daphne Municipal Code, the city has adopted state offenses law, so it's likely Collier was charged under the state law cited above.]

The key word in the law is "knowingly." That word, by law, goes to a culpable mental state and is described at Sec. 13A-2-2 as follows:

(2) KNOWINGLY. A person acts knowingly with respect to conduct or to a circumstance described by a statute defining an offense when he is aware that his conduct is of that nature or that the circumstance exists.

Was Collier aware his alleged actions constituted a violation of law? Let's look at how relevant events have been described in the press. From

Spencer Collier, the state’s former top cop, was arrested in south Alabama amid accusations he filed a false report.

Collier was booked and quickly released from Daphne City Jail, according to local law enforcement. A spokesperson from the Daphne Police Department said Collier’s charge related to a report he made regarding fraudulent credit card use while he was staying in a local hotel Thursday evening.

He turned himself in to the Daphne City Jail at around 1:30 p.m., according to Daphne PD Sgt. Jason Vannoy, who characterized the incident as “domestic.”

How was the incident domestic? Here is more from

Collier addressed the arrest and his family situation in a statement.

“My adult son, who is a recovering addict and multiple felon, used my bank card without my permission,” said Collier in a message to “I filed a police report, being this is the second time in a year that he has done this. I was unaware that my wife (we are currently estranged) gave him permission. He pressed charges because I listed him as the suspect.”

He added: “I have no doubt that I will be exonerated - but the entire episode is embarrassing. I am so sorry for any embarrassment that this has caused the City of Selma. I wish to apologize to the Daphne Police Department and also express my gratitude for their professionalism throughout the entire incident.”

Having been told about Collier’s defense of what happened, Sgt Vannoy of the Daphne PD said that fundamental information given by Collier to an investigating officer was deemed to be false.

Let's consider some questions this press account raises:

1. Collier plainly states that he was unaware his estranged wife had given his son permission to use the credit card. What does this say about Collier's "culpable mental state"? It suggests he didn't have one.

"Luv Guv" Bentley and Rebekah Mason
2. Was the credit card in the name of both Collier and his estranged wife? If his wife's name was not on the card, did she have grounds to give the son permission to use it? At this point, we lack information about the nature of the card.

3. Sgt. Vannoy, of the Daphne PD, said the "fundamental information given by Collier to an investigating officer was deemed to be false." But we know from the language in the statute that is not the key element of the offense. The accused must act "knowingly," and the available evidence indicates Collier did not know his statement to the investigating officer was false.

Many questions swirl around Collier's arrest, but two facts appear to be clear:

* Collier did not knowingly violate the false reporting law, and he never should have been arrested;

* That the arrest came two days after Collier announced a settlement in his lawsuit against Bentley -- and Collier's estranged wife sought a protection order one day after the lawsuit announcement -- suggests someone was unnerved about the settlement. Who might that be?

First, the lawsuit settlement surprised many observers, including this one. Taxpayers were funding Bentley's defense, so he appeared to have little or no incentive to settle. That Bentley did settle suggests discovery in the lawsuit might have produced potentially damaging information about Bentley, Mason, and their associates. Did Collier attorney Kenneth Mendelsohn catch someone on Team Bentley in a perjury trap, with criminal implications? If such information involved donors to ACEGOV, also known as the "Girlfriend Fund," it could be making some of the state's powerful and moneyed elites nervous.

As we reported last August, Collier filed a motion seeking information about donors to ACEGOV. Did that motion yield information that led to a lawsuit settlement and Collier's unlawful arrest?

We suggest that federal and state agencies need to launch a criminal investigation based on that question.

(To be continued)

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Scott Wells remains behind bars, while fellow Missourian William M. Walker -- caught with 180,000 files of child porn -- never faced pre-trial detention

What kind of "justice" do federal prosecutors in the Western District of Missouri practice in alleged child-pornography cases. We would call it a radically unequal form of justice.

Consider Springfield, MO, resident Scott J. Wells, who has been detained for more than two years on charges of receiving and distributing child porn. The criminal complaint against Wells describes alleged unlawful acts that would be physically impossible to commit. (Details in an upcoming post.) The indictment against Wells contains zero specifics, or particulars, about his alleged wrongdoing, meaning the document is deficient as a matter of law. (Again, details upcoming.) The indictment should be dismissed ASAP, and in fact, never should have been issued. The government has a clunker of a case, but it has held Wells behind bars, as a "threat to society" since spring 2017, with a trial set for August. (Wells detention documents are embedded at the end of this post.)

Now, consider Branson, MO, resident William M. Walker. Court documents state that investigators found more than 174,000 image files and 6,500 video files of child pornography on his home computer. The Walker investigation began in June 2016, and he pleaded guilty to receipt and distribution of child porn in 2018. Now 76 years old, Walker currently is housed at a federal prison in Oklahoma City, where he is serving a sentence of five years imposed by U.S. District Judge Doug Harpool.

Heck Walker even was in the process of downloading child pornography when investigators first appeared at his house. (Memo to those considering a "career" in child porn: Be sure you aren't downloading the stuff when the feds knock on your door with a search warrant. Sort of hurts your chances of beating the rap.)

Throughout the court process that followed his arrest, Walker never was detained. In fact, James J. Kelleher -- the same lead prosecutor on the Wells case -- did not seek detention for Walker, even though his misconduct dwarfed that alleged against Wells, in size, scope, and every other measure one might consider.

Why did Kelleher not seek to put Walker behind bars, pending a trial, as he has done with Scott Wells? Well, you know the old expression, "It's who you know, not what you know that counts"? Walker, it turns out, knows some of the most powerful people in Southwest Missouri. Peter Herschend, co-founder and owner of Herschend Family Entertainment Corp. (parent company of the Silver Dollar City theme park in Branson) spoke as a character witness at Walker's sentencing.

It's not clear if Walker knew Herschend from working at Silver Dollar City or its parent company. But it is clear that Walker benefited from connections Scott Wells did not enjoy. How outrageous was the conduct to which Walker pleaded guilty. Let's consider the Government's Sentencing Memorandum (embedded at the end of this post), under the heading "Factual Background":

Between June 28, 2016, and June 29, 2016, a law enforcement computer, using software designed to capture IP addresses of computer users attempting to download files containing depictions of child pornography via the Freenet, detected a remote user requesting a folder known as "Prelolitas-World_Anya A 9.rar." This folder is known by law enforcement to contain 123 images depicting a child under 12 years of age engaged in sexually explicit conduct. The same user also requested to download another folder containing 141 images of a child under 6 years of age engaged in sexually explicit conduct.

An investigative subpoena to Suddenlink Comunications identified the subscriber as William M. Walker, of 530 Oak Bluff Road, Branson, MO. A search warrant for Walker's residence was obtained and executed on August 10, 2016. The search yielded a stunning amount of evidence:

Upon arrival, the investigators located WALKER, the sole occupant of the home, and after advising him of his Miranda rights, questioned him with regard to his use of Freenet. WALKER acknowledged that he used Freenet to download images, but invoked his right to an attorney being directly confronted with the allegation that he was downloading child pornography.

What happened next? Well, it didn't help Walker's cause:

The investigators located WALKER'S computer in a second floor office. The computer was actively running the Freenet application. Detective Larry Roller opened the user interface and noted that the computer was in the process of downloading a batch of files known to law enforcement as containing depictions of child pornography. The computer, along with several USB drives, were seized by investigators. A forensic examination later yielded the discovery of approximately 174,121 images files and 6,572 video files containing depictions of child pornography

After letting this sink in for a moment, we have a few points:

(1) Walker actually was downloading child porn when investigators arrived at his house with a search warrant. Ouch! I'd say prosecutors had a pretty iron-clad case;

(2) Let that number of files sink in. As a total, Walker had more than 180,500 child-porn images on his computer;

(3) Lord, how did the darned thing run? How much memory did the guy have installed? How did the computer keep from collapsing under the weight of all that porn?

For our purposes, the No. 1 question at the moment is this: Why has Scott Wells been behind bars for more than two years -- even though the feds had no probable cause to arrest him or search his home; they charged him with an offense that is physically impossible to commit.

Meanwhile, William Walker, with his ties to the Silver Dollar City hierarchy, never faced pre-trial detention -- even though he was caught red-handed downloading child porn, in massive quantities.

In essence, the court decided Scott Wells is a "danger to society," while prosecutors never even tried to detain William Walker, pending trial. That's not remotely in line with the facts of the two cases.

How in the world did Scott Wells wind up behind bars for more than two years, currently in the Greene County Jail, even though he stands wrongly accused and has been found guilty of nothing? We will examine documents related to that question in an upcoming post.

(To be continued)

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Defense counsel resorts to all kinds of preposterous scams and trickery as our "Jail Case" is pending before the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta

Virginia Emerson Hopkins
Our federal lawsuit over my wrongful arrest and incarceration in Shelby County, Alabama ("The Jail Case") is pending before the U.S. Eleventh Circuit of Appeals in Atlanta. The process presents a classic example of what defense attorneys can do when they know they have no case, know the case is rigged in their favor -- or maybe both.

Some of defense counsel's actions in Roger Shuler, et al v. Liberty Duke, et al would be comical if the issues at stake were not so serious. An appeal would not be necessary, of course, if U.S. District Judge Virginia Emerson Hopkins (Northern District of Alabama) weren't so crooked and oily that she squeaks when she walks. Hopkins is more than happy to waste your taxpayer dollars by repeatedly ruling contrary to black-letter law and forcing an appeal that should not be necessary. Hopkins and her husband -- Anniston lawyer Chris Hopkins -- essentially bought a judicial seat with donations to the Richard Shelby/Jeff Sessions/George W. Bush crime syndicate, so her bogus rulings were no surprise.

The good news is that Judge Hopkins' unlawful rulings probably rise to the level of fraud on the court, which means her orders are void, and we can pursue that avenue if the Eleventh Circuit screws us again. I'm still researching the fraud-on-the-court issue, but it could prove to be our best path to justice on all of the cases where judges have sullied the "machinery of the court" with fraudulent rulings.

History teaches that we should be prepared for a shock if the Eleventh Circuit actually dispenses justice. This is the same court that already has cheated us on a variety of issues -- employment discrimination and First Amendment violations, wrongful foreclosure, unlawful sheriff'a sale of the full ownership rights to our house, violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). Oh, and this is the same court that cheated former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman and former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy, forcing both men to be wrongfully imprisoned for roughly six years each.

The Eleventh Circuit process began with the filing of our appellants' brief (embedded at the end of this post). That gave defendants an opportunity to file response briefs, and most of them did so. (Note: Almost all of those documents were served to us in hard-copy format, and our scanner was stolen during our eviction in Missouri, so we have no means of converting them into a digital format for publication here. The documents can be viewed via PACER [for a fee].)  We then filed a reply brief (embedded at the end of this post, doing our best to point out the mountain of absurdities that defense counsel produced.

Hopkins primary screw-ups in he district court involved the statute of limitations for cases involving allegations of false arrest and imprisonment (as ours does) and state immunity for state agents, such as sheriff's deputies, acting outside the "line and scope of their employment."

Defense counsel must know Hopkins got it wrong on those issues because none of them made a particularly strong effort to argue for her findings. Opposing lawyers, however, came up with some real gems -- failing to get it right on even simple factual issues, matters of public record. It will take more than one post to outline all of the hilarity, but let's start with perhaps the most corrupt outfit of all -- defendant Rob Riley (and other members of his law firm) and their "counsel," Joseph Stott and Freddie Harrington, of the Birmingham firm Stott and Harrington.

Stott and Harrington
The Stott lawyers argued that our complaint was due to be dismissed because of a legal doctrine called res judicata, which essentially means the issues have been, or could have been, decided in a prior action. Another term for it is "claim preclusion." In this instance, the lawyers for Rob Riley and Co. contend our claims against them were litigated, or could have been litigated, in Roger Shuler, et al v. Jessica Garrison, et al, which we call "The House Case." Aside from the fact "The Jail Case" raises a number of claims against the Riley defendants that were not present in "The House Case," the res judicata argument has a bigger problem: There was no "prior action" to "The Jail Case," and that element must be present for claim preclusion to apply. From our reply brief:

Riley’s res judicata argument fails because it is based on the false notion that there was a “prior action” to this one. In fact, Riley admits that res judicata claim preclusion holds “. . . any claim that was, or that could have been, adjudicated in the prior action is barred from further litigation.” A simple review of court records shows there was no “prior action” to this one. The instant case (Shuler, et al v. Duke, et al) was filed on March 26, 2016. The other case (Shuler, et al v. Garrison, et al) was filed on April 29, 2016. In simple language, this case came first. Therefore, res judicata and similar doctrines, such as collateral estoppel, do not apply and do not bar the Shulers’ claims. Also, Riley falsely claims certain issues in the instant case already have been decided in the “prior action.” One, there was no prior action. Two, the Eleventh Circuit has not upheld any of the district court’s findings in Garrison. The Shulers’ appeal was (wrongfully) dismissed on alleged error in the Notice of Appeal, but no trial-court rulings were upheld in Garrison on the merits, so there were no affirmances per the Eleventh Circuit. 
(Note: We have grounds to challenge the dismissal in Garrison on "fraud on the court" grounds, which make the ruling void and subject to attack at any time because, as a matter of law, it is a nullity.)

The Riley defendants also argue our complaint must be dismissed, per the Rooker-Feldman Dostrine, which generally holds that a federal district court cannot review rulings of state courts. The Riley argument, as stated by the Stott attorneys, has a few holes. From our reply brief:

Riley’s Rooker-Feldman argument fails for multiple reasons, but the primary issue is this: Per Nicholson v. Shafe, 558 F. 3d 1266, 1276 (11th Cir., 2009), the Riley-Duke state-court proceeding has not lawfully ended because Roger Shuler had no reasonable opportunity to appeal; the 42-day window for filing a notice of appeal lapsed during his five-month incarceration. When a state-court proceeding has not ended, it cannot be subject to Rooker-Feldman
A second reason Riley’s Rooker-Feldman argument fails: The Eleventh Circuit has found that Rooker-Feldman does not apply to interlocutory state-court judgments, such as the preliminary injunction that caused Roger Shuler’s unconstitutional incarceration in the instant case. From "Revisiting Rooker-Feldman," Florida State University Law Review, 2009: “The circuits are split on whether the Rooker-Feldman doctrine bars suits in lower federal courts that challenge state court interlocutory orders. The Fifth, Seventh, and Eleventh Circuits use a narrow approach, applying Rooker-Feldman only to final state court judgments.” Also from "Revisiting RookerFeldman" . . .  (“Federal courts have been somewhat divided about whether Rooker-Feldman can bar lower federal-court jurisdiction when a state court has made an interlocutory ruling, such as granting a preliminary injunction.”) As noted above, the Eleventh Circuit has come down against a bar on state-court interlocutory rulings, such as the preliminary injunction at issue in the present case.

So, there you have it in plain language: The Eleventh Circuit has found that Rooker-Feldman does not bar federal review of state-court interlocutory rulings, such as the preliminary injunction that caused me to lose my freedom for five months. The Riley defendants and their defense counsel -- all of them lawyers -- should know that. But they raised the baseless argument anyway. If you ever have the misfortune to be involved in a court appeal -- federal or state -- you are likely to run across such bilge from the other side.

We've got many more examples of it, some of which rise to the level of outrageous. We will address those in upcoming posts.

(To be continued)

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

The SPLC stands behind a Spanish-language journalist detained in Memphis -- which is good -- but where were they when I was jailed in their own backyard?

Manuel Duran

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), following the recent departures of three top executives, is facing calls in some quarters for a federal investigation. How did the venerated civil-rights organization in Montgomery, Alabama, land in such an uncomfortable spot? We recently discovered an active SPLC case that -- when juxtaposed with what could be called a "non-case" -- might help provide answers to that question.

The pending case is styled Manuel Duran Ortega v. U.S. Department of Homeland Security, et al, which involves a journalist for a Spanish-language newspaper in Memphis, TN. Police arrested Duran in April 2018 at a peaceful demonstration to mark the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King's assassination. After those charges were dropped, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detained Duran, moved him to Louisiana, and started deportation proceedings against him. Duran now is being held at a federal detention facility in Gadsden, AL, once run by former Etowah County Sheriff Todd Entrekin, best known as the guy who stole money from an inmate-food fund to help build a beach house on the Gulf Coast.

Duran has been incarcerated at various facilities for more than a year, and SPLC is seeking his release via a writ of habeus corpus. From the writ, prepared by SPLC staff attorneys Meredith B. Stewart, Kristi L. Graunke, and Michelle Lapointe:

The actions pursued by government officials in this case threaten core First Amendment freedoms that are essential to our democracy: the right to criticize and expose the actions of government officials, and the right of members of the press to write and publish about them. Petitioner Manuel Duran Ortega is a 42-year-old journalist from El Salvador who fled to the United States in 2006 after his life was threatened. On April 3, 2018, while reporting on a demonstration in Memphis, Tennessee, Mr. Duran Ortega was illegally arrested by Memphis police and subsequently turned over to and detained by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in retaliation for his past critical coverage of immigration enforcement activities. Mr. Duran Ortega was arrested and is being detained by DHS in order to punish and suppress his speech as a journalist, in violation of the First, Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.

What is my take on the SPLC's efforts to defend Mr. Duran? As a believer in due process, equal protection, and constitutional guarantees for all, I'm fully behind them. But what about that "non-case" referenced earlier?

Well, that one hits close to home. It involves my unlawful arrest in October 2013, with deputies from the Shelby County, AL Sheriff's Department entering our home, beating me up, dousing me with pepper spray and hauling me to jail for a five-month stay. It all was in response to an unlawful temporary restraining order (TRO) and preliminary injunction issued in a defamation lawsuit that Rob Riley (son of former Gov. Bob Riley) and his alleged mistress (lobbyist Liberty Duke) brought against me. As a matter of law, this was a 100-percent civil matter, without the slightest whiff of criminal allegations and for which -- under more than two centuries of First Amendment law -- I could not be subject to arrest over material that had not been found defamatory at a jury trial. I was jailed because of bogus rulings issued by Alabama Judge Claud Neilson, essentially acting as a one-man censor, in violation of longstanding law.

I became the only journalist in the Western Hemisphere to be incarcerated in 2013 -- apparently the only one in U.S. history to be jailed in a wholly civil matter, and the only one jailed because of a TRO or preliminary injunction, both of which are unlawful prior restraints in defamation cases. (See Near v. Minnesota.)

The story of my arrest received national and international news coverage, from The New York Times to Al Jazeera, from Think Progress to RU Posters in Russia, and dozens of sites in between. Even the right-wingers at reported on it. So, there is no way the "civil rights big dogs" at the SPLC (including co-founder Morris Dees and president Richard Cohen, both recently ousted) did not know about it. The site of my beating and arrest was less than 90 miles from SPLC's snazzy headquarters in downtown Montgomery.

But on perhaps the most grotesque abuse of First Amendment rights in the modern era -- right in its own backyard -- SPLC was missing in action. The so-called "Southern warriors for civil rights" jumped on the Manuel Duran case -- and I approve of their actions in that matter -- but sat on their hands while I sat in jail for more than five months. SPLC did not even issue a one-page press release -- tsk-tsking what had been done to hammer a free press in their own neck of the woods.

To be fair, SPLC was not the only civil-rights institution to do little or nothing in my case. The ACLU of Alabama, also based in Montgomery, issued a friend-of-the-court brief (and it was well done) but that was it. To my knowledge, there was nothing to keep ACLU director Randall Marshall and his crew from taking up my case and defending it hammer and tongs.

If ACLU headquarters had issued a press statement, imagine how big the story would have become. But once the brief was entered in the record, the ACLU let me sit and rot. I'm not aware that they even issued a press release. It's almost as if they did not want anyone to know of their involvement.

Why is that? Let's return to this passage from our previous post on this matter:

Multiple press reports suggest Morris Dees' primary talent, since founding SPLC in 1971, has been separating liberals from boatloads of cash. On the flip side, he and his staff -- while promoting the notion that "hate groups" are proliferating in America -- did relatively little to stand up for those whose civil rights had been violated, often by judges, lawyers, bar associations (the legal tribe), and law enforcement, and conservative politicians.

In fact, we now known Dees long has been in bed with the very entities that tend to abuse civil rights. One source who has seen Dees operate in an up-close way tells Legal Schnauzer Dees he has a history of manipulating courts -- especially the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta -- to help ensure his allies receive favorable treatment. If this means sucking up to Republicans -- even those with records of opposing civil rights -- Dees is willing to do it.

Some have suggested SPLC practices a form of reverse racism, against white people. From National Vanguard:

"The SPLC works closely with the judiciary, law enforcement, secret police agencies, the media, and academia to quash the rights of White Americans by targeting, terrorizing, and destroying them and their families emotionally, reputationally, economically, and organizationally. . . ."

I'm not sure I buy National Vanguard's claim that SPLC intentionally seeks to abuse white people,  but they definitely are on target about Morris Dees' cozy relationship with courts, law enforcement, and the legal-tribe hierarchy (as in bar associations). It's possible SPLC did not get involved with my case because stories about defending the civil rights of a white journalists is not likely to rake in cash from liberal donors -- and raking in cash seems to be the No. 1 goal at SPLC. But I think Morris Dees and Co. let me rot because it was their buddies in the courts, law enforcement, legal tribe, etc. who caused my arrest. And SPLC did not want to shine an unflattering light on their friends and benefactors.

Roger Shuler
For example, we know the Alabama State Bar strongly discouraged an Alabama lawyer -- Greg Morris, of Fultondale -- from getting involved in my case. And that's likely because the State Bar and its members played a huge role in arranging for my arrest. Th SPLC and ACLU probably were under similar pressure not to help me.

As for the Manuel Duran case, it likely is driven by knuckleheads in the Memphis Police Department, Homeland Security, and ICE. That means the SPLC is free to go after that case because they can do it without unmasking their corrupt comrades.

We will be watching the Duran case. This is from an April 5 article at

Recently, the Eleventh Circuit Court sent Duran’s case back to the Board of Immigration Appeals. According to his attorneys, this means he could face additional months or even years in detention while his asylum claims work their way through the legal system.

This week Duran also filed a new federal lawsuit, which alleges Shelby County, Tenn. and the city of Memphis targeted Duran because of his unflattering coverage of them.
The lawsuit claims the city police had no probable cause to arrest Duran at the protest and the Sheriff’s department should not have turned him over to immigration officials.

Consider these words from the writ of habeas corpus in the Duran case:

Manuel Duran Ortega is a citizen of El Salvador who has lived in the United States continuously since his arrival in 2006. He has resided in Memphis, Tennessee, for the majority of that time. 
In 2006, Mr. Duran Ortega fled El Salvador, where he had been working as a television station manager. After a rival television station employee used his law enforcement connections to have Mr. Duran Ortega arrested on trumped-up charges, Mr. Duran Ortega reported on corruption in law enforcement and the judicial system. After his report, he began to receive death threats and escaped to the United States.

The highlighted information above sounds a lot like my experience in the United States. But the SPLC has gone to bat big-time for Mr. Duran (a non-citizen) while doing nothing for me (a citizen for 62 years).

SPLC still could help with my case, especially if its real lawyers were allowed to, now that Morris Dees is gone. What I call our "Jail Case" currently is on appeal in the Eleventh Circuit, and we soon will seek to have the case based on theft of our Birmingham home via wrongful foreclosure ("The House Case") re-opened due to massive irregularities at both the district and circuit-court levels that likely amount to fraud on the court.

Does SPLC have the guts to take on such cases, especially if they threaten to step on the toes of Morris Dees' buddies? Perhaps we will find out.