If anyone was uncertain about the Alabama State Bar's ability to discipline members of the legal profession, the bar surely erased all doubt by refusing to take action against Montgomery lawyer and right-wing radio host Baron Coleman.
What did Coleman do? He used his radio platform to call a female political figure -- Becky Gerritson, executive director of the Eagle Forum of Alabama -- a "whore" and a "bitch," while hinting he would burn her house to the ground and using language drenched in violent imagery. What was Gerritson's sin? She disagreed with Coleman publicly about medical marijuana.
Gerritson responded to Coleman's attack by filing a bar complaint and contacting Coleman's radio sponsors to essentially ask if they really wanted to be affiliated with a radio host who used such language on the air. Specifically, Gerritson alleged Coleman violated Rule 8.4 (titled "Misconduct") of the Alabama Rules of Professional Conduct by engaging in "conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation." Gerritson particularly took exception to Coleman's alleged claim that Eagle Forum took money from large pharmaceutical companies.
Did Gerritson's complaint receive a fair review? We see reason to doubt it.
In a letter dated Sept. 12, 2019, Assistant General Counsel Jeremy W. McIntire informed Gerritson the State Bar would take no action against Coleman. From a report published Oct. 4 at al.com:
The Alabama State Bar won’t take action against Montgomery lawyer and talk show host Baron Coleman because of a complaint filed by Eagle Forum of Alabama Executive Director Becky Gerritson over comments Coleman made on his radio program.
Coleman released a letter from the State Bar to Gerritson saying that two attorneys had reviewed the complaint and his response.
“In view of the nature and content of the complaint and the enclosed response of the attorney, we will take no further action in this matter at this time,” the letter says. It’s dated Sept. 12 and signed by Jeremy W. McIntire, assistant general counsel for the State Bar. . . .
The dispute started after Gerritson spoke against a medical marijuana bill at the Legislature in May. On his radio program, Coleman called Gerritson a “big pharma whore” and said Eagle Forum had received money from the pharmaceutical industry or related industries, which could lose business if medical marijuana became legal in Alabama.
Gerritson filed a complaint with the State Bar accusing Coleman of “dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.” Gerritson said Eagle Forum had not received money from the pharmaceutical industry. Gerritson contacted advertisers to Coleman’s program and asked them to reconsider their sponsorships.
How weak was Coleman's response to Gerritson's complaint? He posted it on his Facebook page, and here are some of the key points:
* Coleman claims that calling Gerritson a "Big Pharma whore" does not amount to calling her a "whore." (How disingenuous is this? If a critic calls Mike Pompeo a "Trump-administration liar," he's called him a "liar,: right? Never mind that the label almost certainly is accurate.")
* We see no sign that Coleman tries to defend calling Gerritson a "bitch" or hinting that he was of a mind to burn down her house." This kind of language is suitable for a lawyer, and the Alabama State Bar has no problem with it? How low is the bar at the Alabama State Bar?
* Coleman suggests Gerritson's goal was to "completely bankrupt" him and leave him "without a single source of income to care for his stay-at-home wife and their seven school-aged children. That was her goal." (So, it's Gerritson's fault that the Colemans decided to have an unusually large family, especially by today's standards? Is Coleman using his kids as a shield, suggesting he should not be held accountable for abusing others because he chose to have a passel of young 'uns? If Coleman is concerned about the welfare of his wife and children, perhaps he should be more careful in making statements about other people over the public airwaves?)
* Coleman claims Gerritson has discussed her bar complaint with Republican Party officials, supposedly in an effort to ruin his career? Even if true, how would this be unlawful or even improper? Didn't Coleman bring it on himself?
How vile was Coleman's language directed at Gerritson? Here are some samples, as we reported in an earlier post (see here.):
(1) "I've hired lawyers, and I'm pursuing a strategy of slash and burn, seek and destroy. If you come after me, you'd better be ready to go to the mat. . . .
"I never let someone come after me and don't take them out. Never. I will lose everything in search of making sure your life is hell. . . .
"I've got a new enemy, and her lawyer sucks, too. I'm going to destroy this bitch. I'm going to absolutely destroy her. Her life will never be the same. . ."
(2) "If you threaten me, I will burn your damned house to the ground. Not in the physical sense, but I will have you running back to Texas, I promise."
(3) You come at me, you lose everything. You threaten me, I sue you or destroy you. That's it. there is no third option.
(4) There is going to be some real fireworks across this state in the near future. Some once-proud organizations will be brought completely to their knees and bankrupted. That's what I do. I don't "F" around. . . .
Have your gun under your arm. Bring your ammo.
Notice all the references to guns, ammunition, fire, and burning -- not to mention promises to destroy Gerritson's life and make her life hell. And yet, Coleman claims in his response that he didn't threaten Gerritson -- no kidding. And the Alabama State Bar buys this crap?
Maybe that's because Gerritson's bar complaint did not receive a fair hearing. Jeremy McIntire's letter to Gerritson says: "Two attorneys in the Office of General Counsel of the Alabama State Bar have reviewed your complaint and the attorney's response to the complaint."
Who were those two attorneys on the bar staff? McIntire doesn't say. According to the bar Web site, there are only three attorneys under General Counsel Roman Shaul, and McIntire is one of them. The other two are Tripp Vickers and Mark Moody. As we've reported here several times, Vickers and Coleman used to be partners at the same Montgomery law firm, so that means the bar complaint could have been heard by Coleman's buddy.
Given what we've learned about the Alabama State Bar over the years -- especially recently -- that would not surprise us one bit.