For several years, we have received anonymous statements from trolls that go along these lines -- "You've never won a court case" or "You always think the judge is out to get you."
I generally have ignored such statements because they came from individuals who obviously were ill-informed and did not have the courage to use their names. I reconsidered that policy when an intelligent and loyal reader, someone we know long distance, recently asked, "Has a judge ever ruled correctly in one of your cases?"
This person, I know, has a serious interest in justice issues and asked the question because he genuinely wanted to know. That convinced me to think about the issue, conduct some limited research, and try my best to answer in this post.
First, I take the question to come in two parts: (1) Has a judge ever ruled correctly in a final order or a non-final order that was central to the case? (2) Have you and your wife, Carol, ever prevailed in a court case? Second, since we now live in Missouri and much of our court experience has been in Alabama, I don't have access to all relevant records at the moment. That means I'm having to work largely from memory, so my answer might not be all-inclusive, but it is pretty accurate. As to the two-part question raised above, the answer to both is yes.
Let's look at No. 1 -- Has a judge ever ruled correctly in a final order or a non-final order that was central to the case?
(A) The best example of this came in what we call "The Jail Case" (involving my unlawful arrest and incarceration in Shelby County), where U.S. District Judge R. David Proctor found that, as in forma pauperis (IFP) litigants, we were not entitled to have the clerk's office in the Norther District of Alabama, conduct service. Proctor's ruling clearly was contrary to black-letter law that applies across the country, but his incompetence forced us to waste roughly a year's time to appeal to the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. To our amazement, the appellate court got it right, with these words:
We review a district court’s sua sponte dismissal for failure to effect service under Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(m) for an abuse of discretion. Richardson v. Johnson, 598 F.3d 734, 738 (11th Cir. 2010) (per curiam). “We affirm unless we find that the district court has made a clear error of judgment, or has applied the wrong legal standard.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).
Without addressing the merits of the appeal, we reverse the district court’s dismissal because it should have effectuated service for the Shulers, who had IFP status. Under Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(c)(3), the district court must order that service be made by either a United States marshal, a deputy marshal, or by any person specially appointed by the court when the litigant is proceeding under IFP status.
This was not a final order, settling the case, but it was on a critical matter, and a three-judge panel (Charles R. Wilson, Clinton appointee; Julie E. Carnes, Obama appointee; Jill A. Pryor, Obama appointee) got it right.
(B) When GOP operative Jessica Medeiros Garrison sued me for defamation, it was no surprise the case got off to an underhanded start -- considering Bill Baxley was her attorney. Baxley hired some lowlife to conduct "personal service," and he did it by throwing court papers on our driveway. You don't have to be a Harvard Law grad to know such a lame act does not qualify as service, and I argued as such in a motion before Jefferson County Circuit Judge Don Blankenship. In another shocker, Blankenship ruled correctly that service was improper. A Baxley thug solved the problem by "serving" me while I was in the Shelby County Jail. That also probably was unlawful, and the server likely lied to jail personnel that she was an attorney or minister to pull it off. I wasn't in a position to challenge the issue further, so the case moved forward.
Blankenship went on to show his true colors by awarding Garrison a $3.5-million default judgment, even though the docket shows I never was notified of the default application or the default hearing. Because of that, the award is void as a matter of law -- and it can be attacked as such at any time.
Did something fishy happen between Blankenship's correct ruling on service and his wildly incorrect ruling on the default judgment? In the interim, did he receive a favor or payment that caused him to shift from appearing to be a judge with a hint of integrity to being a crook of the worst kind? You probably can guess my answer to that question. We soon will have a post where a recently filed court document presents evidence that shows a Jefferson County judge issuing favorable rulings for a certain party soon after receiving campaign donations that appear to be in the form of bribes.
Now, let's look at question No. 2 -- Have you and your wife, Carol, ever prevailed in a court case? We separate it from question No. 1 because it's possible to prevail in court, even though the judge does not necessarily issue a correct ruling. Sometimes, the judge has no choice but to find in your favor, whether he has any integrity or not:
(A) This is the kind of case to which almost every American can relate. Somewhere around 2010 (I'm not sure of the date), a Shelby County deputy pulled me over and wrote a ticket for speeding in a school zone -- I think the allegation was that I drove 5 mph over the limit, which I think was 30 mph. The ticket, however, gave the location of the alleged offense as a place where there was no school zone, and the speed limit was 40 or 45 mph.
I challenged the ticket in court, pleaded not guilty, and the deputy failed to appear. District Judge Ron Jackson, who we know from personal experience is an absolute train wreck on the bench, had no choice but to find me not guilty and dismiss the ticket. But get this: Jackson had the audacity to ask me if I wanted to pay court costs. I already hated the SOB because of his crooked rulings in our case involving Mike McGarity, our former trespassing, criminally inclined neighbor. My response to Jackson? "I pleaded not guilty because I am not guilty. The wording on the ticket shows I'm not guilty, and that would be the case whether the deputy appeared or not. In other words, I'm not about to pay your damned court costs." Notice I did not call him "Your Honor."
(B) In late 2008, we received notice from a debt-collection outfit called CACH LLC that we owed money on what I believe was a GE VISA card. It was a relatively small sum that we allegedly owed, but Alabama legal and political thugs had just cheated me out of my job (of 20 years) at UAB, so we were in a crunch. Before long, we received notice from a Birmingham law firm called Halcomb and Wertheim that the alleged debt had been placed with them, and they intended to collect. We contacted the firm and asked them to validate the debt -- as was our right under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). By asking for validation of the debt, we were asking Halcomb and Wertheim to provide documentation to prove they held the debt, and we owed it.
We even went to the law firm in person, seeking to get the alleged debt validated, but we never received any such documentation. It probably was a surprise to the fine lawyers at Halcomb and Wertheim, but we weren't anxious to pay a debt that maybe we did not owe.
In a brazen act of "legal ethics," Halcomb and Wertheim sued us, even though they repeatedly failed to prove we owed the debt. On the appointed date, we appeared at the Shelby County Courthouse and -- surprise, surprise -- no one from the debt-collection law firm appeared. I don't remember the judge on that one, but he had no choice but to dismiss the case.
Bottom line: Yes, we have prevailed in court, and yes, we've witnessed a judge or two rule correctly in our cases. More importantly, here is today's take-home lesson: Whether you are dealing with a traffic cop or a debt collector, it pays to fight back -- especially when you have legitimate grounds for doing so.