Tuesday, February 25, 2020

New evidence suggests U.S. Attorney Jay Town and Birmingham Lawyer Robert Ronnlund helped obstruct discovery process in Burt Newsome lawsuit vs. Balch

Jay Town and Mark Crosswhite

Newly uncovered evidence suggests U.S. attorney Jay Town (Northern District of Alabama) participated in a scheme to assist the Balch Bingham law firm by interfering with the discovery process in a lawsuit growing from Balch's alleged conspiracy to steal the lucrative collections practice of solo Birmingham lawyer Burt Newsome, according to a report today from the Web site banbalch.com.

The wrongdoing could meet the elements for obstruction of justice, writes banbalch publisher K.B. Forbes, and Town does not appear to be the only Birmingham legal figure involved. Others include Robert M. Ronnlund, of the Shelby County firm Scott Sullivan Streetman and Fox -- along with his wife, Millicent Ronnlund, who is a lawyer with Balch Bingham.

What was the purpose of the scheme to interfere with discovery in the Newsome lawsuit? It involves telephone records, legal chicanery, and probably was designed to keep Newsome from obtaining evidence that would help prove his case. It's all part of the ugly backstory behind the North Birmingham Superfund bribery scandal, which produced a criminal trial in summer 2018 -- with hardly a mention of a key entity -- Alabama Power and umbrella firm Southern Company. Writes Forbes:

In Alabama, there is no such thing as a coincidence.

As observers we cannot believe the sheer stupidity of operatives who work for or are associated with the alleged unsavory conduct of Balch Bingham or Balch’s sister-wife Alabama Power.

Some of these goons think they are above the law, never to be caught or reprimanded.

And the explosive, jaw-dropping photographs of U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town chugging down drinks with Alabama Power Chairman and CEO Mark A. Crosswhite, a former Balch partner, confirms a dubious relationship and affirms the belief that Town’s integrity is lacking.

Now Balch’s alleged Tour de Force has come to light.

How did that happen? The starting point, Forbes explains, appears to be Robert Ronnlund:

The Newsome Conspiracy Case not only involved the “staged arrest” of Balch’s competitor Burt Newsome by the cop-son of a now-retired Alabama Power executive.

We also uncovered alleged criminal obstruction of justice in the Newsome Conspiracy Case by Robert M. Ronnlund, an attorney representing one of the alleged co-conspirators.

No coincidence, Ronnlund’s wife, Millicent Ronnlund, was a partner at Balch Bingham at the time the alleged obstruction occurred.

In a letter to AT&T dated January 16, 2016, Ronnlund wrote that “an objection has been filed regarding the deposition subpoena” and added, “absent a valid court order, please do not produce any documentation.”

Was that true? Not a chance, reports Forbes:

An “objection” was never filed and the threat to AT&T not to produce any documentation without a “valid court order” was 100 percent bull.

What documentation was Ronnlund attempting to impede? Phone records associated to another co-conspirator, John W. Bullock, who is not even Ronnlund’s client.

The letter to AT&T appears to be a deliberate and deceptive tactic to obstruct justice, to hide evidence, and to protect the alleged co-conspirators

Under the law, that is a serious matter and could rise to the level of a federal crime. Forbes explains:

18 U.S.C. § 1503 defines “obstruction of justice” as an act that “corruptly or by threats or force, or by any threatening letter or communication, influences, obstructs, or impedes, or endeavors to influence, obstruct, or impede, the due administration of justice.”

In June of 2017, Newsome’s legal team obtained the phone records (and a copy of Ronnlund’s letter) linking all the co-conspirators to a single phone number (205) 410-1494 and filed a third amended complaint in his case.

Balch Bingham’s initial response in open court in July of 2017 was to foolishly attribute the phone number to a “telemarketer.”

As we wrote on July 14, 2017, “For heaven’s sake, some of these calls were for 18 or 19 minutes! Do we really think Balch’s partner was purchasing a set of non-stick frying pans or a box of the fastest toilet bowl cleaner?”

Ridiculed and mocked, Balch and Ronnlund allegedly went into action.

During the week of July 24, 2017, Verizon’s records of the cell number were inaccessible allegedly due to a law enforcement block.

Then Ronnlund filed a notice of a deposition with a Verizon corporate representative (occurring with no subpoena and in less than two business days) on Thursday afternoon, July 27, 2017.

On Friday, July 28, 2017, Ronnlund filed a highly questionable, unsworn Calera (Alabama) Police Department affidavit with the alleged narrative that the (205) 410-1494 number was not a phone number but a “routing switch.”

According to Alacourt.com, no subpoena for the Verizon deposition was ever filed with the court.

After the sealed deposition with Verizon took place on Monday July 31, 2017, Balch filed a motion to dismiss Newsome’s amended complaint calling the cell phone number allegation a “falsity” and the judge, two days later, without a hearing, signed the order on August 2, 2017.

In less than a week, the key witness— (205) 410-1494— was assassinated, cremated, and buried.

How does Jay Town enter the scene? Forbes paints the picture, and it isn't pretty:

We . . . have questioned the legitimacy of the deposition. Was it a real or staged event? Highly unusual, the deposition with Verizon did not take place at their large corporate campus.

Instead, this deposition supposedly took place at a Regus Center (a rent by the hour office space facility) in Bedminster, New Jersey less than 10 miles from Verizon’s Corporate Headquarters located in Basking Ridge, New Jersey.

And what law firm represents Verizon regularly? McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney and Carpenter in Morristown, New Jersey, just one mile away from Verizon’s Corporate Headquarters.

And who worked for McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney and Carpenter before his career as a prosecutor?

Jay E. Town.

Pulling in all their weight to crush Newsome, we suspect Balch (and/or their sister-wife Alabama Power) appears to have reached out to Town for his assistance in July of 2017, a tour de force.

And who would doubt it?

As seen in the North Birmingham Bribery Scandal, Balch Bingham was able to collect high-profile signatures on ghost-written letters; concoct and pass legislative resolutions; infiltrate and stymie opponents; and use a network of political allies to breach the public good.

Dirty work. Real dirty work. And that is not a coincidence.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama proves to be a popular workplace for current and former employees who have been paying customers of notorious Ashley Madison Web site that promotes extramarital affairs

Here is a question to ponder: Since Ashley Madison (AM) data became public in summer 2015, what Alabama employer holds the distinction of having the most employees appear as paying customers at the extramarital-affairs Web site?

We are not aware of any technique for answering that question in an official, with-certitude fashion. But our research indicates the unofficial "leader in the clubhouse" for that honor is Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama (BCBSAL). Yes, that is the employment home of Mike McGarity, the notorious, criminally inclined neighbor who set our legal headaches in motion.

McGarity's name does not appear on the Alabama list for AM. But without really trying, we found at least five individuals who were BCBSAL employees at the time of the data breach. Given the painstaking process required to sort through the AM data and determine employers -- the actual number of Ashley Madison customers at BCBSAL probably is two or three times larger than our unofficial count -- that is a big number for any one workplace.

Ironically, several of the Ashley Madison customers have left BCBSAL for other opportunities over the past four years or so. Does that mean those who participate at extramarital-affairs Web sites are more likely than non-users to change employers frequently? That sounds like a good subject for a doctoral dissertation in psychology or management. For now, let's take a brief look at each of the current (or former) BCBSAL employees who appear as paying customers in the AM data:

(1) Wesley J. Hagood -- senior buyer in purchasing department. Lives in north Shelby County, and property records indicate he is married to Erica M. Hagood.

(2) W. Michael Jackman -- manager of IT Project Office. Lives on Harvest Ridge Lane in north Shelby County, and property records indicate he is married to Elizabeth Jackman.

(3) Cleo R. Truss -- was a senior application system analyst. LinkedIn page shows he left BCBSAL in July 2015 to focus full-time on his role as owner of Truss Management Group/ATG Services. Lives on Lake Crest Drive in Hoover, and property records indicate he is married to Jackie W. Truss.

(4) Brent Koch -- was a programmer/analyst. Left position in April 2015 to become senior programmer/analyst at CallidusCloud in Birmingham.

(5) Manan Modi -- was a staff auditor at Cahaba GBA, a wholly owned subsidiary of BCBSAL. Now is an auditor at National Government Services in Indianapolis.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Evidence indicates Alabama Power officials were briefed on Superfund bribery scheme, suggesting rule of law took another beating in the Heart of Dixie

Jay Town and Mark Crosswhite

This has been a week to focus on the rule of law, mainly because of apparent interference from Donald Trump and William Barr in the Roger Stone sentencing, with Trump making the absurd declaration that he is the nation's "chief law enforcement officer." The real issue is failure by justice officials, usually judges and prosecutors, to uphold the rule of law -- causing massive suffering for everyday Americans (see here and here).

Unfortunately, Alabama seems to have an endless supply of such cases, with the latest news coming from the seedy and evolving North Birmingham Superfund bribery case. We thought it could not get much uglier than the photos that recently surfaced of Alabama Power CEO Mark Crosswhite and U.S. Attorney Jay Town meeting before the summer 2018 trial in an apparent bid to rig the outcome. Now we learn, via the Web site banbalch.com, that Alabama Power officials were regularly briefed about the scheme:

The tiny environmental group GASP, the alleged intended target of the “brilliant” North Birmingham bribery scheme, is digging into the federal criminal trial evidence from 2018 meticulously.

And what have they found?

More evidence that appears to show that Alabama Power was being regularly briefed about the scheme.

The evidence comes, in part, via an email from the Balch Bingham law firm to Alabama Power, as described by banbalch.com publisher K.B. Forbes:

In an email from July 2015, Balch-made millionaire Joel I. Gilbert tells his Balch colleague Steven McKinney to forward the “dues invoice” to Alabama Power’s point person, Matt Bowden, writing “we need to probably update him soon on new developments.”

This raises some alarming questions related to the rule of law:

Why was Alabama Power being briefed while other AJE (Alliance for Jobs and the Economy) donors were not?

Is it no wonder that now, today the “unmentionable” deal has become the talk of Birmingham?

The alleged secret deal that was hatched before the criminal trial did not allow criminal attorneys or defendants to mention or discuss Alabama Power unless cleared by Alabama Power’s criminal attorney.

What a farce!

The allegations have shaken the legal community and given U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town’s reputation a severe, swollen black-eye.

And the compromising, jaw-dropping photos of Town gulping down drinks at the Moon Shine Lounge with Alabama Power CEO Mark A. Crosswhite haven’t helped either; the photos affirm a dubious relationship.

GASP looks like a winner again; the tiny mouse that roared and spooked Mark A. Crosswhite onto a wobbly chair.

Did the rule of law guide the government's actions in the Superfund bribery trial? Evidence continues to mount suggesting the answer is no.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Crooked judges in Alabama divorce courts turn the rule of law on its head, trampling the constitutional rights of women and children with shockng brazenness

Ted Rollins on Wall Street

The ongoing debate over the rule of law is centered on headline-makers like Donald Trump, Roger Stone, and William Barr -- with more than 2,000 former Department of Justice officials calling for Barr to resign. What about everyday Americans, including mothers and children, who suffer because judges fail to uphold the rule of law?

We have reported on several such cases, and this is where the rubber really meets the road when it comes to abuse of the rule of law, but you won't read about these cases in the mainstream media:

(1) The millionaires behind Orkin Pest Control ensure that Sherry Rollins and her daughters get cheated in divorce case -- When Sherry Rollins decided to divorce Ted Rollins, part of the family behind Atlanta-based Orkin Pest Control, the couple and their two daughters lived in Greenville, South Carolina. As the divorce case was pending, Ted Rollins defied a court order to keep up mortgage payments, causing Sherry and their daughters (Sarah and Emma) to be kicked out of their home. Desperate for shelter, Sherry moved with the girls to Birmingham, AL, where she had family.

Not long after the move, Ted Rollins sought to have the divorce case moved to Shelby County, AL, where Sherry had settled and where he had legal connections via the Bradly Arant law firm. Shelby County Circuit Judge Al Crowson allowed the move and went on to issue an order that was preposterously one-sided in Ted Rollins' favor, with Sherry getting a fraction of the child support and alimony to which she was entitled -- especially considering evidence of Ted Rollins' infidelity and other misconduct (including a vicious beating of Sherry's son from a previous marriage). In fact, Sherry and the daughters received so little from Crowson's judgment that they wound up on food stamps.

Was moving the divorce case from South Carolina to Alabama proper under the rule of law? Not even close. The controlling law can be found at a case styled Wesson v. Wesson, 628 So. 2d 953 (1993):

"Once jurisdiction has attached in one court, that court has the exclusive right to continue its exercise of power until the completion of the case, and is only subject to appellate authority."
That's the rule of law; it could not be more simple -- and Sherry Rollins and her daughters had a Constitutional right under the 14th Amendment to have it properly applied. But Al Crowson was a reptile with a robe, and he cheated them in shameless fashion.

(2) A judge throws Bonnie Cahalane, an Alabama mother, in jail -- How can a woman wind up in jail over an alleged debt in a divorce case? Debtors' prisons became unlawful in the United States years ago, right? It can happen in Chilton County, AL, where Circuit Judge Sibley Reynolds routinely tramples the rule of law.

Bonnie Cahalane
Reynolds sent Bonnie Cahalane, of Clanton, to jail because she failed to pay $165,000 as part of her divorce settlement. Was the jailing lawful? Nope. The Alabama Constitution states that citizens cannot be sent to jail because of debts, and case law specifically states that it is unlawful to incarcerate anyone because of failure to pay a property-related debt from dissolution of a marriage. An Alabama case styled Dolberry v. Dolberry, 920 So. 2d 573 (Ala. Civ. App., 2005) is clear:

In this case, the husband argues that he cannot be imprisoned for debt pursuant to § 20, Ala. Const.1901. He is correct. The parties' marriage settlement agreement states: "The [husband] shall pay to the [wife] the sum of Fifteen Thousand Dollars ($15,000) for her equity in the home. . . . This court [has] recognized that . . . payments . . . for sustenance and support are . . . outside the scope of § 20. . . . The $15,000 payment is clearly a property settlement, as evidenced by the language in the settlement agreement "for her equity in the home." Therefore, the nonpayment of that debt is within the ambit of § 20, Ala. Const.1901. Our resolution of this issue pretermits consideration of the husband's ability or inability to pay. Accordingly, we reverse and remand.

Under the rule of law, Bonnie Cahalane could not possibly be incarcerated in her divorce case. But she spent five months behind bars, and God only knows how long she would have been held without our reporting on the case.

(3) Bill Upton, CEO of Vulcan Steel Products, is not held accountable for brazen infidelity in Alabama divorce case --  Bill Upton, the multimillionaire CEO of Pelham-based Vulcan Steel Products, admitted in court documents that he had an extramarital affair with Gincie Walker, a young woman (with serious mental-health issues, including multiple-personality disorder) he and his wife had raised as their daughter; Ms. Walker even called Bill Upton "daddy." Records indicate the affair was the driving event that ended Bill's marriage of more than 30 years to Linda Upton. (Note Bill and Gincie, the biological daughter of convicted sex offender Dr. William Flynn Walker, have since married, and she now is Gincie Walker Upton.)

Gincie Walker Upton
Such an affair represents the kind of marital misconduct for which the perpetrator usually is held accountable in divorce court. But that did not happen with Bill Upton, whose wealth is estimated in the $40- to $60-million range -- and that might be conservative. In his final order of divorce, private judge Gary Pate did not even mention Bill Upton's infidelity.

The outrage does not end there. Pate awarded sole physical custody of the couple's three minor children to Bill Upton -- even though we've seen no evidence in the record that Linda Upton was an unfit mother. Here is how we described, in an April 2016 post, the financial terms of the order:

Linda Upton receives $4,350 a month in periodic alimony, but she received zero in gross alimony. She did not even receive the marital residence. From Pate's order:

11. (a) The parties jointly own a residence at 2870 Shook Hill Road, Birmingham, Alabama. It shall be placed on the market and sold. The Wife shall have exclusive possession pending sale unless she moves. . . .

Linda Upton wound up staying at the home, but only after she had paid Bill Upton for his share of the property. And this was a husband who admitted to conducting an extramarital affair, apparently under the marital roof.

Does Pate's ruling square with the rule of law. No way. It reeks of a judge, who likely was compromised and never should have heard the case, and issued an order based on his whims and prejudices. How unlawful was it? Consider this from an April 28, 2016, post:

Code of Alabama 30-2-52 shows that Private Judge Pate butchered the Upton divorce, and a case styled Shirley v. Shirley, 600 So. 2d 284 (1992) drives that point home. From the Shirley ruling:

Section 30-2-52 permits a trial court, upon a finding of misconduct by one spouse, to make an allowance to the other spouse out of the estate of the offending spouse, as the circumstances may justify, provided "that any property acquired prior to the marriage of the parties or by inheritance or gift may not be considered in determining the amount."

Here is more related to the Shirley case:

Was misconduct present in Shirley? The trial court determined the answer was yes, and the Alabama Supreme Court agreed:

The record reveals that the parties' marriage was beset with extreme unpleasantness. In the pleadings and at trial, each party placed blame for the breakup of the marriage on the other. The husband claimed that the wife was verbally abusive, argumentative, and vindictive and that she interfered with the operation of his business both during the marriage and after the parties' separation. The wife claimed that the husband had a violent temper, had been physically abusive during the marriage, had been dishonest in his handling of the parties' finances, and had engaged in numerous extramarital affairs. At trial she specifically alleged that the husband had, without her consent, misapplied a number of her real estate commission checks for his personal use and had attempted to misappropriate certain life insurance proceeds of which she was the sole intended beneficiary. The husband denies that he has ever been dishonest in handling the wife's money or that he has engaged in adultery, although he admits to having engaged in sexual activity with a woman not his wife on three occasions.

The trial court made no specific finding of adultery, granting the divorce on . . . grounds of incompatibility of temperament and irretrievable breakdown. However, in the judgment of divorce the court recognized the husband's sexual infidelities and made specific findings of his marital misconduct and financial dishonesty toward the wife and other parties. We have thoroughly reviewed the record and conclude that there is ample evidence to support the trial court's finding of marital misconduct by the husband. . . .

What impact should such misconduct have on the outcome of a divorce case? From Shirley:

Where one spouse is guilty of misconduct toward the other spouse, the trial court's award may be as liberal as the estate of the offending spouse will permit under the circumstances of the case. Isom v. Isom, 273 Ala. 599, 143 So. 2d 455 (1962).

In other words, Bill Upton could have, and should have, taken a major financial hit for engaging in misconduct that a reasonable person might decide was way worse than that present in Shirley. But Upton's attorney did his best to cover up the issue, and the judge made no mention of it.

Sherry Rollins, Bonnie Cahalane, and Linda Upton . . . three Alabama women who probably would guffaw at the notion that abuse of the rule of law started with Donald Trump's tweet about the Roger Stone case -- and William Barr's subsequent dubious actions that appear to be based on political considerations..

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Missouri resident Scott J. Wells is paying an awful price in federal court for a 2004 state case where his conviction was vacated, with no evidence of child endangerment in plea, and he passed a polygraph test

Polygraph test

A Missouri man has been detained for almost three years on federal child-pornography charges, based largely on his "conviction" in a 2004 state case for child sexual abuse. U.S. prosecutor James Kelleher, in hearings before multiple judges, generally has failed to mention that Scott J. Wells' conviction in the 2004 case was overturned after a complaining witness testified falsely under oath about the presence of scars on Wells' penis -- and after the state court found Wells had received ineffective assistance of counsel from my brother-lawyer, David Shuler.

Kelleher also fails to mention that Wells' plea to misdemeanor child-endangerment charges in 2004 was an Alford plea, a legal maneuver in which the prosecution and accused reach a compromise, avoiding a trial, with the defendant able to maintain his innocence. In the Wells case, there is no evidence in the record -- not even an allegation -- that he actually endangered a child.

On top of all that, Wells also took a polygraph test, at the insistence of Daniel Dodson, the Jefferson City attorney who took over the earlier case in an effort to clean up the mess David Shuler had created. Wells passed the polygraph test, which was administered by John Harvill, a highly regarded polygrapher from Springfield, MO.

That Wells passed a Harvill-administered polygraph was a key factor in getting the 2004 conviction overturned, Dodson said in a depostion for Wells' legal-malpractice lawsuit against David Shuler. We certainly have seen no sign that Kelleher has mentioned the positive polygraph outcome in arguments before federal judges, an indication the prosecutor is more interested in keeping Wells locked up, lawfully or unlawfully, rather than ensuring justice is done. Kelleher's actions also could point to fraud on the court, which might render rulings in the child-porn case void.

John Harvill
The law surrounding polygraphs is complex and somewhat unsettled. In general, it is difficult to get polygraph results admitted as evidence in court, but it can happen under "back-door" circumstances, when one party or another opens an evidentiary window that allows admission of the polygraph results. Here is testimony regarding polygraphs from Daniel Dodson in a deposition for Wells legal-malpractice case against David Shuler. Scott Bellm, Shuler's attorney is doing the questioning: (Two volumes of the Dodson deposition are embedded at the end of this post.)

Dodson: One of my quarrels with [Shuler], even though I may be unorthodox in this way, polygraphs are the most incredible tool in cases like this. Even a prosecutor who is entrenched and won't dismiss based on them has the wind taken out of his sails when that comes up. 
And I think Shuler mentioned it and says he mentioned it several times, but he didn't bring it home to Scott, which wasn't that hard to do, that this needs to be done, this is something that is an essential tool for getting the prosecutor to back away a little bit, especially when you have so much more to work with to say these things did not happen.

The discussion eventually turns to the law surrounding polygraphs:

Bellm: Now, with the polygraph, is it your testimony that you believe you would have been able to get the results of that polygraph into evidence at trial? 
Dodson: No. The law is heavily against me on that. I -- the purpose of a polygraphing a case like this is mostly in dealing with the prosecutor, mostly in taking -- and in this case, I think, as always, cases like this [in Greene County] start out with Jill Patterson, who believes every allegation she's ever heard from any young child and is very gung-ho about it, and the Defendant is evil and so on. But it's a -- she won't admit it, and Kelleher didn't admit it, but it's a stomach punch to a prosecutor to see a John Harvill polygraph that says, hey, this guy's telling the truth. Because they know that is as reliable as a polygraph is going to get. 
They know that John can provide a stack of about 30 letters from different law enforcement agencies who have relied on his polygraphs over the years. And I do hold out some possibility, as I said in the hearing, that, you know, at some point, someone's going to establish enough reliability to a polygraph to get it admitted. And in this case, with John's credentials, I felt like I had a shot. But keep in mind also that in a judge-tried case, the mere offering of it has the fact of it before a trier of fact. And that may be a little "back door," but it's certainly useful. 

Dodson was asked to  describe steps he took in Scott Wells' defense that David Shuler did not take -- and part of that involved the polygraph:

Bellm: Anything else that you did in general terms that David did not do? 
Dodson: Well, a big part of it was bringing home to Scott Wells his situation and the seriousness, convincing him of what he needed to be convinced of, that he needed to take a polygraph, convincing him and his family that it was going to take a lot more money to keep Scott out of prison, and yeah, doing the client-control things that you have to do in a serious situation like this. 
And there were a ton of other things, too. I mean, research on, you know, ho to get expert testimony in and just -- I mean, ultimately David Shuler didn't do even half of what needed to be done to defend this case. 

How did David Shuler's failure to get a polygraph test hurt his client? Dodson points to one glaring example where Shuler called a female police officer (Nina Sala-Gault) to the stand -- apparently because she had interviewed Wells and the complaining witnesses, and she raised the polygraph issue -- but Shuler had no results with which to counter:

Dodson: Given -- the funny thing is despite my questions about his strategic choices on trying it to a judge, the -- he had put himself in a position to win it - or he would have been in a position to win it in front of Judge Burrell if he had been effective. If he had gotten Scott to take a polygraph and pass it, then when the cop [Sala-Gault] he called to the stand, which was a strategic blunder, but when she interjected the part that [Wells] had refused to take a polygraph, that opened the door, and he would have been able to get in that polygraph evidence legitimately, and it would have been part of the record. But he hadn't done the appropriate thing in getting the polygraph and might not have thought to use it if he had it.

(Note: It's not clear from the record, but it appears Sala-Gault -- or someone else on the police/prosecutor side -- tried to get Wells to take a police-administered polygraph test, and Wells refused. Our research indicates criminal-defense lawyers generally would call that a wise decision. Dodson, on the other hand, was talking about having a test conducted by an independent polygrapher, such as John Harvill. Wells agreed to take the Harvill test, and he passed it.)

How does an attorney effectively use polygraph evidence? Dodson provides insights -- and points out that Shuler not only failed to have his client take a polygraph, be he called a witness who raised the issue on the stand:

Bellm: And I want to back up just for a second. You said something earlier. You're aware that the officer volunteered on the stand at trial the issue relative to [Wells'] failure to take a polygraph test? 
Dodson: Oh, and I'm aware she did it on direct examination, which calls into question why in the world he ever called her. . . .  
Bellm: Okay. Is it your testimony that he should have gotten the polygraph rest for the reason that she -- he could have anticipated that she might volunteer something like that and have the test waiting in the wings to rebut that testimony? 
Dodson: My contention -- of course, he couldn't have anticipated that. My contention is he should have gotten the polygraph test for the reasons I have stated, that it is an irreplaceable strategic tool, if done properly. Some people who are telling the truth don't pass polygraph tests. If it's done properly and discreetly, no one knows about it, so there's not any potential harm to it. [Shuler] should have gotten the polygraph for different reasons and been in a position to do it -- because even though [the officer] was his witness, she was certainly of the level of a hostile witness, and I think Judge Burrell would have ruled that opened the door.

A lawyer, Dodson says, does not discuss the possibility of a polygraph test with prosecutors ahead of time:

Bellm: Are you aware of in this particular case whether that offer was ever made? 
Dodson: What offer is that? 
Bellm: To have him take a polygraph test. 
Dodson: Oh, if he takes a polygraph? I can tell you strategically you don't ever want to discuss that offer. You want to get the polygraph test, and if it's a good polygraph test, you want to hold it under the prosecutor's nose and say, "By the way, my client didn't do this; does that change your outlook? You certainly would not discuss ahead of time that your client was going to take a polygraph.
Bellm: You believe the favorable polygraph results had anything to do with the plea that you were ultimately offered? 
Dodson: Absolutely.
In Dodson's view, proper use of the polygraph results could have led to dismissal of the charges against Scott Wells -- and to this day, in the federal child-porn case, Wells has his 2004 conviction (even though it was overturned) and the resulting Alford plea being used against him:

Bellm: Well, if [Shuler] would have talked Scott into obtaining the polygraph test, what you're telling me is -- if he would have talked him into it and Scott would have passed at that time, then that would have been a bargaining tool to be used with the prosecutor to secure a better plea bargain, right? 
Dodson: In this case, to secure a dismissal. 

(To be continued)

Monday, February 17, 2020

Trump's stupid tweets about Roger Stone case spark outrage over rule of law, but the constitutional staple has been on life support long before Trump took office

Roger Stone
Donald Trump's interference via Twitter in the Roger Stone sentencing has unleashed an avalanche of criticism and analysis about abuse of the rule of law. Much of the coverage suggests this is a new development, but it's anything but new. For roughly 20 years of our legal travails in Alabama and Missouri, Mrs. Schnauzer and I have seen the rule of law take a beating like the one Muhammad Ali administered to George Chuvalo in 1966.

 As much as we despise Trump and would like to see him frog walked out of the White House, the problem did not start with him. Assaults on the rule of law usually come from crooked judges and prosecutors -- and the lawyers who enable them by looking the other way. Trump had the distinction, last week, of turning it into a presidential matter, but Trump is mostly a sideshow on this issue. The problem started long before he arrived on the scene, and it's doubtful Trump even knows what "rule of law" means.

Mrs. Schnauzer and I hardly are alone in noting the battering the rule of law has taken for decades. Consider this quote from a 1989 speech by Monroe Friedman, the late Hofstra University law professor who is considered the father of legal ethics as a serious academic subject:

Frankly, I have had more than enough of judicial opinions that bear no relationship whatsoever to the cases that have been filed and argued before the judges.

I am talking about judicial opinions that falsify the facts of the cases that have been argued, judicial opinions that make disingenuous use or omission of material authorities, judicial opinions that cover up these things with no-publication and no-citation rules.

That quote came more than 30 years ago, from a professor -- who obviously had tenure, or the judicial lobby would have attacked his job -- and was disgusted with judges who had taken oaths to uphold the rule of law and repeatedly failed to do so.

What is the rule of law, and why does it matter. Here is perhaps the best definition I've found: the restriction of the arbitrary exercise of power by subordinating it to well-defined and established laws. Why does it matter? Without it -- and without judges who will enforce it -- no one knows what is lawful and what is not. Note the word "arbitrary" in the definition above; without the rule of law, everything that comes from a court is arbitrary, based on the whims of a particular judge, with no grounding in written law. This is the way courts are conducted in banana republics, and the United States is slip sliding -- not so slowly -- toward that status.

Here are three brief examples where we have seen the rule of law take a pummeling:

(1) The criminal trespass case of Mike McGarity -- McGarity is the former neighbor in Birmingham -- with a lengthy criminal record and, somehow, a job at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama -- who caused all of our legal problems, along with his crooked lawyer, William Swatek -- the guy with a lengthy disciplinary history with the Alabama State Bar.

We had lived peacefully in our home for roughly nine years when McGarity moved in next door and turned our world upside down. He, his family, and guests repeatedly trespassed on our property, and McGarity even put up a fence that took roughly 400 square feet of our yard. Essentially, he and his minions turned our yard into their personal playground -- complete with the liability we would have faced if one of them had gotten hurt on our yard, not to mention the potential for damage to our home from flying baseballs, golf balls, etc. Did McGarity bother to ask us if these intrusions were OK with us, the owners of the property? Nope. In fact, when I told him via multiple phone calls to keep himself and his various interlopers off our property, his response was, "I'm going to sue you for harassment."

I consulted a Birmingham lawyer named Bill Lewis, and he said we had two options: (a) A lawsuit, which could cost more than $10,000 and generally is meant for trespasses by inanimate objects; (b) A criminal complaint, which covers human encroachments that violate statutory violations under the Code of Alabama. Lewis agreed to send McGarity a letter via certified mail, explaining the law and stating McGarity would receive no more warnings. Lewis said he hoped the letter would solve the problem.

Unfortunately, that did not happen. We saw McGarity trespassing again, after we knew the letter had been sent and received.  At that point, we felt we had no choice but to go with option "b," and at a bench trial, McGarity was found not guilty, even though he confessed to criminal trespass, as defined by Alabama law. (I'm not making this up.)

How did District Judge Ron Jackson pull this bit of judicial chicanery? He ruled that, in this instance, we had to give McGarity written warning, and Jackson found doubt that Lewis' letter had arrived prior to the most recent trespass. Does that square with Aabama law? Not even close.

The controlling law is a case styled Chambers v. City of Opelika, 698 So. 2d 792 (1996).  Here is the key finding:

The appellant has cited no authority for his position that to be guilty of criminal trespass the intruder must be aware that he or she had no license or privilege to enter or to remain on the premises. There is authority, however, that states that when those premises are private and not open to the public, there is no requirement that the prosecution prove that a prior written or verbal warning was given to the intruder.

The law could not be more clear: A private property owner -- or a renter, for that matter -- has no obligation  to warn an intuder, in writing or verbally. In other words, McGarity was guilty of trespass, but Judge Jackson held us to a standard that does not exist under Alabama law.

(2) McGarity sues me for "malicious prosecution" --Malicious prosecution is a "disfavored tort," and in a legitimate such case, the plaintiff essentially is claiming he was prosecuted criminally or sued civilly without probable cause. In the McGarity case, I had not only probable cause but "actual cause" because McGarity admitted at trial to trespassing, as charged. Judge Jackson's not-guilty finding did not give McGarity a malicious prosecution case -- not even close -- but it did give him the bare minimum needed to sue me. No real attorney would have brought such a flimsy case on a disfavored tort, bit Bill Swatek -- with his long history of punishment for unethical acts with the Alabama State Bar -- brought one for McGarity.

How flimsy was McGarity's case? We've already shown it was a non-starter on one ground, that the underlying case was not brought without probable cause. But it was a non-starter for a second ground, that I consulted an attorney and shared all of the relevant facts with him prior to taking action against McGarity, and that is an absolute defense to a claim of malicious prosecution.

How badly was the rule of law abused in the McGarity lawsuit? Well, the summary judgment process was an absolute butcher job. I filed three Motions for Summary Judgment (MSJ), two prepared by lawyers and one that I prepared, and all were supported by relevant evidence. Each time, that shifted the burden to McGaity, requiring him to respond to my motion with evidence that showed there was a dispute that required the case to go to trial. McGarity did not respond to the first MSJ in a timely fashion, and he did respond to the other ttwo MSJs at all.

Alabama law is real simple under such circumstances; in fact, it's probably simple in all 50 states. The key Alabama case is styled Voyager Guar. Insurance Co. Inc. v. Brown, 631 So. 2d 848 (1993):

"When a party opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment offers no evidence to contradict that presented by the movant, trial court MUST consider the movant's evidence uncontroverted, with no genuine issue of material fact existing."

As a matter of law, McGarity's case could not survive summary judgment and go to trial, but Judges Mike Joiner and Dan Reeves allowed it to happen -- giving Carol and me royal screw jobs and wasting untold numbers of taxpayer dollars. Most importantly, the rule of law was starting to take shallow breaths -- and things were about to get worse for the old boy.

(3) The mind-blowing unlawfulness in my UAB employment case -- U.S. District Judge William M. Acker Jr., thankfully, is dead -- so he won't be cheating anyone else. But the cheat job he inflicted on me is enough to shock anyone with  a conscience. Acker made numerous unlawful rulings in my discrimination-First Amendment case against UAB (where I had worked for 20 years), but the most galling involved summary judgment.

Technically, my case was against the University of Alabama Board of Trustees, and the board's lawyers quickly moved for summary judgment. But they had a slight problem: Summary judgment cannot even be considered, much less granted, until sufficient discovery has been conducted. And Acker, after telling me in open court he was going to cheat me, allowed zero discovery. In other words, the case was decided with no facts in evidence.

How grossly unlawful is that? The answer can be found in a case styled Snook v. Trust Company of Georgia, 859 F. 2d 865 (1988):

This court has often noted that summary judgment should not be granted until the party opposing the motion has had an adequate opportunity for discovery. . . . The party opposing a motion for summary judgment has a right to challenge the affidavits and other factual materials submitted in support of the motion by conducting sufficient discovery so as to enable him to determine whether he can furnish opposing affidavits. . . . Generally summary judgment is inappropriate when the party opposing the motion has been unable to obtain responses to his discovery requests.

Carol and I hardly are alone in receiving this kind of treatment in U.S. courts, both state and federal. We can only imagine the hundreds of thousands (millions?) of Americans who have had their constitutional rights trampled in a similar manner. It takes a dunder-headed move by Donald Trump to make the rule of law front-page news. But what about the everyday Americans who are cheated in taxpayer-funded courts, but never will see their cases come to public attention?

We've covered quite a few such cases -- in matters that did not involve us -- and now seems like an appropriate time to bring such injustice back to the forefront.

(To be continued)

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Latest data shows Alabama has the nation's highest rates of opioid prescriptions, with Blue Cross and Blue Shield's virtual monopoly playing a contributing factor

Alabama leads the nation in opioid prescriptions, according to recent data from the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) -- and residents probably can thank Blue Cross and Blue Shield's virtual monopoly on health insurance for that distinction. From a report at al.com on the latest findings:

Alabamians received more prescribed opioids per person than residents of any other state in 2018, according to data recently released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Patients in Alabama received 97.5 prescriptions per 100 people. The national average was 51.4 prescriptions per 100 people, according to the most recent surveillance data.

Overall, prescription rates have fallen since 2012. That year, residents of Alabama received 143 prescriptions per 100 people, enough to supply every person in the state with one and a half bottles of painkillers.

The nation's highest opioid-prescription rates tend to be in the South, and medical professionals in the region are struggling to get the problem under control:

“The Medical Association is keenly aware of the high number of opioid prescriptions written in Alabama and has undertaken several initiatives to address the problem,” said Mark Jackson, executive director of the Medical Association of the State of Alabama. “Beginning in 2009 the Medical Association has put on education courses for physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants to make them aware of the dangers and addictive nature of opioids. This past year, we had over 550 providers attend those courses and we have had 5,000 attend since 2009.”

Other states with high rates of opioid prescriptions included Arkansas (93.5), Tennessee (81.8) and Kentucky (79.5). The District of Columbia had the lowest rate at 25 prescriptions per 100 people, roughly one quarter of Alabama’s rate, according to the CDC.

Opioids are commonly prescribed to control pain, but can also be abused, which can lead to addiction and death. Drug overdose deaths in the United States have more than tripled since 1999, and the majority include opioids, a class of drugs that includes everything from prescription OxyContin and fentanyl to illicit heroin sold on the street.

How does Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama (BCBSAL) enter the picture? We addressed that question in a September 2019 post, borrowing from a 2017 report at al.com:

Alabama members of Blue Cross Blue Shield receive more opioids for longer periods of time and report higher rates of substance- abuse disorder than patients in almost every other state, according to a report released Thursday.

An analysis of claims filed by Blue Cross members ranked Alabama in the top three for opioid prescriptions filled, long-term painkiller use and diagnoses of opioid-abuse disorder. More than 26 percent of Blue Cross Blue Shield members in the Yellowhammer State filled prescriptions for opioids in 2015, compared to the national average of 21.4 percent.

The study follows recent reports showing the death toll from opioid use topping 33,000 in 2015 and continuing to rise. Many of the deaths in recent years have been caused by heroin and illicit fentanyl - a powerful substance that has infiltrated the drug supply and caused a spike in overdoses. Deaths from prescription opioids have plateaued, but still account for the majority of fatal overdoses, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Details about Alabama's opioid problem are sobering:

According to the report, the number of substance-abuse disorder diagnoses for Blue Cross members increased almost 500 percent from 2010 to 2016. Women age 45 and older have higher rates of substance abuse than men, and men have higher rates of abuse among younger members. Less than a third of members diagnosed with opioid use disorder in Alabama received medication to treat the condition.

The CDC identified Alabama as the state with the highest number of prescribed opioids per capita in 2015, with physicians writing 5.8 million prescriptions that year. State regulators have adopted some rules to curb high rates of prescriptions. Recently, the Alabama Board of Medical Examiners adopted a rule requiring doctors to check the prescription drug database for certain patients.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Merger to form top 50 legal giant in Atlanta could siphon partners from Balch Bingham office, adding more pain for reeling Birmingham-based firm

Jay Town and Mark Crosswhite

The Birmingham legal community is aflutter now that photos have surfaced of Alabama Power CEO Mark Crosswhite (former Balch Bingham law firm partner) gathering with U.S. Attorney Jay Town in a meeting apparently designed to rig the summer 2018 North Birmingham Superfund bribery trial. Now, Balch might be taking a hit from another angle, according to a report at the blog banbalch.com.

Troutman Sanders, one of Atlanta's powerhouse firms, is merging with Philadelphia-based Pepper Hamilton, creating a top 50 outfit nationally. The merger reportedly could include Balch Bingham partners in Atlanta, which would represent a talent drain on the already reeling Birmingham firm.

K.B. Forbes, publisher of banbalch.com, provides background for a merger that is set to take place in less than two months:

They hurt. They really hurt.

The embarrassing and compromising photos of Balch Bingham’s former partner and now CEO of sister-wife Alabama Power Mark A. Crosswhite apparently paying for drinks with Birmingham’s U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town has rocked the establishment in Birmingham.

Making a mockery of the legal system and affirming the feeling of blatant corruption behind closed doors, the photos illustrate why numerous, high-caliber, money-making partners with spectacular reputations have left the embattled law firm, including legacy partner Jesse S. Vogtle, Jr.

In recent days, Balch Bingham has tried pathetically to put a happy face on all the horrific news with more P.R. fluff by announcing the opening of a “Houston office” with one full-time attorney and one part-time attorney who will split time between Houston and Birmingham.

How embarrassing!

Things could get worse for Balch Bingham, as Forbes explains:

Now comes news that Troutman Sanders, one of Atlanta’s major, powerhouse law firms, is merging with Pepper Hamilton of Philadelphia, creating a Top 50 giant.
Like Balch, Troutman Sanders has served as a key law firm for Southern Company and its subsidiaries. Years ago, Balch arrived to Atlanta and planted its flag in Troutman Sanders territory irritating the powerful firm and allegedly trying to “steal” or steer away more Southern Company legal work.

In recent days, Troutman Sanders is expanding its operations even in the shadow of the mega-merger coming April 1, 2020.

Will this expansion include Balch Bingham partners in Atlanta?

If the monolithic new firm on the block tries to poach Balch's talent, it might represent poetic justice, Forbes writes:

Balch Bingham allegedly tried to “steal” competitor Burt Newsome’s legal work servicing banks; yet, the foolish plan completely backfired. Newsome is now a hero in the legal community for not taking it on the chin from the bullies at Balch Bingham.

Ironically, the same could be said in Atlanta. Years ago, Balch Bingham allegedly tried to “steal” competitor Troutman Sanders’s legal work in Atlanta.

Last year, we wrote that Balch’s entire footprint appears to have Athlete’s foot.

The partners at the satellite offices at Balch Bingham need to assess their future free of Balch Bingham’s Birmingham baggage.

Troutman Pepper could be the perfect place to call “my office.”

In the meantime, order a Venti Skinny Vanilla Latte and get ready to make your move.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Missouri attorney David Shuler is Exhibit A that a lawyer can claim experience in a certain practice area and still not provide remotely competent service

David Shuler

If an attorney claims in advertising or on his Web site, that he is competent in criminal defense, does that mean he really is? Not necessarily, says an expert witness in a Missouri legal-malpractice case.

According to court documents, David Shuler (my brother), of Springfield, MO, represented himself as a criminal-defense lawyer and signed up Scott J. Wells as a client in a complex child sexual-abuse case, with Wells paying $15,000 for Shuler's services, (plus some expenses added on). What did Wells get for his money and trouble? He was convicted -- even though a complaining witness was found to have lied under oath, with other witnesses telling wildly contradictory stories -- and faced more than five life sentences. Daniel Dodson, of Jefferson City, took over the case and got the convictions overturned, based largely on a court's finding that Shuler had provided ineffective assistance of counsel.

Dodson served as an expert witness in Wells' legal-malpractice case and testified at length about the lousy lawyering job Shuler had done. The record also shows that Shuler acted with a complete lack of class; Wells sent a letter asking for a refund of his money, and Shuler refused -- even though documents show he essentially admitted that he screwed up the case.

Bottom line: Just because a lawyer claims to be competent in a certain area of the law, it doesn't mean that really is the case. And David Shuler is Exhibit A on that point. Here is testimony from Daniel Dodson in a deposition for the legal-malpractice case. Shuler's lawyer, Scott Bellm, is doing the questioning:

Bellm: The first allegation [of legal malpractice] is that he did not prepare for trial, he being Mr. Shuler, did not prepare for trial or effectively assist the Plaintiff in defending himself by adequately investigating the charges and the defenses to those charges by fully and adequately interviewing witnesses against and for the accused. Let's just top with that. 
Dodson: Yeah. As I said in the transcript -- and I read through it, but I don't remember them all -- there were numerous things in the reports that were critical to bring out in terms of inconsistencies and in terms of reasons not to believe these girls that were there for [Shuler] that he did not bring out. 
There were additional witnesses, neighbors, credibility witnesses, character witnesses for Scott Wells, neighbors who would say these little girls were untruthful, they had a reputation for being untruthful around the neighborhood, that he didn't explore.

How did David Shuler fall outside the standard of care for attorneys defending a case of alleged child sexual abuse? A key factor, Dodson says, was the failure to hire an expert witness:

Bellm: We talked about he experts briefly. You say he should have endorsed who -- to be within the standard of care . . . ? 
Dodson: I think it was -- he needed to at least explore hiring an expert witness to have these recorded statements (from complaining witnesses) analyzed, just as I eventually did. 
In this particular case, I don't really think there's room for a determination to not use an expert witness, given the statements, what was in them, the prior inconsistent statements, the later inconsistent statements, the inconsistencies all throughout. I don't think there was room within the standard of care for cases like this to not, at least look into and probably hire an expert witness. 
Bellm: And if he talked to Scott about doing that, and Scott didn't want to spend the money to do it . . . ? 
Dodson: [That] needed to be in the initial conversation. "Mr. Wells, these cases require that I look into hiring an expert witness. And if I do, it's going to be several thousand dollars. And you're going to need to be in a position to come up with that money or you're going to have to give me a deposit of that money so I have it available, because otherwise, I can't represent you properly.

Dodson addressed the issue of whether Wells was entitled to a refund of the more than $15,000 he paid David Shuler, plus other possible remedies:

Bellm: Did you ever tell him or advise him to try to get get his money back from David Shuler? 
Dodson: I'm sure I told him that I think, yes, based on the finding of ineffective assistance, that Shuler would probably be wise to give you your money back. . . .  
Bellm: Did you ever advise him to report David to the Office of the Chief Disciplinary Counsel? 
Dodson: I don't believe I did. I don't -- the Chief Disciplinary Counsel and the criminal justice system are both over-rated in their ability to deal with problems, I think.

Dodson also was asked about possible damages for Scott Wells in the legal-malpractice case:

Bellm: . . . we were talking about the damages in this case. And I guess what I'm trying to find out, Mr. Dodson, is we can do the math and know what it cost Mr. Wells to hire you to finish his case. And I also understand that you're not going to give any testimony about his medical condition or medical bills or anything like that. 
Dodson: Right. 
Bellm: From an economic standpoint as to what his issues are, as occasioned by David Shuler's alleged negligent handling of his case, do you have any opinions about that? 
Dodson: Yes, I do. 
Bellm: Okay. 
Dodson: First of all, as I have said, because of the penis evidence, I think David Shuler, even David Shuler, despite all his mistakes, was in position to win it. And so the difference would be between $15,000 and the $60,000 or $65,000 that they eventually spent with me, $45,000 to $50,000. . . .  
Bellm: So the economic damages in this care are around $50,000? 
Dodson: I would say, yeah. From a legal standpoint, yeah. 
Bellm: Well, you would agree that he's certainly not entitled to get back the $15,000 he spent on -- with David Shuler and then the money he spent on you? I mean, he was going to spend something on this case? 
Dodson: Not as pure economic damages. 
Bellm: Sure. 
Dodson: I don't know if punitives are available in cases like this or not or -- or what his medical are. But in terms of the pure additional legal costs, yeah, $50,000 would be about right. Unless, I don't remember what the bondsman costs were. 

Based on Dodson's testimony, David Shuler was looking at being liable for what might be called "direct damages" of at least $50,000, plus possible medical damages (Scott Well has a benign brain tumor, is blind in one eye, and relies on assistive devices to be mobile.), damages for emotional distress, and punitive damages that could have increased the number substantially.

Also, the testimony does not address the expenses Wells incurred for being placed in the position of bringing a legal-malpractice case -- and it makes no mention of whether David Shuler carried malpractice insurance, and without it, the damages likely would have come straight out of his pocket.

As for Shuler's apparent admission that he butchered the Wells case, it can be found on page 38, Vol. 1, of the Dodson deposition. (Both volumes are embedded at the end of the post.)

Bellm: During that meeting [at Shuler's office], did he say anything to you that could be construed as an admission that his representation fell short? 
Dodson: Yeah, to some degree. Yeah, it was like, yeah, I probably should have done this differently. Yeah, I felt like he was more forthcoming in our meeting at his office than he was at trial, in terms of, yeah, maybe if I had this to do over again, I would do it differently, maybe I didn't really think this through, things to that effect. . . .

(To be continued)

Monday, February 10, 2020

Trump's firings of Vindman and Sondland represent federal crimes, says legal expert, but GOP seems unconcerned about lawlessness in the White House

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman

President Donald Trump committed a federal crime last week when he fired two government officials who testified in the U.S. House impeachment proceeding, according to a law professor and former chief ethics lawyer in the George W. Bush administration. In fact, Richard W. Painter, who is on the law faculty at the University of Minnesota, suggested Trump should face another round of impeachment for his most recent transgressions.

Trump last Friday fired National Security Council staffer Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, both of whom provided damaging testimony about Trump's efforts to strong arm Ukraine officials into launching an investigation of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.

The firings, wrote Richard W. Painter in a Sunday Tweet, violate 18 U.S. Code 1513 (Retaliating against a witness, victim, or informant). Does Trump have any clue -- or does he care -- that he committed a felony. The tone of Painter's Tweet suggests the answer is no:

Hello ⁦@realDonaldTrump:

Retaliation against witnesses is a felony.

Is this a serious matter? Absolutely, says Painter in a separate Tweet:

So, you blew the whistle on others’ bad conduct. Then you were fired or not promoted based on your “poor job performance.” My advice: Sue the bastards. And if the person who retaliated against you was @realDonaldTrump, the House should impeach him for it, again! We’ve had enough.

This appears to be the key provision of Sec. 1513:

(e) Whoever knowingly, with the intent to retaliate, takes any action harmful to any person, including interference with the lawful employment or livelihood of any person, for providing to a law enforcement officer any truthful information relating to the commission or possible commission of any Federal offense, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 10 years, or both.

The Washington Post's Max Boot addressed the Sec. 1513 issue in a Saturday column titled "Trump’s ‘Friday night massacre’ is just the beginning. I fear what’s to come." Boot writes that Trump and Donald Trump Jr. have admitted the firings were acts of retaliation:

Trump’s campaign of revenge kicked off at the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday, where Trump rejected the advice of Post columnist Arthur Brooks — echoing the Sermon on the Mount — to love your enemies. “Arthur, I don’t know if I agree with you,” Trump said, and then proceeded to question the religious faith of Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). That was just a warmup for his deranged performance in the White House East Room: He denounced the impeachment process as “evil” and “corrupt” and called Pelosi and Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) “vicious” and “horrible” people.

Trump proceeded on Friday to fire Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the National Security Council staffer who had testified about Trump’s attempts to blackmail Ukraine into helping his reelection campaign. The Iraq War veteran and Purple Heart recipient was escorted off the White House grounds along with his twin brother, Lt. Col. Yevgeny Vindman, whose only sin is to be related to one of the “human scum” Never Trumpers, as Trump labeled the witnesses against him. Trump also fired his own inaugural committee donor, Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, who had testified that there was a quid pro quo linking U.S. military aid to Ukraine to an investigation of a company that employed former vice president Joe Biden’s son Hunter and that “everyone was in the loop.”

In case there was any doubt what the president was up to, Donald Trump Jr. explained on Twitter: “Allow me a moment to thank… Adam Schiff. Were it not for his crack investigation skills, @realDonald Trump might have had a tougher time unearthing who all needed to be fired. Thanks, Adam!” The president himself himself tweeted Saturday that he fired “Lt. Col.” Vindman — note the scare quotes — for being “very insubordinate” by complying with a House subpoena to testify. Thanks, Trumps, for confessing to an apparent violation of 18 U.S. Code § 1513, the federal law protecting witnesses from retaliation — not that the president will ever be prosecuted.

Are any Republicans -- other than Mitt Romney -- concerned about lawlessness roiling the White House? Boot sees no sign of it:

There was, predictably, no public pushback to these decisions from within the administration, because Trump is now surrounded by political invertebrates. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo acquiesced to Sondland’s firing just as he acquiesced in the far more offensive campaign waged by Trump’s lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani to recall career Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, who retired in late January. If national security adviser Robert C. O’Brien made any effort to protect a war hero from a draft-dodger president, there is no indication of it. Republican senators such as Marco Rubio of Florida simply cheered Trump on.

What happened Friday was the political equivalent of one of those mob-movie montages where the don’s enemies are gunned down to the accompaniment of an operatic score. And the Don in the White House isn’t done yet. He reportedly is interested in firing Michael Atkinson, the inspector general of the intelligence community, who brought to Congress a whistleblower’s complaint. The whistleblower required a security detail because he or she has been smeared by the president and his minions. Sen. Rand Paul (R.-Ky.) read the name of the person alleged to be the whistleblower by many on the right on the floor of the Senate this week. What possible purpose can this serve save to bring retribution down upon that person?

Trump is also said to be plotting to punish Romney and Schiff. “He has not paid the price, yet, for what he has done to our Country!” Trump tweeted about the House Intelligence Committee chairman. Such venomous talk led to a death threat against Schiff.

Our country is in peril, writes Boot, and a frightening number of Americans don't recognize it or don't care:

Trump is unchastened, unchained and unhinged. I fear for the future of our democracy with such a vindictive bully wielding the awesome powers of the presidency with less and less restraint. He is making an example of all those who have exposed his misconduct in the past to ensure that he can get away with even greater wrongdoing in the future.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Tech billionaire Reid Hoffman, who bankrolled disinformation campaign in Alabama U.S. Senate race, is at the heart of Democratic debacle in Iowa caucuses

Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn

The Silicon Valley billionaire who bankrolled a disinformation campaign in Alabama's 2017 special election for the U.S. Senate is behind the group that caused disarray and incomplete results in this week's Democratic Party Iowa caucuses, according to reports at multiple political-news sites.

The billionaire is Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn, and the story has a strong Alabama flavor. U.S. Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) won the 2017 race with the help of a social-media campaign based on false posts that Republican Roy Moore intended to push for a statewide alcohol ban. Jones supporters, including Matt Osborne of Florence, AL, admitted that he helped conceive of the scheme to The New York Times.

Matt Osborne
As for the Iowa caucuses, Hoffman funded the group behind the confusing and embarrassing results, according to reports from Max Blumenthal at The Grayzone and  Consortium News:

At the time of publication, February 6, the winner of the Iowa’s Democratic Party caucus is still unknown. Senator Bernie Sanders, the clear winner in virtually every exit poll, is currently ahead in votes. Yet somehow Pete Buttigieg, a favorite of the party establishment who was unknown to most voters until last year, has claimed victory.

The force accused of sowing the confusion and disarray surrounding the first Democratic Party contest of the 2020 election season is a dark money nonprofit called Acronym. It was Acronym that launched Shadow Inc, the mysterious company behind the now-infamous, unsecured, completely unworkable voter app which prevented precinct chairs from reporting vote totals on caucus night.

The exceptionally opaque Acronym was itself created with seed money from a Silicon Valley billionaire named Reid Hoffman who has financed a series of highly manipulative social media campaigns.

The billionaire founder of LinkedIn, Hoffman is a top funder of novel Democratic Party social media campaigns accused of manipulating voters through social media. He is assisted by Dmitri Mehlhorn, a corporate consultant who pushed school privatization before joining Hoffman’s political empire.

Blumenthal's report leaves this troubling question: Have Democrats decided the best way to fight corrupt and incompetent Republicans is to be just as corrupt and incompetent as they are? That essentially was Matt Osborne's justification for the Alabama misinformation campaign that benefited Doug Jones. Nationally, some Democrats, such as former Obama campaign aide Tara McGowan, seem willing to accept Hoffman's cash and use it for "innovative" campaign tactics. Other Democrats would rather leave the corruption to Republicans. Writes Blumenthal:

One of the most consequential beneficiaries of Hoffman’s wealth is Acronym CEO Tara McGowan, a 33-year-old former journalist and Obama for America veteran.

Once touted as “a weapon of a woman whose innovative tactics make her critically important to the Democratic Party,” McGowan’s name is now synonymous with the fiasco in Iowa. She also happens to be married to a senior advisor to Pete Buttigeg’s presidential campaign.

Back in December 2018, McGowan personally credited Hoffman and Mehlhorn’s “Investing in US” initiative for the birth of her dark money pressure group, Acronym.

“I’m personally grateful and proud to be included in this group of incredible political founders + startups @reidhoffman and his team, led by Dmitri [Mehlhorn], have supported and helped to fund over the past two years,” she declared on Twitter in December 2018.

McGowan posted that Tweet at a time of political upheaval in Alabama, and analysis of Osborne's social-media fraud indicates it probably turned the election in Jones' favor. Writes Blumenthal:

The 2017 senate election in Alabama was one of the most dramatic races of President Donald Trump’s first term in office. Treated by national media as a referendum on Trump in a red state, it pitted a far-right Republican, Roy Moore, against Doug Jones, a moderate Republican who ran as a Democrat. (Note: I'm hardly a Doug Jones fan, but I'm not sure this is an accurate characterization of his political affiliation. I'm not aware of Jones ever being anything other than a Democrat; he has cozied up to a number of sleazy Republicans, such as Rob Riley and Bill Pryor, but I don't believe he ever has officially been a Republican.) In the end, Jones won an upset victory in a deep red state, thrilling Democrats across the country.

As Dan Cohen wrote in a series of reports for The Grayzone, the outcome of the 2017 Alabama race was heavily influenced by an online disinformation operation. The campaign, which was unknown to voters at the time, was called Project Birmingham.

Silicon Valley billionaire Reid Hoffman provided $100,000 to the architects of this black ops campaign. His money was pipelined through American Engagement Technologies (AET), a company run by Obama administration veteran and Democrat tech operative Mikey Dickerson. Through AET, another firm comprised of Obama campaign veterans and national security state operatives called New Knowledge was contracted to carry out the secretive voter manipulation project.

In internal documents first covered by The New York Times, Project Birmingham’s architects described the scheme as an “elaborate false flag operation” which aimed to convince voters that the Kremlin was supporting Moore through thousands of fake Russian bots. (A second scheme, called Dry Alabama, sought to convince voters Moore wanted a statewide ban on alcohol.)

Project Birmingham went to absurd lengths to drive voters away from Moore. Its architects deployed a phony Facebook page encouraging Alabamians to vote for an obscure write-in Republican candidate, arranged interviews for the candidate in major newspapers, and even sought to arrange SuperPAC funding for his dark horse campaign.

The deeply un-democratic campaign was overseen by a cast of characters remarkably similar to those who bungled the 2020 Iowa caucus count. Like the staff of Acronym and Shadow Inc., the New Knowledge operatives who carried out Project Birmingham were 30- and 40-something techies who had worked in the Obama administration and on various Democratic campaigns. (New Knowledge was rebranded as Yonder after the scandal was exposed in national media.)

The devious tactics they waged in Alabama likely influenced the outcome of the election. A leaked “Project Birmingham Debrief” claimed that New Knowledge’s black operations “moved enough votes to ensure a Doug Jones victory.”

After the scheme was exposed, Hoffman issued a public apology and claimed he had no knowledge of the New Knowledge disinformation project.