Thursday, August 26, 2021

Alabama courts trampled Burt Newsome's due-process rights -- the kind of errors that happen around the country and require U.S. Supreme Court intervention

Alexandra Siskopoulos (YouTube)

Part Three

The U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) should review the conspiracy case of Birmingham attorney Burt Newsome because the mishandling of release-dismissal agreements (R&D) in criminal cases -- of the type present in the Newsome matter -- is an increasingly common error in state and federal courts, argues a veteran practitioner before the high court. Alexandra Siskopoulos, a New York City attorney who filed a petition for a writ of certiorari on Newsome's behalf, says R&D agreements have become a classic form of government overreach. 

Siskopoulos also argues that Alabama courts violated SCOTUS precedent -- one of the grounds for which the high court hears cases -- and trampled Newsome's due-process rights in multiple ways -- by relying on an unfiled order that was void as a matter of state law and improperly hitting him with more than $192,000 in sanctions. 

At the heart of Newsome's argument -- especially in regards to violation of SCOTUS precedent -- is a case styled Newton v. Rumery, 480 U.S. 386(1987). How did the federal questions for which Newsome seeks review come to be raised? Here's how Siskopoulos frames it in her petition for certiorari. (The petition is embedded at the end of this post.):

Petitioners [Newsome and Newsome Law LLC] argued that the release was void under federal law pursuant to this Honorable Court’s precedent in Newton v. Rumery, 480 U.S. 386 (1987), which requires that the party relying on the release must prove the release is valid. The Circuit Court improperly determined that the release was valid without applying the Rumery factors. On appeal, the Supreme Court of Alabama addressed “[w]hether the release clause is void under federal law” and improperly applied the Rumery factors in contravention of this Honorable Court’s precedent. 

Petitioners argued that the lower court could not rely on an unfiled order which was void pursuant to law. The Circuit Court did not address this issue. On appeal, the Supreme Court of Alabama addressed the issue in its opinion but violated the Petitioners’ due process rights to appellate review by relying on an implicit holding the court had previously rendered regarding the unfiled order. 

Why is the Newsome case a matter of national significance, worthy of SCOTUS review? Siskopoulos explains:

The Supreme Court of Alabama’s decision is the ideal vehicle to address whether a release-dismissal agreement pursuant to this Honorable Court’s guidelines can encompass non-governmental persons and entities which were never contemplated in the seminal holding of Newton v. Rumery, 480 U.S. 386 (1987). Further, this Honorable Court must address whether these increasingly overbroad release-dismissal agreements can waive a litigant’s right to pursue a criminal prosecution. The Supreme Court of Alabama’s decision is also an ideal vehicle to address whether a state court judge can withhold the formal filing of a final decision/order and still be in accord with due process principles established by our Constitution.

Siskopoulos shows how U.S. Supreme Court precedent in Rumery has come to be misapplied in courts around the country -- with the Newsome case providing a classic example: 

In Newton v. Rumery, 480 U.S. 386 (1987), this Honorable Court held that release-dismissal agreements entered in a criminal action could not be deemed per se valid nor per se invalid but instead must be decided on a case-by-case approach. In Rumery, this Honorable Court established that this case-by-case approach required the defendant seeking to enforce a release-dismissal agreement prove that the agreement was entered into voluntarily, free from prosecutorial misconduct and was not offensive to relevant public interests. This Honorable Court’s holding in Rumery has resulted in government overreach in the use of release-dismissal agreements warranting this Court’s intervention. Since the Rumery decision, the use of release-dismissal agreements in criminal cases in Alabama have evolved beyond permissible use. Rather than simply waiving any civil claims against the government, the release-dismissal agreement in this action waives all civil and criminal claims against countless non-governmental individuals. 

 In essence, Rumery held that R&D agreements should protect government officials and entities from civil claims resulting from their handling of criminal cases. But the R&D document in the Newsome case goes way beyond that -- to the point that it is unconstitutional, Siskopoulos argues:

Petitioners correctly argued that the holding in Rumery should be applicable to the instant case and that this release-dismissal agreement was unenforceable as a matter of law pursuant to the holding in Rumery. Additionally, the public policy reasons set forth by this Honorable Court for not invalidating all release-dismissal agreements as void because of the government’s interests in protecting itself by use of a release, are simply unavailable to non-governmental individuals and entities. Further, Rumery never allowed for the waiver of criminal claims against any individuals. By extending the release to include “any other complainants, witnesses, associations, corporations, groups, organizations or persons in any way related to this matter,” the government, through the prosecutor’s office, impermissibly violated the constitutional rights of the Petitioners.

In deciding the instant action, the Supreme Court of Alabama upheld the lower court’s granting of summary judgment for the defendants stating that “Newsome is bound by the release clause in the D&R order.” The Supreme Court of Alabama simply failed to properly apply the Rumery factors to the dismissal-release at issue. The Supreme Court of Alabama stated “[t]he D&R order indicates on its face that Newsome voluntarily agreed to its terms. Moreover, there is no evidence, or even an allegation, of prosecutorial misconduct, and enforcing the D&R order according to its terms would not adversely affect any public interest.” The Supreme Court of Alabama improperly flipped the burden of proof set forth in Rumery onto the Petitioners. The proper burden of proof was on the defendants to show that the release obtained was voluntary, free from prosecutorial misconduct and did not affect the public interest. Defendants did not even attempt to meet this burden, yet each defendant was granted a motion for summary judgment despite the clear legal burden placed upon defendants to prove the elements established by the holding in Rumery. The defendants never met the legal burden required by Rumery

Alabama is not the only jurisdiction where this kind of misapplication occurs. The Newsome petition provides multiple examples of similar  errors around the country:

The Supreme Court of Alabama’s knee jerk reaction to summarily agree to the purported enforceability of the release-dismissal agreement is a common error that inflicts the state and federal courts. Our courts are under the erroneous notion that these agreements are presumptively valid – they are not. Ohnemus v. Thompson, 594 F. App’x 864, 868 (6th Cir. 2014). Further, since the Rumery holding, many courts have failed to employ the “critical eye” required by Rumery. Cuba-Diaz v. Town of Windham, 274 F. Supp. 2d 221, 226 (D. Conn. 2003). Clearly, the Alabama courts have forgotten that the party seeking to enforce these release-dismissal agreements must show “absence of prosecutorial misconduct.” Patterson v. City of Akron, 619 F. App’x 462, 476 (6th Cir. 2015). This was a legal impossibility in this case whereas it is fundamentally illegal (and of course unconstitutional) to have a party waive a right to a criminal prosecution. Raia v. Goldberg, 33 Ala. App. 435, 439, 1948 Ala. App. LEXIS 506, *10, 34 So. 2d 620; Y.W. by & Through Smith v. Nat’l Super Mkts., 876 S.W.2d 785, 791 (Mo. Ct. App. 1994). Further, the preprinted dismissal-release order here will never meet the exacting standard set forth by Rumery wherein a blanket policy by a prosecutor’s office does not meet the Rumery test. Cuba-Diaz v. Town of Windham, 274 F. Supp. 2d 221, 227 (D. Conn. 2003). The Alabama courts not only failed to apply the prosecutorial misconduct factor correctly, but also believed that these agreements are de facto beneficial and valid. Such a belief is a gross distortion of the Rumery test whereas these dismissal-release agreements are not presumptively valid nor are they per se beneficial to the public interest. Ohnemus v. Thompson, 594 F. App’x 864, 868 (6th Cir. 2014); Cain v. Darby Borough, 7 F.3d 377 (3d Cir. 1993).

What is the danger in this? Siskopoulos explains:

Many counties and courts have discarded the Rumery factors and are requiring criminal defendants to agree to overbroad, illegal and unconstitutional agreements to secure their freedom. This is not the job of a prosecutor. Also, these release-dismissal agreements place a prosecutor in the dangerous role of perverting the criminal process to favor one litigant over another. The courts have routinely forewarned it is against legal ethics and standards to use the criminal process to gain an advantage in a civil case. MacDonald v. Musick, 425 F.2d 373, 376 (9th Cir. 1970). This ridiculous, dangerous release was used as a security blanket to protect many people and entities not associated with this case – including one of Alabama’s largest law firms. By failing to apply the Rumery factors and flipping the burden of proof on the Petitioners in contravention of the law, the Alabama courts violated Petitioners’ due process rights. This violation of Petitioners’ due process rights was only compounded by disposing of the action on summary judgment. Causes of action have been established as a property right protected under the constitutional guarantee of due process. Logan v. Zimmerman Brush Co., 455 U.S. 422, 428 (1982). The Fifth Amendment firmly establishes an individual’s constitutional guarantee that “[n]o person shall…be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” U.S. Const. amend. V. This Court has stated “[t]o suppose that ‘due process of law’ meant one thing in the Fifth Amendment and another in the Fourteenth is too frivolous to require elaborate rejection.” Malinski v. New York, 324 U.S. 401, 415 (1945). “[D]ue process is flexible and calls for such procedural protections as the particular situation demands.” Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 334 (1976). This Honorable Court has established that there is a denial of due process where an absence of fairness fatally inflicts a trial because “fundamental fairness [is] essential to the very concept of justice.” Lisenba v. California, 314 U.S. 219, 236 (1941). “A litigant in civil proceedings is entitled to a fair hearing, imbued with the protections of due process.” D.N. v. K.M., 61 A.3d 150, 156 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. 2013). Throughout this action and the underlying criminal proceedings relating to the expungement of Petitioner Newsome’s criminal record, Petitioner Newsome was not afforded these cherished constitutional due process protections.

What happens when constitutional protections are denied? That's where American courts can produce ugly, nonsensical results:

In filing the civil lawsuit, Petitioners clearly placed the voluntariness of the release at issue. Petitioner Newsome stated that when he signed the release, he was unaware of the conspiracy to have him arrested in order to ruin his reputation and take his book of business. Petitioner Newsome specifically alleged that the release was procured by the fraudulent conduct of the defendants and was therefore not voluntary. Petitioner Newsome’s claims of fraud were summarily rejected by the Alabama courts on a summary judgment motion. While the Supreme Court of Alabama acknowledged “that a release obtained by fraud is void,” the court improperly stated there were no issues of fact by giving carte blanche acceptance to the defendants’ self-serving attestations in support of their motions.

Also, Petitioners clearly set forth that summary judgment was inappropriate because the defendants did not and could not meet their burden of proof regarding the public policy requirements under Rumery. Petitioners established that the release-dismissal order used in Mr. Newsome’s criminal case was on a preprinted form. Petitioners established that the preprinted release-dismissal form is used in all criminal dismissals in Alabama as part of a blanket policy. The defendants offered no testimony from the prosecution as to its reasoning why it believed the release was necessary in this case - as was their evidentiary burden. Courts that have addressed the issue of form releases as part of a blanket policy of a prosecutor’s office have found these releases to be unenforceable as a matter of law. Cain v. Darby Borough, 7 F.3d 377 (3d Cir. 1993); Kinney v. City of Cleveland, 144 F. Supp. 2d 908 (N.D. Ohio 2001). These courts have reasoned the public interest showing required under Rumery simply fails as matter of law when prosecutors rely on a blanket policy of requiring releases in exchange for dismissals. 

Those are not the only issues of national significance raised in the Newsome case:

Furthermore, this case gives this Honorable Court the opportunity to address whether these overbroad releases would violate public policy even when they are not part of a blanket policy of the prosecutor’s office. These types of purported agreements impermissibly blur the line between criminal and civil actions. In order to satisfy the public policy showing in Rumery, the prosecutor would need to investigate and determine that any and all civil claims between the defendant, complainant, and all potential witnesses are meritless. This is not the function of the prosecutor’s office and injects too many variables into criminal cases. Additionally, by utilizing the prosecutor’s office to preclude all civil claims against non-governmental entities, the State becomes a de facto witness in all civil actions as to the validity of the release. 

As for Alabama courts relying on an unfiled "implicit" order in the Newsome case . . . well, that sounds goofy to the layperson's ear -- and that's because it is goofy, not to mention well outside the law:

The appellate courts throughout our nation make abundantly clear that “[p]arties are entitled to clear communication from the orders issued by all courts, including courts of limited jurisdiction…[t]he rights of litigants and the integrity of our system of justice depend on a reasonable level of certainty in recording the final decisions of our courts.” State v. Montoya, 2008-NMSC-043, ¶ 21, 144 N.M. 458, 463-64, 188 P.3d 1209, 1214-15; State v. Lohberger, 2008-NMSC-033, ¶ 34, 144 N.M. 297, 304, 187 P.3d 162, 169. Our appellate courts have additionally noted that an appeal has no value unless proper notice of the final order is clearly expressed and filed with the clerk. Swander Ditch Landowners’ Ass’n v. Joint Bd. of Huron & Seneca Cty. Comm’rs, 51 Ohio St. 3d 131, 133, 554 N.E.2d 1324, 1327 (1990); State v. Lohberger, 2008- NMSC-033, ¶ 34, 144 N.M. 297, 304, 187 P.3d 162, 169. A clear, final order is important to the administration of justice because “uncertainty about whether or when a final order has been filed may unintentionally forfeit a party’s right to appellate review.” State v. Lohberger, 2008-NMSC-033, ¶ 25, 144 N.M. 297, 302, 187 P.3d 162, 167.

Sadly, this is what tragically unfolded in Petitioner Newsome’s matter whereas he was unable to engage in comprehensive appellate review of the whether the order is void. Petitioner Newsome did file a Writ of Mandamus to challenge the order, but this was not the appropriate vehicle to review a final order and the unnecessary legal maneuver changed the reviewable standard from de novo to the more deferential standard of abuse of discretion. This was a clear violation of the due process of law. Indeed, the Alabama courts have noted “a writ of mandamus is not a substitute for an appeal.” Dixon v. City of Mobile, 859 So. 2d 462, 464 n.1 (Ala. Crim. App. 2003).

As a matter of law, Petitioners had a due process right to de novo review of whether the unfiled order is void as a matter of law. In relying on its implicit holding on Petitioner Newsome’s Writ of Mandamus, the court impermissibly relied on the inappropriate abuse of discretion standard. Due process does not allow for Petitioner Newsome to be subject to an implicit holding on an order which remains unfiled.

The trampling of Burt Newsome's constitutional rights do not end there. Alabama courts also attempted to unlawfully invade his bank account, by awarding defendants more than $192,000 in costs and attorney fees:

The courts in Alabama also granted and affirmed an award for attorneys’ fees related to Petitioner Newsome’s challenge to the overbroad, illegal release that purportedly waived Newsome’s civil and criminal claims even against non-governmental parties. Burt Newsome was well within his right to file a lawsuit in his home state and consequently challenge  the enforceability of this suspect release. Indeed, the courts have routinely reminded the legal community that these releases must be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. Ohnemus v. Thompson, 594 F. App’x 864, 868 (6th Cir. 2014). Further, courts must review a purported release with a critical eye. Cuba-Diaz v. Town of Windham, 274 F. Supp. 2d 221, 226 (D. Conn. 2003). The adequacy of a dismissal-release is always reviewed in a case specific manner wherein “each case involves unique facts and policy considerations.” Lynch v. Alhambra, 880 F.2d 1122, 1128 (9th Cir. 1989). Additionally, in order to enforce a dismissal-release, it is incumbent on the party seeking its enforceability to meet the three factors set forth in the Rumery test. As a result, an action cannot be frivolous whereas a fact dependent test was required to analyze whether a dismissal-release was valid under the exacting standard set forth by Rumery. A challenge to this release was not unexpected nor was it frivolous – especially a release that illegally waives criminal claims and attempts to shield non-governmental actors and entities. In challenging this legally infirm release, Petitioner Newsome was attempting to pursue his property right via a legal action. Finally, allowing attorneys’ fees to be awarded for challenging this type of release creates a chilling effect on the right to challenge these releases which actually requires a critical eye by the reviewing court. As a result, the award for attorneys’ fees should be vacated as a matter of law.

 

 

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

Good luck to Mr. Newsome. I know he's got a tall mountain to climb on this.

legalschnauzer said...

It is a tall mountain, but Newsome deserves our props for going to the mat on this. These issues are too important -- and the Alabama courts butchery on this was too grotesque -- to just let it slide.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand how the Supreme Court gets away with hearing only 2 percent of the cases that come before it. It's not supposed to be an exclusive club is it?

legalschnauzer said...

No, it's not supposed to be a club just for a few, but that's pretty much what it's become. That's particularly alarming as our federal circuit courts and state supreme courts more and more become political havens, filled with corruption, that are unable to unwilling to do their jobs.

legalschnauzer said...

The Newsome case is a classic example of our diseased "justice system." If Alabama courts had done their jobs, simply followed the written law, there would have been no need for a U.S. Supreme Court petition. Alabama taxpayers are wasting tons of money on courts that simply do not do their jobs.

legalschnauzer said...

I think Congress needs to take a look at SCOTUS and its 2 percent hearing rate. That's a ridiculously low rate of cases being heard. And the rule, I think it's No. 10, where SCOTUS doesn't correct misapplied facts or law by lower courts needs to be revised. As the Newsome case shows, lower courts err re: the facts and law all the time. If SCOTUS won't correct that kind of thing, who will?

legalschnauzer said...

If SCOTUS won't correct lower-court hatchet jobs, then we need another level of court--preferably with regular-citizen representation--that will take on that job.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for an educational post, LS. When most of us read about the Supreme Court, it's usually on the back end, when the court has ruled on some issue. This is a rare look at the front end, how an experienced attorney frames an argument in an effort to get the court to hear a case. Good stuff.

legalschnauzer said...

Thanks for the kind words, @10:43. It was educational for me, too. I knew Newsome got screwed in Alabama courts, but to see it spelled out in a cert petition, really drives it home.In the 14-year history of Legal Schnauzer, not sure I've ever written another post quite like this one.

legalschnauzer said...

Ban Balch has a post today about the Newsome SCOTUS petition. Here is the headline and the URL:

Balch’s Alleged Unlawful, Unsavory, and Unconscionable Misconduct Presented to U.S. Supreme Court

https://banbalch.com/2021/08/26/scotus/

legalschnauzer said...

From the Ban Balch post:

Burt Newsome has taken the Newsome Conspiracy Case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Unbelievable indeed!

When the late Schuyler Allen Baker, Jr., Balch’s long-time General Counsel, vowed to fight to the death before settling the Newsome Conspiracy Case, did he ever believe Newsome would have the testicular fortitude to fight the embattled and once-prestigious firm all the way to the highest court of the land?

Probably not.

Newsome, the sole-practitioner attorney, an innocent man who was minding his business when he was allegedly targeted, falsely arrested, and defamed by Balch & Bingham has refused to take it on the chin.

As the well-read legal blog Legal Schnauzer reports:

Birmingham attorney Burt Newsome is seeking review with the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) in a case alleging individuals connected to the Balch & Bingham law firm conspired to frame him for a crime and then used that information in an [alleged] effort to steal a chunk of his banking-related work and ruin his practice.

Newsome, the proprietor of Newsome Law LLC in North Shelby County, alleges that former Balch attorney Clark Cooper was a central figure in the conspiracy, and the conspirators used prepaid “burner phones” to communicate about their plans and hide those conversations from Newsome and authorities. The matter has become known as the Newsome Conspiracy Case.

Alexandra Siskopoulos, an attorney from New York City, filed a petition for a writ of certiorari … on Newsome’s behalf. She asks the high court to review the Alabama Supreme Court’s judgment in the case, or in the alternative, summarily reverse the decision and judgment of the Supreme Court of Alabama pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 16

legalschnauzer said...

Here's more from Ban Balch:

Although the U.S. Supreme Court has to make a decision in October if they will grant the petition, the narrative is damning for Balch and their stooges as it outlines the conspiracy, staged arrest, alleged acts of defamation, and the alleged unlawful, unsavory, and unconscionable acts of Balch and the co-conspirators.

And one of the stars of the Writ?

The counterfeit, make-believe court order that was never filed into the Judicial Information System.

This purported order, however, was never file stamped and never entered in the State Judicial Information System (“SJIS”) in Alabama as required by Alabama law. Petitioner Newsome sought a Writ of Mandamus from the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals arguing that the court order that the judge vacate the purported order because it was void based on numerous grounds. On April 27, 2018, the Supreme Court of Alabama denied the Writ and ordered that the June 8, 2016 order be entered in the SJIS system.

And what are the principal federal issues at hand?

When Balch and the co-conspirators allegedly attempted to screw over Newsome with a make-believe, counterfeit order, they based the fabricated order on a release-dismissal agreement, a product from the staged arrest and phony criminal case that collapsed and was dismissed with prejudice.

The release-dismissal agreement in Shelby County was overly broad.

Balch, which was not involved in the proceedings of the phony, baloney criminal trial, used the release to claim they were protected from any litigation by Newsome. At the time of the release, Newsome had no idea that Balch was involved in the conspiracy.

Also the the counterfeit order brings up the issue of the due process of law. As we have commented repeatedly, the judicial branch of Alabama appears to have compromised the Rule of Law for the benefit of their cronies and political boosters at Balch & Bingham.

From the petition:

The Supreme Court of Alabama’s decision is the ideal vehicle to address whether a release-dismissal agreement pursuant to this Honorable Court’s guidelines can encompass non-governmental persons and entities which were never contemplated in the seminal holding of Newton v. Rumery, 480 U.S. 386 (1987). Further, this Honorable Court must address whether these increasingly overbroad release-dismissal agreements can waive a litigant’s right to pursue a criminal prosecution. The Supreme Court of Alabama’s decision is also an ideal vehicle to address whether a state court judge can withhold the formal filing of a final decision/order and still be in accord with due process principles established by our Constitution.

And while Balch and their defenders may believe that SCOTUS will deny the Newsome petition, our understanding is a rock-solid RICO suit will come thereafter.

Through the corrupt judicial system of Alabama, Balch defenders probably thought they had squashed, destroyed, and ruined Newsome when the reality is quite the opposite.

And all the while Balch has lost millions, tarnished their brand, and lost numerous money-making partners.

“Ruining a rival” appears to have ruined Balch.

legalschnauzer said...

Note the reference above to a forthcoming RICO lawsuit. That might be the key to justice for Burt Newsome, but also to blowing the roof off Alabama's corrupt courts.

There is little doubt in my mind that someone was communicating with judges in the Newsome matter to help rig the case. And I suspect that happens quite a bit, in Alabama and beyond.

We are talking, of course, about criminal acts (obstruction of justice, etc.), exactly the kind of wrongdoing RICO is designed to unearth. If my guess is correct, this amounts to organized crime, which is why the "R" in RICO stands for racketeering.

legalschnauzer said...

One of several key points from the cert petition:

By extending the release to include “any other complainants, witnesses, associations, corporations, groups, organizations or persons in any way related to this matter,” the government, through the prosecutor’s office, impermissibly violated the constitutional rights of the Petitioners.

A D&R agreement clearly is not meant to protect private actors, but that's exactly what Alabama courts held. Disregard for the law can't get much more blatant than that. I don't see how that can be an honest mistake. I think there was improper influence going on somewhere.

legalschnauzer said...

Another key point:

Many counties and courts have discarded the Rumery factors and are requiring criminal defendants to agree to overbroad, illegal and unconstitutional agreements to secure their freedom. This is not the job of a prosecutor. Also, these release-dismissal agreements place a prosecutor in the dangerous role of perverting the criminal process to favor one litigant over another. The courts have routinely forewarned it is against legal ethics and standards to use the criminal process to gain an advantage in a civil case. MacDonald v. Musick, 425 F.2d 373, 376 (9th Cir. 1970). This ridiculous, dangerous release was used as a security blanket to protect many people and entities not associated with this case – including one of Alabama’s largest law firms.

These agreements are being misused around the country, a situation that is ripe for prosecutorial abuse.

legalschnauzer said...

Note Ms. Siskopoulos' use of terms like "ridiculous" and "dangerous to describe such releases. That's powerful language to place before SCOTUS.

legalschnauzer said...

this was of particular interest to me:

Causes of action have been established as a property right protected under the constitutional guarantee of due process. Logan v. Zimmerman Brush Co., 455 U.S. 422, 428 (1982). The Fifth Amendment firmly establishes an individual’s constitutional guarantee that “[n]o person shall…be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”

A cause of action (a lawsuit) is a property right -- and to mess with it in disregard of due process is a constitutional violation.

Dear Lord, these kinds of property-rights violations happen all the time. Some judges specialize in them.

legalschnauzer said...

Oh, and let's not forget this not-so-subtle dig at Balch & Bingham:

This ridiculous, dangerous release was used as a security blanket to protect many people and entities not associated with this case – including one of Alabama’s largest law firms.