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 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 (dated July 17, 2021) 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.
Newsome faces an uphill battle to have the high court hear his case. According to uscourts.gov, SCOTUS hears 100 to 150 of the 7,000 cases it is asked to review each year. That means any individual case has about a 2.14-percent chance of being heard, at most.
That's not the only challenge appellants face. Consider this language from Rule 10 of the U.S. Supreme Court:
A petition for a writ of certiorari is rarely granted when the asserted error consists of erroneous factual findings or the misapplication of a properly stated rule of law.
In other words, SCOTUS is not in the business of correcting errors that lower courts -- state or federal -- make. In Newsome's case, there is substantial evidence that the Jefferson County Circuit Court and the Alabama Supreme Court made numerous errors of fact and law. But those likely will not help get SCOTUS to hear his case.
So, what might prompt the high court to hear Newsome's case? What factors does SCOTUS weigh in determining whether to hear a case. The answers to those questions also can be found at Rule 10:
Review on a writ of certiorari is not a matter of right, but of judicial discretion. A petition for a writ of certiorari will be granted only for compelling reasons. The following, although neither controlling nor fully measuring the Court's discretion, indicate the character of the reasons the Court considers:
- (a) a United States court of appeals has entered a decision in conflict with the decision of another United States court of appeals on the same important matter; has decided an important federal question in a way that conflicts with a decision by a state court of last resort; or has so far departed from the accepted and usual course of judicial proceedings, or sanctioned such a departure by a lower court, as to call for an exercise of this Court's supervisory power;
- (b) a state court of last resort has decided an important federal question in a way that conflicts with the decision of another state court of last resort or of a United States court of appeals;
- (c) a state court or a United States court of appeals has decided an important question of federal law that has not been, but should be, settled by this Court, or has decided an important federal question in a way that conflicts with relevant decisions of this Court.
What does that mean? SCOTUS is about consistent application of the law across state lines -- in both federal and state jurisdictions. It looks for issues where federal circuit courts have split, state supreme courts have split, or either of those courts has failed to follow binding precedent of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Siskopoulos' petition takes those standards into account, largely ignoring alleged errors Alabama courts made while focusing on issues that have been decided in varying ways across the country. In short, the Newsome petition seeks clarity on issues that have been inconsistently decided in Alabama -- and beyond. While that strategy might seem odd to the layperson, it clearly is the proper way to approach SCOTUS.
Before we examine the arguments Siskopoulos makes, let's take a look at the facts of the case -- as laid out in her petition. Note: It paints an ugly and disturbing picture of how law is, or at least can be, practiced in Alabama. (The full petition, with exhibits, is embedded at the end of this post; citations omitted for ease of reading.):
Petitioner Burt W. Newsome is an attorney in the State of Alabama who owns and operates Newsome Law, LLC. As part of his legal practice, Petitioner Newsome represents banks in collection actions. In 2012, Petitioner Newsome on behalf of his banking client obtained a judgment against a Ms. Lawson and began collection efforts. After noticing Ms. Lawson’s post-judgment deposition and garnishing her wages, Ms. Lawson’s common-law husband, Alfred Seier threatened Petitioner Newsome. In January 2012, Alfred Seier parked his vehicle adjacent to Petitioner Newsome’s vehicle in the parking lot of Petitioner Newsome’s law practice. When Petitioner Newsome went to his vehicle, Alfred Seier pointed a gun at Petitioner Newsome and told him “never to f**k with his wife again.” Petitioner Newsome was unarmed and escaped by dodging behind his vehicle and running to the back door of his office. Petitioner Newsome immediately called the authorities and filed charges against Alfred Seier.
Thereafter, Alfred Seier’s brother Claiborne Seier, who is also an attorney, called Petitioner Newsome’s office insisting that Petitioner Newsome drop the criminal charges against his brother explaining that his brother was dying from cancer. Petitioner Newsome refused to drop the charges making Claiborne Seier angry. During this time, Petitioner Newsome’s banking client went on lockdown fearing that their employees could be killed by Alfred Seier. The bank, thereafter, sold the debt of Ms. Lawson to Claiborne Seier at a discounted rate. At the criminal trial of Alfred Seier, Claiborne Seier again urged Petitioner Newsome to drop the charges against his brother. When Petitioner Newsome refused, Claiborne Seier threatened Petitioner Newsome that “he was going to get him.” Alfred Seier was convicted of menacing and died a few months later. Later that year, in December 2012, Petitioner Newsome found himself in an eerily similar situation to the events that unfolded with Alfred Seier. Petitioner Newsome’s law office shares a parking lot with a dental office. Defendant John Bullock arrived at the parking lot at 6:30 a.m. Defendant Bullock purportedly arrived an hour and half early for a dental appointment. While initially not parked by Petitioner Newsome’s vehicle, by 7:30 a.m., John Bullock’s vehicle was parked adjacent to Newsome’s vehicle in a manner identical to the Alfred Seier gun threat incident. When Petitioner Newsome went to his car, Defendant Bullock quickly opened his car door blocking Newsome from getting into his car. The parking and the way Bullock exited his vehicle were identical to the events that unfolded with Alfred Seier. Feeling threatened, Petitioner Newsome pulled out a handgun, held it by his side and instructed Bullock to return to his vehicle until Newsome left the parking lot. Defendant Bullock moved out of the way and Newsome got in his car and left for court.
John Bullock’s testimony as to the events thereafter is unclear. Bullock at one point testified that he called the police when he went into the dentist office, but later stated that he called the police after he came out of his dental appointment..According to the police report, Bullock stated he did not know Newsome and identified Newsome after being shown a driver’s license photograph. Immediately after the incident, however, Bullock told his dentist that Newsome was his assailant. Approximately, one month after the incident, on January 14, 2013, Bullock filed a criminal complaint against Newsome for menacing. A few months later, on May 2, 2013, Newsome was stopped for speeding, and was arrested on the menacing warrant. Newsome was taken into custody and released later that day. Shortly after Newsome was released and returned to his office, Defendant Claiborne Seier called Newsome’s law office. There was no apparent reason for the call.
At this point, Balch & Bingham enters the picture, and the plot thickens:
Two days after Newsome’s arrest, Defendant Clark A. Cooper, emailed a representative of a bank about Newsome’s arrest. Defendant Cooper is an attorney who was a partner at the law firm of Defendant Balch & Bingham, LLP. Defendant Cooper and his former firm represent some of the same banking clients as Petitioner Newsome. This email was sent to a client both Newsome and Cooper represented. Cooper insinuated that the arrest could affect Newsome’s legal license. In one email, Cooper emailed a copy of Newsome’s mugshot and stated, “Have you seen this? Not sure how it’s going to affect his law license. Bizarre.” In a second email, Cooper quoted the menacing statute and stated, “It is a class B misdemeanor. Not sure how this will affect his law license.”This resulted in the bank representative questioning Petitioner Newsome’s ability to practice law and he stopped sending Newsome case files for a period of time. In the underlying proceedings, Defendant Cooper had differing stories as to how and when he learned of Newsome’s arrest. In an unsworn affidavit, he stated he learned of the arrest on the Saturday that he sent the emails to the bank representative. In a sworn deposition, he claimed he learned of the arrest on either Thursday or Friday which would have been the day of the arrest or the day after. In another unsworn affidavit, Cooper claimed he learned of the arrest by seeing Newsome’s mugshot on a publicly available website. In a sworn deposition, however, Cooper claimed he learned the information from a paralegal at Balch & Bingham who either sent him a copy or printed the information for him.
In November 2013, Petitioner Newsome appeared in the District Court of Shelby County for his criminal trial. The judge instructed the parties to discuss the case in a separate room. Petitioner Newsome set forth that during the discussions Defendant Bullock told everyone in the room he was simply going to a dentist’s appointment when the incident took place. Newsome asserted that although Bullock wanted Newsome to plead guilty, Newsome refused.Thereafter, Bullock asserted he was dropping the charges. Relying on Bullock’s claim that he was simply going to a dentist’s appointment, Newsome signed a Dismissal & Release form provided. The form order states “STATE OF ALABAMA V. Burton Wheeler Newsome. CASE NO. DC 2013-1434. This matter comes before the Court by specific AGREEMENT of the parties.” John Bullock is not a named party in the criminal case. The form order contains four alternate dispositional paragraphs. The only paragraph checked in this criminal case provided that the case was continued until April 2014 and then to be dismissed with prejudice provided that the defendant had no further arrests. The paragraphs regarding pre-trial diversion and the paragraphs regarding restitution were not checked as they were not applicable to Newsome’s dismissal agreement.The form order also contained a release of all of Newsome’s civil and criminal claims against countless governmental entities as well as nongovernmental entities, complainants and potential witnesses. On April 4, 2014, the district court dismissed the criminal case against Newsome with prejudice.
On January 14, 2015, Petitioner Newsome filed a civil lawsuit from which this Petition arises. Petitioner Newsome and his law firm Newsome Law, LLC sued attorney Clark A. Cooper, Mr. Cooper’s former law firm Balch & Bingham, LLP, John W. Bullock, and Claiborne Seier in the Jefferson Circuit Court Court “alleging that the defendants combined to have Newsome arrested on a false charge with the intent of damaging his reputation and law practice.” During discovery, Petitioners through an amended complaint named Don Gottier as an additional defendant. Petitioners alleged, “as later amended, malicious prosecution, abuse of process, false imprisonment, the tort of outrage, defamation, invasion of privacy, and multiple counts of conspiracy and intentional interference with a business relationship.” App.9. Petitioners alleged that the Defendants conspired “to set Newsome up to be arrested so that Cooper could then take Newsome’s clients on behalf of Balch and Seier could get revenge upon Newsome for filing a menacing charge against Alfred.” On February 13, 2015, Defendant Seier filed a motion to dismiss arguing that Petitioner’s claims had no factual basis and “the claims were barred by the release clause in the D&R [Dismissal & Release] order because the claims were related to Newsome’s menacing case.”
The Dismissal & Release order (D & R) and a related expungement regarding Newsome's criminal case would become central to his state-court lawsuit -- and his petition to the U.S. Supreme Court. We will examine those issues next.
(To be continued)