Friday, October 29, 2021

One year after Schuyler Allen Baker Jr.'s death, Balch & Bingham law firm remains stuck in scandal, seemingly intent on digging sizable holes even deeper

Schuyler Allen Baker Jr.

One year has passed since Schuyler Allen Baker Jr., Balch & Bingham's general counsel and chief partner, died of cancer. But there is little sign the embattled law firm's leadership has made any change in direction, according to a report at Writes Publisher K.B. Forbes:

The King of Balch & Bingham and dinosaur partner at the embattled law firm Schuyler Allen Baker, Jr. died one year ago today.

Ironically in 2017, Baker vowed to fight the Newsome Conspiracy Case to the death.

Baker, serving as General Counsel at Balch, made an enormously foolish decision.

His fight to the death cost the firm millions, tarnished and damaged Balch’s once-respected reputation, made 18 of 18 D.C. lobbying clients dump the firm, and created the greatest exodus ever of money-making partners.

The ghost of Balch’s past is sadly still present.

What ugly scraps still are clinging to Balch's plate? Forbes spells them out:

Now with an alleged pedophile cover-up, an alleged ongoing Elderly Exploitation Scandal investigation, and the Mississippi Rental Assistance debacle, the unholy trinity of scandal would not be garnering interest by law enforcement or the media if Balch had cleaned up their loose ends after Baker died.

Where is the sensible leadership?

Yesterday, ex-Drummond executive David Roberson and ex-Balch partner Joel I. Gilbert reported to federal prison for criminal acts born at the offices of Balch & Bingham.

And while Baker is dead, the Newsome Conspiracy Case continues alive and vibrant. Having exhausted all state and federal court remedies, a federal civil RICO lawsuit can now proceed.

The RICO will most likely come after additional indictments are handed down.

Could those be indictments that former U.S. attorney Jay Town, the disgraced Trump nominee, let slide on the first go-around of the North Birmingham Superfund scandal? That seems likely:

Like probate lawyers, sensible and responsible Balch leaders would have brought the Newsome Conspiracy Case, the David Roberson civil lawsuit, and other matters to an agreeable resolution and a close after Baker’s death.

Since 2017, we have asked Balch to conduct a top to bottom review of their firm, get rid of any bad apples, and apologize to the African-American community of North Birmingham.

In the summer of 2018, Balch, during a brief moment of mental clarity, attempted to reach out to us to bring matters to a close.

The former Assistant U.S. Attorney who represented Burt Newsome was blind-sided since he did not know what exactly was or who we, the CDLU, were when they asked him to serve as an interlocutor.

Balch already has dug sizable holes for itself -- and it seems to insist on digging them deeper. Writes Forbes:

                   We wrote three years ago after Balch walked away from the resolution                               discussions:

Balch’s acts of impunity are no longer tolerated by the public; and acts of contrition, reconciliation, and forgiveness are the only path forward to salvage the firm.

Obviously someone with common sense at Balch & Bingham tried, in good faith, to reach out to us and put the matters behind them.

Instead, now, Balch & Bingham have reversed themselves and appears to be on a path of self-destruction.

The many honorable, ethical and professional Balch partners and their colleagues appear to have been ignored again by their leadership.


Baker is dead, Gilbert is sitting in a federal prison, while Balch appears to be slowly hemorrhaging and dying. 

The Crosswhite Scandal involving Alabama Power is bringing a new, heated spotlight on ex-Balch partner Mark A. Crosswhite, “the most powerful man in Alabama” according to his adoring fans.

The unsavory if not criminal conduct linked to alleged secret indemnity agreements is the cherry on top of a spoiled, rotten, inedible banana pudding full of maggots.

Will Balch ever come to their senses? Ever? Or will Balch partners continue to swallow the rotten pudding left behind a year ago?

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Football coaches at Chattanooga and Washington State do stupid things to lose their jobs, even tossing online barbs at politician Stacey Abrams, raising questions about the First Amendment and public employees

Stacey Abrams

The 2021 college-football season might become known as the year when coaches did stupid things to get themselves fired and then filed lawsuits they have little chance of winning. The trend could hit home in Alabama, as first-year Auburn head coach Bryan Harsin refuses to disclose his vaccination status in the face of a Dec. 8 deadline for university employees to get vaccinated or face possible termination.

The most recent example of a termination comes from Washington State University where head coach Nick Rolovich and four assistants were fired for failing to comply with Gov. Jay Inslee's vaccine mandate for state employees. An attorney for the head coach said WSU  had denied a religious exemption based on Rolovich's "devout" Catholic faith. A university spokesperson did not confirm denial but said simply that Rolovich's request for accommodations could not be met.

What tenets of the Catholic faith would keep someone from taking a vaccine that has proven safe, effective, and life-saving during a pandemic of historic proportions? Perhaps we will find out when the case reaches court. For now, my guess is that Rolovich's decision to defy a governor's lawful order, which was designed to protect public health, probably will not end well for the coach. It could void a contract that pays him $3 million a year. Rolovich had the Cougars off to a 4-3 start, which is a pretty good record for Washington State, suggesting he might have been in for a pretty strong run. But that run now is over

An even more interesting case comes from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (UTC), where a former assistant football coach has filed  a federal lawsuit over his termination after he posted a disparaging tweet about Georgia political figure Stacey Abrams. Chris Malone, who had been offensive-line coach at Chattanooga, claims school officials violated his free-speech rights under the First Amendment.

What makes the UTC case the most interesting of the three? It involves the intersection of politics and the First Amendment, and we suspect that could spark some legal fireworks. 

At first glance, Malone appears to have a strong case. The general rule is that private employers can fire almost anyone who makes a public statement that the employer considers inappropriate or distasteful. But employees at public institutions, such as state universities, many times have First Amendment protection to comment on matters of public concern. There are, however, exceptions to that general rule, and I suspect Malone will have difficulty getting over those hurdles.

The issue of First Amendment protection for government employees certainly gets our attention here at Legal Schnauzer. As long-time readers know, I was wrongfully terminated after working almost 20 years at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) for writing this blog, focusing on judicial and political corruption in Alabama -- and beyond. I'm not guessing that I was fired because of my blog. A UAB human-resources official told me that my supervisor, Pam Powell, targeted me because of my reporting about the Don Siegelman case -- even though Powell long has portrayed herself as a Democrat and a Siegelman supporter. I tape-recorded the conversation with HR official Anita Bonasera and was prepared to use it in court to prove the real reason behind my firing, but the late federal judge William Acker granted the university summary judgment without conducting any discovery, which is contrary to longstanding legal precedent and essentially means the case was decided with no evidence. (I'm not making that up.) Acker likely committed fraud on the court, which would void his ruling and possibly give new life to my lawsuit for wrongful termination.

Substantial evidence indicates my firing was not just a matter of running afoul of my immediate supervisor -- with whom I generally had gotten along well and who had always given me positive performance reviews. Rather, political allies of then-governor Bob Riley -- Siegelman's primary political opponent and a member of the university's board of trustees -- likely pushed for my career assassination. Sadly, neither Powell, nor then-UAB President Carol Garrison, nor anyone else in the university hierarchy, had the guts to stand up for the rule of law, which clearly held my speech was protected by the First Amendment -- and, as a public employee, I could not suffer negative job consequences for it. On top of that, my termination was a flagrant violation of UAB's own policies.

Bottom line: I know from firsthand experience that Chris Malone is entering a legal thicket at Chattanooga -- and based on news reports, it appears to be largely of his own making. Malone's attorney, Doug Churdar of Greenville, SC, is talking a solid game about "UTC getting acquainted with the First Amendment." But it might not be that simple. Our research indicates the law on the protections afforded public employees is not fully developed -- and it includes qualifiers that might not work in Malone's favor. (More on that in an upcoming post.)

How did Chris Malone step in doo-doo at UTC. It could have been easily avoided, but Malone apparently could not resist picking on Stacey Abrams at a time of heightened political and racial tensions. From a report at Fox News:

The tweet came in the midst of the Georgia Senate runoff elections.

"Congratulations to the state [of] GA and Fat Albert @staceyabrams because you have truly shown America the true works of cheating in an election, again!!!" Malone wrote. "Enjoy the buffet Big Girl! You earned it!!! Hope the money was good, still not governor!"

Malone deleted the tweet after former players responded negatively. He said in the lawsuit he heard nothing about the tweet until Jan. 6, when [head coach Rusty] Wright allegedly told him the matter had gone "over his head." Malone was then called on to resign the next day.

The school later announced that Malone had been fired.

Wright and Athletics Director Mark Wharton quickly distanced themselves from Malone's statements. From Fox News:

"Our football program has a clear set of standards," Wright said in a statement. "Those standards include respecting others. It is a message our players hear daily. It is a standard I will not waiver on. What was posted on social media by a member of my staff is unacceptable and not any part of what I stand for or what Chattanooga Football stands for. Life is bigger than football and as leaders of young men we have to set that example, first and foremost. With that said, effectively immediately, that individual is no longer a part of my staff."

Wharton added: "The sentiments in that post do not represent the values of our football program, our athletics department or our university."

Malone said he was unfairly treated by the media.

"Calling politicians liars and cheaters is a proud American tradition. Nobody’s got a problem with it until [it's] ‘their’ politician," Malone said in the complaint. "And fat jokes might be unkind, but they aren’t uncommon. Just ask Chris Christie and Donald Trump."

Inside Higher Ed has more details

Malone argues in the lawsuit that the tweet was simply a “fat joke” and that university officials retaliated against him for exercising his First Amendment rights. He sent the tweet “as a private citizen -- on his own personal time, at his personal residence, and from his personal Twitter account” and the account did not identify him as an employee of the university, according to the lawsuit.

UT Chattanooga “is a public university and is governed by the First Amendment,” Malone’s attorney, Doug Churdar, said in a press release. “UTC is going to get acquainted with the First Amendment. As a public school, it cannot control what its employees say at social gatherings or on social media. It certainly cannot fire them for criticizing and mocking politicians.”

Will Churdar's view hold the day? That's not clear -- at least not to us. An article from Cornell University indicates the issue of government employers and the First Amendment hardly is a model of clarity and consistency. Could the Malone case cause the U.S. Supreme Court to step in and clear up things? We don't think that is out of the question.

(To be continued)

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Alabama-connected extremist Ali Alexander helped Jan. 6 pro-Trump rally turn into a violent, deadly assault on U.S. Capitol, sources tell Rolling Stone

Ali Alexander

Perhaps the most important piece of journalism for 2021 broke earlier this week when Rolling Stone (RS) reported that organizers of the Jan. 6 pro-Trump rally that turned into an assault on the U.S. Capitol held "dozens" of planning meetings with White House officials and House Republicans. Ali (Akbar) Alexander, the right-wing extremist with Alabama ties, is a central character in the story, but it remains unclear just how central he might be.The RS piece, written by Hunter Walker, states that its story is based on at least three anonymous sources, who also have begun communicating with Congressional investigators. 

Is Alexander one of those sources? That remains unclear, but it is becoming clear that high-ranking Republicans were intimately familiar with planning for a rally that led to violence and death. From an article at Salon about the RS report (which is paywall-protected):

White House officials and multiple House Republicans participated in planning meetings with organizers of the Jan. 6 pro-Trump rallies that preceded the attack on the U.S. Capitol, two of the organizers told Rolling Stone.

Two people involved in the planning of the rallies who have shared information with the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack told Rolling Stone they had participated in "dozens" of planning briefings ahead of the rallies.

"I remember Marjorie Taylor Greene specifically," one organizer told the outlet. "I remember talking to probably close to a dozen other members at one point or another or their staffs."

Other lawmakers who participated in the discussions included Reps. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz; Lauren Boebert, R-Colo.; Mo Brooks, R-Ala.; Andy Biggs, R-Ariz.; Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C.; and Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, according to the report. Greene, Boebert and Cawthorn were all newly-elected members, sworn in only a few days before the events of Jan. 6.

The subject of "blanket pardons" for organizers even came up. Writes Salon's Igor Derysh:

"We would talk to Boebert's team, Cawthorn's team, Gosar's team like back to back to back to back," the organizer told Rolling Stone, adding that Gosar even floated "blanket pardons" in a separate investigation to urge them to organize the rallies.

"Our impression was that it was a done deal, that he'd spoken to the president about it in the Oval … in a meeting about pardons and that our names came up," the organizer said. "They were working on submitting the paperwork and getting members of the House Freedom Caucus to sign on as a show of support."

The two organizers who spoke to the outlet received "several assurances" about the pardons, the organizer said.

"I was just going over the list of pardons and we just wanted to tell you guys how much we appreciate all the hard work you've been doing," Gosar told them, according to the report.

Could participating members of Congress face serious repercussions? The answer appears to be yes:

Rolling Stone reported that it also received documents showing that both organizers were in contact with Gosar and Boebert on Jan. 6.

Democrats cited the report to call for members involved with the planning to be expelled from Congress.

"Any Member of Congress who plotted with Jan. 6 terrorists must be removed from Congress," tweeted Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif.

Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., also called for the removal of "any member who had knowledge of or helped planned the January 6 attack."

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., tweeted that any "member of Congress who helped plot a terrorist attack on our nation's capitol must be expelled."

"This was a terror attack. 138 injured, almost 10 dead," she wrote. "Those responsible remain a danger to our democracy, our country, and human life in the vicinity of our Capitol and beyond."

RS sources, however, deny the event was meant to turn violent:

But the organizer interviewed by Rolling Stone insisted that there had been no advance plans to march on the Capitol, telling the magazine that discussions were focused on "evidence" the lawmakers would present in Congress in tandem with the demonstration at the Ellipse. A spokesperson for Greene denied that she was involved in the planning of the rallies and was instead focused on objections to the election certification.

That's where Alexander enters the story, and one RS source says he played a role in turning the rally violent:

"Stop the Steal" organizer Ali Alexander previously said in a video that he, Gosar, Brooks and Biggs had "schemed up" the protests to pressure Congress to block the certification of President Biden's win, which Biggs and Brooks have denied.

A second person who planned the rallies and spoke to Rolling Stone accused Alexander of "ratcheting up" the potential for violence and taking advantage of donor contributions to fund the event, according to the report.

"He just couldn't help himself but go on his live and just talk about everything that he did and who he talked to," the planner said. "So, he, like, really told on himself."

Both organizers aid they had seen Alexander with members of militia groups the Oath Keepers and 1st Amendment Praetorian.

"They knew that they weren't there to sing 'Kumbaya' and, like, put up a peace sign," the planner told Rolling Stone. "These frickin' people were angry."

Knowledge that the events could turn violent went all the way to the White House, sources said:

Both organizers also said White House chief of staff Mark Meadows had played a "major role" in the discussions and was aware of the potential for violence at the events.

"Meadows was 100% made aware of what was going on," the organizer told Rolling Stone. "He's also like a regular figure in these really tiny groups of national organizers." The organizer said Alexander agreed not to hold his planned "wild protest" and that the main rally at the Ellipse would be the only major demonstration that day. Despite that, the source said, Alexander and his allies "plowed forward with their own thing at the Capitol on Jan. 6 anyway."

"We ended up escalating that to everybody we could, including Meadows," the organizer told Rolling Stone.

The organizer also described former Trump campaign aide Katrina Person as their "go-to girl" in dealings with the White House: "She was like our primary advocate."

The protest planner said that they would share their information with investigators and would "have no problem openly testifying."

The RS report acknowledged that the sources might be acting with self-interest in mind:

The report noted that both organizers have a "clear motivation" to get ahead of potential legal problems stemming from their involvement in planning the protests, especially as the Jan. 6 committee probes the financing for the events, and added that the two sources' accounts depict themselves in a "decidedly favorable light."

"The reason I'm talking to the committee and the reason it's so important is that — despite Republicans refusing to participate … this commission's all we got as far as being able to uncover the truth about what happened at the Capitol that day," the organizer told the outlet. "It's clear that a lot of bad actors set out to cause chaos. … They made us all look like shit."

The organizer added that the "breaking point for me [on Jan. 6 was when] Trump starts talking about walking to the Capitol. I was like. 'Let's get the fuck out of here.'"

The planner said that former Trump [officials] hung them out to dry after the rally turned violent.

"I do kind of feel abandoned by Trump," the planner told Rolling Stone. "I'm actually pretty pissed about it and I'm pissed at him."

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

U.S. Judge Bill Pryor and new law clerk Crystal Clanton prove blatant racism is a good career move for advancement in postmodern Republican circles

Crystal Clanton, with Clarence and Ginni Thomas


Reporters around the Web still seem to be shaking their heads at the story of U.S. Circuit Judge Bill Pryor and his decision to hire an avowed racist for a prestigious clerkship. Let's check out some of the reaction since the story broke about two weeks ago:

(1) Daily Beast, "She Said ‘I HATE BLACK PEOPLE’—Now She’s a Rising GOP Star": 

If you are young, white, ambitious, and hoping to become a prominent conservative, openly declaring your racism seems like a way to hasten your ascent.

It’s worked so far for Crystal Clanton, who back in 2017 briefly made headlines for a text stating, simply but emphatically, “I HATE BLACK PEOPLE. Like fuck them all...I hate blacks. End of story.”

When that message and others like it she’d sent were made public, Clanton was in her fifth year as second-in-command at the right-wing campus group and hotbed of bigotry Turning Point USA; TPUSA head Charlie Kirk had previously called Clanton the organization’s “best hire” and claimed that “Turning Point needs more Crystals; so does America.” Her next stop was a highly visible media position with Ginni Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and “Stop the Steal” conspiracy theorist. This spring, Clanton will graduate from law school at George Mason University School and step into her most prestigious role yet, clerking for federal appeals court judge William Pryor.


(2) Raw Story, "‘I hate blacks’: Disgraced activist lands prestigious clerkship after Ginni Thomas gave her a second chance": 

Crystal Clanton left the conservative Turning Points USA organization in 2017 after her racist texts -- "I HATE BLACK PEOPLE. Like f*ck them all...I hate blacks. End of story" -- surfaced, but she soon landed a job assisting Ginni Thomas with her right-wing media ventures and then went on to George Mason University's Antonin Scalia Law School. She will now clerk for federal appeals court judge William Pryor, reported The Daily Beast.

"It defies belief that Pryor — or Ginni Thomas or [TPUSA head] Charlie Kirk for that matter — was unaware of Clanton's views,"wrote columnist Kali Holloway. "Thomas hired Clanton right after her stint at TPUSA and kept her on, gushing about her on social media, despite negative coverage. Kirk suggested he was outraged after Clanton's racist texts leaked, but subsequent reporting showed she 'would exchange racist remarks regularly with other TPUSA staffers.' Federal clerkships like the one Clanton just landed with Judge Pryor are highly coveted and prestigious stepping stones and applicants are thoroughly vetted before being selected."

Pryor, who was on Donald Trump's shortlist to replace Scalia, is an outspoken opponent of abortion and voting rights and favors executing the mentally disabled and brutally harsh treatment of prisoners, chose Clanton over numerous candidates despite her clear racist views.

"Clanton didn't cloak her racism in language that could later be disguised in any way; she made a statement that was deliberately clear about her hatred for Black folks," Holloway wrote. "Not only is Pryor cool with that, news of Clanton's selection hasn't seemed to upset anyone in the conservative sphere. If you need proof that conservatives across the board are OK with anti-Black racism and Islamophobia ... their deafening silence is exhibit A."


(3) Lawyers, Guns & Money, "Racism as an affirmative job credential":    

 If you want to get ahead in the conservative legal world, some racist trolling is a good idea:

I’d say Crystal Clanton just keeps failing upwards, but given that outrage is currency in right-wing circles, it is more accurate to say that her career is progressing on schedule. Do you remember why Clanton first became a news story? It’s been a minute, so I’ll cover the deets. 

In December of 2017, the New Yorker reported that Clanton, who at the time worked at the conservative student group Turning Point USA, texted co-workers with this hateful message: "I HATE BLACK PEOPLE. Like fuck them all . . . I hate blacks. End of story."

Awful, right? And this was far from a one-off incident, as reported by Mediaite

Well, even though Clanton was forced out of the right-wing nonprofit, her career prospects were far from damaged. Shortly after she left Turning Point USA, Ginni Thomas — yes, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s wife — hired Clanton to assist with her media ventures. And Clanton lapped up her connection to the powerful jurist.

But that wasn’t the end of Clanton’s ambitions. She was admitted to ASSLaw — that’s George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School, for the uninitiated — and is scheduled to graduate this spring. And now we know that her post-graduation plans include an incredibly prestigious clerkship with Eleventh Circuit Judge William Pryor for 2023-24.

Monday, October 25, 2021

CEO Mark Crosswhite reportedly plans to indemnify Balch & Bingham, deepening Alabama Power's ties to a law firm with racist and white-supremacist baggage

Jay Town and Mark Crosswhite

Alabama Power Company apparently has reached an agreement to indemnify Birmingham law firm Balch & Bingham for financial losses it might incur due to an ever-growing list of unsavory activities -- apparently beginning with the North Birmingham Superfund bribery scandal and perhaps going back further -- according to a report at

For starters, let's establish what indemnify means. From Merriam-Webster Dictionary:

Indemnify verb

1 : to secure against hurt, loss, or damage;
2 : to make compensation to for incurred hurt, loss, or damage
So Alabama Power CEO Mark Crosswhite wants to provide a financial cushion for the ethically challenged law firm that helped launch his rise to power? That raises all kinds of questions, such as:
*  Will Alabama Power ratepayers essentially be subsidizing Balch & Bingham every time they slip their monthly power-bill payment in the mailbox?
* Will black power-company customers be forced to help float a law firm with apparently racist and white supremacist actions in its background?
* The Alabama Public Service Commission (PSC) holds regulatory power over Alabama Power. What do PSC commissioners think of this? Did they have a say in it?

* What about the Alabama Legislature? Have legislators signed off on this? If so, what do their constituents think of it?
* Does the reported indemnity plan mean Balch -- and Crosswhite -- see serious financial setbacks in the firm's future?

All of these questions arise as Crosswhite appears set for a promotion. K.B. Forbes, publisher of, questions whether Crosswhite is fit to serve in the position he already holds, much less getting a promotion:

Rumors are flying that Southern Company Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Tom Fanning is retiring next year.

And Alabama Power CEO and Chairman Mark A. Crosswhite is allegedly telling bourgeois insiders that he has the lock and key to the C-Suite at Southern Company, Alabama Power’s parent company.

Crosswhite is unfit to serve.

He worked as a top partner for alleged racist and embattled law firm Balch & Bingham before taking the revolving door to Alabama Power.

Instead of distancing himself from Balch, Crosswhite appears to be embracing his former employer, even allegedly subsidizing the firm with lucrative business as Balch is hemorrhaging from alleged unsavory and criminal scandals engulfing the 99 year-old firm.

Now unsubstantiated rumors say Alabama Power and unknown related entities have indemnified Balch and others for their alleged criminal, racist, and egregious misconduct.

Hiding behind non-disclosure agreements and now allegedly million-dollar indemnity deals, the Crosswhite scandal smells like raw sewage.

What does this say about Crosswhite's leadership? It isn't pretty, Forbes writes:

For Crosswhite, protecting Balch & Bingham appears to be more important than protecting poor African-American children.

Institutional investors and the Southern Company Board of Directors should not take these rumors lightly.

Sources close to Balch and Alabama Power say the jaw-dropping photos of Crosswhite chugging back cocktails with disgraced ex-U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town allegedly rocked “the most powerful man in Alabama.”

The alleged secret deal to keep Alabama Power “unmentionable” during the North Birmingham Bribery Trial is now an enormous stain not only for Town but also for Crosswhite.

And the photos appear to confirm an inappropriate meeting allegedly at the height of the criminal trial.

In addition, Alabama Power’s blood money tied to the January 6th insurrection was a decision allegedly made exclusively by Crosswhite.

Most significant is the sheer panic Crosswhite had with the rebirth of the North Birmingham Bribery Scandal where he and his legal counsel Mark White fumbled the ball.

With a federal RICO lawsuit coming, more scrutiny from federal investigators, and heightened interest from U.S. congressional leaders, the Crosswhite scandal will undoubtedly make institutional investors nervous.

Southern Company seems to have developed a protective coating of Teflon over the years. But that might not be the case for Crosswhite and Alabama Power, Forbes writes:

Wall Street has consistently supported Tom Fanning, regardless of the billion-dollar Vogtle and Kemper boondoggles.

Crosswhite is a completely different story. The sent of raw sewage surrounds Crosswhite.

The decades of alleged shenanigans involving actors, AstroTurf campaigns, alleged corruption, hidden bribes, and staged arrests have taken their toll.

Now with alleged secret indemnity agreements, an alleged hidden deal to be “unmentionable” during a federal criminal trial, and millions spent on an alleged racist law firm, Crosswhite’s future appears to have been terminated.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

FBI raids NYC and D.C. properties linked to Oleg Deripaska, raising questions about the Russian oligarch's longstanding ties to Alabama politicos

FBI raids mansion linked to Oleg Deripaska

FBI agents this week raided homes in New York City and Washington, D.C., linked to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. Why the raids, and what was the FBI looking for? Those questions remain unanswered here in the early going, but the whole affair could have serious ramifications in Alabama's right-wing political world -- and for those tied to the Donald Trump administration. From a report at Reuters about the raids:

FBI agents on Tuesday raided homes in Washington and New York City linked to Oleg Deripaska, a Russian billionaire with ties to the Kremlin and to Paul Manafort, the onetime chairman of Donald Trump's 2016 U.S. presidential campaign.

The agents carried boxes out of a mansion in one of Washington's wealthiest neighborhoods, with yellow "CRIME SCENE DO NOT ENTER" tape across the front yard and towed away a vehicle.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation confirmed the agency was conducting a court-authorized law enforcement activity at the home, which the Washington Post has previously reported was linked to the Russian oligarch.

The specific reason for sealing off and searching the Washington mansion was not immediately clear, and the FBI spokesperson did not provide details.

How does Alabama enter the picture?  Deripaska has longstanding ties to the "Heart of Dixie," mainly through efforts to gain a $40-billion Air Force refueling-tanker contract for the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS). The contract wound up going to U.S.-based Boeing, but had it gone to EADS, Deripaska's companies were to provide aluminum for the project, and much of the manufacturing was to be done in Alabama. From an October 2017 Legal Schnauzer post about Deripaska's links to Alabama, especially via former U.S. Sen. and Trump Attorney General Jeff Sessions:

Revelations last week that former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort has $60 million of financial connections to a Russian oligarch could shine light on corruption involving some of the biggest names in Alabama politics, according to a prominent whistle blower and opposition researcher.

That's because Alabama GOP luminaries such as Jeff Sessions (Trump attorney general and former U.S. senator), Bob Riley (former governor), and Bill Canary (head of the Business Council of Alabama) have worked with Manafort on a $40 billion-dollar Air Force refueling-tanker deal that was to include the oligarch, Jill Simpson says.

If Special Counsel Robert Mueller digs deeply on the ties between Manafort and Oleg Deripaska, it could lead to Jeff Sessions' office -- and from there to any number of individuals connected to Bill Canary and Bob Riley, Simpson says. Canary already has fallen out of favor with a number of business elites, including executives from Alabama Power, so any ties to the Trump-Russia scandal are not likely to help his standing.

Simpson, who testified before Congress about a Republican plan to conduct a political prosecution against former Democratic Gov. Don Siegelman, said Manafort worked closely with Alabama officials on a proposal that called for the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co. (EADS) to build the Air Force tanker, in part, at a planned construction facility in Mobile, Alabama. Deripaska, a billionaire, is part owner of a company that was to provide aluminum for the project.

Why did EADS lose out on the Air Force deal? Deripaska's reported ties to organized crime likely did not help the EADS cause:

The Pentagon wound up choosing U.S.-based Boeing over EADS, perhaps in part because of EADS' ties to seedy characters, including the Gaddafi family in Libya and individuals tied to Vladimir Putin in Russia. From a 2011 post on the competition:

The Russia Connection -- The Gaddafi family reportedly developed ties to EADS through big-money interests in Russia. Prime among them is Oleg Deripaska, a Russian billionaire who partly owns a company that was to provide aluminum for the EADS planes. Deripaska has close ties to Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin, and Russian interests reportedly have a significant stake in EADS. Was the Pentagon comfortable with this arrangement, given the rise of organized crime in Russia? Probably not.

Did Alabama political figures jump in bed with Russian organized crime, tied to Putin, in an effort to land the tanker project for EADS? Are Alabama officials still connected to the Russian mob, now that Donald Trump appears to be Putin's chosen puppet in the White House?

NBC report late last week could shine white-hot light on those questions.  From the report:
Paul Manafort, a former campaign manager for President Donald Trump, has much stronger financial ties to a Russian oligarch than have been previously reported.

An NBC News investigation reveals that $26 million changed hands in the form of a loan between a company linked to Manafort and the oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, a billionaire with close ties to the Kremlin.

The loan brings the total of their known business dealings to around $60 million over the past decade, according to financial documents filed in Cyprus and the Cayman Islands.

Manafort was forced to resign from the Trump campaign in August 2016, following allegations of improper financial dealings, charges he has strenuously denied. He is now a central figure in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Investigators have said they are looking into Manafort's financial ties to prominent figures in Russia.

Could the FBI raids on Deripaska's homes be tied to possible allegations of money laundering? There is reason to believe the answer is yes. Reports NBC:

Lawyers specializing in money laundering said the loans appeared unusual and merited further investigation.

“Money launderers frequently will disguise payments as loans,” said Stefan Cassella, a former federal prosecutor. “You can call it a loan, you can call it Mary Jane. If there's no intent to repay it, then it's not really a loan. It's just a payment.”

The documents go on to reveal loans of more than $27 million from the two Cyprus entities to a third company connected to Manafort, a limited-liability corporation registered in Delaware.

In a recent post at her Facebook page, Simpson describes her research on Manafort and Deripaska:

This past winter and late last fall of 2016, I laid out exactly how Oleg Deripaska had washed (laundered) millions through Cyprus and the Caymans. Well turns out the grand total was $60 million, which was about what I thought. When folks got to looking closely at the $19 million Manafort was sued over -- which I had the paperwork on, as I track . . . Oleg for press folks . . .  well, oh my, it became obvious what was going on.  Oleg would give Manafort the money as a loan then mark it off the books for deals but never clear it for tax purposes, and when folks started looking at how Oleg sued Manafort in the Caymans but never filed a bar complaint, it was slowly becoming apparent that [the lawsuit] was all a big hoax.

The Russian mob's influence in the American South goes beyond Alabama, Simpson states. How did Manafort and longtime GOP consultant Richard H. Davis develop connections to Alabama? Simpson says it developed via EADS and former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour:

I first started tracking Manafort and Rick Davis when they started dealing with Riley, Sessions, and Canary through Haley Barbour on the EADS tanker deal for Oleg Deripaska. I might add I went all the way to Russia to track what was up in 2008 with Manafort and Oleg and did a ton of stories. It will be fun to watch what the FBI does now that they realize how much Manafort was making working for Russian Government against our country.

Simpson has been outspoken about the dangers of a cozy relationship between Russian mobsters and Alabama politicians:

Simpson has not been quiet about the ties between Manafort, Russia, and Alabama. She spelled them out to reporters who were looking into the Siegelman case:

I might add when I came forward [on the Siegelman case], I explained all this operation with Russia to 60 Minutes; it was how I got on the show. Folks said ugly things about me back then, but I told the truth on all I knew about Manafort and Rick Davis and the Riley/Sessions/Canary gang -- and their involvement with the top Putin Russian Business Spy Oleg Deripaska, who at that time was cooking a deal to get to supply the aluminum for U.S. tankers for EADS. 
I [talked] with reporters in New York and at the National Press Club about this. I might add I am the source that outed that whole story in 2008. Had I not known how they operated, from being a Republican back then, I never would have been able to out their whole Russian operation for progressives to push the FBI to investigate in 2016.

Simpson practiced law for 20-plus years, but she no longer is a member of the Alabama State Bar, thanks to a peculiar chain of events she apparently traces to the Alabama Gang, led by Jeff Sessions. She is firing back now as an opposition researcher, with information that could help FBI and Mueller investigators put Sessions and his cronies in a very bad place. She wrote the following to her Facebook readers:

Now y'all know how Oleg Deripaska became my hobby, as I have said many times in the last year -- since I was hired to [research] it . . . in late 2016 and early 2017, it is a heck of story and goes right to Jeff Session's doorstep. I might add that is why he and Russian ass-kissing buddies tried to destroy me in 2014 and 2015, but all the a-holes did was make me more determined than ever to see they went to jail. If I never work again, I am still satisfied I kicked their ass with my research in 2015, 2016, 2017.

Could that research, in fact, cause Sessions, Riley, Canary, and other Alabama politicos to wind up in federal prison? Stay tuned.

Here is more information about this week's FBI raids, which might have a few sphincters tightening among the Alabama political set. Reports Reuters:

A representative for Deripaska said the home, as well as the one in New York, belong to relatives of the oligarch. Reuters could not immediately determine Deripaska's whereabouts.

A spokesperson for the FBI's New York field office confirmed "law enforcement activity" at the home in New York City's Greenwich Village neighborhood but declined further comment.

Deripaska, 53, has been under U.S. sanctions since 2018. Washington imposed sanctions on him and other influential Russians because of their ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin after alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Deripaska once employed Manafort, who was convicted in 2018 on tax evasion and bank fraud charges and was among the central figures scrutinized under investigations of alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election, which Moscow denies.

Russia used Manafort and the WikiLeaks website to try to help Trump win that election, a Republican-led Senate committee said in its final review of the matter released last year. While still president last December, Trump pardoned Manafort.

The Senate report found Putin personally directed the Russian efforts to hack computer networks and accounts affiliated with the Democratic Party and leak information damaging to Trump's opponent, Hillary Clinton.

The report also alleged Manafort collaborated with Russians, including Deripaska and a Russian intelligence officer before, during and after the election.

Deripaska owns part of Rusal (RUAL.MM) via his stake in the giant aluminum producer's parent company En+ Group (ENPLI.RTS). Washington previously dropped sanctions against both companies but kept them on Deripaska.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Could license-plate readers, placed along America's highways, shine light on shooting into David Roberson's vehicle -- after yielding clues on Jan. 6 riot?

License plate reading camera

Did you know license-plate readers have been strategically placed along many American highways? It was news to me, and civil liberties groups are concerned about privacy implications. But as crime-fighting tools, the readers have proven invaluable. The readers, and other high-tech devices, have helped federal authorities bring charges against several hundred suspects in the investigation of the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection, according to a report at The Washington Post (WaPo).

The issue is of special interest here at Legal Schnauzer because of an incident in late February where someone shot into the car of former Drummond Company executive David Roberson as he drove on U.S. 280 near Birmingham. Are license-plate readers placed along 280? If so, is law-enforcement checking them for clues on the Roberson shooting? We aren't sure about the answer to the first question, but we've seen little sign of any serious investigation into the shooting.That raises this question: why? Is an apparent assassination attempt not deserving of scrutiny?

The WaPo report is based on review of more than 1,000 pages of arrest records, FBI affidavits and search warrants, detailing one of the biggest criminal investigations in American history. Almost 700 suspects have been charged in the melee that shook the nation’s capital and left five people dead.  

(Note: Despite progress in the probe, Ali [Akbar] Alexander [he of Alabama ties via Montgomery lawyer Baron Coleman] apparently remains in hiding, even though he is identified as the organizer of the "Stop the Steal" rally that turned into an assault on the Capitol. Alexander appears to have ties to Roger Stone and the Proud Boys -- and at least one of the group's leaders reportedly has been an FBI informant, raising the question: Is Alexander serving in a similar role or is someone protecting him for some reason?)

Reports WaPo on the investigation:

The federal documents provide a rare view of the ways investigators exploit the digital fingerprints nearly everyone leaves behind in an era of pervasive surveillance and constant online connection. They illustrate the power law enforcement now has to hunt down suspects by studying the contours of faces, the movements of vehicles and even conversations with friends and spouses.

The cache of federal documents lays out a sprawling mix of FBI techniques: license plate readers that captured suspects’ cars on the way to Washington; cell-tower location records that chronicled their movements through the Capitol complex; facial recognition searches that matched images to suspects’ driver’s licenses or social media profiles; and a remarkably deep catalogue of video from surveillance systems, live streams, news reports and cameras worn by the police who swarmed the Capitol that day.

Agents in nearly all of the FBI’s 56 field offices have executed at least 900 search warrants in all 50 states and D.C., many of them for data held by the telecommunications and technology giants whose services underpin most people’s digital lives. The responses supplied potentially incriminating details about the locations, online statements and identities of hundreds of suspects in an investigation the Justice Department called in a court motion last month “one of the largest in American history, both in terms of the number of defendants prosecuted and the nature and volume of the evidence.”

“If the event happened 20 years ago, it would have been 100 times harder to identify these people,” said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a D.C.-based think tank. “But today it’s almost impossible not to leave your footprints somewhere.”

As for license-plate readers, WaPo reports: 

License plate readers and facial recognition software together played a documented role in helping identify suspects in nearly a dozen cases, the federal records show. In many cases, agents used existing government contracts to access privately maintained databases that required no court approval. In several cases, including for facial recognition searches, it’s unclear what software the government used to build the cases for arrests.

Is the technology flawless? No:

The FBI declined to comment for this story. Most of the incidents described remain allegations.

Many cases hinge on imperfect technology and fallible digital evidence that could undermine prosecutors’ claims. Blurry license plate reader images, imprecise location tracking systems, misunderstood social media posts and misidentified facial recognition matches all could muddy an investigation or falsely implicate an innocent person.

But license-plate readers tracked some suspects numerous times throughout their trip to D.C.:

One man from New York’s Hudson Valley, William Vogel, had his round-trip voyage to D.C. photographed by license plate readers at least nine times on Jan. 6, from the Henry Hudson Bridge in the Bronx at 6:06:08 that morning to Baltimore’s Harbor Tunnel Thruway at 9:15:27 a.m. and back to the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee, N.J., at 11:59:22 that night, a criminal complaint claims.

Vogel generated more evidence of his presence inside the Capitol with a set of videos he posted to Snapchat, the complaint said. And though no license plate scanners captured his car in D.C., they offered other clues to his movement: A photo that morning from a stretch of Interstate 95 northeast of Baltimore showed a comically oversized “Make America Great Again” hat on Vogel’s dashboard. Agents said in the complaint that they later matched it to a Facebook selfie in which he appeared to be wearing “the same large red hat.”

Installed on thousands of streetlights, speed cameras, toll booths, police cars and tow trucks across the United States, the scanners record every passing vehicle into databases run by contractors such as Vigilant Systems, which reports that it has recorded 5 billion license plate locations nationwide. In Maryland alone, government and police scanners captured more than 500 million plates last year, state data shows.

Dominick Madden, a New York City sanitation worker who was on sick leave when he allegedly stormed the Capitol, had his car’s license plate scanned half a dozen times in his round-trip journey to Washington, a criminal complaint states. Madden was also allegedly caught on video walking through the Capitol’s Senate wing in a blue QAnon sweatshirt. . . . .

The documents highlight just how much digital evidence an ordinary person sheds in everyday life: In one case, prosecutors said they gathered more than 12,000 pages of data from a suspect’s phone using Cellebrite, a tool popular with law enforcement for its ability to penetrate locked phones and copy their contents. The search also recovered 2,600 pages of Facebook records and 800 cellphone photos and videos. 


David Roberson's vehicle after shooting on 280


Tuesday, October 19, 2021

The fraud case of Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes in California features separate trials, while the same right was unlawfully denied to David Roberson in Alabama

Elizabeth Holmes (Associated Press)

The biggest court story in the country right now is the criminal fraud trial in San Jose, CA, of Theranos Inc. founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes. In conjunction with Theranos President Ramesh "Sunny" Balwani, Holmes is accused of conducting a massive fraud at the blood-testing company, which once was a hot Silicon Valley startup. Company executives claimed to be able to test for a wide range of health conditions using just a few drops of blood from a finger prick. In reality, as The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) first reported in 2015, Theranos’ proprietary technology was unreliable and the company ran many of its tests on commercial analyzers, including some that it modified to work with smaller blood samples.

The defendants now are charged with wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. No verdict has been reached, so we don't know what the fallout might be. But the Theranos case already has taught an important legal lesson, one that was ignored in a high-profile Alabama case, causing a man who likely would have been acquitted to be found guilty -- and he is set to report to federal prison by late October.

We are talking about the North Birmingham Superfund case and former Drummond Company executive David Roberson. As we have shown in a previous post, Roberson -- due to the possibility of prejudice and his likely inability to bring a full advice-of-counsel defense -- should have been tried separately from Balch & Bingham attorney Joel Gilbert, the very lawyer who advised Roberson that his actions in the Superfund case were lawful. U.S. District Judge Abdul Kallon ordered a joint trial, and Roberson essentially was found guilty by association -- exactly the kind of prejudice the law is designed to prevent. The U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which seemingly never met a wrongful conviction it didn't like, upheld the conviction -- rubber stamping one of the most gross injustices we've seen in a criminal matter since the Don Siegelman case.

That, however, will not happen in the Theranos case. Only Elizebeth Holmes is being tried now, with Balwani set for trial early next year. Here's how WSJ reported on the handling of the Theranos trial:

Ms. Holmes met Mr. Balwani, a veteran tech executive about 20 years her senior, when she was a student at Stanford University, and he later joined her at Theranos as its president and chief operating officer. The pair kept their romantic relationship secret from investors, board members and company employees for years, according to depositions of former directors and staff members taken in civil cases brought by disgruntled investors and reviewed by the Journal.

Mr. Balwani used his personal wealth, gained from his work at an earlier tech startup, to help prop up Theranos, including putting his own money up as collateral for a loan in 2009 and later investing in the company, according to the deposition of Theranos’s former corporate controller.

Ms. Holmes and Mr. Balwani worked closely together until he departed in 2016 as the company faced a raft of regulatory, legal and public relations challenges.

The newly public court documents include filings by Ms. Holmes indicating she could bring a mental-health or mental-defect defense, based on what she called the psychological impact of the relationship with Mr. Balwani and abusive tactics that allowed him to exert control over her.

This line of defense could also include testimony that Ms. Holmes suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, the filings show, from the relationship with Mr. Balwani and a second event that remains redacted in the court record.

The filings show Ms. Holmes could argue that "she lacked the intent to deceive because, as a result of her deference to Mr. Balwani, she believed that various representations were true. . . ."

Also unsealed were motions made by Mr. Balwani and Ms. Holmes asking the court to separate their trials, citing her allegations against him.placeholder

Mr. Balwani requested a separate trial from Ms. Holmes in December 2019, arguing that there would be "devastating prejudice" if she raised her allegations against him at a joint trial. "In the minds of nearly any potential juror this Court finds, this case will be against a sexual predator," rather than a tech executive, Mr. Coopersmith argued in a motion.

Judge Davila scheduled Mr. Balwani’s trial second when granting the motion to split the proceedings in March 2020. It is expected to begin early next year.

In Ms. Holmes’s request for separate trials, her lawyers argued that the physical presence of Mr. Balwani in the same courtroom could be an emotional and psychological trigger that could make it hard for her to concentrate during her case.

One of Ms. Holmes’s lawyers told the judge it "was highly likely Holmes would testify" about Mr. Balwani’s abuse, an unsealed court order shows, shedding light on the question of whether jurors would hear from her directly.

Of all the ugly truths in our "justice system," this is one of the ugliest: In California, a defendant can lawfully receive a separate trial and possibly achieve justice, while in Alabama, a separate trial is denied, resulting in gross injustice. In other words, the system not only is filled with crookedness and incompetence, it also is wildly inconsistent.

Monday, October 18, 2021

Eugene Robinson, of The Washington Post, wonders out loud if mass stupidity in America is going to drive a nation of dunces right over a cliff to nowhere

Eugene Robinson

Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson recently asked one of the most profound, and sobering, questions I've read in a long time. The question is contained in this jarring headline: "How dumb can a nation get and still survive?" Robinson jumps right to the point, with no sugar-coating to bog things down:

T.S. Eliot wrote that the world ends "not with a bang but a whimper,” but I fear our great nation is careening toward a third manner of demise: descent into lip-blubbering, self-destructive idiocy.

How did we become, in such alarming measure, so dumb? Why is the news dominated by ridiculous controversies that should not be controversial at all? When did so many of our fellow citizens become full-blown nihilists who deny even the concept of objective reality? And how must this look to the rest of the world?

Read the headlines and try not to weep:

Our elected representatives in the U.S. Senate, which laughably calls itself “the world’s greatest deliberative body,” agreed Thursday not to wreck our economy and trigger a global recession — at least for a few weeks. Republicans had refused to raise the federal debt ceiling, or even to let Democrats do so quickly by simple majority vote. They relented only after needlessly unsettling an international financial system based on the U.S. dollar.

The frequent games of chicken that Congress plays over the debt ceiling are — to use a term of art I recall from Economics 101 — droolingly stupid. In the end, yes, we always agree to pay our obligations. But the credit rating of the planet’s greatest economic superpower has already been lowered because of this every-few-years ritual, and each time we stage the absurd melodrama, we risk a miscalculation that sends us over the fiscal cliff.

Today’s trench-warfare political tribalism makes that peril greater than ever. An intelligent and reasonable Congress would eliminate the debt ceiling once and for all. Our Congress is neither.

The self-inflicted debt-ceiling wounds are just for starters. Writes Robinson:

In other news, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) was speaking to a crowd of Republicans at a country club in his home state Saturday when he tried, gently, to boost South Carolina’s relatively low rate of vaccination against the coronavirus. He began, “If you haven’t had the vaccine, you ought to think about getting it because if you’re my age — ”

“No!” yelled many in the crowd.

Graham retreated — “I didn’t tell you to get it; you ought to think about it” — and then defended his own decision to get vaccinated. But still the crowd shouted him down. Seriously, people?

Covid-19 is a highly infectious disease that has killed more than 700,000 Americans over the past 20 months. The Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines all but guarantee that recipients will not die from covid. I have, or had, an acquaintance who refused to get vaccinated, despite pleas from his adult children to protect himself. He got covid-19, and it killed him. Most of the deaths the nation has suffered during the current delta-variant wave of the disease — deaths of the unvaccinated — have been similarly needless and senseless.

Covid-19 is a bipartisan killer. In the tribal-political sense, the safe and effective vaccines are a bipartisan miracle, developed under the Republican Trump administration and largely distributed under the Democratic Biden administration. People in most of the rest of the world realize, however, that vaccination is not political at all; it is a matter of life and death, and also a matter of how soon — if ever — we get to resume our normal lives.

Why would people not protect their own health and save their own lives? How is this anything but just plain stupid?

In a sense, Graham's audience -- his own supporters -- were cheering on a deadly virus over the best weapon we have to stop it. "Two bits, four bits, six bits, a dollar, all for death and suffering stand up and holler!" Believe it or not, the examples get even more insipid:

We are having other fights that are, unlike vaccination, partisan and political — but equally divorced from demonstrable fact.

Conservatives in state legislatures across the country are pushing legislation to halt the teaching of “critical race theory” in public schools. I put the term in quotes because genuine critical race theory, a dry and esoteric set of ideas debated in obscure academic journals, is not actually being taught in those schools at all. What’s being taught instead — and squelched — is American history, which happens to include slavery, Jim Crow repression and structural racism.

I get it. The GOP has become the party of White racial grievance, and this battle against an imaginary enemy stirs the base. But the whole charade involves Republican officials — many of them educated at the nation’s top schools — betting that their constituents are too dumb to know they’re being lied to. So far, the bet is paying off.

And then, of course, there’s the whole “stolen election” farce, which led to the tragedy of Jan. 6. Every recount, every court case, every verifiable fact proves that Joe Biden fairly defeated Donald Trump. Yet a sizeable portion of the American electorate either can’t do basic arithmetic or doesn’t believe that one plus one always equals two.

How dumb can a nation get and still survive? Idiotically, we seem determined to find out.