Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Right-wing activist Ali Alexander, without the funds to fight a subpoena, is set to testify privately in December before the U.S. House Select Committee on Jan. 6

Ali Alexander

An Alabama-connected extremist, a self-described organizer of a rally that turned into an assault on the U.S. Capitol, will testify in December before the House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection, according to a report at Raw Story

Ali (Akbar) Alexander, whose attorney is Baron Coleman of Montgomery, says he does not have the financial assets to fight a House subpoena and "I don't want to go to jail." Alexander once had the support of GOP money men Robert Mercer and the late Foster Friess, but apparently his coffers aren't so full at this point. Have Mercer and the Friess family closed their checkbooks over concerns they could be seen as funders of a deadly event like Jan. 6, which could spell "liability" for their fortunes? That remains unclear, but Alexander clearly does not intend to play a Steve Bannon fight-the-subpoena game. From Raw Story

Jan. 6 organizer Ali Alexander, who calls himself the "founder" of former president Donald Trump's "Stop the Steal" movement, announced Saturday that he will comply with a subpoena from the House Select Committee investigating the Capitol insurrection.

"You may have missed the news that I've been subpoenaed by the Democrats' partisan Jan. 6 committee," Alexander said in a video posted to the right-wing social-media platform Telegram. "This is a midterm issue that they want to run on, and what they want to do is paint me as the Black face for a white supremacy movement that doesn't actually exist."

Speaking in front of a poster of singer Johnny Cash flashing the middle finger, Alexander added that he respects his "fellow patriots" who are defying the committee, but called it "an expensive right" — claiming that it would cost between $250,000 and $500,000 to fight the subpoena. (See video at the end of this post.)

Does that mean Alexander no longer can dial up deep pockets on the right and scrape up that kind of dough? Isn't this the same guy who bragged online that he could "come to Alabama, dine with the governor (Robert Bentley,at the time), and spend the afternoon cashing in favors with Alabama lawyers"?

Have the mighty fallen? Given that Alexander and Coleman already are defendants (along with Donald Trump and Roger Stone) in a U.S. Capitol Police lawsuit over Jan. 6, perhaps they can't handle more legal entanglements. Also, the U.S. Department of Justice is investigating Alexander as a possible influencer on the Proud Boys extremist group, and that could lead to criminal issues. From Raw Story:

"I frankly don't have that money to spend on legal bills, so for this unselect committee, I will actually be privately deposed in December," Alexander said. "I've asked to make it public testimony. They won't cooperate with that request."

"The only reason I'm going is that I don't want to go to jail," he added. "So under the threat of imprisonment and spending tens and tens and tens of thousands of dollars on lawyers, I will be privately deposed before this committee in December, and I will make public whatever I can."

Alexander seems to be in a bit of a snit about the private nature of his testimony. But if it's in the form of a deposition, our understanding is that such proceedings generally are not public:

In a post accompanying the video, Alexander wrote that he plans to submit to the committee "photographic and video evidence of agitators sabotaging his January 6th peaceful protests."

Referring to himself in the third person, Alexander wrote: "He will also present evidence to the Committee that President Trump was betrayed by someone in his inner circle. Someone made the decision to take instructions for patriots out of the Ellipse Rally. Ali says he's not backing down and the Democrat Committee has already threatened to imprison him."

A February 2021 Washington Post article suggests Alexander's legal problems related to Jan. 6 might just be getting started:

U.S. investigating possible ties between Roger Stone, Alex Jones and Capitol rioters

The Justice Department and the FBI are investigating whether high-profile right-wing figures — including Roger Stone and Alex Jones — may have played a role in the Jan. 6 Capitol breach as part of a broader look into the mind-set of those who committed violence and their apparent paths to radicalization, according to people familiar with the investigation.

The investigation into potential ties between key figures in the riot and those who promoted former president Donald Trump’s false assertions that the election was stolen from him does not mean those who may have influenced rioters will face criminal charges, particularly given U.S. case law surrounding incitement and free speech, the people said. Officials at this stage said they are principally seeking to understand what the rioters were thinking — and who may have influenced beliefs — which could be critical to showing their intentions at trial.

However, investigators also want to determine whether anyone who influenced them bears enough responsibility to justify potential criminal charges, such as conspiracy or aiding the effort, the officials said. That prospect is still distant and uncertain, they emphasized. . . .

Nevertheless, while Trump’s impeachment trial focused on the degree of his culpability for the violence, this facet of the case shows investigators’ ongoing interest in other individuals who never set foot in the Capitol but may have played an outsized role in what happened there through their influence, networks or action.

“We are investigating potential ties between those physically involved in the attack on the Capitol and individuals who may have influenced them, such as Roger Stone, Alex Jones and [Stop the Steal organizer] Ali Alexander,” said a U.S. official, who, like others interviewed for this report, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the pending investigation.



Tuesday, November 23, 2021

The Legal Schnauzer family, including "Gabby the Investigative Tabby," wishes Happy Thanksgiving to our readers -- in Alabama, Missouri, and beyond

Gabby, the Investigative Tabby
(Photo by Carol Tovich Shuler)

Legal Schnauzer is taking a holiday break this week -- and we want to take this opportunity to wish all of our readers a Happy Thanksgiving. On a side note, my birthday happens to fall on Thanksgiving (11/25) this year, as it has done periodically throughout my time on this earth, so that's another reason for Mrs. Schnauzer, "Gabby the Investigative Tabby," and I to take a little extra time to count our blessings -- even as our country seems to be breaking apart at its core.

Speaking of Gabby, the kitten who went "from feral to family" with us, he's now about 5 years old. And as you can tell from the photos above and below, he has grown to become quite the strapping, handsome feller. We like to say that he has borrowed a philosophy from football great Joe Namath: "I can't wait until tomorrow 'cause I get better looking every day."

The Eagles recorded a song called "Center of the Universe" (from 2007's Long Road Out of Eden LP), and those words pretty much describe how we feel about Gabby and the holy, mysterious forces that brought him our way.  Cats have a reputation for being standoffish, but that doesn't pertain to our little guy. He inserts himself into the middle of most every day, and we wouldn't want it any other way.

A huge blessing in our household is that we have each other -- and our collective health remains pretty good, even though unpleasant events have visited our doorstep a number of times in recent years. We also have, of course, our readers -- and without you, this blog would be little more than a tiny voice in a vast wilderness. Our blog stats show that you arrive from coast to coast -- and in quite a few instances, from around the globe. A number of you have reached out and touched our lives in extraordinary ways. For all of you, we are deeply grateful and hope you will continue to make Legal Schnauzer a part of your lives. May justice reign in the days ahead!

We will return to publishing the week of 11/29-12/3.

The Legal Schnauzer family


                                        Gabby, the Investigative Tabby . . . in repose between
                                                            reporting assignments.
                                                    (Photo by Carol Tovich Shuler)

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Not-guilty verdict in the Kyle Rittenhouse shooting case was no shock, but sadly, it is likely to have a chilling effect on free-speech rights of those on the left


We reported eight days ago about a Western Michigan University law professor who stated that Kyle Rittenhouse trial judge Bruce Schroeder was pulling out all the stops to force an acquittal in the case. Prof. Jeffrey Swartz is a former judge, prosecutor, and defense attorney, so we put a lot of stock in his opinions on the case -- and thus, it was no surprise in this corner of the Web when a jury came back yesterday with not guilty findings across the board.

That's an alarming outcome for the many Americans (including me) who see the case as a relatively straightforward instance of cold-blooded murder, which came after the police shooting of Jacob Blake, an unarmed black man in Keosha, WI. But taken in a broad sense, the Rittenhouse incident might have even darker implications than many of us can even imagine, according to an op-ed at Salon. Columnist Amanda Marcotte sees it as part of a right-wing assault on the free-speech rights of those who do not agree with them. Writes Marcotte:

Indeed, one of the main selling points of the Republican march towards fascism, for its base, is this fantasy of a society where people live in abject terror of their right-wing neighbors, afraid to express progressive opinions or even to admit historical facts about the United States. That much is evident in the GOP base rallying around Kyle Rittenhouse, who has been on trial for shooting three people at a Black Lives Matter protest last year, killing two of them. 

The case itself is mired in of-the-moment debates about who started what violence with who at the protest. But that's not really the reason that Rittenhouse has become a right-wing folk hero. He's become a cipher for widespread anger on the right about the very existence of Black Lives Matter protests, and a desire to use violence to silence anti-racist speech. [The Rittenhouse acquittal], it sends a signal to all the gun nut right-wingers out there: It's cool to show up at Black Lives Matter protests loaded down with guns, which is, of course, about scaring people out of showing up to protest racism in the first place. 

As a jury finding in a Wisconsin trial court, the Rittenhouse verdict should have no precedential impact in other jurisdictions, as a matter of law. But as a practical matter, it certainly could have a chilling effect on the free speech of those who happen to hold left-of-center views. Imagine this scenario: a police shooting, or some other incident that you view as an injustice, happens in your town, and you decide to make your voice heard by attending a protest. As you arrive, you spot several dozen militia types (not actual law enforcement officers), armed with long rifles and plenty of ammunition. Your mind shifts to the Rittenhouse case, where he shot three men and killed two (much of it captured on video) but was not held accountable under the law. Would you turn around and go home? Fearing the possible presence of the militia crowd -- in an era of open-carry laws -- would you decide not to attend at all? 

Marcotte sees this as  a form of right-wing terrorism -- and it probably is working already:

"People cannot freely exercise their speech rights when they fear for their lives," Diana Palmer and Timothy Zick write at the Atlantic. "The increased risk of violence from open carry is enough to have a meaningful 'chilling effect' on citizens' willingness to participate in political protests."

That silencing is the underlying intent is evident, as I noted in yesterday's column, by the fact that a number of Republican legislatures have introduced and even passed laws that make it easy to get away with murdering left-leaning protesters, so long as you run them over with your car. There's a lot of hand-waving about "self-defense" used to justify such awfulness, but the purpose is not exactly hard to see. This is about deputizing ordinary conservatives to suppress free speech — with violence — when the Constitution prevents the government from doing so directly. 

This trend, of course, can go way beyond Kyle Rittenhouse and anything having to do with policing:

The connective tissue between the valorization of vigilante violence against progressive speech and the Texas "bounty hunter" abortion law is not hard to see. As Jill Filipovic argued in her newsletter, the law is "the codification of anti-abortion terrorist tactics" and rooted in the "same urge to publicly shame and humiliate women" and "the impulse toward vigilantism and violence" that drives anti-choice protesters to stake out abortion clinics to heckle the people going inside — or worse, as the long history of anti-choice violence demonstrates. 

That longing from right-wingers to police and abuse their neighbors isn't the only thing that abortion bans have in common with book banning to combat "critical race theory" and Rittenhouse-style intimidation tactics. The right has long used the touchy subject of abortion as a place to field test their ugliest ideas. That extends very much to the right-wing war on free speech.

Under Donald Trump, the Department of Health and Human Services banned doctors at clinics that receive federal funds from even mentioning abortion to patients. As with the "critical race theory" laws that intimidate teachers from even talking about slavery or Jim Crow, the abortion "gag rule" was about creating a Stasi-like environment at public health clinics, where doctors feared even mentioning abortion to patients — even when patients asked for it — out of fear that they might be ratted out to the government. President Joe Biden's administration thankfully repealed the gag rule, allowing doctors to once again direct patients who want abortion to safe options — but the template for the right's war on free speech has been fixed.

As for Rittenhouse, a common question is this: Why in the world was he, a non-resident, in Kenosha, and why did he bring an AR-15 rifle with him? Let's consider some of Rittenhouse's statements about his presence in Wisconsin -- and his actions while there:

(1) Rittenhouse said he was there to protect property -- 

A general principle of law is that you can't use deadly force to protect property. Here is how UCLA law prof. Eugene Volokh puts it:

In nearly all states, you can't generally use deadly force merely to defend your property. (Texas appears to be an exception, allowing use of deadly force when there's no other way to protect or recapture property even in situations involving simple theft or criminal mischief, though only at night,  Tex. Penal Code § 9.42; see, e.g., McFadden v. State (Tex. Ct. App. 2018).) That's where we get the conventional formulation that you can't use deadly force just to defend property.

This conventional formulation, though, omits an important limitation: In basically all states, you can use non-deadly force to defend your property—and if the thief or vandal responds by threatening you with death or great bodily harm, you can then protect yourself with deadly force. So in practice, you can use deadly force to protect property after all, if you're willing to use non-deadly force first and expose yourself to increased risk.

Volokh makes clear that various qualifiers apply in a number of states. But the general principle still holds: You can't use deadly force merely to defend property. So why did Rittenhouse have an AR-15 in Kenosha? As a 17-year-old at the time, Rittenhouse probably was not aware of the law. But he almost certainly was not there to protect property.

(2) Rittenhouse said he wanted to provide medical aid -- 

This borders on laughable. There is no discernible evidence that Rittenhouse has medical training or skills -- or that he rendered aid to anyone in Kenosha.

(3) Rittenhouse said he shot his first victim, Joseph Rosenbaum (yes, we refer to the dead and injured as "victims" here) because he feared Rosenbaum would take his gun and shoot him with it. 

Videos and photos show the gun firmly strapped to Rittenhouse's chest, so how was Rosenbaum supposed to get it away from him? Answer, it almost certainly could not have happened.

(4) Rittenhouse admitted he knew Rosenbaum was unarmed, so how was it self-defense to use deadly force against him?

Under the law, it probably couldn't be self-defense, but jurors apparently made a finding that does not square with the law.

We can reach no other conclusion but this: Rittenhouse traveled to Kenosha with an AR-15 because he knew his presence, with such a weapon, would be intimidating. He wanted to silence, or limit, the voices of protesters -- and he wound up silencing two of them permanently.

Let's give the final word to Amanda Marcotte:

Republicans use the hot button issues of race and sexuality to create oppressive environments, where people like teachers or doctors refrain from speaking even basic truths. This makes ordinary people afraid to go to an anti-racism protest for fear of getting shot or run over by right-wingers, whose murderous impulses are being validated by the courts or state governments. The goal is a society where everyone is looking over their shoulder all the time, scared that a malicious right-winger will make their lives hell for thought crimes like "racism is real" or "women have a right to choose." It's the stuff of what is usually considered dystopian fiction. But for the Republicans, it is apparently what they hunger for America to look like.

Friday, November 19, 2021

The revolving door at Balch & Bingham keeps whirling, this time sweeping a longtime partner to the exits as embattled firm appears to be in a downward spiral

 (photo illustration by banbalch.com)

The revolving door at Birmingham's Balch & Bingham has swept another legacy partner out the exits at the scandal-plagued law firm, according to a report at banbalch.com. Writes Publisher K.B. Forbes, under the headline "Death Spiral? Balch Legacy Partner Rob Fowler Leaves Embattled Firm":

Sources close to Balch & Bingham report this afternoon that long-time environmental lawyer and Balch partner Rob Fowler has left the embattled firm after almost a quarter-century of service.

His webpage at Balch has been eliminated.

Regardless of his legal work on behalf of alleged unsavory clients, alleged racist quarry companies, and possible polluters, Fowler was a trusted, experienced, and knowledgeable lawyer of environmental law, and was one of maybe a dozen long-time legacy partners left at Balch.

The firm has been seen a mass exodus of experienced and money-making partners in the last several years.

Is Balch becoming a shadow of its former self? It's starting to look that way:

The crew left behind appear to be a collection of “green behind the ears” attorneys who lack experience and quality of work product. As we reported this summer, Balch has seen a decline of 27% of their local attorneys and has allegedly been plagued by inexperience.

The death spiral caused by less revenue and more inexperience appears to help Balch & Bingham’s competitors.

Fowler allegedly spearheaded the now infamous Vincent land-grab which allegedly bought up whites-only land in an attempt to place a rock quarry next to a historically African-American area of Vincent. The Vincent community united and tossed the Balch stooges out of office during elections last year in a resounding defeat against Balch.

Now Fowler has boxed up his personal belongings and left the awful skeletons behind.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

New government report on Balch & Bingham's "Pimps of Mississippi" scheme raises this question: Where is all of that federal rent-assistance money going?

The Pimps of Mississippi


(Update: A story similar to this one is coming to light today in Iowa . . . BREAKING: New audit reveals that Iowa's Republican Governor Kim Reynolds improperly funneled $450,000 of federal COVID-19 relief funds to pay the salaries of her staff members and then concealed it by routing it through DHS.)


A new report shows Birmingham's Balch & Bingham law firm has disbursed only 17 percent of funds from a pandemic-related rent-assistance program in Mississippi, according to a report at banbalch.com. Writes Publisher K.B. Forbes:

Government-made millionaires Balch & Bingham is under fire after a national investigative report in The Washington Post in September showed that the embattled law firm had reaped millions in fees from the State of Mississippi while hardly disbursing resources to tenants in need.

According to the Post, a mere 11 percent of a $186-million rental assistance fund was disbursed to those in need, while a similar program in Harrison County, Mississippi, run by housing advocates, had the opposite results: disbursement was at 89 percent.

Now new data from the U.S. Department of Treasury shows that Balch stooges in Jackson have disbursed only 17 percent of rental assistance funds as of September 30. Harrison County is now up to 91 percent.

Why is Balch's performance so dismal? Should the firm have been involved with such a program in the first place? Writes Forbes:

Called “The Pimps of Mississippi,” Balch, the evictor and collector, received millions in contractual cronyism to allegedly distribute federal rental assistance funds and to manage another federal program to prevent foreclosures, according to the Post.

Balch partners Christian B. Waddell and Lucien Smith appear to have secured the lucrative no-bid contract through what we believe is contractual cronyism.

At the end of September, the U.S. Department of Treasury had the right to recapture funds if less than 65 percent of the resources had been spent.

Balch may indeed be fighting to recapture funds and justifying what appears to be an incompetent, inefficient system to disburse to those in need. Many of the tenants in need happen to be people of color.

This unsettling story is not just about money. A major human element also is in play. But Balch does not fare well on that front, either:

During the height of the Pandemic, Balch inhumanely evicted an alleged senior citizen from a Habitat for Humanity home, violating the spirit of the public charity and federal moratoriums.

Time to dig, dig deep into Waddell, who boasts on Balch’s website of all the millions in procurements he has secured and his involvement in underwriting almost $1 billion in bonds.

Contractual cronyism was not the intent of the federal rental assistance program. Helping those in need was.

The OIG and federal investigators have not forgotten regardless of what gobbledygook Balch spits out.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Former players did not find humor in coach's "fat jokes" regarding Stacey Abrams -- and they weren't of public concern -- so a court is likely to flush his lawsuit

Stacey Abrams

Part Two

What are the chances of a former UT-Chattanooga (UTC) football coach winning a lawsuit for being fired after he made "fat jokes" on Twitter about Georgia political figure Stacey Abrams? Based on our research of the applicable law, the chances are slim and very slim.

Chris Malone, former offensive line coach at UTC, referred to Abrams as "Fat Albert," suggested she had cheated in an election, "again!!!", and encouraged her to "enjoy the buffet, Big Girl! You earned it!!!" As a parting shot, Malone added "hope the money was good. Still not governor."

Malone deleted the tweet after former players reacted negatively to it, but head coach Rusty Wright quickly said the issue had "gone over his head," and the administration fired Malone. The former line coach apparently never considered that former players, many of whom probably were Black, might find it offensive to see insults lobbed at a political figure of color who is considered by many to be highly talented and effective. In fact, many observers have credited Abrams with enhancing voter turnout that put Georgia in the victory column for Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election. (Something tells me Malone did not vote for Biden.) 

The former players' reaction points to the second of two reasons we think Malone is destined to lose his lawsuit. Let's look at the No. 1 reason first. While employees at private entities can be fired for just about any non-discriminatory reason ("a good reason, bad reason, or no reason at all," lawyers like to say), public employees -- including those who work at a state university, such as UTC -- generally enjoy First Amendment protection to comment "on matters of public concern." Here is how it's expressed at The First Amendment Encyclopedia:  

Public employees have a right to speak out on matters of public concern or importance as long as the expression is not outweighed by the employer’s interest in an efficient, disruption-free workplace.

Stacey Abrams certainly is a public figure, and if she were inclined to bring a defamation lawsuit against Malone, she probably would not prevail. But an employment case is not about how Abrams feels about the insults; it's about how Malone's superiors at UTC feel about them -- specifically if they feel Malone's comments were a matter of public concern. Obviously, UTC administrators did not like the comments because they fired Malone. But more importantly, they likely did not consider his "fat jokes" to be a matter of public concern. Would UTC have had grounds to fire Malone if he had commented negatively, in a fairly thoughtful way, about Abrams' performance as a public official? Probably not. But is it a matter of public concern that Abrams might be considered overweight or might enjoy an occasional trip to a buffet? Almost certainly not, so it's  hard to see how Malone has any "public concern" protection.

As for the second provision of law we noted above, it has to do with Malone's ability to do his job. A key part of the job for any college football coach is recruiting, and that means effectively attracting promising Black student-athletes. Courts long have held that "the State, as an employer, [has an interest] in promoting the efficiency of the public services it performs through its employees. Here is how the law has developed on the "efficiency" front:

In 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court added a threshold requirement for public employees who assert free-speech retaliation claims. In Garcetti v. Ceballos (2006), the Court ruled that public employee speech made as part of routine job duties also has no First Amendment protection. The key inquiry is whether an employee’s speech is part of her official job duties. Many lower courts have used a “core functions” test.  In other words, if the employee’s speech is part of the core functions of her job, the speech is not protected. 

We have noted that recruiting student-athletes of all colors was a central part of Malone's job -- and that means building and maintaining good relationships with Black football players and their families is part of his official job duties. Was insulting Stacey Abrams a good way to build those relationships? Given that former players already had complained about the tweets, the answer appears to be no. UTC likely will argue in court that Malone's comments were not a matter of public concern, and they would make it impossible for him to perform his duties as a football coach. We suspect the university will be on solid legal footing with that argument.

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Could Crosswhite hit exits early at Alabama Power as investigations heat up over Jan. 6 insurrection funding and scandals tied to Balch & Bingham law firm?


Photo illustration (banbalch.com)

Alabama Power might seem at a great distance from the events of Jan. 6, which ended with Donald Trump supporters conducting an assault on the U.S. Capitol. But the Birmingham-based company actually helped fund the ugliness of Jan. 6, and CEO Mark Crosswhite has been noticeably quiet as Congressional investigators turn up the heat on prominent figures tied to the insurrection. Could the heat soon be turned in Crosswhite's direction, perhaps leading to an early retirement? Publisher K.B. Forbes provides insight on that question in a post at banbalch.com, under the headline "Crosswhite Stands Nervously Silent as January 6th Inquiry Escalates":

This morning Trump’s once top advisor Steve Bannon surrendered himself to law enforcement over his refusal to testify before the January 6th congressional inquiry. Two weeks ago, The Washington Post published an in-depth series on the insurrection.

The spotlight on January 6th is escalating. And the behind-the-scenes decision makers are being exposed.

In 2016 during a media interview, former Balch partner and now Alabama Power Chairman and CEO Mark A. Crosswhite boasted :

For years I had been deeply involved in helping with the decision-making process, in offering recommendations, courses of action, but I was never involved in the final decision-making and when the chance came to cross over from the legal side to the business side that is why I did it.

Crosswhite likes to be the final decision maker, the boss, the top man,  El Gran Jefe.

As "Big Boss," Crosswhite might soon find himself in an uncomfortable position, as Forbes explains:

Now the “most powerful man in Alabama” is facing heat for Alabama Power’s $25,000 blood-money donation to the Rule of Law Defense Fund in 2020 whose robo calls allegedly helped spur the January 6th insurrection (some have called it a “domestic terrorist attack”) that included the desecration of the U.S. Capitol.

The Rule of Law Defense Fund (RLDF) is part of the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA), which Marshall heads.

Marshall is not the only Alabama tie to RLDF and RAGA. Jessica Medeiros Garrison, an attorney and longtime associate of Luther Strange (plus Jeff Sessions and Bill Pryor) held leadership positions at both organizations. When a New York Times investigative report caused flames to start lapping at RAGA's door, Garrison bailed out. Along the way, she landed at -- guess where -- Balch & Bingham, the "sister-wife" law firm of Alabama Power and the launching pad for Crosswhite's rise to power.

"El Gran Jefe" now faces a quandary, perhaps of "El Gran proporciones." Writes Forbes;

In February, we pointed out that Crosswhite had remained silent and now, nine months later, he still is quiet as a lethargic mouse.

Crosswhite knew better, but dropped the cheese ball.

As we said in February, Crosswhite should have publicly distanced his company from the insurrection, calling the domestic terrorist attack for what it was: an ugly stain, a crime, absolutely revolting, and truly un-American. Crosswhite should have declared unequivocally that the robocalls and contribution were a grave mistake and should have apologized on behalf of Alabama Power.

Should have. Could Have. Would have.

The great final-decision maker lost his intestinal fortitude and has remain hidden surrounded by his yes-men and yes-women.

Although Crosswhite allegedly feels he will be the next Chairman and CEO of Southern Company when Tom Fanning supposedly retires next year, Fanning’s exit has yet to be confirmed out of Atlanta.

Atlanta is very aware of the Crosswhite Scandal in which alleged indemnity agreements were made through third-party entities to protect agents and operatives engaged in alleged unsavory and criminal conduct.

Meanwhile, down in Alabama, irrefutable and verifiable documentation is allegedly being gathered that could rattle Balch & Bingham boosters, Alabama Power, and may bring an early retirement for El Gran Jefe.

No me digas!

Monday, November 15, 2021

Kyle Rittenhouse, regardless of his trial outcome, is a symbol of a society that says its fine for a teen boy to strap an AR-15 to his chest and walk into a melee

Kyle Rittenhouse

Closing arguments in the murder trial of Kenosha, WI, shooter Kyle Rittenhouse are expected to begin today. At least one legal analyst has suggested a not-guilty verdict is likely because of the judge's one-sided rulings in favor of the defense -- plus his generally belligerent demeanor toward the prosecution. To be sure, Rittenhouse faces several lesser charges and could be found guilty on one or more of those. Regardless of what the court finds, a broader story is playing out here -- and what it says about America in 2021 is not pretty, a Salon columnist says. Writes Heather Digby Parton, under the headline "Beneath the Rittenhouse trial: Grim truths about the state of America":

The trial of Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old who brought an illegally obtained AR-15 semiautomatic rifle to a chaotic street protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and shot three people, killing two of them, has the country riveted this week. The judge and the prosecutor have been at each other's throats, the top prosecution witnesses turned out to be more helpful for the defense, and defense attorneys unexpectedly put the baby-faced Rittenhouse on the stand, where he breathlessly sobbed like a toddler. Meanwhile, the judge got a phone call as he sat at the bench, revealing his ring tone to be Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA," an unofficial Republican theme song. So the trial has been both dramatic and bizarre in equal measure.

The case is important for many reasons having to do with policing, guns, politics and the growing acceptance of right-wing vigilantism in America. Rittenhouse has somehow become a symbol of all those issues, with the country split down the middle on whether he should be condemned for carrying an illegally obtained assault weapon (which he may have transported across state lines from his home in Illinois) and killing people, or should be viewed as a hero for standing up to the left-wing mob and defending himself when challenged. His childlike demeanor confuses the issue even more. How could such an innocent-looking boy have done either of those things?

That Rittenhouse took the stand in his own defense was perhaps the trial's most riveting moment. But his statements from the stand, Parton writes, were a mixed bag:

The facts of the case are well known, so I won't go into it in detail. Suffice it to say that Rittenhouse fashioned himself as a "medic" (a role for which he was entirely untrained) as well as a sort of adjunct militia member, protecting private property and supporting the police when he drove into Kenosha that night and ostentatiously patrolled the streets with his long gun. He was confronted by Joseph Rosenbaum, an ex-convict with a history of mental illness who threw a bag of toiletries at him. Rittenhouse fired his gun, mortally wounding Rosenbaum. He called a friend and said, "I just killed somebody," as he jogged away from the scene. 

Rittenhouse was chased by several people, including one man who tried to hit him with a high kick. Rittenhouse fired at that person but missed. Another protester, Anthony Huber, attempted to bring him down with a skateboard and Rittenhouse shot and killed him too. Gaige Grosskreutz, an armed protester and trained paramedic who also chased Rittenhouse, testified that the two men aimed their guns at each other and Rittenhouse shot him as well, wounding him in the arm. Then Rittenhouse simply walked away from this bloody scene, walking right past police lines, and went home. He turned himself in the next morning. At no point did the self-styled medic try to help any of the people he shot.

Rittenhouse already is seen as a hero by many on the right, and his shooting spree could turn out to be a good career move, Parton writes:

This could be the beginning of a very successful career for young Rittenhouse. He's already shown that he has an instinct for it. After his arraignment and not-guilty plea he was seen numerous times wearing a "Free as Fuck" T-shirt in public, accompanied by his mother and greeted with cheers from his MAGAworld fans.

This sort of vigilantism is routinely celebrated on the right these days. From the Trayvon Martin killing in Florida to the trial of Ahmaud Arbery's killers now unfolding in Georgia, they have lined up in support for citizens who take the law into their own hands — as long as the targets are left-wing protesters and Black people. They aren't so keen when the shoe is on the other foot.

You may recall another very similar case in Portland, Oregon, last year when Michael Reinoehl, an armed antifa supporter, got into a beef with Aaron Danielson, a supporter of the far-right group Patriot Prayer. In this case, the leftist shot and killed the MAGA supporter and Trump, according to his own account of events on Fox News, personally ordered U.S. marshals to hunt Reinoehl down. . . . 

According to this rundown of the events by the New York Times, it's clear that Reinoehl was unarmed at the time of his death and that marshals opened fire without warning as he walked to his car. It was an extrajudicial execution, apparently ordered by the president of the United States.

As for Rittenhouse, why was a 17-year-old boy walking down a street -- in a city where he did not live, for a protest over issues that did not involve him -- with a deadly weapon strapped to his chest (with his finger on the trigger, and the safety deactivated)? Was it because our society sends the message that he could do it -- no prob? Parton says the answer is yes -- that Rittenhouse, in so many words, felt entitled to act like a mini Charles Bronson:

It may be that Kyle Rittenhouse will be seen in the eyes of the law to have fired in self-defense. After all, he's being tried for murder, not for being a reckless fool who should never have carried a firearm anywhere near the melee that night. Many of the TV lawyers analyzing the case believe the prosecution has not made the case for a homicide conviction. If that's the way things play out, that won't be the fault of the lawyers, the judge or the jury. It will be the direct result of laws that allow teenage boys to wander the streets with loaded assault weapons slung over their shoulders, as if that were perfectly reasonable in a civilized society.

Vigilantism, extrajudicial killings by federal authorities, violent insurrections, threats and harassment of public officials, and rejection of election results and the democratic process are all hallmarks of authoritarian movements. Coddling the gun fetishists and allowing right-wing extremism to fester over many years has brought us to the point when we must ask ourselves if we're no longer a country where politics is war by other means — it's just plain old war.

Friday, November 12, 2021

Kyle Rittenhouse murder trial: Wisconsin judge clearly is angling for an acquittal, and prosecution botched an important piece of evidence, law-school expert says

Kyle Rittenhouse

The judge in the murder trial of Kenosha, WI, shooter Kyle Rittenhouse clearly is trying to arrange for a not-guilty finding, according to a legal expert. The expert, a professor at a school of law in the Upper Midwest. also notes that a prosecutor failed to properly address a key piece of evidence that points to Rittenhouse's guilt. Testimony has concluded, and closing arguments are expected to begin on Monday.

It all suggests that a killer likely will go free and points to the corruption and incompetence (or both) that infests our "justice system." Jeffrey Swartz, professor of criminal law at Western Michigan University, is a former judge, prosecutor, and defense attorney. Swartz does not like what he sees at the Rittenhouse trial. From a Cooley Law School press release:

Western Michigan University Cooley Law School Professor Jeffrey Swartz, who previously served as a judge in Florida’s Miami-Dade County and as a prosecutor and defense attorney, believes Judge Bruce Schroeder’s rulings from the bench are one-sided in favor of the defense. “It’s abundantly clear the judge is trying to direct the case toward an acquittal,” said Swartz.

Additionally, Swartz believes the judge “may reserve ruling on the defense’s motion for a mistrial until or unless the jury comes back with a verdict of guilty.” Swartz says, “if the jury comes back with a guilty verdict, the judge could then rule a mistrial. I do not believe the prosecutor’s actions were that egregious to justify a mistrial with a finding of purposeful and calculated misconduct. ”

When discussing this trial Swartz notes that “it’s true, judges can substantially affect outcomes, which is being demonstrated by Judge Schroeder’s rulings and his demeanor toward the prosecution.”

As for the prosecution, its performance has been less than stellar, Swartz notes:

Swartz notes that the prosecutor, Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger, missed an important piece of evidence when laying out his case. Swartz said, “photos show Rittenhouse walking with his gun strapped over his shoulder with his finger on the trigger and safety in the off position before any of the shootings happened. Rittenhouse said he feared individuals were going to steal his gun. But his actions, including having the gun strapped to his body, with his finger on the trigger, and the gun’s safety not activated, indicate he was prepared to kill and open to the opportunity to kill.”

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Police in suburban St. Louis, MO, beat black motorist for allegedly failing to use a turn signal -- leaving him with a broken nose and black eye, leading to lawsuit

Tranell Stewart

We reported earlier this week that traffic stops, once seen as routine encounters with police, are turning increasingly dangerous, even deadly -- especially for motorists of color. A prime example comes from the St. Louis, MO, suburb of Maryland Heights, where an alleged failure to use a turn signal led to a severe beating for a Black man -- and to a lawsuit against the city and its police department. From an Associated Press report:

A suburban St. Louis man alleges in a lawsuit that police officers punched, kicked and stomped on him before illegally searching the apartment he shared with his girlfriend after claiming he had committed a minor traffic violation.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court [on Oct. 25] on behalf of Tranell Stewart, 38, and his former girlfriend, Lisa Jones, against five Maryland Heights police officers and the city of Maryland Heights.

The city, the police department and the police union did not immediately respond to requests for comment Tuesday.

How did an alleged minor traffic violation lead to violence? AP reports:

Stewart pulled into the parking lot of his apartment complex on Oct. 26, 2016. Officer David Devouton pulled behind Stewart’s car and told him he had failed to use his turn signal, which Stewart denied, according to the lawsuit.

When Stewart tried to get out of his car to get to his infant son from the back seat, Devouton grabbed Stewart’s hair and tried to pull him to the ground, saying, “You’re going to die today,” the lawsuit says.

Another officer, Alex Waldroup, arrived and police threw Stewart to the ground, hit him and kicked him. After he was handcuffed, Waldroup stomped on his head and kicked him in the eye, according to the lawsuit.

Stewart said he initially pushed Devouton’s hand off him, then tried to ward off the blows from other officers, while screaming for them to stop. But he said he did not initiate any contact or strike the officers.

Jones and a neighbor witnessed the attack. When Jones went toward the car to retrieve her infant son, Officer Cliff House pointed a gun at her and told her to stop, the lawsuit says.

The incident somehow led to what appears to be a blatantly unlawful search:

Officers twice searched the couple’s apartment, at one point threatening to arrest Jones for a traffic warrant and to have her children placed in protective custody if she did not sign forms consenting to the searches. They also seized a weapon that Jones legally owned.

Stewart suffered a fractured nose and a black eye and emotional pain and fear, and the illegal searches also caused Stewart and Jones concern for the safety of themselves and their children, the lawsuit said. It seeks compensatory and punitive damages but does not name a specific amount.

Stewart said in a statement released by the ArchCity Defenders (ACD) public-interest law firm, which is representing him, that he wants police accountability. Jones is being represented by Kenneth Powell, of the Powell Law Firm.

“I want people to know how Maryland Heights police operate,” Stewart said. “I can’t say anything positive, I can’t say be safe because these are the people who are supposed to be protecting and serving us. It’s like we’re under attack.”

From an ACD news release about the lawsuit: 

Today in federal court, ArchCity Defenders and the Powell Law Firm filed a lawsuit on behalf of Tranell Stewart and Lisa Jones, respectively, alleging that officers of the Maryland Heights Police Department (MHPD) used excessive force against Mr. Stewart and unlawfully searched Mr. Stewart’s and Ms. Jones’ home. On October 26, 2016, Tranell Stewart, a 33-year-old Black man and father was driving home with his infant son when MHPD officer Ryan Devouton pulled Mr. Stewart over as he was turning into his apartment’s parking lot. From there, Devouton escalated the encounter, taunted Mr. Stewart by telling him, “You’re going to die today,” pulled him by his hair, and punched him. When MHPD officer Alexander Waldroup arrived, he punched Mr. Stewart down to the ground. The two officers continued to hit Mr. Stewart while he was lying on the pavement, handcuffed, despite him yelling for them to stop. Waldroup stomped on Mr. Stewart’s head multiple times.  Mr. Stewart sustained several serious injuries and trauma from the callous assault. Following that, Maryland Heights police unlawfully ransacked the home of Mr. Stewart and his son’s mother, Ms. Lisa Jones. 

ArchCity Defenders, on behalf of Tranell Stewart, and the Powell Law firm, on behalf of Lisa Jones, have filed a lawsuit against the City of Maryland Heights and MHPD officers Alexander Waldroup, Ryan Devouton, Cliff House, Kevin Devine, and Shane Monnig, for violating Mr. Stewart and Ms. Jones’ Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. MHPD officers Devouton and Waldroup repeatedly assaulted Mr. Stewart after a bogus police stop. After brutalizing Mr. Stewart, the named MHPD officers coerced Ms. Jones, and unlawfully searched their home. Annual data published by the Missouri Attorney General’s Office contextualizes the allegations in the suit and details Maryland Heights’ pattern of racially discriminatory detention and search of Black drivers more frequently than white drivers.

"In every year for each of the past twenty years, officers of the Maryland Heights Police Department have stopped Black drivers at rates two to three times above their demographic representation in the city,” said Jack Waldron, Lead Attorney, with ArchCity’s Civil Litigation department. “These stops have consequences. Maryland Heights’ unlawful stop of Mr. Stewart led to his brutal assault at the hands of two police officers. We look forward to shining a light on these practices and seeking justice for Mr. Stewart.”

Alabama residents know the Birmingham Metro Area has a problem with excessive municipalities and the duplication of services they cause -- with 67 cities, towns, and communities in Jefferson County. But St. Louis has "The Magic City" beat in that regard. From the ACD news release:

Maryland Heights, one of 88 municipalities in St. Louis County maintains a custom of stopping and unlawfully searching and seizing of Black people traveling through or living in the city. Annual reports released by the Missouri Attorney General’s Office from 2011 to 2016 indicate Maryland Heights has had a racial “Disparity Index” above 2.00 for Black motorists. In 2016, the rate was 3.09, meaning the number of Black drivers pulled over was more than three times their demographic representation in the City. Additionally, Black drivers are searched at a disproportionate rate compared to white drivers, despite finding proof of illegal activity more frequently with white drivers. The lawsuit states that Maryland Heights knew of and has failed to remedy these systemic practices- and is deliberately indifferent and culpable for constitutional violations against Mr. Stewart and Ms. Jones.

ArchCity Defenders has filed 10 lawsuits alleging police brutality since 2015. The holistic legal advocacy organization is still litigating cases against St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, and Ferguson, and has settled cases against Pine Lawn, Ferguson, Berkeley, and St. Louis County.

The string of violent and deadly police encounters currently gripping the nation -- leading some to call for defunding police departments -- started with the fatal 2014 shooting of unarmed Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO.

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Merrick Garland's reluctance to hold Trump & Co. accountable for crimes related to January 6 U.S. Capitol riot, plus other apparent wrongdoing, prompts legal-advocacy group to call for AG's resignation

Merrick Garland

Will a Democratic president ever nominate a U.S attorney general who has a spine? That question seems to be at the heart of a legal-advocacy group's call for the resignation of current AG Merrick Garland. Free Speech For People (FSFP) argues that Garland should resign for failing to hold former President Donald Trump and his allies accountable for crimes.

We had high hopes for Garland when Joe Biden nominated him. But we agree with FSFP's position, mainly because we can think of no excuse for Garland's failure to take action against Trump & Co., especially for their role in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol and their ongoing false claims regarding the nation's electoral process.

The current situation is particularly dismaying because it appears to continue a trend of Democratic administrations being unwilling to seek justice for apparent criminal acts that took place under their Republican predecessors.  We are reminded of Barack Obama's statement in January 2009, just days before taking office, that he was inclined to "look forward, as opposed to looking backwards" regarding apparent crimes on the watch of George W. Bush.

Obama's stance was doubly damaging: (1) It was contrary to the principle that the U.S. Department of Justice acts independently of the White House; (2) It probably gave us Donald J. Trump, the most unfit, incompetent, and crooked president in American history. If Bush-era unlawfulness had been fully exposed, the Republican political brand likely would have been so badly damaged that Trump would have never gotten close to being elected.

Obama's stance was harmful to the country -- AND the Republican Party. With only two major political parties, the U.S. cannot afford to have one party wallowing in a pit of dysfunction and incompetence -- as has happened with the postmodern GOP. Count me as a Democrat -- heck I gladly answer to the name "libtard" -- but I strongly believe we need a GOP that can lead, govern, and command respect on the world stage. Sadly, not all voters agree with me, so we are going to have times when Republicans are in charge, and we need them to be able to act like, and govern like, adults. If Obama had held Bushies accountable, the GOP would have been forced to rediscover its capacity for governance. The Trumps and McConnells likely would have crawled back under their rocks, and our country would be stronger for it.

In short, Obama's squishiness on the rule of law gave us Donald Trump and more than 700,000 U.S. deaths (5 million worldwide) from a preventable pandemic -- not to mention acts of wrongdoing that are somewhat known -- or have yet to be fully uncovered. And that brings us back to Biden and Garland. Are they headed down the same path as Obama and Holder? From an article at Salon:

A nonpartisan nonprofit is calling on Attorney General Merrick Garland to resign over his apparent failure to "hold accountable former president Donald Trump and his co-conspirators for attempting to overthrow the government," suggesting that the Biden appointee is "the wrong person for this job at this time."

The group, Free Speech For People (FSFP) – started back in 2010 to combat the rise of "corporate personhood" in politics – outlined in a Thursday statement a smattering of ways in which the attorney general has allegedly abdicated his duties.

Back in January, the group urged Garland in an op-ed to assemble a specialized task force to independently investigate Trump's role in inciting the Capitol riot, for which he was later impeached. But Garland, they said, never took heed of their advice. 

"If Garland had created a framework for credible, impartial criminal investigations of a former president of the United States, DOJ would have affirmed that no one—not even a former president—is above the law," the group wrote. "Yet while DOJ has charged the low-level insurrectionists who broke into the Capitol, it has not moved against the highly-placed leaders of the insurrection, including Trump himself."

Garland's inaction likely has already hurt the Democratic Party and the country. It has emboldened conservatives and moderates in Congress and made it more difficult for Biden to pass progressive infrastructure and social-welfare legislation. It might have cost Democrat Terry McAuliffe election as Virginia's governor, a race he likely would have won easily if it had looked like Trump & Co were going to pay a price for apparent criminality surrounding Jan. 6. Garland's skittishness is hurting his own party and president, while emboldening a party that has become a glorified cult with almost zero ability to govern. From Salon:

Much of Trump's criminal improprieties took place in the lead-up to the Capitol riot, when the former president stoked baseless outrage over a presidential election "stolen" by President Biden, the group added. 

Back in January, roughly two months after his election loss, Trump made a private call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger asking the state official to effectively "find 11,780" votes in his favor. Furthermore, Trump and his allies put together an official plan – now known as the Eastman memo – outlining a step-by-step process by which they would illegally overturn the election by having former Vice President Mike Pence replace state electors with officials sympathetic to Trump's conspiracies of voter fraud.

"Their actions, no less than those of the individual rioters, may constitute conspiracy to impede or disrupt the orderly conduct of government business, insurrection, seditious conspiracy, and advocating the overthrow of the government," FSFP argued.

Late late month, Rolling Stone reported that several members of Congress – including Reps. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., and Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C. – actively conspired with multiple organizers of the Capitol riot, convening meetings with the organizers during the lead-up to the insurrection. Despite sitting on clear evidence of criminality, Garland has so far "failed to investigate" any of these lawmakers, FSFP said.

"For all these reasons, Garland is no longer fit to serve as Attorney General," the group wrote. "But as long as Trump and his co-conspirators walk free, American democracy is in danger. We need an Attorney General who understands that danger and is willing to take action to protect democracy and the rule of law."

Monday, November 8, 2021

Traffic stops, which are supposed to be routine, increasingly are turning deadly, causing some to call for cops to be removed from a dangerous equation


Traffic stops seem to be the most routine of all law-enforcement duties. But such stops are increasingly turning deadly, a new study shows, causing some jurisdictions to consider taking the enforcement of traffic laws out of the hands of police. From an e-newletter of The New York Times, which conducted the investigation:

Over the past five years, police officers have killed more than 400 drivers or passengers who were not wielding a gun or a knife, or who weren’t under pursuit for a violent crime — a rate of more than one a week, a Times investigation found.

Many were stopped for common traffic offenses: a broken taillight, running a red light or swerving across double yellow lines. Relative to the population, Black drivers were overrepresented among those killed.

What could be driving this alarming trend? One factor appears to be money:

Traffic stops — which can be driven by the demand for revenue to fund towns — are the most common interactions between police officers and the public. The police consider them among the most dangerous things they do.

Officers have been charged in 32 cases, and nearly two dozen are pending. Only five officers have been convicted of crimes for the killing of motorists. But The Times found that evidence often contradicted the officers’ accounts. A visual investigation rolled back the footage capturing 120 fatal traffic stops and found that in dozens of incidents, officers made tactical mistakes that put them in positions of danger.

In an opinion piece, aol.com suggests cops could be taken out of the traffic equation:

Traffic stops are the most common way Americans interact with the police. The Brooklyn Center, Minn., police killing of Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man who was shot by an officer who allegedly confused her gun for her Taser while attempting to arrest him, is the latest reminder of how these interactions can quickly turn deadly.

Police conduct roughly 20 million traffic stops a year, according to data from the Stanford Open Policing Project. Though the majority end without major incident, they occasionally result in officers using deadly force. Last year, 121 people were killed by police after being stopped for a traffic violation. Several of the most controversial law enforcement-related deaths in recent years have resulted from traffic stops — including the shooting of Philando Castille in 2016, which occurred miles away from where Wright was killed.

Wright’s killing has also brought attention to so-called pretextual stops, a practice in which police use a minor violation — such as changing lanes without signaling or a broken taillight — as a pretext for investigating an unrelated crime. The Supreme Court has ruled that pretextual stops are constitutional, but critics say these stops fuel racial bias in policing. Researchers have found that Black drivers are 20 percent more likely to be pulled over and up to twice as likely to be searched even though they were “less likely to be carrying drugs, guns or other illegal contraband compared to their white peers.”

We have reported previously on pretext traffic stops. (See here, here, and here, Some good news: The law took a turn in a positive direction in 2015.)

Why there’s debate

Traffic stops, in theory, promote public safety by discouraging unsafe driving and providing police an opportunity to identify more serious crimes. But police reform advocates say the high number of killings and evidence of racial bias show that, in practice, the stops do far more harm than good. A number of potential solutions have been proposed to make traffic enforcement safer and less prone to abuse.

Where could this issue be headed. We have insight from aol.com

Supporters of the movement to defund the police have called on local governments to establish separate traffic agencies staffed by unarmed monitors who would handle noncriminal traffic enforcement duties that currently fall under police purview. These agencies, proponents argue, could keep the streets safe from dangerous drivers while reducing the risk of violent incidents. Some reform advocates say less dramatic policy changes, such as ending pretextual stops and only pulling over those who commit the most dangerous violations, could greatly reduce the number of incidents that escalate to violence. Others say technologies like red-light cameras and speed cameras could take a large share of the human element out of traffic enforcement.

Skeptics warn against enacting widespread changes in response to what they see as a small number of high-profile incidents. They say pretextual stops, an element of what’s known as proactive policing, help police keep drugs and guns off the streets. Others say traffic enforcers would face substantial danger while conducting traffic stops without a means to defend themselves. There are also fears that cameras would be prone to mistakes and contribute to a worrisome level of government surveillance.