Monday, February 28, 2022

No-knock warrant that led to the fatal shooting of Amir Locke in Minnesota is a glaring sign that police reform must move out of the shadows onto the front burner

With Russia invading Ukraine and the Trump family facing investigations from all directions, the issue of police reform seems to have gotten lost in the battle for Americans' attention. The recent fatal shooting of Amir Locke in Minnesota is a sign that police reform cannot wait any longer, according to an op-ed piece at CNN

Arick Wierson, a six-time Emmy Award-winning television producer and former media adviser to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, says now is the time for police reform to take a front-row seat in the American conscience. Writes Wierson:

The killing of 22-year-old Amir Locke earlier this month at the hands of a SWAT team officer from the Minneapolis Police Department has once again made the city the focal point of the ongoing national conversation around race and policing.

The 14-second video released by city officials shows how a Minneapolis SWAT unit, acting on a no-knock search warrant in a homicide investigation, stormed into the apartment where Locke was apparently asleep. He was then seen holding a gun when he woke up, just seconds before he was shot and killed. Police said Locke wasn't named in any search warrants and attorneys for Locke's family said he was in legal possession of his firearm.
Nevertheless, the bottom line is this: in a city still reeling from the impact of the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, yet again, an innocent Black life has been needlessly extinguished at the hands of Minneapolis law enforcement.

Could a fairly straightforward type of police reform have prevented Amir Locke's death? Wierson suggests the answer is yes:

The circumstances that led to Locke's death -- namely the issuance of a no-knock search warrant, a practice that disproportionately affects African Americans across the country -- might have been avoided if the elected officials from both parties in Washington had taken police reform more seriously. Despite calls for change, federal lawmakers have failed to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act not once, but twice. While it would have banned only no-knock warrants in drug cases, the legislation would have been a significant first step towards police reform.

But, here we are again. In 2022, less than three years since an errant no-knock warrant led to the death of Breonna Taylor in Kentucky and not even two years since the murder of George Floyd, another Black man has unnecessarily been robbed of his future at the hands of law enforcement, simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I live in the Minneapolis area and, as I wrote in the aftermath of the Floyd murder, the entire episode served as a rude awakening for me and countless other White Americans to the daily challenges confronted by people of color, especially African Americans, when it comes to interactions with law enforcement. I had hoped that after so many Black lives were lost to bad policing -- Breonna Taylor, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Daunte Wright and Philando Castile, who have become posthumous household names in recent years -- something would have been done by federal lawmakers to clean up, create national standards, outline best-practices and ultimately save lives.

Congress has seen an effort to launch police reform, but it stalled and has not been able to regain traction. Writes Wierson:

In June of 2020, less than a month after the Floyd murder, Democrats in both houses of Congress introduced a watershed bill which passed the House but didn't make it through the then-Republican-controlled Senate. GOP lawmakers instead proposed a defanged version of the bill that Democrats blocked. Then, in 2021, the legislation, by then known as the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, was reintroduced and passed the House again.

As the public uproar around the Black Lives Matter receded and concerns about the Covid-19 Delta variant spread, political support on the Hill for taking up the legislation slowly withered. The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act aimed to set up a national registry of police misconduct, ban racial and religious profiling by law enforcement at the federal, state and local levels, and overhaul qualified immunity, which protects law enforcement from accountability. 

At the moment, even mild police reform appears to be a victim of partisan politics. Wierson says that needs to change:

Even South Carolina's lone Black GOP Sen. Tim Scott, who had joined with Democrats in working on the legislation, was unable to find at least nine fellow Republicans willing to go along with him to reach the 60-vote mark that the legislation required to overcome the filibuster rule in the chamber. Moreover, without the support of Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona to scrap the antiquated filibuster rule so that the measure could pass by simple majority, there was simply no way to get the bill to President Joe Biden's desk to become law. Scott eventually even turned against his own bill.

What might police reform look like under the George Floyd Act?

Among its most salient provisions, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act explicitly banned no-knock warrants for federal narcotics investigations and it wielded a fairly big stick over state and local law enforcement agencies by threatening to hold back federal dollars for those that refused to follow suit. And although many jurisdictions either cut back or altogether eliminated the use of no-knock warrants in the two years since the death of Breonna Taylor, Minneapolis was not one of them.
In fact, as the Minneapolis Star Tribune uncovered, since the start of the new year, Minneapolis police department officials had filed for and secured at least 13 applications for no-knock warrants -- one more than the 12 standard search warrants that they obtained during that same time frame.
Although the no-knock warrant that lead to Locke's shooting was not part of a drug-related investigation as would be stipulated in the bill, the mere threat of pulling federal dollars from local police budgets would have pointed a spotlight on the entire practice of no-knock warrants, likely helping diminish such frequent use of these highly aggressive tactics. Perhaps it wouldn't have taken Locke's death to get to where Minneapolis is now after its mayor, Jacob Frey, declared a moratorium on the practice altogether pending further study following Locke's death.

What's next for police reform? That remains unclear, but faint-hearted politicians likely will remain a roadblock. Wierson explains:

For all the impassioned speeches about the senseless deaths of Floyd, Taylor and so many other Black Americans at the hands of law enforcement, federal lawmakers have done absolutely nothing to prevent the cycle from repeating itself -- something the world witnessed once again with the death of Amir Locke.
And sadly, without meaningful action in Washington, it's bound to happen again.

Friday, February 25, 2022

Birmingham media outlets take strangely contrary positions on Balch & Bingham law firm as redistricting sparks racial tensions in cities across Alabama

Birmingham's Balch & Bingham law firm cannot seem to outrun its history of taking dubious actions on matters of race. Balch, however is at the heart of wildly incongruent reporting in the Alabama press.

How dumbfounding has the Balch-related reporting been of late? On one hand, produced a serious and thoughtful article on Alabama's struggles with redistricting, noting Balch's role in producing maps that appear to dilute black voting power. On the other hand, Birmingham Business Journal -- get this -- named Balch a leader in its Diversity and Inclusion Awards. Huh?

K.B. Forbes, publisher of, examines both articles and notes the peculiar status Balch seems to hold in some parts of the Birmingham community. Writes Forbes, under the headline "Balch’s Questionable Advisors and Birmingham Business Journal’s Worthless and Make-Believe Awards":

In a lengthy and insightful article about electoral redistricting in the state of Alabama, the headline screamed, “‘Don’t take us back to Jim Crow’: Redistricting sparks passion, racial tensions in Alabama cities.” writes:

“In Auburn, they are trying to compact all of the African Americans into one district where they could have had two districts that are predominately African American,” said Bernard Simelton, president of the Alabama NAACP.

Auburn city officials said they did not receive enough analysis to back the idea of the city having two majority-minority districts.

Critics say the advisors Auburn utilized to determine its map analysis were questionable. The efforts in Auburn were led by Balch and Bingham attorney, Dorman Walker, who defended Alabama’s congressional map in federal court.

Decades ago, racists would burn crosses to terrorize and intimidate minorities. Today, alleged racists use redistricting to intimidate and, “dilute and divide” minority voters.

Forbes then tackles the Birmingham Business Journal article, and you can almost hear his eyes rolling:

Last week, in a move that looks like heavily-paid-for-public-relations-fluff, the Birmingham Business Journal (BBJ) ridiculously named Balch & Bingham a leader in diversity in BBJ’s 2022 Diversity & Inclusion Awards, and named as an honoree Balch’s Managing Partner Stan Blanton.

For a law firm in which only 2 percent of their partners are people of color, where a criminal bribery scandal that targeted poor African-American children was born, and where only 11 people of color are attorneys or part of management (exactly one per office), the meritless public relations award is indeed the figment of a spin doctor’s imagination.

Frankly and vulgarly, BBJ gave Balch a BJ. The pleasure was momentary, but the price was abominable.

BBJ Publisher Joel Welker and Editor-in-Chief Stephanie Rebman join the list of Balch stooges who appear to sell their souls or amputate their brains for 30 pieces of silver or less.

More than a swollen black eye, BBJ (like Balch) has burned their reputation.

Stan Blanton, who has refused to apologize to the African-American community in North Birmingham for the criminal misconduct of ex-Balch partner Joel I. Gilbert, is probably relishing in this worthless and make-believe “honor.”

But the public isn’t buying the fabricated, pat-me-on-the-back bullshit.

The tweet announcing Blanton as a honoree received only one anonymous like and no shares or retweets.

Pathetic! Ridiculously pathetic!

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Republicans Cruz, Hawley, and Cotton suggest that Biden's nominee for judicial post has contributed to crime problem by correcting wrongful convictions

Nina Morrison

A confirmation hearing for one of President Biden's judicial nominees provided evidence that at least three U.S. senators, all Republicans, have little clue about how the U.S. criminal-justice system works. Senators Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Josh Hawley (R-Missouri), and Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) posed questions to nominee Nina Morrison that one journalist described as embarrassing.

What had the GOP trio worked up? It was Morrison's history of working with the Innocence Project, where she reportedly helped free more than 30 innocent people from prison and death row. Never mind that most third graders probably are familiar with the concept that an accused "is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law." In Morrison's case, she helped obtain justice for people who were innocent all along, even after being wrongly convicted. Writes HuffPost's Jennifer Bendery under the headline "Republicans Blame Crime On An Innocence Project Lawyer Tapped For A Judgeship; GOP senators accused Biden's court pick Nina Morrison, who has freed dozens of innocent people from prison, of fueling violent crimes. Huh?

In a hearing . . .  that was as performative as it was embarrassingly ill-informed, Senate Republicans tried to blame one of President Joe Biden’s judicial nominees — Nina Morrison, an attorney with the Innocence Project who has freed dozens of innocent people from prison — for driving up violent crime across America.

Morrison, 52, is up for a lifetime seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District Of New York. She is the senior litigation counsel at the New York-based Innocence Project, an organization focused on exonerating wrongly convicted people through DNA testing and reforming the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice.

She has been lead or co-counsel on cases that have freed more than 30 innocent people from prison and death row.

But Republicans in the Judiciary Committee went after Morrison as if she had committed the crimes that her clients were convicted of — that they didn’t actually commit, either. They tried to blame her for recent spikes in violent crimes in cities, and pressed her on whether she felt guilty about freeing people from prison who had been convicted of violent crimes, glossing over the fact that they had been exonerated by DNA evidence.

“The whole of your record is deeply disturbing,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) told Morrison.

“Across this country, Americans are horrified at skyrocketing crime rates, at skyrocketing homicide rates, at skyrocketing burglary rates, at skyrocketing carjacking rates,” he said. “All of those are the direct result of the policies you’ve spent your entire lifetime advancing.”

Hawley went even further, suggesting wrongful convictions are just part of a U.S. system based on "the rule of law:

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) told Morrison he planned to oppose her nomination, along with any other nominees the Biden administration puts forward who are “soft on crime.”

“I will oppose you and anyone else the administration sends to us who do not understand the necessity of the rule of law,” he said.

None of it made sense until you noticed a pattern in the attacks Republicans were making: First, use a judicial nomination to wage a proxy fight against progressive prosecutors, a cohort of left-leaning Democratic district attorneys who have sought reforms to the bail system, curbed enforcement of lower-level marijuana offenses and increased the use of diversion programs over jail time. Second, falsely cast these Democratic district attorneys’ policies as the reason for spikes in crime, and then tie the judicial nominee to those policies and therefore the violence.

After Cruz and Hawley sprayed brain flatulence in all directions, Cotton joined in. From a report at Salon:

Cotton, notorious for his call to set the military on George Floyd protesters, also threw out fighting words during the hearing.

"Are you proud that you encouraged such defiance in convicted murderers?" the Republican senator asked Morrison, whose work has led to the exonerations of at least 30 people who were wrongfully convicted. In one exchange, Cotton challenged Morrison over the execution of Ledell Lee, an Arkansas man who was convicted for the murder of his neighbor in 1993. Back in 2017, Morrison casted strong doubt over Lee's prosecution, which she said overlooked "significant" DNA evidence suggesting that Lee was innocent.

HuffPost's Bendery probably was on target when she wrote . . . 

The whole situation — the faux outrage, the claims that Morrison was soft on crime, the claims that Republicans were the ones who were tough on crime — was a ridiculous spectacle, given that Morrison has spent her entire career getting innocent people out of prison. 

The GOP attacks perhaps offer a preview of how Republicans on the panel plan to go after Biden’s Supreme Court nominee when she comes before the committee

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

SCOTUS allows North Birmingham bribery convictions to stand, but signs point to a renewed investigation, sniffing around some of Alabama's deepest pockets

Mike Cole, Jay Town, Mark Crosswhite

The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday denied certiorari, allowing convictions in the North Birmingham Superfund scandal to stand. The action answers a few questions, but it raises a number of others, reports Writes Publisher K.B. Forbes, under the headline "Righteous or Corrupt Verdict? SCOTUS Allows Convictions to Stand; More Indictments Coming?":

Today, the Supreme Court of the United States denied a petition for a Writ of Certiorari for ex-Balch & Bingham partner Joel I. Gilbert. The same goes for ex-Drummond executive David Roberson.

Gilbert is serving 5 years in federal prison while Roberson is serving 30 months.

Now that the crimes in the North Birmingham Bribery Scandal have been affirmed and all legal appeals have been exhausted, are more criminal indictments coming?

Forbes notes a curious comment that Assistant U.S. Attorney George Martin, lead prosecutor on the case, made after the convictions came down:

After their criminal convictions, Assistant U.S. Attorney George Martin, the lead prosecutor of the North Birmingham Bribery Case stated:

We’re happy for the citizens of Birmingham that someone is finally speaking on their behalf. We’re happy that we were able to shine a light into this dark corner of Alabama politics and clean up a little bit of the pollution that’s there. This jury has spoken valiantly that this won’t be tolerated … . This is a righteous verdict.

A little bit of the pollution?

Was Martin foreshadowing what was to come?

Martin, who transferred to Mobile after the case, was allegedly disgusted with the politics in the Birmingham Office of the U.S. Attorney of the Northern District of Alabama run by then-U.S Attorney Jay E. Town who at the time foolishly closed the hope for additional probes claiming that Gilbert and Roberson were “lone wolves” in the scandal, which many in media and law enforcement thought was pure bullshit. 

A year and three months later, jaw-dropping photos of Alabama Power CEO and ex-Balch partner Mark A. Crosswhite enjoying refreshing cocktails with U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town allegedly at the height of the criminal trial rocked the political and business establishment.

Now insiders hint that Balch, Alabama Power, Drummond, Matrix, and other Balch stooges are allegedly being investigated for possible Obstruction of Justice.

And it makes perfect sense.

The convictions might remain in place, but Forbes sees signs that the scandal is far from over:

In the summer of 2019, we met with top investigators, some working for the U.S. Department of Justice, while on a trip in Washington. As we wrote then:

While Balch & Bingham, Drummond, and their alleged corrupt allies …may be contemplating more acts of gross injustice, eagle eyes are watching and bat ears are listening to every move, every exchange, every motion.

Our contacts at DOJ told us at the time that because of their deep pockets, Alabama Power not Balch & Bingham was the problem. What gravely concerned them was the incestuous corruption in Jefferson County.

The enormous amount of politcal pressure placed by Balch boosters and allies not to indict in 2017 in the North Birmingham Bribery Scandal was unprecedented, and to some seasoned DOJ investigators, indicative of Alabama Power’s alleged deep financial pockets and alleged unchecked power.

Last year we saw similar political pressure when Alabama Power, Balch, and Drummond filed protective orders and had Roberson ‘s $75 million civil case sealed in its entirety.

The rebirth of the North Birmingham Bribery Trial caused uncontrolled panic.

Where might investigators turn? Forbes provides a number of clues:

Now a criminal investigation could open the doors wide-open at Alabama Power, exposing Crosswhite in the nude (figuratively). Investigators can then drag themselves through the raw sewage of Sloppy Joe and the Matrix Meltdown. Finally, law enforcement can hold Drummond’s “confused” General Counsel accountable and interview every member of the Drummond family.

Jay E. Town and convicted ex-State Representative Oliver Robinson will make excellent witnesses to interview and so will Mike Cole, the third man in the jaw-dropping photographs.

As we wrote two weeks ago, there is a long cast of alleged suspects and stooges, and a lengthy list of alleged criminal acts that need to be probed.

The probe won’t happen overnight and appears to have begun in late October.

The Biden Administration appears to be quietly moving ahead. The DOJ, the EPA, and the SEC each have chips in this game.

And as a final note, besides Assistant U.S. Attorney Martin transferring to Mobile, we learned that two top FBI agents involved with the North Birmingham investigation were promoted away from the corrupt cesspool of Jefferson County.

Obviously law enforcement professionals have had enough of the corrupt shenanigans in the Magic City.

But then again, who has the deep pockets to fund these corrupt shenanigans?

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

What if Nick Saban could predict Auburn's Iron Bowl playbook almost without fail? That's sort of what's happening now with Biden and Putin over Ukraine


What if University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban announced on a Thursday the first 10 plays Auburn's Bryan Harsin would run in that Saturday's Iron Bowl -- and Saban was right on the money? That's sort of what is happening now as the United States and Russia jockey for position in a possible confrontation over Ukraine. From a report at Axios:

If Russia invades Ukraine and sets off a war in the region, it will be a first of its kind. Writes Dave Lawler, under the headline "Biden and Putin are live-blogging a pre-war":

Never in the history of warfare have two sides offered a real-time, play-by-play deconstruction of movements toward imminent war.

President Biden and Vladimir Putin are each trying to shape the narrative of what is happening in Ukraine and get inside the heads of a global audience — and each other — to gain the upper hand in an information war as a possible prelude to a real one.

U.S. officials say Putin is stoking disinformation in order to blame Ukraine if Russia invades. The White House is trying to announce Putin's plays before he runs them — a novel and risky strategy they hope might stave off an invasion, or at least help unify the international community against it.

Biden more or less stated in a speech last Friday that his strategy at the moment amounts to live-blogging in a pre-war period:

Biden said Friday: "We’re calling out Russia’s plans loudly and repeatedly, not because we want a conflict, but ... to remove any reason that Russia may give to justify invading Ukraine."

U.S. officials have been releasing intelligence for weeks about alleged Russian plans to build a pretext for war. U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken took that to a new level on Wednesday by providing a step-by-step description of how the U.S. expects an invasion to unfold. That set the stage for Biden's remarkable address on Friday, in which he said he was "convinced" Putin had decided to launch a full-scale invasion to target the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv.

Moscow has alternated between mocking the dire predictions from Washington — particularly after an invasion target date, floated by U.S. officials, came and went — and condemning them as "aggression" and "information warfare" against Russia. Putin claims the U.S. is trying to bait him into invading.

So far, Blinken's insights have pretty much been on the mark. You could call him "Biden's Nick Saban." Writes Axios' Lawler:

Russia has appeared to follow the playbook Blinken laid out, as part of Moscow's own efforts to shape the narrative around the potential war.

Putin's spokesman claimed Ukraine was planning a major military offensive (despite the fact that 150,000 Russian troops are massed on its borders). Russian officials and state media circulated purported evidence to back Putin's recent claim that a "genocide" is taking place in eastern Ukraine.

Russian-backed separatists in the Donbas region began shelling Ukrainian-held territory while also announcing an evacuation of civilians due to the purported threat from Ukraine.

Putin has surprised the world before, but that's not likely to happen this time:

Reports on Friday that a separatist police chief's car was bombed chimed with Blinken's warning that Russia would fabricate "terrorist attacks" and blame Ukraine.

All of this came after a remarkable head fake from Putin earlier in the week. In televised meetings with top officials, he announced Russia would pull troops back from the border and focus on diplomacy. U.S. officials say that hasn't happened.

If Putin's media strategy is to sow confusion, Biden's is to speak with an almost jarring clarity about what he expects from Russia. The Biden administration has been flooding the airwaves. State Department officials did 16 interviews last Tuesday alone in U.S., Ukrainian and European media. Blinken has been on TV almost continually. Biden made two televised addresses in the span of four days, and used the first to prepare Americans for higher energy prices in the event of war. The administration appears to have taken a lesson from Afghanistan, where it failed to anticipate or prepare the public for a swift Taliban takeover.

Putin, meanwhile, used a joint appearance with Belarusian President Aleksander Lukashenko on Friday to prepare Russians for sanctions, which he claimed would be applied whether there was a war in Ukraine or not. On Saturday, he personally oversaw massive nuclear drills.

The world was caught by surprise when Putin moved into Crimea in 2014 and Georgia in 2008. No one will be surprised if he invades Ukraine again.

Monday, February 21, 2022

Administrators at Auburn and U of Alabama face job-related fallout after being implicated in misconduct involving prostitution and sexual harassment

Myron Pope
High-level administrators at Alabama's two largest universities are facing employment fallout after being implicated in sex-related misconduct.

Myron Pope, vice president for student life at the University of Alabama resigned after being arrested for soliciting prostitution. Pope was one of 15 people arrested during a sting operation in the Tuscaloosa area.

On the other side of the state, Richard Hansen resigned as dean at Auburn University's pharmacy school after allegations that he had sexually harassed a female student. Hansen retained his position as a tenured faculty member of pharmacy.

Pope's arrest was the result of an area-wide law-enforcement effort in West Alabama. From a report at

The investigation that led to the arrest of Myron Pope, the vice president of student life at the University of Alabama, also landed 14 other people in jail, the authorities said Saturday.

Pope, who is also a former Crimson Tide football player, resigned after the West Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force charged him with soliciting prostitution.

In a press release on Saturday, Capt. Phil Simpson, the task force commander, said 15 men were arrested on Thursday and Friday nights after arranging to pay for sex through an app. When the men arrived at an agreed upon location, they spoke with an undercover officer, Simpson said.

Pope was booked into the Tuscaloosa County jail on Thursday and released after posting $1,000 bail.

The authorities have not released the other men’s names. Simpson said all of the men are charged with a misdemeanor count of soliciting prostitution, though some face additional felony charges.

“If buyers were not seeking commercial sexual services, sex trafficking would no longer be profitable,” Simpson said in a press release. “We hope these operations targeting buyers show that we take this very seriously. Our goal is to prevent future exploitation of human trafficking victims who are forced or coerced into prostitution.” 

The university announced Pope's resignation in a statement on Friday, and President Stuart Bell said he would appoint an interim vice president of student life:

Pope had held the position since May of 2020. He previously worked for the university as a clinical assistant professor in the higher education administrative program, according to a press release announcing his appointment. He also served as director of recruitment programs/alternative certification from 1997-2000.

In 1992, Pope was a walk-on member of the Crimson Tide football team that beat Miami to win the national championship.

At Auburn, allegations against Hansen came to light after a report in the student newspaper. From

Richard Hansen, the dean of Auburn University’s pharmacy school, has resigned from his role as dean, the university announced in a campus email Friday.

The change came a day after The Auburn Plainsman student newspaper published a report about alleged sexual harassment by Hansen against a student.

“The creation and maintenance of a safe environment for our students will always be the highest priority for Auburn,” university officials said in the campus-wide email. “The university prohibits sexual harassment and addresses all reports under its policies, including allegations of off-campus conduct when appropriate.”

Hansen remains a tenured professor in the college, according to a university spokesman, who said that disciplinary action regarding faculty, up to and including dismissal, are handled according to the faculty handbook, but declined to comment further.

The email did not detail the allegations against Hansen or whether any of them were found to be credible or were related to his departure.

Hansen became dean in 2017. He did not respond to a request for comment from, and has not been able to independently verify The Plainsman’s reporting.

The allegations against Hansen reportedly involve off-campus conduct:

The Plainsman reported Thursday that in April 2021, Hansen made inappropriate comments to a student working at an off-campus bar. After she complained to the university, she said he again came to the bar and made her uncomfortable.

Richard Hansen

According to The Plainsman, the Title IX office investigated the incident, found the complaint credible, and said that Hansen had “created an intimidating and offensive University environment for [the student].” It is not clear whether Hansen ever received disciplinary action at the time; The Plainsman story details conflicting reports about how the school handled the incident under its policy for off-                                                                              campus Title IX violations. In 2020, new federal guidance led many universities to adjust previous Title IX guidance and change oversight of off-campus harassment and assaults.

Prof. Dan Surry has been named acting dean of pharmacy at Auburn.

Thursday, February 17, 2022

Rebirth of David Roberson's $75-million lawsuit against Balch draws coverage from Bloomberg, with focus on misrepresentation and concealment

Bloomberg terminal

The full rebirth of David Roberson's $75-million lawsuit against his former employer, Drummond Company, and Balch & Bingham has drawn the attention of the national media. The Roberson case came roaring back to life on January 21 when the Alabama Supreme Court reversed itself . . . and found a Jefferson County circuit judge wrongfully dismissed . . . claims against the Birmingham law firm. Drummond already had failed in its efforts to be dismissed from the lawsuit, so the 1/21 ruling means Roberson's $75-million lawsuit will move forward against both the coal giant and its law firm.

The reversal did not escape the attention of Bloomberg News, according to a report at (BB). Writes BB Publisher K.B. Forbes:

We called the Alabama Supreme Court decision on ex-Drummond executive David Roberson’s $75 million civil suit a possible “lethal blow” to embattled law firm Balch & Bingham.

Now the national media has begun focusing on the narrative and the initial reports appear to be devastating.

Bloomberg News writes:

Roberson sued [Balch & Bingham] and his former employer in March 2019, alleging negligence, fraud, suppression, and implied imdemnity against the firm.

Alabama’s top court…grant[ed] an application for rehearing on claims against Balch & Bingham for misrepresention and concealment based on allegations that Roberson had previously asked the firm’s in-house ethics attorneys if the plan for which he was convicted was legal.

Misrepresention and concealment are stinging words but accurate.

Forbes traces the Bloomberg report to the testimony of Balch attorney Chad Pilcher in the North Birmingham Superfund bribery trial:

During Day 11 (July 11, 2018) of the criminal trial of the North Birmingham Bribery Scandal, we posted:

The real bomb that dropped today was that of Chad Pilcher, a Balch & Bingham government affairs attorney who testified that he warned [Balch partner] Joel Gilbert about using State Representative Oliver Robinson’s position or letterhead. Pilcher regularly consults with the Alabama Ethics Commission, he testified.

John Archibald of tweet[ed]:

Pilcher said he warned Gilbert that Robinson could not use his official position or letterhead to help. Gilbert, documents show, edited Robinson’s position into letters sent in Robinson’s name.

Pilcher is the first Balch lawyer on the stand who remembers his advice and involvement, and who recalls the Robinson contract and states his questions about pitfalls of hiring a legislator to carry your water. Was worried that Robinson himself broke the law, so he told Gilbert.

Kyle Whitmire commented that the testimony not only hurts the defendants, it “makes the defense attorneys look stupid. This whole trial, they’ve been setting up Pilcher to be the guy who gave the OK.”

Things got even messier when another Balch attorney, Joel Gilbert, took the stand:

Two days later on Day 13 of the trial (July 16, 2018) , Gilbert was grilled by the prosecution. As we wrote at the time:

John Archibald of tweets what appears to be the most damning exchanges:

Gilbert wrote letters for Shelby, Sessions, he said. For Mayor Tuck in Tarrant and resolutions for Jeffco and Tarrant. And more. Only elected official B/B had contract with was Oliver Robinson, he says.

Gilbert acknowledges he didn’t talk to his firm’s “ethics people” (Greg Butrus) until at least a year after he contracted Oliver Robinson. Didn’t tell the “ethics people” Robinson met with EPA and AEMC etc. etc.

Although Roberson’s lawsuit is under seal, locked away in a secret Star Chamber, the testimony at the criminal trial was stunning and hit hard.

Balch-made millionaire Gilbert appears to have concealed the truth from Roberson. Balch says in court pleadings that the firm “owed no duty” to Roberson and while Balch attorneys testify that misleading or lying to Roberson with wrong or untruthful advice is a bona-fide legal service.

Bona-fide idiots, indeed!

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Bill Pryor and Clarence Thomas appear to be touting a story that law clerk Crystal Clanton's racist messages were fakes, but does their revised version hold up?

Crystal Claton, with Clarence and Ginni Thomas

The story of Crystal Clanton, hired as a law clerk by U.S. Circuit Judge Bill Pryor (of Alabama) despite texts in which she wrote of hating black people, has taken on a new twist: that Clanton was the victim of fake messages. But Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus says the revised story contains serious holes and ultimately is "unconvincing." Writes Marcus:

“Why is a prominent federal judge hiring a law clerk who said she hates Black people?” asked the headline on a column I wrote in October. Now, the story has resurfaced, with a surprising, belated — and, in my view, ultimately unconvincing — new defense: The bigoted texts were faked.

The clerk in question is Crystal Clanton, a student at the Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University, selected for a coveted clerkship with William H. Pryor Jr., the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit. Clanton’s selection was unsettling because she had been featured in a 2017 New Yorker story about the conservative student group Turning Point USA.

The story, by reporter Jane Mayer, included quotes from texts apparently sent by Clanton to a fellow Turning Point employee, John Ryan O’Rourke.

I have seen a screenshot of the texts, I include them here to help readers judge for themselves whether the content seems genuine.

Clanton: “I HATE BLACK PEOPLE” “Like f--- them all,” with the expletive spelled out.

O’Rourke: “Well, that’s certainly direct”

Clanton: “Are u free”

O’Rourke: “At Starbucks right now” “What happened”

Clanton: “Can I come to Starbucks in 5?”

O’Rourke: “Yes”

Clanton: “Are u with ppl”

When Mayer asked her about them, Clanton told her, “I have no recollection of these messages and they do not reflect what I believe or who I am and the same was true when I was a teenager.” (Clanton was 20 when the texts were sent in November 2015.)

Clanton's employer at the time took the messages seriously:

Turning Point president Charlie Kirk, asked about the toxic texts, told Mayer that “Turning Point assessed the situation and took decisive action within 72 hours of being made aware of the issue.”

Kirk spokesman Andrew Kolvet reaffirmed the New Yorker’s account when I wrote about Clanton’s departure last year, and repeated in a conversation Saturday that she was “terminated from Turning Point after the discovery of problematic texts.”

Meanwhile, efforts to defend Clanton were pretty much nonexistent -- and evidence against her was piling up. Writes Marcus:

Before writing the October column, I made certain, by emailing Clanton and through representatives of Scalia Law, that Clanton knew I was writing; I received no response; I also emailed Pryor, who did not reply.

In short: At no point before or after publication of the New Yorker story was there any public dispute that Clanton had sent the texts at issue. Neither Clanton nor her lawyer, to whom Mayer spoke at the time, suggested that there was any fabrication. Indeed, O’Rourke confirmed their authenticity to Mayer.

Meanwhile, other claims of disturbing behavior surfaced. The website Mediaite reported in 2018 that Clanton had been hired by conservative activist Ginni Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, whom she had met at Turning Point. The Mediaite story described a Snapchat message featuring “a photo of a man who appears to be Arab and a caption written by Clanton that reads, ‘Just thinking about ways to do another 9/11.’”

Congress took note that Pryor had hired Clanton, but a subsequent investigation -- conducted in the judiciary -- appears to have been a whitewash:

After news reports about Pryor’s hiring of Clanton, seven House Democrats filed a complaint against Pryor and a district court judge who had also hired Clanton. The complaint was transferred to the 2nd Circuit, which disclosed last week that Chief Judge Debra Ann Livingston had dismissed the complaint in December.

Notably, the 2nd Circuit order affirming the dismissal makes clear that it did not decide “whether the information the Judges elicited and received regarding their hiring decisions was accurate, but only that they committed no misconduct in performing due diligence and then determining to hire the candidate based on the information before them.”

Here is where things get interesting. Reporting on the dismissal, Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Bill Rankin unearthed letters that aren’t in the public file but were submitted to the court by Pryor and Justice Thomas.

The Thomas letter, which offers a fascinating look at the close relationship Clanton had with the couple, describes how “Crystal came to live with us and work with my wife about three years ago after her controversial and public departure from Turning Point USA … My wife informed me of the horrible way in which she had been treated at Turning Point and asked that she be allowed to live with us. I agreed, and she lived with us for almost a year.”

Thomas relates how he encouraged Clanton, “understandably distraught and depressed,” to go to law school; recommended her when she applied to law school; and then suggested her to Pryor as a clerk, informing him of “the grossly out of character and unfounded allegations against her.” Thomas concludes, “It is certainly my intention to consider her for a clerkship should she perform as I expect and excel in her clerkships.”

The notion that Clanton had been falsely accused of racist behavior apparently originated with Pryor. Writes Marcus:

The Pryor letter goes into more detail. “Before I hired her, I determined, after careful investigation, that Crystal had been a victim of a false accusation of racist behavior by a tabloid reporter whose central accusation relied entirely on an anonymous source in her scandalous report.” Of Mayer, Pryor states, “I was familiar with the reporter who published that initial report, and I distrusted her work.”

With all due respect, this is unfair. The New Yorker is no tabloid; its fact-checking is legendary. I know firsthand how careful and tenacious a reporter Mayer is. Her sourcing was neither anonymous nor based on a single individual: O’Rourke acknowledged receiving the messages and declined to comment on them, and Kirk, the Turning Point president, confirmed to Mayer that they were the reason for Clanton’s termination.

The most intriguing twist in Pryor’s account involves Kirk. Pryor’s letter says that Thomas told him that Turning Point “determined that a rogue employee had compromised the accounts of several co-workers, including Crystal, to make it appear that they had engaged in misconduct when they had not. Justice Thomas explained that Turning Point fired that rogue employee.”

Pryor says he investigated further — after the controversy over Clanton’s hiring arose. An attorney who had advised Clanton shared that “one of the reasons Crystal has not publicly denied the allegation against her was that she is bound by a nondisclosure agreement with her former employer,” Pryor wrote.

He said he asked for and received a letter from Kirk asserting that “Crystal was the victim of a smear campaign launched by disgruntled ex-employees and carried out by negligent journalists.” The Kirk letter says he fired a Turning Point employee “after learning that he created fake text messages to be used against other employees” — although it does not specifically say, at least in the part quoted by Pryor, that the Clanton messages were among those fakes.

Pryor, it appears, was determined to stand in Clanton's corner, no matter what:

Pryor complained about “false insinuations” against Clanton. “For example, the New Yorker used Kirk’s comment that ‘Turning Point assessed the situation and took decisive action within 72 hours of being made aware of the issue’ to corroborate the charge that Crystal sent the inflammatory message,” he wrote. “But the ‘decisive action’ that Kirk took was to fire a rogue employee for fabricating the racist messages.” That is not accurate, based on Mayer’s reporting and my own.

What to make of all this? Was Clanton somehow the victim of phony texts and felt unable to refute the allegations because of a nondisclosure agreement? That seems unlikely, especially given that she felt free enough to say to Mayer that “I have no recollection of these messages.”

This is not the defiant response one would expect if the texts had been made up and another employee fired for concocting them. Indeed, little about this 11th-hour assertion makes sense. I have repeatedly emailed and texted O’Rourke and other former Turning Point employees in an effort to figure out what happened. “Not fake,” responded one, who otherwise declined to elaborate.

“I don’t believe for a second somebody hacked that — that’s literally how she talked on other subjects. She would say ‘I hate this, I hate all of this.’” said Gabrielle Fequiere, who described herself as Turning Point’s only Black employee and said she was fired by Clanton on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2016. Fequiere recalls having several former colleagues share the texts with her shortly afterward.

 Marcus suspects political considerations might have entered the picture:

Another possible explanation? Maybe Kirk concluded that it was not smart to get so crosswise with a Supreme Court justice and his influential spouse, and was trying to find a way to make amends, with Clanton and the Thomases. I have asked Kolvet repeatedly for an explanation of Kirk’s diverging accounts; he has declined to make Kirk available or provide any other response.

With the 2nd Circuit’s action, we now know definitively that Pryor was aware of Clanton’s background before he hired her, and that he took steps to reassure himself that the allegations against her were untrue — even if those steps, before the uncomfortable publicity, mostly consisted of checking in with those already on team Clanton.

We now know that Clanton appears well on her way to the ultimate credential for a young lawyer, a Supreme Court clerkship.

What’s less clear is that Clanton is the innocent victim of a terrible injustice, as Pryor and Thomas so confidently assert.