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The memory of a beloved pet inspires one couple's fight against injustice.

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    Paula Poskon

    A prominent Wall Street analyst recently expressed alarm about reports that the CEO of a company with a $380-million IPO has ties to cases of child abuse. The analyst promised to research the matter and said investors would be "very concerned" about such issues.

    The same analyst changed her tune considerably in a followup conversation. Paula Poskon, of Robert W. Baird and Company,  essentially now says that child-abuse issues connected to Campus Crest Communities CEO Ted Rollins are no big deal, and investors aren't particularly concerned about them.

    Poskon made it clear in my initial interview with her that she was genuinely concerned about reports that Rollins had been convicted for assault on his 16-year-old stepson, and two years earlier, had been the subject of an investigation for child sexual abuse of the same stepson. Upon learning about Rollins' documented ties to child abuse, Poskon audibly gasped and said, "Oh, my God."

    Poskon also stated that she intended to look into the matter: "Oh, my God, I was not aware of any of that. . . . It certainly sounds like I need to do a lot more digging."

    After sending Poskon copies of public documents and published reports about Rollins' ties to child abuse, and giving her an opportunity to digest the information, I had another conversation with her. This time, her stance was pretty much one of, "This is a personal matter involving Mr. Rollins, and it really doesn't concern us here on Wall Street." (See video at the end of this post.)

    Why the dramatic change in tone? Do investors and Wall Street analysts really take such a cavalier approach to matters of child abuse, even in the wake of the headline-grabbing Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State?

    We still are trying to sort out the answers to such questions. But the change in Paula Poskon's tone was unmistakable. And she left the distinct impression that she had no intention of conducting serious research on the matter.

    This came after she earlier had acknowledged that the child-abuse issue was of particular concern because Campus Crest builds and manages student-housing complexes that are marketed to students near universities. In other words, Ted Rollins' primary market is young people--even though he has a documented history of abusive relationships with young people.

    How might we summarize Paula Poskon's new stance on Ted Rollins' ties to child abuse? It's a matter of "he said/she said" and the simple fallout from "messy divorce proceedings"--"and a lot of executives have messy divorces."

    Does Poskon now expect us to take her seriously on this, or any other, subject? We're not sure, but here are some nuggets from my followup conversation with her.

    If issues related to child abuse don't matter to investors, what does attract their attention?

    Let's just make a hypothetical: If one of my storage-company executives was arrested for drunk driving, or hurt somebody in a drunk-driving accident . . . or something like that, of course investors would view that very seriously and probably would look to the board to say, "How are you going to deal with this . . . ?"  
    There are situations where executives are held accountable, where investors really care and the way they show they care is by walking with their feet—they sell their investments. But when things start to branch into personal lives, where it can be construed as "he said/she  said" or messy divorce proceedings, . . . to the extent where it's something recent and major--that the person’s ability to continue to execute their obligations as an executive of a public company were called into question--investors would be all over that. . . .  
    But my sense is that when it gets into the grayer area of "he said/she said"—a lot of executives have had messy, ugly divorces . . . —investors are much more prone to draw a healthy line and distance.

    So drunk driving is to be taken seriously, but child abuse is not? I noted to Poskon that such a stance was quite different from her original statements on the issue. I also noted that, aside from the child-abuse issues, public documents show that Ted Rollins lied under oath on a child-support document. That is recent, it goes to criminal conduct, and it goes to Ted Rollins' integrity--even if he hasn't been prosecuted for it, yet. Poskon hinted that investors care about criminal conduct only if someone is prosecuted for it:

    If someone did (prosecute it), my guess is that investors would pay attention to that, but no one has, and we’re not in position to opine on the circumstances; only courts and appropriate authorities can do that. I think the investment community will err on the side of drawing a clear line between corporate and personal lives, where there is lot of ambiguity around the circumstances. . . . People, I think, are sort of, “Well, can’t infer too much from that because we don’t know the circumstances. . . . " 
    But in a situation like I outlined, where a CEO demolishes his car for drunk driving, or is arrested for soliciting prostitution--something that is completely over the line of good judgment and moral turpitude and all the things we think about in terms of public-company officials? Would investors care? Of course, they would. But looking back and making a judgment from that vs. how the person is leading a company today . . . is probably a much bigger stretch for investors to make, and they probably would be unlikely to do that.

    Now we know that drunk driving and soliciting prostitution are seen as bad, conduct that reflects badly on a executive's character. Child abuse and perjury? Ah,  not so much. Here's more from Poskon on the values of Wall Street:

    Let me put it differently: I haven’t gotten any inbound calls. Nobody has called me and said, “Geez, I did a Google search and found all this stuff on this guy named Ted Rollins. What’s up with that . . . ?
    I have the sense, with no scientific approach, just anecdotally . . . to the extent that anybody knows about any of this stuff, people apparently aren’t worried about it, or don’t care about it, or have appropriately discounted it in some fashion in their own views around investing in the stock.



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    Mulberry Fork intake facility

    The governing board of the University of Alabama soon is expected to make a decision that could have an adverse impact on the drinking water for more than 200,000 people in the Birmingham metro area.

    The controversy about proposed strip mining near the Mulberry Fork has been extensively covered in the local press. If approved, the project would discharge wastewater only 800 feet from a major drinking-water intake facility for the Birmingham Water Works Board.

    Floating under the radar is background information about Paul Bryant Jr., who serves as president of the University of Alabama Board of Trustees. The board owns most of the 1,773 acres at the mining site, and a recent al.com op-ed piece by Black Warrior Waterkeeper Nelson Brooke says a decision is expected any day.

    If the trustees approve Shepherd Bend LLC's plan to strip mine in the area, one of Birmingham's primary sources of drinking water could be at risk. Do members of the UA board possess the kind of forward thinking that is needed to handle such a tricky issue? Public records suggest the answer is no. In fact, records indicate that Paul Bryant Jr. has no business serving on any board that manages public resources.

    That's because Bryant has documented ties to a massive insurance-fraud scheme that led to a 15-year federal prison sentence in the late 1990s for a Pennsylvania lawyer/entrepreneur named Allen W. Stewart.
    (By the way, a source tells Legal Schnauzer that Stewart was released from federal prison in early 2011, so he now is a free man; His sentence was due to run through 2012 and into 2013, but he was eligible for an early release.)

    One of Bryant's companies, Alabama Reassurance, was implicated in at least nine counts involving a $15-million financial scam. Alabama Re has since been liquidated, along with its $238 million in admitted assets, and replaced with a company called Alabama Life Reinsurance.

    Why was Alabama Re liquidated, and what happened to that money? Why were Paul Bryant Jr. and his associates never held accountable for their documented ties to insurance fraud? How could Bryant, given his sketchy background, wind up as president of a university governing board? Is the public aware that a man with a history of fraud might cast the key vote in a decision that could befoul a major source of drinking water?

    Paul Bryant Jr.
    We've been asking those questions for months now, but the public seems mainly interested in Bryant's connections to Alabama football, which he has helped restore to its status as a national powerhouse. After all, Bryant played a major role in the hiring of Coach Nick Saban, who has led the Crimson Tide to two national titles, and counting. Citizens, however, might want to pay attention to the Mulberry Fork issue--before it's too late. Writes Nelson Brooke:

    This should be a simple decision. It makes absolutely no sense to mine coal at Shepherd Bend and pollute a major source of Birmingham's drinking water. Protection of drinking water sources is critical and necessary. There is no better way to ensure clean drinking water for future generations. 
    UA Trustees have the ability to do the right thing, but will they? They expressed interest in allowing coal mining on this property back in 2007. 
    Since then, the necessary coal mining permits have been issued to Drummond (owner of Shepherd Bend LLC). Two permits are under appeal, one by Black Warrior Riverkeeper and Southern Environmental Law Center and the other by the Birmingham Water Works Board. Although these appeals are currently under way, mining could start any day.

    What is at stake? Several local entities have been fighting the push for strip mining in an environmentally sensitive area. But does the public at large get it? Writes Brooke:

    A coalition including Black Warrior Riverkeeper, the Birmingham City Council, local businesses, citizens, students, student organizations and nonprofit organizations across the state have been asking the University of Alabama System Trustees to go ahead and condemn the possibility of allowing Drummond Company, or any mining company, to mine coal on their property at Shepherd Bend -- to no avail. There is no good reason for the UA System Trustees to wait on taking a stance any longer. Our water is too precious a resource for indecision. 
    If you or your business use tap water for drinking, bathing, cooking, gardening, or anything, you are a stakeholder in this decision. If you care about your fellow Alabamians and think we all deserve clean water, then get involved in this important battle before it is too late. Allowing a coal mine this close to a public water source sets a terrible precedent in the state of Alabama.

    I would echo Brooke's words and add the following: Citizens need to take a close look at the backgrounds of individuals who serve on the UA board. The thought of Paul Bryant Jr. being involved in a decision related to critical natural resources should give anyone pause.

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    The Grove at Orono, Maine

    Campus Crest Communities in September opened one of its newest locations of The Grove, at the University of Maine. Less than three months after its opening, the student-housing complex is being described in unflattering terms.

    In an op-ed piece for The Maine Campus newspaper, UM student Dodge Tucker used words such as "mayhem," "chaos," and "debauchery" to describe his experience as a resident at The Grove.

    We have shown in a series of posts that Campus Crest CEO Ted Rollins has a history of abusive actions  in several arenas, including the legal, personal, and corporate. Quite a bit of the ugliness is centered here in Alabama, where Campus Crest has four locations of The Grove. On the personal and legal front, Rollins played a central role in an Alabama divorce case we've called the worst courtroom cheat job in our experience. For good measure, Rollins even has been convicted or implicated in at least two cases of child abuse in North Carolina.

    The nastiness seems to have infected the environment at The Grove complexes. Homicides, shootings, and car jackings seem to be among the "fully loaded" activities that Campus Crest touts in its advertising. And let's not forget a balcony collapse that severely injured three young people in Denton, Texas.

    Such incidents has been limited mostly to Campus Crest facilities in the South. But now they are creeping into New England, and Dodge Tucker reports that "fully loaded" living at The Grove in Orono, Maine, is more than he bargained for. From Tucker's op-ed piece:

    Imagine walking out of your apartment to see someone lying on the ground, bleeding profusely, his eyes rolling back in his head with people surrounding him, frantically calling 911. That was the scene I witnessed Friday night at The Grove, and that was only a part of what went down. 
    When you look outside and see a fire truck, ambulance, three police cruisers and security vehicles, you know something is up, and whatever it is, it’s probably not good. I threw on some shoes and decided to take a closer look. After passing the kid who was being tended to by EMTs at this point, I continued to see why all the police officers were there. Out of nowhere, two kids sprinted by me as if their lives depended on it and in not-so-hot pursuit were at least three cops who appeared very winded. This was absolute mayhem. 
    I continued on when all of a sudden a door whipped open and a fight spilled out onto the sidewalk. By now more cops had arrived and quickly responded to the fight by breaking it up and trying to cool things down.

    Sounds like fun, doesn't it? And that's not all. Here's more from Tucker:

    I eventually headed back inside, as it was getting late and I figured all of the action was over — but no. Hearing yelling, I looked outside my bedroom window to a huge mob of cops sprinting after someone in-between buildings. 
    Uncontrolled chaos was The Grove in a nutshell this past weekend. Security has been becoming more lax and the gates haven’t been used in what seems like over a month, allowing anyone and everyone who wants to come in and out the complete freedom to do so. 
    Ever since that first move-in weekend, security has had less and less of a presence in The Grove. I am not saying that I support being questioned everywhere I go, but for the overall safety and peace of mind of everyone living here, some sort of order needs to be maintained.

    Are Dodge Tucker and other UMaine students waiting on Ted Rollins to take actions that will bring a sense of stability and well-being to The Grove in Orono? If so, our research indicates they are in for quite a wait.

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    G. John Durward

    An Alabama attorney committed multiple violations of ethics and procedural rules when he filed a divorce complaint on behalf of Ted Rollins in Shelby County Circuit Court.

    G. John Durward Jr., from the Birmingham firm Durward and Cromer, filed the complaint against Sherry Carroll Rollins, even though she already had filed for divorce in Greenville, South Carolina. Sherry and Ted Rollins lived in Greenville with their daughters, Sarah and Emma, at the time Ms. Rollins initiated divorce proceedings, citing infidelity as one of the grounds. South Carolina indisputably was the proper venue, and the ongoing case had been litigated there for three years at the time Durward filed a complaint in Alabama. (See document at the end of this post.)

    Durward's actions violated multiple provisions of the Alabama Rules of Professional Conduct (ARPC), which theoretically govern the actions of lawyers in our state. Durward also violated at least one provision of the Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure (ARCP).

    Why has Durward never been held accountable for flagrant misconduct? It's probably because he represented a moneyed client who has ties to one of Alabama's most powerful law firms. It also probably helped that Circuit Judge D. Al Crowson went along with the charade, issuing a judgment that was so one sided in Ted Rollins' favor that his ex wife and two daughters wound up on food stamps.

    All sorts of procedural and case law states that Durward could not lawfully file a divorce action on Ted Rollins' behalf in Alabama. A case styled Wesson v. Wesson, 628 So. 2d 953 (Ala. Civ. App., 1993) perhaps says it best:

    Once jurisdiction has attached in one court, that court has the exclusive right to continue its exercise of power until the completion of the case, and is only subject to appellate authority.

    This is the kind of fundamental material that is taught in Law School 101. If John Durward is unaware of this concept, he has no business having a law license. So why did he file a bogus divorce complaint in Alabama, a state that had no authority under the law to hear the case?

    Perhaps we can answer that question with another question: Does money talk in Alabama courts? The answer appears to be yes, and G. John Durward Jr. surely knew it. Ted Rollins is CEO of Campus Crest Communities, and he belongs to one of America's wealthiest families--the folks behind Orkin Pest Control, Dover Downs Gaming and Entertainment, and RPC Inc. (formerly Rollins Energy Services). Ted Rollins corporate law firm is Birmingham-based Bradley Arant.

    Is that why John Durward felt free to take unlawful actions on his client's behalf? That's how it looks from here.

    Durward trampled at least two provisions of the Alabama Rules of Professional Conduct. Let's take a closer look:

    ARPC Rule 3.1--Meritorious Claims and Contentions

    The rule states in part: "In his representation of a client, a lawyer shall not file a suit, assert a position, conduct a defense, delay a trial, or take action on behalf of the lawyer's client when the lawyer knows or when it is obvious that such action would serve merely to harass or maliciously injure another."

    Were Sherry Rollins and her daughters "maliciously injured" by the unlawful outcome of Rollins v. Rollins in Shelby County, Alabama? Ms. Rollins' on-camera statements to us clearly indicate the answer is yes.

    The comment section to Rule 3.1 makes this succinct statement: "The advocate has a duty to use legal procedure for the fullest benefit of the client's cause, but also a duty not to abuse legal procedure."

    Did Ted Rollins have a cause, under the law, in Alabama? No, he did not. Did John Durward abuse legal procedure by bringing such a groundless complaint? Yes, he did.


    ARPC Rule 3.3--Candor Toward the Tribunal

    The rule states in part: "A lawyer shall not knowingly fail to disclose a material fact to a tribunal when disclosure is necessary to avoid assisting a criminal or fraudulent act by the client."

    Let's check out the complaint that Durward filed on Ted Rollins' behalf. (See document below.) Nowhere does it state that the two parties already are engaged in a divorce proceeding, initiated by Ms. Rollins, in South Carolina. Is that a material fact? Given that the South Carolina case precludes action in Alabama, it's hard to imagine a more material fact. Did Durward's failure to disclose this material fact assist a fraudulent act by the client? Ted Rollins was facing a bench warrant for his failure to pay child support for almost three years in South Carolina, and filing of the Alabama case helped him escape possible arrest. That tells us that Durward did assist his client in committing an unlawful and fraudulent act.


    ARCP Rule 11--Signing of Pleadings, Motions, Or Other Papers

    This rule is a building block of courtroom procedure in all jurisdictions, at all levels. It's equivalent is present in all states and in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The concept is simple: A lawyer is required to sign every motion or paper he files, and his signature "constitutes a certificate . . .  that the attorney has read the pleading, motion, or other paper" and "that to the best of the attorney's knowledge, information, and belief, there is good ground to support it." The rule goes on to state that if a paper is signed "with intent to defeat the purpose of this rule," it may be stricken as "sham and false," and the action may proceed as if the paper had never been served.

    Consider some of the statements in the complaint that John Durward filed on Ted Rollins' behalf. In the interest of clarity, we will substitute the names of the parties where the complaint uses the terms "Plaintiff" and "Defendant." (For the record, Ted Rollins was the plaintiff in the Alabama case, with Sherry Rollins as defendant; the reverse was true in the original complaint that was filed in South Carolina.)

    4. (Ted Rollins) states that he is a fit and proper person to have the care, custody and control of said minor children. . . .  
    6. (Ted Rollins) states that (Sherry Rollins) is financially able to pay (Ted Rollins) support and maintenance for the minor children of the parties herein. 
    7. (Ted Rollins) states that (Sherry Rollins) is financially able to pay (Ted Rollins) alimony herein. 
    8. (Ted Rollins) states that (Sherry Rollins) is financially able to pay (Ted Rollins') attorney a reasonable amount for his representation of (Ted Rollins) in this cause.

    Perhaps John Durward was using the complaint to test material for his future career as a stand-up comedian. If so, he produced some real knee-slappers.

    Ted Rollins is the "fit and proper person" to have care and custody of two minor children? Ted Rollins illustrated this by failing to pay court-ordered child support for almost three years in South Carolina. Hah!

    Sherry Rollins is to pay child support to Ted Rollins, the man who had a bench warrant for his arrest because he failed to pay court-ordered child support for three years? Snort!

    Sherry Rollins is to pay alimony to Ted Rollins, even though she was a stay-at-home mother during most of the marriage and he was president/CEO of at least two corporations and owned multiple private jet craft? Guffaw!

    Sherry Rollins is to pay Ted Rollins' attorney fees? Snort, snort--milk coming from nose!

    John Durward had to know there were no grounds to support Ted Rollins complaint, given the case could not lawfully be heard in Alabama. Under Rule 11, the complaint should have been dismissed as "sham and false."

    Do you want to read more of John Durward's comedic efforts? Check out the complaint he filed in Rollins v. Rollins. And ask yourself: How on earth is this guy a "member in good standing" of the Alabama State Bar?

      Rollins Ted's Complaint

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    Luther Strange

    Are bones buried on the campus of Alabama State University in Montgomery? What about whole skeletons?

    The answer to those questions might be yes, according to a new report in The Montgomery Independent. And the report states that those bones might be traced to Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange and U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL).

    Editor and Publisher Bob Martin, in an article dated December 6, notes that Alabama State trustees last week placed new president Joseph Silver on paid leave. That came after Silver told the board he had discovered contracts in which "the deliverables are not readily seen and accountability has not been demanded." When Silver sought more information, he reportedly was told not to push his inquiry any further, and then was placed on leave.

    Who might have benefited from such bogus contracts. Martin addresses that issue, on several fronts:

    A few weeks ago I reported about a $100,000 campaign contribution Atty. Gen. Luther Strange accepted from the Poarch Creek Indian Casinos in 2010. Now it appears he also accepted near that same amount under a contract with Alabama State University (ASU) during that same campaign for the office of attorney general. 
    I have been told by more than one source that Strange did little or no work for the school, which is now embroiled in a controversy over the attempted firing of its newly hired president who has threatened to reveal bones buried on the ASU campus dealing with contracts and other matters.

    What implications could this have? Martin spells it out:

    A question must then follow as to whether or not some of those bones are associated with the attorney general, and if so, will they be brought before his very own grand jury panel, a panel which was put together initially several months back to investigate possible illegal actions of state office holders. One Montgomery wag has said that prosecution threat was probably referencing office holders who happened to be Democrats. The grand jury is still hanging around, but I am not aware of any indictments it has returned.

    If this leads to Luther Strange, where else might it lead? Martin has some fascinating thoughts on that subject:

    It has been revealed to me that U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions has also been the recipient of substantial contributions or payments from ASU. If so, could these also be among the bones that are suggested to have been buried on the campus in Montgomery? No other political names have been mentioned at this point, but I would wager there are plenty of others who should be curious about what may be protruding from the burial site of those bones.

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    Trends in Southern migration

    Americans have elected a black president for a second time, and voters in the South have proven staunchly opposed to the idea. With Florida being the only state in the Deep South to go for Barack Obama in 2012, it would seem our region is out of step with the rest of the country.

    But guess which region is attracting more newcomers than any other. If you guessed the South, you are right on target. And if you are confused by that seeming incongruity, you are not alone.

    According to a new report from Facing South and the Institute for Southern Studies, the South is the leading destination for those who move between states. Is the South's adherence to a hard-nosed form of conservative politics a turn off for many Americans? Maybe so, but it doesn't keep people from moving here. From the Facing South report:

    Not as many people are moving between states as they were in earlier decades, but those who do move are choosing to move to the South. 
    In fact, according to new Census Bureau data released this week, the Southern region of the United States is the only one to show a net gain in migration over the last five years, growing at the expense of states in the Northeast, Midwest and even the West. 
    The data comes from the American Community Survey, a sampling of 3 million households conducted by the Census Bureau in the years between the decennial census. The latest figures, which reflect trends over the five-year period between 2007 and 2011, show the South as the leading destination for those who have moved between states during that time.

    What about specifics? The data shows the South with a net migration gain of 181,378 from the Northeast, 128,516 from the Midwest, and 80,756 from the West. That the South is attracting more newcomers than even the West might be the biggest take-home point from the survey. Reports Facing South:

    The Census Bureau data has its limitations. Its definition of the South includes such places as Washington, D.C., which demographer William Frey of the Brookings Institution notes is one of the metro areas that has started seeing on uptick in newcomers moving to the area (but which few others would include as a "Southern" area). Because it's only a sample, there's also a decent margin of error. 
    But the overall trendlines show what many Southerners already know: Lots of newcomers, from all over the country, are calling the South home. This, combined with the fact that many Southern states have a high number of what demographers call "sticky" residents -- people who are born in the state that stay in the state -- means that the South will continue to grow, both in size and political clout.

    It stands to reason that quite a few newcomers to the South are moderates or even (gasp!) liberals. And that leaves us with this heavy-duty question: Will the South change the newcomers, or will the newcomers change the South?

    We will have to stay tuned for the next 25 years or so to find out.

    (Graphic: Facing South and the Institute of Southern Studies)

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    Bonnie Wyatt

    Why has an Alabama woman been unlawfully incarcerated for more than four months over an alleged debt related to her divorce case? A court document from 10 years ago suggests it might be because judges in our state can be bought.

    On the surface, Bonnie Cahalane (Knox) Wyatt has been in the Chilton County Jail since July 26 because of her failure to pay $165,000 as part of a  divorce settlement with Harold Jay Wyatt. But Alabama law, as outlined in Dolberry v. Dolberry, 920 So. 2d 573 (Ala. Civ. App, 2005), states that a party cannot be subject to contempt or incarceration because of a property-related debt from the dissolution of a marriage.

    Circuit Judge Sibley Reynolds surely is aware of the finding in Dolberry, which is based on case law dating to 1968, so he has to know that his arrest order is not grounded in law. That suggests he is holding Ms. Wyatt for reasons that have little, if anything, to do with the Wyatt v. Wyatt divorce case.

    Ms. Wyatt was involved in an earlier divorce case, styled Bonnie S. Knox v. Bobby L. Knox, and documents from that case provide clues about her current incarceration. Where do those clues lead? They take us down a path that is about as stark and ugly as it can get in our American "democracy." These documents suggest that Chilton County judges can be bought--and probably have been bought in the case of Bonnie Cahalane (Knox) Wyatt.

    The woman now known as Bonnie Sue Wyatt was married to Bobby Knox when she filed for divorce in December 2002. That marriage produced two children, Bobby Knox Jr. and Natalie Knox, and Bobby Knox Sr. adopted Ms. Knox's two children from a previous marriage (Jessica Knox and Johnah Knox).

    Papers from that 2002 case show that Bobby Knox Sr. possesses a mean streak. They also show that Mr. Knox had the financial means, and the psychological inclination, to manipulate the justice system.

    Bobby Knox Sr. is the owner and president of Shelby Concrete LLC, and the business apparently has been highly profitable over the years. A document from the 2002 divorce case states:

    Until December 2, 2002, the Defendant (Bobby Knox) provided to the Plaintiff (Bonnie Knox) the sum of $1,551.47 per week for a total of $80,676.44 per annum or $6,723.04 per month, with which to maintain the home in Clanton, the home in Gulf Shores, herself, and the minor children. 
    The Defendant has an annual adjusted gross income which is in excess of $1,000,000 per year or approximately $83,000.00 per month.

    Mr. Knox clearly made a handsome living. But the 2002 documents also make it clear that he had a tendency to treat his wife in an abusive fashion. We already have shown that Bobby Knox threatened to burn the marital home to the ground if his wife tried to get it during divorce proceedings. Shortly after the Knox divorce was finalized in 2005, the home in which Mrs. Knox and the children lived did burn down. No official cause of the blaze was determined, but multiple sources have told Legal Schnauzer that it was investigated as a case of arson.

    Bobby Knox's nastiness was not limited to the house. Consider this, from a document that Bonnie Knox filed in the 2002 divorce case:

    The latest conflict between the parties occurred when the Defendant admitted that he had re-hired a woman (he) had previously fired at the request of the Plaintiff because the Defendant had admitted having an affair with said woman. In a discussion of this matter within the past week, the Defendant has told the Plaintiff that he would have her head blown off if she interfered with or tried to get any of his business in a divorce proceeding.

    Threatening to burn down a house? Threatening to blow his wife's head off? It sounds like Bobby Knox could use a few sessions with Dr. Phil. But the harsh language does not end there. Consider this from the 2002 divorce case:

    The Defendant has told the Plaintiff that she was nothing, had nothing when he married her, and that she would be nothing and have nothing when they divorced. He also threatened the Plaintiff, stating to her that he would give her absolutely no money and she would be standing in the food stamp line in order to feed herself and the children pending a final divorce order.  
    The Defendant has bragged to the Plaintiff that he knows all of the Judges and he can get anything he wants done, legally or otherwise.

    Those words are from a legal document that was filed almost exactly 10 years ago. But when you fast forward to today, you can't help but wonder if Bobby Knox's words have come true. His ex wife is not in a food stamp line, but she is in jail. And we know from the Dolberry case, that her incarceration is unlawful.

    Does that mean Bobby Knox's words from 10 years ago were more than just a boast? Does it mean that he really does know all of the Chilton County judges, and he really can get anything he wants done, "legally or otherwise."

    If it's proven that Judge Sibley Reynolds allowed himself to be bought by Bobby Knox's substantial assets, that is the kind of misconduct that can lead to a  judge's removal from the bench.

    It also might represent the kind of criminal conspiracy that could send the individuals involved to federal prison.

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    In a recent five-part series, we used audiotapes to reveal debt collectors repeatedly violating federal law in an effort to collect a debt I allegedly owed to American Express. These collectors were not from a back-alley operation; they were from a law firm that represented Pennsylvania-based NCO, which is owned by JPMorgan Chase. And Chase is the largest bank in the United States and one of the largest private corporations in the world.

    Our series showed that representatives of perhaps banking's most powerful entity had no regard for the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), the law that is supposed to govern their actions and protect consumers.

    Now we have those audiotaped conversations turned into transcripts, which show perhaps with even more clarity the disdain that collectors have for the law. (See transcripts at the end of this post.) These transcripts were part of the evidence in a federal lawsuit that my wife and I filed against NCO and Birmingham-based law firm Ingram and Associates. (We didn't know at the time that JPMorgan Chase owned NCO, so the company was not named as a defendant.)

    Our audiotaped evidence of unlawful acts, of course, could not be disputed. But as Dana Siegelman stated recently in regards to the case of her father, former Alabama governor Don Siegelman, your options are limited when you go before a corrupt federal judge. We had a corrupt federal judge--Abdul Kallon, of the Northern District of Alabama--and our own crooked lawyers, Darrell Cartwright and Allan Armstrong, intentionally undermined our case. That makes it hard to prevail in a court of law.

    But in the court of public opinion, we will show you--in collectors' own words--how they lie, cheat, and essentially try to steal from unsuspecting consumers. I use the term "steal" because discovery in our lawsuit showed that Ingram and Associates had no information that I owed a debt to American Express--or that I even had an AMEX card.

    The bottom line? Collectors tried to get me to pay them money, even though they had no evidence that I owed it; that comes close to the definition of attempted theft.

    We will focus on three provisions of the FDCPA that collectors repeatedly violated in our case. If you ever hear from a debt collector, the chances are high they will violated these areas of the law with you, too. What are these provisions? We will put them in layman's terms:

    (1) It is unlawful for debt collectors to speak with someone other than you about an alleged debt, except to seek information about your location (15 U.S.C. 1692b and 15 U.S.C. 1692c).

    (2) It is unlawful for a debt collector to lie to you in an effort to collect a debt (15 U.S.C. 1692e).

    (3) It is unlawful for a debt collector to insult you, or use abusive language toward you, in an effort to collect a debt (15 U.S.C. 1692d).


    (To be continued)

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    Judge J. Scott Vowell

    Imagine going to a doctor who did not know how to take your temperature. You would expect to see such a clod have his license yanked in short order, right?

    That's not how it works in the legal "profession," at least here in my home base of Alabama. Gross incompetence seems to be openly tolerated among lawyers. In some cases, it is rewarded by giving a lawyer the title of "judge."

    Consider Circuit Judge J. Scott Vowell of Jefferson County, which includes Birmingham. He has been presiding judge since 1995, which means he is largely responsible for our area having one of the nation's most corrupt domestic-relations courts. Vowell has sat idly by while certain judges and lawyers used several notorious hunting clubs as sites to fix divorce cases. Even after the scandal became known, thanks to several federal lawsuits, Vowell still has taken no noticeable corrective actions.

    My wife and I recently learned that Vowell is more than just an inept administrator; he also is an inept judge. We filed a legal-malpractice complaint against Darrell Cartwright and Allan Armstrong, the two lawyers who intentionally undermined our case against unethical debt collectors. Two Jefferson County judges, Robert Vance Jr. and Tom King, recused themselves from our case, so it wound up in Vowell's lap.

    How has he handled it? Well, the veteran judge apparently cannot even read a docket report and tell whether a complaint has been served or not. This is one of the first steps that happens in most any lawsuit, and the docket report should make it clear whether the defendants have or have not been served.

    It's the legal equivalent of a doctor taking your temperature. That's one of the first things to happen when you get a health checkup, and it doesn't take much skill to complete the task. The same thing applies to the issue of service in a lawsuit; it happens right up front, and even the most incompetent judge should know when the step has been completed.

    But that apparently is beyond J. Scott Vowell because he recently issued an order dismissing our case, without prejudice, "for lack of service." That order, dated November 26, came even though the docket sheet shows that service was completed--or "perfected," as lawyers like to say--more than four months ago.

    To make matters more mind boggling, my wife and I are pro se litigants, so we don't have the advantage of checking the electronic file via alacourt.com. We have to rely on the U.S. mail to receive copies of documents in the case. At least two of Vowell's orders regarding service, either by accident or design, never reached us. That means I only learned about a supposed problem with service when I visited the Jefferson County Courthouse a few weeks back and happened to check our file on a public computer.

    Service of a complaint should be relatively simple, but it can get tricky when you have a couple of defendants who happen to be lawyers and know how to avoid being served. That's the case with Cartwright and Armstrong, and it appears that Vowell is doing his best to help them get away with playing legal dodge ball.

    How is the judge doing that? Well, he's claiming service has not been completed, when a simple check of the docket report shows that it has been completed. That's like being asked to read an eye chart that clearly says "H-O-R-S-E," only to have your optometrist claim it says "F-E-N-C-E."

    Let me explain:

    The service of process is covered under Rule 4 of the Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure (ARCP). The rule is long because it attempts to cover all sorts of potential scenarios and complications, but for most in-state cases, the procedure should go smoothly.

    The No. 1 method for in-state service is for the plaintiff to pay a fee to have a sheriff's deputy deliver a copy of the summons and complaint to each defendant. That should take care of it. But with Cartwright and Armstrong, the deputy returned the material as undelivered.

    Perhaps the No. 2 method for in-state service is to have the court designate a process server. We tried that method, and the server made multiple trips to the Armstrong and Cartwright homes, when they clearly were home, but service was refused.

    That led us to Rule 4(e), which allows the clerk to send the summons and complaint by ordinary mail in cases where the designated server states that process has been refused. Rule 4(e) states: "Service shall be deemed complete when the fact of mailing is entered of record."

    I delivered to the clerk on July 19 a copy of an alias summons, along with a signed statement from the server that process had been refused. The appropriate papers were stamped on that date, and a docket entry for July 19 states: "Clerk sent by regular mail to Darrell Cartwright" on one line, followed by "Clerk sent by regular mail to Allan Armstrong" on the next line.

    Per Rule 4(e), "the fact of mailing" was "entered of record" on July 19, 2012--which is more than four months ago--and that means "service shall be deemed complete." And yet, I hold in my hand an order from Scott Vowell saying the case has been dismissed for "lack of service."

    The dismissal is "without prejudice," which means the case can be reinstated--and you can rest assured that it will be. But why are we having to jump through such absurd hoops?

    That question leads to this question: Is Scott Vowell really that incompetent or is he corrupt, intentionally ignoring simple rules in order to provide cover for a couple of rogue members of the legal tribe?

    You probably can guess which answer to that question I would pick.

    Following are documents related to service in this case. The first includes Judge Vowell's Order of Dismissal, plus papers that were filed to have service completed under Rule 4(e) ARCP. The second is a motion that includes an explanation of the facts and relevant law regarding service:


    Cartwright Vowell Dismissal


    Cartwright Default Judgment

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    Today's biggest story in the financial world involves a record $1.9 billion in fines against British banking behemoth HSBC. The bank agreed to pay the fines to U.S. authorities for its failure to monitor illegal activities, including the laundering of drug money from Mexico.

    The story has a distinct international flavor. But thanks to Birmingham-based Bradley Arant, our state's largest law firm, the story also has a taste of Dixie. That's because Bradley Arant has made it a habit to represent HSBC and other rogue financial outfits.

    Bradley Arant became a major focus of our reporting because it represents Charlotte-based Campus Crest Communities and its CEO, Ted Rollins. Public records show that Rollins has engaged in all sorts of unsavory activity--perjury, child abuse, failure to pay child support, gross manipulation of a divorce case--and much of it has been centered in Alabama.

    But as we reported in July, Bradley Arant is willing to bed down with a whole host of bad actors, including those who run HSBC. What kind of outfit is HSBC? Consider this from today's Reuter's report on the massive fines:

    Mexico's Sinaloa cartel and Colombia's Norte del Valle cartel between them laundered $881 million through HSBC and a Mexican unit, the U.S. Justice Department said on Tuesday. . . .
    Bank officials repeatedly ignored internal warnings that HSBC's monitoring systems were inadequate, the Justice Department said. In 2008, for example, the CEO of HSBC Mexico was told that Mexican law enforcement had a recording of a Mexican drug lord saying that HSBC Mexico was the place to launder money. 
    Mexican traffickers used boxes specifically designed to the dimensions of an HSBC Mexico teller's window to deposit cash on a daily basis.

    You might think that Bradley Arant would want to keep a considerable distance between itself and HSBC. But you would be wrong. Bradley Arant lawyers seem to welcome HSBC, and its affiliates, as clients. From our July report:

    George R. Parker, one of the firm's Montgomery attorneys, represented various HSBC entities in a 2008 federal lawsuit styled George D. McCarley v. KPMG International, et al. The case involved allegations of fraud connected to a home foreclosure, and considering that it started in the Middle District of Alabama and was appealed to the U.S. Eleventh Circuit in Atlanta, it should be no surprise that the corporate defendants prevailed. 
    Andrew J. Noble III and John David Owen, of Bradley Arant's Birmingham office, represented an HSBC entity in a 2011 state lawsuit styled Moore v. HSBC Mortgage Services. The complaint involved allegations of breach of contract and other wrongdoing related to construction of a new house. Once again, the corporate defendant prevailed--with Bradley Arant's assistance.

    Bradley Arant's ties to banking skulduggery do not end with HSBC. Reuter's includes Wachovia among other rogue banks that are under scrutiny. And here is what we reported earlier this year about the ties between Wachovia and Bradley Arant:

    Officials for Wachovia Bank admitted in 2010 that they helped move $378.4 billion for Mexican drug cartels. Wachovia, which was purchased by Wells Fargo in 2008, paid $160 million in fines and penalties, and according to Bloomberg, that amount is less than 2 percent of the bank's $12.3 billion profit for 2009. 
    Wachovia had roots in Charlotte, and Wells Fargo is based in San Francisco, so where is the Birmingham connection? Well, that goes back to SouthTrust Corporation, which once was known as one of our city's "Big Four" banking institutions. 
    SouthTrust had $53 billion in assets and branches in nine states (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia) when it merged with Wachovia in 2004. Wachovia was experiencing deep losses in the midst of the 2008 financial crisis when Wells Fargo plucked the bank off the scrap heap at a bargain-basement price of $12.8 billion. . . . 
    Throughout the SouthTrust/Wachovia/Wells Fargo mating dance--when Birmingham was hemorrhaging banking jobs--Bradley Arant had its dirty hands in the pie. And it looks like there was plenty of dirt to go around.

    We are all for rogue bankers being held accountable. But when are authorities going to take a look at the law firms that are up to their necks in these dirty deals?

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    Jarrod Massey

    Imprisoned lobbyist Jarrod Massey, a key government witness in the Alabama bingo trial, was assaulted recently at the Maxwell Federal Prison Camp in Montgomery. Details about the event are sketchy, but a source tells Legal Schnauzer that the beating caused Massey to be placed in intensive care. We have received no further word on his condition, and our source says the beating actually took place about a week before news of it broke in the press.

    As this story unfolds, I think back to a couple of e-mails I received from Jarrod Massey a little more than a year ago. And I wonder if the contents of those e-mails might provide clues about an apparent attempt on his life.

    The limited information we have at this point raises a couple of issues:

    (1) A beating that was severe enough to leave the victim in intensive care sounds like an attempted assassination. Depending on Massey's current condition and chances for recovery, it still could prove to be a homicide;

    (2) Given Massey's status as a high-profile prisoner, it's hard to understand why authorities were slow about releasing information.

    Why would someone want to kill Jarrod Massey? Well, it's curious that the beating coincides with a grand jury that Attorney General Luther Strange has called in Houston County. The focus of the grand jury has not been publicly disclosed, but news reports hint that prosecutors likely are interested in gambling-related activity. (Things never seem to change in Alabama, do they?)

    Dothan-based rickeystokesnews.com has produced two insightful posts in recent days:

    * Lottery Used to Select Members of Grand Jury . . .

    * Will Special Grand Jury Expand Their Investigation Into Areas of Allegations?

    Could the grand jury focus on Strange's own documented ties to gambling, plus those of his ally, former Republican Governor Bob Riley? Stokes puts that question front and center:

    At this time we do not know if the scope of the Grand Jury investigation will extend to the reports of the Indian money and contributions being given to former Governor Bob Riley and the current Attorney General Luther Strange. That is certainly within the discretion of the members of the Grand Jury as I understand from some legal minds.

    Did someone think Jarrod Massey had damaging information that could wind up in front of the grand jury? If so, who might have been concerned about such information, and what did it involve?

    I've never met or spoken with Jarrod Massey, but the assault story hit home in a personal way. I wrote last December about a pair of e-mails Massey sent me, offering to share information about Republican consultant Dax Swatek and others connected to the Riley administration. Here is the key part of what Massey wrote:

    I would . . . welcome an opportunity to discuss my past associations with Dax Swatek. In summation, he is a very unscrupulous sort who is well protected by the Riley net and his linked-at-the-hip connection to Billy and Leura Canary and the Bradley Arant law firm. This of course is nothing you are not already familiar with. I can point you in the right direction for your information gathering purposes. You'll find it quite interesting.

    At the time of the e-mails, Massey had pleaded guilty and testified against other defendants in the Alabama bingo trial, which ended with zero convictions in August 2011. He was set to testify again in the retrial, which started in January 2012--and again, resulted in zero convictions.

    I would have been glad to meet with Mr. Massey, but given the circumstances, I thought it best not to communicate with an individual who was under the control of federal prosecutors. Visions of someone trying to frame me for witness tampering or obstruction of justice convinced me that any conversation with Jarrod Massey would have to wait for another day.

    Now it sounds like Mr. Massey's life might be hanging in the balance. And I have to wonder if that might be connected to unflattering information he apparently was willing to share about those close to the Riley regime.

    Am I being overly dramatic? Well, it's important to consider the toxic political environment in our state.  We have reported several times on a string of mysterious Alabama deaths during the later years of the Riley administration. Was someone trying to add to that number with the beating of Jarrod Massey?

    Bob Riley no longer is in office, but the crusade he started against non-Indian gambling is ongoing--with Luther Strange now in a leading role, and Governor Robert Bentley seemingly out to lunch.

    Did that ugly combination put Jarrod Massey's life in danger?

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    Mary Harris

    A review of the case action summary shows that someone might have falsified court records in the Rollins v. Rollins divorce case. If the record knowingly was falsified, that would be a crime under Alabama law.

    If such an unlawful act took place, it probably originated in the office of Shelby County Circuit Clerk Mary Harris. And evidence suggests it was done to cover for the corrupt actions of Circuit Judge D. Al Crowson. If Crowson directed that records be falsified, he might be at the center of a criminal conspiracy.

    Under Code of Alabama 13A-10-12 (Tampering with governmental records), someone commits a crime if "he knowingly makes a false entry in or falsely alters any governmental record." A governmental record is defined as "any record, paper, document, or thing belonging to, or received or kept by, the government for information or record . . ."

    A state-court record meets that description, and someone clearly entered false information in the Rollins v Rollins case action summary, which Mary Harris' office maintains. (See document at the end of this post.)

    Why would someone tamper with records in a Shelby County divorce case? Well, we have called Rollins v. Rollins the No. 1 courtroom cheat job we have encountered in the civil arena--and the false entries help obscure what actually happened in the case.

    The record shows, in three places, that the case was settled. Here is how the relevant section of the case action summary reads:

    7/18/2005: Court Action Judge: D. Al Crowson (AV07) 
    7/18/2005: ACDD Flag Set to "Y" (AV07) 
    7/18/2005: Disposed On: 7/7/2005 by (Settled) (AV07) 
    7/18/2005: Custody to Mother (AV07) 
    7/18/2005: C001 Disposed by (Settled) on 7/7/2005 (AV07) 
    7/18/2005: D001 Disposed by (Settled) on 7/7/2005 (AV07)

    A reasonable person checking that file would say to himself, "Hey, this case was settled." In fact, Sherry Rollins told Legal Schnauzer that she took her file to one lawyer at some point after July 18, 2005. The man glanced briefly at the file and said, "This case was settled. Why are you here?"

    Ms. Rollins' mouth must have fallen open, and with good reason. That's because the case was not settled. It was resolved by a Final Judgment of Divorce from Judge Crowson, and we have run the document in black and white right here on our blog. If you missed our earlier discussion of it, you can read it at the end of this post.

    Why would the "justice infrastructure" in Shelby County benefit from having the Rollins v. Rollins fiasco listed as "settled" on the case action summary? Most anyone who reviews the case is likely, as a first step, to check the case action summary and go to the line for "disposition." If it says "settled," that pretty much closes the book on an inquiring mind.

    It's the court's way of saying, "Move along, nothing to see here."

    The false entry might have had the secondary benefit of costing Ms. Rollins any hope of justice on appeal. My understanding is that the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals affirmed the trial court's finding, without issuing an opinion. In other words, the appellate court rubber stamped what had been done in Shelby County. That might be because Alabama appellate courts are hideously corrupt. But it also might be because someone took one look at the case action summary, saw the case was marked "settled," and essentially said, "Well there's no reason to review this. Next."

    Rollins v. Rollins has been emitting a foul odor from the moment we first started reviewing it. But with these false entries in the official record, the odor just got stronger.

    Here is the information sheet/case action summary, followed by Judge Crowson's Final Judgment of Divorce. Obviously, the case was not settled:

    Rollins Case Action Summary
    Rollins Divorce Order

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    Bonnie Wyatt

    An Alabama woman has been held in the Chilton County Jail since July 26, based on a divorce mediation that appears to have been unlawful on multiple grounds.

    Circuit Judge Sibley Reynolds ordered Bonnie Cahalane (Knox) Wyatt and Harold Jay Wyatt into mediation, which ended with a settlement agreement that had Ms. Wyatt paying $165,000 for her husband's interest in the marital home--even though she owned the house prior to the marriage. When Ms. Wyatt failed to pay the amount, Reynolds found her in contempt of court and ordered her arrest.

    Court records show that mediation was to be conducted on March 9, 2011, with Clanton attorney Wayne Cordery. But multiple sources tell Legal Schnauzer that the parties and their attorneys met with Cordery that day for only about an hour before they were summoned to the Chilton County Courthouse. The mediation was completed before Reynolds, in his courtroom, even though that appears to violate at least three provisions of the Alabama Civil Court Mediation Rules.

    We already have shown that Ms. Wyatt's incarceration is unlawful because a case styled Dolberry v. Dolberry, 920 So. 2d 573 (Ala. Civ. App., 2005) holds that a party is not subject to contempt, and possible incarceration, because of a property-related debt connected to dissolution of a marriage.

    But now we learn that the settlement agreement itself is due to be set aside because it was produced via an unlawful mediation. In almost all cases, mediation is to include only the parties, their representatives, and the mediator. The only exception is in cases of alleged domestic violence, where the victim can have a supporting person of his or her choice. The presence of any other third party can come only with the permission of the parties and the consent of the mediator.

    Judges appear to specifically be excluded from the process. Why did Reynolds summon the parties in Wyatt v. Wyatt to his courtroom and participate in the mediation? That is not clear, but it appears he had no grounds for doing so.

    Let's consider three relevant provisions of the Alabama Civil Court Mediation Rules:

    Rule 1. Definition of Mediation and Scope of Rules

    (a) Mediation is an extra judicial procedure for the resolution of disputes, provided for by statute and by the Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure.

    Comment: The meaning of an "extra judicial procedure" is clear: It is outside the authority of a court. It does not take place in a judge's presence. This seems real easy to understand.


    Rule 10. Privacy

    Mediation sessions are private. An alleged victim of domestic or family violence may have in attendance at mediations a supporting person of his or her choice. In all other cases, persons other than the parties and their representatives may attend mediation sessions only with the permission of the parties and with the consent of the mediator.

    Comment: Do you see a provision there for the presence of a judge? Neither do I. Can't get much more straightforward than this.


    Rule 11. Confidentiality
    (c) A court shall neither inquire into nor receive information about the positions of the parties taken in mediation proceedings; the facts elicited or presented in mediation proceedings; or the cause or responsibility for termination or failure of the mediation process.

    Comment: This might be more straightforward than Rule 10. This one specifically tells judges to butt out.


    How could such an unlawful mediation take place? Amanda Baxley, of Clanton, was Ms. Wyatt's attorney at the time, and we see no signs in the record that Ms. Baxley objected to the mediation. In fact, the court file shows that Ms. Baxley withdrew from the case shortly after the settlement agreement was reached.

    Was Amanda Baxley out to lunch? Did she allow herself to be strong-armed by a corrupt judge? Did she feel powerless to do anything about it? We don't have answers to those questions, but it is clear that Amanda Baxley's client is paying a heavy price for a settlement agreement that was generated under unlawful conditions.

    What motivation did Judge Sibley Reynolds have for inserting himself into the mediation process? Given that Ms. Wyatt wound up with the short end of the settlement-agreement stick, a reasonable person might conclude that Reynolds forced her into a bad deal.

    Regardless of the judge's motivations, his participation in the mediation process was forbidden by law. And that appears to present grounds to have the settlement agreement set aside. A case styled Nero v. Chastang, 358 So. 2d 740 (Ala. Civ. App., 1978) spells it out:

    When parties who are sui juris make a final settlement between themselves, such settlement is as binding on them in many respects as a decree of the court. However, such settlement may be opened for fraud, accident, or mistake. See Burks v. Parker, 192 Ala. 250, 68 So. 271 (1915).

    I  would classify Reynolds' actions as fraud. But an argument could be made that they come under the heading of "accident" or "mistake." Whatever terminology is used, Bonnie Wyatt has powerful grounds for having her settlement agreement set aside. And that is one of many reasons that she should be released from jail.

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    The scene yesterday at
    Hugo Black Courthouse

    For about an eight-month period beginning in May 2010, security personnel tailed me every time I visited the Hugo L. Black United States Courthouse in downtown Birmingham. If I went to the clerk's office, a security officer would take up residence right outside the door or a little ways down the hallway. If I went to the restroom, an officer suddenly had to relieve himself, too.

    Memories of that period came flooding back yesterday when news broke that a courthouse employee had shot and killed himself in the clerk's office. David Lee Williams, 50, was the director of building services at the courthouse. At about 9:30 a.m. yesterday, Williams walked into the office of Clerk of Court Sharon Harris, pulled out a gun and shot himself in the head. He was pronounced dead about a half hour later at UAB Hospital.

    How could anyone, even an employee, sneak a gun into a facility where weapons are strictly prohibited and metal detectors are present at all entrances? Did Williams regularly take a gun into the workplace or was this a one-time event? Why did Williams kill himself at work? Why did he go into Harris' office to shoot himself?  Was Williams suffering from mental illness and personal problems, or did issues in the workplace contribute to his demise?

    We don't have answers to those questions at this hour. But the event hit home because I've spent way more hours than I care to remember in that courthouse, all because of the various legal issues that are at the heart of this blog. This question quickly came to mind yesterday: If courthouse security had spent less time tailing me, would they have been more likely to notice that one of their co-workers actually posed a threat to public safety?

    The vast majority of my time at the Hugo Black Building has been spent on the first floor, in the public area of the clerk's office to the left as you take the front entrance--with an occasional pit stop at the men's room, which is just to the right of the entrance.

    I've been upstairs to various courtrooms on maybe a half dozen occasions--once when I was called to jury duty, once when I attended a trial for a discrimination claim that former medical trainee Seema Gupta had filed against UAB, and about four times when U.S. District Judge William M. Acker Jr. conducted docket hearings during my employment lawsuit against UAB.

    But probably 98 percent of my time in the building has been spent in the clerk's office--filing documents in various cases involving me, Mrs. Schnauzer, or both of us; or checking records on public computers. I don't recall seeing Sharon Harris' office, site of yesterday's fatal shooting. But I'm guessing it's somewhere behind the glass-encased front counter, just a few steps from where I've conducted my business.

    How did I, without even a serious traffic violation on my record, come to the attention of courthouse security? In a general sense, I suspect it's partly because I became recognized as that guy who writes the inconvenient truth about judges. But my life as a "suspicious character" has more specific origins than that.

    In May 2010, U.S. District Judge Abdul Kallon issued an order granting summary judgment to defendants in our case alleging unlawful actions by various debt collectors. Kallon's ruling was pure horse feces, in part because the defendants had stonewalled us on discovery, and we had notified the court that a number of discovery issues were outstanding and summary judgment could not even lawfully be considered, much less granted.

    Much to my regret, we were represented at the time by a couple of con men--I mean attorneys--named Allan Armstrong and Darrell Cartwright. When Armstrong forwarded me a copy of the order, he didn't bother to give any warning about its contents; state that it was incorrect under the law; or note that we could file a Rule 59 motion to amend, seeking to have it overturned.

    David Lee Williams
    Armstrong's only message was that he had just received the order, had not had a chance to review it, but I should read it. With nothing to buffer me from what was ahead, I began to seethe as I read it. I responded to Armstrong with a message that expressed my anger and displeasure in blunt terms.

    I didn't say anything threatening about Kallon or anyone else. But I did use language that was more harsh than usual because I knew that Armstrong was my lawyer, and our communication was protected by attorney-client privilege. He supposedly was representing the best interests for my wife and me, so I wanted him to know in no uncertain terms that we were extremely unhappy with this result and that we knew Kallon had cheated us.

    What did Armstrong do? He proceeded to violate attorney-client privilege by forwarding my e-mail to the U.S. marshals service. A couple of guys showed up at our house later that afternoon, said they were from the U.S. marshals office, and wanted to talk with me about my e-mail.

    Mrs. Schnauzer and I must have spoken to them for about an hour while standing in our front yard. They actually seemed to be nice guys and treated us in a professional manner. When I asked them how they came to be in possession of an e-mail that was protected by attorney-client privilege, they didn't have a good answer.

    Under Rule 1.6(b)(1) of the Alabama Rules of Professional Conduct (Confidentiality of Information), a lawyer can reveal privileged information only "to prevent the client from committing a criminal act that the lawyer believes is likely to result in imminent death or substantial bodily harm."

    My e-mail contained no statements pointing remotely to a criminal act of any sort, much less one likely to result in imminent or substantial harm to Kallon or anyone else. The U.S. marshal guys seemed to acknowledge that early on in our conversation.

    Kallon happens to be black, having grown up in the African nation of Sierra Leone, and I suspect the marshals were dispensed to our home mainly to determine if it housed a couple of racists. Anyone who has spent any time reading this blog should know that is preposterous. In fact, one of my first statements to the marshals was that, if I seemed particularly angry toward Kallon, it's because my wife and I had voted for Barack Obama, the Democratic president who had nominated him. "We expect to get screwed by a judge who was appointed by a Republican," I told them. "But we voted for Obama, and we expect better than this from someone appointed by a Democrat."

    The marshals seemed to be taken aback by our confession that we were white, suburbanites in Alabama who had voted for Barack Obama. They gathered themselves to point at two or three lines in the e-mail  and say, "What does this mean?"

    I said, "It means exactly what it says. It says Kallon butchered the ruling, he probably did it intentionally to protect corporate interests, and I'm highly pissed off about it--especially when you consider that I voted for, and encouraged other people to vote for, the man who appointed him."

    The marshals pondered that a moment, and I said, "Do you see a threat in there?" They shrugged their shoulders. "Is there something unlawful about voicing your displeasure, to your own lawyer, when a judge rules in a way that is contrary to law?" They shrugged their shoulders again.

    Once we established that they had no real reason to be at our house, we had a pleasant conversation with them before saying our goodbyes. They left by giving us the impression that neither of us was seen as a threat to national security.

    But that wasn't the end of it. Every time I visited the federal courthouse for about the next eight months, I would notice a security type following me everywhere I went. Given that I didn't go anywhere other than the clerk's office or the restroom, it was not a strenuous task.

    At first, I decided to take the "I'll just ignore it" approach. But once or twice, Mrs. Schnauzer went with me to the courthouse, and they followed her, too. Given that we were only there because we could not find a lawyer to be trusted with our cases, and thus had to represent ourselves, I decided I'd had enough.

    I called one of the marshals who had visited our home and told him about what we were experiencing. "When you were at our house, you indicated there was no reason for us to be seen as security risks, so we are getting tired of having someone shadow us every time we set foot in the federal courthouse."

    He expressed surprise this was happening and promised to look into it. Apparently he did because the people stopped following us shortly after that. For quite some time now, I've been able to visit the courthouse, conduct my business, and leave, without feeling I was seen as some sort of shadowy figure.

    As for yesterday's shooting, I'm thankful that only one person was physically harmed, and I feel bad about whatever demons drove David Lee Williams to take his own life. But I had to guffaw at the headline on one al.com article about the incident. Written by Kyle Whitmire, it was titled "Inside the Hugo Black Federal Courthouse, Justice Rolls On." The general theme was, "Hey, an employee suicide isn't going to stop us from the noble cause of dispensing justice."

    Mr. Whitmire needs to remove his rose-colored journalist's glasses and realize his piece is an utter crock. For the most part, justice hasn't even started in that courthouse, so it certainly isn't going to "roll on." Experience has taught me that the corruption often starts in the clerk's office, where the notion that judges receive cases on random assignment is a joke.

    When I filed my lawsuit against UAB, the woman in the clerk's office read a significant portion of the complaint, checked a white folder multiple times, and ultimately took 10 to 15 minutes before stamping it as being with Judge Acker. That is random assignment? I don't think so. Her actions indicate she assigned it to Judge Acker for a specific reason.

    I later discovered a whistleblower case that a woman named Ingrid Awtrey Law had filed against Performance Group LLC, a physical therapy company owned in part by Homewood attorney Rob Riley, the son of former Governor Bob Riley. The case alleged rampant Medicare fraud in the company, and it also wound up with Acker.

    There is no doubt that my unlawful termination at UAB was driven by the Riley family; loads of evidence points in that direction. Ingrid Law's complaint provides page after page of details about fraud on Rob Riley's watch.

    What happened in both cases? Both wound up with Acker, an 84-year-old Reagan appointee, and he violated simple procedural law to dismiss both of them, without prejudice.

    Is William Acker the designated protector for the Riley family and their buddies at big downtown law firms such as Bradley Arant and Haskell Slaughter? The answer, in my mind, is undoubtedly yes.

    Was David Lee Williams aware that he worked in a fundamentally corrupt environment, and that much of the sleaze flows from the clerk's office? Did that contribute, in perhaps a slight way, to the mental distress that caused him to take his own life--in, ironically, the clerk's office?

    I probably will never know the answer to that question. But the Hugo Black Courthouse is filled with people who have shaky ethics and priorities that are badly out of alignment. Most of the ugliness stays under wraps, with the public unaware of how its tax dollars are misspent.

    In an indirect, tragic way, David Lee Williams shined a little light on the scene yesterday--for those who are willing to pay attention.

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    Mike Hubbard

    The general rule in Alabama politics for the past 12 years or so has been that a Democrat can be sent to federal prison for a "crime" that does not exist under actual law, while a Republican can participate in all sorts of malfeasance without drawing a second glance.

    Multiple news reports last week show that a grand jury in Montgomery has issued subpoenas for the records of House Speaker Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn). Does this signal a major shift in the Alabama political landscape, and if so, why is it happening?

    Bill Britt, of the Alabama Political Reporter, broke the story last Thursday. From Britt's report:

    A Special Grand Jury has subpoenaed records concerning Alabama Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn). According to three sources with intimate knowledge of the investigation, a Special Grand Jury led by the Public Corruption Unit of the Alabama Attorney General’s Office is gathering documents related to Hubbard’s time as Chairman of the ALGOP. . . . 
    Hubbard, who is credited with being the architect of the 2010 takeover of the State House, has recently come under fire in press reports related to quid-pro-quo arrangements between campaign contributions and Hubbard-owned businesses. 
    It is not certain exactly what the Grand Jury is looking for, but sources speculate that it has to do with Hubbard’s business dealings, as well as money that was filtered through the RSLC.

    George Talbot, of al.com in Mobile, followed with a report last Friday titled "Alabama GOP Finances Under Investigation, Chairman Tells Party Leaders." Talbot focused on a GOP steering committee meeting last Wednesday and the words of Bill Armistead, who succeeded Hubbard as party chair:

    The committee convened in a conference room at the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association building near the state Capitol, and the meeting kicked off with an unexpected bang. Bill Armistead, the party’s chairman, told the group that he’d received a subpoena from the Alabama Attorney General’s office seeking GOP financial records. 
    Reading from the document, Armistead said the order was part of a grand jury investigation into campaign finance activities in the 2010 election cycle, according to three committee members who participated in the meeting. A fourth committee member recounted similar remarks but said he did not recall a specific reference to a subpoena.

    Brian Lyman, of the Montgomery Advertiser, produced a piece on Saturday titled "Alabama GOP To Release Report Monday On Controversial Hubbard Transaction." Hubbard tells Lyman that he welcomes release of the report--some have called it an audit--about his actions as party chair. But Hubbard and Armistead appear to be at odds about the report's contents:

    Ala. GOP chairman Bill Armistead said in an interview Friday the steering committee of the state Republican Party had held the report for over a year. 
    “The reason it wasn’t released earlier is we didn’t want to embarrass Speaker Hubbard with what was there,” he said. “We want unity in the party, not divisiveness.” 
    However, Armistead said he and members of the steering committee felt Hubbard had been “blasting us” over previously reported accounts of the report. 
    The committee, Armistead said, decided Wednesday to release it.

    Both the report, and the grand-jury inquiry, apparently focus on a GOP contract with Florida-based Majority Strategies, which subcontracted much of the work to Hubbard's company in Auburn. That could lead to scrutiny for the Birmingham consulting firm of Swatek Azbell Howe and Ross. Hubbard has claimed that one of the firm's partners, John Ross, negotiated the deal with Majority Strategies. At the time, Ross was executive director of ALGOP and Hubbard's second-in-command. From Britt's report:

    Ross is now a partner in the high-powered lobbying group Swatek, Azbell, Howe & Ross. According to Hubbard’s book “Storming the State House,” “[Ross] continues to work closely with the members of newly-elected Republican majority and is assisting with the efforts to help preserve those majorities in 2014.” 
    Ross along with Dax Swatek, and David Azbell are key lieutenants of Speaker Hubbard and have been reported as receiving lucrative contracts from state government.

    What is going on here? Have Alabama Republicans suddenly taken a genuine interest in honest government? Our sources say that is unlikely and point to the current unrest as an example of political jockeying for the 2014 elections.

    One source says U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) is contemplating retirement, and Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange wants to be among the first to throw his hat into that possible ring. Strange reportedly has recused himself from the Hubbard investigation, but he is letting it move forward. Our source says Big Luther wants to be seen as "the guy who cleaned up Montgomery," in order to enhance his political resume. If that involves taking down a few of his GOP comrades, so be it.

    Another source says Mobile lawyer Bradley Byrne is pondering another run at the governor's office, after losing to Robert Bentley in the 2010 primary. Byrne sees Hubbard as a rival for the governor's job, one source says, and probably is working behind the scenes to help take down the speaker.

    Here is the irony: Strange, Byrne, and Hubbard all belong to the political family tree of former Alabama Governor Bob Riley and his son, Homewood attorney Rob Riley. The Swatek consulting firm is closely aligned with the Rileys. Could this be a case of Republican snakes turning on one another? It certainly looks that way.

    One source points to a possible scenario that could lead to the airing of serious GOP dirty laundry: What if Mike Hubbard, distressed that the Rileys do not ride to his rescue, decides to tell what he knows about the rampant ugliness in Bob Riley's political machine?

    We might be a long way from that point, but that certainly would be an interesting outcome.

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    Bonnie Wyatt

    A judge is scheduled today to hear arguments about the incarceration of an Alabama woman who has been in the Chilton County Jail since July 26 because of a property-related debt connected to her divorce case.

    Bonnie Cahalane (Knox) Wyatt, at least in theory, could be freed in time for the Christmas holidays. But a review of court records raises serious doubts about whether Wyatt is receiving vigorous legal representation in the case.

    Angie Avery Collins, Wyatt's Clanton-based attorney, filed a Motion to Reconsider Incarceration on December 6--and it is due to be heard, along with a number of other cases, on a motion docket beginning at 9 a.m. today at the Chilton County Courthouse. Collins' motion, however, might be described as "watered down" (at best) and "ineffectual" (at worst).

    To muddy the waters even further, Collins is engaged in her own divorce, in the same circuit court. Might she be tempted to go soft on Bonnie Wyatt's defense in order to gain favor for her own divorce battle? Does that represent a conflict of interest that threatens Bonnie Wyatt's fundamental rights to due process?

    A reasonable person could conclude that the answer to both questions is yes, especially after reading the motion that Angie Collins prepared in advance of today's hearing. It calls for Circuit Judge Sibley Reynolds to reconsider his decision to issue an arrest warrant for Bonnie Wyatt. But it includes no mention of clear-cut Alabama law--best stated in Dolberry v. Dolberry, 920 So. 2d 573 (Ala. Civ. App, 2005)--that makes it unlawful for a judge to subject a party to contempt and incarceration because of a property-related debt from the dissolution of a marriage.

    Collins' motion includes no citations to law. Her primary argument is that Wyatt would be better able to secure the funds to pay her alleged debt if she was freed from jail. The motion also states that Wyatt's "health is failing due to cancer." We've seen at least one other court document that states Wyatt has been battling cancer, but we have not been able to confirm that with sources close to her family.

    We have, however, established that Reynolds violated black-letter Alabama law by ordering Wyatt's incarceration. If it turns out that she is a cancer patient, her jailing becomes not only unlawful, but inhumane.

    Collins, in her motion, seems to perform all sorts of contortions to avoid stating the obvious--that Judge Sibley Reynolds violated his oath to uphold the law when he order Bonnie Wyatt's arrest. The facts are these: Alabama law says Bonnie Wyatt never should have been jailed in the first place, and any demand for her release has nothing to do with her health status or her ability to pay an alleged debt to her former husband for his equity stake in the marital home.

    Based on her motion, Angie Collins seems more interested in not offending Sibley Reynolds, a demonstrably corrupt judge, than she is in achieving justice for her client. Why might that be?

    Well, Collins is in the midst of her own divorce case, which also is being heard in the 19th Judicial Circuit (covering Chilton, Elmore, and Autauga counties). Angie Collins filed for divorce from James Thomas Collins on September 11, 2012. The case originally was assigned to--guess who--Sibley Reynolds. It then was assigned to Ben Fuller, another judge in the 19th Circuit. When James Collins moved that all judges in the circuit recuse themselves--citing the fact that Angie Collins regularly practices before all of them--the case was assigned to District Judge George N. Sims, of Talladega County.

    Collins v. Collins apparently could involve some fireworks. Angie Collins' divorce complaint cites the usual language found in such documents--the parties have grown "incompatible," the marital bonds are "irretrievably broken," etc.

    But James Collins' counterclaim hints at something deeper. The document states: "Because of the course of conduct by the Plaintiff [Angie Collins], there has grown between them an incompatibility of temperament."

    It goes on to state that "the bonds of trust have been severed."

    What does that mean? Perhaps we will find out soon. But it seems safe to say that Angie Collins' attention is not fully on Bonnie Wyatt--a client who has serious legal needs of her own.

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    Bonnie Wyatt

    A central Alabama woman who has been unlawfully incarcerated for almost five months was released this afternoon from the Chilton County Jail.

    Bonnie Cahalane (Knox) Wyatt had been held since July 26 because of a property-related debt from her divorce case. We have shown in a series of posts that her incarceration was unlawful, and the case recently drew the attention of examiner.com.

    A Motion to Reconsider Incarceration in the Wyatt case was on the 9 a.m. docket today at the Chilton County Courthouse. Ms. Wyatt's release was not finalized until late afternoon.

    Details of any agreement related to the alleged debt are not available at this time. A source told Legal Schnauzer that Ms. Wyatt likely will have to sell her house in an expedited fashion. It remains unclear if she is subject to re-arrest.

    A court document ordering Ms. Wyatt's arrest found that she owed $165,000 to Harold Jay Wyatt, her ex husband, for his equity in the marital home. The order was based on a handwritten settlement agreement that did not appear to be formal or finalized, and the court file appeared to include little documentation to prove such an amount was owed.

    Bonnie Wyatt owned the house before her marriage to Harold Wyatt, and the couple lived together as man and wife for only about 10 months. At the time of the marriage, Ms. Wyatt was recovering from a fire that destroyed her home and was investigated as arson. The fire hit shortly after her divorce was finalized from Bobby Knox, president of Shelby Concrete.

    Harold Wyatt claimed that he spent a substantial sum to help complete the interior of the home, but it remains unclear exactly how much he spent, whether Ms. Wyatt authorized the expenditures, and why the work was not fully covered by homeowner's insurance.

    When Ms. Wyatt failed to pay the $165,000 allegedly owed, Chilton County Circuit Judge Sibley Reynolds held her in contempt and ordered her arrest. Reynolds made that ruling, even though Alabama case law states that a party cannot be subject to contempt, and incarceration, for failure to pay a property-related debt from the dissolution of a marriage. Such remedies are available only if the debt involves spousal sustenance and support, such as alimony.

    We will continue to follow the story, which now primarily shifts to the contents of a possible agreement and any legal avenues Ms. Wyatt might have for gross violations of her civil rights.

    Our research indicates' Ms. Wyatt's incarceration probably was driven by factors that have nothing to do with an alleged debt to Harold Wyatt. What is the real reason that Bonnie Wyatt was unlawfully jailed for almost five months, and who needs to be held accountable for it? We will continue to ask that question, and others, related to this peculiar case.

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    The shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary

    Last Friday's mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, CT, seems to have caused many Americans to give a second thought to our nation's lax approach on gun control. Perhaps a massacre, where 20 of the 26 victims were children between the ages of 5 and 10, will lead to change in our culture of weaponry.

    It already has led to attention for those who financially support gun manufacturers. Some investors are scurrying to distance themselves from companies that design, build, and market guns like the ones Adam  Lanza used to commit mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

    One prominent investment company seems to be in no hurry to separate itself from America's gun industry. Perhaps that's because the company already supports at least one chief executive who has a documented history of abusing children.

    With that sort of record, The Vanguard Group might be expected to react to the Newtown massacre with a collective shrug. And that is exactly what the company, based in the Philadelphia suburb of Malvern, Pennsylvania, seems to be doing.

    It takes an investment firm that is callous, ill-informed, or both to support Campus Crest Communities, a Charlotte-based developer of student housing near universities around the country. After all, Campus Crest CEO Ted Rollins has a criminal record that includes an assault on his 16-year-old stepson. Rollins also was the subject of an investigation into allegations of child sexual abuse involving the same stepson.

    Vanguard HQ in Malvern, PA
    Those events took place in the 1990s in Franklin County, North Carolina. As happened in the case of former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, initial allegations of child sexual abuse involving Ted Rollins were more or less covered over. In the case of Sandusky, it took another 15 years or so for criminal charges to stick, and the one-time defensive coordinator under coaching icon Joe Paterno now is expected to spend the rest of life behind bars. In the case of Ted Rollins, he never has received serious scrutiny from the criminal justice system and, thanks largely to his membership in one of America's wealthiest families, Rollins has become head of a company that completed a $380-million Wall Street IPO in late 2010.

    Do investors care that a chief executive has a proven history of beating a child--with clear ties to an investigation for child sexual abuse? Do investors care that their funds support gun manufacturers whose products then are turned, in a deadly fashion, on children in an elementary school?

    In the case of those who invest with The Vanguard Group, the answer to both questions appears to be no. Let's consider the firm's recent history:

    According to an article yesterday in the Huffington Post, one of the largest shareholders in gun manufacturer Sturm Ruger is The Vanguard Group. Sturm Ruger made the assault weapon used by Anders Breivik during a July 2011 killing spree that left 77 people, mostly teenagers, dead in Norway. Sturm Ruger is based in Southport, CT, less than 30 miles from Newtown.

    The HuffPo piece is titled "Gunmaker Investments Under Review By California Teachers' Fund After Newtown Massacre." John Rudolf and Chris Kirkham report that Wall Street is backing away from the gun industry, and the California State Teachers' Retirement System is re-examining multimillion-dollar investments in two publicly traded gun companies, Smith and Wesson and Sturm Ruger.

    What about other major investors in gun companies? They include The Vanguard Group, and HuffPo reports:

    Other major investors in Sturm Ruger include The London Company, Allianz Global Investors Capital, Renaissance Technologies and The Vanguard Group, one of the nation's largest 401(k) providers. 
    Combined, those five investors hold nearly a third of the company's stock. All but BlackRock and the Vanguard Group did not respond to requests for comment. A spokesman for the Vanguard Group said Monday that the vast majority of the company's holdings in Sturm Ruger were tied to investments in certain index funds that include Sturm, Ruger. 
    A spokesman for BlackRock also said the fund's investments in the gun companies were tied to stock indexes.

    The presence of index funds appears to be the explanation for Vanguard's ties to the gun industry. So how does Vanguard explain its support of Campus Crest Communities and its CEO with a history of abusing children?

    We will be posing that question shortly to executives at the investment firm. But for now, the connections to Campus Crest Communities are spelled out in public documents.

    Ted Rollins
    Reports at Yahoo! Finance show that Vanguard is the No. 1 institutional investor in Campus Crest Communities, with a stake worth almost $47.8 million. The Vanguard Specialized REIT Index Fund has almost 2.4 million shares in Campus Crest Communities, more than any other mutual-fund holder.

    What does all of this mean? The Vanguard Group is a top investor in one of the nation's leading gun manufacturers, a company whose products have helped bring countless young lives to premature ends. Vanguard also is the No. 1 investor in a company with a CEO who has documented ties to child abuse.

    What kind of investment firm lends massive financial support to organizations that have proven ties to the murder and abuse of young people? Does Vanguard care only about making money, the bottom line? Does it have a social conscience of any sort?

    We will be examining those questions, and more, in upcoming posts.

    Meanwhile, you can check out below the Franklin County, North Carolina, court documents that prove Ted Rollins was convicted for assault on a 16-year-old boy. And by definition, such an assault amounts to child abuse under state law.

    This is the kind of individual who draws financial support from The Vanguard Group:


    Ted Rollins Arrested for Assault

    Ted Rollins Convicted of Assault

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    Vanguard HQ in Malvern, PA

    If you think it's a good idea to turn public facilities over to private enterprises, Vanguard Group and Campus Crest Communities are on your wavelength.

    But if you carry a healthy skepticism about such public-to-private ventures, you might want to think twice about these firms. That goes double if you have serious concerns about child welfare. That's because Vanguard and Campus Crest have connections that indicate they don't take the well being of children all that seriously.

    In the case of Campus Crest CEO Ted Rollins, he has a documented history as a child abuser. But that does not seem to bother Vanguard, which is the No. 1 institutional investor in Rollins' company.

    What does that say about the values these firms hold, and why should the public care? Well, they might someday try to provide housing for you, especially if you are a prisoner or a college student. And they clearly intend to make large chunks of money off institutions that your tax dollars support.

    Is that a good thing? The Vanguard Group, based in the Philadelphia suburb of Malvern, Pennsylvania, manages $1.7 trillion in assets and is credited with creating and popularizing index funds for individual investors. Recent events, however, raise serious questions about Vanguard's values--and the values of certain companies it supports.

    As we reported yesterday, one of those companies is gun manufacturer Sturm Ruger. In the wake of last Friday's massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, stocks in gun companies are falling and some investors are distancing themselves from the industry. Vanguard, however, appears to be deeply enmeshed in a gun culture that contributed to the slaughter of 26 people, including 20 children between the ages of 5 and 10. A statement from Vanguard spokesman Doug Hoffman indicates the firm is in no hurry to alter its relationship with gun makers. Here is how Huffington Post's Chris Kirkham reports it:

    A spokesman for Vanguard, David Hoffman, said the company will always appear to have a larger investment in any given corporation because it pegs investments to certain stock index funds. Therefore the investment in a company such as Sturm Ruger doesn't necessarily reflect an active position, he said. 
    Hoffman added that investors who invest in actively managed funds can choose to invest in a social index fund, which screens out companies such as firearms manufacturers based on "certain social, human rights, and environmental criteria."

    Vanguard's culture of index funds seems to provide a convenient explanation--some might call it an excuse--for relationships with dubious enterprises. Vanguard's dubious relationships, it turns out, are not limited to the gun industry.

    A CCA prison
    The firm is among the leading shareholders in Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and The GEO Group (GEO), the top private-prison operators in the country. Earlier this year, Truthout reporter Dina Rasor focused on CCA and GEO in a pair of articles with titles that say a lot about the industry. The first article is titled "Prison Industries: "Don't Let Society Improve Or We Lose Business." The second is titled "America's Top Prison Corporation: A Study In Predatory Capitalism And Cronyism."

    Rasor's reports paint an unflattering picture of private prisons, which Vanguard helps underwrite. From one of the Truthout articles:

    Just as I have feared that privatizing the logistics of war will encourage private war-service industries to lobby for a hot war or long occupation to keep their industries viable, there has emerged a group of prison industries, state and federal legislators, and other players who will continue to benefit from our disgraceful ranking as the world's largest warden. . . . 
    This is an industry that needs misery, long sentences, rounded-up undocumented immigrants and increasing crime to flourish.

    One bad actor who has tried to cash in on the prison-industrial complex is former Vice President Dick Cheney. How did he do it? Reportedly by investing $85 million in Vanguard Group. Cheney and former Bush Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez were indicted in 2008 in Willacy County, Texas, for alleged prisoner abuse in federal detention centers. The case against Cheney and Gonzalez languished when Juan Angel Guerra, the prosecutor who brought it, lost in a primary election.

    Before leaving office, however, Guerra shined light on Dick Cheney and The Vanguard Group in an interview with Democracy Now! and Amy Goodman. From that interview:


    AMY GOODMAN: Juan Guerra, the Vice President’s attorney says this is bizarre, that you had Cheney invested in Vanguard Group, which is a mutual fund that, yes, does invest in the private prison industry, but can you indict him for being responsible for abusive behavior in the prison? 
    JUAN ANGEL GUERRA: Well, yes, because, again, you have the activities, the criminal activities, that his involvement is that he is aware with the Vanguard Group. The Vanguard Group has invested — is invested. It’s a top ten companies that are investing in the three top private prisons companies, the private prisons. So if you follow Vanguard, then he ended up investing $85 million. The problem here is that the Vanguard Group is not part of his blind trust. This is money that he has, quote, "on the side." It is reported in his income tax with his signature there. So he knows exactly where his money is invested. If this was part of his blind trust, then he would have no control. So because he has control, so now they’re trying to increase the number, the price. Instead of $80, they’re trying to go to $120, which means that these private companies are going to end up making more money, which means that Vanguard would make more money, which means that obviously the Vice President would make more money.

    A skeptic might view The Vanguard Group's business model this way: Invest in companies that make guns, which all too often are used to commit crimes. Then invest in private prisons to house the criminals you helped create.

    Sounds like a winner, doesn't it?

    Vanguard apparently thinks it has another winner in Campus Crest Communities, which designs, builds and markets student housing near some 40 universities around the country. The Campus Crest market consists of young people, but is Vanguard concerned that company CEO Ted Rollins has a history of abusive actions toward young people? Given that Vanguard has invested almost $47.8 million in Campus Crest, it doesn't look like it.

    It's not as if the ugliness in Ted Rollins is a secret, and information on it is not particularly hard to find. Public records show Rollins has a criminal record from his conviction for an assault on his 16-year-old stepson. We also know that North Carolina social-services officials, acting on a citizen complaint, investigated Rollins for child sexual abuse of the same stepson.

    Why does Vanguard seem to ignore Ted Rollins' ties to criminality? Maybe it's because the investment firm and the CEO share a vision for how private enterprises can reap huge profits from operating facilities that traditionally have been public concerns.

    We will take a closer look at that shared vision in upcoming posts.

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    Luther Strange

    Alabama State University paid Luther Strange at least $41,250 in apparent consulting fees during the 2010 campaign for state attorney general, according to a report yesterday in The Montgomery Independent. The payments raise new questions about possible conflicts of interest involving our state's chief prosecutor. And those conflicts take on heightened interest with this week's reopening of the VictoryLand casino amid renewed threats from Strange to close it down.

    We have known for weeks that Strange received about $100,000 in campaign cash from the Poarch Creek Indians and seemingly has tried to reward them by targeting a prime competitor, VictoryLand, for possible raids and closure. Now the Alabama State story supplies new evidence that Strange conducts his official business by granting favors to those who supported his campaign. And it comes against the backdrop of a grand jury that Strange has convened in Montgomery, supposedly to investigate possible illegal actions of state office holders.

    Is it possible that Strange himself belongs in the cross hairs of a criminal investigation? Could the attorney general be close to committing acts that meet the definition of bribery under federal law? Bob Martin, editor and publisher of The Montgomery Independent, hints that the answer is yes. I will do more than hint at it; the facts, as we know them now, strongly suggest that Strange has engaged in illegal "quid pro quos" (something for something deals) that define federal bribery. And he might have broken the law, or be in the process of breaking the law, on at least two fronts--the Poarch Creek/VictoryLand issue and the Alabama State issue.

    Let's take the ASU story first: The university likely will face an investigation after placing new president Joseph Silver on administrative leave when he started asking questions about campus contracts. According to The Independent, Strange did little or no work for Alabama State, and his cozy relationship with the school should preclude his participation in any investigation of the Joseph Silver matter.

    Bob Martin reports that at least $15,000 of the payments to Strange came after he had won the primary and general elections and taken office as attorney general. How can a public official who has been paid by Alabama State conduct a thorough investigation of Alabama State? Martin suggests that he can't.

    If Strange tries to protect his ASU benefactors from an investigation, could that amount to a "quid pro quo" that would violate federal bribery laws? Let's consider the evidence:

    The checks from ASU to Strange came between May 24, 2010, and February 8, 2011, Martin reports. With Joseph Silver having launched a potential scandal at ASU, the attorney general finds himself in a touchy situation. Writes Martin:

    This revelation comes at a time when Mr. Strange should be exercising the duties of his office by investigating the potential corruption at ASU arising out of the selection of a new president; [the president's] attempted investigation into campus contracts; and his subsequent placement on leave by the university's board of trustees. 
    But the acceptance of this money by Mr. Strange will, I believe, disqualify him from being involved in any ASU investigation or prosecution and may create more problems than that for him. It should, however, also mean that no "play for pay" allegations can be made in the upcoming ASU probe since the Alabama AG's office should be totally disqualified in my opinion.

    The line in bold above suggests that Martin believes Strange is walking a thin ethical line. Martin then provides more information to back up his concerns:

    This week I was provided a 17-page document listing nearly 700 ASU payments by check in 2010 and 2011 and involving multi-millions of dollars. The seven checks to Mr. Strange were not on this list. The first check to Mr. Strange was in the amount of $18,750, dated May 24, 2010. The remainder included one dated July 9, 2010, in the amount of $3,750; on August 16, 2010, in the amount of $3,750; on January 28, 2011, three checks each in the amount of $3,750; and on February 8, 2011, one in the amount of $3,750.

    What did Strange do to earn those checks? Not much, reports Martin:

    I have been told from more than one source that Strange did little or no work for ASU, which is now embroiled in a controversy over the attempted firing of its newly hired president, who was benched after he threatened to reveal bones buried on the ASU campus dealing with contracts and other matters. 
    A question must then follow as to whether or not some of those bones are associated with the attorney general, and if so, will they be brought before his very own grand jury, a panel which was put together initially several months back to investigate possible illegal actions of state office holders.  

    As for the Poarch Creeks, Strange appears to be earning his paychecks by harassing their competitors at VictoryLand, referring to the casino's reopening as "the path of confrontation." Writes Martin:

    A few weeks ago, I reported about a $100,000 contribution Mr. Strange accepted from the Poarch Creek Indian Casinos in 2010. That should have confirmed Mr. Strange as the "gambling AG," but as he continues to threaten to close VictoryLand . . . , it merely confirms him as the newest pawn of the Poarch Creek Tribe. . . .  
    The attorney general owes the citizens of Alabama an explanation of these Poarch contributions, and with regard to the principle of equal justice, a clear recusal of his office in any action that might involve the Poarch Creeks or their competitors.

    It also appears that Strange needs to come clean about his connections at Alabama State, especially if the Joseph Silver case leads to a criminal investigation.

    Will Luther Strange prove to be an impartial and professional prosecutor or a glorified stooge who allows justice to be bought and sold? That question might shape one of the most important Alabama stories of 2013.

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