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|The late Mafia kingpin|
John Gotti, of the
Certain urban areas in the Deep South, especially Atlanta and Miami, are known to host crime-family operations. But a possible Mafia influence in the relatively sedate college town of Tuscaloosa, Alabama? Most Americans probably would not expect to see that. But two political figures--both conservatives, with deep roots in The Machine culture surrounding the University of Alabama--have a business relationship with a man who, according to law-enforcement officials, has ties to the Mob.
Republican operative Jessica Medeiros Garrison and her former husband, Tuscaloosa city councilman Lee Garrison, are partners with a man named Erik Davis Harp in a real-estate venture called Margaritaville, LLC. The company was formed in 2004, with a registered office address of 1201 Greensboro, Avenue, Tuscaloosa, AL 35401.
Harp's business pursuits, however, appear to go well beyond real estate. He was one of 30 people indicted in October 2009 in connection with what one press outlet called "a gambling ring with ties to organized crime." Harp was 36 years old at the time of the indictment, and his address was listed as Las Vegas, Nevada. But his roots are in Tuscaloosa, and he apparently met the Garrisons while all three attended the University of Alabama.
Should the public be concerned about this? Well, the Garrisons are significant political players in our state. Jessica Garrison served as campaign manager for Luther Strange's successful 2010 campaign for attorney general and now works for the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA) and the Balch Bingham law firm. Lee Garrison has served on the Tuscaloosa City Council since 1997 and currently is running for chair of the Tuscaloosa City School Board, with that spot to be determined in municipal elections tomorrow.
For good measure, the Garrisons are no strangers to controversy. Jessica Garrison and Luther Strange have engaged in a long-running extramarital affair, and she recently hired attorney Bill Baxley to threaten me with a lawsuit for reporting on the matter. Meanwhile, a photograph surfaced last week of Lee Garrison wearing a "penis nose" costume at a Halloween party in 2003.
What does all of this say about the Garrison's judgment? Perhaps that question is best left to voters and the general public. But the Garrisons' ties to Erik Davis Harp might be hard to sweep away.
After all, it's not as if Harp was indicted in a small-time gambling operation; law-enforcement officials say the international sports-betting ring, with servers in Panama, generated more than $20 million a month. Also, Harp was not a peripheral figure; authorities say he and a Farmington, New York, man named Joseph J. Fafone oversaw the entire operation.
A 38-month investigation, called Operation Betting It All, produced evidence that Harp has connections to hard-core criminals. From a press release, quoting Queens, New York, district attorney Richard A. Brown:
“The defendants are accused of operating an incredibly lucrative gambling operation – taking in more than $20 million a month, on average. Such unlawfully earned profits are often – and easily – diverted to more insidious criminal enterprises. In fact, the investigation uncovered evidence that the enterprise had links to both the Gambino and Genovese crime families.”
A report at ny1.com identifies Fafone as an associate of the Gambino family and describes him delivering more than a half million dollars in winnings to one gambler. Fafone's No. 1 associate in the enterprise, it appears, was Erik Davis Harp . . . originally from Tuscaloosa, Alabama:
Some of the suspects allegedly belonged to the Gambino crime family, including Joseph Fafone, seen above, who was arrested yesterday at an airport in Rochester, N.Y. while boarding a plane to Panama with $23,000 in cash on his person.
The alleged gambling ring made about $23 million a month on websites including BetAllSportsHere.com, BetMSG.com and BetOnline.com. While the ring was run in the city, the websites' computer servers were based in Panama.
After conducting more than two years of investigation, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said that all but three of the suspects were arrested.
"The principal in this case, Gambino associate Joseph J. Fafone, personally delivered $553,000 in winnings to one of the gamblers," said Kelly. "Most proceeds were seized soon thereafter [in Long Island] when the [gambler] was stopped by the police for driving while using a cell phone."
How much dirty money was circulating through the betting ring? The New York Timeshelps provide the answer:
Thirty people and a corporation were indicted in Queens in connection with an offshore sports betting operation with links to organized crime that took in a “staggering” half-billion dollars in wagers, New York authorities said on Wednesday.
One can easily understand why authorities described the money involved as "staggering."
That the whole sordid enterprise has roundabout connections to Tuscaloosa--and Jessica and Lee Garrison--might also be considered "staggering."
Legal Schnauzer ranks among the top 50 independent law blogs in North America for 2012, according to a recent survey by a media-relations software and research company in Chicago.
Our blog, which launched in June 2007, ranks at No. 37 in a survey conducted by Cision, which describes itself as "the leading global provider of media relations software services and solutions for public relations professionals."
The top five blogs on the list are (1) Above the Law; (2) The Volokh Conspiracy; (3) Grits for Breakfast; (4) TalkLeft: The Politics of Crime; and (5) The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times. (The full rankings can be viewed at the end of this post.)
I must confess to being late to the party on this. Cision released the rankings on November 16, 2012, and I didn't find out about it until one evening last week. How did it come to my attention? Well, that requires another confession: In pursuit of self-satisfaction (and glorification?), I was Googling my own blog. The first four pages of results produced material I had seen before, but on page five, I happened to spot something that referenced "Legal Schnauzer and top 50 law blogs."
My immediate response? It was something, "What the hell?" (And yes, when a new phone directory arrives, my first act is to check and make sure my name is in there.)
When I clicked on the link and discovered that a media-relations company in Chicago had kindly included me in its list of top 50 law blogs, I was dumbfounded. What was my exact reaction? After wetting myself three or four times in glee--and running down the stairs to break the news to Mrs. Schnauzer at the top of my lungs--I thought I handled myself with professional aplomb.
In a moment of trying to channel Sally Fields, I might have said something along the lines of, "They like me, they really like me!"
Seriously, this is a pretty nice achievement--and the recognition is deeply appreciated. On top of that, I have no idea how Legal Schnauzer came to make the rankings. I don't recall ever hearing from anyone at Cision, before or after the rankings came out. I don't recall anyone telling me they were nominating my blog for such a survey.
I have learned that Cision conducts surveys of top blogs in a variety of fields--education, automotive, public relations, food, travel, weddings, PR and marketing, consumer electronics, etc.
Kristen Sala, senior manager for electronic media, wrote the blog post that introduces the top 50 law blogs for 2012, and here is how she describes the process used for compiling the rankings:
Law surrounds us daily. It affects all of us, from a politician running for office, to the head of a successful PR firm, to the author of an independent blog who works out of the comfort of her home. The law has even made its way into a few prior CisionBlog posts, including our piece outlining Twitter's copyright infringement policy, and our Q&A on content publishing and distribution.
In light of this ever-present topic, we ranked the top 50 independent law blogs in North America. The list was created using Cision's media database, and blogs are ranked based on our Cision Influence Rating. Reaching out to varied audiences, these blogs cover a range of law-related issues. Some offer tips to future law professionals on how to get into law school, while others offer tips to seasoned attorneys on how to keep themselves organized or argue a case. There are blogs that approach law from an outside perspective, offering unbiased updates on recent trials and cases; while others focus on one branch of law and might offer consumers an inside scoop on taxes or copyright.
Here is the Cision top 50 for 2012. As you can see, our little blog is in some lofty company:
|Judge Thomas Young|
Duncan eventually received a retrial and filed a petition for writ of mandamus, asking the Alabama Supreme Court to force the trial judge off the case because his statements from the bench had demonstrated prejudice. The Supreme Court refused, stating that the judge's remarks did not represent the kind of "personal bias" that would "reasonably call his impartiality into question" and force recusal.
That appellate ruling, styled Ex parte Duncan, 638 So. 2d 1132 (Ala., 1994), established black-letter law that governs recusal of an Alabama judge.
A citizen might assume that the justices on today's Alabama high court are well acquainted with the finding in Ex parte Duncan. After all, their predecessors established the law, and under the doctrine of stare decisis, the current-day justices are bound to abide by it.
So how did the high court release an order last week that obliterated the binding precedent of the Duncan case? How did the court force Macon County Circuit Judge Thomas Young off the VictoryLand forfeiture case when no "personal bias" was even alleged, must less shown?
The only answer we can fathom is that our all-Republican high court is so corrupted by political and financial considerations that it no longer takes its legal duties seriously.
Last Friday's ruling in Ex parte State of Alabama makes clear that Attorney General Luther Strange makes no showing, or even allegation, of personal bias against Judge Young. (See full order at the end of this post.) Rather, Strange repeatedly disagrees with Young's interpretation of the law regarding the AG's request for a search warrant at VictoryLand.
The Supreme Court follows suit, claiming Young erroneously applied the law in several instances and exhibited a lack of deference toward the high court itself. The court then issues the writ of mandamus, forcing Young off the case so that "the appearance of justice will be preserved." In reaching such a conclusion, the Supreme Court cites a litany of federal cases that are not applicable or binding in the VictoryLand matter.
What is applicable and binding? It's Ex parte Duncan, but the high court goes to considerable lengths to ignore it. We won't make the same mistake here.
At the heart of the Duncan case was the murder of a state trooper named Elizabeth Cobb. The trial involved disturbing evidence, and the judge apparently allowed himself to get carried away with statements from the bench. Here, from an appellate ruling some seven years after the murder, is a portion of what he said about the circumstances surrounding Elizabeth Cobb's murder:
You know, I just ask myself one simple question; if we got news that they were slaughtering cattle this way in the stockyard, what would the reaction be? Would we say that that's heinous, atrocious and cruel? I would.
Many citizens probably would agree with the judge's statement. But that's not what we expect to hear from someone who is charged with being an impartial arbiter from the bench. Neither is this:
Now the murder in this case was premeditated, it was diabolical, methodical, heartless, cruel, cold, deliberate, it was planned. It was a planned execution and slaughter of an innocent young lady while she quietly and peacefully waited unsuspectingly on the sacred grounds of a little country church on the Sabbath evening. . . . There was no excuse, there was no justification, for a vile, conscienceless, pitiless murder.
The judge left no doubt about where he stood--and you can see where the defendant might not want him to preside over a retrial. But the Alabama Supreme Court found in Ex parte Duncan that the judge's statements did not disqualify him. That's because his statements came in his judicial capacity, not from an extrajudicial source that might lead to personal bias. From the Supreme Court's 1994 ruling:
Therefore, for Duncan to demonstrate a clear right to the relief sought by the mandamus petition, he must show the appearance of impropriety by showing that the alleged bias, hostility, or prejudice is "personal" rather than "judicial":
The alleged bias and prejudice to be disqualifying must stem from an extrajudicial source and result in an opinion on the merits on some basis other than what the judge learned from his participation in the case.
The high court then took it a step farther:
In this case, we cannot say, as a matter of law, that the trial judge's statements in and of themselves show bias, hostility, or prejudice toward Duncan; therefore, we cannot say that Duncan has demonstrated a clear legal right to have the trial judge remove himself. The trial judge's statements arose out of a judicial proceeding, not from an extrajudicial source; and although the trial judge's expressed opinions may have been better left unsaid, in our opinion the remarks he made do not show bias, hostility, or prejudice against Duncan arising from a "personal," i.e., extrajudicial, source.
In concluding, the Supreme Court said the burden was on Duncan to make a clear showing that recusal was required--and he failed to reach that high bar. The same bar was set for Luther Strange, and like Duncan, he failed to reach it.
Like Duncan, Strange based his mandamus petition on Judge Young's statements and actions from the bench. But he never came close to showing that Young had a "personal bias" that could be traced to an "extrajudicial source." Strange, in fact, did not even try to make such a showing.
How did the Alabama Supreme Court get around that slight problem. By ignoring Ex parte Duncan altogether and pretty much creating law from the bench.
In other words, our Republican justices did exactly what they vow, as "strict constructionists," to never do--they legislated from the bench.
Actually, they probably did far worse than that. We will stipulate that the justices on Alabama's high court are not ignorant, and they surely know how to conduct relatively simple legal research. If that's the case, it means they knew the correct legal standard for recusal in the VictoryLand forfeiture matter and chose to ignore it. That can only mean external forces are influencing the court's decisions, which would constitute fraud, obstruction of justice, conspiracy, and perhaps other federal crimes.
Many Alabamians reflexively have voted Republican in recent years on statewide judicial races--probably from a misguided notion that conservative justices will be tough on street crime. We now know that creates an environment where justices themselves can engage in white-collar crime that endangers us all.
A Lee Garrison "Penis Nose" flyer was|
distributed for the 2005 City Council race
Maybe those photos of Lee Garrison wearing a penis nose are being distributed by Mr. Garrison himself. If so, it seems to be a winning strategy.
An alert Legal Schnauzer reader provided us with a copy of a flyer that made the rounds before a Tuscaloosa municipal election in August 2005. The flyer included a photo of Garrison wearing a penis nose and mockingly encouraged voters to elect "the more mature candidate." The tactic hurt Garrison so badly that he won re-election to the City Council.
The same photo, cropped to eliminate an unidentified gentleman who appears to be giving Garrison an award at a 2003 Halloween party, made its way to Legal Schnauzer recently, and we reported on it last week. Our traffic from Tuscaloosa shot through the roof in recent days, so we know the photo has been seen. But did voters care? The answer must be no because they narrowly elected Garrison on Tuesday to serve as chair of the Tuscaloosa City Board of Education.
Garrison headed a slate of school-board candidates who took on incumbents and drew strong support from corporate-style PACS. Most of the pro-business candidates, however, did not fare so well. Garrison and Cason Kirby (District 4) were the only ones who won. Incumbents held off PAC-backed candidates, and their substantial campaign war chests, in four other races.
An excellent summary of the Tuscaloosa elections can be found at The Franklin Stove Blog, at ttowntruthseeker.com, in a post titled "Judgment Day and The Machine." Did The Machine, the famed University of Alabama political operation, have an impact on the municipal elections. The Franklin Stove Blog provides insights:
Cason Kirby, who received over $14,000 from the ET PAC alone, was victorious in his race against School Board incumbent Kelly Horwitz, but not because of the size of his campaign chest. His win can be attributed solely to the support of The Machine. The District 4 polling place was swamped by students, many of whom were wearing tee-shirts commemorating the Greek Fest, the Sigma Nu Shipwreck Party or other fraternal milestones. They came from Tennessee, Oregon, Georgia, California and other states to vote for candidates who were running in a local school board race in Alabama.
The students more than likely were required to return to their Houses wearing the "I voted" stickers that they were given after voting. One person sympathetic to Horwitz said that she wished she could have stood outside the polling place with a roll of stickers and handed them out to students to save them the trouble of casting ballots. It was reported by one poll worker that some students were so unfamiliar with the voting process that, once they were checked off the list of registered voters, they forgot to pick up their ballots. Others left their drivers license, which many had used as an ID, on the tables where they marked their ballot. Some showed up not knowing if they were registered in Tuscaloosa or in another city. There were an unusually large number of "provisional ballots" cast due to uncertainties about voter eligibility.
Even Gawker weighed in on the election, with a report about sorority girls being offered free drinks to vote.
As for Lee Garrison, the "penis nose" photo was not the only baggage he carried into the school-board election. He and his ex wife, Jessica Medeiros Garrison, have a business relationship with a man named Erik Davis Harp, who grew up in Tuscaloosa and lists a recent address of Las Vegas. Harp was one of two kingpins indicted in the investigation of an illegal sports betting ring that was based in Panama and generated $20 million a month. The ring reportedly has ties to the Gambino and Genovese crime families.
In other words, Lee Garrison has roundabout connections to the Mafia, but do Tuscaloosa voters care? Apparently not.
On top of that, news surfaced that Jessica Garrison made nasty statements about her ex in documents from their child-custody case. Never mind that Jessica Garrison has been carrying on a long-running affair with Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange and probably has no grounds to make judgments about others. Here is part of what she said about Lee Garrison:
The father has repeatedly exhibited a willingness to forfeit time with his son to pursue recreational and social activities that often involve excessive drinking and late nights. He also admittedly has had a gambling problem and takes controlled medications for which he has no prescription or medical need. The father also has a bad temper and a consistent tendency to rage, often in the presence of the child. Moreover, the father and his wife are cigarette smokers and have pets, both of which contribute to the child's ongoing allergies.
Ouch! That's rough stuff, but our coverage of the Tuscaloosa municipal elections has taught us a few things about politics in west Alabama:
1. Tuscaloosa residents kind of like it when a candidate parades around with a penis nose on his face. They see it as a sign of light-heartedness, not immaturity;
2. Tuscaloosa residents kind of like it when a candidate has roundabout connections to the Mob. Perhaps they figure, "Hey, if Paul Bryant Jr. can head the University of Alabama Board of Trustees, why not vote for the Mafia-connected candidate on the school board."
3. Tuscaloosa residents don't give a rip what Jessica Garrison says, in a court document or anywhere else.
I have doubts about Lee Garrison's ability to be an effective school-board chair, especially given his corporate backing. But on item No. 3, I have to side with Tuscaloosa's zany voters.
By the way, here is the text of a letter that Lee Garrison sent to supporters yesterday, blaming campaign attacks against him on Tuscaloosa businessman Stan Pate. One of the more interesting developments in the campaign was the appearance of a Web site called ourleegarrison.com. Garrison apparently believes Pate was behind the site and took exception to some of its offerings. Here is Garrison's message to voters:
As many of you may know, Stan Pate has launched a vicious and untrue personal attack on me and my family. My response is simply this, I pray for Stan. I pray for God to help him in only the way that God can heal. My family is very upset over what he has done, but we forgive him for his actions and I pray that Tuscaloosa will do the same. We all are sinners and we all make mistakes in life.
Please Tuscaloosa, come together today and vote for a positive direction for our children and let us all forgive someone today who has hurt us in some way so we can heal as a community!
Garrison might be urging "healing" in the community, but his lawyer has been sending threatening letters to Stan Pate's counsel. It seems Garrison has a peculiar way of "forgiving" Mr. Pate.
The letters were included on ourleegarrison.com, which had been taken down yesterday. But today, it seems to have risen from the ashes.
In polite language, I told her attorney, Bill Baxley of Birmingham, to more or less shove it. My language might not have been so polite had I realized at the time that Garrison's threats almost certainly were not driven by any genuine belief that my reporting on the affair is false. Rather, Baxley probably is trying to scare me away from reporting on another Garrison-related matter, which they know I'm investigating.
I take lawsuits, and threats of lawsuits, seriously. But it's hard not to look at Baxley's letter as somewhat of a joke when you consider its assertions about harassing-communications law in Alabama--and anywhere else.
We will address that legal issue in a moment, but first, here is the response I sent to Baxley via e-mail about an hour after I read his letter:
I am in receipt of your letter dated Aug. 16, 2013. Please be advised that the material you cite in my blog, Legal Schnauzer, is not false or defamatory, and I will make no retraction.
Your contention that it constitutes harassing communications for a journalist to present questions to, or seek comment from, an individual who is engaged in the public political arena . . . well, it's not remotely supported by law--and such a ridiculous claim should be beneath an attorney of your long standing. I have no intent to harass or alarm Ms. Garrison; I am giving her an opportunity to respond to questions about matters of public concern. I not only have a right as a reporter to make such an inquiry, I have an obligation to do so. If I see fit to seek Ms. Garrison's comment for future articles, I will do so. If she sees fit not to respond, that is her right, and I will proceed accordingly.
Finally, be advised that anyone who files a groundless lawsuit against me will be met with an appropriate counterclaim and motion for sanctions--against her and her attorney.
As you can see, two can play the "threatening a lawsuit" game. But more importantly, you also can see my pointed response to Baxley's claims regarding harassing-communications law. Here are the specifics from his letter. (The full letter can be viewed at the end of this post.)
I have advised our client not to reply to any pending "inquiries" she may have received from you. In addition, by this writing, take notice of our representation of Jessica Medeiros Garrison and do not, again, attempt to contact her directly. Be further warned, by this writing, that persistence by you in attempting to have direct contact with our client for any reason will constitute harassing communications within the ambit of Code of Ala. 13A-11-8, which provides criminal penalties for communications with a person, anonymously or otherwise, by telephone, telegraph, mail or other form of written or electronic communication in a manner likely to harass or cause alarm. Take notice of our demand, on behalf of our client, that you preserve any and all communications sent, received, published or existing in any manner regarding her, not deleting or destroying any of them.
Baxley conveniently left out a few important elements of harassing-communications law. Here is the actual law from 13A-11-8, which is titled "Harassment or Harassing Communications:
(b)(1) HARASSING COMMUNICATIONS.
A person commits the crime of harassing communications if, with intent to harass or alarm another person, he or she does any of the following:
a. Communicates with a person, anonymously or otherwise, by telephone, telegraph, mail, or any other form of written or electronic communication, in a manner likely to harass or cause alarm.
b. Makes a telephone call, whether or not a conversation ensues, with no purpose of legitimate communication.
c. Telephones another person and addresses to or about such other person any lewd or obscene words or language.
Nothing in this section shall apply to legitimate business telephone communications.
(2) Harassing communications is a Class C misdemeanor.
If Bill Baxley wants to see an example of real harassing communications, he should read his own letter. I have sent Jessica Garrison two e-mails--one requesting an interview about reports I had received regarding an affair with Luther Strange, and the other seeking comment about two issues that grew from my reporting. I will be publishing those e-mails in an upcoming post.
The bolded sections above point out two key segments of the law on harassing communications: (1) To even come close to meeting the elements of the crime, the communication must be done "with intent to harass or alarm another person"; (2) It must be done outside "legitimate business telephone communications."
Based on Baxley's own words, my communications with Jessica Garrison were not intended to harass or alarm her. Baxley devotes about two pages of his letter to information from six blog posts I've written about Jessica Garrison. My inquiries to her were related to my reporting on those articles--and they are the kinds of inquiries journalists across the globe make every day. As such, these inquiries are legitimate business communications, and this section of law plainly does not apply.
Bill Baxley has been on the Alabama political and legal scenes for a long time, and he has to know his assertions regarding harassing communications are off target to an absurd degree. If Baxley's version of the law ruled, a journalist would be arrested every time he posed a question that the listener found the least bit unpleasant. Our jails and prisons would be packed with journalists--and some might consider that a good thing.
The truth is this: Bill Baxley is the one sending harassing communications. Someone as connected as him almost has to know my reporting on the Garrison/Strange affair is true. Even more troubling, though, Baxley probably knows the real motivations behind Jessica Garrison's concerns--and it has nothing to do with my reporting on her affair.
In fact, my research indicates Jessica Garrison hired Bill Baxley for a specific reason.
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|Jessica Medeiros Garrison|
On the legal side, Baxley might best be remembered for his reply, while Alabama attorney general, to a threatening letter he received in 1976 from a leader of the Ku Klux Klan. Baxley's three-word response: "Kiss my ass."
I don't want to make a habit of copying anything from Bill Baxley's sordid playbook. But Baxley recently sent me a threatening letter on behalf of Jessica Medeiros Garrison, who has been the subject of several posts here at Legal Schnauzer about her long-running extramarital affair with current Attorney General Luther Strange. (Baxley's letter can be viewed at the end of this post.)
The August 19 letter is brief, but it includes such outrageous misstatements of fact and law that I thought it would be appropriate to borrow a page from Baxley's playbook for my response. I politely invited him to "kiss my ass."
I've already noted that a Baxley letter dated August 16 included a number of assertions that are off the charts. For example, he claimed that contacting his client to request an interview or invite comment on matters of public interest would constitute the crime of harassing communications.
Baxley's second letter might have been even more absurd. First, he claims that I am not a journalist under Alabama law and do not qualify for privileges enjoyed by journalists. Baxley cites no law to support that claim, and he apparently didn't bother to check my background before spouting off.
I have a journalism degree from the University of Missouri, which has the first journalism school that was established anywhere on the planet, and 35 years of professional experience. I was on staff as a reporter/editor for 11 years at the Birmingham Post-Herald and for 19 years at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). I've lost track of how many newspapers and magazines have published my work.
Stalking has a very specific legal meaning. Under Alabama law, stalking is a crime, a felony that is punishable by up to 10 years in prison. The description of stalking can be found at Code of Alabama 13A-6-90, and here is the gist of it:
A person who intentionally and repeatedly follows or harasses another person and who makes a credible threat, either expressed or implied, with the intent to place that person in reasonable fear of death or serious bodily harm is guilty of the crime of stalking.
If Jessica Garrison has falsely stated to others that I have been stalking her, and Bill Baxley has repeated that information to others . . . well both client and lawyer are going to have some serious legal issues on their hands.
Here is my full reply to Bill Baxley's latest communique:
To borrow a phrase you once used so eloquently . . . kiss my ass.
I have a degree in journalism from the University of Missouri (B.J., '78) and have more than 30 years of professional experience in the field, working for daily and weekly newspapers, magazines, a university publications office, and more. I've been a guest on radio and TV broadcasts, both locally and nationally. My blog has been named one of the top 50 law blogs in North America, and I've been interviewed on justice issues by media outlets from coast to coast. My work on Legal Schnauzer was cited before Congress in fall 2007 when the House Judiciary Committee investigated political prosecutions under the Bush Justice Department.
If I'm not a journalist under Alabama law, then I would like to know who is. I would suggest that you do a little research into my background before making yourself look like a fool again.
In the interest of brevity, I didn't address Baxley's stalking allegations in that reply. But you can rest assured that issue will be addressed shortly.
Bill Baxley Letter2 by Roger Shuler
|A stretch limousine used|
for Tuscaloosa election
It started with a photo of one candidate wearing a penis nose, plus evidence that the same candidate has roundabout ties to the Gambino and Genovese crime families. (And this guy won!) It ended with national headlines about e-mails that offered free drinks for sorority girls to vote, plus transportation to the polls via stretch limousine.
For good measure, Alabama Public Radio provided a serious tone to the proceedings by reporting that the election might have involved violations of state law.
As for the wacky stuff, the most amusing moment--at least to me--has gone largely unreported in the press.
It involves school-board candidate Lee "Penis Nose" Garrison (he of the Gambino/Genovese connections) issuing a statement to supporters about businessman Stan Pate, who allegedly erected a billboard and a Web site to poke fun at the Garrison campaign and encourage votes for the other candidate.
For some reason, Garrison failed to see the humor in Pate's antics. So here is part of Garrison's statement to his followers:
My response is simply this, I pray for Stan. I pray for God to help him in only the way that God can heal. My family is very upset over what he has done, but we forgive him for his actions and I pray that Tuscaloosa will do the same.
Now, isn't that nice. But here is the kicker: While Lee Garrison was down on his knees, earnestly beseeching the Almighty to save Stan Pate's soul, Garrison's attorney (Lisa L. Woods, of Birmingham) had other ideas--she was sending letters that threaten legal action against Pate. (The letters can be viewed at the end of this post.)
Way to show some love for your fellow man there, Mr. "Penis Nose"! Do you have a divine revelation that part of God's plan to help Stan Pate involves a side trip to the Tuscaloosa County Courthouse? How very Christian, indeed!
Let's take a look at some of Lee Garrison's Christian charity toward Stan Pate--on full display in missives Attorney Woods sent to W. Cam Parsons, counsel for Pate, and to Mr. Pate himself. Here is my favorite part of the letter to Pate's lawyer:
Given your years in practice, I am certain that you understand that, sometimes, things are said in the course of divorce and post-divorce matters that are not true. Simply stating that some third party "swore" to such information does not make the statements true. That said, we ask that you advise Mr. Pate to take his website down and refrain from making or repeating false statements against my client.
We learn from this that Lee Garrison is alarmed about information that Stan Pate apparently gleaned from a court filing in Garrison's divorce case. Ms. Woods takes much the same approach in her letter to Pate:
You have posted a court filing, purportedly by Ms. Jessica Garrison and/or her counsel. It is our position that the statements contained in the same were false then and are false now. An Objection and Response to those false allegations was filed on my client's behalf. We notice that you did not bother to place that document on your post. We perceive this as disregard for the truth in your posting.
Notice that Garrison's lawyer states it's "our position" that statements in the court filing were false. Further notice that Garrison's lawyer states "we perceive" Pate's failure to also publish an Objection to the filing point to his disregard for the truth in the posting. Finally, notice that Garrison's lawyer offers no law to support her claim that Pate's publication of a court filing is defamatory.
That's because no such law exists. In fact, the general rule is that statements made in judicial proceedings carry absolute immunity and cannot be made the basis of a defamation claim. The Alabama Supreme Court spelled this out in a case styled Barnett v. Mobile County Personnel Board, 536 So. 2d 46 (Ala., 1988). In that case, the high court describes the kinds of documents that carry immunity:
There is another class of privileged communications where the privilege is absolute. They are defined in Hastings v. Lusk, 22 Wend. [N.Y.] 410, 34 Am.Dec. 330. In this class are included slanderous statements made by parties, counsel, or witnesses in the course of judicial proceedings, and ... libelous charges in pleadings, affidavits, or other papers used in the course of the prosecution or defense of an action. In questions falling within this absolute privilege the question of malice has no place. However malicious the intent, or however false the charge may have been, the law, from considerations of public policy, and to secure the unembarrassed and efficient administration of justice, denies to the defamed party any remedy through an action for libel or slander.
Why is this the case in Alabama--and across the country? The Barnett court explains:
The doctrine of absolute immunity for statements in judicial proceedings reflects a judgment that the need for completely free speech for litigants is dominant, and that this freedom is not to be endangered by subjecting parties to the burden of defending their motives in subsequent slander litigation, or to the risk that juries may misapprehend those motives.
Lee Garrison and his lawyer should know that Stan Pate cannot be held liable for publishing a court document that is public record. (By the way, I published the same modification of custody filing to the Scribd document-sharing Web site and here on Legal Schnauzer; in fact, that's probably how Stan Pate became aware of it. If Ms. Woods thinks Stan Pate has engaged in defamation, then I guess I will have to brace myself for a threatening letter from her.)
If the lawyer doesn't know simple provisions of defamation law, she needs to give up her bar card and go into a different line of work. If Lee Garrison doesn't know the law, and understand it, he needs to exit the political arena and enter a field outside the public spotlight, where his feelings won't so easily be bruised.
|Jessica Medeiros Garrison|
That philosophy seems to be at play in the recent communications I've received from Baxley on behalf of his client, Republican political operative Jessica Medeiros Garrison. First, Baxley alleged that my reports on Garrison's long-running extramarital affair with Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange are false and defamatory. I soon will present evidence that indicates Baxley himself doesn't believe that. In fact, I have evidence that suggests Baxley's letters aren't about Jessica Garrison and her affair with Luther Strange--they might not be about Jessica Garrison at all.
But Baxley was not content to raise only a bogus defamation claim against me. He followed that up by suggesting I had engaged in a crime, harassing communications, against his client. Then, seemingly unable to contain himself, Baxley alleged that I had committed another crime, stalking, against his client.
Press reports indicate Baxley has downed copious amounts of Jack Daniels and other "adult beverages" over the years, so maybe that has done something to his brain cells. For whatever reason, he seems to have lost the ability to engage in facts and the law. So we will take over that job for him.
As for facts, I've never seen Jessica Garrison or, to my knowledge, been anywhere near her. I've engaged her in communication twice, both times via e-mail. On both occasions, I requested an interview and/or invited her to comment on matters of public interest. She is, after all, an attorney with a major Birmingham law firm (Balch & Bingham) and an official with a national political organization, the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA). On top of that, she served as campaign manager for Luther Strange in 2010.
In other words, Jessica Garrison has willingly stepped into the arena of statewide and national politics, and she should not be surprised when a reporter contacts her with questions or an interview request. As an attorney herself, she also should be familiar with the law on subjects such as defamation, harassing communications, and stalking.
My first e-mail to Jessica Garrison was sent at 12:31 p.m. on July 12, 2013. Here are the full contents:
I am a journalist in Birmingham, reporting on justice/legal issues at a number of Web sites, including the blog Legal Schnauzer. I've received reports from multiple sources that you and Luther Strange had an affair that culminated with your divorce and his election as attorney general of Alabama. I have been researching this matter for several months, and I'm at the point where the stories are ready for publication. I would like to give you an opportunity to respond to questions and ask that we schedule a time for an interview, either via phone or in person.
My plan is to begin running the articles in the next few days, so I ask that you respond to this request by 5 p.m. on Tuesday, July 16.
As you can see, I identified myself and stated my affiliation and my purpose for contacting her. I stated that I wanted to give her an opportunity to respond to questions about her relationship with Luther Strange. I said I would be glad to conduct the interview by phone or in person--and I gave her more than four days to respond to my request. I treated her with respect and professional courtesy, but I never heard from her, so I proceeded with my first report about the affair on July 17.
Jessica Garrison had every opportunity to address this issue. If she wanted to make verbal statements or present physical evidence that indicated no affair took place, I was prepared to listen, take notes, and report accordingly. She was contacted five days before the first word ever appeared on this blog about the Luther Strange affair.
Ms. Garrison never responded--never took advantage of a chance to discuss this issue--but now she's claiming my reports are false and defamatory. In a curious twist, Ms. Garrison did not communicate her claims to me until Bill Baxley's letter of August 16, exactly one month after she had failed to respond to my interview request.
That's not the only curious twist in this evolving tale.
(To be continued)
|Judge Roy Moore|
Based on the Alabama Supreme Court's recent order to force Macon County Circuit Judge Thomas Young off the VictoryLand forfeiture matter, the reasonable person would be wrong on both counts. Roy Moore apparently believes Biblical strictures are for others to follow, but they do not apply to him.
How else to explain Moore signing off on an order that not only is contrary to legal precedent, but also includes a blatant misstatement of fact. To put it bluntly, the order includes an outright lie, which calls to mind Commandment No. 9--"Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour." This commonly is understood to mean that Christians are not to lie. Proverbs 6:16-19 builds on this idea:
There are six things that the LORD strongly dislikes, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.
That makes it mighty clear that the Lord isn't too keen on liars. So why did Roy Moore sign his name to a document that includes a bold-faced lie?
Well, let's consider the proof against "His Honor." From page 2 of the order removing Judge Young:
The game of "bingo" can constitute a lottery or gift enterprise under Art. I, Sec. 65. Barber v. Cornerstone Cmty. Outreach, Inc., 42 So. 3d 65 (Ala., 2009). There are, however, certain local amendments to the constitution that authorize "bingo" games and act as "exceptions to the lottery prohibition" of Sec. 65. In the Cornerstone decision, released on November 13, 2009 this court set forth a six-part test to determine whether certain gaming activity constituted legal "bingo" for the purposes of those local amendments.
Whoever wrote those sentences, especially the part highlighted in yellow, is a liar. And he is lying to the Alabama citizens who fund his job and his court with their taxpayer dollars. We don't know that Roy Moore wrote those words, but he signed off on them. So what does that say about Roy Moore. It says, to me, that he's a liar--that he does not take the Ten Commandments seriously. At the very least, it says he countenances liars and supports their work.
How do we know that Roy Moore and his colleagues on the high court are liars? We can start by looking at the Cornerstone decision ourselves. The "whole shootin' match" can be read at the following link:
Barber v. Cornerstone, 42 So. 3d 65 (Ala., 2009)
The Cornerstone ruling came after former Governor Bob Riley's anti-gambling task force seized property at an electronic-bingo facility in Lowndes County, and a trial court granted a preliminary injunction and ordered the task force to return all property. The Riley defendants appealed, and the Supreme Court's ultimate ruling describes the issues it considered:
On May 26, 2009, the Riley defendants filed their appellants' brief on the merits of their appeals of the trial court's preliminary injunction. On May 29, 2009, Cornerstone and FTV filed in both appeals a motion asking this Court to dissolve the preliminary injunction and to dismiss the appeals.
The highlighted words make it clear the Supreme Court was considering a narrow issue: Was the preliminary injunction in the Lowndes County court proper?
We invite readers to click on the link above and read the entire Cornerstone ruling. Taken as a whole, it states that the court was focusing narrowly on: (1) The electronic-bingo facility in Lowndes County; and (2) The lawfulness of the preliminary injunction against the Riley defendants.
That's it--nothing about any other bingo facility in Alabama, nothing beyond a right or wrong ruling on a preliminary injunction. For those who don't want to read the entire ruling, I've presented the key section below, which encompasses roughly the last six paragraphs of the ruling. That's where the rubber meets the road, and the section can be read at the end of this post.
What do we learn? The two highlighted sections below tell us exactly what the case was about. First, we have this:
Based on the foregoing, we must conclude that the term "bingo" as used in Amendment No. 674 was intended . . .
We see nothing unclear about that. The case is about Amendment No. 674, which governs bingo in Lowndes County.
Then, we have this:
On the basis of the foregoing, we cannot conclude that Cornerstone and FTV introduced sufficient evidence from which the trial court could have determined that Cornerstone and FTV had a reasonable likelihood of success on the merits. The trial court's order issuing a preliminary injunction therefore is reversed, and the cause is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
This, again, is clear: The case is about two entities in Lowndes County (Cornerstone and FTV) and it's about a preliminary injunction they had obtained--nothing more, nothing less.
That brings us back to Roy Moore. Why did a judge who touts the Ten Commandments sign his name to a ruling that includes a clear lie?
As for Judge Moore's inability to see "the log in his own eye," we will address that in an upcoming post.
In a brief filed August 26 with the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, Siegelman's lawyers argue that Bush-era U.S. Attorney Leura Canary continued to participate in the case after she had recused. Siegelman's legal team, which now includes former Obama White House counsel Greg Craig, claims this amounts to a violation of Siegelman's constitutional rights and requires a new trial--or at the very least, an evidentiary hearing on Canary's actions.
The brief also argues that U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller unlawfully enhanced Siegelman's sentence by relying on conduct for which a jury found the former governor not guilty. (See full brief at the end of this post.)
In the new appeal, Siegelman does not challenge the jury verdict, although his lawyers make clear he disagrees with it. Rather, he seeks review of issues that go to the heart of the case, focusing on improper actions of the chief prosecutor and the judge. From the brief:
U.S. Attorney Leura Canary's failure to honor her disqualification violated Siegelman's right to a disinterested prosecutor. While Siegelman was being criminally investigated by the U.S. Attorney's Office, Canary's husband was a hired consultant for Siegelman's political opponent; Canary had a direct financial interest in the success of her husband's client and in Siegelman's defeat. . . .
Despite this conflict of interest, evidence shows that Canary's involvement in the case lasted long after her May 2002 disqualification. She communicated with members of the prosecution team, made staffing decisions, and celebrated their success. According to evidence from whistleblower Tamarah Grimes, Canary even wrote press releases related to the case. This level of involvement from a prosecutor with a personal financial stake in seeing Siegelman defeated and convicted was constitutionally unacceptable.
What are the legal particulars? They can be found in a U.S. Supreme Court case styled Berger v. United States, 295 U.S. 78 (1935). The crux of the matter is this: Federal prosecutors have a duty to serve the public interest, not their own personal or financial interests. From Berger:
The United States Attorney is the representative not of an ordinary party to a controversy, but of a sovereignty whose obligation to govern impartially is as compelling as its obligation to govern at all; and whose interest, therefore, in a criminal prosecution is not that it shall win a case, but that justice shall be done.
How important is this principle? The nation's highest court held in Young v. United States ex rel. Vuitton et Fils S.A., 481 U.S. 787 (1987) that the failure to ensure a disinterested prosecutor requires automatic reversal of a conviction. From the Siegelman brief:
The right to a disinterested prosecutor is so important—such a “fundamental premise of our society”—that failure to honor the right requires automatic reversal, without requiring the defendant to show that the error caused prejudice. . . .
In this case, Canary was disqualified from participation in the Siegelman case in May 2002, but she continued to communicate with and influence the prosecution team long after that. Given her direct, personal financial interest in prosecuting Siegelman, her continued involvement in the case violated Siegelman’s right to a disinterested prosecutor. At a minimum, Siegelman has established sufficient reason to believe that targeted discovery—which has never been conducted—would develop significant new facts substantiating his claim.
As for trial-court judge Mark Fuller, it's hardly breaking news that he butchered the Siegelman case. His unlawful and improper actions have been well documented here and at a number of other news sites, including Andrew Kreig's Justice-Integrity Project.
Kreig, by the way, devotes considerable space to the Siegelman case in his new book, Presidential Puppetry: Obama, Romney, And Their Masters, which is about to be released in hardcover. Kreig discussed the book earlier this week on the Garland Robinette Show at WWL radio in New Orleans, and a podcast can be heard here.
Siegelman's latest Eleventh Circuit filing shines new light on Fuller's corrupt handling of the sentencing process:
In calculating Siegelman’s sentence under the Guidelines, Judge Fuller dramatically increased his offense level by relying on conduct unrelated to the offenses for which Siegelman was convicted. Without explanation, Judge Fuller lumped together all the charges against Siegelman—the Scrushy Charges, the Motorcycle Charges, and the RICO Charges—treating them as a single, undifferentiated block. The consequence of this grouping was to dramatically increase Siegelman’s offense level by imposing: (1) a two-level increase for obstruction of justice; (2) an eighteen-level increase based on a $3,740,525 “total benefit” calculation; and (3) a four-level upward departure for systematic and pervasive Government corruption. As a result, a Guidelines range of 51 to 63 months’ imprisonment was suddenly transformed into a range of 151-188 months’ imprisonment.
Translation: Fuller unlawfully increased Siegelman's sentence by a factor of roughly three. How unjust is that? The brief makes it clear:
Grouping all of the conduct together was thus the most significant sentencing decision that Judge Fuller made. Yet he failed to explain or justify the decision in any way. Nor was a justification possible: The conduct underlying the Scrushy Charges, the Motorcycle Charges, and the RICO Charges involved disparate acts and aims, took place at different times over a six-year period, and involved different participants. Much of the conduct that Judge Fuller held Siegelman accountable for was also unknown and unforeseeable to him. Therefore, Judge Fuller erred in calculating Siegelman’s Guideline range by treating everything the government sought to prove at trial as a single, undifferentiated unit.
The relevant law on this issue is found in a case styled United States v. Valarezo-Orobio, 635 F.3d 1261 (11th Cir. 2011). From the brief:
Under the Sentencing Guidelines, a defendant is punished not merely based on the counts of conviction, but on the “relevant conduct” underlying those counts. . . . Conduct qualifies as “relevant”—and hence punishable—if it is sufficiently related to the offense of conviction; where joint activity is alleged, the conduct must also be “foreseeable” to the defendant.
Siegelman's legal team makes a powerful argument that Fuller simply ignored the principles of federal sentencing:
To determine whether conduct should be grouped together, “a court must look to the similarity, regularity, and temporal proximity between the offense of conviction and the” conduct sought to be grouped. United States v. Maxwell, 34 F.3d 1006, 1011 (11th Cir. 1994). . . . But this Court has admonished sentencing courts not to paint with too broad a brush: "[W]hen illegal conduct does exist in discrete, identifiable units apart from the offense of conviction, the Guidelines anticipate a separate charge for such conduct. . . . " United States v. Blanc, 146 F.3d 847, 853 (11th Cir. 1998) (grouping of frauds together was unwarranted “because the conduct is subject to meaningful subdivision into wholly discrete and identifiable units”).
The trial record is filled with evidence that Fuller could not lawfully take a "kitchen sink" approach to sentencing:
Here, it is clear that the Scrushy Charges can meaningfully be divided from the Motorcycle Charges and the RICO Charges, such that a “separate charge” was proper for each.10 Indeed, they were indicted separately. See Amedeo, 370 F.3d 1305 at 1315-16 (separate indictment shows that the conduct was “sufficiently distinct from the offense of conviction that it warranted a separate charge”). And the fact that the jury could, without any logical inconsistency, acquit Siegelman of the RICO Charges but convict him of the other charges further confirms that they are easily separable.
Siegelman's latest appellate brief provides another ugly chapter in perhaps the most notorious political prosecution in American history. It paints the picture of a prosecutor unlawfully pulling strings from off stage, and a judge acting on his own whims rather than established legal guidelines.
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|Hugo Black U.S. Courthouse|
I recently stumbled upon such an opportunity while investigating a law clerk and the corrupt federal magistrate judge he works for in the Northern District of Alabama. At the risk of sounding self congratulatory, I didn't let the opportunity pass. I saw a high fastball coming and decided to swing for the fences, leashing a Schnauzer rant upon the ear drums of David Waters Jr.
Did I connect for a home run? Well, that is up for debate, and you can hear the exchange in a video at the end of this post. But I felt a whole lot better when my rant was over--and Waters undoubtedly was left with the distinct impression that I don't much care for legal con games in a system that is funded with public dollars.
Is David Waters Jr. really a member of the financial "1 Percent"? I would say that is highly unlikely. But as the son of a partner at the national, pro-corporate Jones Walker law firm, Waters certainly has close ties to legal elites. And his arrogance was on display when he hung up on me after being questioned about a conflict involving his boss, U.S. Magistrate T. Michael Putnam, in my wife's ongoing employment lawsuit against Birmingham-based Infinity Insurance. Actually, as we showed in a recent post, Waters hung up on me twice.
Did I land a few punches on David Waters finely manicured face? Well, you can be the judge. I went on the offensive by noting my experience before U.S. District Judge William M. Acker Jr. in my employment case against the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). I pointed out what appears to be a patronage system for hiring law clerks at the Hugo Black U.S. Courthouse, a subject that Waters probably was not thrilled to see raised:
Who are some of the other law clerks down there? Is that how it’s done? I know Ben Slaughter used to be Judge Acker’s law clerk, and he now works at Haskell Slaughter. And you’re Judge Putnam’s law clerk, and your father works at Jones Walker. Is that how it’s done, all the big, pro-corporate law firms get their children these nice clerkships down there? But regular everyday people like us who get cheated out of our jobs, we just get screwed, time and again. And you don’t care, do you, David? You’ve got your future, you’ve got a nice little nest made for you, at Jones Walker, when you get out of your clerkship. Some of the rest of us have to actually work for a living and actually have to earn jobs. But you don’t care about that.
What kind of response did this draw from Waters Jr.? Nothing but an audible sigh. Sensing that I was on a bit of a roll, I decided to forge ahead:
And you’ve got a conflict of interest, and you know it, and that’s why you hung up, and Judge Putnam knows it and he’s crooked.
Waters apparently couldn't let that haymaker pass without a response, although he didn't deny that Putnam is crooked:
There is nothing I can do to help you. Further conversation on this topic is inappropriate at this point . . . This conversation has to end.
That brought return fire from yours truly:
You can end it whenever you want. You’ve already hung up once, go ahead and do it again. But I’m a journalist, and I am going to print this. I’m not going to sit back and let you and your little colleagues at Jones Walker cheat my wife. She’s been out of a job for 3 years and I know who did it . . . and Angie Ingram has been wrongfully dismissed and you know she put matters outside the pleadings into this case, and therefore she cannot be dismissed. You know that, everybody down there knows it. Then I find out Angie Ingram is represented by someone from your father’s law firm. That’s a conflict of interest, David. You can’t sit there with any sort of serious look on your face and deny it.
With that, Waters resorted to the same line that ended our first conversation:
This conversation is over.
If it's been awhile since you've heard a member of "The 99 Percent" vent at an elite, you might want to check out this exchange. It begins at about the 3:40 mark in the video below:
|Judge Roy Moore|
Therefore, you might expect that Moore is well versed in the teachings of the New Testament and lives his life accordingly. But based on a recent Alabama Supreme Court order in a forfeiture proceeding involving the VictoryLand casino, you would be wrong.
As chief justice, Moore signed an order that forced Macon County Circuit Judge Thomas Young off the VictoryLand matter. We've already shown the order conflicts with long-standing Alabama precedent--and it even includes a bold-faced lie, which makes you wonder how serious Roy Moore really is about the Ten Commandments and their warning against "bearing false witness."
But that's not all. We now have evidence that suggests Roy Moore should forfeit his nickname, "The Ten Commandments Judge." A more fitting title, it appears, would be "The Hypocrisy Judge."
As one who professes to be a devout Christian, Moore should be familiar with one of Jesus' best- known teachings. It comes from Matthew 7:3--"Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?"
The meaning is clear: Christians are not to judge others, especially without stopping to scrutinize their own behavior first. Does Roy Moore follow that directive? Not even close.
In its VictoryLand order, the Alabama Supreme Court repeatedly chastises Judge Young for failing to show proper deference to a higher judicial body--and Roy Moore signs his name to the order, front and center as chief justice. This is the same Roy Moore whose previous reign as chief justice ended when he refused to obey a federal-court order that he remove his Ten Commandments monument from the Alabama Judicial Building.
As recently as August 21, 2013, on the 10th anniversary of the monument controversy, Moore still was defiant, claiming that he was right on the matter and federal courts were wrong. In other words, Roy Moore made disrespectful statements about the federal judiciary just as the VictoryLand order was about to be issued. (It's dated August 23.)
What do Moore and his colleague say about Judge Thomas Young, of Macon County? (See the full order at the end of this post.) Here is part of it:
Judge Young has consistently criticized this Court's decisions regarding the litigation involving VictoryLand. He has indicated that he was "shocked and alarmed" at our decision in Tyson v. Jones, that our decision in Cornerstone was "not clear" and "did not assist him," and that the application for a search warrant this Court directed him to sign was insufficient and "improper." Most telling, Judge Young violated this Court's previous directives by failing to act immediately upon the receipt of our February 15, 2013, sealed order "to issue the warrant" and, contrary to our directive that the proceeding and order remain under seal until further order of this Court, wrote a note on the face of the warrant that would disclose the fact and nature of the proceedings in this Court to VictoryLand and presumably others prior to the "further order of this Court."
Were Roy Moore's colleagues on the Alabama Supreme Court, knowing Moore's continuing history of defying and criticizing a federal court, able to sign the VictoryLand order with straight faces? Did Moore himself sign the order without noticing the slightest trace of irony?
As "The Hypocrisy Judge," Roy Moore seems to think he can do just about anything--and no one will notice that he's a phony.
VictoryLand Judge Young Recusal by Roger Shuler
|Jessica Medeiros Garrison|
From that date until August 13, I published six posts about the affair, and I never heard from Garrison or her attorney, Bill Baxley.
My second e-mail to Jessica Garrison was sent at 1:50 p.m. on August 14 and included questions about two issues that have little, if anything, to do with Luther Strange. One issue was her purchase of a house that was appraised for almost $440,000 in the Crestline section of Mountain Brook. The other involved her business relationship with a man named Erik Davis Harp, who was indicted in 2009 as one of two kingpins in an illegal gambling ring based in Panama. According to published reports, leaders of the ring had ties to the Gambino and Genovese crimes families.
Here are the full contents of my second e-mail to Jessica Garrison:
I am a journalist in Birmingham, reporting on justice/legal issues at a number of Web sites, including the blog Legal Schnauzer. I have been reporting about your relationship with Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange and would like to ask you a few questions for upcoming related articles:
(1) A document from your custody case, dated 5/23/12, states that you had a new address of 119 Main Street, Mountain Brook. Another public document shows that the property was sold at "public outcry" on two different dates, 6/12/12 and 7/20/12.
A. How could you have this new address in May when the property wasn't sold to you at public auction until June and July?
B. Was there really a public auction, where the property was available for open bids, or was the house somehow cherry picked for you? If so, who assisted in this matter, and why?
(2) Public records indicate you've had a business relationship with a man named Erik Davis Harp, formerly of Tuscaloosa. Published reports show that Mr. Harp was indicted for helping to run an illegal offshore gambling operation, based in Panama. Published reports further state that the operation had connections to the Gambino and Genovese crime families.
A. What was the nature of your business relationship with Mr. Harp? Is that relationship ongoing?
B. Given your public statements against gambling, and considering Luther Strange's strong opposition to gambling, how could you be connected to a gambling king pin with ties to major criminal factions?
I ask that you respond to this request by 5 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 16.
Once again, I gave Garrison ample time--more than two full days--to respond. Once again, she failed to respond. But this time, I did hear from her lawyer, Bill Baxley, alleging that my reporting was false and defamatory and that I was engaging in criminal conduct (harassing communications) against his client.
Let's briefly review what we know at this point: I published six posts about the Jessica Garrison/Luther Strange affair, over a period of one month, and I never heard a word of complaint from Ms. Garrison. I sent her an e-mail on August 14, focusing on two subjects: (1) Her purchase of a pricey house in Mountain Brook; (2) Her business relationship with a man who had been indicted in an international gambling probe.
Two days later, Bill Baxley dashes off a letter to me, threatening a lawsuit. Baxley's letter claims my reports about the Garrison/Strange affair are false and defamatory, and he demands a retraction.
The timing of all this, however, suggests Jessica Garrison's real concern is about something else altogether. And we see evidence that Bill Baxley shares that unspoken concern.
(To be continued)
|Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox|
Does that name sound familiar? Well, The Grove is the banner under which Charlotte-based Campus Crest Communities builds student-apartment complexes around the country. Ted Rollins, the company's CEO, has all of the ugliness noted above--and then some--in his background.
How do we know? It comes from our research connected to Rollins v. Rollins, a divorce case in Shelby County, Alabama, described here as the worst courtroom cheat job we've encountered. The final order from Circuit Judge D. Al Crowson was so flagrantly corrupt and one sided that it has left Ted Rollins' children (Sarah and Emma Rollins) and their mother (Birmingham resident Sherry Carroll Rollins) on and off food stamps for several years.
As CEO of a public company that has received more than $800 million in Wall Street support, Ted Rollins owns multiple private jet craft. And yet, he has no problem allowing his own children to go hungry here in Alabama, just a few miles up I-59 from Tuscaloosa.
Rollins once caused his children to be thrown out of their home in Greenville, South Carolina, all because he refused to make court-ordered mortgage payments. He even has a history of using illegal drugs while on a business trip to meet with officials of a public university. Appropriately enough, Ted Rollins got his "Rocky Mountain High" while in Fort Collins, Colorado, to seal a deal for The Grove at Colorado State University.
Parents of University of Alabama students are going to entrust their children to this guy? Mayor Walt Maddox and his political colleagues apparently have no problem with that. And so far, they have not responded to my questions on the subject, avoiding accountability much the way Ted Rollins does when asked about his repeated violations of court orders.
Almost all of the information about Ted Rollins' unsavory history is a matter of public record. But can Maddox and members of the Tuscaloosa City Council be expected to comb through court records every time a developer seeks approval for a construction project?
Well, in this case, they didn't have to. That's because I did the work for them.
On the morning that the city council was to vote on a rezoning request connected to The Grove project, I sent an e-mail to Maddox and then council member Lee Garrison. (In the August 27 municipal elections, Garrison was elected chair of the Tuscaloosa City School Board and officially gave up his council seat.)
I identified myself as a journalist who had reported extensively on an Alabama divorce case involving Ted Rollins. I cited just some of the ugly facts in the CEO's background and provided links to articles and public documents. I asked Maddox and Garrison if they supported such a corporate executive entering the Tuscaloosa business environment, and if so, why.
My query has drawn no response from either Maddox or Garrison. But I do know my e-mail reached its destination. A source tells Legal Schnauzer that Maddox mentioned the e-mail in a pre-council meeting that day and said he would distribute the information to council members.
Did the revelations have any impact? Did Tuscaloosa city leaders take the documented ugliness in Ted Rollins' background seriously? The answer appears to be no, considering that the rezoning request was unanimously approved that night--and the full Campus Crest project was approved at a subsequent council meeting.
What exactly did Mayor Maddox and his council colleagues know before putting out the welcome mat for Ted Rollins and his company? Here is the copy of the e-mail I sent at 11:05 a.m. on August 20:
Mr. Garrison and Mr. Maddox:
I'm a journalist in Birmingham and write on justice issues at Legal Schnauzer.
I understand the Tuscaloosa City Council is about to consider issues related to The Grove, a planned student-housing development that is to be built by Campus Crest Communities of Charlotte, NC.
Campus Crest CEO Ted Rollins has extensive ties to Alabama and our court system, and I have reported on him in a lengthy series of posts. My reporting, supported by public documents and witness statements, shows the following:
* Mr. Rollins has been convicted of assaulting his 16-year-old stepson in North Carolina. http://legalschnauzer.blogspot.com/2012/05/campus-crest-communities-ceo-ted.html
* The assault constituted an act of child abuse under North Carolina law. http://legalschnauzer.blogspot.com/2013/01/ceo-ted-rollins-and-former-alabama.html
* Mr. Rollins was investigated for child sexual abuse of the same stepson, based on the complaint of an anonymous concerned citizen. http://legalschnauzer.blogspot.com/2012/09/campus-crest-communities-ceo-ted.html
* Mr. Rollins perjured himself in a divorce action that unlawfully was conducted in Shelby County Circuit Court, greatly reducing his child-support payments. http://legalschnauzer.blogspot.com/2012/03/ceo-ted-rollins-lied-under-oath-on.html
* Mr. Rollins failed to pay court-ordered child support for almost three years in South Carolina, resulting in a bench warrant for his arrest. http://legalschnauzer.blogspot.com/2012/01/ceo-of-campus-crest-communities-was.html
Do the two of you support the arrival of such a "family friendly" company and its CEO in Tuscaloosa? If so, why?
I would appreciate your response to these questions, plus any other comments you care to make, for publication at Legal Schnauzer.
(205) 991-7438 firstname.lastname@example.org
Lee Garrison no longer serves on the City Council, but we will give Mayor Maddox another opportunity to address these issues. Will he remain in hiding, much the way Ted Rollins does when confronted with tough questions? We soon will find out.
|Hugo Black Courthouse|
As the great columnist Dave Barry often has said, "I am not making this up."
Judicial Clerk Review (JCR) bills itself as "an oasis for law students and lawyers who are applying for judicial clerkships." JCR then describes its mission: "We provide tailored support to our clients, removing uncertainty in the application process and ensuring they put their best foot forward as they apply for what we consider to be THE BEST law jobs."
In furtherance of that goal, JCR's Web site includes a blog, which picked up on our recent reports about David Waters Jr., who clerks for U.S. Magistrate T. Michael Putnam at the Hugo Black Courthouse here in Birmingham. We have shown in a series of posts that Waters and Putnam have a clear conflict in my wife's pending employment case against Infinity Insurance, Waters showed supreme arrogance in hanging up on me once, Waters showed even more rudeness when hanging up on me a second time, and I had the pleasure of telling him off before the whole thing was over.
How did JCR describe the action? Let's take a look, from a post titled "Legal Schnauzer Sniffs Out Law Clerk":
Blogger and journalist Legal Schnauzer (aka Roger Shuler) is on a tear against U.S. Magistrate Judge T. Michael Putnam and Judge Putnam’s law clerk, David Waters, Jr. Legal Schnauzer has accused Putnam of presiding over his wife’s employment discrimination case despite an existing conflict of interest. According to Legal Schnauzer, at the heart of that conflict is the law clerk, whose dad is a partner in the law firm that represents the defendant employer in Legal Schnauzer’s wife’s lawsuit.
Schnauzer called chambers, apparently to inquire about this potential conflict, and got Waters on the phone. Twice. Both times, Waters hung up on Schnauzer, who recorded their second exchange. Legal Schnauzer has taken aim at Waters, accusing Waters of residing comfortably within the one percent and claiming to target Waters’s “finely manicured face” with a verbal assault over the phone. It’s personal, folks.
I kind of like it at this point, although I disagree about it being personal, from my standpoint. I don't have anything personally against David Waters Jr.; my ire comes from the fact that Waters is part of a broken system, and he seems to have an indifferent attitude about the corruption that I know is rampant in the Hugo Black Courthouse where he works.
My jaw dropped when JCR addressed the larger issues that my posts present. I thought their first item was interesting, the second one was absolutely on target, but the third one . . . well, it was a stunner. You can read here for yourselves:
What might be the bigger lessons here? (1) Had the law clerk simply gone about his business and, instead of clerking, entered the relative anonymity of law firm associate-dom after law school, he likely would have avoided this attention. I guarantee the clerkship experience is worth it. (2) If clerkships were truly open to a diversity of perspectives, backgrounds, and experiences, the thread of elitism that undergirds Legal Schnauzer’s accusations would not have much traction. (3) Maybe law clerks shouldn’t be permitted to answer the phone in chambers. Many judges and their staff shield the law clerks from public interaction on behalf of chambers. Not just for the good of the law clerk but to save chambers any embarrassment as well.
Now, I admire JCR for its statement in No. 2, and it's a rare dash of candor from someone in the legal profession: "If clerkships were truly open to a diversity of perspectives, backgrounds, and experiences, the thread of elitism that undergirds Legal Schnauzer’s accusations would not have much traction."
JCR seems to be admitting that nepotism, cronyism, and elitism is at the heart of the clerk selection process. In fact, the blog suggests the process is closed off to many capable candidates.
But JCR truly baffles me when it hints that maybe law clerks aren't capable of answering the phone and dealing with the public. The ones who get coveted clerkships are supposed to be "the best and brightest" of the young legal crop? Lord, have mercy.
JCR seems to ignore the real issue at the heart of my communications with David Waters Jr. If my wife's case were being handled according to the law, I never would have contacted him. If Judge Putnam had recused himself from the outset, as the law requires, David Waters and I never would have crossed paths.
Waters didn't come off sounding bad in my interview because he's a blockhead. It's just that he was put on the spot, facing honest and tough questions for which he had no answer.
If Putnam had been following the law, I wouldn't have called in the first place. But assuming I had called anyway, Waters could have calmly explained the applicable law, and I probably would have understood and gone on about my business.
The only honest answer Waters could have given me on this occasion was: "Look, you know your wife is being cheated, I know your wife is being cheated, but I'm just Judge Putnam's law clerk and I can't do anything about it."
Knowing such an answer would have cost him a job, Waters chose to stumble and fumble around, coming across as an arrogant jackass who really doesn't care whether the public receives justice or not.
David Waters Jr. might not be that kind of shallow person. But the more deeply entrenched he becomes in a broken system, the more often he's going to sound like a shallow person.
That's the real lesson here: Corrupt judges make life difficult for everyone around them--litigants, lawyers, even law clerks who make the mistake of answering the phone.
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|Steven Farese Sr.|
Our research indicates this can happen in several ways. One, the defense lawyer will charge a client an outrageous sum and then do relatively little work, putting the accused in danger of being both convicted and financially ruined. Two, the defense lawyer will do little or no discovery that could prove his client's innocence.
We already have touched on this issue in the prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman. G. Douglas Jones, chief defense lawyer in the early stages of the case, charged Siegelman $300,000 and bailed out before taking the case to trial. One of Jones' primary "accomplishments" in the case was agreeing to extend the statute of limitations for prosecutors who admitted they could not prove their case at that point.
Two ongoing cases in Mississippi provide classic examples of how vulnerable a citizen can be when charged with a crime--especially in the murky world of federal, white-collar statutes that tend to be so poorly worded the accused often has no idea if he's actually committed a crime or not.
One of the Mississippi cases involves Ecru insurance broker Ken Nowlin, who became entangled in the kind of Bush-era political drama that is all too familiar to many Alabamians. The other involves Penni Tingle, a former chief financial officer from Hernando who was accused of embezzling funds from IKBI Inc., a general contracting firm owned by the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.
Lawyers from the Ashland firm of Farese Farese & Farese served as defense counsel in both cases. Nowlin and Tingle now say in court documents that they were pressured to plead guilty to crimes they did not commit. Both also say the Farese lawyers made little or no effort to seek documents that were available and would have proven their innocence.
In Nowlin's case, a letter from an ethics expert would have shown that Nowlin believed his method for paying county supervisor Gary Massey was proper under the law. The letter, Nowlin states, shows that neither he nor Massey had the state of mind required for convictions on corruption charges. Defense lawyer Anthony L. "Tony" Farese, however, insisted the letter did not exist and made no effort to find it, even though court documents state he had information that pointed to both its existence and whereabouts.
In the Tingle case, defense counsel Steven E. Farese Sr. apparently was too busy sexually harassing his client to seek exculpatory evidence in her case. Tingle, a 42-year-old single mom at the time of her sentencing, recently produced copies of text messages that show Steve Farese Sr. engaged in a vile and persistent campaign of sexual harassment against her.
On his firm bio, Farese Sr. is portrayed as quite the big-time lawyer--and a family man, to boot:
Mr. Farese has lectured extensively throughout the United States to trial lawyers on criminal trial techniques. He has handled numerous "high profile" cases and has been interviewed by Vanity Fair. He has also appeared on Prime Time, Court TV, A&E's City Confidential, People Magazine, Nancy Grace, Larry King Live, Greta Van Sustren, and Good Morning America.
Steve and his wife Suzanne have three children, one of whom is Steve Jr., an attorney who practices law in the Farese Law Office. They have five grandchildren.
Did Greta Van Sustren, Nancy Grace, Larry King, and other big timers from cable TV ever think about what it's like to actually be one of Steve Farese Sr.'s clients? Somehow, we doubt it. But Penni Tingle's text messages reveal Steve Farese Sr. to be a lawyer who was interested in using his client in ways that probably aren't anticipated in Criminal Defense Law 101. Here is just a sampling:
Steve Farese (SF): "I won Best Orgasm Provider for 8 years in a row . . . "
SF: "I think you're hot."
SF: "Do I interest you at all?"
SF: "Would you please come fuck me?"
Now that we know what the Farese law firm seems to be all about, we will take a close look at their actions and inactions that led to Ken Nowlin and Penni Tingle pleading guilty to crimes the record suggests they did not commit.
|U.S. Judge Bill Pryor|
Nude photographs of federal judge Bill Pryor appeared in the 1990s on a gay pornography Web site, a Legal Schnauzer investigation shows.
The photos appeared in 1997 on badpuppy.com, which was in its online infancy, having debuted in mid 1995. Based in Cocoa, Florida, the site has morphed into one of the largest gay porn sites on the Web.
Images obtained by Legal Schnauzer show Pryor posing completely nude, staring into the camera and sporting a noticeable erection. We see no indication that the photos were taken surreptitiously, without Pryor's knowledge. Sources say Pryor was college age when the photos were taken.
Pryor rose to national prominence in Republican circles on the basis of a staunchly conservative record, including consistent opposition to gay rights. He also has supported school prayer and the death penalty, while opposing abortion rights, making him a highly unpopular figure among liberal and progressive interest groups.
A married father of two, Pryor lives in Vestavia Hills and his federal-court duty station is in Alabama, with an office on the ninth floor of the Hugo Black Federal Courthouse in downtown Birmingham. Pryor revealed during his confirmation hearings that he and his wife, the former Laura Louise Bowles, rescheduled a family vacation to Disney World when they discovered the Orlando, Florida, theme park had scheduled "Gay Days" festivities at the same time as their planned visit.
What is the public to make of revelations that Pryor once was featured on a gay porn Web site? It clearly raises questions about rank hypocrisy, dating to the beginnings of Pryor's political career. It also raises the specter of Pryor being ethically compromised to the point that he is the victim of not-so-subtle blackmail, forced to participate in rulings that he knows are unlawful, at risk of his secrets being revealed. Most importantly, federal nominees typically are asked during the confirmation process about potentially embarrassing or compromising information in their backgrounds. If Pryor failed to disclose the gay-porn photographs, or did not answer a specific question truthfully under oath, it could be grounds for a Senate investigation.
G. Thomas Porteous Jr., a federal judge in Louisiana, was removed from the bench in 2010, and one of the articles of impeachment against him involved charges that he intentionally misled the Senate during his confirmation process.
Alabama law-enforcement officials became aware of the photos at badpuppy.com in 1997, not long after Governor Fob James appointed Pryor attorney general. An investigation ensued, and multiple officials familiar with that process have told Legal Schnauzer that the photos are, in fact, of the Bill Pryor who now sits on the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Sources say the photos were taken while Pryor was a student at Northeast Louisiana University (now University of Louisiana Monroe) from 1980 to 1984.
Legal Schnauzer contacted Judge Pryor last Friday via e-mail, seeking an interview about the photographs and their possible implications for his role on the federal bench. Pryor responded as follows:
I have nothing to say to you except that these accusations are totally false.
Do not contact me again.
I replied by stating that these are not "accusations," they are photographs of an individual that multiple sources have identified as him. I further stated that I had every right, as a citizen and a journalist, to seek comment from a public official with a lifetime appointment, regarding matters of national importance. For good measure, I attached copies of the photographs. Pryor responded as follows:
This is the last time I will respond to you. Those photos are not of me.
Do not contact me again.
I informed Pryor that I would include his response in my upcoming series of posts.
A screenshot from a group of photos titled "WizardBoy Gallery #19" shows a head shot of an individual, and beside that is the name "Bill Pryor." It also includes the name "Tom Wander," with links to 15 pictures.
The Pryor photos likely appeared in at least one print publication in the 1980s and remained relatively unknown until an informant provided a tip to investigators with the Alabama Bureau of Investigations (ABI) that they had appeared in the digital world. A number of prominent Republicans became aware of the photos once they hit badpuppy.com, and a major Republican business/political figure confronted Pryor about them, a source tells Legal Schnauzer. The photos disappeared from badpuppy.com one day after that meeting, but ABI investigators already had captured screen shots that are dated September 17, 1997. (One of the screen shots can be viewed at the end of this post. Warning: The screen shot involves full-frontal male nudity, taken from a gay porn site.)
Even though major political figures were aware of the photos, they did not prove to be a hurdle when President George W. Bush nominated Pryor to the federal bench in 2003 and installed him via a recess appointment in February 2004. The staunchly right-wing Pryor was perhaps the most controversial nominee of the Bush presidency. A bipartisan "Gang of 14" U.S. senators reached an agreement to allow an up-or-down vote on Pryor and two other nominees, and they were confirmed by a 53-45 margin on June 9, 2005.
Were the FBI and the Senate Judiciary Committee made aware of Pryor's connections to gay porn during his confirmation process? Our sources say the answer almost certainly is no, and in fact, the photos might have helped him get nominated over numerous conservative candidates who had far more judicial experience in the Eleventh Circuit. Pryor was elected Alabama attorney general in 1998, and was re-elected in 2002, but he had never served in a judicial capacity at the time of his nomination.
Why then was Pryor chosen, when many experts saw Sharon Lovelace Blackburn (now presiding judge in the Northern District of Alabama) as among numerous more qualified candidates? Our sources say high-level Republicans, likely including White House strategist Karl Rove, knew the gay-porn photos put Pryor in a weak position--and they would make him easy to control on the bench. (More on this angle of the story coming in future posts.)
Rove and Republican operative Bill Canary helped manage Pryor's 1998 campaign for attorney general. Pryor went on to become a central figure in perhaps the most notorious political prosecution in American history. As Alabama attorney general, Pryor launched an investigation of Governor Don Siegelman that morphed into a federal probe, under U.S. Attorney Leura Canary (Bill Canary's wife).
Siegelman appeared to have won re-election in 2002 when it was announced late on election night that he held a slight edge over Republican Bob Riley. The race was ultra close in large part because of press coverage about the investigation that Pryor had launched.
Alabamians awoke the next morning to news that votes for Siegelman had disappeared overnight in heavily Republican Baldwin County, shifting the election to Riley. Pryor ordered the ballots sealed and stated that anyone who attempted a recount would be subject to arrest.
Siegelman attempted a political comeback in 2006, and polls showed him as the favorite at one point. But those plans were derailed when the federal investigation led to indictments on corruption charges. The former governor and HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy wound up being convicted on charges many legal experts have characterized as standard political behavior that does not amount to violations of criminal statutes. Multiple appeals from Siegelman and Scrushy have been denied in the Atlanta-based Eleventh Circuit, where Bill Pryor now sits.
As for badpuppy.com, it was relatively unknown when the Bill Pryor photos appeared there. But the site has exploded in popularity, becoming what appears to be the "Wal-Mart of gay porn." It bills itself as "a massive gay porn supersite," featuring free movies that are recorded and broadcast in high definition.
The site's entry page states that it has "been continuously online since May 17, 1995." Badpuppy was the first gay adult membership site and features both amateur men and professional gay porn stars. The brand hosts 30 additional Web sites that form the "Badpuppy Network."
Badpuppy's operators clearly are in the business of making money, and going by the site's huge presence on the Internet, they must be doing a good job of it. The site's founders probably never imagined they might someday help rattle the American political and judicial landscape. But images from Badpuppy's early days could morph into one of the most shocking judicial scandals in modern American history.
Below is a screen shot of Bill Pryor, captured from badpuppy.com, September 17, 1997.
(To be continued)
|Bill Pryor, on badpuppy.com|
|U.S. Judge Bill Pryor|
A prominent Alabama Republican took one look at photos from a gay porn Web site in 1997 and shrieked, "Holy cow, that's Bill Pryor! I'm meeting with him this afternoon!" sources tell Legal Schnauzer.
The Republican official did meet that afternoon with Pryor, who would soon become Alabama's attorney general, and the photos disappeared the next day from badpuppy.com, a gay porn "supersite" based in Cocoa, Florida.
Our research indicates a mystery man named "Ernie" played a pivotal role in exposing Bill Pryor's ties to gay porn. More on that in a moment.
What exactly did the Alabama Republican see that day? He was shown copies of "WizardBoy Gallery #19," a cornucopia of images that featured young men in various states of undress. Next to a head shot of one young man was the name "Bill Pryor." And when one clicked on a link, it produced multiple images of Bill Pryor, posing in a state of full-frontal nudity.
The entry page to WizardBoy Gallery #19" includes head shots of 10 young men who all appear to be in their early 20s, roughly the college years. It's likely that no one involved could imagine at the time that one of the featured gentlemen would become a federal judge. (See screen shots of the gallery at the end of this post.)
President George W. Bush nominated Pryor in 2003 to the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. The staunchly right-wing, anti-gay Pryor proved to be perhaps the most controversial appointee of the Bush years, and the Senate confirmed him in 2005 on a close vote.
A Legal Schnauzer investigation shows that nude photographs of Pryor, complete with a noticeable erection, appeared at Badpuppy--and officials with the Alabama Bureau of Investigations (ABI), acting on a tip from an informant, captured screen shots before the images were removed.
Pryor has known the photos were public since at least September 1997, and our sources say it's unlikely he disclosed their existence to FBI and U.S. Senate investigators during the pre-confirmation process for the federal judgeship.
Could Pryor face serious consequences if it is shown he made false statements to officials looking into his background? Based on the impeachment and removal of Louisiana federal judge Thomas Porteous in 2010, the answer might be yes.
One of the articles of impeachment against Porteous involved his failure to disclose information to investigators--and his false statements during pre-confirmation regarding any background information that might prove embarrassing to him and the president who nominated him, Bill Clinton.
Did Pryor withhold information that would embarrass him and George W. Bush? We don't have a certain answer at the moment, but it appears likely.
Pryor posed for the photographs when he was a student at Northeast Louisiana University (now University of Louisiana Monroe) from 1980 to 1984, our sources say. The photos likely appeared somewhere in print during the '80s and remained largely out of sight until finding new life during the digital revolution of the 1990s.
How did the Pryor photos make their way to Badpuppy? Details about that are murky, but language at the top of "WizardBoy Gallery 19" provides some clues. Here is how it reads:
WizardBoy Gallery #19 features new scans of classic color and B&W pix from a private collector. Thanks, Ernie! Comments to WizardBoy welcome.
Who is Ernie? Well, that remains a mystery at this point--although we have discovered some clues about his identity. This much appears certain: Ernie was quite the collector of gay porn, and he liked to share it with his friends and the public.
A number of individuals connected to Alabama law enforcement acted on a tip that helped bring Bill Pryor's secret to light. But without Ernie, and his passion for collecting gay images, there probably never would have been anything to investigate.
We contacted Pryor last week and requested an interview about the photographs and their implications. His first response was to say "these accusations are totally false." We responded by pointing out that the story revolves around photographs of him, not accusations, and sent him copies of several images. Pryor responded by saying, "Those photos are not of me."
One of Pryor's closest associates in Alabama politics would not buy that claim. Upon seeing the photos, he responded immediately, "Holy cow, that's Bill Pryor!"
|Bill Pryor, at badpuppy.com|
|Murphy Abigail Shuler:|
the schnauzer who
inspired a blog
But we've decided to join the band of bloggers who attempt to "monetize" their online efforts. Quite a few readers have told us over the years that they would like to provide financial support for our reporting on legal and judicial corruption. My response always has been something like this: "Thank you, but I didn't start this blog with the idea of making money, and I kind of like the purity of spirit that comes with that approach. We appreciate your thoughts, but we don't have a mechanism for generating funds from the blog."
The chorus of folks wanting to help has grown to the point that we've decided to add a PayPal donation button, which now can be found in the upper left-hand corner of the blog. Purity is nice, but our work involves quite a few expenses, and we definitely could use help with those. We have a motivated, intelligent, engaged audience, and it seems quite a few readers feel strongly enough about our work to lay some money down.
Legal Schnauzer has evolved in many ways over the past six years, and this is just the latest example. We recently were ranked No. 37 in an international ranking of the top 50 independent law blogs in North America. When you consider that there probably are several hundred thousand law blogs out there, that makes a pretty powerful statement about the reach and impact of our little enterprise.
Based on my research of the top 50, as determined by the Chicago-based social media/marketing firm Cision, it appears that Legal Schnauzer is the only blog on the list with no affiliation to any law firm, university, publishing firm, or interest group. In other words, we probably are the one truly independent blog on the list--the only one that stands on its own feet, with no supporting institution behind it.
Hopefully, our new donation button will help change that, allowing us to continue providing the kind of accurate, insightful, hard-hitting justice reporting that all-too-often is missing in mainstream publications.
Are we making a difference? Just consider the past two days, and our reports on the photos of U.S. Circuit Judge Bill Pryor that showed up in the 1990s at the gay-porn supersite badpuppy.com. Pryor has been staunchly anti-gay throughout his career, and our reporting has unmasked him as a monumental hypocrite. It also raises serious questions about possible irregularities in the FBI and U.S. Senate investigative process that led to his confirmation under President George W. Bush.
The facts of the Pryor story have been out there since at least 1997, but they remained dormant and under the radar until we launched about a six-month investigation that dug them up. (Schnauzers are known for digging things up.) Leading legal blog Above the Lawpicked up on the story yesterday, so the public now has insight on the federal judiciary that it didn't have before.
To those of you who decide to click on the button and support us with your hard-earned funds, we say a hearty "thank you." And we say that on behalf of Murphy Abigail Shuler (1993-2004), the beloved schnauzer to whom our work is dedicated.
Please know that our mission statement remains the same: "The memory of a beloved pet inspires one couple's fight against injustice."
The No. 1 legal blog in the country yesterday picked up on our reports about photographs of U.S. Circuit Judge Bill Pryor that appeared in the 1990s at a gay porn Web site.
Above the Law (ATL), founded by Yale Law grad David Lat and based in New York City, helped unmask Pryor with a post titled, "Underneath His Robes: Nude Photos of a Federal Judge?"
ATL's piece didn't do much to advance journalism on the story--in fact, its reporting on the Pryor matter borders on pathetic. But journalism is not ATL's primary purpose. The blog is renowned for its snarky, gossipy take on inside legal news--and its audience of mostly lawyers, judges, legal analysts, and reporters eats it up. The Chicago-based social media/marketing firm Cision ranked Above the Law No. 1 on its 2012 list of the Top 50 Independent Law Blogs in North America.
(Legal Schnauzerranked No. 37 on that list; best I can tell, we are the only entry not connected to a law firm, university, publishing firm, or interest group.)
Because of ATL's wide reach in legal circles, Bill Pryor must have found the site's coverage particularly painful. Has the Pryor story become the subject of much discussion at law firms, big and small, around the country? Above the Law indicates the answer is yes:
Circles around the water coolers in offices of the federal judiciary are very busy today. It seems that a rumor is circulating about a prominent conservative judge who allegedly posed for nude photographs before heading to law school. The photos, which made their way to badpuppy.com, one of the largest gay pornography sites on the worldwide web, depict a handsome young man staring into the camera, expressionless, his genitalia fully exposed.
Before zeroing in on Pryor, ATL notes that he is not the first judge to face scrutiny because of sex-related missteps:
If true, this would not be the first time that a respected jurist has inadvertently revealed what lies underneath their robes. Judge Wade McCree of Michigan bared it all when one of his sext messages was leaked to the public. Madam Justice A. Lori Douglas blushed red as a Canadian maple leaf when nude photographs of Her Honor engaging in bondage acts surfaced online.
On the other hand, if the gossip that is making the rounds is true, it would likely be the first time that a federal judge seated on one of the United States circuit courts has been caught with his pants around his ankles — or in this case, with no pants at all . . .
Who is this pantless judge? That would be Bill Pryor, the conservative boy wonder from Mobile, Alabama, who now makes his home in the Birmingham suburb of Vestavia Hills--and has his federal duty station at the Hugo Black U.S. Courthouse downtown:
The judge implicated in this affair is William Holcombe Pryor Jr. of the Eleventh Circuit, who also serves on the U.S. Sentencing Commission. Though we have no way to confirm if the accusations are true, we can’t help but notice a resemblance between Judge Pryor and the attractive young man in the pictures (meaning that Judge Pryor is quite the judicial superhottie).
David Lat, by the way, is gay, so that explains ATL's funky approach to the Pryor story, describing him as "quite the judicial superhottie." I would beg to differ with that description of Pryor, but then my perspective is quite different from that of David Lat and his staff.
ATL notes that the story originated with Legal Schnauzer (and yours truly, Roger Shuler), even running one of the photos that we unearthed, providing a discreet black screen over Pryor's genital region. ATL repeats Pryor's assertion to us that the photos are not of him, and then invites readers to decide for themselves.
I get a kick out of ATL's off-center take on legal affairs, and its attention to the Pryor story has got to be a major embarrassment to more than just the featured judge--it's a huge black mark on the entire federal judiciary. I was, however, disappointed with--though not surprised by--the poor journalism on display in the ATL story.
|Bill Pryor at ATL|
Zaretsky also claims I might have an "axe to grind" because I've "lost" a couple of lawsuits in the Eleventh Circuit, Pryor's court.
Here is exactly how ATL addressed these issues:
It’s worth noting that Shuler may have an axe to grind against the judiciary. Other posts on his website refer to federal judges as corrupt, and he’s filed and lost lawsuits in Judge Pryor’s court, the Eleventh Circuit (see here and here). There’s a website dedicated to exposing the supposed truth behind some of Shuler’s scurrilous tales, which notes that he has been sued for defamation and accuses him of being a “Wannabe Journalist, Pseudo Court Commentator and Cyber Bully.”
If Zaretsky had bothered to do the slightest bit of legwork--like picking up the phone and calling me, or sending an e-mail--she would have discovered that, in fact, it's not "worth noting" these issues. And here is why:
(1) Zaretsky's notion that I "may have an axe to grind" should be offensive to anyone, of either gender, who has been victimized and chosen to fight back. Let's apply Zaretsky's thinking to one of the ugliest subjects of all--rape. Imagine a victim who fights back against a rapist with everything she's got--and even proceeds to identify him in court, with all of the stress and blow back that often entails. Does that victim have "an axe to grind" with the man who raped her? Is her axe particularly sharp because she had the audacity to unmask him in a public forum?
(2) Zaretsky provides links to documents from two lawsuits that I've "lost" in the Eleventh Circuit. One was a lawsuit my wife and I filed against debt collectors who violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). The other was my First Amendment/age discrimination lawsuit against the University of Alabama Board of Trustees and other defendants connected to UAB, where I worked for almost 20 years before being unlawfully terminated because of my reporting on this blog.
(As regular readers know, that last sentence is not a guess on my part; I have tape-recorded statements from UAB human-resources official Anita Bonasera admitting I was targeted because of my work here about the political prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman. See video at the end of this post.)
Zaretsky tries to make hay over my characterization of several federal judges as "corrupt." But had she bothered to check the case files and relevant law on the two cases cited, she would have found that the judges on those matters did act in a "corrupt" fashion. U.S. District Judge Abdul Kallon butchered the FDCPA case, and as I've reported in a number of posts, that is a matter of public record--it's not just my opinion. The same applies to U.S. District Judge William Acker Jr. and his hatchet job on my UAB case.
Had Zaretsky researched my blog a little bit, she would have found that I've accurately reported the corrupt actions of federal judges on cases that have nothing to do with me. (In fact, only a small percentage of our posts here are about cases involving my wife or me.) Perhaps the best-known examples involve Judge Mark Fuller (Middle District of Alabama) in the Siegelman case and Judge Henry Wingate (Southern District of Mississippi) in the Paul Minor.
Am I a lone whack job, a "disgruntled litigant," howling at the moon by myself about corrupt federal judges? Not exactly. Scott Horton, a Harper's columnist and Columbia University law professor, has written extensively about the unlawful actions of Fuller and Wingate. (See here and here.) Andrew Kreig, a University of Chicago law graduate who is director of the Washington, D.C.-based Justice-Integrity Project, has written numerous reports about Fuller and other corrupt federal judges. (See here and here.) My reports about the Minor case were cited in the U.S. House Judiciary Committee's 2007 investigation on Bush-era political prosecutions.
(3) Zaretsky's reference to a Web site that claims it's dedicated to "exposing the truth" about my reporting is an example of lazy, shallow journalism, of the lowest order.
A 30-second glance at the Web site in question would have revealed that its author is so "dedicated" that he doesn't reveal his identity. It also would have shown that the site offers not one citation to fact or law that counters any of my reporting. Most importantly, Zaretsky easily could have found out that the site is sponsored by someone connected to Campus Crest Communities CEO Ted Rollins, and it started in response to my accurate reporting about Rollins' ties to child abuse, perjury, failure to pay child support, and more. That doesn't even include my reporting about a state investigation in North Carolina based on a citizen's complaint about Rollins' possible child sexual abuse of his stepson--the same stepson who was the complainant when Rollins was convicted for assault.
(4) Finally, Zaretsky claims I have been sued for defamation, without bothering to learn that I haven't been served with any such lawsuit. Given that a court takes jurisdiction only when a defendant has been lawfully served, it's difficult for a complaint to get very far without service--and it's a matter of fact that service has not taken place in the alleged legal action against me.
Did Zaretsky make an effort to research any of that? I guess not, apparently because she was too busy referring to Bill Pryor as a "judicial superhottie."
I give Above the Law high marks for building a substantial audience and bringing attention to the Bill Pryor scandal. As for journalism . . . well, the site's performance is dismal in that regard.
Here is just one example of facts ATL chose to ignore in its hurry to appear "fair and balanced" by attacking the reporter who broke the Bill Pryor story:
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