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- 09/17/14--13:44: _Beer Company Has Hi...
- 09/19/14--11:30: _The Republican "Ril...
- 09/22/14--13:42: _Will The Unmasking ...
- 09/23/14--05:35: _Could Sonny Reagan ...
- 09/24/14--05:25: _Could The Unmasking...
- 09/25/14--05:50: _The Unmasking Of So...
- 09/26/14--12:50: _Judge overrules him...
- 09/29/14--15:07: _Sonny Reagan's effo...
- 09/30/14--10:15: _Sonny Reagan's cred...
- 10/01/14--05:40: _From surveillance t...
- 10/02/14--05:33: _Orkin Pest Control ...
- 10/02/14--10:37: _Alabama Republican,...
- 10/06/14--12:02: _Is Alabama's "Riley...
- 10/07/14--11:56: _Is Bryan Taylor dra...
- 10/08/14--13:14: _Is Bryan Taylor's l...
- 10/09/14--09:15: _In Ferguson, Missou...
- 10/14/14--12:45: _The nontraditional ...
- 10/15/14--12:19: _Wife-beating federa...
- 10/16/14--12:55: _I Know All About Th...
- 10/20/14--09:15: _Now that Mark Fulle...
Sounds like America's judiciary should take a lesson from the beer company.
Federal Judge Mark Fuller (Middle District of Alabama) stands accused of beating his wife in an Atlanta hotel room--and it looks like he will keep his job upon completing a 24-week treatment program for alcohol, drug, and domestic-violence issues. U.S. Senator Richard Shelby called on Fuller to resign yesterday, and that's big news, but Shelby supported Fuller for the position--and the senator's words at this point seem to be a case of too little, too late.
According to Facebook reports from Alabama attorney Donald Watkins, some of Fuller's judicial brethren have asked him to step down from his lifetime perch on the bench. But Fuller, it appears, has refused, and we see no signs that the judicial establishment is going to put any bite behind its mild bark.
The folks who make Budweiser are not so timid. From USA Today:
Now the NFL has real trouble on its hands.
Fed up with the league's woeful inconsistencies on domestic violence and its belligerent insistence on protecting misbehaving players, Anheuser-Busch took the NFL to task on Tuesday. No, it didn't say it was pulling its $1.2 billion, six-year contract – yet.
But it doesn't take a marketing genius to see what's down the road if the NFL doesn't get its act together. And fast.
Meanwhile, Judge Mark Fuller does not have to work quickly. He can go into rehab for 24 weeks and hope the public largely forgets about the 911 call that provides evidence of him savagely beating his wife.
The Lee County grand jury has been known to be focusing on House Speaker Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn). But documents in an article at Alabama Political Reporterindicate that Bob Riley, his family members, and political associates also are targets.
The documents surfaced from an effort to prevent Deputy Attorney General, and longtime Riley ally Sonny Reagan, from testifying before the grand jury. A judge denied Reagan's request, presented by Birmingham attorneys Bill Baxley and Rob Riley (Bob's son).
Reagan has been point man, under both Bob Riley and current Attorney General Luther Strange, in efforts to shut down non-Indian casinos that feature electronic bingo.
In a July 22, 2014, memo to a chief administrator in the AG's office (marked as Exhibit C), Reagan provided details about his contentious relationship with Matt Hart, head of the Special Prosecutions Division and a key figure in the Lee County case.
Reagan writes the following about Hart:
On Monday, March 31, 2014, Matt arrived at his office and I was sitting at my desk with the door open. When Matt saw me at my desk, he stepped into my office to tell me that he was about to announce an arrest resulting from his investigation. He then asked me when I was going to "drop Mike Hubbard as a friend." He told me that Hubbard was going down along with *the Riley machine" and I should prepare myself for that fact. He then walked back into his office.
Later in the same memo, Reagan writes the following in reference to Hart:
In addition to the above events. Matt has had numerous conversations with me about his investigation into House Speaker Mike Hubbard. These conversations took place last year either in my office or in Matt's office, which is located next door to my office. Every discussion that I have had with Matt was initiated by Matt. Matt has told me repeatedly how he plans to take down Hubbard and dismantle '*the Riley machine" and has revealed to me grand jury information, or information described to me as grand jury information.
Who might be considered part of "the Riley machine"? In addition to the former governor, it almost certainly includes his son, Rob Riley; his daughter, Minda Riley Campbell; and Minda's husband, Rob Campbell, an attorney at the Birmingham firm Bradley Arant. According to published reports, the governor's office sent more than $10 million in taxpayer funds to Bradley Arant during the final two years of Riley's term, a period when a crusade against non-Indian gaming took center stage.
Reagan's memo shines light on recent reports that Chief of Staff Kevin Turner is holding a "secret" over Luther Strange's head in an effort to get Matt Hart removed from the Lee County case. Turner was a lawyer at Bradley Arant before joining the AG's staff. Is it possible that Hart's interest in Team Riley could lead to unwanted scrutiny for Bradley Arant--and Turner wants to make sure that doesn't happen?
Who is Matt Hart? Well, we have written about him before, and it has not been in a flattering way. In fact, we gave two thumbs down to reports that Hart would join the attorney general's office under Luther Strange.
But we are reconsidering our stance on Matt Hart. We have written many times that Bob Riley and his associates have brought an extraordinarily ugly form of corruption to Alabama--and given our state's history with slippery politicians, that is saying something.
If Matt Hart can, in fact, dismantle "the Riley machine," he would be performing a massive public service--and it might actually change Alabama from a glorified banana republic to a state that could eventually capitalize on its untapped potential.
I know personally what it is like to be a victim of the corrupt Riley machine. I would love to help Matt Hart bring them down--and I have information that might be relevant to the task.
Whether I'm a factor in the investigation or not, I will be watching Matt Hart's actions with great interest. If he is successful in taking apart Team Riley, and holding individuals accountable, he will have my eternal gratitude.
A high-profile member of the Alabama Attorney General's Office faces disciplinary action for allegedly leaking information to suspects under investigation by the Lee County grand jury. At first glance, the story might seem like a ho-hummer to many citizens. But we think it has the potential to be one of the most important stories in modern Alabama history, perhaps with national implications. It even could represent a watershed moment, when a state that long has ranked among the top 10 for corruption slowly starts climbing out of the muck.
We will call the story "The Unmasking of Sonny Reagan." It could be historically important because of its potential to unmask some of Alabama's most powerful political figures, bad actors who have brought a virulent strain of conservative corruption to the state over the past 20 years or so.
We are quick to acknowledge that the white elites who control Alabama--attorney Donald Watkins calls them a conservative oligarchy--are a slippery bunch. They are capable of making payoffs or concocting cover ups that limit their damages--or make their problems go away altogether.
That certainly could happen with the case of Henry T. "Sonny" Reagan. But we think it might be hard for key players to wriggle out of this mud hole. For one, the charges against Reagan strongly hint at criminal activity. Two, Reagan is unusually well connected, serving now under Attorney General Luther Strange and previously as chief legal advisor to former GOP Governor Bob Riley.
In both of those roles, Reagan has been point man on efforts to close non-Indian gaming facilities, such as Milton McGregor's VictoryLand in Macon County. That means Reagan likely is deeply knowledgeable about the flow of Indian gaming money--both from Mississippi (thanks largely to Jack Abramoff and the Mississippi Choctaw tribe) and from inside Alabama via the Poarch Creek Indians--that has helped turn Alabama's political landscape into a cesspool.
Given the ugliness that Indian gaming cash has wrought around the country . . . well, you can see how the Reagan story could become national in scope if the deputy AG is forced to answer tough questions under oath.
The Lee County grand jury reportedly is focusing on House Speaker Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn), a longtime Riley ally. The plot thickened last week when court documents showed that Special Prosecutor Matt Hart has stated he expects the case to take down both Hubbard and "the Riley machine."
Ironically, those documents involved Reagan's efforts to avoid testifying before the grand jury. The irony deepens when you consider that one of Reagan's attorneys was Rob Riley, the former governor's son.
How ugly could all of this get? Bill Britt, of Alabama Political Reporter, provides clues with a piece out today titled "Unmasking the Jackals: Inside the AG Conspiracy." Writes Britt:
Last week, Hubbard’s criminal defense attorney J. Mark White tried to insulate his client from the Reagan scandal by saying, “...there has been no communication between the two men [Hubbard and Reagan] in person, by phone, letter, email, carrier pigeon, or smoke signal. For anyone to suggest otherwise would warrant a diagnosis of 'factual deficit disorder.'”
White is juggling like a circus clown attempting to distract everyone away from the main attraction in the center ring. Reagan’s actions are linked to his relationship with former Gov. Bob Riley, not Hubbard. The Reagan affair cuts to the heart of the matter: it is the Riley Machine at work to save itself.
This is family business for this pack of jackals.
Britt makes special note of Rob Riley's presence--and his connections to a man who now stands accused of trying to subvert justice:
The former governor’s son is Reagan’s attorney, which clearly shows a bright-line connection to the Riley Machine. And if the Reagan/Riley connection is not bright enough, the fact that Rob Riley has been Hubbard’s attorney of record since the late 90's should start to illuminate the truth.
So it is that Reagan, owes his career to Gov. Riley.
Hubbard is Riley’s second son and Rob represents them all.
This dark alliance should come as no surprise, but the fact that Rob Riley is the shadow attorney for Hubbard and Reagan, is definitely an unholy Communion.
Acting Attorney General Van Davis announced Friday that Reagan had been placed on administrative leave. In so doing, Davis clearly hinted at the possibility of criminal charges. From Mike Cason of al.com:
Davis said he informed Strange on Wednesday that Reagan has had "undisclosed communications with individuals affiliated with people indicted or under investigation by the Lee County Special Grand Jury."
"Reagan also took other action to impede the investigation," Davis said in a statement released by Strange's office.
Where could this be heading on the criminal front? We will examine that question in an upcoming post.
Davis said Reagan had "undisclosed communications with individuals affiliated with people indicted or under investigation by a Lee County Special Grand Jury."
As if that language weren't strong enough, Davis then dropped this bomb: "Reagan also took other action to impede or obstruct the investigation.”
That is the kind of language often seen in criminal statutes. And it raises this question: Will Reagan, and perhaps the individuals with whom he communicated, eventually face obstruction of justice and related charges?
Like more than half of the states, Alabama has a broad criminal statute that covers obstruction of justice. The crime in Alabama is called "Obstructing Governmental Operations," and it can be found at Code of Alabama 13A-10-2. Here is how it reads:
Obstructing governmental operations.
(a) A person commits the crime of obstructing governmental operations if, by means of intimidation, physical force or interference or by any other independently unlawful act, he:
(1) Intentionally obstructs, impairs or hinders the administration of law or other governmental function; or
(2) Intentionally prevents a public servant from performing a governmental function.
(b) This section does not apply to the obstruction, impairment or hindrance of the making of an arrest.
(c) Obstructing governmental operations is a Class A misdemeanor.
Obstruction of justice, in the sense normally considered by the public, is a federal offense covered under 18 U.S. Code 1501-1508. The most broad form of the offense is found in the omnibus clause at 18 U.S. Code 1503.
Our research indicates obstruction charges often are brought along with related charges, such as perjury, subornation of perjury, conspiracy, and racketeering.
Those last two charges might be the most worrisome ones for Reagan and the individuals with whom he communicated. By definition, conspiracy and racketeering can involve multiple defendants and possible federal jurisdiction.
Racketeering generally is covered under the federal RICO statutes, and violation of a state statute can be a predicate offense for launching a RICO case. For now, it is too early to say that the Reagan case might get that serious. It probably will depend on what Davis meant when he said, "Reagan also took other action to impede or obstruct the investigation.”
At a minimum, the Reagan case is an embarrassment for the AG's office and it calls into question Reagan's fitness for practicing law. At a maximum, it could lead to a wide-ranging criminal investigation, threatening powerful conservative figures with federal charges and possible prison time.
|Alabama political jackals are coming|
out in the open.
That's a fancy way of saying Reagan has been improperly leaking information to his friends, in an apparent effort to help them avoid big trouble. And it raises this question: Did Special Prosecutor Matt Hart know about Reagan's leaking activities when he uttered ominous words about Mike Hubbard and the political machine led by former Republican Governor Bob Riley? Did Hart utter the words, quoted by Reagan, because he knew Reagan was trying to save the fannies of his long-time political allies? Could Reagan's improper communications help lay the groundwork to bring down Hubbard and the Riley Gang, including son Rob Riley and daughter Minda Riley Campbell?
Those are just a few of many intriguing questions raised by the "Unmasking of Sonny Reagan," an event we think could have historic implications for a Deep South state that long has been plagued by corruption, largely fueled by conservatives.
Let's consider a few other questions that quickly come to mind:
* With whom did Reagan communicate, and when did the communications take place? What point in the grand-jury proceedings seemed to prompt his outreach efforts?
* How did Reagan and his associates communicate? Was it in person, by phone, e-mail, regular mail, text, other? Could use of the federal mails or wires (phone, computer) invoke federal jurisdiction if the case turns into a criminal matter?
* Did Reagan communicate with anyone associated with Indian gaming and did he try to protect them in any way? If so, what does that say about his handling of cases against non-Indian gaming facilities, such as VictoryLand in Macon County?
* Did Reagan encourage anyone to lie or cover up information before the grand jury? Did anyone actually lie to the grand jury, based on Reagan's encouragement and instructions?
* Birmingham lawyers Rob Riley and Bill Baxley represented Reagan in his efforts to avoid testifying before the grand jury? Did they unlawfully receive information about the grand jury's activities from their client? Did they know that Reagan was leaking grand-jury information? Were they among those who received his leaks? If so, what did Reagan discuss with them and why?
That last set of questions hits close to home for us. Rob Riley filed a dubious defamation lawsuit against me last fall, which led to my unlawful incarceration for five months. Bill Baxley represents former Luther Strange aide Jessica Medeiros Garrison in another defamation lawsuit, which just happened to surface against me at about the same time as the Riley case. Now we know that Riley and Baxley are associated with Sonny Reagan, a man who stands accused by his own office of subverting the legal process.
What does that say about Riley, Baxley, and their ethical standards? What, if anything, does it say about the cases they brought against me? What does it say about their involvement with Reagan? What kind of Unholy Alliance is this?
That brings us to Alabama Political Reporter and Editor Bill Britt, who broke the Reagan story. Britt referred to Reagan, Hubbard, Riley and Co. as jackals (see photo above), and here are a few of Britt's blunt words:
Like jackals, these opportunistic predators seek to ravage all that is good in our State, filling their bellies at a feast of greed and corruption. The whole affair reeks of madness, the kind of madness that stems from a conscience seared with a hot iron, void of principle, avaricious and demented by power.
This must end with the indictment and conviction of Hubbard and the whole Riley Machine, or the State will be damned by men like Reagan.
Comparing some of Alabama's scummiest politicos to jackals? That leads to one final question: Isn't that an insult to jackals everywhere?
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But the Reagan story already has made one small slice of history. In the seven years I've been writing this blog, it's the first time I can recall a member of the legal clan being outed for alleged obstruction of justice--or its state-law equivalent.
We once wrote a post stating that lying under oath, formally known as perjury, had replaced baseball as America's pastime. My guess is that perjury is the most common crime committed in America--and it's the least likely to be prosecuted. That's probably because lawyers and judges have come to tolerate it--even expect it--in many courtroom proceedings.
If perjury is the most common American crime, obstruction of justice probably is a close No. 2. Obstruction of justice is a broad concept that covers a whole host of nasty acts--from paying a judge, to bribing a juror, to threatening a witness, to . . . well, the list goes on. True obstruction of justice, by that name, usually is a federal offense, while the state-law equivalent is called something slightly different. In Alabama, it's called "obstructing governmental services" and is covered under Code of Alabama 13A-10-2.
I suspect obstruction is even less likely than perjury to be prosecuted because . . . well, because members of the legal tribe are highly likely to be the ones committing it.
That's why the "Unmasking of Sonny Reagan" is so unusual. You have a lawyer, Acting Attorney General Van Davis, accusing a fellow member of the AG's staff of intentionally subverting the justice process. This is real man-bites-dog material.
How bad does this look? Consider the following from Van Davis' news release on the matter:
Deputy Attorney General Henry T. (“Sonny”) Reagan, for a period of months, had undisclosed communications with individuals affiliated with people indicted or under investigation by the Lee County Special Grand Jury. Reagan also took other action to impede or obstruct the investigation.”
Reagan was obstructing the investigation "for a period of months"? Yikes! If these allegations are proven, and Reagan and his cronies are brought to justice, Van Davis should receive some sort of honor--from the AG's Office, the Governor's Office, the U.S. Department of Justice, the White House, or all of the above.
If you are like me and have a history with Alabama, and care about its future, you must be getting tired of seeing the state listed among our nation's most corrupt backwaters. Here is how a recent top 10 from Fortune magazine read:
8. South Dakota
First, notice that six of the 10 most corrupt states are in the South, including the "top three." As for the non-Southern states, folks who live in Illinois, Pennsylvania, Alaska, and South Dakota must be hanging their heads in shame. And is it possible that five states actually are MORE corrupt than Alabama? I find that hard to believe.
If Van Davis is successful in unmasking Sonny Reagan and his allies, maybe such rankings will begin to change. Maybe a brighter day really is ahead for Alabama.
|Robert Vance Jr.|
Jefferson County Circuit Judge Robert Vance Jr. found that his first ruling represented a prior restraint that is forbidden under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Vance struck down his own temporary restraining order (TRO), and Alabama Gas Company withdrew its request for a preliminary injunction, essentially admitting it never had a case for preventing the practice of journalism based on lawfully obtained documents.
In a roundabout way, both Vance and Alabama Gas added to the mountain of evidence that proves my arrest last October, and the resulting five-month incarceration, were unlawful.
Ironically, Vance's actions came just days after a special prosecutor in the Alabama Attorney General's Office was quoted in court documents as saying "the Riley machine" was "going down" in a Lee County grand-investigation. Special Prosecutor Matt Hart was referring to former Republican Governor Bob Riley and his close associates, apparently including son Rob Riley.
Hart's words have special resonance here at Legal Schnauzer because Rob Riley filed the defamation lawsuit that sought a TRO, preliminary injunction, and permanent injunction against me. We now know, from Judge Vance's actions, that everything Rob Riley sought in his lawsuit was unlawful. We also know that my incarceration--based on an alleged refusal to obey a TRO and injunction that stood contrary to roughly 200 years of U.S. law--also was unlawful. (The court did not even have jurisdiction over me because I never was lawfully served with the complaint, and I filed a motion seeking to quash service; unbelievably, I was arrested before the court addressed that issue.)
How can you be arrested on the orders of a court that has no jurisdiction over you? How can you be held in contempt of court for allegedly violating a court order that is unlawful in the first place? You can't. Was Judge Vance going to send Montgomery Advertiser reporters and editors to jail for doing exactly what the First Amendment says they can do? Was Judge Vance going to incarcerate reporters and editors from USA Today, which is working with its Gannett News Service colleagues in Montgomery and other locations on the gas-line series? Of course, not. (You can read reporter John Kelly's opening article in the series here.)
Why did Vance come to his senses and make a lawful ruling? One reason might be that the Montgomery newspaper could afford to hire prominent media lawyer Dennis Bailey, while I was representing myself. I was correct all along on the applicable law, but I still spent five months of my life unlawfully behind bars. So much for the notion of "equal protection under the law" in American courts.
(By the way, I am not a fan of Judge Vance. I've seen him rule contrary to law in a legal malpractice case I brought against Birmingham attorneys Jesse P. Evans III and Michael B. Odom. I've reported on a case styled William B. Cashion and Western Steel Inc. v. Mark Hayden et al, where Vance essentially stole a case that had been assigned to another judge and proceeded to rule over and over in favor of a party represented by the Birmingham firm of Maynard Cooperand Gale, which has contributed heavily to Vance's campaigns. I think so little of Vance that I actually supported Ten Commandments Judge Roy Moore over Vance in a race for chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. Vance, a Democrat in name only, is proof that court corruption in Alabama is not limited to Republicans.)
As for Rob Riley's lawsuit against me, why did Circuit Judge Claud Neilson, specially appointed by the Alabama Supreme Court, order me to jail? Why did even right-leaning legal analysts, such as Ken White of Popehat blog, heavily criticize Neilson's actions? Why was New York Times reporter Campbell Robertson apparently so embarrassed by Neilson that he failed to identify the judge by name in his article about my case?
Was Rob Riley keeping with that apparent tradition when he filed a defamation lawsuit against me--and asked a court to incarcerate me based on a TRO and injunction that almost two centuries of American law say is unlawful? Did Rob Riley's lawsuit have everything to do with intimidation and almost nothing to do with defamation? Given that Riley and his codefendant sought and received some $34,000 in sanctions against me and my wife--sanctions that are no more supported by law than the bogus TRO and injunctions--was his lawsuit really about financial terrorism?
As the Sonny Reagan saga unfolds, perhaps we will learn that the answer to all of those questions is a resounding yes.
|Sonny Reagan (right) and former|
Governor Bob Riley
The high-profile member of the Alabama Attorney General's Office stands accused of leaking information related to a grand-jury investigation in Lee County and taking other action to "impede or obstruct" the investigation.
Those are serious allegations, coming from Acting Attorney General Van Davis. So how does Reagan respond? By more or less admitting the first charge and trying to change the subject on the second one. Along the way, Reagan offers excuses that seem to come from "the dog ate my homework" playbook.
How do we know? From reading Reagan's own words in a letter to Attorney General Luther Strange (with copies to Governor Robert Bentley, among others), seeking an independent investigation under direction of the governor's office.
The Reagan letter, dated September 22, 2014, can be read at the link below. It is a curious piece of work. Reagan wrote the letter less than one week after news broke about efforts to quash his testimony before the grand jury, a proceeding that ended with Reagan invoking his Fifth Amendment right not to answer questions for fear that he might incriminate himself.
Sonny Reagan letter
How does Reagan answer the charge that he had "undisclosed communications with individuals affiliated with people indicted or under investigation by the Lee County Special Grand Jury"? Well, he certainly doesn't deny it.
In the second paragraph of his letter, Reagan says (in so many words) that, "Hey, I've been in state government a long time, I know a lot of people, and I talk to them all the time--whether the AG's office is conducting a sensitive criminal probe or not."
Reagan "categorically denies" that any of his communications have been "improper." But he also makes no effort to disclose with whom he has communicated or what they talked about.
As for those aforementioned excuses, Reagan claims that no one in his chain of command ever told him to cut back on his chatterbox ways during a grand-jury investigation at the highest levels of state government. Reagan has been a lawyer for some 12 years and doesn't know to keep his yap shut about grand-jury information? That excuse might have to improve to reach the level of lame.
As for the charge that Reagan had taken other action to impede or obstruct the investigation . . . well, Reagan doesn't seem to want to touch that. In paragraphs three and four of his letter, he immediately changes the subject to an apparent office feud he had with Special Prosecutor Matt Hart.
What does any such feud have to do with the obstruction allegations against Reagan? We can't see that there is any connection, and Van Davis has not publicly pointed to any ties.
Bill Britt, of Alabama Political Reporter,reports that multiple individuals in the justice system have been made aware of the serious nature of the charges against Reagan--that they go way beyond an office feud. Writes Britt:
Reagan testified before the Lee County Grand Jury on August 27, 2014. He testified for almost an hour before asking to speak with his attorney, Bill Baxley (defense attorneys are not allowed in grand jury hearings). After meeting with Baxley, an emergency appeal was made to Lee County Circuit Court Judge Hughes to have Reagan’s Grand Jury testimony quashed. However, Judge Hughes, after being made aware of the prosecutions evidence against Reagan, (in camera) ordered that he resume his testimony. It was at this point that Reagan took the fifth on advice of council.
On Wednesday, September 17, the Alabama Criminal Court of Appeals unsealed documents that revealed that Deputy Attorney General Reagan unsuccessfully tried to quash his subpoena to testify before the Lee County Grand Jury. After being served a subpoena to appear before the Lee County Grand Jury on August 27, 2014, Reagan filed a sealed writ of mandamus to quash the Lee County subpoena.
In their denial, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals also ordered that secret Grand Jury testimony be reveled to General Strange, in order that he might see for himself the evidence against Reagan. Even though Strange had recused himself from the Lee County investigation, the court took these extraordinary measures because they believed the Attorney General must be made aware of the seriousness of Reagan’s actions.
So, a circuit judge and an appellate court saw evidence against Reagan and clearly found it compelling. The appellate panel was concerned enough to unveil secret grand-jury testimony for Reagan's boss. And when things started looking bleak, Reagan decided to take the fifth.
That seems to leave Sonny Reagan in a vulnerable position, and Luther Strange has placed him on administrative leave. By the way, does the governor have the authority to appoint an independent investigator related to a grand-jury probe? Reagan does not point to any such authority in his letter.
On top of all that, we see signs that Reagan's credibility is shaky. More on that in an upcoming post.
A reasonable person can read two letters Reagan recently wrote on the subject and conclude that the answer is no?
Why? Reagan's first letter, dated July 22, 2014 and addressed to Charla Doucet (chief administrator in the Alabama Attorney General's Office), portrays Hart as a blustery fellow but does not seem to claim that Hart is conducting his investigation in an unlawful manner.
Reagan's second letter is dated Sept. 22, 2014 and is addressed to AG Luther Strange. It was written after Reagan had been forced to testify before the grand jury and wound up invoking the Fifth Amendment privilege not to incriminate himself. It also was written after Acting AG Van Davis had accused Reagan of leaking grand-jury information and obstructing the investigation in other ways.
The second letter, in other words, was written after the water had begun to boil under Reagan's seat. And that meant Hart now was portrayed as a prosecutor who was acting outside the law, intentionally going after certain individuals rather than seeking to prosecute crimes. (This was a major theme, by the way, in the prosecution of former Governor Don Siegelman. Republicans, at that time, didn't seem concerned that prosecutors would go after someone for personal and political reasons having nothing to do with criminal acts.)
Consider the language about Hart in Reagan's first letter. Reagan says Hart had informed him that House Speaker Mike Hubbard was "going down, along with the Riley machine" (led by former GOP governor Bob Riley).
We have only Reagan's word that Hart made such a statement. But even if Reagan's claim is true, it likely doesn't point to wrongdoing on Hart's part. It could simply be Hart's honest assessment of what will happen based on evidence he has seen presented to the grand jury.
The language in Reagan's second letter is much different. Now Reagan quotes Hart as saying he was "going after countless elected public officials and business leaders." Now, Hart is out to "politically ruin public officials."
That strongly suggests Matt Hart is going after specific people, rather than prosecuting crimes. It suggests Hart is a rogue, the kind of prosecutor who should not be tolerated in our justice system.
I've expressed my own concerns about Matt Hart, based on his actions as a federal prosecutor. But I have even deeper concerns about the Riley machine, which I believe has corrupted Alabama's political landscape to the point that the state still tramples the First Amendment and incarcerates journalists--the only state to do so in 2013, putting it alongside countries like Iran, China, and Turkey. Who sought to have a journalist incarcerated? Why it was Birmingham lawyer Rob Riley, the former governor's son.
If it takes a guy like Matt Hart to bring the Rileys to justice . . . well, he has my support.
As for Sonny Reagan, he is a former legal adviser to Bob Riley--and that clearly makes him part of the family machine. His changing tune about Matt Hart raises serious questions about Reagan's credibility. It also suggests the Riley family is feeling heat, and Reagan is trying to deflect attention away from them.
|An illustration of the Rollins family|
from Forbes magazine
That is just one of many juicy tidbits in a new Forbes magazine article about the Rollins family, which has been the focus of numerous posts here at Legal Schnauzer. Title of the Forbes piece is "Inside An $8 Billion Family Feud: Who Poisoned the Orkin Fortune?"
The Rollins family has a significant presence in Alabama, and we have focused largely on their legal and business issues in "The Heart of Dixie." Of special interest has been a divorce case in Shelby County, where Sherry Carroll Rollins received what we have called "the worst courtroom cheat job in our experience" in her divorce from Ted Rollins, the CEO of Campus Crest Communities. Shelby County Circuit Judge Al Crowson played a central role in the Rollins divorce fiasco, taking the case even though it already had been litigated in South Carolina for three years and clear case law (see Wesson v. Wesson, 628 So. 2d 953, Ala. Civ. App, 1993) shows the jurisdiction could not lawfully be changed.
Ted Rollins has major business interests in Alabama, with student-housing complexes already built or going up on five campuses in the state--at South Alabama, Troy, Jacksonville State, Auburn, and the University of Alabama.
The Rollins family has two primary branches, with Ted belonging to what might be called the "Delaware/Carolina" branch, descending from Ted's father, John Rollins Sr. The other branch mainly is in Georgia, descending from Wayne Rollins, John Sr.'s brother.
At the heart of the current controversy are Gary and Randall Rollins, Wayne's sons who head up Rollins Inc. (parent company of Orkin) and are worth about $2.7 billion each, ranking No. 225 on the Forbes 400
Forbes focuses almost entirely on the Georgia branch and its struggles over trust funds, divorces, and related ugliness. The article does not mention Ted Rollins by name, making only reference to him as a cousin to Gary and Randall,
We have reported on the trust-fund controversy in several posts, and Forbes Reporter Clare O'Connor provides important new details, producing some top-notch journalism along the way. Here is how she describes issues swirling around the Rollins family in Atlanta:
Orkin, and the nine related extermination companies housed under Rollins Inc., remains the leading company in pest control: rats, roaches and their ilk are as perennial in this world as sticky Atlanta summers. But for the Rollins family, the party is over.
Glen has sued his father, Gary, CEO of Rollins Inc., as well as his uncle Randall, company chairman. Glen’s three siblings also joined in, claiming they were being denied their rightful cash allocations–though Randall’s five kids stuck by their dad and Gary. Ruthie apparently took her kids’ side in the money fight, filing for divorce from Gary, after 45 years, at almost precisely the same time. And then Glen and Danielle began their own ugly divorce. The cumulative effect–father vs. sons, wives vs. husbands, cousins vs. cousins–makes this one of the nastiest intergenerational battles ever to take place among members of The Forbes 400 (Gary and Randall rank 225th on the list, at $2.7 billion each). “It’s like a Greek tragedy,” says Danielle.
Wealthy families, it seems, often wrestle mightily with trust funds and estate matters. One of the best-known cases involved Liesel Pritzker, a member of the family behind Hyatt Hotels. She and her brother had to sue to receive trust proceeds that were designated for them.
The Rollins story mirrors the Liesel Pritzker story, with a few extra oddball twists thrown in. In 2000, Gary and Randall set up eligibility requirements that their children had to meet in order to receive trust proceeds. Chief among the requirements was that the children be engaged in "meaningful pursuits."
The patriarchs decided to up the ante in 2010. Writes O'Connor:
IN 2010 GARY AND RANDALL, facing a generation that grew up rudderless, tried to offset any issues in how they were raised with bureaucracy–and policing. Keen to measure how carefully their kids were adhering to the eligibility requirements they’d set up a decade earlier, they constructed yet another formal mechanism, something called the Rollins Perpetual Management Trust. It was intended, say court documents, “to serve as the vehicle through which the governance of the family and its assets is established in perpetuity.”
Critically, it “provided for a ‘monitoring program’ that permitted Gary and Randall … to hire private investigators to follow the plaintiffs around, conduct credit checks and drug tests, and review their medical records.” Gary and Randall sought to install themselves as joint trustees, forcing their kids to agree to the new terms or lose their annual payments. It was viewed as a declaration of war.
What about the sex-addiction component to the story. That's where Gary's son, Glen, enters the picture. He went through a nasty divorce from his socialite wife, Danielle:
But there were other reasons Glen may not have wanted to have private investigators nosing around. While for most of Atlanta business society he was still the golden-boy corporate chieftain with a steady hand on Orkin’s tiller, in truth his personal life was an utter disaster. He was struggling with a sex addiction that included a rehabilitative stint at the same place golfer Tiger Woods was treated. “I got some help for a tremendously stressful period,” says Glen. “I had a lot to heal from.” His marriage was unraveling. Glen and Danielle’s Buckhead estate, Boxwood, appeared in a spread in the August 2010 edition of Town and Country. Photos show the lavish, tasteful interiors, newly revamped by high-profile interior designer Miles Redd. In one shot the five family members smile from inside a black Mercedes convertible.
That was a last glimpse at a life already passing from view. Days later Glen and his siblings filed their suit. His mom, Ruthie, filed for divorce from his father two days later, citing “no hope for reconciliation.” Glen was fired from Orkin soon after and cut off from the trust. Over the past four years the Rollins case moved in and out of Atlanta courtrooms through months of hearings, an overturned judgment by the Georgia Supreme Court and two appeals. One of the at least eight lawyers on the case has already made upwards of $1 million from legal fees, says a relative. The kind of sickening numbers that make an entrepreneur want to give it all away.
“It’s like dominos,” says Glen’s ex-wife, Danielle. “My children have lost grandparents, cousins. Their heritage.”
One lawyer already has made around $1 million on the case? It's not clear who will be the losers in the Rollins controversy. But it looks like lawyers will be the winners.
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The Atlanta-based portion of the Rollins clan--another segment of the family is based mostly in Delaware and the Carolinas--is best known for Orkin Pest Control. But another firm under the Rollins empire is called RPC Inc., which is an oil and gas services company.
In a profile of the Rollins family in the current issue of Forbes magazine, reporter Clare O'Connor says RPC is heavily involved in hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking. The process has significantly enhanced natural-gas production in the United States, but critics say it comes with a heavy price.
Fracking has paid off handsomely for the Rollins family, especially for brothers Gary and Randall Rollins, who serve as the company's chief executives. Before fracking came along, the brothers were comfortably in the millionaire class. But now they are worth about $2.7 billion each, ranking No. 225 on the Forbes 400.
What fueled the dramatic upswing in the bottom line? Here's how O'Connor explains it:
Even if their kids had troubles staying productive, Gary and Randall were masters of “meaningful pursuits,” using the steady money from killing vermin to bankroll an oil-and-gas-services holding company called RPC. In 1984 they spun it off from Rollins with a market cap of $52 million. For a long time it was just another good, solid, grimy business–a moneymaker that rode out the inevitable boom-bust cycles of three decades in the energy business.
Then came the fracking revolution, exploding Gary and Randall’s independent wealth far beyond the rest of the family’s. Between 2001 and 2013 revenues jumped from $265 million to $1.86 billion, 55% of which stems from fracking-related activities. Today RPC boasts a market cap hovering above $4.6 billion. Gary and Randall’s combined share is worth $3 billion. Much of this stock is held in yet more Rollins family holding companies and trusts; the two brothers control every last dollar.
What exactly does RPC Inc. do? A Web site explains all of the company's activities, but "pressure pumping" is the fastest growing segment--and it's tied to fracking, through a subsidiary called Cudd Energy Services:
Pressure Pumping--55% of total revenues, RPC's largest service line. The largest and fastest-growing service line at RPC, this service line provides hydraulic fracturing and acid treatment services, which serve to increase production in existing land wells. This service line is increasingly important in the growing percentage of service-intensive horizontal and directional wells.
RPC and Cudd have been to court over issues related to fracking. One well-known case, Scoggin v. Cudd Pumping Services, et al,, involved work in the Fayetteville Shale of northern Arkansas. Here is how one legal report summarized claims in the lawsuit:
In August of 2011, Defendants hydraulically fractured three natural gas wells which were located approximately 250 feet from the Plaintiffs’ home. Plaintiffs allege that, during the fracking process, large amounts of benzene, zylene, and methylene chloride were released into the environment, causing “dense clouds of a toxic mixture of atomized chemicals…” Air quality measurements taken in the Plaintiffs’ home revealed toxic levels of the chemicals.
Fracking within 250 feet of a home? Doesn't sound like RPB makes the most thoughtful of neighbors.
The two sides came to a joint stipulation for voluntary dismissal without prejudice. Our guess is that some sort of settlement was reached.
A 2011 news report on the Scoggin case stated:
The lawsuit is one of several that have recently been filed in federal court against natural-gas companies accusing them of harming people in the Fayetteville Shale. Other suits contend that fracking operations are contaminating groundwater and devaluing homes.
The shale-gas industry has boomed in recent years in the Fayetteville Shale in north-central Arkansas, jumping from only a handful of wells in 2005 to more than 3,000 this year.
Fracking litigation might be a hassle for RPC, but it doesn't seem to be putting a dent in the Rollins family bottom line.
Bryan Taylor (R-Prattville) claims the Alabama Political Reporter (APR) knowingly published a false article that damaged his reputation and hurt his political career. Taylor is a long-time ally of former Governor Bob Riley, and APR has broken a number of stories about a Lee County grand-jury investigation that might "bring down the Riley machine" and one of its most prominent members, House Speaker Mike Hubbard.
Taylor alleges that reports on the Web site cost him a position on the Alabama Ethics Commission, according to a report at Courthouse News Service (CSN). (See complaint at the end of this post.) From the CSN report:
In a complaint filed in the Etowah County (Ala.) Circuit Court, Bryan Taylor claims the blog and its editors, Bill and Susan Britt, published an article entitled "Shadowy Conduct of the Man Who Would Be Ethics Chief," with the "conscious and malicious objective" of scuttling his potential candidacy for director of the Alabama Ethics Commission.
Taylor, who is also a practicing attorney and is representing himself in the litigation, claims the article contains "a number of maliciously false and defamatory statements, assertions, or imputations," which the article bills as "facts" about his conduct in public service.
Not surprisingly, Taylor's complaint focuses on Bob Riley:
As detailed in his complaint, Taylor is most upset about the article's depiction of his service to former Ala. Gov. Bob Riley.
Among what Taylor describes as the "false assertions" included in the blog post are that his conduct while working as an aide to Riley was "clearly improper, unethical, and potentially criminal," because he "received additional compensation from the governor's re-election campaign committee" at the same time that he was on the government payroll.
Taylor further contends the post maligned him by insinuating that he refused to file a mandatory "Statement of Economic Interests" with the state's Ethics Commission over the course of the five years he worked for the governor, and by further claiming that he lied when he told a radio interviewer he practiced law before joining Riley's staff. The blog post claimed he wasn't admitted to the Alabama State bar until seven months after the governor hired him.
Taylor accuses APR of practicing sloppy journalism and being driven by money:
Taylor contends these statements are the result of the blog being overly influenced by political advertisers and that the blog routinely published "paid or otherwise compensated" political content "without labeling it as advertising, for the purpose of manipulating public opinion."
He claims the blog's editors "consciously or deliberately" failed to contact him prior to publishing the article, "and thus deprived Taylor of the opportunity to correct Defendants' falsehoods before they were published."
He also claims the editors deliberately avoided discovering or otherwise determining whether the statements contained in the article were true or false.
CSN reports that Taylor seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, plus injunctive relief and court costs.
The question comes to mind after news broke late last week that State Sen. Bryan Taylor (R-Prattville) had filed a lawsuit against Alabama Political Reporter (APR), claiming the Web site had published false and defamatory information about him in a July article titled "Shadowy Conduct of the Man Who Would be Ethics Chief."
By "certain Alabama Republicans," we are referring to members of the "Riley Machine," headed by former Governor Bob Riley (2002-10). The question in our lead paragraph has special resonance here at Legal Schnauzer because Rob Riley, a Birmingham attorney and the former governor's son, filed a dubious defamation lawsuit against my wife and me last October, causing me to be unlawfully incarcerated for five months.
I doubt that APR's Bill and Susan Britt will wind up in jail, in part because my case received ample coverage in both the online and mainstream press, giving the United States the embarrassing distinction of being the only country in the western hemisphere to incarcerate a journalist in 2013. Plus, it might turn out that Taylor has a meritorious claim. But on initial review, it seems to emit a foul odor reminiscent of the one that came from Rob Riley's lawsuit.
First, consider the timing of Taylor's complaint. He filed it on September 26 in Etowah County Circuit Court. That's exactly one week after APR reported that Deputy Attorney General Sonny Reagan, another member of Team Riley, had been charged with leaking information from the Lee County grand jury that is investigating fellow team member and House Speaker Mike Hubbard. It was nine days after APR reported that Reagan had been forced to testify before the grand jury and wound up asserting the Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself--and documents associated with that proceeding indicated the Riley Machine itself was among the investigation's targets.
Second, consider that Taylor is a public official and has to clear an extremely high hurdle to win a defamation case. Under the New York Times v. Sullivan test, Taylor has to prove "actual malice," meaning the Britts knew information they printed about him was false or they exhibited "reckless disregard" to its truth or falsity.
Third, consider that the article alleged to be defamatory was almost as critical of the Riley administration as it was of Taylor. Here is a sampling:
According to Riley’s January 2007 press statement, Taylor was hired by the Riley administration as a personal aide in February 2006. However, his receipt of campaign funds from the Riley campaign paint a different picture. Taylor was paid $684.61 bi-weekly by the Riley campaign. These payments in this amount began on March 31, 2006 and continued until December 29, 2006. Taylor also received additional payments from the campaign during this time, including $925.16 in March 2006, $518.00 in July 2006, $351.94 in October 2006 and $2,100.00 in December 2006 days before the governor’s office announced his promotion to policy director. . . .
The campaign expenditures from Riley present another issue for Taylor that is clearly improper, unethical, and potentially criminal.
During the same time Taylor was a paid staffer of the Riley campaign, he was also listed numerous times as a passenger on an aircraft owned by the State of Alabama. Flight logs maintained by the State show that Taylor was on board a state aircraft more than 90 times in 2006. Only 7 of the 90 flights were reported to have been reimbursed to the State, according to the flight logs. These logs also indicate that many of the flights included campaign events for Bob Riley, and most were never noted to have been reimbursed to the State by the campaign.
Then we have this heavy-duty kicker, focusing on Taylor's former employer, the Bradley Arant law firm of Birmingham:
All told, the Riley administration paid Taylor’s former employers $2,250,000. Bradley Arant received $6,000,000 in state contracts during that period. How much influence Taylor wielded over these decisions is not fully known. However, his inconsistent statement of facts coupled with the Riley administration funneling millions to his former employer raises more than a few questions about Taylor’s ability to head Alabama’s Ethics Commission.
Some are starting to suggest that Taylor’s behavior in helping to direct Bob Riley’s political patronage machine calls into question his fitness to serve in any capacity charged with overseeing ethical conduct by our public officials.
The APR article appears to be well researched, so it's hard to see how Taylor could show the kind of "reckless disregard" for the truth that is needed to win a defamation case.
But maybe that's not the point of his lawsuit; maybe it's more about intimidation than defamation. Maybe it's designed as a weapon to chill APR's reporting about Sonny Reagan and the Lee County investigation.
We can show numerous signs that Rob Riley's claim against me was not a standard defamation lawsuit. We also see similarities between Taylor's complaint and one Birmingham lawyer Bill Baxley drew up against me, signs that Taylor is after information about APR's supporters and sources more than anything else.
Who, by the way, served as Sonny Reagan's lawyers when he tried to escape testifying before the Lee County grand jury? It was none other than Rob Riley and Bill Baxley.
With his lawsuit against APR, is Bryan Taylor pulling from the Rob Riley/Bill Baxley playbook? We will address that question and more in an upcoming post.
But when you consider that Taylor is a high-profile ally of former Governor Bob Riley, and his lawsuit came less than 10 days after APR broke multiple stories about the possibility that the Riley Machine will be targeted in a Lee County grand-jury investigation, a reasonable person might ask: Is the Taylor lawsuit more about intimidation than defamation?
That question especially resonates when you consider that, as a public official, Taylor has a tiny chance of overcoming the "reckless disregard" standard he would have to reach in order to win a defamation lawsuit. The question resonates even more when you consider that Taylor might be borrowing a page from Rob Riley, a Birmingham attorney and the former governor's son.
I know from firsthand experience that Rob Riley has, on at least one occasion, filed a lawsuit that wasn't what it seemed. In fact, it's been almost one year since Riley's defamation lawsuit caused me to be unlawfully arrested and incarcerated for five months in the Shelby County Jail. I became the only imprisoned journalist in the western hemisphere for 2013, and analysts from both the left and right roundly criticized Judge Claud Neilson's actions as wildly unlawful.
Rob Riley, however, has mostly escaped the criticism he deserves for filing a lawsuit that bears little resemblance to an actual defamation complaint. First, Riley asked that the case be sealed, contrary to Alabama law. Second, he repeatedly asked the court for remedies that are not authorized by law. Third, Neilson behaved as if he was Riley's nearest cousin, violating procedural law, longstanding case law, and simple due process--favoring Riley at every turn.
All of that suggests the Riley lawsuit, from the outset, was about incarceration, not defamation. He also sought to have my wife arrested, even though at the time of the lawsuit, she had nothing to do with this blog, which was the focus of Riley's complaint.
Is Bryan Taylor using a similar form of misdirection and intimidation with his complaint against APR? Perhaps only Taylor knows for sure at this point, but he clearly has powerful connections to Rob Riley. And my case shows that Rob Riley has no qualms about abusing the legal process in an effort to chill online reporting.
How do we know? Let's consider a few elements of Riley's claim--and contrast them with actual defamation law:
* Riley immediately asked for a temporary restraining order (TRO), followed by a preliminary injunction--A long line of state and U.S. Supreme Court cases show that TRO's and preliminary injunctions are barred as unconstitutional prior restraints in defamation cases. One of the most recent examples is a Virginia case styled Dietz v. Perez, which involved a woman writing a negative review about a construction contractor on a couple of Web forums. The foundational case on the subject is a 1931 U.S. Supreme Court case styled Near v. Minnesota, which was built on roughly 200 years of First Amendment law.
* Riley did not ask for a trial--Longstanding law holds that an injunction in a defamation case is proper only after a full adjudication on the merits, at trial. This principle is spelled out in a 1973 U.S. Supreme Court case styled Pittsburgh Press Co. v. Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations, 413 U.S. 376. It is discussed in more full detail in a 2007 California case styled Balboa Island Village Inn v. Lemen, 156 P.3d 339 (Cal. 2007).
* Riley asked for a judge to rule on the case, not a jury--The law holds that the First Amendment enjoys an exalted place in our democracy, and such cases are to be decided by a jury. To allow bench trials on such matters is to invite censorship by a single judge. Juries are deemed necessary to protect the cherished right to free speech. This principle is perhaps best discussed in Bernard v. Gulf Oil Co., 619 F. 2d 459 (Fifth Circuit, 1980).
As the victim of Riley's lawsuit, I have strong feelings on this subject. It involved an unlawful request for a preliminary injunction, plus an accelerated court process that almost ensured I was going to be held in contempt of court. That provided the excuse to have me arrested--and I'm convinced that was the suit's primary purpose. It also provided an excuse to level some $34,000 in unlawful sanctions against my wife and me, another example of the financial terrorism for which certain Southern Republicans are known.
A number of online analysts, who all say Neilson's rulings were unlawful, have questioned my handling of the case--that I should have addressed the preliminary injunction more directly, that I should have hired a lawyer, etc. (Never mind that I was arrested before I could address the injunction, plus I talked to two lawyers in jail, and my wife tried mightily to seek legal representation for me.) I'm convinced I was going to be arrested, no matter what I did.
Bryan Taylor, to his credit, has fashioned a defamation complaint against APR that at least has the appearance of legitimacy. He does not ask for a preliminary injunction, and he does ask for a jury trial. He does request injunctive relief near the end of the complaint, but that would be lawful if it were to come after a full adjudication on the merits--if a jury were to find the APR article defamatory, with writers Bill and Susan Britt having an opportunity for appellate review.
So what might be Taylor's ulterior motive? Is he interested in a full adjudication, based on the facts and the law? I doubt it, and I will tell you why in an upcoming post.
Perhaps only Taylor can answer that question at this point. But a close look at his complaint raises serious concerns.
Taylor appears to borrow a trick from Birmingham attorney Bill Baxley, who along with Rob Riley, represents Deputy Attorney General and Team Riley member Sonny Reagan in an ongoing Lee County grand-jury investigation. The probe focuses on House Speaker Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn) and reportedly could involve a take down of former Governor Bob Riley's political machine.
So what about those tricks Taylor might have picked up from Bill Baxley? In his complaint, Taylor lists fictitious defendants A, B, and C and refers to them as "those persons, firms, associations, or corporations unknown to Plaintiff who funded, fomented, directed, or, jointly with the named Defendants, maliciously published, or caused to be published, the false and defamatory article complained of herein, each of whom will, upon discovery, be substituted by amendment pursuant to Rule 9(h), Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure."
That language is almost identical to that Baxley used in a lawsuit against me, on behalf of former Luther Strange campaign aide Jessica Medeiros Garrison. What does it mean?
It means Taylor wants to use the discovery process to learn the identity of APR's news sources and its financial supporters. He then wants to add those individuals and entities to his lawsuit.
Translation: As a public official subject to the high bar of "reckless disregard," Taylor might not have a winnable defamation case against APR's Bill and Susan Britt. But he might be able to sue, and essentially terrorize, the Britt's sources and backers. That, in an indirect way, could chill the Web site's investigative reporting.
If that proves to be the real goal of Taylor's lawsuit, he would not be the first Riley Machine member to file a defamation lawsuit with an ulterior purpose. As we showed in a post yesterday, Rob Riley's lawsuit that led to my unlawful incarceration roughly one year ago bore no resemblance to a regular defamation lawsuit. That strongly suggests it was filed with some other purpose in mind.
Most alarmingly, Riley did not seek a jury trial, which a long line of case law says is required in defamation cases. That means Riley wanted his case to go only before Judge Claud Neilson and not a group of his fellow citizens.
Taylor deserves credit for fashioning a complaint that at least looks like a legitimate defamation case. But when you consider the timing of his lawsuit, so soon after APR's breaking stories about Sonny Reagan and the Riley Machine, and his apparent desire to get at the Web site's sources and backers . . . well, it raises questions about what's really going on.
Can the Britts do anything about it, other than defend themselves? I think the answer is yes. I would suggest they consider a countersuit for abuse of process. That is a tort that involves several elements, but it mainly is designed to fight lawsuits filed with an ulterior purpose.
If the Britts were to file a counterclaim for abuse of process, I suspect it might give Bryan Taylor considerable pause. It would give the Britts a chance to learn who, if anyone, might be backing Bryan Taylor's lawsuit. Valid countersuits have a way of "turning the tables."
Here is a question for readers to ponder: If Rob Riley did not want his case to go before a jury, and Bryan Taylor is interested mainly in APR's sources and backers, what does that say about the quality of their defamation claims?
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|Protests in Ferguson, MO|
The shooting of Michael Brown has focused national attention on questionable police actions in public places. It also has shined light on law enforcement's increasing use of military-style weaponry in the civilian environment.
These clearly are valid concerns, but my own experience indicates scrutiny of police should go even further. Almost one year ago, I was arrested (for the first time in my life) in a private place, inside my own garage. It was for alleged civil contempt of court and was not a criminal matter, and the arresting officer entered my home without showing a warrant or saying he had a warrant. In fact, Shelby County, Alabama, officer Chris Blevins did not even tell me he was there to arrest me until he had knocked me to a concrete floor three times and Maced me in the face.
At a subsequent legal proceeding, a judge instructed prosecutor Tonya Willingham to produce any warrants related to my address. She responded that she did not have any.
What does this mean? Long-standing Alabama law holds that an unsigned search warrant is "void on its face" and any resulting search is illegal under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Evidence in my case suggests there was no search warrant at all, so that would appear to make Blevins' entry into my home illegal.
This all involves the Fourth-Amendment right to be free from unlawful search and seizure, and an Alabama stolen-property case shows it's important for warrants to exist and be handled properly.
The case dates to 1975, when an Alabama woman saw her arrest in a copper-theft case overturned because a search warrant was unsigned. At first glance, that case might seem to have little in common with my arrest on civil-contempt charges growing from a preliminary injunction in a defamation case. After all, analysts from all sides of the political spectrum seem to agree that the injunction in my case represents an unlawful prior restraint under the First Amendment.
Such weighty matters were not present in Effie Kelley's copper-theft case; it seemed to be a relatively straightforward criminal matter. But Kelley saw her conviction overturned because a municipal judge had not signed the search warrant. That's where Kelley v. State, 316 So. 2d 233 (1975) and the Legal Schnauzer case seem to intersect.
The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals found the lack of a signature made the search warrant "void on its face," making the search "unauthorized and illegal."
My case involved an arrest warrant, not a search warrant. But the Kelley opinion makes clear that the same principle applies to both kinds of warrants. That notion dates to at least 1903, and we will take a closer look at it in an upcoming post.
For now, let's ponder the appellate courts key words in Kelley v. State:
Since the search warrant was not signed by the municipal judge, it is our opinion that it was void on its face and any search and seizure made thereunder was unauthorized and illegal. A judgment is void on its face when it only requires an inspection of the judgment roll to demonstrate its invalidity. . . The same is true of a search warrant when it shows on its face that it lacks the signature of any magistrate, such being the only authorized officer to put life in the paper.
Did any authorized officer "put life" in an arrest warrant for my case? Well, as we showed in previous post, courtroom evidence indicates there was no warrant in my case at all. Video played in court showed that Deputy Blevins never showed me a warrant, never told me he had a warrant, and never said I was under arrest until he had knocked me to a concrete floor three times and sprayed me in the face with Mace.
Based on evidence in court, there was no warrant in my case, making my arrest "unauthorized and illegal."
Unlike Michael Brown, I was fortunate to live through my encounter with rogue police officers. But I still have nightmares about it--and I doubt that they ever will go away.
The file of Fuller's divorce from his first wife includes questions about domestic violence and drug abuse, al.com writes in an editorial, and that information should be available to Congress if it initiates impeachment proceedings against Fuller.
That's fine as far as it goes, but al.com leaves out a critical piece of information--it and other mainstream news outlets have done a miserable job of covering the Fuller story. In fact, nontraditional news sites, including our Legal Schnauzer blog, have done almost all of the heavy lifting.
Al.com, with its major operations in Birmingham, Mobile, and Huntsville, now is taking the moral high road on the Fuller story. But when news of Fuller's divorce broke in 2012, al.com was nowhere to be found. We did a search at al.com on "Mark Fuller divorce 2012" and found nothing on the case. We did a search for Fuller's first wife, "Lisa Boyd Fuller," and found nothing other than a brief reference to her in the new editorial.
How late is al.com to the party? It isn't even the first news organization to ask for the divorce file to be unsealed. Andrew Kreig, director of the D.C.-based Justice Integrity Project, led an effort to do that in May 2012. Bob Martin, publisher of the Montgomery Independent, and I lent our support to Kreig's effort, and you can read the petition here. Montgomery County Circuit Judge Anita Kelly, to whom al.com now addresses its request, did not unseal the file then.
Consider these ironic words from al.com's editorial:
Court documents available before the record was sealed give us insight into what the record contains.
We know that Fuller's wife asked him to confirm or deny whether he had physically abused her.
We know that she subpoenaed records from at least six pharmacies, asking each of them to list what prescriptions they had filled for Fuller.
How does al.com know that? It's because of reporting from more than two years ago in the nontraditional press. Does al.com make any mention of that? Nope.
Bob Martin, of the Montgomery Independent,broke the divorce story in his weekly print publication on May 16, 2012. We picked up on the story at Legal Schnauzer the next day and wound up writing four posts on the subject. We also published five documents from the case file to the Scribd online document-sharing site, including documents that strongly hinted at domestic violence and drug and alcohol abuse. (See the Request for Admissions at the end of this post.)
Three days after our first post, Fuller's lawyer moved for the file to be sealed, and the motion was granted--even though court files in Alabama generally are considered public records.
Al.com is correct to state that Fuller's 2012 divorce case shines important light on the charges the judge now faces. It also is correct to state that the divorce file should be made available to Congress in the event of impeachment proceedings. But al.com should be honest enough to admit that it did nothing to inform the public about ugliness in Mark Fuller's personal life when it had the chance in 2012.
Does the nontraditional press matter in the United States of 2014. The Mark Fuller story provides evidence that the answer is a resounding yes.
That is from veteran Alabama lawyer and businessman Donald Watkins, via posts on his Facebook page. Watkins, chairman and CEO of Masada Resource Group LLC in Birmingham, says he has a team of investigators working on the Fuller story. The results of their work are "mind boggling," Watkins says, and he plans to develop a criminal case against Fuller and his drug supplier.
Watkins says his reporting on the Fuller case, plus his posts about an overtime-pay scandal involving Gov. Robert Bentley and a state trooper, have led to threats against his family.
Fuller's apparent abuse of prescription drugs was an issue in his 2012 divorce case. Watkins is taking a closer look at the issue, and this is from one of his recent posts:
While the Alabama Media Group is fighting to get access to Mark Fuller's sealed divorce records, and while the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals is trying to determine whether Fuller beat his wife Kelli on August 9th, I am tracking down the person who supplied Fuller with illegal prescription drugs.
As I reported yesterday, we are making substantial progress with our ongoing Fuller investigation. The progress has been so good that I am starting to get threats to me and my family.
We are verifying the source and location of the drug supply. This investigation has taken us all of the way back to Fuller's hometown of Enterprise. The leads are pouring in to us now. They are appear to be very credible and corroborated by other independent evidence.
We are about to blow this Mark Fuller sex, illegal prescription drugs, alcohol abuse, and wife-beating scandal wide open. The truth about all of this is simply mind-boggling. Stay tuned.
How serious could this get? Watkins provides insight in a comment to his post:
Facebook friends, nobody is big enough to crush truth on a permanent basis. They can stall it momentarily, but they cannot suppress it forever. I may have found a possible second source for the illegal drugs. My team is on the case. This part of our investigation may be bigger than the wife-beating incident. Dispensing controlled substances/narcotics without a prescription is a criminal offense. Asking for these drugs on an illegal basis makes the person requesting the drugs equally guilty. I am working to develop a criminal case for knowingly participating in a scheme to acquire and use controlled substances/narcotics without a prescription.
Someone apparently is not thrilled with Watkins' investigative efforts. Reports Watkins, in a separate Facebook post:
At 9:50 p.m. EST Sunday night, I received a threat from someone on Facebook posing as "Gary Globalmiddleman". This person is not one of my Facebook friends. The threat came through my private message inbox feature. It stated, "worry about your own family. stop friending people just for shock value".
|Judge Mark Fuller|
(via Phil Fleming)
Watkins apparently has the resources to deal effectively with those who might issue threats:
My security team has locked the electronic footprint on this message. Whoever sent it to me overlooked one critical electronic tracer. We will identify, find, and deal with the person who made this threat.
For the record, I do not respond to threats. I work all over the globe, and some of my work is performed in really tough places. I have an excellent security team, including the best information technology experts on the planet. The question is not whether this person will be found, but when this event will occur.
Meanwhile, I will continue to report the truth about Bentley and Fuller. These men are twins of deception. I did not make these men do bad things. I only shined the spotlight on their despicable conduct. Whichever one of them authorized the threat against me and my family is a real criminal.
|Famed academic Cornel West|
is arrested in Ferguson, MO
Alabama law that is more than 100 years old says a warrant should be properly signed and executed. In my case, courtroom evidence shows there was no warrant at all.
My encounter with a rogue cop happened inside my own home. I don't think I even had a speeding ticket on my record when an Alabama deputy named Chris Blevins entered my home without showing a warrant, stating he had a warrant, or that he intended to arrest me--and then proceeded to knock me down three times and spray me in the face with Mace.
What crime had I allegedly committed. None. An Alabama judge claimed I was in contempt of court, even though I had filed court papers showing I had not been lawfully served with papers in a lawsuit. That meant the court had no jurisdiction over me, and Officer Blevins had no grounds to be in my garage.
What about that case that dates back more than 100 years? It's from 1903 and is styled Oates v. Bullock, 136 Ala. 537, 33 So. 835.Oates is so old that we can't find the full case on the Web. But the gist of Oates can be found in a case styled Kelley v. State, 316 So. 2d 233 (1975), which is more or less from the modern era.
Kelley was about a search warrant, but the text makes it clear that the finding applies to arrest warrants--in fact, the Kelley opinion was based largely on a finding in Oates regarding an arrest warrant. Here is the key section from Kelley:
Often rules relating to arrest warrants parallel those applying to searches and vice versa. Significantly unsigned arrest warrants have been held void.Oates v. Bullock, 136 Ala. 537, 33 So. 835 (warrant utterly void).
Returning to matters at hand, the Kelley court then stated the following about the search warrant before it:
Since the search warrant was not signed by the municipal judge, it is our opinion that it was void on its face and any search and seizure made thereunder was unauthorized and illegal.
If an arrest in 1903 was illegal because of an unsigned arrest warrant, it seems clear that a 2013 arrest would be illegal when courtroom evidence shows there was no warrant at all.
What can we learn from all of this? I would submit that all Americans should pay attention to events in Ferguson, Missouri. You never know when you might be victimized by a thuggish cop--and it could happen inside your own home.
|Jessica Medeiros Garrison, with Bill|
Pryor and Jeff Sessions
We know of at least one other such case, and it belongs to Jessica Medeiros Garrison, former campaign manager for Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange.
In making her ruling last Friday, Montgomery County Circuit Judge Anita Kelly more or less confirmed there never were any lawful grounds for sealing Fuller's divorce case from his first wife. Fuller now stands charged with beating his second wife in an Atlanta hotel room back in August, drawing widespread calls for his resignation or impeachment.
If there were no lawful grounds for sealing the Fuller divorce case, that almost certainly is the case with Jessica Medeiros Garrison's divorce from Lee Garrison, a Tuscaloosa insurance man and chair of the city's school board.
The Garrisons were divorced in October 2009, and records from a subsequent custody action involving their son have remained public. Records from the divorce case itself were sealed, at Jessica Garrison's request, and the Fuller case now stands as evidence that the Garrison case almost certainly should have remained a public record.
Jessica Garrison is not a federal judge, but she is a prominent player in Alabama Republican politics. In addition to her ties to Luther Strange, she works for the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA) and holds a position with the corporate Balch and Bingham law firm of Birmingham. She also has worked for U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions and U.S. Circuit Judge Bill Pryor. She is president of something called the Rule of Law Defense Fund, which apparently is an extension of RAGA.
In his Facebook coverage of the Mark Fuller wife-beating case, attorney Donald Watkins has said Alabama is ruled by a white, Republican "oligarchy," whose members enjoy certain privileges that most citizens do not. One of the those privileges apparently involves the easy sealing of divorce files that might contain embarrassing or unpleasant information.
Mark Fuller clearly belongs to the oligarchy, and it appears Jessica Garrison holds a comfortable position there as well.
In 2012, a group of independent journalists (including me) moved the Montgomery circuit court to unseal the Fuller divorce file, and that request was denied. It wasn't until the mainstream al.com media conglomerate made a similar request last week that the court decided to pay attention and more or less follow the law.
If Mark Fuller's divorce file is fit for public consumption, surely the same applies to Jessica Medeiros Garrison. We challenge al.com to petition the Tuscaloosa County Circuit Court and demand that the case be unsealed.
The Garrison divorce documents are public records, and they should be treated as such.
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