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- 12/31/12--19:48: Considering The Best of Legal Schnauzer For 2012
- 01/02/13--07:38: Here Is The Best of Legal Schnauzer for 2012
Russian president Vladimir Putin has signed a law that bans adoptions to the United States, taking effect tomorrow (January 1). The story has special resonance here in the Deep South because it raises questions about America's fading moral authority--and nothing shines light on that issue like the flagrantly unlawful prosecutions of prominent figures in Alabama and Mississippi.
Don Siegelman, the former governor of Alabama, has resided at a federal prison in Oakdale, Louisiana, since Sept. 11. He reported there after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear his appeal, even though the trial court and the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals both misapplied the settled legal standard for cases of alleged bribery in the context of a campaign contribution.
Paul Minor, a highly successful attorney from Biloxi, Mississippi, is in a federal prison at Pensacola, Florida, on charges that largely mirror those in the Siegelman case. We have written dozens of posts about the Mississippi case and shown that Minor and codefendants Wes Teel and John Whitfield were convicted mainly because the trial judge issued jury instructions that were almost the exact opposite of what the actual law states.
It's hard to compare cases of judicial and prosecutorial corruption, but the misconduct in the Minor case might have been even more blatant than that in the Siegelman case. That's saying something when you consider that the Siegelman case has attracted the attention of 60 Minutes and other major news outlets.
Siegelman, a popular Democrat in a heavily Republican state, became a target during the George W. Bush years, and extensive evidence suggests that GOP political guru Karl Rove used his connections in Alabama right-wing circles to orchestrate a bogus prosecution.
Minor apparently became a target because he helped win huge settlements against the tobacco and asbestos industries, angering the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other corporate interests. Minor also was a prominent financial supporter of Democratic campaigns, including the John Edwards presidential bid.
|Dana and Don Siegelman|
Dana Siegelman, the former governor's daughter, is leading an effort to free her father via a presidential pardon. Her campaign has gained traction, giving birth to a Web site at free-don.org and numerous appearances in the press. But for now, Don Siegelman is every bit as much a political prisoner in Barack Obama's America as millions of political opponents were under the Gulag system of Josef Stalin's Soviet Union.
Sadly, and ironically, the Siegelman fiasco has fallen at the feet of a Democratic president, our nation's first black commander in chief. Siegelman was indicted, prosecuted, convicted, and originally sent to prison during the Bush years. But the Obama Department of Justice, under feckless Attorney General Eric Holder, argued against a Supreme Court hearing of the Siegelman case.
That means Obama now "owns" the most notorious political prosecution in American history. And it means that Vladimir Putin is standing on solid moral ground when he ends 20 years of adoptions between his country and the United States. After all, the U.S. no longer is in any position to point fingers at other countries for failing to abide by the rule of law.
On the surface, the Russian bill that includes a ban on U.S. adoptions grew from opposition to the Magnitsky Act, which Obama signed in mid December. The administration opposed the Magnitsky measure, which bars Russian citizens accused of violating human rights from traveling to the United States and from owning real estate or other assets there. But the president overcame his concerns about possible diplomatic retaliation and signed it, mainly because members of Congress were eager to press Russia over human rights abuses--and they tied the bill to another measure granting Russia new status as a full trading partner.
Mr. Putin loudly accused the United States of hypocrisy, noting human rights abuses in Iraq, Afghanistan and at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and he pledged to retaliate.
Putin apparently limited his critique to international matters, but he could have gone much farther by pointing to human-rights abuses on American soil. Exhibit A could have been the political prosecution of Don Siegelman. The Paul Minor case could have served as Exhibit B.
Vladimir Putin likely has never heard of Paul Minor--or Don Siegelman, for that matter. But the Russian president was on target when he pointed out that the United States' record on human rights has been radically diminished in recent years.
When you live in Birmingham, Alabama--as I do--you don't have to look far to see evidence of that.
Here is a Russia Today report on the adoption ban and its implications:
|Murphy Abigail Shuler,|
as a puppy in 1993: She
is the real schnauzer who
inspired this blog.
Americans must love end-of-the-year lists. We certainly have plenty of them, so I've decided to join the crowd.
My all-time favorite such list was Casey Kasem's countdown of the year's biggest pop-music hits on American Top 40. Casey is getting way up there in years, but as far as I know, he still might be doing his "best of" list. If so, I don't know how he manages to find enough decent songs these days to fill a countdown.
As for Legal Schnauzer, it had never occurred to me to do a "best of" list at the end of the year. But a reader suggested one a few days back, and I thought, "Well, why not?" After all, many of my best ideas--and many of my most intriguing pieces of information--come from readers.
So I started thinking: What posts this year best represent the kind of reporting I hope to do here? Which ones were best written? Which ones best covered important subjects, in Alabama and beyond? Which ones addressed issues that most touched lives? Which ones seemed to resonate with readers? Which ones generated a high volume, and quality, of comments?
Those thoughts led to this question: What kind of impact is our little blog having? The year 2012 marked our fifth full year of blogging, plus about a half year of pieces in 2007. What do the numbers show? We churned out 322 posts this year, bringing our total to 2,334. Our audience continues to grow, with roughly 387,500 page views in 2012, up from 379,156 last year--and way up from the 187,571 in 2008, our first full year.
Our all-time page views top 1.57 million, with almost 1.1 million unique visits. (The real numbers are higher than that because I blogged for four to six months before signing up for a statistics service.) Those totals represent only visits directly to Legal Schnauzer, and do not include readers at a number of national Web sites where my work appears.
Gauging readership in the blogosphere is an inexact science, but I took a crack at it in July 2011, when we reached 1 million page views. Totaling our audience from all sources, my best guess is that we've had between 5 million and 10 million of what I call "significant reading experiences" (SRE). From all of the statistics available to me, our readership and influence seem to be growing steadily. For that, I am deeply grateful--especially when you consider that many of our posts deal with complex subjects and are not easy reading. Keeping up with Legal Schnauzer takes some work, and it's heartening to know that a significant number of people are willing to put in the effort.
With a variety of questions and numbers swirling in my head, here is my shot at Legal Schnauzer's Top 10 posts of 2012. I like to think we are getting better at this blogging thing as we move along. If so, this list should represent some of our best work. And early indicators hint that 2013 will be very interesting, indeed.
It's traditional to publish these lists near the end of the year in question. We are running out of time on that front, so I will start this post here on New Year's Eve 2012--with details to follow, in the first few days of 2013.
As always, we pay tribute to Murphy Abigail Shuler (1993-2004), our precious girl and the real schnauzer who inspired this blog. Her memory keeps us moving forward, toward a day when we hope Americans can enter courtrooms with some assurance that the rule of law will prevail.
With that in mind, this seems like a good time to rerun Murphy's appearance on a Birmingham news program, commemorating a Blessing of the Animals on St. Francis of Assisi day. Murphy is the schnauzer being held by her mom near the beginning and end of the clip.
Happy New Year to all of our readers. Thanks for your tips, your inspirations, your support, your constructive criticisms, your witticisms, and your determination to join us in this effort to help resuscitate a broken justice system. Most of all, thanks for your time and your interest.
Quite a few of you have become friends and acquaintances. Getting to know many of you--via phone, e-mail, snail mail, in person, or a combination of all the above--has provided some of my fondest memories of the past 5 1/2 years.
Burton Cummings, one of my favorite musicians, says, "Without the audience, you have nothing." I know from first-hand experience that he is right on target about that.
(To be continued)
A watchdog at work
The photo at right always brings a smile to my face. It is Murphy Abigail Shuler (1993-2004), the beloved schnauzer who inspired this blog, in the midst of fulfilling her solemn duty as watchdog over our home.
As you can tell, Murphy took her watchdog role seriously. And it's my prayer that her spirit lives on in our reporting her at Legal Schnauzer.
Which of our posts in 2012 did the best job of capturing that spirit? After conducting a month-by-month review through our archives, and keeping a number of criteria in mind, here are my choices.
As Casey Kasem would say, "On with the countdown . . . "
10. How Did An Alabama Woman Wind Up In Jail From The Fallout Of A Divorce Case? (September 20)
Summary: Clanton resident Bonnie Wyatt winds up in the Chilton County Jail because of an alleged property-related debt from her divorce settlement.
Why It Matters: Readers seemed to respond with a collective "WTF" when we reported on Judge Sibley Reynolds' actions--and with good reason. The Alabama Constitution outlaws the imprisonment of individuals for debts. And case law specifically states that a litigant is not subject to contempt of court, much less imprisonment, for failure to pay a property-related debt from dissolution of a marriage. In other words, Reynolds butchered the law--and our audience seemed to get it, right off the bat. Blog stats show that the Bonnie Wyatt story deeply resonated with readers--and it's still going on, despite recent positive developments.
Number of Comments: 62
Comment to Remember:"Reynolds is the epitome of evil. He routinely destroys families in the 19th Circuit. He's been doing it for years."
9. Alabama Lawyer With Strong Ties To GOP Turns Up Dead At Construction Site (February 16)
Summary: Attorney Chace Swatek, 35, is found dead beside a roadway in his hometown of Pelham. He is the son of William E. Swatek, the notoriously unethical lawyer who is at the heart of my personal legal woes and has a 30-year history of disciplinary actions from the Alabama State Bar. We go on to report that Chace Swatek died in the middle of a walk from his house to a CVS drug store, and a source later reveals that the death likely was caused by inhalant abuse, also known as "huffing."
Why it Matters: The body of a young lawyer, the member of a well-known Shelby County family, is found behind a stack of water pipes on the side of a road--and officials still have not released a cause of death. What happened? Were his father's long-standing ties to legal corruption a factor? Some readers took my posts as a personal affront, apparently because I was the only Alabama journalist to actually report on Chace Swatek's death, while noting what public documents undeniably show--that his father is a dirt bag.
Number of Comments: 103
Comment to Remember: "I do feel compassion for you and your wife and I'm sorry for your troubles. However, the Swatek family didn't do this to you. Bill Swatek did this to you. His wife and children are just the collaterals that you continue to try to hurt to get to Bill. I get it. I guess the saying now should be that the keystroke is mightier than the sword . . . "
8. Sex, Drugs, and Violence Are At The Heart Of Divorce Case Against Siegelman Judge Mark Fuller (May 18)
Summary: The wife of U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller files for divorce, amid allegations that "his Honor" engaged in extramarital affairs, abuse of prescription painkillers, and domestic violence.
Why it Matters: Fuller has a lifetime appointment that comes with frightening powers. He can take your belongings, lawfully or unlawfully. He can send innocent citizens to prison, as he did in the political prosecution of former governor Don Siegelman. How does a judge conduct himself when the robes come off?
Number of Comments: 30
Comment to Remember: "The FBI has dirt to leak on everyone, including the Alabama State Bar. Fuller gets his records sealed so our beloved State Officials can carry on the charade that they are of better character and fitness than the general public. The lawyer class only includes some lawyers, the rest of us were forced out of practice, disbarred or in my case never even allowed to take the bar exam. Only the politically dangerous law students are refused entry to the exam room and I wear that as a badge of honor."
7. Did Moral Bankruptcy Finally Catch Up To Carol Garrison In Her Role As President Of UAB? (August 23)
Summary: UAB President Carol Garrison abruptly announces her resignation on the second day of fall classes.
Why it Matters: UAB is Alabama's largest employer and brings in more federal research dollars than the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa and Auburn University combined. UAB, because of its hospital and vast biomedical-research enterprise, arguably is the most important institution in our state. Garrison served for more than a decade, in spite of rampant corruption on her watch. She clearly was forced out, and the public still does not know why. During her reign, Garrison signed off on my unlawful termination at UAB, even though the university's own grievance committee found I should not have been fired.
Number of Comments: 21
Comment to Remember: "UAB's grievance process sounds like a con game. A committee of your peers can find in your favor, as happened with you, but then the administration can overrule. This whole process really stinks and is ripe for abuse."
6. Did the Alabama State Bar Retaliate Against Lawyer Jennifer Paige Clark By Harassing Her to Death? (October 10)
Summary: Lawyer Jennifer Paige Clark is found dead in her Mobile home, nine days after the Alabama State Bar suspended her license. Cause of death remains unknown.
Why it Matters: Public documents strongly suggest that the bar had no legitimate grounds to investigate Ms. Clark, much less to suspend her license and seek disbarment. She was aggressively representing her parents in a pair of property-related matters, one in Flowery Branch, Georgia, and one in Gulf Shores, Alabama. Did bar officials launch a harassment campaign only because Jennifer Paige Clark was doing her job effectively? Was their real concern that her discovery methods apparently unearthed corruption in two states?
Number of Comments: 32
Comment to Remember: "Jennifer Paige Clark was not the first Jones (Law School) Graduate to get into trouble with the State Bar over those condo developments. The Staff at the State Bar has become the bitches of those multi-million dollar condo developers because so many lawyers and judges are part owners of those condos and/or do highly paid legal work for them."
(To be continued)
The nation's highest court declined to hear Minor's initial petition for certiorari review in 2010. But that petition came before the court's ruling in a case involving former Enron executive Jeffrey Skilling, redefining the federal law on honest-services fraud.
In Skilling v. United States, 130 S. Ct. 2896 (2010), the court established a "uniform national standard" for honest-services fraud, and it includes only cases that involve kickbacks and bribes under federal law. Minor and two codefendants, former state judges Wes Teel and John Whitfield, were convicted under jury instructions that said the right to honest services is defined by Mississippi bribery law.
The Minor defendants filed motions with the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, seeking to have their convictions overturned because Skilling represented "an intervening change of law that rendered the indictment and jury instructions erroneous." The Fifth Circuit denied those motions in August 2012, and Minor now appeals that ruling.
Minor and Wingate remain in prison after being sentenced in September 2007. Teel was released after completing his sentence in 2012.
Minor's second petition to the high court is governed by Supreme Court Rule 10(a), which holds that certiorari review is appropriate when a court of appeals has "so far departed from the accepted and usual course of judicial proceedings . . . as to call for an exercise of this Court's supervisory power."
Albert Alschuler, a professor emeritus at the University of Chicago Law School, represents Minor in the current appeal. Alschuler is the author of a friend-of-the-court brief the Supreme Court cited favorably in Skilling.
Minor's new brief argues that the Fifth Circuit, in failing to overturn his conviction, failed to abide by the controlling authority of the Supreme Court's finding in the Skilling case:
Skilling's holding was clear: The law of honest-services fraud does not vary from state to state. The Fifth Circuit's disregard of this holding warrants summary reversal. . . .
The Fifth Circuit's contradiction of Skilling will produce serious inequalities in the application of federal law. State bribery laws differ substantially from one another, both nationally and within the circuit. The Fifth Circuit not only has upheld honest-services instructions grounded on state bribery law; relying on its decision in this case, it also has held honest-services instructions based on federal bribery law erroneous. . . .
In light of both of these rulings, courts within the circuit will ground honest-services instructions on state law until the Court corrects the error. No other circuit has suggested that state law still defines the right to honest services after Skilling.
Here is a copy of Paul Minor's second petition for certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court:
Paul Minor-SCOTUS Petition2
|Murphy Abigail Shuler:|
A Watchdog at Work
As I've noted in a number of posts, Murphy Abigail Shuler (1993-2004) is the real-life schnauzer who inspired this blog. You can see her in action, as watchdog over our home, in the photo at right. And in a higher-power sense, her presence will always be with us.
But in many earthly ways, Legal Schnauzer has come to be driven by our readers. In fact, it was a reader who suggested a few days ago that we should do an end-of-the year "best of" list. And we turned that into a reality, with yesterday's post about Numbers 10-6 on our countdown.
As we follow up today with the top five stories on our list, I realize just how appropriate it is that this idea came from a reader. This blog, after all, largely has become a community project.
Four of the five stories in our 10-6 post yesterday were reported with major input from readers. Only our No. 7 story, about the resignation of UAB president Carol Garrison, did not involve a tip, a document, or some other helpful hint from a reader. Since the mystery of Garrison's departure remains unsolved, we still might get reader input that breaks that story.
Of our top five stories, which we announce today, all of them were driven in one way or another by information from readers. If you are keeping score, nine of our top 10 posts for 2012 had major input from readers.
Does the public matter in an effort to help restore the rule of law to America's courts? It sure as heck does. Our top five posts from 2012 serve as prime examples.
On with the countdown . . .
5. Karl Rove's Bisexual Affair Might Have Sparked His Bizarre Rant on Fox News (June 27)
Summary: A letter from Alabama lawyer Jill Simpson to former White House counsel Robert Bauer reveals that Republican strategist Karl Rove is having a gay affair with Ali Akbar, president of a right-leaning bloggers' association. Simpson's letter comes to light after Rove attacks her and Bauer during an off-the-wall interview with Greta Van Susteren on Fox News.
Why it Matters: Rove helped George W. Bush get "elected" president twice, and powerful evidence suggests both elections were stolen. Rove clearly was behind the politicization of the U.S. Justice Department under Bush and almost certainly orchestrated a bogus prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman. Evidence still is building that Rove tried to buy or rig the 2012 presidential election. Karl Rove has made himself a hugely influential figure in national affairs, so how does he conduct his personal affairs? The mainstream press has ignored this story, but it might be our most important national piece of the year. It apparently led to Rove's quickie, "arranged" marriage to Texas political operative Karen Johnson. And it still might help shrink Rove's power base within the GOP.
Number of Comments: 21
A Comment to Remember: "KKKarl Rove is queer too? It figures, we know about Hitler and his inner circle of SS being queer and the rumors about Stalin, Marx, Pol Pot and Obama have been out there for all to see, but KKKarl? It makes all the sense in the world and explains sooo much.
"How fabulous is that!"
4. CEO Ted Rollins' Ex Wife Is Living in Fear Over Reports About Child Sexual Abuse (September 14)
Summary: Birmingham resident Sherry Carroll Rollins fears for her safety in the wake of reports that her ex husband, Campus Crest Communities CEO Ted Rollins, was investigated in North Carolina for the sexual abuse of her son.
Why it Matters: We repeatedly have called the Rollins v. Rollins divorce case, which was decided in a Shelby County court that did not have jurisdiction to hear it, the worst courtroom cheat job we've encountered in the civil arena. With the apparent help of the powerful Birmingham law firm Bradley Arant, Ted Rollins managed to abuse the justice system and cheat his ex wife and two daughters. But Rollins' abusive actions actually started long before that. Public records show that he was convicted for assault in the 1995 beating of his stepson. And the investigation for child sexual abuse of the same stepson came two years before that. What kind of person runs a company that has received more than $400 million in support from investors on Wall Street?
Number of Comments: 46
A Comment to Remember: "The wealthy long have held a tendency to abuse children. Max Keiser, the other day, did a fascinating interview with author Leah McGrath Goodman about horrific child abuse on the island of Jersey (between England and France), which is the world's largest tax haven."
3. Siegelman Resentencing Serves as a Grim Reminder That His Prosecution Was Bogus from the Outset (August 3)
Summary: Former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman is resentenced to more than six years in federal prison after the U.S. Supreme Court refuses to hear his appeal on the most notorious political prosecution in American history.
Why it Matters: Appellate courts have a duty, under the law, to ensure that the law is applied consistently. That's largely why we have appellate courts, and it's a major reason we have the constitutionally guaranteed right to due process and equal protection. But the U.S. Eleventh Circuit of Appeals, and the U.S. Supreme Court, failed Don Siegelman. In the process, they failed all of us. This is a case that could not even be heard at trial because the primary charge of bribery was brought well past the statute of limitations. But Siegelman unlawfully sits in prison, and codefendant Richard Scrushy already has served his sentence. If you live in America, and this story does not bother you . . . well, you aren't much of an American.
Number of Comments: 36
A Comment to Remember: "Judge Fuller claims the appeal by Siegelman misrepresented what was a simple case of bribery. Yet, Fuller raked in millions from Doss Aviation's contract with the Bush Administration while he presided over the facts of a case that had already been thrown out by another Federal Judge, U.W. Clemon, in the Northern District of Alabama."
2. Wall Street Analyst Paula Poskon Switches Gears To Claim A CEO's Ties To Child Abuse Are No Big Deal (December 4)
Summary: A prominent Wall Street analysts tries to back track on her earlier comments, voicing concern about how investors might react to news about Campus Crest Communities CEO Ted Rollins' connections to child abuse. Now, Paula Poskon changes her tune, saying in so many words that child abuse is no big deal to the investment community. And we caught her on tape, in a telephone interview.
Why it Matters? From JPMorgan Chase's "really bad bet" to LIBOR to HSBC's money-laundering scandal, 2012 was the year for terrible behavior in the world of high finance. What kind of ethics reign on Wall Street? Paula Poskon shows us that, when big money is at stake, Wall Street pretty much has no ethics at all--going so far as to provide cover for a chief executive with a documented history as a child abuser.
Number of Comments: 69
A Comment to Remember: "Wonder if Ms. Poskon has children? Wonder if she has ever been raped or abused? Wonder if she knows anyone who has?"
1. Bonnie Wyatt Is Released This Afternoon From Jail (December 18)
Summary: Clanton resident Bonnie Wyatt is released from the Chilton County Jail after being unlawfully incarcerated for almost five months because of a property-related debt connected to her divorce.
Why it Matters: Does the Web press make a difference? Does our reporting at Legal Schnauzer have an impact? This event strongly suggests that the answer is yes. We do not know for sure, yet, why Circuit Judge Sibley Reynolds decided to free Ms. Wyatt. But there is little doubt that our reporting, plus the work of Brad Patterson at examiner.com, played a part. The mainstream press ignored the story, but the Schnauzer and friends grabbed it by the pants leg and wouldn't let go. It seems someone decided the fire was getting a little too close for comfort, so maybe it was a good idea to let Bonnie Wyatt go.
Number of Comments: 53
A Comment to Remember: "Great news LS! If she's stood 5 months in jail (because) of that prick, then she should tell him to shove his gag order! She should stick it to Reynolds the same way he did her. It can be done! Maybe Bonnie will let you be a part of it LS since you no doubt played a big role in her release. Kudos to you, man, and thank you for what you do!!!!"
It's nice, of course, to receive comments like that last one. But readers deserve much of the credit. I would not have known about Bonnie Wyatt's situation, for example, without a tip from a reader. I would not have been able to report it fully without information from readers.
I'm already working on several posts for 2013 that originated with fascinating tips from readers. We encourage you to stay tuned.
Before you searching always remember to change your IP adress to not be followed!
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The hacktivist group Anonymous is known mostly for efforts to expose wrongdoing involving governments, multinational corporations, and large financial institutions. That might be about to change with the alleged gang rape and kidnapping of a 16-year-old girl in Steubenville, Ohio.
The alleged attack, on a girl who reportedly was unconscious, happened last August. But it did not become national news until The New York Times reported a story titled "Rape Case Unfolds On Web And Splits City" on December 16.
Witness accounts via social media caused the story to spread. Anonymous helped break it wide open last week when it gathered information suggesting an official cover up and placed it on a WikiLeaks-style Web site.
Two members of the town's football team have been arrested and charged with rape. But the Anonymous reports hint at misconduct that goes way beyond two student-athletes--and it might include efforts by law enforcement and town officials to cover up crimes.
Could this be a sign that Anonymous is prepared to help fight the kind of rampant corruption in America's justice system that has been the focus of numerous posts here at Legal Schnauzer? Is Anonymous set to train its sights on rogue judges, prosecutors, and lawyers--and those who guide them, or in some cases, buy them off?
For example, let's ponder these scenarios:
* What if Anonymous took an interest in hacking various accounts that might reveal who caused Alabama resident Sherry Carroll Rollins and her daughters to be cheated in a Shelby County divorce case where the judge did not even have jurisdiction to hear the matter? What if Anonymous decided to scrutinize those who appear to be behind the Rollins v. Rollins fiasco--including Ted Rollins and his company, Campus Crest Communities; Randall Rollins and his company, Orkin Pest Control (Rollins Inc.); and Michele Rollins and her companies, Rollins Jamaica and Dover Downs Gaming and Entertainment? What if that scrutiny extended to the Birmingham law firm of Bradley Arant, which apparently played a leading role in getting the case unlawfully shifted from South Carolina, where it had been litigated for three years?
* What if Anonymous took an interest in hacking accounts that might reveal who caused Chilton County Judge Sibley Reynolds to unlawfully send Clanton resident Bonnie Cahalane (Knox) Wyatt to jail for almost five months because of an alleged debt connected to her divorce case? What if Anonymous shined light on communications among Reynolds, Shelby Concrete president Bobby Knox, and various lawyers in the case--and that includes our old friend William E. Swatek, who was deeply involved in the Knox v. Knox divorce case?
* Even closer to home, what if Anonymous took an interest in hacking accounts that might reveal who caused me to be cheated out of my job at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB)--and who caused Mrs. Schnauzer to be cheated out of her job at Infinity Property and Casualty. We have evidence in the form of a tape-recorded phone conversation that proves I was targeted because of my reporting on this blog about the political prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman. Mrs. Schnauzer, more than likely, was fired in part because she is married to me. What if Anonymous shined light on communications among former UAB President Carol Garrison, members of the UA Board of Trustees, and certain members of the legal and political communities who wanted to shut down my reporting? What if Anonymous decided to pry into Infinity's records and reveal who caused my wife to be fired?
Anonymous, understandably, has focused on matters that are national and international in scope. But the Steubenville rape case helps show that many American communities, of all shapes and sizes, are infested with cultures that protect certain individuals while encouraging abuse of others.
How powerful are reports on social media and via Anonymous? You can get an idea by checking out a LocalLeaks site called The Steubenville Files, which provides insights about a number of central figures who appear to have conflicts of interest or disturbing secrets in their closets. These include Jim Parks, the owner of a private fan site for the football team; sheriff Fred Abdalla; prosecuting attorney Jane Hanlin; and football coach Reno Saccoccia.
As for Anonymous, it has launched Operation Roll Red Roll, including a Web site that describes efforts to get at the truth of what happened in Steubenville. What impact has Anonymous had on the story? Consider this from a report at New York Magazine:
National interest in the August incident was renewed earlier this week thanks to the efforts of hacktivist group Anonymous, which has accused town leaders of trying to cover up the crime. In addition to a twelve-minute video of some Steubenville High School students joking about the victim, Anonymous released the names of a so-called "Rape Crew" (boys who may have known about, witnessed, or even potentially participated in the rape.) They also charged the sheriff tasked with investigating the matter, Fred Abdalla, with destroying evidence and running an illegal gambling operation. On Friday, Abdalla told a local news station that he intended to "come after" Anonymous, who he accused of "character assassination." However, he seemed to take a softer stance on Saturday, when he appeared in front of the 1,300 attendees of Occupy Steubenville, an Anonymous-organized rally in support of the victim.
Anonymous clearly has grabbed the nation's attention and caused serious discomfort for Steubenville officials. We are betting that the hacktivists eventually will greatly enhance the cause of justice in a small Ohio town.
Will this lead Anonymous to shine a spotlight on corruption that directly affects Main Street, USA? We hope so--and we can promise that "hackers for justice" will find no shortage of juicy material, here in Alabama and beyond.
The following video provides background on Anonymous' role in the Steubenville fray:
One of Alabama's most notorious prosecutorial thugs over the past decade or so might be on the verge of receiving some richly deserved scrutiny.
Matt Hart currently serves as a "public corruption special prosecutor" under Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange. But Hart perhaps is best known for his actions as a federal prosecutor under Alice Martin, who served as U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama during the George W. Bush years.
A Tuscaloosa contractor who was found not guilty in 2010 on corruption charges now is seeking to unseal records that might show Hart abused the federal grand-jury process in that case. Roger Taylor, president of Hall-Taylor Construction, was charged in connection with an investigation of the Alabama two-year college system, but a jury acquitted him on all eight counts.
Taylor's attorneys long have argued that their client was the victim of abusive prosecutorial tactics. They renewed that argument after recently receiving a call from a newspaper reporter working on an investigative series about the federal grand-jury system. From a report at al.com:
Tuscaloosa contractor Roger Taylor, who was found not guilty two years ago of bribery in the federal probe of Alabama's two-year college system, is now trying to unseal court records regarding his claim that prosecutors abused the federal grand jury system in his case.
Taylor made the request after The Wall Street Journal recently contacted one of his attorneys seeking comment for that newspaper's investigation into the federal grand jury system.
"The reporter had specific questions about this case which the undersigned (attorney) could not answer without fear of revealing information which had been sealed during the course of this case," according to Taylor's motion filed by attorney J. Mark White.
"I think that the record pretty well shows that the abuse of the grand jury system was a significant issue in the case . . . and would have been on appeal if we would have not won."
Matt Hart's reputation for thuggish tactics came to light for most citizens in 2004 when former U.S. Circuit Judge U.W. Clemon cited him for contempt of court in the Medicaid-fraud case against former Governor Don Siegelman and codefendants Paul Hamrick and Phillip Bobo. Prosecutors dropped those charges, in Birmingham, after Clemon ruled they had insufficient evidence for a conspiracy claim.
Siegelman and former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy later faced bribery-related charges in Montgomery, and that case led to convictions and has been widely called the most notorious political prosecution in U.S. history. Hart's fingerprints, it turned out, were all over that case, too--as we reported in a post titled "Prosecutors Used 'Sex Scandal' to Intimidate Key Witness in Siegelman Case."
Who led the effort to intimidate chief prosecution witness Nick Bailey? According to Andrew Kreig's reporting at Huffington Post, based on an affidavit from Tuscaloosa businessman Stan Pate, it was Matt Hart. From our July 2009 report on the matter:
What did prosecutor Matt Hart say that caused Bailey to be visibly shaken? Kreig provides the story:
"Nick was told that the government was working to prevent the publicizing of an alleged sexual relationship between Nick and Don Siegelman," Pate wrote. "Nick also told me that one of the agents working the Siegelman/Scrushy prosecution asked him whether he had ever taken illegal drugs with Governor Siegelman or had a sexual relationship with him. These comments had a dramatic effect on Nick, and, in my observation, added significantly to the pressure he felt to go along with whatever the prosecutors wanted him to say."
Hart apparently used similar tactics in the Roger Taylor case, and Taylor's attorneys now are seeking to unseal court records that might prove it. From a recent al.com report:
Taylor's attorneys argued at that April 2010 hearing that their client's constitutional rights were compromised during the federal grand jury process and that the indictment should be tossed out. Augusta Dowd, another of Taylor's attorneys, had said at that hearing that assistant U.S. attorney Matt Hart used "unacceptable and unethical tactics" with grand jury witnesses, including misleading them and threatening them with prosecution.
Misleading witnesses, threatening them with sex scandals and prosecutions? Is there anything Matt Hart won't try in order to win a case? Will he ever be held accountable for years of such abuse?
Perhaps we are about to find out.
|Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron|
A curious online trend started less than two minutes into last night's BCS title game between Notre Dame and the University of Alabama.
Alabama took the opening kickoff and marched 82 yards in five plays to score with less than three minutes gone on the clock. A college football fan in Fredericksburg, Virginia, must have sensed how the night was going to go and went to his (or her) computer and did a Google keyword search on "Alabama football scandal."
That led straight to my blog, Legal Schnauzer. The search was recorded on my blog statistics at 19:31:59, which is one second short of 7:32 CST in regular time. The game had started at 7:30, and one college football follower seemed to be thinking, "Dammit, Alabama's going to kick Notre Dame's ass, just like they kicked LSU's ass last year--and Texas' ass three years ago.
"I'm getting sick of this. Why is Alabama so good? Something's got to be rotten at that university. I think I'll do a Google search."
Our friend in Virginia seemed to open up the floodgates. His search was the first of dozens related to any sign of ugliness in Crimson Tide Nation. And since I'm the only journalist who has covered the one clear, known scandal connected to the University of Alabama football program, many of those searches landed on my blog.
The real scandal at the University of Alabama, to my knowledge, does not involve a football player or Head Coach Nick Saban; it involves Paul Bryant Jr., president of the UA Board of Trustees and a central figure in a federal insurance-fraud prosecution that netted a 15-year prison sentence for a one-time Philadelphia lawyer named Allen W. Stewart. Bryant managed to escape serious repercussions, with the apparent aide of a confidant named G. Douglas Jones, who was U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama at the time. But one of Bryant's companies, Alabama Reassurance, was implicated in nine counts that drew guilty verdicts in the Stewart case.
Bryant Jr., the son of the late Hall of Fame football coach Paul "Bear" Bryant, oversees a public board that manages hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars--even though he has documented ties to insurance fraud. That might cause concern in some states. But in our football-mad surroundings, many citizens only know that the Crimson Tide has won three of the past four NCAA football championships. They don't care that the chief trustee once was involved in a scam that left a bunch of Americans holding worthless life-insurance policies.
People outside of Alabama, however, apparently do care about any sign of impropriety surrounding the Crimson Tide football program. In fact, their interest seemed to gain steam throughout the first half, as Alabama went on to a 42-14 trouncing of the Fighting Irish.
Our visitor from Virginia got things rolling, but he wasn't the only person who seemed to be wondering, "Why in the hell is Alabama so much better than everybody else in football?" His visit was followed by a stream of others, with readers from one coast to another. Here is a list of just some of the keyword searches, with general location of the searcher, that brought folks to my blog during the first half of last night's rout: (My stat service, by the way, helpfully provides a ranking of where Legal Schnauzer falls on certain Google searches. We will provide those rankings where available.)
* "Paul William Bryant Jr."--Sanford, North Carolina
* "What does Alabama spend in football?"--Meridian, Idaho
* "Alabama football criminals"--Centerville, Massachusetts; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and quite a few more. (No. 1)
* "Alabama football scandal"--Fredericksburg, Virginia; Lemoore, California; Branford, Connecticut, and many more. (No. 2)
* "How corrupt is the Alabama football program?" Lincoln, Nebraska.
A lot of searches were encrypted so I could not tell their contents. But a whole bunch of them landed on a post titled "The Real Scandal Behind the University of Alabama Football Program." The nature of the search seems pretty clear.
The pace of searches slowed down in the second half as many viewers apparently lost interest in the game and became resigned to the fact that Nick Saban soon would be hoisting another championship trophy.
Is all of this just sour grapes on the part of college football fans who do not count Alabama as their favorite team? Perhaps it is. The Saban era has been relatively free of serious scandal connected to the football program. Here are a few articles that have been written about certain issues, but nothing much has come of them:
* "Alabama's Unhappy Castoffs: Ex Players Say Coach Nick Saban Pressured Them to Take Medical Scholarships; a 'Bitter' Outcome," by Hannah Karp and Darren Everson, The Wall Street Journal, September 24, 2010;
* "Former Players Say Saban Twisted the Truth: Alabama's Football Coach Said Four Athletes Were Let Go for Breaking Team Rules--Three of Them Say That's Not True," by Hannah Karp, The Wall Street Journal, November 25, 2010;
* "Alabama's Timeline Makes No Sense; Nick Saban Comments On Story," by Clay Travis, outkickthecoverage.com, July 26, 2011.
None of those stories caused a serious headache for UA fans. But a genuine investigation into Paul Bryant Jr.'s activities might do just that.
ESPN has ranked Bryant Jr. among the most powerful boosters in college sports. Public documents show that Bryant liquidated Alabama Reassurance in late 2007 and replaced it with a company called Alabama Life Reinsurance. Curiously, Alabama Re was a company with admitted assets of more than $238 million--and only two full-time employees.
Was someone making a sweet profit off of that gig? It sure looks like it. Why was the company liquidated, and did that help hide any signs of financial chicanery? We don't know.
Anyone interested in scandal surrounding Alabama football should ponder the question we asked in the title of this post: "Is Alabama's Football Factory Fueled In Part With Proceeds From Insurance Fraud?"
Even the most cynical college football fan has to admit that Nick Saban is a splendid coach. One way or another, he attracts an impressive array of talent to Tuscaloosa--and they play the way Saban wants them to play.
Is there a scandal around Crimson Tide football? If so, it starts well beyond the sidelines. And you can almost bet it involves Paul Bryant Jr.--plus potentially funny numbers connected to his insurance businesses.
The public apparently is intrigued with the notion that the hacktivist group Anonymous might start getting involved with justice issues that affect Main Street, America.
We wrote yesterday about the gang rape and kidnapping of a 16-year-old girl in Steubenville, Ohio--and Anonymous' role in exposing a possible cover up.
Citizens around the country must like the idea because our post, titled "Rape In Steubenville Attracts Anonymous' Attention To Injustice And Corruption On Main Street, USA," quickly became one of the most widely read pieces we've written in a while.
I wouldn't say our post has gone viral like Sweet Brown, the Oklahoma City resident who is at the heart of the "Ain't Nobody Got Time For That" video that has taken the Web by storm. But our little piece is making the rounds. And that tells me the public likes the idea of Anonymous shining a light on the various rogues who trample the rule of law that is supposed to protect regular Americans.
First, our post got picked up at the CryptOnymous News Network, a Webzine devoted to covering stories that involve Anonymous. Our piece was featured in the site's "Society" section.
From there, our piece made its way to Twitter, which caused our readership statistics for yesterday to explode.
We've had hundreds of new visitors today as Crooks and Liars, one of the most widely read progressive sites on the Web, featured our piece in its daily blog roundup.
As any blogger will tell you, it's nice to see your work grab the public's attention. But it's even better to realize that Anonymous has shown an interest in intervening on cases of everyday injustice, the kind that we expose on a regular basis here at Legal Schnauzer.
What can we take from this? It tells me that the public does not trust the U.S. Department of Justice and other law-enforcement agencies to address corruption like the kind that appears to be present in Steubenville. It also tells me that the public does not trust judges, lawyers, and the like to address such issues.
But citizens apparently do like the idea of Anonymous taking cyber action to expose those who think they are above the law. All too often, America's bad actors include judges, lawyers, sheriffs and their deputies, police chiefs and their officers--and, of course, Wall Street types like our old friend Ted Rollins.
The readership bump we've seen in the past two days tells me citizens want to see thugs held accountable--and they believe Anonymous can play a major role in doing it.
That's a lesson that gives us hope for the future.
This is not a story that will warm your heart as we wind down from the holidays. But it does show how we tend to mistreat "the least of these"--and that should be a year-round concern for those who claim to take the New Testament seriously.
At center stage for this immorality play is Mitchell Breland, a former Moulton, Alabama, police officer who was indicted just before Christmas on two counts of child abuse. Playing opposite Breland is Ted Rollins, the CEO of Charlotte-based Campus Crest Communities and a regular subject here because of his leading role in pulling off a monstrous cheat job in an Alabama divorce case styled Rollins v. Rollins.
Public records and published reports show that Ted Rollins committed an act of child abuse that was every bit as monstrous as the acts alleged against Mitchell Breland. Rollins was convicted of misdemeanor assault and paid a small fine, but records indicate he never was investigated for the much more serious offense of child abuse. Breland, meanwhile, faces Class C felony charges that could land him in prison for one to 10 years.
Not only did Ted Rollins receive light treatment from the criminal-justice system, he has gone on to receive solid support from Wall Street. The Vanguard Group, one of America's most prominent investment firms, was a powerful backer in a $380-million IPO that Rollins' company completed in late 2010. Does that mean The Vanguard Group, from its hallowed base in the Philadelphia suburb of Malvern, Pennsylvania, isn't much concerned about child abuse, as long as an abuser can help make money for stockholders? A reasonable person could reach that conclusion.
Why the different outcomes in criminal cases involving Mitchell Breland and Ted Rollins? Well, to be sure, the incidents happened in different states, in different time frames. Rollins was charged in 1995 with beating up his 16-year-old stepson in Franklin County, North Carolina. Breland was arrested last September in Lawrence County, Alabama, on charges that he had beaten two eight-year-old girls.
Here is how a report in the Florence Times Daily describes the charges against Breland:
Authorities said Breland is accused of repeatedly whipping the girls. It was unknown if they were whipped with a belt or some other item.
Reports indicate one girl was beaten so severely that she had to be taken to the hospital. Medical personnel there contacted DHR.
How does that compare to Ted Rollins' actions? Consider the account of Alabama resident Sherry Rollins, who is Ted Rollins' ex wife and the mother of his victim, Zac Parrish (now 33 years old). She said her son's face was a bloody mask after the beating, and emergency medical personnel administered oxygen in a trip via ambulance to a nearby hospital. That is a sign that blood loss was severe enough that the victim was at danger of going into shock. Ms. Rollins said her son suffered a broken nose and numerous lacerations and abrasions. From one of our reports on the incident:
Was there any doubt that Zac Parrish had been abused? Consider Sherry Rollins description of the trip to the hospital with her son. . . .
"In the ambulance, my daughter and I were with him. I believe he was given oxygen. He was badly beaten. He had lacerations around his mouth. Ted had repeatedly beaten him around the mouth area. You could see the inside of his lip hanging down."
Ted Rollins' actions at least match those of Mitchell Breland--and probably were far worse. After all, we know that, two years prior to the beating, North Carolina social-services officials investigated Ted Rollins for child sexual abuse of the same stepson--and that was based on a citizen complaint.
So why did Ted Rollins receive barely a wrist slap, while Breland is facing up to 10 years in prison? (Breland, by the way, already has been terminated from his job.)
It's not as if one state has strict laws on child abuse, while the other takes a lax approach. The statutory language is different, but the meanings of the relevant laws in North Carolina and Alabama are pretty much identical. In a post titled "The Truth About Ted Rollins: The CEO of Campus Crest Communities Got Away With Child Abuse," we showed that child abuse is covered under Chapter 7B of the North Carolina General Statutes.
The heart of the law is found at Section 7B-301, which reads in pertinent part:
7B‑301. Duty to report abuse, neglect, dependency, or death due to maltreatment.
Any person or institution who has cause to suspect that any juvenile is abused, neglected, or dependent, as defined by G.S. 7B‑101, or has died as the result of maltreatment, shall report the case of that juvenile to the director of the department of social services in the county where the juvenile resides or is found. The report may be made orally, by telephone, or in writing. . . .Alabama's Mandatory Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Law can be found at Code of Alabama 26-14 (1-13). Alabama's law is wordier than the one in North Carolina, but it's meaning is the same--and the crux of it can be found at Section 26-14-3(a):
(a) All hospitals, clinics, sanitariums, doctors, physicians, surgeons, medical examiners, coroners, dentists, osteopaths, optometrists, chiropractors, podiatrists, nurses, school teachers and officials, peace officers, law enforcement officials, pharmacists, social workers, day care workers or employees, mental health professionals, members of the clergy as defined in Rule 505 of the Alabama Rules of Evidence, or any other person called upon to render aid or medical assistance to any child, when the child is known or suspected to be a victim of child abuse or neglect, shall be required to report, or cause a report to be made of the same, orally, either by telephone or direct communication immediately, followed by a written report, to a duly constituted authority.
The bottom line? All of the law-enforcement, health-care, and court personnel who handled the Zac Parrish beating in North Carolina were required to report it as a case of suspected child abuse. Public records indicate that numerous individuals violated their duty to report, and that largely is why Ted Rollins never was held accountable.
Key personnel connected to the case in Moulton also were required by law to report suspected child abuse. Published reports indicate medical personnel contacted the Alabama Department of Human Resources (DHR), and that prompted the investigation of Breland.
Can money and status help America's elites avoid scrutiny, even in cases where a child has been abused?
The stories of Mitchell Breland and Ted Rollins tell us the answer is yes.
Is there any serious doubt that Ted Rollins committed acts of child abuse? Here is a video of Sherry Rollins' eye-witness account of the beating, followed by court documents that show Ted Rollins' conviction for assault:
Ted Rollins Arrested for Assault
Ted Rollins Sentence for Assault
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Whenever Alabama winds up near the bottom in a national quality-of-life ranking--and it happens a lot--our citizens tend to exhale and exclaim, "Whew, thank God for Mississippi!"
There's a good reason for that: If Alabama ranks No. 49 in an issue involving, say, health status, education, or justice, you can bet that Mississippi probably ranks No. 50.
I recently discovered a new reason to say, "Thank God for Mississippi!" It didn't seem possible that the mainstream media (MSM) in any state could be worse than ours here in Alabama. But based on last weeks' coverage of the latest appeal in the Paul Minor case, Mississippi appears to "have us beat."
Albert Alschuler, a national expert on legal issues connected to honest-services fraud, filed a brief on December 31 with the U.S. Supreme Court, seeking review of the Minor case in light of the high court's 2010 ruling in a case involving former Enron executive Jeffrey Skilling.
The court found in Skilling v. United States, 130 S. Ct. 2896 (2010) that the federal honest-services statutes reach only cases of alleged bribery and kickbacks. Skilling was decided after Minor's original petition for certiorari review had been filed. As such, Alschuler argues, it represents "an intervening change in law" that merits review under Supreme Court Rule 10(a).
Paul Minor, one of the most successful plaintiffs' attorneys in Mississippi history, was convicted on Bush-era corruption charges, along with former state judges Wes Teel and John Whitfield. Minor and Whitfield remain in federal prison, while Teel was released last year after completing his sentence.
The Minor case was one of the most high-profile federal prosecutions in Mississippi over the past decade. And it raises critical issues about the U.S. election process, including the First Amendment right to financially support the candidates of our choice. But you would never know that from last week's coverage about the Minor appeal in the Mississippi MSM.
First, a reasonable person might expect that Mississippi newspapers would consider the Minor case important enough to assign staff reporters to the latest story. That would seem especially true in Biloxi, where Minor live and worked, and in Jackson, where the trial was conducted. But our research indicates both the Biloxi Sun Heraldand the Jackson Clarion-Ledger used a wire report provided by Associated Press.
A reporter named Jack Elliott Jr. wrote the Associated Press story out of Jackson, and he did not distinguish himself with this effort. Perhaps Elliott has done fine work on other stories, and in his defense, news about the Minor appeal was released on December 31--and that means the AP bureau probably had a skeleton crew working on New Year's Eve. Whatever caused it, Elliott's story was a sorry piece of journalism that did almost nothing to help readers understand a case that has national implications.
The incompetence at the Biloxi newspaper started right off the bat, with a headline that read "Minor Appeals Miss. Sentence to US Supreme Court." (The AP writer, by the way, almost certainly did not write that headline; it probably was written by someone on the newspaper's copy desk.) How many ways does that title get it wrong? First, it was a federal sentence, not a state sentence under Mississippi law. More importantly, Minor's brief makes it clear that he is not just appealing his sentence; he is seeking to have his convictions overturned on all counts. (The full brief can be viewed at the end of this post.)
The brief states throughout that the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals holdings on the case merit "summary reversal." That means, according to Minor's counsel, the convictions are unlawful and are due to be overturned. Here is a reference from page 4 of the brief:
Skilling's holding was clear: The law of honest-services fraud does not vary from state to state. The Fifth Circuit's disregard of this holding warrants summary reversal.
Inexplicably, the AP story makes no mention of the ruling in Skilling. The first sentence in the "Statement of the Case" found in Minor's brief states that the appeal is based primarily on a change in the law on honest-services fraud, brought about Skilling.
It's the crux of the entire appeal. Failing to address that is like writing on World War II without mentioning Adolph Hitler. In fact, we see no signs that the AP reporter even looked at the latest Minor brief. His report makes multiple references to "Minor has argued . . ." or "Minor said . . ."; those are apparent references to issues raised in earlier court documents.
It appears Elliott based his story on clips that are several years old and do not address the issues that Alschuler now has placed squarely before the nation's highest court.
Alschuler spends considerable time in his brief on the most important issue in the Minor case--flawed jury instructions. Minor's counsel shows how U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate repeatedly butchered jury instructions in the trial court. And Alschuler lays out tortured arguments on the issue before the Fifth Circuit that are downright comical.
The take-home point is this: Jury instructions in the Minor case were hopelessly wrong before the Skilling ruling was issued; they are even more off target in the post-Skilling environment.
That means the Minor defendants were convicted of "crimes" that do not exist under actual law. It means their convictions are due to be overturned across the board, even without taking Skilling into consideration.
You might think it is important for the public to understand issues that caused three citizens to be imprisoned because of convictions that are not even close to being lawful. You might think the mainstream press in Mississippi would take seriously its obligation to educate readers on matters that go straight to constitutional protections.
But based on Associated Press coverage of the Paul Minor appeal--and the sorry efforts of other reporters and editors in Mississippi--you would be wrong.
Paul Minor-SCOTUS Petition2
A central Alabama woman who was unlawfully incarcerated for almost five months now is on the verge of being thrown from her home.
Bonnie Wyatt, of Clanton, was released from the Chilton County Jail on December 18, but her freedom came with a major caveat. Circuit Judge Sibley Reynolds issued an order on that date, giving Ms. Wyatt 30 days to be out of her home so it could be sold to satisfy an alleged debt from her divorce case.
That means Ms. Wyatt must exit the premises by this Thursday, January 17, so that it can be shown by Amber Darnell, an agent with RealtySouth in Clanton.
Are the fine folks at RealtySouth aware that Judge Reynolds' order is unlawful? Are they aware of how many ways it is unlawful? Do they care about the rule of law or only about the nice commission a court-ordered sale will bring?
We already have shown in a series of posts that Ms. Wyatt's incarceration--ostensibly because of her failure to pay former husband Harold Wyatt $165,000 for his equity in the marital residence--was contrary to law. That is readily apparent from reading an Alabama case styled Dolberry v. Dolberry, 920 So. 2d 573 (Ala. Civ. App., 2005), which makes it unlawful for a judge to subject a party to contempt and incarceration because of a property-related debt from the dissolution of a marriage.
Law doesn't get much more clear-cut than the Dolberry case, but Judge Reynolds ordered Bonnie Wyatt's arrest anyway. A reasonable person might conclude that Reynolds acted with an ulterior motive that had little, if anything, to do with Harold Wyatt's financial picture.
After all, Bonnie and Harold Wyatt lived together as husband and wife for only about 10 months, and she owned the house in question before the marriage. We have found nothing in the court file that proves Harold Wyatt spent roughly $165,000 on the residence during the time he lived with Bonnie Wyatt. And we certainly have found nothing that indicates Bonnie Wyatt authorized such expenditures.
So why is Ms. Wyatt being forced out of a home that she owned from the outset--one that was in the process of being rebuilt after it was destroyed in a fire that was investigated as a case of arson?
Judge Reynolds' orders in the Bonnie Wyatt matter clearly are not being driven by the rule of law. So what is driving them? Our research strongly suggests that Ms. Wyatt somehow came to be seen as a threat to powerful corporate and legal interests in Chilton and Shelby counties. Those issues probably originated with her protracted divorce from Bobby Knox, the wealthy and connected president of Shelby Concrete.
The Knox divorce case started in 2002, and court documents show that Bobby Knox, at one point, threatened to burn his wife's house to the ground. The case was resolved in 2005, and just weeks after that, the house was destroyed in a fire. (Issues associated with the Knox divorce continue to crop up, as recently as 2012, but the basic settlement was reached in 2005.) The house caught fire overnight, with seven people inside--Bonnie Knox, her four children, and two of the kids' friends. Somehow, everyone escaped without injury, but the house was a total loss.
Bobby Knox was not the only nasty character connected to the Knox v. Knox divorce case. Shelby County lawyer William E. Swatek represented Bonnie Knox, and we have shown in a series of posts that he has a 30-year history of ethical violations. Swatek engaged in serious misconduct at some point in the Knox matter, a source tells Legal Schnauzer. Does that mean Swatek, along with Bobby Knox, might somehow benefit from seeing Bonnie Wyatt unlawfully jailed and thrown from her home? We suspect the answer is yes.
Regardless of what is driving it, the forced sale of Bonnie Wyatt's house is every bit as unlawful as her earlier incarceration. Consider the following:
* The so-called settlement agreement in Wyatt v. Wyattwas reached via an unlawful mediation. Multiple sources have told Legal Schnauzer that Judge Reynolds, about an hour into the mediation, summoned the parties to his courtroom and engaged in the proceedings that led to settlement. That clearly is contrary to Alabama law, and it gives Bonnie Wyatt powerful grounds for having the settlement agreement set aside.
* Even if the settlement is considered valid--and we see clear signs that it is not--any agreement the parties reached regarding the marital residence almost certainly is invalid. A fundamental concept of contract law is this: Any agreement generally is considered void if it is reached while one party is under duress. Judge Reynolds' order of December 18 states that "by agreement of the parties," the marital residence would go up for sale, and Ms. Wyatt would be out of the house by January 17. Consider the conditions under which Bonnie Wyatt supposedly agreed to that: She unlawfully was in jail and was looking at returning to jail if she did not agree to sell the house; she was looking at spending the Christmas and New Year's holidays in jail if she did not agree to sell the house. If that does not qualify as duress, then it's hard to imagine what would--short of coming to an "agreement" at gun point.
* Angie Avery Collins, Ms. Wyatt's current attorney, appears to have several conflicts of interest--and we will be addressing those in upcoming posts. Are those conflicts the reason that Ms. Collins does not seem to be objecting to the unlawful forced sale of her client's home?
We recently named the story of Bonnie Wyatt's release from jail as our No. 1 post of 2012. But we knew at the time that the story was a long way from over. And now we know for sure that injustice in Chilton County has not gone away--it simply has changed to a new format.
|Georgia Judge Jason Deal|
(Updated at 6:05 p.m., CST, on 1/15/13. See update the end of this post.)
A Georgia couple is calling for an investigation of a judge in connection with the unexplained deaths of two lawyers, one of which occurred in Alabama.
Hilda and Larry Clark, of Flowery Branch, Georgia, are the parents of Jennifer Paige Clark, a Mobile lawyer who died last May, nine days after the Alabama State Bar suspended her license. In a letter to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI), the Clarks say Superior Court Judge Jason Deal played a major role in launching an investigation against their daughter. They go on to say that Deal has apparent ties to the death in December of John G. Wilbanks Jr., who supervised the district attorney's office in Dawson County, Georgia.
Wilbanks' body was found in Jacksonville, Florida, on December 13. That was one day after a report that he no longer worked in the Dawson County DA's office and was the subject of an investigation that a superior court judge had requested. In their letter to John Bankhead, director of public affairs at the GBI, the Clarks say Jason Deal probably was the judge who requested the Wilbanks investigation. They also suggest that Deal, the son of Georgia Governor Nathan Deal, had dark motives for targeting both Wilbanks and their daughter. (The full letter can be read at the end of this post.)
Jason Deal presided over a case, styled Clark v. Flowery Branch, 2003-CV-2830, in which Jennifer Paige Clark represented her parents. The Clarks alleged that they incurred damage to their property when the city caused water to be diverted onto private land. Jennifer Clark's aggressive representation on her parents' behalf met with resistance from Deal and apparently led the Alabama State Bar to investigate her--even though our research indicates she did not commit the primary violation alleged against her.
An official cause of death has not been released in either the John Wilbanks case or the Jennifer Paige Clark case. But Hilda and Larry Clark make it clear in their letter to the GBI that they believe an investigation will lead to Jason Deal's doorstep. From the letter:
You should conduct an investigation on Hall County Superior Court Judge Jason Deal and the Hall County District Attorney's Office. We believe Judge Jason Deal now has the mark of two deaths--this year--that we are aware of: Jennifer Paige Clark and John Wilbanks Jr., both attorneys who died premature, tragic deaths because of the actions of Judge Jason Deal.
I read the article in the Gainesville Times concerning the unfortunate death of Mr. John Wilbanks Jr., who was the supervising attorney in the Hall-Dawson District Attorney's Office. Let me make it clear, I did not know Mr. Wilbanks, nor any of his family; this letter is written only from my own observation. According to the article, an investigation on Mr. Wilbanks began at the request of an unnamed superior court judge, but within the community, it's pretty common knowledge this was at the request of Hall County Superior Court Judge Jason Deal.
According to the Gainesville Times, Wilbanks was involved in a fight last November 19 at a Dairy Queen in Dawson County. Officers responded to reports that Wilbanks had been assaulted, and a Jasper, Georgia, man named William Lee Evans was charged with disorderly conduct in the case. The Clarks address that incident and other issues in their letter to the GBI:
[The request for an investigation of Mr. Wilbanks] appears to be far more complicated than is reported in the paper, and I doubt seriously if it had anything to do with the 'Dairy Queen episode'; but rather, [it was] an opportunity to damage and destroy Mr. Wilbanks and his reputation. Within the scope of Mr. Wilbanks' position at the Hall-Dawson District Attorney's Office, did he witness, discover or file a report on some type of dishonest or illegal activity within the department? Or on activities of previous DAs? One thing stands out very clear from this article--it's apparent that Mr. Wilbanks had some powerful enemies.
Media coverage on the Wilbanks investigation, and his subsequent death, has been limited and curious. The Gainesville Times, in a December 12 article titled "Dawson Assistant DA No Longer With Office," reported on Wilbanks' abrupt exit at work. From the article, by reporter Jeff Gill:
The Dawson County office of the Hall-Dawson District Attorney’s Office no longer has its supervising assistant district attorney.
John Wilbanks “will not be returning (to) the district attorney’s office,” District Attorney Lee Darragh said Wednesday afternoon.
Darragh would not elaborate on Wilbanks’ departure.
“Presently, it would not be appropriate for me to comment further,” Darragh said. “I may issue a press release at a later time, but for now, one would be premature.”
The next day, December 13, Gill reported on Wilbanks' death, in a piece titled, "Dawson Assistant DA Found Dead." From the article:
The supervising attorney in the Hall-Dawson District Attorney’s Dawson County office has been found dead.
The District 4 Florida Medical Examiner’s Office in Jacksonville confirmed Thursday that it has the body of John G. Wilbanks Jr.
Wilbanks was being investigated by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, with the cooperation of District Attorney Lee Darragh’s office.
The scope of the investigation wasn’t immediately known, but GBI spokesman John Bankhead said the death, which he couldn’t confirm, would close any investigation.
An official with the Fernandina Beach Police Department has said the earliest any incident reports about the death could be released is today.
What does the article tell us about Wilbanks' death? Not much. We know that the death closes the book on the investigation. And an incident report was to be released shortly, but that's about it. And our research turns up no published accounts about the incident report.
Let's consider just a few of many unanswered questions:
* Where was John Wilbanks' body found?
* Who found it, and under what circumstances?
* What was the cause and manner of death?
* What was Mr. Wilbanks doing in Jacksonville, Florida, and how did he get there?
Hilda and Larry Clark raise more questions in their letter to the GBI. They note that the Deal family surely enjoyed the holidays in the governor's mansion, surrounded by staff and all the fine things that taxpayer dollars can buy. The scene was different for the Clark family. "To honor the holiday season," they write, "we put a wreath and flowers on our beautiful daughter's grave."
The scene undoubtedly was equally grim for the Wilbanks family. According to his obituary, John George Wilbanks Jr., 57, had been married for 28 years and had two sons and one daughter. He earned his law degree at the University of Georgia and was a career prosecutor.
In the final paragraph of their letter to John Bankhead, the Clarks raise the possibility of political considerations providing cover for Judge Jason Deal:
One final question: Why would the GBI not reveal the name of the judge that requested the investigation of Mr. Wilbanks? Was it because it was Judge Jason Deal, the Governor's son?
UPDATE: According to a report at accessnorthga.com (12/14/12), the death of John G. Wilbanks Jr. has been ruled a suicide. The police department at Fernandina Beach, Florida, released an incident report the day after Wilbanks' body was found, but it does not appear at the Web site of the Gainesville Times, the primary newspaper in Wilbanks' home area. From the acessnorthga.com article:
The report said that police found the body of John Wilbanks, 57, of Gainesville on the beach at 2410 South Fletcher in Fernandina Beach. Wilbanks had taken his own life Thursday morning, according to the report.
The report said the Wilbanks family owned a beach house nearby.
Wilbanks, who was the supervising Assistant District Attorney in Dawson County, had been fired from his job Monday, according to the police report. Police said Wilbanks' wife had shared that information with them, and she also told them her husband had been depressed.
Meanwhile, Hilda Clark reports that she has received a letter from the GBI stating that it will not investigate any role that Judge Jason Deal might have played in the deaths of John Wilbanks and Jennifer Paige Clark.
The death of another political figure in Georgia remains a mystery, and it is drawing international attention. The body of Glynn County Commissioner Tom Sublett was found on December 11 at a marina on St. Simons, Island. Sublett was shot in the head, but authorities have not determined if it was murder. Sublett, the married father of four who had worked in real estate, was a popular figure in the area, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that residents in Glynn County are perplexed about the mysterious death of an individual who was not known to have any enemies.
We have found no connections between John Wilbanks and Tom Sublett, but we have found some oddities regarding the two cases. Sublett's body was found on December 11, and Wilbanks' body was found on December 13. Wilbanks' body was found at Fernandina Beach, Florida, near Jacksonville, and Sublett's body was found at St. Simons Island, which is just north of Jacksonville.
The Sublett case has drawn international attention from the UK Daily Mail. Reporter Meghan Keneally has an article titled, "Death of beloved town official and married father-of-four found shot and drowned with his hands tied still a mystery a month later."
Are debt collectors likely to violate certain provisions of federal law more than others? Based on my experience, the answer is yes.
We identified those provisions in a previous post. If you ever hear from a debt collector, you might want to be on alert for these unlawful tactics. Using transcripts from my conversations with collectors, we will give you a "blow by blow" account of how consumers' rights can be trampled. (See transcripts at the end of this post.)
My advice is to tape record any conversation you have with a debt collector. We heard from what you might call "high-end collectors," representing a company called NCO that is owned by JPMorgan Chase, the nation's largest bank. If collectors representing one of the largest private corporations in the world act like thugs, you can rest assured that those from the lower end of the "profession" will behave the same way.
Here are three provisions of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) that are perhaps most likely to be violated. The language of the statute can get somewhat highfalutin, but we will spell it out in everyday terms, with citations to the actual law. Then we will pull quotes from the transcripts to show exactly how collectors violated the law:
Collectors cannot communicate with anyone other than you about an alleged debt, except to seek information about your location (15 U.S.C. 1692b and 15 U.S.C. 1692c).
In our case, it was undisputed that the alleged debt to American Express was in my name only, so my wife, Carol, was a third party, under the law. The collectors, Tracy Mize and Jann Blalock of the Birmingham law firm Ingram and Associates, could talk to her only to seek information about my whereabouts. Instead, they talked to her for more than an hour, gathering 14 pages of notes about our personal financial situation. All of this was unlawful, as the transcripts spell out. Here is one example, from Transcript No. 1:
Tracy Mize: Yeah. We just want to know if you’re willing to make payment arrangements and I discussed with Carol some of those options, but she was too shaky and I didn’t feel confident that she was—okay, I gave her some information on if she felt you needed to refinance the house. . . .
Why might my wife have been "shaky"? Oh, I don't know, maybe it was because Mize told her that Ingram was going to sell her house "on the courthouse steps," over an alleged debt that did not involve her. That would make me shaky.
Here's another example from Transcript No. 3:
Jann Blalock: I probably have 14 pages of notes on your account right now at this time. Okay, the first time that I got involved with it was last night when your wife went absolutely hysterical. When she called in and said you were cutting the grass, and we need to know what was going to be done and said this, that and the other.
First, my wife did not call them, they called her; their own records show that. Second, if the Ingram firm offers any training at all to its employees, Mize and Blalock had to know these "14 pages of notes" were unlawfully obtained from a third party to the alleged debt. Did that stop them? Nope.
Collectors cannot lie to you in an effort to collect a debt (15 U.S.C. 1692e).
The discovery process in our lawsuit showed that the Ingram law firm was hired by NCO. Gregory R. Stevens, an NCO vice president, admitted that in an affidavit. Angie Ingram herself admitted that in an affidavit. And yet, Ingram's employees repeatedly told us they had been hired by American Express. That is the kind of "false and misleading" representation that is prohibited under the FDCPA. But Ingram employees tried it over and over again. Here is one example, from Transcript No. 2:
Jann Blalock: There's not anything that we can do, we have a fiduciary relationship with American Express. We represent them . . .
Sir, all we have to do with you is that we have been retained by American Express to collect a debt.Was that true? No. Was it unlawful to make a false statement to an alleged debtor? Yes.
Collectors cannot insult you in an effort to collect a debt (15 U.S.C. 1692d).
The Ingram collectors made regular use of insults. They claimed I was conducting a "witch hunt" by pointing to misconduct by lawyers that had tarnished our financial standing. They also said I was "playing schemes," by pointing out that Angie Ingram, under the ethics rules of her profession, had a duty to report misconduct by fellow members of the bar. Tracy Mize acknowledged that her boss had such an obligation, but said she was not going to fulfill it. (See Transcript No. 1.) Here is an example of one insult, from Transcript No. 2:
Roger Shuler: Well, I've been called a witch hunt, and I've been called everything else, and I'm getting sick of it. Do not call me at work.
Jann Blalock: Okay, you need to find a different horse to ride, sir. This one is not going to work with us, okay?
Here is another example, from Transcript No. 2:
Roger Shuler: Well, you need to quit calling me at work and you need to quit calling me at home if you are going to act this way. I've--
Jann Blalock: I'll call you about a debt? I'm not interested in playing any schemes, okay?
If you possess a credit card, or ever buy anything on credit, you probably will hear someday from a debt collector. You might not owe the debt, and they almost certainly will not be able to prove you owe the debt. But they are likely to use unlawful tactics in an effort to milk it out of you anyway.
The tactics are on grim display in the following transcripts:
Ingram NCO Transcript1
Ingram NCO Transcript2
Ingram NCO Transcript3
|Jack Bogle of Vanguard Group|
President Obama's sweeping proposals on gun control grabbed the nation's attention yesterday, and they even showed the kind of political courage that has been all too lacking in his administration--at least in the view of many of us on the left. We applaud the president's actions in the wake of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, but we suspect the public already has largely forgotten about the investment firms that fuel America's gun culture.
That might be because one of those firms, Vanguard Group of Malvern, Pennsylvania, has done a masterful job of deflecting attention from its support for some of our nation's top gun manufacturers. And that might be because Vanguard Group, led by founder John C. "Jack" Bogle, has a lot of practice at covering up its questionable actions as America's largest mutual-fund company.
For example, most citizens probably have no idea that Vanguard Group is one of the primary supporters of private prisons, which are riddled with corruption. On a smaller scale, Vanguard is the No. 1 investor in Campus Crest Communities, the Charlotte-based company that has become a major player in the effort to privatize student housing at publicly funded universities. Never mind that CEO Ted Rollins has a documented history as a child abuser, including a conviction for assault on his 16-year-old stepson and an investigation based on a citizen complaint of suspected child sexual abuse involving the same stepson.
Some investment groups tried to distance themselves from gun manufacturers in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting, but not Vanguard. Company spokesman Doug Hoffman said Vanguard pegs investments toward certain stock index funds, so it often is a passive rather than an active investor.
Published reports show that Vanguard is the No. 1 investor in Smith & Wesson and one of the top investors in Sturm Ruger--and such companies help create weapons that have led to a string of mass killings across the country. But Vanguard's position is to more or less shrug its shoulders and say, "It's all in a day's work for those of us in big-time finance. We can't be held accountable for negative outcomes from our investment decisions."
Perhaps we should excuse Hoffman's nonchalant response to the Newtown massacre because it seems to accurately reflect the view of Vanguard's founder. Jack Bogle appeared on a Philly news-talk program after the Newtown shooting and deflected responsibility as if he were a goalie for the Philadelphia Flyers, the city's NHL hockey team. Here is pretty much the take-home lesson from the Bogle interview:
If we don't invest in gun companies, someone else is going to do it. Besides, we are in no position to tell Smith & Wesson what business it should be in. Are mass shootings bad? Oh yes, but we can't do anything about them.
So much for "socially responsible" investing. Bogle is a bottom-line guy, and you have to give him credit for not pretending to be something else.
Bogle is mostly retired these days, but he remains one of the more talkative types at Vanguard. In upcoming posts, we will take a look at some of Vanguard's other decision makers. We might even give them a chance to explain their financial support for Ted Rollins, despite his history as a child abuser.
Perhaps they will say that Campus Crest Communities, like Smith & Wesson, provides a solid return on investment--and that's all the world of high finance cares about.
Meanwhile, we welcome President Obama's common-sense proposals to control the distribution of deadly weapons. We hope, in time, the president might help shine light on the investment houses that keep the gun industry churning.
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|U.S. Judge William Acker (right)|
Anyone who thinks it is a good idea for federal judgeships to come with lifetime appointments, and almost no accountability, might want to examine the career of U.S. District Judge William M. Acker Jr. in the Northern District of Alabama.
We've already shown, in a case involving workplace discrimination and First Amendment issues, that Acker tends to rule with utter disregard for the rule of law. And we are about to show, in a case involving allegations of Medicare fraud, that Acker butchers civil procedure in order to protect his conservative brethren--even those who appear to be stealing from taxpayers.
Now we discover that a bipartisan watchdog group has anointed Acker a "judicial misfit." The group, which bills itself as The Committee To Expose Dishonest and Incompetent Judges, Attorneys, and Public Officials, has a Web site at noethics.net.
We were delighted to learn that the folks at noethics.net have exposed William M. Acker Jr. as a "misfit." Our only concern is that such a designation will give misfits a bad name; "crook" might be the more appropriate term for Acker.
What drew the watchdog's attention to Acker? Well, it involves the judge's acts of breath-taking arrogance, dating back to the late 1980s. We will take a look at that in a moment, but first let's examine what we already know about William M. Acker Jr.
Consider his actions in my employment lawsuit against the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), granting summary judgment to defendants without giving the plaintiff (me) a chance to conduct any discovery and violating black-letter procedural law. We've presented powerful evidence that, in the process of denying my fundamental due-process rights, Acker might have engaged in a criminal conspiracy.
We soon will present evidence that Acker committed similar unlawful acts in dismissing a whistleblower complaint brought by Alabama resident Ingrid Awtrey Law under the U.S. False Claims Act. Law's complaint alleges rampant Medicare fraud and other misconduct against Performance Group LLC, a physical-therapy company partly owned by Homewood attorney Rob Riley, the son of former Republican Governor Bob Riley. Acker found some creative, and unlawful ways, to dismiss the complaint, protecting Rob Riley and his company from scrutiny.
That's curious because our research indicates Rob Riley, or someone connected to him, almost certainly was responsible for my unlawful termination at UAB. We have words directly from a university official's mouth, proving I was targeted because of my reporting on this blog about the political prosecution of former Democratic Governor Don Siegelman. Given that Siegelman was Bob Riley's primary political rival, and my reporting helped show the prosecution was riddled with irregularities, it's easy to see why the Riley family might have wanted to shut me up.
The bottom line? Discovery in my lawsuit against UAB almost certainly would have unearthed damaging information about the Rileys, especially Rob Riley. And a genuine investigation into Ingrid Law's whistleblower complaint probably would have revealed criminal activity associated with one of Rob Riley's business enterprises. Both cases just happened to wind up with Judge Acker, and he acted contrary to simple procedural law in dismissing them both.
Is William Acker, an 85-year-old Reagan appointee, the designated protector for the Rileys and other GOP elites? It certainly looks that way from here.
None of us should be surprised at Acker's flagrant misconduct from the bench. As noethics.net reports, he has been exhibiting stunning arrogance for years--essentially claiming that the law does not apply to him. The Web site spells it out in a post titled "U.S. Judge William Acker of Alabama; tax scofflaw."
Jefferson County enacted an occupational tax in 1987, and Acker and fellow U.S. Judge U.W. Clemon decided they shouldn't have to pay it. The case, styled Jefferson County v. Acker, made it to the U.S. Supreme Court, where the judges lost on a 5-4 ruling in 1999.
What made the judges think a tax that applied to other citizens did not apply to them? The watchdogs at noethics.net address that question, at least in terms of Acker:
The state of Alabama presented William Marsh Acker, Jr. with a law license in 1952 after he graduated from Yale University Law School.
Former President Ronald Reagan was duped into nominating William Acker, Jr. as a District Court Judge for the Northern District of Alabama in 1982 when he was 53-years-old (DOB 1927).
For at least 14 years (ca. 1987-2001) Acker refused to pay the Jefferson County, Alabama, occupation tax. In refusing to pay the tax, Acker had the chutzpah to claim that the judiciary should be exempt from a tax that he believed was an effort to regulate judges.
Signs of Acker's arrogance can be seen throughout the occupational-tax case--and elsewhere. From the noethics.net report:
Acker’s asinine argument doesn’t pass the involuntary laugh test. Clearly, Acker missed his calling as a standup comedian. Eventually, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta ruled that the tax wasn’t unconstitutional as Acker had laughingly claimed it was in a lawsuit filed by Jefferson County to collect the taxes that Arrogant Acker owed.
After losing in the Court of Appeals, Acker the Comic filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court, which resulted in the Court upholding the ruling by the 11th Circuit. Put simply, the Supreme Court told Acker to take a hike.
After serving less than 14 years as a District Court judge, Acker assumed senior status. Senior status allowed Acker to work a mere 10 hours a week while collecting a full salary of $174,000 as of 2012. Is that a sweet deal or not?
So William Acker is paid $174,000 to work 10 hours a week--and he still can't get simple procedural matters correct from the bench. Is this a wise use of our tax dollars? Are lifetime appointments for federal judges a good idea? The folks at noethics.net have a blunt answer:
As we speak (ca. March 2012) Acker remains on the bench in Birmingham even though he’s 85-years-old. The only way Acker’s significant snout is going to be removed from the public trough is when he’s removed from the bench donning a wooden robe.
For Ingrid Law, myself, and others who have served as Acker's victims, that "wooden robe" cannot be applied quickly enough.
We mark the birthday of civil-rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. today, along with the re-inauguration of President Barack Obama. Sadly, the recent suicide of cyberactivist Aaron Swartz hangs over both events, a grim reminder that the justice for which King fought has been allowed to veer badly off track by our nation's first black president.
To be sure, Obama inherited a dysfunctional justice department from George W. Bush, one marked by historic abuses of prosecutorial powers. But Obama has done precious little to clean up the mess, and now the Aaron Swartz tragedy rests at his doorstep.
The death of Swartz, at age 26, makes you sad upon first reading about it. As you begin to learn more about the circumstances behind his suicide, you become angry. As you realize how much he had to offer, and how easily his death could have been avoided, you begin to seethe. I'm past seething to the point of wanting to see Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz and her assistant thugs run over by a bus.
Why the visceral reaction on my part? Perhaps it's because, as a resident of Alabama, I became intimately familiar with bogus federal charges against our former Democratic governor, Don Siegelman, during the Bush years. That case has become known as perhaps the most notorious political prosecution in American history. The Swartz case was tinged with politics of a different sort; it seems to have had little to do with Swartz's politics, but Ortiz apparently saw the case as one that might advance her cause for higher office.
Instead, it might make her go down as one of the most loathed Democrats ever. An online petition calls for her ouster, and the U.S. House Oversight Committee has launched an investigation of her. In many ways, Ortiz seems like a cross between Leura Canary and Alice Martin, the Bush-era duo who went after Siegelman here in Alabama.
In fact, the Swartz case raises all sorts of ugly reminders about the Siegelman debacle. Let's take a look at a few of them:
* Both Swartz and Siegelman faced financial ruination--We don't know for sure how much Siegelman was forced to spend on his legal defense, but it almost certainly ranged well into the seven figures. Sources tell Legal Schnauzer that the former governor's second defense lawyer, Haskell Slaughter's G. Douglas Jones, charged him $300,000--and Jones did not even take the case to trial.
Swartz also was looking at being financially destroyed. A Boston Globe article quotes John Summers, a friend of Swartz and the editor of The Baffler magazine:
Swartz never profited from the material he downloaded, was “financially ruined’’ by the federal case, and still needed $100,000 for his defense, said Summers.
“He was looking at entering federal prison and being branded a felon, which would change his life for doing something that is at best the equivalent of trespassing,” he said.
* Neither Swartz nor Siegelman sought to benefit financially--It long has been established that Don Siegelman did not benefit financially from the transaction that landed him in federal prison. The contribution went to a campaign to establish an education lottery in Alabama.
Even Carmen Ortiz, in a statement after Swartz's death, acknowledged that he did not seek to experience financial gain:
On Wednesday night, the U.S. Attorney's office in Massachusetts broke its silence over the Swartz case. A statement from U.S. Atty. Carmen M. Ortiz extended "heartfelt sympathy" to Swartz's family and supporters but held firm on the office's stance that Swartz should serve at least six months in prison. Her prosecutors handling the case, she said, had acted "reasonably."
"The prosecutors recognized that there was no evidence against Mr. Swartz indicating that he committed his acts for personal financial gain, and they recognized that his conduct -- while a violation of the law -- did not warrant the severe punishments authorized by Congress and called for by the sentencing guidelines in appropriate cases," Ortiz said in the statement.
* Both Swartz and Siegelman were targeted for actions that many legal experts do not consider crimes--In the Siegelman case, he was charged with federal-funds bribery under a statute that is virtually indecipherable. In the context of a campaign contribution, as in the Siegelman case, one has to look to case law to have any grasp of the fine line between an illegal "quid pro quo" and standard political activity. More than 100 former state attorneys general have stated that the alleged actions in the Siegelman case did not constitute a crime.
Writing at The Atlantic, Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig said any wrongdoing on Swartz's part amounted to violation of a terms of service agreement:
Aaron's alleged "crime" was that he used MIT's network to access a database of academic journal articles (JSTOR) and download millions of those articles to his laptop computer. He didn't "hack" the network to secure those downloads: MIT is a famously open network. He didn't crack any special password system to get behind JSTOR's digital walls. He simply figured out how JSTOR was filing the articles that he wanted, and wrote a simple script to quickly gather those articles and then copy them to his machine.
Perhaps Swartz violated his contract with JSTOR, Lessig writes, but that normally does not lead to felony charges under American law:
The "terms of service" (TOS) of any website are basically a contract. They constitute an agreement about what you can and can't do, and what the provider can and can't do. Not everything on a website is governed by contract alone: Copyright and privacy law can impose property-like obligations independent of a TOS. But the rules Aaron were said to have violated purported to limit the amount of JSTOR that any user was permitted to download. They were rules of contract. Aaron exceeded those limits, the government charged. He therefore breached the implied contract he had with JSTOR. And therefore, the government insists, he was a felon.
It's that last step that is so odd within the tradition of American law. Contracts are important. Their breach must be remedied. But American law does not typically make the breach of a contract a felony. Instead, contract law typically requires the complaining party to prove that it was actually harmed. No harm, no foul. And in this case, JSTOR -- the only plausible entity "harmed" by Aaron's acts -- pled "no foul." JSTOR did not want Swartz prosecuted. It settled any possible civil claims against Swartz with the simple promise that he return what he had downloaded. Swartz did. JSTOR went away.
The Obama Justice Department, however, would not go away. It insisted that Swartz be punished with prison time, a guilty plea to a felony, and a bankrupting fine--or he would have to prove his innocence in a bankrupting trial. Writes Lessig:
We have built a system of criminal law that depends upon our trusting the government. Few civil libertarians from either the right or the left, though, will be surprised that it turns out that the bureaucrats manning the battle stations cannot be trusted.
It seems clear that we cannot trust individual prosecutors to exercise their discretion in a reasonable fashion. It also seems clear that we cannot trust Main Justice to exercise oversight over the rogues in its ranks. Tim Wu, of The New Yorker, makes that point in a piece titled "How the Legal System failed Aaron-Swartz--and Us."
Yes, most of the time prosecutors do chase actual wrongdoers, but today our criminal laws are so expansive that most people of any vigor and spirit can be found to violate them in some way. Basically, under American law, anyone interesting is a felon. The prosecutors, not the law, decide who deserves punishment.
|Ted Rollins (right) at an event|
for the Horatio Alger Association
Ted Rollins, CEO of Campus Crest Communities, is an active member in the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans, a non-profit organization that extols the virtues of perseverance and hard work. The association is named for the 19th century author of dime novels about "rags to riches" stories, of people who pulled themselves up from nothing to become successful.
Rollins' support of the association is ironic because he is anything but a Horatio Alger story. In fact, he is mostly a "riches to riches" story. Given what we know about his leading role in the Rollins v. Rollins divorce case here in Alabama, Ted Rollins also does not embody the kind of honesty and integrity that often is associated with Horatio Alger.
How do we know that Ted Rollins hardly fits the Horatio Alger mold? Well, public records related to investments from the Philadelphia-based Vanguard Group tell the story. In fact, those records remind us of an unforgettable quote from the late Ann Richards about George H. W. Bush:
"George was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple."
Given the massive wealth of the Rollins family--the folks behind Orkin Pest Control and other profitable enterprises--Ted Rollins was born somewhere between third base and home plate. But he still touts the virtues of self-reliance--even though Rollins himself has relied mostly on his family connections to get ahead.
How do we know that? Well, the No. 1 investor in Campus Crest Communities is the Vanguard Group, the nation's largest mutual-fund company. Vanguard played a prominent role in helping Ted Rollins' company secure a $380-million IPO on Wall Street in late 2010.
We've already shown that Ted Rollins has a documented history as a child abuser. He was convicted for assaulting his 16-year-old stepson in 1995. And two years before that, he was the target of a social-services investigation for child sexual abuse of the same stepson, based on a citizen complaint.
Why would Vanguard financially support a CEO with so much ugliness in his background? Is it because Ted Rollins has demonstrated extraordinary abilities as a businessman? Well, given that he helped take American Textile Services, of Louisburg, North Carolina, into bankruptcy in the 1990s, that seems unlikely.
Nope, it appears that Ted Rollins "earned" the support of Vanguard's millions the old-fashioned way--by relying on his family's connections.
Does Vanguard Group support the various Rollins family businesses? Was it deeply invested in RollinsWorld, long before Ted Rollins and Campus Crest Communities came along? You might say that. Here is a brief summary:
Rollins Inc. (stock symbol ROL)
Vanguard is the No. 4 institutional investor (No. 6 overall) in Atlanta-based Rollins Inc., which is the umbrella company for Orkin Pest Control. According to rocketfinancial.com, Vanguard holds almost 3.5 million shares of ROL stock, with a value of almost $81 million.
RPC Inc. (RES)
RPC Inc. used to be known as Rollins Energy Services, hence the RES stock symbol, and encompasses a number of oil- and energy-related businesses. Vanguard is the No. 3 institutional investor (No. 5 overall) in RPC, with almost $3.5 million shares worth more than $41 million.
Dover Downs Gaming and Entertainment (DDE)
This Delaware-based firm is a major player in the hotel, casino and horse-racing industries along the East Coast. Vanguard is the No. 9 institutional investor (No. 15 overall), with more than 663,000 shares worth more than $1.6 million.
The bottom line? Vanguard Group has at least a $120-million stake in various Rollins family businesses. Did that help Ted Rollins gain Vanguard's support when it came time to take Campus Crest public? Did it cause Vanguard to overlook any "indiscretions" in Ted Rollins' background? The answer to both questions appears to be yes.
Speaking of irony, consider this press release from the Horatio Alger Association about its annual State of Our Nation's Youth Survey. It includes this quote from association director Terrence J. Giroux:
“It’s the mission of the association to continually invest in our nation’s youth. This survey supports our goal to better understand today’s young people and the most influential changes affecting them."
How has Ted Rollins help further that mission? Let's count the ways:
(1) In 1993, he was investigated for child sexual abuse of his stepson, based on a citizen complaint in Franklin County, North Carolina.
(2) In 1995, he was convicted for assaulting his stepson in Franklin County, North Carolina. The beating was so vicious that emergency-medical personnel administered oxygen because the boy's blood loss put him at risk of going into shock.
(3) In 2005, Rollins filed a false child-support affidavit in his Alabama divorce case. (A case, by the way, that he had unlawfully transferred from South Carolina, where it had been initiated by his wife, Sherry Carroll Rollins, and litigated for three years.) The false affidavit allowed Rollins to cheat his daughters, Birmingham residents Sarah and Emma Rollins, out of hundreds of thousands of dollars of child support.
Ted Rollins representing the virtues of Horatio Alger? Jokes don't get more ugly or cruel than that.
How far will Wall Street types go to protect the criminals in their midst? The answer is pretty darned far, even when the crime in question is documented child abuse.
That's the take-home lesson from my recent conversation with Paula Poskon, of Robert W. Baird and Company. Baird is an underwriter for the $380-million IPO that Campus Crest Communities and CEO Ted Rollins completed in late 2010. In her role as an analyst, Poskon covers the Campus Crest stock, so I sought her out for comment about the ugliness in Ted Rollins' past, which includes a conviction for assault on his 16-year-old stepson and a social-services investigation, based on a citizen complaint about possible sexual abuse of the same stepson.
My primary question was this: How do investors react when they learn that a CEO has a criminal history, especially involving abuse of a child? Poskon apparently made the mistake of giving an honest answer. She first responded by saying, "Oh, my God, I was not aware of any of that." She vowed to research the matter and said investors would find the issue "very concerning," especially since Campus Crest's market, as a builder of student housing near college campuses, is young people.
Poskon's research apparently did not get very far before someone tried to strong arm her into backing off what she had said. In a followup conversation with me, Poskon went to rather extraordinary lengths in an effort to get me to not use her comments--especially when you consider that she regularly is quoted in the press, including such prominent publications as The Wall Street Journal. (See video at the end of this post.) Here is one of our exchanges:
Paula Poskon (PP): I don’t want you to quote me in any of your articles on this particular situation because I’m not equipped to say anything meaningful. It’s sort of like a blank chalk board. I just don’t know.
Roger Shuler (RS): I can’t go there. We did an interview, and I want to use your quotes.
And then we had this:
PP: You haven’t even told me in what capacity you want to quote me. . . . I’m trying to be as open and factual as I can be, but I would like that same respect in return. I’m not equipped to be quoted on this situation because I'm not knowledgeable enough about it.
I'm quoted in The Wall Street Journal, and the normal course of action is they will send me the quote they intend to use and ask if it accurately reflects our discussion or if there is something that needs to be changed.
RS: We had an on-the-record interview and I’m going to use the quotes. I did say I would hold off while you researched this, but it sounds like your research is pretty much finished.
Poskon must have been desperate to have her quotes canned because she was resorting to utter nonsense here. I told her in my initial e-mail who I was and where I was based, that I was a journalist writing at a blog and several national Web sites, and I was interested in Campus Crest Communities--in part because it has a number of projects in Alabama, including a brand new one at Auburn University.
The capacity in which I wanted to quote her should have been clear. If it wasn't clear, she had plenty of time between the scheduling of the interview and our actual conversation to do a Google search on my work or ask me directly about any questions she had.
Poskon also is misinformed about the "normal course of action" regarding journalists and the use of quotes. If The Wall Street Journal runs quotes by her for approval, that's fine, but it hardly is standard practice in journalism--and I've been in the field for 30-plus years. Also, Poskon wasn't seeking to verify the accuracy of her quotes; she was seeking to have them scrapped. There never has been any dispute that the quotes I gathered were accurate.
Eventually, we returned to the subject of research on Ted Rollins' past--and it appears that was "research" Poskon never intended to conduct. She also misconstrued the nature of my interview request. I never asked her to verify the information about Ted Rollins' criminal history; I already had that. I asked for her views on how the investment world views such information. She gave me an honest reply, but that must have made someone in her chain-of-command uncomfortable, especially given the clout that the Rollins family has on Wall Street:
PP: Will I keep trying to learn about it and find out what I can? Of course. But I'm not in a position to comment on this specific situation without doing my own research. And I’m not in the position of putting a finite timeline around having that happen.
RS: I didn’t expect you to comment on specifics or do an investigation because I already know . . .
PP: But I’m not in a position to comment on what you know. . . . To quote me specifically about Mr. Rollins or Campus Crest, in the context of his personal life . . . I don’t know. I can’t comment on something when I don’t know about it.
RS: You did comment, though, on how investors might see this. We talked about the fact it involved young people, and that’s relevant. It was on the record, and I’m going to use it.
Is Poskon being disingenuous when she claims that she can't comment on wrongdoing that she knows nothing about? Yes, she is. I told her that I had written extensively about Ted Rollins and offered to send her links to several key posts. She encouraged me to do that, and the material included embedded public documents that prove Ted Rollins' criminal history in black and white. Poskon acknowledged that she had read the posts, but then proceeded to claim she knew nothing about the matters at hand.
Clearly, Paula Poskon did know about the matters at hand. She just did not want to be quoted honestly and accurately about them.
Rob Riley, the son of former Alabama Governor Bob Riley, had an extramarital affair with a lobbyist that led to a number of personal and political complications, sources tell Legal Schnauzer.
Liberty Smith Duke, a lobbyist based in Clanton, Alabama, had an affair with Riley about six years ago. Riley, a married father of four, heads the Riley Jackson Law Firm in the Birmingham suburb of Homewood. But he is perhaps best known as a major Republican political figure in our state for almost two decades, playing key roles in his father's campaigns for the U.S. House of Representatives and the Alabama Governor's Office.
The reports about an extramarital affair, and the ugly repercussions from it, raise new questions about the ethics of a political family that has claimed to be opposed to abortion rights, gambling, and other cultural issues on moral grounds.
It also raises new questions about a political son who is seen as a possible future governor, even though he already has a checkered ethical past. Rob Riley's slippery grasp on matters of right and wrong dates at least to 1996. That's when he engaged in campaign-finance irregularities, on his father's behalf, and eventually received a $10,000 fine from the Federal Elections Commission.
The latest revelations could prove to be far more damaging than the FEC case to any future political hopes Rob Riley might have. In a pair of telephone interviews with Legal Schnauzer, Riley admitted knowing Liberty Duke, but denied having an affair with her. During our conversations, Riley angrily hung up on me three times.
Liberty Duke did not respond to a voice message, seeking comment.
Our sources do not have an exact time frame on the Riley/Duke affair, but it appears to have happened between 2005 and 2007. That means it likely was going on during the criminal prosecution of former Democratic Governor Don Siegelman, a case that Rob Riley reportedly helped launch.
Who is Liberty Duke? For 2012, the Alabama Ethics Commission lists her as a registered lobbyist for the following entities: Benjamin Gordon Main Sr., ERIS Inc., MedImmune, and Pinnacle Networx Inc.
Lobbying records from 2002 show her clients as Advanced Technology Systems Inc., Benjamin Gordon Main, Sr., ERIS Inc, Omnilink, Sepracor Inc., and Town of Dauphin Island.
Why should messiness in Rob Riley's personal life matter to everyday Alabamians? Let's consider some of the stories in which he has played a prominent role:
* The Congressional Campaign-Finance Scandal of 1996--The Republican Party launched a $3-million advertising blitz aimed at bolstering its candidates in the closing weeks of the 1996 election. The plan was financed by contributions from wealthy donors to a company called Triad Management Services. An investigation unmasked the plan as a money-laundering scheme, and Rob Riley was fined for making and accepting excessive contributions.
* The Plot to Launch a Political Prosecution Against Don Siegelman--Former Alabama GOP operative Jill Simpson testified under oath before Congress in 2007 that Rob Riley told her an offer had been extended to former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman to drop a criminal investigation in exchange for his decision not to contest Bob Riley's razor-close electoral victory in the 2002 governor's race. Simpson also testified that Rob Riley was on a conference call in which key Alabama Republicans discussed a plan to launch a bogus prosecution against Siegelman. Rob Riley later would file an affidavit, claiming "I have no memory of being on a phone call." Meanwhile, Simpson produced phone records showing that a call took place at the time she had indicated.
* Medicare Fraud and Performance Group LLC--Rob Riley best is known as a lawyer and politician's son, but he also is a business owner, heading a physical-therapy company called Performance Group LLC. A whistleblower named Ingrid Awtrey Law claimed in a 2008 federal lawsuit that Riley's company engaged in widespread Medicare fraud, including forgeries of physician signatures.
* Indian Gaming Money and the Battle Against Non-Indian Gaming--Like his father, Rob Riley long has claimed to be opposed to gambling, on moral grounds. But newspaper reports last fall showed that Rob Riley helped funnel Indian gaming money to an organization that fights non-Indian gambling facilities in Alabama. Both Riley and A. Eric Johnston, the director of Citizens for a Better Alabama, claimed they did not know the $100,000 came from Indian gaming sources. But veteran Montgomery journalist Bob Martin caught Johnston in at least one clear lie about the money, calling into question the validity of most everything he and Riley have said on the subject.
Numerous published reports indicate Rob Riley has only a casual acquaintance with the truth in his public life. Now, we learn that his personal life also has been riddled with dishonesty.
Riley's wife, the former Leslie McLeod, of Lineville, Alabama, has knowingly or unknowingly suffered. So have Liberty Duke and Rob Riley's Republican colleagues.
That's because the affair led to some complications that are ugly, indeed.
(To be continued)
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