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

older | 1 | .... | 19 | 20 | (Page 21) | 22 | 23 | .... | 84 | newer

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    Silver Star casino
    The Alabama Supreme Court effectively outlawed electronic bingo in late 2014, not long after casinos in neighboring Mississippi reported their worst year since 1997. Is that a coincidence? Probably not. Is it a case of history repeating itself? Probably so.

    Mississippi gaming interests long have worried about possible competition from Alabama. Republican felon Jack Abramoff admitted in his book that he spent $20 million to help defeat Democrat Don Siegelman and his proposed education lottery, a plan designed to protect $400 million in Mississippi Choctaw annual gaming revenue.

    History teaches that Mississippi gaming bosses especially worry about Alabama competition when their own facilities aren't performing well. We also know that certain Alabama politicos, of the Republican stripe, tend to help their Mississippi buddies endure tough times.

    Is that happening now with the Alabama Supreme Court's recent ruling on e-bingo? Let's look at some facts.

    How bad have things been next door in Mississippi. The numbers aren't in for 2014, but the ones for 2013 were the worst since Bill Clinton was in the White House. Reports the Mississippi Business Blog, from a January 2014 article:

    Last year was the weakest gaming revenue year for Mississippi casinos since 1997, according to numbers released today by the Mississippi Gaming Commission.

    In 2013, the 30 Mississippi casinos collected $2.136 billion in gross gaming revenue, which is money leftover after players’ winnings are subtracted from wagers. That’s the lowest since 1997 when 24 casinos collected $1.984 billion. The high mark for revenue was $2.891 billion in 2007. The 2013 total represents a 5.1 percent drop from the $2.251 billion collected in 2012.

    Mississippi casino figures have been falling steadily since 2007 as more states legalize gaming in an effort to keep their gaming dollars at home. That competition has hurt the Mississippi River casinos (and especially the Tunica area), which have seen revenue fall from a high of $1.589 billion in 2007 to $1.072 billion in 2013.


    Those figures do not include information from the Mississippi Choctaws' three casinos, which do not have to report to the state commission. Reports for tribal gaming, from Casino City's Indian Gaming Industry Report, tend to run about two years behind schedule--and the 2012 numbers paint a grim picture for Indian facilities, too. Revenue growth at Indian facilities in 2012 fell behind non-tribal facilities for the first time in almost two decades, according to a report from the Jackson Clarion-Ledger:


    Casino City’s report shows revenue at Mississippi’s three Choctaw Indian casinos declined 6 percent in 2012.

    The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians announced in December that a new loan and refinancing of another loan would allow it to fully reopen its Golden Moon Hotel and Casino and renovate Silver Star Hotel and Casino.

    Golden Moon has operated only on weekends since the start of 2009, when its operating days were slashed during the depths of the recession as casino visitorship dwindled.

    How did Mississippi Indian gaming compare to tribal facilities around the country? Only Connecticut saw a steeper revenue decline.

    If the Alabama Supreme Court is trying to help the Choctaws in a time of need, it probably isn't the first time relief has come from Alabama officials. Former Governor Bob Riley, the beneficiary of Abramoff's millions in 2002, picked a curious time to launch raids against non-Indian facilities in Alabama, claiming electronic-bingo there was illegal.

    We reported on Riley's actions with a couple of posts--"Mississippi Choctaws were hemorrhaging money at the time of Riley's raids in Alabama" and "Choctaws faced huge debt payment when Bob Riley launched bingo raids in Alabama."

    Attorney General Luther Strange, another GOPer who claims to be anti gambling, has continued Riley's policy of raiding privately held gaming facilities in Alabama. And the Alabama Supreme Court has consistently sided with Riley and Strange, at times ignoring the court's own precedent.

    The high court's recent ruling to unilaterally ban electronic bingo is particularly curious because it seems to have no basis in fact or law. Is it based largely on the fact that tribal casinos in Mississippi are struggling? Does our all-Republican court somehow benefit from Choctaw cash that has been flowing into Alabama for more than a dozen years?

    We suspect the answer to both questions is yes.


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    We have shown that U.S. Magistrate Charles S. Coody lied when he stated in a public order that he had "thoroughly reviewed" documents related to the recusal of prosecutor Leura Canary in the Don Siegelman case. Two sets of legal briefs (see here and here) show that Coody did not even order the Canary-related material, so the judge certainly could not have reviewed it.

    Coody is not alone when it comes to deceitful acts related to the Canary-recusal issue. Officials with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), under both George W. Bush and Barack Obama, also have displayed dishonesty, incompetence (or both) when pressed about the documents.

    John Aaron, an attorney from Alabaster, Alabama, has been doing most of the pressing, via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request in 2006 and a FOIA lawsuit in 2009. Here we are in 2015, and at last report, Aaron had received little or no meaningful material that was responsive to his request--in fact, the DOJ can't seem to even decide how many Canary-related documents exist, although we now know it is a lot.

    A summary of John Aaron's journey through the murky world of FOIA presents the impression that bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., are desperate to ensure that regular citizens never learn the truth about what really went on "behind the curtains" in the Siegelman case. Perhaps Justice Department officials want citizens to continue believing that they have a fundamental right to an impartial prosecutor--even though the Siegelman case shows that right, plus other due-process rights that the U.S. Constitution supposedly guarantees, mean nothing in the postmodern court system.

    Let's consider some of what John Aaron has learned during a FOIA odyssey that is approaching nine years in length. (The FOIA summary is embedded at the end of this post.)

    * In February 2006, Aaron requested the Confidential Conflict of Interest Certification and all other documents related to Canary's recusal in the investigation of state employees, including then Governor Siegelman;

    * After being told that his request had been received, and then being told that he would have to resubmit it, Aaron received word that the DOJ had no documents that were responsive to the request;

    * Aaron appealed that ruling and won, with the DOJ essentially saying, "Never mind our earlier claim that we had no such documents. Actually, we have 516 documents related to the Canary recusal--and you can have two of them, which constitute a press release about her recusal";

    * Aaron again appealed in 2007, and almost two years went by before the DOJ released 187 pages of newspaper clippings--and nothing else;

    * In May 2009, Aaron filed a lawsuit seeking the FOIA documents. During the course of the case, Aaron learned that more than 1,000 documents exist that are responsive to his request--and they were not disclosed until the lawsuit was filed;

    Why is the DOJ withholding information that apparently is supposed to be public, under the law? We addressed that question in a 2010 post:

    Among other reasons for withholding the records, the Justice Department argues that they involve communications between Canary and agency legal staff that are covered by attorney-client privilege.

    While Canary is a high-level public official, the Justice Department also says that releasing the information could result "in harassment in her private life" and expose her to "derogatory inferences ... in connection with the underlying criminal case."

    Are the DOJ's responses legitimate? Here is what Harper's legal-affairs analyst and Columbia University law professor Scott Horton had to say:

    On June 21, 2006, (Aaron) received a response. It stated that no documents would be provided. It cited as the main grounds for withholding them Leura Canary’s desire for confidentiality. Generally a person is entitled to confidentiality concerning health issues and personally identifying information (a social security number, a birth date, bank account numbers and the like). The fact that information would be embarrassing to a public official is not a reason to withhold the information.

    The bottom line? It seems the DOJ can't keep its stories, or its numbers, straight while unlawfully withholding documents that Siegelman, codefendant Richard Scrushy, and the public are entitled to see.

    Thanks to Judge Charles Coody, we've seen signs of a cover-up in Montgomery, Alabama. Now we see signs that it stretches to Washington, D.C. Who knows how many nasty fingerprints have been involved along the way?



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    Judith Miller, former reporter for The New York Times
    It has been widely reported that I was the only journalist to be incarcerated in the United States (in fact, in the western hemisphere) in 2013. Our research, however, indicates the jailing of journalists in the U.S. is not as rare as you might think--at least when it involves criminal court cases. But the jailing of journalists connected to a civil matter--as was the situation with me--is extraordinarily rare.

    The jailing of a journalist in circumstances such as mine--involving a preliminary injunction in a case of alleged defamation that was never proven at trial--is so rare that . . . well, we will address that in an upcoming post.

    To put it another way, Alabama Republican Rob Riley (the son of former governor Bob Riley) apparently is the only U.S. litigant in this century to seek incarceration of an opposing party for "violation" of an unlawful preliminary injunction, in a case of "defamation" that never was proven at trial.

    In fact, there was no trial in my case. My only appearance in court on the matter, on November 14, 2013, was billed as a hearing. (See embedded document at end of this post.) There had been no discovery in the case, almost no relevant testimony, little or no cross-examination, little or no evidence entered, no jury seated--in short the hearing was hardly even a legitimate hearing, and it certainly was not a trial.

    This raises all kinds of troubling questions about Claud Neilson, the judge who sent me to jail for five months in Shelby County, Alabama, and the Alabama Supreme Court (led by Ten Commandments justice Roy Moore), who appointed the retired Neilson to my case. We will examine those questions later, but for now, let's put the broader issue into perspective.

    For example, how many journalists have been incarcerated in the United States in the 2000s? The answer is six, with yours truly being the most recent. Here is a brief summary of each such case in this century: (Sources: Committee to Protect Journalists [CPJ], Wikipedia, The New York Times, CNN, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press [RCFP].)

    * Timothy Crews (2000)--Editor and publisher of the Sacramento Valley Mirror in California, Crews spent five days in jail for refusing to reveal his source in a story about the sale of an allegedly stolen firearm by a state patrol officer.

    * Vanessa Leggett (2001)--A free-lance writer in Houston, Texas, Leggett was jailed without bond for refusing to turn over research for a book she was writing about the 1997 murder of Houston socialite Doris Angleton. Leggett was in jail from July 20, 2001, to January 4, 2002.

    * Jim Taricani (2004)--A television reporter in Providence, Rhode Island, Taricani, was sentenced to six months of home confinement for refusing to reveal who leaked him a Federal Bureau of Investigation surveillance tape. A federal judge ordered Taricani, who has a heart condition, not to leave his home for any reason except medical treatment. The judge also barred him from using the Internet and from making any public statements. The tape, showing a municipal official, Frank E. Corrente, accepting a bribe from an FBI undercover agent, was sealed under court order at the time. Corrente and Vincent "Buddy" Cianci Jr., the long-serving Providence mayor, were later convicted of corruption.

    * Judith Miller (2005)--A New York Times reporter, Miller was jailed for refusing to name her sources in reporting on the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson. Miller was incarcerated from July to September 2005.

    * Joshua Wolf (2006)--A free-lance blogger and videographer in San Francisco, Wolf was jailed for refusing to turn over a videotape of a 2005 protest. Wolf taped clashes between demonstrators and San Francisco police during a June 2005 protest by anarchists against a Group of Eight economic conference. Wolf sold footage of the protest to San Francisco television stations and posted it on his Web site. Investigators wanted Wolf's testimony and portions of his videotape that were not broadcast, as part of a probe into possible criminal activity, including an alleged attempt by protesters to burn a police vehicle. Wolf was in prison from August 2006 to April 2007.

    * Roger Shuler (2013)--A veteran journalist with more than 30 years of professional experience, Shuler started the progressive blog Legal Schnauzer in 2007 from his home in Shelby County, Alabama. Sheriff's deputies arrested (and maced) him in the garage of his home after Alabama Republican Rob Riley filed a defamation lawsuit, seeking both a temporary restraining order (TRO) and preliminary injunction. A long line of U.S. Supreme Court and state high-court cases, dating back more than 200 years, states that TROs and preliminary injunctions constitute unlawful prior restraints under the First Amendment. But Riley, who has a law degree from Yale, has made multiple public statements claiming there is legal precedent for his actions and Judge Claud Neilson had "leeway" under the law to order Shuler's incarceration. Both statements are false, and even right-wing legal analysts (such as Ken White, of the Popehat blog) have blasted both Neilson and Riley's lawyer (Jay Murrill, from Riley's own firm) for their actions and statements in the case. Shuler was in the Shelby County Jail from October 23, 2013, to March 26, 2014.

    As you can see, my case does not fit with the others. The first five cases all involve the possible disclosure of confidential sources or information in criminal matters, and under a U.S. Supreme Court ruling from the early 1970s, all of those incarcerations probably were legal. We will take a look at the relevant law in those cases next.

    Meanwhile, here is the No. 1 reason my case is different from the other cases in this century: It was flagrantly illegal. Contrary to Rob Riley's public claims, no legal precedent supports my incarceration. In fact, a first-year law student probably could have seen that Riley's defamation complaint sought remedies that are prohibited by law--meaning I was the victim of a false arrest and wrongful imprisonment.

    Makes you wonder what Riley, a Yale law grad, was thinking. Makes you wonder if the whole charade, which cost me my freedom for five months, was planned with an ulterior motive in mind.






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    Kyle Whitmire
    An Alabama newspaper reporter admitted in an article yesterday that he had court documents related to a public official's extramarital affair, prior to the 2014 elections, but did not write anything about it.

    Kyle Whitmire, of al.com, made the revelation in an article titled "When is it OK to out a public official or expose a politician's infidelity?" It came in the wake of reports that State Rep. Patricia Todd (D-Birmingham) threatened to expose affairs of any state officials who spoke against marriage equality for gays, especially on "family values" grounds.

    Todd's statement came after a federal judge in Mobile struck down Alabama's same-sex marriage ban as unconstitutional. That sparked negative reactions from a number of the state's conservative politicians, including House Speaker Mike Hubbard and Attorney General Luther Strange. Todd fired back in an emotional statement on her Facebook page, stating in part:

    I will not stand by and allow legislators to talk about 'family values' when they have affairs, and I know of many who are and have. I will call our elected officials who want to hide in the closet OUT.

    Whitmire entered the fray by essentially asking his readers, "When is it OK to report on a public official's personal failings?"

    The answer to Whitmire's question, in my view, is, "Always--if you can verify that you have solid information." I have a degree in journalism and more than 35 years of professional experience in the field, and I was dumbfounded that a reporter would feel the need to ask such a question. I was even more dumbfounded when Whitmire revealed that he had received information about a public official's extramarital shenanigans prior to last year's state elections--and chose to report nothing on it. From the Whitmire article:

    During the most recent state elections last year, like a lot of other state political reporters, I got leaked some court documents. Those documents, which have since been sealed, included sworn testimony regarding an extramarital relationship that involved a public official.

    Whitmire admitted that the information was about as solid as it gets:

    That isn't just gossip. That isn't seeing a frumpy old lawmaker having a candlelit dinner with an attractive lobbyist to whom he (or she) is not married. There wasn't any is-they-or-ain't-they. That's as close as it comes to, as we say, having the story cold.

    So what did Whitmire do?

    I stuck it away because, quite frankly, I didn't know where the line was. I'm still not sure.

    Has the mainstream press really become that timid and weak? No wonder the newspaper industry is crashing as Americans increasingly turn to nontraditional sources for news.

    If Kyle Whitmire needs to know where "the line" is, I will be happy to address that issue. Adultery, by any definition, involves unethical conduct. Most public officials take some sort of oath to serve in an ethical fashion--and most of them know that opens up their personal lives to scrutiny. Many of them also tout their families and so-called "moral values" in efforts to get elected.

    Recent history teaches us that politicians should know that personal actions can have professional repercussions. Just ask Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich, George H.W. Bush and others who have had apparent extramarital affairs exposed in the press.

    When an individual pledges to act in an ethical manner, takes taxpayer dollars to perform a public duty, and then is found to be acting in an unethical manner that could impact his official performance . . . that is news. And reporting news is at the heart of journalism.

    Is it easy to report on such stories? No, it isn't--and I know from personal experience. I had been a journalist for 35 years without being sued until I wrote a pair of stories about alleged extramarital affairs involving public figures/officials in Alabama. I was sued twice for defamation, with the cases apparently coordinated among political allies.

    (Note: I started this blog in June 2007 and had never broken a sex-related story until January 2013. Certain reporters have stated that I frequently take on "salacious" subjects, and the record shows that is not true. Such stories apparently are outside Kyle Whitmire's comfort zone, and the same holds true for me. But reporting sometimes requires us to go outside our comfort zones, especially when matters of hypocrisy are at hand--when private acts don't square with public statements.)

    As has been widely reported, I was arrested in one of the cases, allegedly for violating a preliminary injunction--even though more than 200 years of First Amendment law says a preliminary injunction in a defamation case is an unconstitutional prior restraint. I became the only American journalist to be incarcerated in 2013, and I'm the only U.S. journalist in this century to be jailed over a purely civil matter. In fact, the reporting in question for that case never was found to be defamatory at trial, because there was no trial--again, in violation of black-letter law. I remain under a "permanent injunction" that is not supported by an law.

    After spending five months in the Shelby County Jail--I don't think I previously had even a speeding ticket on my record--I know about the dangers of taking on difficult stories.

    Did Kyle Whitmire fail to act on his story because he was afraid of being sued? I don't know, but he let his readers down. They had a right to know information, in public documents, about a public official who apparently was playing fast and loose with their trust.


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    John Merrill (from steveflowers.us)
    Secretary of State John H. Merrill (R-Tuscaloosa) is the Alabama politician whose extramarital affair was revealed in court documents but went unreported in the mainstream press.

    Kyle Whitmire, a reporter for al.com,admitted in a column on Tuesday that, prior to the 2014 general election, he had court documents that provided details about an unnamed public official's affair. The quality of the information was not in question because it involved sworn testimony in a deposition. Whitmire said it was "as close as it comes" to having a "story cold," but he "stuck it away," apparently not even consulting an editor about it. Whitmire hinted that other reporters in the mainstream press had received the information and ignored it.

    Merrill, a Republican ally of former governor Bob Riley and a friend of Riley's son Rob, went on to handily win the secretary of state race over Democrat Lula Albert-Kaigler. Would Merrill have won if Whitmire had revealed the contents of court documents in his possession? That's hard to say. But multiple sources told Legal Schnauzer yesterday that the documents in question are from a divorce case in Tuscaloosa Circuit Court styled Bryan Scott Brinyark v. Mildred Murphree Brinyark.

    Sources sent us copies of Millie Brinyark's deposition in the case, dated September 22, 2010, and Merrill's name is front and center. Ms. Brinyark, a former teacher, admits to allowing the married Merrill to touch her "private parts" and that she performed oral sex on him. A portion of the deposition, with key parts highlighted in yellow, is embedded at the end of this post.

    Whitmire's column came in the wake of a vow from State Rep. Patricia Todd (D-Birmingham), Alabama's first openly gay lawmaker, to expose the affairs of her political colleagues if they continued to criticize a recent federal-court ruling in Mobile that declared the state's ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. Todd especially mentioned House Speaker Mike Hubbard, Attorney General Luther Strange, and unnamed others who might stand against gay marriage on "family values" grounds.

    Todd appeared on MSNBC's All In with Chris Hayesshow on Tuesday night and reportedly has heard from Jon Stewart's highly rated The Daily Showon Comedy Central. So far, Todd has not exposed any of her colleagues, but you might say that our readers helped us beat her to it.

    We're not aware of any stance that Merrill has taken on gay marriage, but he has the kind of conservative "credentials" that Todd had in mind. During the 2014 campaign, Merrill was a favorite of the pro-business and religious communities, picking up endorsements from the Business Council of Alabama (led by Bill Canary), Alabama Conservative Christians, the National Rifle Association, Alabama Farmers Federation, and the Alabama Association of Realtors.

    Even former Crimson Tide basketball coach Wimp Sanderson (who had extramarital issues of his own.) endorsed Merrill. "I know what he believes in, and what principles guide him," Sanderson said. That certainly appears to be true.

    Merrill's official biography at the Secretary of State Web site says he is a deacon at Calvary Baptist Church and has served as a Sunday School teacher. The "pro family" bases seem to be covered:

    John has been married to the former Cindy Benford of Phil Campbell for twenty-nine years. She is the principal at Westwood Elementary School in Coker. The couple has two children, Brooks (24), a graduate of The University of Alabama and graduate student at The University of South Florida, and Allie Grace (21), a senior at The University

    The official bio says Merrill has been "very active in his community." Millie Brinyark's deposition shows just how active he has been.

    First, Ms. Brinyark admits that she and a teacher/coach named Mike Evans, were "groping each other" behind closed doors during school hours. Then the questions turn to another married man with whom Ms. Brinyark was chummy, and to some extent, that apparently was also on school property:

    Q: Have you gotten yourself involved with any other married man?

    A: Yes

    Q: Who?

    A: John Merrill.

    Then the deposition turns to specifics:

    Q: Did you consider the fact that when another man touches what I will call your body, particularly your private parts, that's being unfaithful to your husband?

    A: Yes.

    Q: And Mike Evans did that, didn't he?

    A: Yes.

    Q: And John Merrill did that too, didn't he?

    A: Yes.

    Q: And you allowed them to do that?

    A: Yes.

    The relationships, it seems, were of a reciprocal nature:

    Q: And when you were touching their body, and putting your hand in their crotch, and touching their penis, did they tell you they didn't like that?

    A: No.


    Men often are the aggressors in these situations, and that appears to be the case with Merrill. The deposition mentions that he is a politician, running for office:

    A: John came to talk to me, and he came again and talked to me, and then I met with him that Sunday afternoon, and he had--he had been very sexual in his conversations and --

    Q: Toward you?

    A: Yes.

    Q: In an inappropriate manner?

    A: Yes.

    Q: In what way?

    A: Just he talked about he had to have sex all the time and --

    Q: He wanted to have it with you?

    A: Uh-huh.

    How physical did things get?

    Q: Did he touch, caress, and/or kiss your breasts?
    A: Yes.
    Q: Did you do the same for him?
    A: Yes.
    Q: So you touched his unexposed penis?
    A: Yes.
    Q. And did either one of y'all have oral sex with the other?
    A: Yes.
    Q: How many times?
    A: Just once.
    Q: Both for each other?
    A: No.
    Q: Him for you--did he commit or perform oral sex on you?
    A: No.
    Q: You performed oral sex on him?
    A: Yes.

    The deposition indicates Ms. Brinyark had to resign from her teaching job, and she eventually went to work for an organization run by . . . John Merrill:

    Q: So you had to actually resign?

    A: Right.

    Q: And then it was two or three years later that you began to work with the after school program?

    A: Right.

    Q: And that's the after school program that was run by John Merrill?

    A: Yes.

    This apparently refers to the years when Merrill worked for the Tuscaloosa County Board of Education. From his bio:

    From 1994 until 2010, John was the Director of Community Relations and Community Education for the Tuscaloosa County Board of Education. In this capacity, he served as the spokesperson for the Tuscaloosa County School System and coordinated twenty after school programs.

    The Merrill story involves numerous unanswered questions, but this might be the most troubling one: Did John Merrill use taxpayer dollars to hire his mistress, perhaps in hopes that she would stay quiet about their affair?

    Would that question have been of interest to voters who went to the polls in November 2014 to vote for secretary of state?

    I would say the answer is yes. But Kyle Whitmire, and apparently other mainstream news reporters, made sure that voters didn't know enough to ask that question.








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    We have shown that the Alabama Supreme Court can't seem to make up its mind whether electronic bingo is legal or illegal in the state.
    We also have shown that the high court seems more likely to find e-bingo illegal when casinos in neighboring Mississippi are struggling financially.

    But the all-Republican Supreme Court is not the only conservative legal entity in Alabama that seems to fail at dealing with gaming issues in any consistent way. Bradley Arant, which happens to be the largest and perhaps most "pro business" law firm in the state, also can't seem to decide where it stands on the issue.

    Bradley Arant found electronic bingo illegal throughout Alabama in 2008--just three years after declaring that machines at VictoryLand casino, perhaps the state's best-known e-bingo facility, were legal. That finding, which would be comical if it did not involve millions of dollars and fundamental state constitutional law, is one of many intriguing revelations from Josh Moon's investigative report at the Montgomery Advertiser back in November.

    The revelation comes as the public awaits a ruling in the VictoryLand forfeiture case, which is roughly three months overdue. It adds to the mountain of dubious legal rulings on Alabama bingo in the past seven years or so. And it gives the appearance that the state's "justice system" is hopelessly compromised on the issue--operating outside established law and without any apparent moral compass.

    How did Bradley Arant enter the picture? Governor Bob Riley asked them to review a finding by one of his young staff attorneys, Bryan Taylor, that e-bingo machines throughout the state were illegal. Lo and behold, the lawyers at the august Birmingham firm agreed with young Mr. Taylor.

    Were Taylor, Riley, or Bradley Arant actually looking at the matter objectively? We see plenty of reasons to doubt that. Apparently so does Moon, who reports:

    To make sure, (Riley) asked attorneys from one of the state's most powerful law firms, the Bradley Arant Boult Cummings firm in Birmingham, to review Taylor's opinions. They concurred with Taylor, according to Riley.

    Almost as an aside, in parentheses, Moon writes:

    (An interesting note: in a 2005 opinion provided to a financial institution seeking guidance on whether to lend money to McGregor for renovations at VictoryLand, Bradley Arant attorneys deemed the casino to be in compliance with the law. In fact, their attorneys stated that the only way VictoryLand would not be in compliance was if a new constitutional amendment were written.)

    How could Bradley Arant's opinion change so radically in barely three years' times?

    Well, we know the following:

    * Bob Riley funneled more than $10 million to the Birmingham firm during the final two years of his administration, which was spent mostly fighting e-bingo? Did Bradley Arant have 10 million reasons to change its analysis on e-bingo in Alabama?

    * Bob Riley's son-in-law, Rob Campbell, is a Bradley Arant lawyer--and Bryan Taylor used to work there;

    * GOP felons Jack Abramoff and Michael Scanlon funneled $20 million of Mississippi Choctaw gaming money to help Bob Riley get elected in 2002. Abramoff admitted in his book that the Choctaws spent $20 million to protect their $400-million revenue stream, built to a considerable extent off customers crossing the border from Alabama.

    * Bob Riley's decision to launch an anti-bingo crusade coincided with a period when the Choctaws were laying off employees and cutting back casino operations to three days a week.

    How can a law firm be taken seriously when it changes its opinion on the legality of electronic bingo from legal to illegal in three years' time--apparently for reasons that have nothing to do with the law and everything to do with back scratching, political favors, and the opportunity to make millions of dollars in cold, hard cash?

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    John Merrill
    Public attention on a sex scandal involving Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill likely has focused on sworn testimony about various body parts and amorous activities. But the most important part of the story might involve possible misuse of public funds.

    The Merrill case brings up memories of Mark Sanford, the former South Carolina governor who faced ethics charges, censure, and possible impeachment for using public funds to visit his mistress in Argentina.

    How is this for irony? Sanford served in the U.S. House of Representatives at roughly the same time as former Alabama governor Bob Riley. In fact, Sanford told the press that months before his affair became public, he had sought counsel from the controversial C Street religious organization known as The Family or The Fellowship. Riley has acknowledged having connections to The Family, and both the former governor and his son, Rob, are associates and political allies of . . . John Merrill.

    We broke the Merrill story last Thursday after al.com reporter Kyle Whitmire admitted in a column that he had court documents related to an unnamed politician's extramarital affair and chose not to report on them. Multiple sources sent us copies of the court documents, from a Tuscaloosa County divorce case styled Bryan Scott Brinyark v. Mildred Murphree Brinyark, in which Millie Brinyark testifies about her affair with John Merrill.

    Whitmire engaged his readers in a debate around the question, "When is it OK to out a public official or expose a politician's infidelity?" But he apparently ignored evidence that the Merrill story might be about more than infidelity.

    We don't have the full Millie Brinyark deposition, but what we do have indicates she was forced to resign as a teacher, in part because she engaged in extramarital activities on school time and school property. She eventually went to work for an after-school program run by John Merrill, in his position with the Tuscaloosa County Board of Education. From page 313 of the deposition, which is embedded at the end of this post:

    Q: So you had to actually resign?

    A: Right.

    Q: And then it was two or three years later that you began to work with the after school program?

    A: Right.

    Q: And that's the after school program that was run by John Merrill?

    A: Yes.

    That testimony raises all kinds of questions, including . . .

    * Did John Merrill use public funds to do a favor for his mistress?

    * Did the two of them reach an illegal "quid pro quo," a something-for-something deal, in which she would get the job in exchange for staying quiet about the affair?

    * Do Tuscaloosa County schools receive federal funds? If so, could this invoke federal jurisdiction if an investigation commences?

    * Did other applicants, who perhaps were more qualified than Ms. Brinyark, not get a job that would have been theirs in a fair search?

    * Did other applicants, who perhaps came with less baggage than Ms. Brinyark, not get a job that would have been theirs in a fair search?


    Could this get serious? Well, let's consider the case of Mark Sanford, who can't seem to stay out of trouble. In December 2014, multiple news outlets reported that Sanford (now back in Congress) and North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory accepted six-figure stock payouts from Tree.com, an online mortgage broker accused by regulators of deceiving its customers. One article on that scandal reported on the outcome of Sanford's previous trials:

    Sanford joined the Tree.com board in April 2012 after finishing his term as South Carolina governor in a cloud of ethical questions, having been forced to pay $74,000 to settle 37 state ethics charges, including using taxpayer funds to pay for flights to Argentina to visit his mistress.

    Wikipediaprovides more details about the fallout of Sanford's affair:

    On June 24, 2009, Sanford resigned as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, after he publicly revealed that he had engaged in an affair with María Belén Chapur, an Argentine woman. . . . He was later censured by the South Carolina General Assembly following a State Ethics Commission investigation into allegations that he had misused state travel funds to conduct his affair.

    Before reaching that conclusion, the Sanford case involved a lengthy criminal investigation in South Carolina, ending when the state attorney decided not to press charges. Will the John Merrill scandal follow a similar path? It's too early to say, but evidence suggests that questions about sex might eventually be the least of Merrill's concerns.




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    John Merrill
    Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill admits to having an extramarital sexual encounter but denies it included oral sex, according to an article published yesterday afternoon at al.com.

    Merrill, a Republican with solid backing from business and religious organizations, also admitted to recommending the woman, Millie Brinyark, for a school-related job. But Merrill denied making the hiring decision, even though the job apparently was in a program he once managed.

    An Al.com reporter recently wrote that he had court documents about a politician's affair and chose not to write about the matter. We learned Merrill was the politician in question and broke the story with a pair of posts (see here and here) in the past eight days. Our reporting came after State Rep. Patricia Todd (D-Birmingham), Alabama's first openly gay lawmaker, threatened to expose the extramarital activities of colleagues who oppose a recent federal-court ruling that struck down Alabama's gay-marriage ban.

    What is Merrill's version of the sexual encounter? Here is how al.com describes it:

    Merrill said the woman called him and asked to meet on Sunday, Sept. 12 (2010), at a condo owned by her brother. (In her deposition, the woman said Merrill asked her about getting together that Sunday, but acknowledged that she suggested the location, saying she had to go there anyway to return a parking pass.). That is where the encounter happened that Merrill and the woman describe differently.

    Merrill told reporters: "Basically, when I walked in, we started talking. She kissed me, I kissed her back. Then she started unbuttoning my shirt, and after that, she started to become more aggressive, and she actually did some other things in trying to engage me in some physical activity with her, which I declined, and I indicated to her that I was not going to do that.

    "I stopped, and I said, 'I need to go, I'm not going to be here anymore'."

    The court documents are from a Tuscaloosa County divorce case styled Brinyark v. Brinyark. The case file has been sealed, although divorce proceedings generally are considered public documents under Alabama law, even in cases that involve a wife-beating federal judge.  Ironically, al.com successfully moved to have the divorce case of U.S. Judge Mark Fuller unsealed, but it does not seem to question the sealing of a file involving John Merrill.

    In a sworn deposition, defendant Millie Brinyark provided graphic details about a sexually charged relationship with the married Merrill. In an interview with four al.com journalists on Tuesday (Feb. 3), Merrill supported much of Brinyark's testimony, primarily denying that he received oral sex and that he was the sexual aggressor.

    According to al.com, Merrill claims to be the victim of a "smear campaign" by unnamed individuals who widely circulated portions of the deposition to the press, politicians, members of his church, and others. How can it be a smear campaign when it involves public documents, about testimony that Merrill largely admits is true? The al.com journalists apparently did not ask Merrill that question.

    Copies of the divorce documents that have been made public do not include the full deposition and do not make it clear who hired Brinyark in an after-school program. But they do indicate that Merrill's department hired her after she apparently was forced to resign as a teacher.

    The al.com article raises numerous questions, but perhaps the most staggering one is this: Why would a woman admit--under oath and penalty of perjury--to providing a man with oral sex, when she really didn't? Even Merrill can't seem to explain that one, especially considering that Brinyark's deposition reportedly was taken less than two weeks after the sexual encounter. From the al.com article:

    Asked why the discrepancy exists between his version and what the woman testified to 10 days after the incident, Merrill said:

    "I don't know, I don't know that I ever will know. But I do know this - I'd know if that (oral sex) had happened. I would know that, and I know it didn't."

    The al.com article indicates that Merrill had an opportunity to testify under oath in the Brinyark case, but successfully opposed a motion to take his deposition.

    Merrill denies Brinyark's claim that they shared sexually charged text messages and phone conversations over a period of time. Did Merrill provide copies of any texts or phone records that support his version of events? We don't know, although Merrill admits the communication was inappropriate:

    The woman's testimony supports that Merrill met her saying he wanted to try to help with her failing marriage. She also said that the two exchanged sexually-toned text messages and "very sexual" phone conversations in the weeks leading to the condo encounter.

    She said that Merrill often mentioned that he "always needed sex" and several times they discussed use of condoms. She also discussed her suspicion that Merrill had "set her up" on behalf of her then husband, by becoming close to her. She testified that the day before her deposition she called Merrill to ask if he had set her up, and Merrill responded no. She also testified that she loved Merrill, loved the man she was having an affair with, and loved her husband, but differently as the father of her children.

    Merrill acknowledged text messaging with her but said it was not sexual.

    "Anytime a married person has a communication with someone they're not married to that contains personal information, it's inappropriate, it doesn't matter what it is," Merrill told AL.com. "I know I was not ever sexually explicit in any kind of communication with her, written or verbal."


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    Susan Lindauer
    My arrest for blogging, and the subsequent five-month incarceration, were the focus of a live interview on Saturday at Covert Report with Susan Lindauer on truthfrequencyradio.com.

    It probably is the most detailed account made public so far of my experience as the only journalist to be incarcerated in the United States since 2006--and the only one to be imprisoned this century in a purely civil matter.

    The interviewer, in this instance, has a deep understanding of what I went through. Lindauer is a journalist, antiwar activist, and former Congressional staffer, who lives in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. Five FBI agents knocked on her door in 2005 and arrested her for "acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign government" and violating U.S. financial sanctions during the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. How solid were the charges against her? The government ultimately dropped its case, but Lindauer spent about a year in federal prison.

    Lindauer provided an understanding ear when I described multiple Alabama sheriff's deputies entering my home (without showing a warrant or stating they had one), assaulting me (including mace in the face), dragging me over concrete to the back of a patrol car, and taking me to jail for more than five months--all in flagrant violation of First Amendment law that forbids prior restraints in defamation cases.

    We discuss my experiences in jail, including an inmate suicide that happened just a few feet from me. We also discuss Near v. Minnesota, the landmark 1931 U.S. Supreme Court case that Alabama judge Claud Nielson repeatedly violated in my case, at the urging of Republican political figure Rob Riley. I tell Lindauer that I'm still under an unlawful permanent injunction that prevents me from discussing certain details from the lawsuit. I note that the case never went before a jury, and my reporting never has been found false or defamatory at trial. In fact, the Riley case never went to trial.

    When I say I was "arrested for blogging," I'm not kidding. Near specifically forbids temporary restraining orders and preliminary injunctions in defamation cases--and yet, I was arrested for allegedly violating such prior restraints and a court order based on them.

    Numerous reports have stated that I unwisely ignored a court order, but I told Lindauer that is not true. In fact, I responded to the court by filing a motion to quash service because a deputy conducted a bogus traffic stop in order to hand me court papers, in gross violation of the Fourth Amendment. I was awaiting a ruling on that motion when deputies stormed my garage.

    Without being arrested, I told Lindauer, I also would have challenged the unlawful notice we received on a preliminary-injunction hearing and the bizarre and ungrounded inclusion of my wife in the lawsuit--not to mention the basic allegations of defamation. I could not challenge any of that while unlawfully in jail.

    Lindauer makes clear to her listeners that this all happened in a civil matter--with a court record sealed from public view--that involved no criminal allegations.

    Here is a portion of the program description from the Covert Report Web site. You can listen to an archived version of the interview by clicking on a link at the end of this post:

    Today’s guest Alabama blogger, Roger Shuler shares his nightmare of imprisonment after exposing corruption in an old and powerful Alabama political family. . . . In the resulting defamation lawsuit, Shuler was subject to illegal arrest and imprisonment for 5 months, while the Court bullied him to take down those blog postings. Shuler describes getting beaten by police, and how the Courts denied the right to bail,to an attorney, or any discovery and rights to submit his proofs to a jury. This is a scary story, which our listeners need to hear. In all, Shuler got locked in prison for 5 months facing a sealed civil lawsuit— the contents of which he was not allowed to read or be informed of. Shuler is distinguished as the only journalist imprisoned in the whole United States in many years. All of us need to understand the frightening saga, because it’s happening with more regularity than most people currently are aware.


    Roger Shuler interview at Covert Report with Susan Lindauer

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    Roy Moore
    Chief Justice Roy Moore is one of the most famous judges in Alabama history for a reason--he is notorious for challenging federal authority on certain hot-button social issues. Moore might have the loudest such voice among Alabama jurists, but he is far from alone in holding the mindset that federal authority doesn't mean much in Alabama courtrooms.

    Few were surprised Sunday evening when Moore essentially instructed Alabama probate judges to "secede from the union" by ignoring a federal-court order that struck down the state's gay-marriage ban. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to take action that might have kept a stay in place, so same-sex couples were able to marry yesterday at several locations around the state.

    That made international news and touched off celebrations among the progressive minority in a deeply conservative state. As for us, we are happy for the newlyweds and applaud the probate judges who ignored Moore and did the right and lawful thing. But celebrations might be short lived--and that's because Alabama courts remain places where "federally guaranteed" constitutional rights often go to die.

    Just consider my own experience. On October 23, 2013, I was arrested and spent five months in jail because of a defamation lawsuit that Republican political figure Rob Riley filed. Riley sought a temporary restraining order (TRO) and preliminary injunction, forbidding me from reporting certain information that had never been found to be false and defamatory at trial.

    Retired Alabama judge Claud Neilson granted both of Riley's requests, even though they were classic prior restraints, which have been prohibited under 230 years of First Amendment law, predating the end of the Revolutionary War. A prior restraint forbids speech before there has been a finding at trial that it is unlawful.

    The foundational 20th-century case on the subject is Near v. Minnesota (1931), in which the U.S. Supreme Court declared that prior restraints form "the essence of censorship." In my one court hearing in the Riley case--there never was anything approaching a trial--I cited Near to show that the TRO, preliminary injunction, and my subsequent incarceration were unlawful. Nielson acknowledged being familiar with Near, but he refused to follow black-letter U.S. law.

    Neilson ordered that I remain incarcerated until certain items were removed from my blog. When I noted that I was in jail, with no computer or internet access and no way to "cure" any alleged contempt of court, Neilson essentially told me that was my problem. I wasn't released until my wife was able to remove those items on March 26, 2014. Without that, I probably would still be in jail, without bond, as the first journalist to be incarcerated in the United States since 2006--and the only one this century to be arrested in a civil matter.

    In effect, an Alabama judge censored certain topics on this blog.

    Claud Neilson
    Where do my story and the gay-marriage story intersect? Many of the same-sex couples who got married yesterday in Alabama are likely to wind up back in a courthouse someday. Even if they strive to lead the noblest of lives, some issue (divorce, estates/wills, real estate, car accident, etc.) is likely to bring them back to court.

    When those days come, can they expect to be treated lawfully? Based on my experience, and the experiences of dozens of Alabamians I've written about on this blog, the answer is no.

    That's because too many judges like Claud Neilson feel free to ignore binding U.S. Supreme Court precedent. Too many judges like Claud Neilson feel free to ignore the 14th Amendment rights to due process and equal protection under the law. Writing this blog has taught me that "Claud Neilsons" regularly butcher the law in numerous Alabama counties, from one end of the state to the other.

    Here is another reason yesterday's celebrants should keep a wary eye: Claud Neilson is from Demopolis in Marengo County and was dragged out of retirement to handle my case in Shelby County, apparently because judges in my area had recused themselves.

    Who assigned Neilson to my case, even before I was aware there was a case, before I had been (unlawfully) served, before a court could even begin to claim jurisdiction over me? The Alabama Supreme Court did it, under Chief Justice Roy Moore.

    Has Roy Moore shown any sign of being concerned about the gross violations of my civil rights, even though his beloved Bible makes it clear that he should be? Not that I'm aware of. Is Moore likely to someday show contrition about his actions on the gay-marriage issue? You know what they say about snowballs and hell . . .

    Despite yesterday's signs of progress, Alabama courts remain filled with judges like Roy Moore and Claud Neilson. Change comes slowly in the Deep South--and some things never seem to change at all.


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    Judge Mark Fuller
    U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell (D-AL) announced yesterday that her plans to push for the impeachment of federal judge Mark Fuller are moving forward.

    The news, coming one day after gay couples were allowed to legally marry in Alabama, serves as a grim reminder that the state's federal bench has not been fully engulfed with integrity and reason.

    Callie V. Granade, a district judge in Mobile, probably gave the federal judiciary in the South an image boost by issuing an enlightened (and apparently legally sound) ruling that paved the way for gay marriage in Alabama, In fact, Granade is due to hear oral arguments tomorrow that could open gay marriage in counties that, so far, have not recognized it.

    Granade, a George W. Bush appointee (of all things), has received applause in progressive circles for her handling of the gay-marriage issue. But Fuller, another Bush appointee, serves as her counterpoint--an unmistakable sign that ugliness and dishonesty continue to reside on the U.S. bench in Alabama.

    Fuller once was best known as the trial judge who butchered the prosecution of former Alabama governor Don Siegelman and his codefendant, ex-HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy. But Fuller might wind up best known as the judge who beat up his wife last summer. That is what led to the specter of impeachment, as discussed in Rep. Sewell's statement yesterday:

    “In November, I requested that the Judiciary Committee initiate an impeachment investigation and hearing into Judge Mark Fuller’s arrest. Only Congress can impeach a federal judge, and I have repeatedly pressed for my colleagues on the Judiciary Committee to take the steps necessary to remove Judge Fuller from the bench.

    “I am pleased that the House Judiciary Committee has requested additional funding in anticipation of potential judicial impeachment proceedings. I hoped that Judge Fuller would have spared himself, his family, and our nation the expense of this lengthy process by immediately resigning but he has resisted my repeated calls to step down.

    “I will continue to work with my colleagues to uphold the integrity of the Court and to initiate impeachment proceedings.”

    That should add a dose of reality to potentially heightened public perceptions about federal judges in Alabama.

    Terri Sewell
    Is Fuller an otherwise sterling jurist who just happened to get in a foul mood one evening at an Atlanta hotel room? Not hardly. We've written dozens of posts about Fuller's unlawful actions in the Siegelman case. Most disturbingly, we've shown that Siegelman and Scrushy could not even lawfully stand trial because the statute of limitations had run on the charges against them--and that issue properly was raised at both the trial and appellate levels.

    How bad is Fuller? Former Reagan-administration official Paul Craig Roberts summed it up in an article last September:

    Republican US district court judge Mark Fuller was arrested in Atlanta this month for beating his wife in an Atlanta hotel. The judge, in whose honor courts must rise, was charged with battery and taken to the Fulton County jail at 2:30AM Sunday morning August 10. If you look at the mug shot of Mark Fuller, he doesn’t inspire confidence. Fuller was a bitter enemy of Siegelman and should have recused himself from Siegelman’s trial, but ethical behavior required more integrity than Fuller has.

    Too many Southerners, Roberts argues, are ignorant of their own history, going back to the Civil War:

    It is extremely ironic that the formerly solid Democratic South, plundered, looted, and raped by Republican armies, votes Republican. If anything shows the insouciance of a people, the South’s Republican vote is the best demonstration. The South votes for a party that destroyed the South and its culture. There is no greater evidence of a people totally ignorant of, or indifferent to, their history than the Southern people who vote Republican.

    Is Fuller the only conservative rogue on Alabama's federal bench, in an era now marked by the foresight of Callie Granade and her gay-marriage ruling?

    Not by a long shot.

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    The story of an Alabama police officer body slamming a 57-year-old grandfather from India, leaving the man partially paralyzed, should not come as a surprise to Legal Schnauzer readers. That's because a similar event happened to me, and I've chronicled it here.

    Sureshbhai Patel was in Madison, Alabama (a Huntsville suburb), to help his engineer son and daughter-in-law with their newborn baby. Officer Eric Parker responded to a "suspicious activity" call, confronted the non-English speaking Patel, and wound up slamming him to the ground headfirst--all for the apparent "crime" of "walking on the sidewalk while having dark skin and wearing a toboggan."

    Parker was fired and faces a third-degree assault charge. Patel had spinal-fusion surgery and faces months of physical therapy.

    Patel weighs about 130 pounds, and at last report he remains in a Huntsville hospital--it's unknown if he will regain full use of his limbs, although his condition seems to be improving. The assault has become an international story, with many news outlets in India running it on the front page of their Web sites.

    A video of the violent encounter, which can be seen at the beginning of this post, probably has gone viral. I've watched it perhaps a dozen times, and I get a sense of dread each time before clicking "play".

    Why the visceral reaction from me? To a considerable extent, I've been in Patel's shoes. I know firsthand the lack of regard Alabama "law enforcement" officers can show toward a citizen who has committed no crime--and for whom they have no lawful grounds to detain.

    The assault against me also was captured on video, but it has not been made public. I've seen it, and it should be available via Tonya Willingham, of the Shelby County, Alabama, district attorney's office at tonya.willingham@alabamada.gov or (205) 669-3750.

    On October 23, 2013, about 6 p.m., Shelby County, Alabama, officer Chris Blevins almost hit my vehicle with his cruiser as I tried to pull into our garage. Blevins was unable to block my path, so I pulled into the garage, exited the vehicle, and prepared to push a button to close the garage door. Blevins showed no warrant, said he had no warrant, and did not state why he was there--but he began entering my garage anyway. He asked me to step outside, and I told him to get out of my house. In a matter of seconds, he was on me--shoving me to a concrete floor three times, spraying me with mace, and calling for another officer to help drag me some 25 feet to the driveway outside.

    Ironically, Sureshbhai Patel and I are almost the same age. I was one month from my 57th birthday when Chris Blevins attacked me. I'm 58 now, so Mr. Patel actually is a little younger than me.

    I was lying face down on my driveway when Officer Jason Valenti threatened to break my arms because I couldn't get my hands in the proper position to be handcuffed. That was largely because I had never been arrested in my life and had no idea what I was supposed to be doing--plus, I was disoriented and almost immobilized from the mace, which was dripping all over me.

    Someone placed me in the back of a sheriff's vehicle, where I could hear officers talking about also trying to arrest my wife, Carol. Thankfully, she was taking a nap in an upstairs bedroom and did not hear what was going on. She awoke later that evening, well after dark, and had no idea where I was. Her first clue came when she went downstairs to our basement and saw boxes and other items strewn everywhere--clear signs of violence. Her first thought was that I had been murdered, probably because of something I had reported on this blog.

    She contacted a friend who has a legal background, and he was able to discover that I had been booked into the Shelby County Jail. I had been arrested and would stay in jail for more than five months, becoming the only journalist to be arrested in the western hemisphere in 2013, and the only one this century to be arrested on a purely civil matter.

    In the week after my arrest, officers came to our house several more times, in apparent efforts to arrest Carol. They failed, and she was able to get out word about what had happened to me--and like the Patel case, it made international news.

    (A video at the end of this post shows the scene in our garage after I was attacked. Carol describes for a reporter what I had told her about the nature of my arrest. Thanks to Matt Osborne for this video and his coverage.)

    What prompted law enforcement to swarm our property, both before and after my arrest? No one had made remotely criminal allegations against me or Carol. Rather, a powerful Republican political figure named Rob Riley (son of former governor Bob Riley) had filed a defamation lawsuit against me--and he named Carol in the suit, claiming she served as "administrator" of the blog, even though she was not involved with it in any capacity.

    Sureshbhai Patel
    Riley had sought a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction, both of which are prior restraints that are prohibited by more than 200 years of First Amendment law, including a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case from 1931 called Near v. Minnesota, plus a 1993 case styled Alexander v. United States. I had responded to Riley's lawsuit--I did not ignore it, as has been widely reported--by filing a motion to quash service because we had been given court papers during a bogus traffic stop that represented a violation of the Fourth Amendment right to be free of unlawful searches and seizures.

    I'm not aware of a hearing ever being held on my motion to quash, and I'm not aware that Riley provided any evidence that service was lawful, as was required of him under Alabama law. If a plaintiff has not proven proper service--and I never was notified of any hearing on the subject--the court has no jurisdiction over defendants.

    That was the status of the case at the moment Chris Blevins set foot in my garage.

    Service had been contested as improper and invalid, the court had no jurisdiction over me until proper service was proven, and there had been no hearing or ruling on that issue. With the relevant law as a backdrop, perhaps you can understand why I was insistent that Chris Blevins get the hell out of my garage.

    I knew Blevins had no lawful grounds to be in my house, just as Officer Parker had no lawful grounds for body slamming Sureshbhai Patel.

    The point here is not to compare the two incidents; both are horrifying examples of police abuse. An argument could be made that, due to the nature of Mr. Patel's physical injuries, his case was worse than mine. An argument could be made that, due to the fact I unlawfully spent five months in jail, my case was worse than his.

    What's important, in my view, is that no one has been held accountable for what happened to me--and that could have contributed to what happened to Mr. Patel. My case remains fresh, well within any applicable statute of limitations, but there has been no civil-rights lawsuit, no FBI investigation, no criminal investigation of any sort. All of those things have happened, or are happening, in the Patel case--as they should.

    If serious action had been taken against the bad actors in my case, would the Patel case have never happened? Did my case represent the kind of harsh lesson that needed to be driven home to Alabama law enforcement, in order to protect people like Mr. Patel, to protect all of us?

    At the very least, the assault against me indicates you are not safe from law-enforcement thugs even if you have white skin, speak English, are standing inside your own home, and have lived in Alabama for 35 years, as I have. Mr. Patel's sin seemingly was having dark skin and an inability to understand English; mine was being a practicing journalist, willing to write tough stories about the state's legal and political elites.

    (By the way, none of my reporting has been proven at trial to be false or defamatory. In the Riley case, there was no trial because Riley didn't ask for one. Judge Claud Neilson acted as a one-man censor of this blog, in gross violation of Near v. Minnesota and its progeny.)

    With no accountability so far in my case, did that help set the stage for the abuse of Sureshbhai Patel--did it almost make his case inevitable, given Alabama's toxic history on race and justice? I would argue that the answer is yes.


    (To be continued)




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    Officer Eric Parker
    An Alabama police officer faces a charge of third-degree assault, a misdemeanor, for body slamming a 57-year grandfather from India. But our analysis of applicable law indicates officer Eric Parker should be charged with either second- or first-degree assault, both felonies that call for potential prison time.

    Is the Alabama legal establishment trying to protect Parker, even though his body slam of Sureshbhai Patel near a Madison sidewalk has drawn international news coverage? The answer appears to be yes.

    Ironically, news broke this afternoon that Parker had pleaded not guilty to the charges against him. One could argue that is appropriate because the misdemeanor charge is improper; it should be a felony.

    Assaults are covered under Code of Alabama 13A-6-(20-22). Third-degree assault is a Class A misdemeanor, second-degree assault is a Class C felony, and first-degree-assault is a Class B felony.

    The dividing line between misdemeanor and felony assault is the presence of "serious physical injury." That clearly is present in the Patel case, so Parker must be charged with felony assault.

    How badly was Patel injured? According to news reports, he has been hospitalized for several days, he has been partially paralyzed, he has undergone spinal-fusion surgery, and he faces months of physical therapy. Does that amount to "serious physical injury"? Let's look at Alabama law.

    A case styled Brock v. State, 555 So. 2d 285 (Ala. Crim. App, 1989) is instructive. It states:

    "Serious physical injury" is "[p]hysical injury [impairment of physical condition or substantial pain] which creates a substantial risk of death, or which causes serious and protracted disfigurement, protracted impairment of health or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily organ." Section 13A-1-2(9).

    Mr. Patel received an injury to his spine, which clearly involves "protracted impairment of health." The violence with which he was slammed on his head also created a "substantial risk of death."

    It's hard to see how anyone could seriously argue that the Patel case does not involve "serious physical injury." Because of that, under Alabama law, the charge against Parker must be a felony--either second- or first-degree assault.

    Code of Alabama 13A-6-21 (Assault in the Second Degree) states, in part:

    (a) A person commits the crime of assault in the second degree if the person does any of the following:

    (1) With intent to cause serious physical injury to another person, he or she causes serious physical injury to any person.

    (2) With intent to cause physical injury to another person, he or she causes physical injury to any person by means of a deadly weapon or a dangerous instrument.

    (3) He or she recklessly causes serious physical injury to another person by means of a deadly weapon or a dangerous instrument.

    Under Alabama law, (2) involves only "physical injury," so that would not apply to the assault on Sureshbhai Patel. But Nos. (1) and (3) would. No. (1) involves straightforward infliction of "serious physical injury," which is present here. No. (3) involves infliction of such injury by use of a "deadly weapon or dangerous instrument."

    Sureshbai Patel
    What does that mean? Alabama law has held that various body parts, including hands and fists, can meet the definition of deadly weapon or dangerous instrument. A case styled Hollis v. State, 417 So. 2d 617 (Ala. Crim. App., 1982) involved charges of an adult male using his fists to beat his 81-year-old mother. From Hollis:

    The indictment charged that appellant caused serious physical injury to Dixie Hollis "by means of a deadly weapon, or a dangerous instrument, to-wit: by beating her with his fists." In Stewart v. State, 405 So.2d 402 (Ala.Cr.App.1981) this court stated the following:

    "Certainly the use of an adult man's fists to beat a seventeen month child may appropriately allow those fists to be classified as a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument." 405 So.2d at 405.

    In our judgment, the same classification is appropriate when an adult man uses his fists to beat his eighty-one-year-old mother, and under the facts of this case, we hold that appellant's fists were a "deadly weapon" or "dangerous instrument," Stewart v. State, supra.

    Under the facts and the law, Officer Parker used a "dangerous instrument" (his hands) to inflict "serious physical injury" on Mr. Patel. That points to a felony--second-degree assault.

    What about the intent required in a felony assault? That's not as difficult to prove as you might think. From Wells v. State, 768 So. 2d 412 (Al. Crim. App., 1999):

    Intent may be presumed from the use of a deadly weapon, the character of the assault, and other attendant circumstances surrounding the assault.

    Case law also has held:

    "Further, `"[i]ntent, we know, being a state or condition of the mind, is rarely, if ever, susceptible of direct or positive proof, and must usually be inferred from the facts testified to by witnesses and the circumstances as developed by the evidence."'

    The facts, as made clear on video, make it likely that intent easily could be proven, under the law.

    Could this be a case of first-degree assault, under Alabama law? I believe the answer is yes. Code of Alabama 13A-6-20 (Assault in the First Degree) states, in part:

    (a) A person commits the crime of assault in the first degree if:

    (1) With intent to cause serious physical injury to another person, he causes serious physical injury to any person by means of a deadly weapon or a dangerous instrument; or

    (2) With intent to disfigure another person seriously and permanently, or to destroy, amputate or disable permanently a member or organ of his body, he causes such an injury to any person; or

    (3) Under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life, he recklessly engages in conduct which creates a grave risk of death to another person, and thereby causes serious physical injury to any person;

    The law classifies Parker's hands as "deadly weapons" or "dangerous instruments," so I believe No. (1) applies. A solid case also could be made for No. (3).

    Why can this not be a misdemeanor assault? Because the law on third-degree assault involves only cases that result in "physical injury" (as opposed to "serious physical injury.")  "Physical injury" has been defined, in a case styled Vo v. State, 612 So. 2d 1323 (Al., Crim. App., 1992):

    A "physical injury" is "[i]mpairment of physical condition or substantial pain."§ 13A-1-2(8), Code of Alabama 1975.

    Courts have held that cuts, scrapes, bruises, and abrasions can qualify as "physical injuries." The damage to Mr. Patel went way beyond those.

    The bottom line? Someone in Alabama's legal hierarchy classified this as a misdemeanor case when it is, in fact, a felony case.

    What difference does it make? With a misdemeanor assault conviction, Parker likely would face probation and a relatively small fine. Incarceration of up to one year is possible, but my research indicates that is extremely unlikely.

    A felony conviction could bring imprisonment of 1 to 20 years and a fine ranging from $15,000 to $30,000.

    The difference is substantial--a felony charge says this is being treated as a serious matter; a misdemeanor means, more or less, that "the officer didn't really mean to do it, and spinal surgery isn't all that serious anyway." Not sure what kind of person could view the facts and the law here, and make that kind of statement with a straight face.

    So far, it appears that someone is trying to do a favor for Officer Parker. The public should not stand for it.

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    Sureshbhai Patel
    The lawsuit filed in an Alabama police officer's beating of a grandfather from India is weak and might not result in significant restitution for the victim, an Indian legal expert says.

    Ravi Batra, a lawyer based in New York, used the term "anaemic" to describe the civil complaint.

    Sureshbhai Patel, 57, remains in a Huntsville, Alabama, following spinal fusion surgery to treat his injuries. At the moment, it appears Patel will not achieve justice on the criminal front either. That's because Officer Eric Parker has been charged with third-degree assault, a misdemeanor, even though the law shows the charge should have been a felony (either second- or first-degree assault). Parker already has pleaded not guilty to the misdemeanor count.

    Batra's critical take on the Patel lawsuit came in an interview with Narayan Lakshman, of The Hindu newspaper. From the article:

    Speaking to The Hindu Ravi Batra, the New York-based lawyer who defended Congress leader Sonia Gandhi and her party in a U.S. court, argued that the case filed in Madison by attorney Hank Sherrod mentions the City of Madison as a defendant but excludes it from individual counts brought by the lawsuit, instead targeting the individual officers who assaulted Mr. Patel.
    Compounding the apparent weakness of the lawsuit is the fact that a jury trial for Mr. Patel’s case, which his complaint calls for, risks being racially tilted given that U.S. Census data indicates that within the population of Madison County there are more than 27 white residents for every Asian.

    The Madison Police Department also could be getting off easy in the civil case, Batra says:

    While it was unclear whether Mr. Sherrod was taking a soft approach toward suing the City of Madison, it appeared that the Madison Police Department was also neatly manoeuvring towards a position where it may not be possible for a court to require the Department to pay Mr. Patel to the full $100,000 legal limit for such tort claims.
    This was apparent after Police Chief Larry Muncey took action last week to arrest and recommend firing Eric Parker, the officer who threw Mr. Patel to the ground without warning and left him with severe spinal column injuries.
    With Parker unlikely to remain in the police force, Mr. Batra noted, Chief Muncey may have effectively “immunised” the Police Department from lawsuits, as supervisory liability apparently does not exist for civil rights violation cases such as these unless there was evidence of a conspiracy.

    Could the lawsuit be made stronger? The answer appears to be yes, but the road to justice for Mr. Patel still presents obstacles. One can only imagine how tough the case would be if the assault had not been videotaped:

    The Patel family may still have an option to strengthen the lawsuit by proving that it was the “policy and practice” of the Madison Police Department that led to the attack on Mr. Patel, a fact that could be corroborated by the fact that the two other officers at the scene did not appear to stop or criticise the actions of Parker.
    Meanwhile, The Hindu has also analysed U.S. Census data for Madison County which suggest that 69.6 per cent of county residents were “white alone,” that is, not of mixed race, and only 2.5 per cent of residents were “Asian alone.”
    Given that juries across the country are usually selected across socioeconomic groups broadly to represent the distribution of the population of the county or district in question, the Patel lawsuit may face a preponderantly white jury who may not be keen to convict a white police officer of an attack on an Asian and foreign national.


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    The stupidity and dishonesty of Alabama police officers is on glaring display in the video that captures the body slamming of Sureshbhai Patel, a grandfather from India who was in the state to help his son and daughter-in-law take care of their newborn son. (See video above.)

    Similar stupidity and dishonesty would be on display if a video of my arrest in Shelby County, Alabama, ever is made public. I saw the video during my bench trial for resisting arrest in January 2014. At the time, it was under the control of assistant district attorney Tonya Willingham (tonya.willingham@alabamada.gov or 205-669-3750), and as public property, it still should be in her possession.

    Let's consider the Patel video first, and two mind-blowing elements of it jump out at me:

    (1) Almost from the moment the officers confront Patel on a sidewalk in Madison, Alabama, it's clear the older gentleman does not speak English. The 10-minute video, from the first police cruiser, shows this. In the first 1:30 of the encounter, an officer says, "I can't understand you, sir," and Patel mentions India and appears to point toward his son's house, a seemingly clear sign that he is not from this country and does not speak English, but has legitimate reasons to be here. Despite that, officers keep badgering Patel and giving instructions in English--acting baffled when he doesn't respond well and tries to quietly walk away. The encounter should have ended there, with no sign of a crime on Patel's part, but that's not what happened.

    (2) At about 2:10 on the longer video, Officer Eric Parker tells Patel: "Do not jerk away from me again, or I will put you on the ground. Do you understand?" About four seconds later, Patel does not appear to be moving and certainly is not jerking. But Parker grabs him by the back of the neck, trips him, and thrusts him forward to violently land on his head.

    (3) After all of this, the cops still don't seem to get it. "He don't speak a lick of English," one cop says. "I don't know what the problem is," another says. (See 3:26 video at the top of this post.) After the officers have almost broken Patel's neck by jamming his head into the ground, they seem amazed that he can't walk. "Stand up, stand up," one of them says. "You can walk," says another.

    Let's consider a few elements from my encounter with Shelby County officer Chris Blevins:

    (1) In his incident report, Blevins states that he has two warrants for contempt of court in his vehicle. But the video shows that they stayed in his vehicle, and he never showed them to me or mentioned that he had them. (See incident report at the end of this post.) He reports walking inside our garage to tap on the trunk of our car--all without showing he had any legal authority to be there or verbally
    stating why he was there. Despite that, Blevins apparently was surprised when I got out of my vehicle and, in his words, "began yelling for me to get out of his house." Gee, can't imagine why I would do that. An armed stranger, who has shown he has no legal grounds to be there, is walking right into my house--even after being told to get out. Why would that concern me?

    (2) Blevins admits he made the initial physical contact after I put my right hand in my right front pocket. Apparently, he thought I was reaching for an assault weapon. (News flash: I was putting my car keys in my pocket, where they always go when I get home.) Blevins also noted that I pushed a button to close the garage door behind us. I don't remember doing that, but I do remember thinking, "Don't close the door because you want this guy out of here." It's possible I reflexively pushed the button because I've been doing it that way when I've come home for 25 years.

    (3) Blevins then writes, "I told Mr. Shuler that I had a warrant for his arrest," but this is a lie--and the video proves it. He never mentions an arrest, his apparent purpose for being there, until after I've been knocked to a concrete floor three times and maced in the face.

    (4) On the video, Blevins can be heard repeatedly saying, "Don't fight me, don't fight me" as he is shoving me around. But according to Blevins own words, I wasn't fighting him--it was the other way around. The only physical act that Blevins describes of me is putting my arms in front of me--an effort to try to protect my face and glasses from his flailing arms.

    (5) Blevins admits throwing me through boxes, to the floor, three times. Never does he say I took any offensive action against him, other than raising my arms in front of my face.

    (6) At my resisting-arrest trial, before District Judge Ron Jackson, prosecutor Willingham was ordered to turn over copies of any warrants as evidence. Her reply? "Your Honor, we don't have any." And she didn't ask for a recess, so that she could go find the warrants in her office, which is in the same building. As of now, it's a matter of court record that no warrant existed for my arrest. And that raises a whole bunch of disturbing questions under a landmark U.S. Supreme Court that we will be discussing in upcoming posts.

    My entire arrest was captured on video, although it has some flaws. Blevins' vehicle was parked at about a 45-degree angle to our garage, so when we go inside the garage and the door closes, the dash cam loses sight of us and mostly shows our backyard. Audio, however picks up the whole thing--and that shows that Blevins entered our home without showing, or saying he had, a warrant. Blevins' own words, show that he initiated physical contact, and I never lashed out at him; I never cursed or threatened him, and I never tried to run away. Also, after Blevins and I exit the garage, Officer Jason Valenti can be heard threatening to break my arms.

    The video should be made public.

    Meanwhile, how in the world did I get charged with resisting arrest from all of this? Even conservative legal analysts, such as Ken White at Popehat blog, have said the preliminary injunction against me was prohibited under the First Amendment, and that means my arrest for allegedly violating the injunction was unlawful. On top of that, I contested service in the lawsuit--I did not ignore the court's order, as has been widely reported--and I'm aware of no hearing at which proper service was established. Without that, the court did not even have jurisdiction over me.

    Maybe that's why no warrant has turned up. Perhaps no one wanted to sign a warrant for a citizen over whom the court had no jurisdiction.

    Popehat is based in Los Angeles, and over all that distance, attorney White smelled something funny about my conviction for resisting arrest. He wrote:

    It's not clear from the reporting how the prosecution proved the elements of the offense. I'm not talking about my standard skepticism of police claims that a suspect improperly resisted. I'm talking about proving that the arrest was lawful in the first place.

    Under Alabama law resisting arrest is an attempt to prevent a lawful arrest. Resisting an unlawful arrest is not, as I understand Alabama law, a violation of the resisting arrest statute. To make a lawful arrest under Alabama law, a peace officer must have an arrest warrant, or must have probable cause to believe the suspect committed a felony, or must observe the suspect commit a crime. Shuler apparently argued at trial that the arresting officer didn't have a warrant and didn't observe any crime, and that therefore the arrest was not lawful and Shuler could not have committed the crime of resisting arrest. . . . Regrettably the news coverage of the brief bench trial doesn't clarify how the prosecution proved (if it did) that the arrest was lawful in the first place.

    Popehat raises a powerful question: Can you be charged with resisting an unlawful arrest?

    We will address that question shortly.


    (To be continued)


    (Note: Below is Officer Chris Blevins' incident report on my arrest. I have not run this previously because I've seen an Alabama Attorney General's opinion that says only the front page of an incident report is public information; the back page, including the narrative, is considered officer work product and therefore is not public. However, as the subject of the arrest, I am entitled to have a copy of the report, so I believe that overrides any work-product privilege that Blevins might assert. Anyone who wants to challenge this is welcome to contact me, but under the circumstances, I believe the following document is public information, especially since it all took place inside my home.)





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    Billy Dennis, "The Peoria Pundit"
    Peoria, Illinois might be the most mainstream place in the U.S. Peoria long has been seen as the prototypical American city, with the kind of representative demographics and heartland sensibilities that make it an ideal test market for new products and ideas.

    Some reports indicate other American cities have passed Peoria as a test-market site. But the phrase "Will it play in Peoria?" dates to the vaudeville era, and it remains well known today.

    With that as a backdrop, we were pleased to learn recently that Legal Schnauzer apparently "plays in Peoria." A blog called The Peoria Pundit calls LS"the best citizen journalism site out there."

    "And it’s good," the Pundit says, "even though they’ve done their best to silence him with jail. That’s right. If you blog about the legal system in Alabama, they will lock your ass up."

    The Pundit is Billy Dennis, a veteran newspaperman who describes himself as "a liberal with some libertarian tendencies."

    Dennis has the kind of feisty temperament that Schnauzer readers should find endearing. "If you don't like that, you can kiss (my) red, white and blue butt," Dennis writes. "This blog is the unedited voice of Billy Dennis and is owned entirely by him. Take it or leave it."

    I appreciate The Pundit's kind words, and I like his attitude. I think his blog is one worth following, even if you don't know much about Peoria. Maybe that's because there is a little bit of Peoria in all of us.

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    Susan Lindauer
    I was the guest Saturday for a live discussion of the Don Siegelman case at Covert Report with Susan Lindauer on truthfrequencyradio.com.

    We discussed the overwhelming evidence of corruption that led to the former Alabama governor's conviction, along with former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy. We also discussed Siegelman's pending appeal before the U.S. Eleventh Circuit in Atlanta, focusing on federal prosecutor Leura Canary and her apparent failure to step aside from a case in which she and husband Bill Canary (head of the Business Council of Alabama) stood to gain financially.

    The two-hour interview probably is the most detailed examination of the Siegelman case to hit the airwaves in several years. It shines light on the role that compromised federal judges played in criminalizing standard political behavior.

    First up is trial judge Mark Fuller, whose company (Colorado-based Doss Aviation) benefited from millions of taxpayer dollars during the U.S. government's case against Siegelman--and yet, Fuller never recused himself. Here is a portion of what we reported about Fuller's conflicts of interest in May 2009, based on a report by Andrew Kreig at Huffington Post:

    Recent additional research by the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University found that Doss Aviation has been awarded more than $300 million in federal awards since Fuller began presiding over the Siegelman case in 2005. The scope of Doss Aviation's work is illustrated by the company's website, http://www.dossaviation.com/. Among other things, it displays a photo of Doss Aviation refueling the presidential plane Air Force One as part of its extensive refueling work for the Air Force. The website also describes the company's vital role in training Air Force pilots, and in manufacturing uniforms for federal military and civilian employees.

    Kreig's reporting also shined light on the major role that Missouri attorney Paul Benton Weeks played in exposing Fuller's corrupt actions involving Doss Aviation:

    Weeks put his evidence into a comprehensive filing to Fuller on July 25, 2003. The filing alleged "clear evidence of criminal misconduct" by Fuller both before and after he became a federal judge. Weeks wrote, "The evidence of criminal wrongdoing identified in this affidavit implicates lying and perjury; criminal conspiracy and criminal attempt to defraud the Retirement System of Alabama (RSA) of approximately $330,000; and, misuse of the office of district attorney and federal judge in furtherance of a criminal conspiracy and criminal attempt to defraud. . . . "
    According to Weeks's statement, the problem was Fuller's cozy arrangement with his state staff that enabled him to lead Doss Aviation in Colorado Springs while also drawing a full-time salary as state district attorney in Alabama. Weeks suggested that the pay raise and pension fight for the investigator were, in effect, hush money.

    We also discussed U.S. Judge Bill Pryor, who started the Siegelman investigation while serving as Alabama attorney general and apparently was rewarded by the George W. Bush administration with a plum, lifetime appointment on the Eleventh Circuit. Who was Pryor's campaign manager when he ran for statewide office in Alabama? Why, it was none other than Karl Rove, also known as "Bush's Brain." Jill Simpson, an Alabama lawyer and former GOP operative, provided sworn testimony before Congress that Rove had pushed the Public Integrity Section of the U.S. Department of Justice to prosecute Siegelman.

    Bill Pryor
    Despite our lengthy discussion, Lindauer and I did not get a chance to discuss Pryor's ties to 1990s gay pornography and its role in reportedly turning him into a fixer for Rovian interests on cases before the Eleventh Circuit, covering Alabama, Georgia, and Florida.

    We will have more soon at Legal Schnauzer about the nude, gay-porn photos of Pryor, and their origins with a mysterious gentleman named Ernie. Several readers from the LGBT community have contacted us with background information about Ernie and the Pryor photos, and we are compiling posts on that subject now.

    Meanwhile, you can listen to the Lindauer interview by clicking on the link below:


    Roger Shuler interview about Don Siegelman case at Covert Report with Susan Lindauer


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    John Archibald
    Alabama's largest news organization has become aware that we have a problem with our corrupt justice system. A columnist for al.com has acknowledged that cops and courts abuse everyday citizens on a fairly routine basis. It's taken a while, but perhaps scales are starting to fall from some eyeballs.

    I'm pleased to learn that John Archibald is having an awakening on the subject, via a column titled "This country is about to have a throwdown over abusive cops and courts." The piece apparently was inspired by the case of Sureshbhai Patel, the grandfather from India who was body slammed by an Alabama police officer and suffered a spinal injury requiring surgery.

    A video of the Patel incident apparently went viral and made international news, causing Archibald and others at the former Birmingham News to sit up and take notice. But they are slightly late to the party, and I know from personal experience they have a history of ignoring court-related corruption--no matter how blatant it might be.

    My wife and I have been dealing with corrupt judges and lawyers in Shelby County for 15 years--and I've been reporting on court corruption since starting this blog almost eight years ago. Our experience reached absurd and frightening levels when I was arrested on October 23, 2013, based on a dubious defamation lawsuit filed by Republican political honcho Rob Riley. For good measure, Riley also sought the arrest of my wife, even though she had nothing to do with Legal Schnauzer at the time.

    Along the way, we have not been alone. I've written about numerous Alabamians--Sherry Rollins, Mark Hayden, Linda Upton, Angela Drees, Joe Blackburn, Bonnie Cahalane, and others--who have been victimized in Alabama courtrooms.

    Where was al.com during all of this? Somewhere around 2004 I visited former editor Tom Scarritt at his office and offered documents and other details about court corruption in Shelby County. Scarritt showed zero interest in the subject and almost laughed me out of his office.

    A year or two later, I met with Archibald at a coffee shop in downtown Birmingham. Archibald did listen to what I had to say, he asked some questions, and took some notes--but he never wrote anything about it.

    What does Archibald say now, in the wake of the Patel case? This is from his most recent column:

    I've been asked a lot lately, in the wake of the gay marriage debate, what the next great civil or human rights battleground will be. And I think this is it.

    Justice. And all that means.

    It is the use of force by police. It is the fairness of justice for the rich and the poor alike. The battle is simmering now, in places like Ferguson and Madison, and more quietly in courts like those in Childersburg and Clanton, where the smallest of traffic offenses can lead to jail time for those who cannot pay immediately.

    What does this mean for all of us? Archibald provides perspective:

    It is shaping up to be our next big fight. Which is sad, because we shouldn't have to fight at all.

    For this is--as it must be--a nation of laws. For rich and for poor, for black and white and brown, for those who set out to do society harm, and for those with badges and guns--and gavels--who harm it in the name of protection. And revenue.

    And law and order.

    Are Archibald and Co. serious about taking on injustice? Here is one way we can tell: We've shown that, beyond doubt, the charge against Officer Eric Parker in the Patel case is incorrect--it's a misdemeanor, but the law calls for it to be a felony. Will al.com look into that? We'll see.

    That is just the beginning. I would be glad to get with Archibald or another reporter and provide details about Judge Al Crowson's corrupt actions in the Sherry Rollins case (Shelby County), Judge Robert Vance Jr.'s actions in the Mark Hayden case (Jefferson County), Judge Sibley Reynolds' actions in the Bonnie Cahalane case (Chilton County), and Judge Gary Pate's actions in the Linda Upton case (Jefferson County). And that doesn't even count my own experience of being the only journalist to be arrested in the western hemisphere in 2013, contrary to more than 200 years of First Amendment law.

    Are you serious about injustice, Mr. Archibald? If you are, dive right in with the rest of us. You might be amazed at the kind of historic difference you can make.

    The water is murky, and the undertow is nasty, but we've been swimming against the tide for a long time--and we're still here. You are more than welcome to join us.

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    Joey Kennedy
    (From yellowhammernews.com)
    How often does a newspaper fire a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter? I've been a professional journalist for 35-plus years, and I've never heard of it happening. Heck, it would be like a major-league baseball team trading its MVP--and getting nothing in return.

    As nonsensical as it sounds, al.com/The Birmingham News pulled off the unusual feat by ushering reporter Joey Kennedy out the door recently. Veronica Kennedy, Joey's wife, broke the news on her Facebook page and said he received no severance pay, just a final paycheck and notice that his insurance would end on February 28.

    Joey Kennedy had come to focus his reporting on animal-welfare issues, and about a month ago, he reported on a change in the organization that would operate animal control for Jefferson County. The comments section on that article suggest the issue had become emotional and contentious, with major disagreement about the best way to approach animal control in the area. Did Joey Kennedy get caught in the crossfire? Did his age make him vulnerable at a company that is struggling to stay afloat in an ever-changing digital environment?

    We do not have a clear answer to those questions, so we are left to ask, "What on earth did Joey Kennedy do, or not do, to merit termination?" The reasons given, according to Veronica, were that Joey was "too personally involved" in covering his beat and he had engaged in  "threatening" sources. Here is a portion of her Facebook message:

    For those of you who haven't heard: My husband, Joey Kennedy, was fired by Alabama Media Group on Thursday for being "too personally involved" in covering his beat and for "threatening" sources. Up until then, the same bosses had been praising him for developing the animal beat so well. He had been with the Birmingham News/AMG almost 34 years. He won a Pulitzer Prize and was in the top three for a Pulitzer two other times. He was named best columnist in the state FIVE times, and he received numerous writing and community service awards, including the Incarnation Award from Beloved Community Church and the Abe Krawchek award from the Greater Birmingham Humane Society Auxiliary.
    Yes, he was personally involved in his beat. Any good journalist is. No, he did not threaten anyone. He is a good man and a wonderful husband who loves his wife, animals, and people. I He received no severance. Our health insurance ends on Feb. 28, and he received his last full paycheck yesterday. What a way to reward loyalty.

    I didn't know a reporter could be "too personally involved" with his beat. That kind of commitment is what makes great reporters. The line about "threatening" sources is even more curious, and it reminds me of some of the bogus charges UAB management concocted against me when I was "terminated" in May 2008.

    Let's see if we have this straight: Joey Kennedy is roughly my age and has effectively interacted with thousands of sources for more than three decades. He has taught English at UAB, and as one of the most high-profile writers at the state's largest newspaper, I'm sure he has been invited to speak before groups all over the metro area, the state, and probably the region.

    He successfully manages that terrain for years--but now, all of a sudden, he resorts to "threatening" sources? Why would Joey Kennedy need to "threaten" a source? Specifically, who did he threaten and what did he threaten them with?

    Somewhere amid questions of that sort probably lies the real reason that Joey Kennedy got fired. He was known as a rare moderate/liberal voice (maybe the only such voice) at a news outfit dominated by right-wing sensibilities. That might have put a target on his back.

    My guess is that Joey Kennedy didn't "threaten" anyone. In the new world of digital media, reporters are encouraged to interact with readers in comment sections, to voice opinions in addition to presenting the facts, to have followers on Facebook and Twitter, and to do it all with a sense of immediacy and urgency. It appears Joey Kennedy was not shy about sharing his opinions--his Pulitzer Prize was for editorial writing--and one would assume that al.com encouraged him to do that. After all, many journalists these days are judged by their number of "hits" and "page views," rather than the quality of their reporting.

    Perhaps Kennedy made a statement with which some community figure didn't agree, and the person complained to higher ups about it. Like bad managers everywhere--such as the ones I encountered at UAB--they would rather stab an employee in the back than stand behind him.

    Are office politics and age involved in this? I don't know, but I wouldn't be surprised; both definitely were present in my termination at UAB.

    Was Joey Kennedy treated with anything that remotely approaches fairness? Well, we learned about three weeks ago that reporter Kyle Whitmire received court documents (from a divorce case styled Brinyark v. Brinyark) that pointed to an extramarital affair involving Republican political candidate John Merrill. Whitmire indicated in a column that he stuck the information in a drawer and never even consulted an editor about it.

    Whitmire's actions blew up on al.com when we reported on the Merrill affair, and it became a statewide story. In fact, it became such a major story that Merrill gathered with four al.com journalists for an interview that proved to be a transparent attempt to sweep the controversy out of view--especially now that Merrill is Alabama secretary of state, with his eye on either the governor's office or Richard Shelby's U.S. Senate seat.

    (Note: We have received several tips about other "zipper issues" involving John Merrill, beyond the Brinyark case. We are investigating those tips now.)

    In his al.com interview, Merrill provided several "explanations" that his own mother probably would not believe. For example, Merrill admitted to having a sexual encounter with Millie Brinyark, as described in her sworn deposition, but claimed she lied about providing him with oral sex. This somehow passed the smell test of all journalists present and made it into print, generating guffaws that probably still haven't died down.

    Which brings us back to Joey Kennedy. Four al.com journalists combined on the Merrill case to produce a story that was sophomoric (at best) and embarrassing (at worst). But it appears that all four of those journalists still work at al.com.

    As for Kyle Whitmire, he committed an act of journalistic malpractice by hiding the Merrill story, but he still works at al.com. We're not certain of Whitmire's age, but our guess is that he's in his 30s.

    Meanwhile, Joey Kennedy's record suggests he has firm opinions, but it's highly unlikely he would do anything to merit termination. He is, however, out the door-- and we're guessing that he's well into his 50s.

    Perhaps that's the big story underlying all of this: Age discrimination is alive and well in America's workplaces--and Joey Kennedy might be its most recent victim.


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    Our blog recently passed 2 million page views, and that makes us pretty proud of the attention we've brought to a critically important subject--the corruption that permeates our "justice" system.

    The system is so broken that even a right-wing news organization like al.com now recognizes it--roughly eight years after we started reporting on the issue.

    According to the primary statistics service we use, our official page-view number is at almost 2.24 million, and our number of unique visitors is at almost 1.57 million.

    I'm sure there are thousands of blogs with audiences that dwarf ours. Heck, some porn Web sites probably get that many page views in just a few days. But for a blog about a complex, unsexy topic, I would say our numbers are pretty good. This seems like a good time for a big thank you to the many readers who have made us a part of their regular reading habits.

    I didn't start keeping track of our traffic for the first four to six months of the blog's existence, so our actual readership numbers are higher than those shown. A second stat service we use has our page views at almost 2.8 million, so maybe I should go with that one. I'm really not sure which is more accurate--but I'm thankful for the numbers, either way.

    It's nice to be able to report that in spite of serious obstacles in the past year--including a stint in jail for, get this, practicing journalism--our readership continues to be on the rise. It took us roughly four years to reach one-million page views. The second million came in less than three years.

    The blog is now almost 8 years old, and I didn't intend for it to last nearly this long. I thought it might be a side project to pursue for maybe six months to a year. Little did I know just how vast is corruption in U.S. courts, both at the state and federal level, in Alabama and beyond.

    I like to think we have made a difference in the fight for justice on U.S. soil. We definitely have drawn attention to serious problems. It's pleasing to know that so many readers have joined us along the way.





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